Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Elazar:
Why was Abraham punished with having his offspring enslaved in Egypt for 210 years?
Because he used scholars to wage war, as it says, “He gathered his disciples who had been raised in his home.”
Shmuel said: Because he asked the Almighty for too much, as it says [that Abraham asked God], “How will I know that I will inherit [the land of Canaan].”
Rabbi Yochanan said: Because he prevented people from entering under the wings of the Shechinah, as it says [that the king of Shalem said to Abraham], “Give me the souls and take the possessions.”
Of the three reasons, the most surprising is the third one. The exile in Egypt was the result of Abraham having given up the opportunity to teach non-Jews the ways of true faith—the belief in one God—and to encourage them to convert. Abraham had saved people and possessions from the Four Kings. Malchitzedek, the king of Salem offered Abraham the possessions that were saved if only Abraham would allow the people saved to remain under his tutelage. Rabbi Yochanan understands that by agreeing (to the first half), Abraham had made a mistake that cost his offspring so much suffering. In fact, the commentaries explain that those same souls that Abraham gave to Malchitzedek were subsequently the souls of the same Egyptians who would end up enslaving Abraham’s offspring.
What was Abraham supposed to do? He should have stood fast against Malchitzedek and taken these freed souls under his wing. He then would have been able to teach them the ways of God and they would have perhaps converted. These new disciples would have spread Abraham’s teaching around the world, bringing all of humanity to God and then there would have been no need for Abraham’s offspring to go down to Egypt.
Interestingly, spreading faith in God was Abraham’s most precious mission in life. He dedicated his entire life to this end, converting people to faith in God. And yet, he failed his mission this one time and as a result was punished with an exile that will not be rectified until the time of Mashiach. Apparently, this was a golden opportunity that Abraham missed. If you miss an opportunity to fulfill your mission in life, that which you were supposed to care for, comes back and becomes your undoing, as did these souls whom Abraham did not convert.
This is the essence of what we call the Fourth Revolution in Torah Learning—teaching Torah to the nations of the world. We see that the world today is ready and anxious to hear Torah, to learn the truth about the meaning of life and the need to serve God together. We must be confident and earnest in our pursuit of sharing the light of God, the Torah, with the entire world, knowing that the true and complete redemption depends on it.
(Excerpted from a lesson by Rabbi Ginsburgh, Rosh chodesh Shevat 5778)
Abraham: Father of a Multitude of Nations
This week’s Torah reading is Lech Lecha. In it, God tells Abraham to change his name from Avram to Abraham. Abraham stands for “father of a multitude of nations” (אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם); Abraham is destined to become the father of many nations.
How many nations? The ordinal value (each letter equals its place in the Aleph-Bet) of “a multitude of nations” (הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם) is 70 (the sum of 5, 13, 6, 14, 3, 6, 10, and 13). Indeed, the Torah identifies the original division of Noah’s offspring into 70 nations (Genesis chapter 10 and see our article on this topic).
What about the word “father [of a multitude of nations]” (אַב)? Its ordinal value is simply 1 (the value of the alef, א) plus 2 (the value of the beit, ב). The 2 allude to Ishmael (Islam) and Esau (Christianity), the leaders of the 70 nations, both direct descendants of Abraham (Ishmael was Abraham’s son, Esau his grandson). The 1 represents the Children of Israel, Abraham’s people, whose task is to bring God’s word—His will and His wisdom—to all 70 nations.
The father figure in Kabbalah is associated with the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom). The value of chochmah (חָכְמָה) is 73, exactly the ordinal value of Abraham’s full title, “father of a multitude of nations” (אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם)!