Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Learning From Avraham Avinu

"Harimosi - I lifted my hand to Hashem...if I will take anything of yours, so you will not say 'I made Avram rich'" (Bereishis 14:22,23). Rashi explains that Avram's lifting of his hand signifies that he was taking an oath. The Meshech Chochma offers an alternative explanation of Avram's actions, namely that Avram lifted his hand, which signified the strength he used in the war, to Hashem to demonstrate that he attributed his victory to Hashem and not to his wisdom or his strength. As such, the spoils of war are not Avram's, and he therefore refused to take anything.

"You may say in your heart, 'My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth (chayil)' Then you must remember Hashem and that it is He Who gives you strength to make wealth" (Devarim 8:17,18). The Ramban links "chayil" to military victory. We must realize that victory is Hashem's doing, and therefore even mightier nations and fortified cities can be conquered (9:1-3). Moreover, miraculous sustenance in the desert came from Hashem (8:15,16) and the wealth made with our strength when we entered Eretz Yisrael also came from Hashem, "Who gives you strength."

A similar idea is expressed by the Ramban (Shemos 13:16) who says, "from the great open miracles, a person acknowledges the hidden miracles which are the fundamentals of the entire Torah...that all our matters and happenings are miracles, not nature and the way of the world...but all by Divine decree." Just as redemption is miraculous, so is sustenance - a natural occurrence - miraculous, as it says: "Hashem saved us from our enemies, and gives nourishment to all" (Tehilim 136:24,25) (Bereshis Raba 20:9). The change of tense is instructive - from past miracles we learn that present sustenance is from Hashem Whose kindness endures forever. Similarly, the Medrash cites an additional juxtaposition: Hashem Who shepherds me, His angel redeems me (Bereishis 48:15,16). Parnassa, sustenance, is greater than redemption, and even greater than the splitting of the sea (Tehilim 136:13).

Avram made the spoils of this war into a song, as the Torah says after the sea split, "the G-d of our father (Avraham) and I will exalt Him" (Shemos 15:2). The Medrash (Bereishis Raba 43:9) links Moshe's "Aromimenhu" with Avraham's "harimosi" - just as we sang after the open miracle of kriyas Yam Suf, so Avraham attributed his victory to Hashem Whose Divine Providence vanquished kings, for which he sang and praised Hashem (Meshech Chochma).

In a remarkable interpretation, the Malbim (14:23) translates Avram's words "v'lo tomar", not as "you will not say", but "she [it] will not say." The third person feminine form refers to the aforementioned hand of Avram. If I will accept the spoils, as if my hand won the war and made wealth, my hand will tell me 'I made Avram rich', as it says 'my strength and the might of my hand made me wealth.' How can my hand say that she [it] made me rich if Hashem did all this and not my weak hand?

In an age of unprecedented prosperity in the American Orthodox Jewish community, we dare not forget, as Hashem warned us, that our success comes from Hashem. If we forget this, we can forget Hashem entirely, not only in thought but in deed (Or Hachaim, Devraim 8:18). We must reinforce our faith in Divine Providence to avoid the path that leads from wealth to nonobservance and assimilation.

The deeds of the patriarchs are a sign for their descendants (Tanchuma Lech Lecha, 9). Let us all learn the critical and timeless lesson from our founding father.

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