In the Merit of Avraham
By: Rav Moshe Stav
Parshat Lech Lecha
In this week’s parsha, Avraham makes two statements in the merit of which, Chazal tell us, his descendants were given certain mitzvot: “And I am dust and ashes” (Bereishit 18:27) and “If I will take anything from a string to a shoe strap” (14:23). In the merit of these words, we were given the mitzvot of tzitzit (with emphasis on the string of techelet), the straps of the tefillin, the dust drunk by the sota, and the ashes of the para aduma.
Many mitzvot were given as a result of certain events. Sometimes, the connection is obvious, as in the case of the prohibition of the gid hanasheh – in order to remember the meeting between Yaakov and the malach, we avoid eating the area of the leg in which Yaakov was injured. Other times, the connection is less obvious, and we must attempt to understand the underlying message. For example, Chazal draw a connection between the two goats that Rivka prepared for Yaakov to bring to Yitzchak and the two goats of Yom Kippur, the se’ir laHashem and the se’ir la’azazel, as these two goats reflect the choice of Yaakov over Esav. What, then, is the deeper meaning of the connection between the pesukim in our parsha and the mitzvot mentioned above?
When Avraham refused to accept any gift from the king of Sedom, he emphasized that he refused to have any involvement with acquiring property in a less-than-optimal manner. He declared, “I have lifted my hand up to Hashem” (14:22). According to one explanation of Chazal, this means that he swore, as it was customary to raise one’s hand when taking an oath. According to a second explanation, Avraham was dedicating everything that he had acquired to Hashem. He therefore refused to take any of the property for himself. Avraham further declared that he would take none of the spoils, “So that you will not say, ‘I have made Avraham wealthy’” (14:23). According to one explanation, Avraham is addressing the king of Sedom. According to another explanation, he is addressing his hand, which he had raised earlier. Taking spoils is a reflection of victory, and Avraham did not want his victory to either his own power or that of the king of Sedom. (This explains why he was willing to accept gifts from Pharaoh and Avimelech, as they had admitted that they had taken Sarah unjustly. Even in those case, Chazal tell us, Avraham gave the property to the children of his pilagshim, rather than for himself.)
Because Avraham sanctified himself by refraining from taking any property when the means of acquiring it were imperfect, he merited the mitzvot that serve as signs of his children’s status – the tzitzit and tefillin.
Furthermore, Chazal teach that if someone wears tefillin on his head and tzitzit on his clothing and has a mezuza on his doorpost, we can assume that he will not sin. These mitzvot surround the person and “tie” him to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Commenting on the pasuk, “Let us break the cords of their yoke, shake off their ropes from us” (Tehillim 2:3), Chazal teach that this refers to the insincere geirim, who will in the future discard their tefillin and tzitzit. Insincere converts, who are not truly “tied” to Hashem, discard specifically these mitzvot because they reflect our connection to Him. By disconnecting from the influence of the king of Sedom, Avraham created his children’s ability to bind themselves to Hashem, and not to other nations.
Dust represents the most basic component of reality. Following the sin of the Etz HaDa’at, Hashem told Adam, “For you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Bereishit 3:19). This is not simply a punishment; it also constitutes repair of the sin. Man’s return to the dust is part of the process of repentance, as he freed from his sins when he returns to his source. Similarly, the powers of tuma are nullified by burning them into ashes. The halacha of the sota is unique to Yisrael; Hashem gave it to us to preserve our sanctity. The purity of Bnei Yisrael, as expressed by the ashes=dust, is accomplished due to our ability to return to our source and become purified and the nullification of the powers of tuma through burning.
This ability is dependent on man’s recognition that he is entirely dependent on Hashem, who gives him life at every moment and could instantaneously cause him to return to dust or nullify him like ashes. This was precisely the recognition that Avraham expressed when he referred to himself as “dust and ashes.” He recognized the miracles that Hashem had performed for him, and he passed this recognition on to his children. Fulfillment of these mitzvot expresses the status of Yisrael, who merit to live with Hashem’s providence in every element of their lives, including family life and their ability to purify themselves from physicality and connect to eternity.
Shiur ID: 7745