Looking Back to the Future (2021)

RABBI WAGENSBERG on
PARSHAS LECH LECHA
"Looking Back to the Future"

After Avraham emerged victorious against the four kings, Malki Tzedek brought Avraham bread and wine (Parshas Lech Lecha, 14:18). Rashi (ibid) cites the Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Lech Lecha, 43:6) and the Gemara in Meseches Nedarim (chap. 3, “Arba’a Nedarim”, pg. 32b) which say that Malki Tzedek was the same person as Shem ben Noach (Shem the son of Noach).

Rashi (ibid) based on the Medrash (ibid) goes on to share a variety of reasons as to why Malki Tzedek gave Avraham bread and wine. One reason is because it was the practiced custom to give food and drink to soldiers who returned from war exhausted so that they could regain their strength. Therefore, the bread and wine were meant to revive Avraham from his fatigue.

Another reason was because Shem ben Noach wanted to show Avraham that he had no complaints against him. You see, Avraham had killed untold numbers of people in his war against the four kings. One of those kings was Kidarlaomer. Kidarlaomer reigned in Eilam and the people of Eilam were descendants of Shem (Sifsei Chachamim ibid, number 70; Rabbi Shabtai Bass, 1641-1718, Poland).

So, it turns out that Avraham had killed a number of Shem’s grandchildren in war. One would have thought that Shem would have been upset with Avraham for killing them. Therefore, in order to show that he had no grievances against Avraham, Shem brought him the gifts of bread and wine. Shem demonstrated that he understood that Avraham had to do what he did.

Another reason for the bread and wine was to hint to Avraham that his descendants would one day bring meal-offerings (represented by the bread) and wine libations (represented by the wine) in the Beis Hamikdash.

The Midrash (ibid) goes on to quote Rebbi Shmuel who said that the bread and wine meant that Shem taught Avraham about the laws of a Kohen Gadol who dealt with the Lechem Hapanim (showbread, represented by the bread) and wine libations (represented by the wine). The Rabanan said that the gift of bread and wine teaches us that Shem taught Avraham different aspects of Torah which are represented by the bread and wine (Mishlei, 9:5).

As we proceed, we are going to see another message that Shem ben Noach conveyed to Avraham by giving him bread and wine. This message would be a mission statement for Avraham and his descendants to carry out until the coming of Moshiach. We will begin by talking about Avraham’s pivotal role in building Klal Yisrael.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Avraham was considered to be the first Jew. Avraham was the root of the Jewish people, and the holiness of Avraham served as the root of the holiness of the Jewish people. This is what was meant when Hashem told Avraham, “And I will make you a great nation” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2).

The Gemara says in Brachos (chap. 4, “Haya Korei”, pg. 16b) that only three people are referred to as Avos (Patriarchs) and only four people are referred to as Imahos (Matriarchs). The Avos and Imahos were the foundations upon which the Jewish people were built. Yet, the first Patriarch was Avraham. This makes Avraham the “Av Harishon” (first father).

All of this begs us to ask why Hashem chose Avraham to be the progenitor of the Jewish people. There were other Tzaddikim who lived prior to Avraham, such as: Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Eiver. Why were they not selected to be the “first Jews” and the progenitors of B’nei Yisrael?
To answer this question, we will take a look at a Medrash which says that Avraham was the first person to begin the tikkun (fixing; repairing) of the first sin of the Eitz Hada’as that Adam Harishon was involved in.

In Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 14:6; expounding on Parshas Bereishis, 2:7) it says that Hashem created Adam Harishon in the merit of Avraham. Based on a pasuk in Sefer Yehoshua (14:15), Avraham was considered to be the greatest spiritual giant. As such, Avraham should have been created first. Why then did Hashem create Adam first?

The answer is because if Avraham was created first, and if Avraham would have sinned in Gan Eden, there would not have been anyone later in history as great as Avraham who could be metaken (fix) that sin.
Therefore, Hashem created Adam first. Although Adam was righteous, he was not as righteous as Avraham. Therefore, even if Adam would sin (which he did), there would be a greater Tzaddik in the future, Avraham, who would be able to repair the damage that was done by the sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

The Medrash concludes by saying that Hashem placed Avraham in the middle of the generations so that Avraham would be able to support both the generations that came before him and the generations that came after him.

