Journeys are always difficult and at the beginning of our Parsha Avraham undertakes a journey at the behest of the Almighty but is promised that when he does so he shall be blessed:
ויאמר ה אל אברהם לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך ואעשך לגוי גדול ואברכך ואגדלה שמך והיה ברכה
“Hashem said to Avraham Go for yourself from your land from your relatives and from your fathers house to the land which I shall you. And I will make you a great nation, I shall bless you, I shall make your name great and it will be for a blessing” (Breishit 12:1-2)
Rashi, in explaining the meaning of the blessing, presents two very different understandings. The first is that Avraham will be blessed with children, wealth and fame. The reason Avraham will need these assurances in the form of this blessing was, Rashi learns, due to the perceived difficulty of relocating for in travel there are three things that are reduced, namely fertility, wealth and reputation. Since Hashem had instructed Avraham to move from Charan to Eretz Yisrael Hashem promises him that he shall still have these three things. In this explanation the final words of the verse והיה ברכה – and it will be ( your name shall be) for a blessing – adds that Avraham’s blessings will carry a special potency.
However, it is the next comment that Rashi adds that I find fascinating indeed:
Here Rashi teaches that the three blessings of 1- making a great nation, 2- I shall bless you and 3- I will make your name great, are really references to the Amida prayer. In the introductory first and most significant of the paragraphs of the Shmona Esrei we say that Hashem is the G-d of Avraham – this is the meaning, teaches Rashi, of ‘I shall make you into a great nation’. The continuation of the initial blessing of the Amidah has a reference to the other Avot (Forefathers) too but are also learnt from the continuation of the verse of the blessing above. ‘I shall bless you’ is a reference according to this to Yitzchak, whilst ‘I shall make your name great’ is referring to Yaakov.
Now, initially, according to what we have just learnt we would have thought that the paragraph of this blessing would conclude with the words ‘Blessed are you the shield of Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov’. Instead we conclude מגן אברהם – the shield of Avraham alone, omitting Yitzchak and Yaakov from the conclusion of the blessing. This is based on the teaching בך חותמין ולא בהם meaning: the blessing will be concluded with you and not them. In other words, the last part of the blessing given to Avraham as an assurance for his undertaking of the journey instructed by Hashem is that the first blessing of the Amidah shall conclude with his name alone!
I find this second opinion in Rashi curious and most instructive to say the least. For what does it add in comparison to the first explanation? In the first explanation Hashem is offering Avraham real concrete promises of children, wealth and fame. In this second comment it would seem that the so-called reward for his act of faith in following the instruction of Hashem is that his descendants many generations later shall, when we pray, use and evoke his name, his sons and grandsons name and conclude the blessing with his name alone. How is that considered an equivalent or a parallel blessing to the very practical and tangible blessings of children wealth and fame?
I think that a possible understanding of what we can glean Rashi’s teaching in the second explanation offered is that Hashem is telling Avraham something rather profound – that for generations to come your descendants shall invoke your merit and that of your son and grandson. In other words, your merit shall be so great that it shall stand for your descendants for all time. So that when they harness this eternal blessing through your name they conclude the blessing with your name alone.
Avraham Avinu is the pillar of faith. It was he who founded the faith in Hashem and introduced the world to ethical Monotheism, recognizing that Hashem is the Creator of all things through sheer power of intellect. There is a dispute amongst the classical commentators as to how old Avraham was when he encountered or discovered Hashem for the first time. According to some he was three years old whilst according to others he was actually forty. I suggest that both opinions are correct. The process may very well have begun when he was but three but it took till the age of forty for his Emunah to mature and develop. (See Rambam laws of Avodat Kochavim Chapter 1: 2-3)
The Baal HaTanya, Rav Shneiur Zalman of Liadi (intro to Shaar Yichud Veemunah), teaches that whilst there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah they are split into two major components. The positive mitzvot which number 248 are expressions of the level of relationship with Hashem known as Ahava – Love of Hashem – and the 365 negative mitzvot are expressions of the form of relationship with G-d best described as the awe of Hashem – Yiraah.
In reality both form the pillars of our faith – namely Ahavat Hashem and Yiraat Hashem, the love of Hashem and the Awe or fear of Hashem – but in turn they are both offshoots of a deeper single foundational pillar, Emunah – Belief or recognition of God, for an atheist or agnostic can develop neither awe or love for Hashem.
Avraham Avinu is this pillar. He represents and stands for this fundamental of faith – Emunah. The very fact that there are still Jews and have been for generations and, Please God, shall be for generations to come evoking His name, relating to the teachings and faith system that he founded alone at a time when no one else believed in Hashem is nothing short of astounding. Indeed, according to what we learnt in Rashi, nothing short of a special blessing from Hashem could ensure the durability and continuity of the attribute of Avraham the pillar of all pillars, faith and belief in Hashem – אמונה.