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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parshas Vayera

Genesis 18:19

A verse which leads the Ramban to an important philosophical insight.

For I know him (Hebrew: "yedativ") because he will command his children and his household after him and they will keep the way of Hashem to do righteousness and judgment, that Hashem shall bring to Abraham that which He spoken of him.


For I know him: Rashi: This (the word "yedativ") is an expression denoting affection, as in (Ruth 2:1) "a kinsman of her husband" ..............But, in fact the essential meaning of all these examples is "knowledge" since one who likes someone draws him near to himself and gets to know him and is familiar with him. And why do I hold him dear ?

"Because he will command" because he commands his children regarding Me to keep My ways. But if you will explain (the word "yedativ") as the Targum does ( "I know of him that he will command his children" etc.) then the word (Hebrew: "l'ma'an") does not fit.


Rashi is dealing with the word "yedativ" which literally means "I have known him" but Rashi finds this translation difficult in the syntax of this verse. Therefore he shows that the same verb which ordinarily means "knowing" can also mean "having affection for", and that is its meaning in our verse. In short Rashi does here what he frequently does, gives us his understanding of the correct meaning of a word.


The Ramban offers other meanings, in addition to Rashi's, to the word "yedativ." Then he ends by saying something quite astounding. He says:

"But the correct understanding, in my opinion, is to "know him" literally. This hints at the principle that G-d's knowledge, which is divine providence, in this lower world is (just) to guard the species and even humans He leaves them to chance happenings. Until their time of accounting ( i.e. death) comes. But with His righteous ones He directs His heart to know him individually, to have His protection cleave to him at all times. As it says (Job 36:7) "He does not remove His eyes from the righteous man." There are many other similar verses which make this point."


The Ramban is telling us something that is quite different from the common understanding of the Jewish view of "hasgacha pratit" - personal providence in our lives. The Ramban says that only for the righteous is there divine guidance for what happens to us in this world. (The Rambam - Maimonides - takes the same position.) All the ordinary people are subject to the "whims" of nature and other accidents. This is quite different from the Talmudic saying that "No man stubs his finger in this world unless it was decreed from Above. "(Tractate Chulin 7b) which means that everything that happens to people in this world is the result of divine decree. The Ramban is saying this is not so. Such divine providence exists only for the truly righteous.

The "Jewish" View on Things

When discussing Jewish Hashkafa questions, we should keep in mind that there are many and varied opinions expressed by the Torah giants. Some of these opinions may appear surprising to us when compared to the views most advocated today. Let us keep our minds open to constantly learn from our teachers, the Torah greats throughout the generations.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.

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