This Medrash about Avraham being the first one to fix the sin of Adam Harishon, fits into a teaching from Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 69, pg. 109b) which says that after Adam died, he came back into this world as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. The Avos were meant to fix the old sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

The Zohar in Parshas Behar (pg. 111b) tells us how they achieved that Tikkun. The three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality, and murder were connected to the sin of the Eitz Hada’as. Let’s take one at a time.
When the serpent told Chava that they would become gods if they ate from the tree (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5), Chava and Adam ate the fruit so that they would become gods. For a person to think that he or she could become a god is nothing short of idolatry.

When the Nachash “came upon Chava and injected zuhama (a spiritual poisonous venom) into her,” (Messeches Shabbos, chap. 22, “Chavis”, pg. 146a), that was an act of immorality.

When the decree of death hit the world after the sin of the Eitz Hada’as (Parshas Bereishis, 2:17), that was mass murder on a global level.

Therefore, the three Avos worked at rectifying that sin. Each one focused on a different cardinal sin that was present during the Eitz Hada’as.

When Avraham destroyed the idols of his father’s idol shop (Berishis Rabba, Parshas Noach, 38:13), he fixed the idolatrous aspect of the Eitz Hada’as.

When Yitzchak was willing to be slaughtered on the altar as an offering to God, he fixed the sin of murder that was connected to the Eitz Hada’as.

When all of Ya’akov’s children turned out to be righteous on account of his sanctity and purity, it fixed the immorality that was present at the Eitz Hada’as.

Although the Avos fixed the roots of the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, we, their descendants, must continue to fix the remaining branches of the Eitz Hada’as. This is because the Arizal (Sefer Halikkutim, Tehillim, 32; Sha’ar Hagilgulim) says that all Jewish souls were part of Adam’s grand soul before he sinned.
As such, each and every one of us participated in that sin. Some of us urged Adam to partake of that fruit, while others did not protest strong enough against eating the fruit.

Therefore, the decree of death fell upon all of us because we were all guilty of that crime. Since we all participated in that sin, we must all bear collective responsibility for the consequences.
Therefore, although the Avos began the tikkun, we must follow in their footsteps and continue to repair whatever damage is left. Avraham was the first one to begin fixing the damage of the Eitz Hada’as which occurred before him, and at the same time, Avraham was setting an example for future generations to come to continue to fix that sin.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why specifically Avraham was chosen to be the progenitor of Klal Yisrael. Although Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Eiver were righteous, they were only concerned with themselves, their families, and with their immediate students.

Avraham, however, was not content on focusing only on his inner-circle. Rather, Avraham was much broader than that and tried to bring the entire world to recognize Hashem. Additionally, Avraham insisted that his children, and their children after them, and so on, would continue to carry the torch that he initiated. This is what Hashem loved about Avraham (see Parshas Vayeira, 18:19).

We find that Avraham indeed focused his efforts on behalf of generations to come. The pasuk says that Avraham took Lot along with him (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:5). The Zohar (Parshas Lech Lecha, pg. 79a) asks, “Why would Avraham want to hang around with Lot if he (Lot) left much to be desired?” The Zohar answers this by saying that Avraham always kept a close eye on Lot in order to protect him because Avraham saw, with his Ruach Hakodesh, that the holy spark of Dovid Hamelech was buried deep within Lot.

We know that Dovid descended from Lot because Lot and his daughter had a son named Moav (Parshas Vayeira, 19:37). The boy Moav grew up to be a man who fathered the Moabite nation. Rus was from Moav (Rus, 1:4), and Dovid descended from Rus (Rus, 4:13-22). Since Dovid could trace his ancestry to Lot, Avraham kept Lot in close proximity in order to protect the spark of Dovid that was buried within him so that Malchus Yisrael would come to fruition (see Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 41:4).

We are going to see that Dovid worked at fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as as well. Therefore, it is not surprising that Avraham would want to ensure Dovid’s survival. Since Avraham was the first one to begin the tikkun of Adam’s sin, it would be in Avraham’s interest to bring forth Dovid who would continue to do that job.

In Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Bereishis, remez 41) it says that Hashem showed Adam a prophetic vision of all generations to come. Hashem showed Adam the birth of Dovid. Adam saw that Dovid would die three hours after he was born. Adam wanted to do something for Dovid. So, Adam gave seventy years of his life to Dovid.

