Lech Lecha: Factoring in the Benefactor

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rabbi-nosson-greenbergBy Rabbi Nosson Greenberg

In this week’s parsha, Avraham heads south to Mitzrayim together with his wife Sara. To save her husband’s life Sara declared herself to be Avraham’s sister. Paroh falls for this and instead of [having to remove a devoted husband out of the equation by] killing Avraham he gives him a dizzying array of gifts in return for his approval in marrying Sara. As the passuk says: Ule’Avram  haitiv ba’avurah vayehi lo tzon ubakar…” – And he (Paroh) did well to Avraham for her (Sara’s) sake and there was to him (Avraham) sheep and cattle… (Beraishis, 12:16). The wording “and there was to him” however, is somewhat puzzling because it seems to deliberately avoid the main action of this particular part of the narrative, which is the giving of the gifts from Paroh to Avraham. It should have said “…..and he gave Avraham sheep and cattle…” This was not some back-room deal, an illegal under-the-table present which went through several shell companies and offshore bank accounts before it reached Avraham, rendering the giver of the gift totally anonymous. Au contraire, Paroh was trying to curry favor with Avraham so he may give his blessing to the shidduch, and he definitely wanted it be known that he was the benefactor of the gift. So why is the Torah vague in this area?

Perhaps we can say the following: The first time a concept is found in the Torah sets the tone eternally for that particular concept. The aforementioned passuk is the very first time a human gave another a gift. The Torah, by removing Paroh as the giver, wants us to know that Avraham recognized that even though any human benefactor deserves a hug and a “yasher koach”, the true benefactor in all gifts is the Ribono Shel Olam. The human giver is merely an agent of Hashem, a pawn facilitating His transaction. The wording of this passuk is thus giving us an eternal message: to see Hashem behind every gift, every deal and every success, and then thank Him.

The truth is, there is an earlier recorded occasion in the Torah where an object was given to someone else. By the original Sin of eating of the Aitz Ha’daas the passuk tells us “Vatitain gam l’ishah” – She (Chava) gave it (the fruit) also to her husband (Beraishis, 3,6). There the passuk does specify that Chava was the giver of the fruit, not Hashem. For in that instance the ratzon Hashem was for Chava not to give Adam the fruit. Using the little bechira she had she defied Hashem’s wishes. In that situation she was not merely an agent of Hashem but rather the originator and the owner of that particular action, thus Vatitain….”She gave”.

It is said that on April 4th 1865, ten days before his death, Abraham Lincoln triumphantly marched through Richmond, Virginia towards Capitol Square. Along the way a black man, a freed slave overcome by emotion, dropped to his knees paying homage, prompting the president to say, “Don’t kneel to me, that is not right.   You must kneel to G-d only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” L’havdil like his original namesake, Honest Abe, too, got it just about right.

Thanking Hashem is not too difficult, it is recognizing His participation in our successes that presents a challenge.

So next time a great-aunt sends you a birthday gift, please thank her.

Then be sure to thank Hashem.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.

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