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After these events (Abraham's successful military intervention saving his nephew Lot, plus the urban district of Sodom from the Great Power nations of the Middle East), 'the word of G-d came to Abram in a vision saying: "Do not fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great"' (15:1). In reply, Abraham says to G-d:
'G-d… what will you give me? I am childless. And my household manager is Eliezer of Damascus…' (15:2)
G-d did not reply. He was silent. Abraham modifies his response to:
'Truly, you have not given me any children. Behold 'the son of my house' will inherit me (15:3). 'The son of my house' can mean literally an inside member of the household' - Eliezer. Or, as Chizkuni explains, Eliezer will be the decision maker, as even if Abraham has a son in his old age, he will be too young to inherit and make decisions over Abraham's property in his own right.
Only after the second response, which is essentially seems the same as the first, did: 'the word of the G-d come to him saying: "That one will not inherit you. Only he that comes forth from within you (your son) shall inherit you."' (15:4)
In both responses, Abraham declared he was childless. In both cases, the prospect of his steward's succession disturbed him. Why did G-d remain silent the first time? Why did Abraham essentially repeat himself? Why did G-d only answer him only the second time?
By comparing Abraham's two responses, we can learn something of the nature of prayer, and in a wider context, about the attitudes to hard times in life. For example, a person can reach thirty five and still not find a suitable partner to marry. He/she is currently a bachelor/spinster. Or reach the age of forty five and still not find a profession or line of business that is true to the essence of his individuality.
Those situations may be construed in two ways. Fatalists say: 'I've had it. Getting married and starting a family is only for the young. I'm resigned to going it alone', and, 'I'm really past it. If it hasn't happened now it never will. I'll stick out that boring dead-end job until it's time to quit and take the pension'.
Abraham's first response does have the edge of fatalism. "I am childless". "My household manager is Eliezer of Damascus".
Both are expressed as full stops, instead of commas. Yes, Abraham was childless - but only at that point in time. Yes, Abraham's heir was Eliezer of Damascus - but only at that point in time. Not necessarily permanently.
So G-d said nothing.
Abraham took the hint. He modified his response to:
"Truly, you have not given me any children". No children at present, but not necessarily in the future. "Behold 'the son of my house' will inherit me" - is ambiguous - deliberately so. For ben bayit can mean someone who is a member of the household, such as Eliezer of Damascus. It can also translate literally - 'son of the house' - his real son, in the future. (In that case, the verse could even be rendered with a question mark - 'could my heir be my real son?')
The frame of Abraham's first response had an edge of fatalism. The frame of Abraham's second response had an edge of hope and faith. Those were the qualities that earned G-d's response, in the form of 'the word of the G-d came to him saying: "That one will not inherit you. Only he that comes forth from within you (your son) shall inherit you."'
Indeed, some people get their opportunities early in life. Some get them only later. Some get them both earlier and later. As Ecclesiastes puts it:
'Sow your seed in the morning, and do not stop working in the evening. You do not know what the time of prosperity is.' (Eccl. 11:6)
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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