It turns out that Dovid was a continuation of Adam because he (Dovid) lived out the last seventy years that Adam was supposed to live. Not only that, but the Arizal (Sefer Halikkutim, Parshas Ha’azinu) says that Dovid was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Adam whose purpose was to be metaken the sin of Adam. We find an example of Dovid doing just that.

In Meseches Sukkah (chap. 2, “Hayashan Tachas Hamittah”, pg. 26b) it says that Dovid Hamelech slept very little. How long did he sleep for? He slept the amount of time it would take a horse to breathe sixty breaths. Why did Dovid “horse nap” like that?

The Arizal says that it is because the Gemara in Berachos (chap. 9, “Haroeh”, pg. 57b) says that sleep is one-sixtieth of death. Therefore, Dovid did not want to taste the taste of sleep because Dovid did not want to taste the taste of death.

The reason why Dovid did not want to taste the taste of death was because he knew that he was a gilgul of Adam who brought death into this world as a result of the sin with the Eitz Hada’as. Therefore, Dovid wanted to remove death from the world. How can one remove death from the world? Well, by removing sleep from the world, one can remove a fraction of death from the world.

When this tikkun will be completed, Moshiach will come, the world will come full circle, and we will go back to Gan Eden Mikedem.

This explains why the first person was called “Adam.” It was not only because the word “Adam” is the root of the word “Adamah” (ground; Parshas Bereishis, 2:7) which teaches us that Adam was a derivative of the Adamah, but it is also because the name “Adam” is spelled with three letters: aleph, dalet, and mem. These three letters serve as the acronym for “Adam, Dovid Moshiach.”
This teaches us that when Dovid (the dalet) finishes fixing the sin of Adam (the aleph), Moshiach (the mem) will come.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Avraham was willing to put himself into mortal danger by fighting the four powerful kings to save Lot. It is because Avraham was the first person who began to do the tikkun of the Eitz Hada’as that Adam sinned with. Therefore, it meant a lot to Avraham that Dovid should enter into the world to continue this mission. Therefore, Avraham risked his life for Lot who carried around the spark of Dovid to ensure Dovid’s survival and seal the redemptive process which would benefit humanity.

As we mentioned above, every one of us must try to continue Avraham’s good work of fixing the sin of Adam because we all participated in that sin. We are going to see that we already do participate in this tikkun on a regular basis.

The Gemara in Brachos (chap. 6, “Keitzad Mivarchin”, pg. 40a) quotes Rebbi Meir who said that the Eitz Hada’as was Geffen (a vine). Adam drank from the wine that was squeezed from the grapes.

However, Rebbi Yehuda maintains that the Eitz Hada’as was Chitah (wheat). Adam ate the bread that was made from the wheat. The Shvilei Pinchas says that based on the teaching of “Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim” (these and those are the words of the living God; Eiruvin, chap. 1, “Mavui Shehu Gavoah”, pg. 13b), the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as was both. It contained the Geffen and Chitah aspects.

Based on this idea, the Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yoseph Chaim, 1835-1909, Baghdad, Iraq; Halachos, shana shniya, Parshas Bereishis) says that every Friday night we make Kiddush over a cup of wine, and we make Hamotzi on Lechem Mishneh, in order to be metaken the sin of the Eitz Hada’as which was a combination of those two ingredients.

The Sifsei Kohein (Rabbi Mordechai Kohein, 1523-1598, Tzfas; Parshas Bereishis, divrei hamaschil “Ode B’midrash”) explains this idea a little further. He says that had Adam been patient and waited until Friday night, not only would it have been permissible for him to partake of the Eitz Hada’as, it would have been a Mitzvah. Adam would have made Kiddush on the wine component of the Eitz Hada’as, and he would have said the Hamotzi Bracha over the Lechem Mishneh component of the Eitz Hada’as.

Therefore, when we wait until Friday night to make Kiddush over wine and Hamotzi over Challah, we are demonstrating patience and we do our little part in fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as that we are guilty of.
Moreover, the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572, Cracow, Poland) in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 271:10) says that during Kiddush on Friday night, we should glance at the Shabbos candles.

The Chochmas Shlomo (Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, 1785-1869, Galicia; ibid) explains why the Rema instructed us to do this. He says that it is because according to Rebbi Meir, the Eitz Hada’as was Geffen. When Adam drank the wine from that grape, it brought death into the world.

Now, what is death? Well, every person carries around a Neshama on the inside. That Neshama is a light, as it says, “The lamp of God is the soul of man” (Mishlei, 20:27). This means that every person is a light. However, when a person dies, that light is extinguished from this world. That light goes to a different world, but in this world, it has been extinguished.

Since the wine of the Eitz Hada’as extinguished light from this world, when we make Kiddush over wine to fix the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, we look at the Shabbos candles because we want to bring more light into ourselves and into this world.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we will be able to understand Malki Tzedek’s reaction when Avraham returned from war against the four kings. As we mentioned above, Malki Tzedek was Shem ben Noach. He was a Tzaddik who was king of Yerushalayim (Parshas Lech Lecha, 14:18). Shem’s righteousness, coupled together with the holiness of Yerushalyim, gave him Ruach Hakodesh.

Shem saw the real motivation behind why Avraham risked his life to save Lot. Shem saw that it was due to the spark of Dovid buried within Lot that Avraham intended to preserve. Shem felt an immediate connection with Dovid because both he and Dovid were kings in Yerushalayim (Shmuel Beis, 5:5).
Shem also knew why Avraham was so interested in saving Dovid. Shem saw that it was because Avraham was invested in fixing the sin of the Eitz Hada’as. Avraham himself began this tikkun, and Dovid would continue on with this mission.

Therefore, the gifts which Shem gave to Avraham was specifically bread and wine because they represented the Geffen and Chitah of the Eitz Hada’as. Shem was basically saying to Avraham that he understood why Avraham went to all that trouble. It was in order complete the tikkun and bring the Geulah to the world. As such, Shem ben Noach had no complaints against Avraham for killing so many of his (Shem’s) descendants because he (Shem) realized that Avraham had acted for the ultimate benefit of the world.

One more aspect of our parsha will be even more understood based on this teaching.

After the war against the four kings, the word of Hashem came to Avraham in a vision. Hashem said, “Fear not Avraham, I am a shield for you, Secharcha Harbei Me’od (your reward is very great; Parshas Lech Lecha, 15:1). Rashi (ibid) cites a Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 44:4) which explains why Hashem had to tell Avraham not to worry.

Avraham was concerned that he had received all of his reward in this world when Hashem had performed miracles for him to win the war. Avraham was concerned that he had no merits left and that no other reward would be waiting for him in the next world. Therefore, Hashem said, “Do not worry, your reward is very great.”

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that miracles subtract from a person’s reward if the miracles were done only to help the individual. However, when the miracles are done to help Klal Yisrael, the merits of the person who had a miracle done for him do not get diminished.

Therefore, with respect to Avraham, he did not just go to war for personal reasons to save a family member (Lot was a nephew and brother-in-law). Rather, Avraham went to war to protect the spark of Dovid who would do more tikkun which would result in Moshiach and the Geula which would benefit all of Klal Yisrael and humanity.

Hashem even hinted as much to Avraham when He said, “Secharcha Harbei Me’od.” The word “Me’od” means “very,” but the word “Me’od” is spelled with three Hebrew letters: mem, aleph, and dalet. The same three letters that make up the name “Adam.”

In other words, Hashem told Avraham that although Hashem had performed miracles on Avraham’s behalf which won the war, he would still have great (Me’od) reward because he went to war so that Dovid (the dalet) would do the tikkun for Adam (the aleph), and bring Moshiach (the mem). All of this was done for the sake of the klal. Therefore, Avraham’s merits would not be diminished whatsoever. On the contrary, they would be increased.

One practical take-away of this teaching would be to make a conscious effort to look at the Shabbos candles during Kiddush on Friday night. At that moment, let us be reminded that we are involved in fixing the sin of Adam and the Eitz Hada’as which was Geffen and Chitah. Let us remember that we want to bring more light into this world.

Moreover, right there and then, let us make a commitment to try and be even more of a klal person like Avraham was. Let us think of how we can do something for the benefit of others. Then, let’s do it.

So, may we branches of Avraham Avinu do our part in fixing the sin of Adam Harishon by reaching out to help others even more so, in order that we deserve to usher in Moshiach ben Dovid who will bring the world back full circle to a Yom Shekulo Shabbos in Gan Eden Mikedem.