Today I’d like to talk about Abraham’s daughter with a little פרשנות. The story of the search for a wife for Isaac starts with an introductory sentence:
Why does this introduce our story? First, it’s worth understanding what בא בימים really means:
Abraham wasn’t just old; he felt that his task in life was about to be over. That’s the general understanding of this pasuk. Isaac needs to get married to carry on the Abrahamic mission.
Notice also that ה׳ ברך is the past perfect—G-d had blessed Abraham. ויברך ה׳ would be “G-d blessed”. This is describing something that already happened.
So why tell us that ה׳ ברך את אברהם בכל? The answer given by all the מפרשי פשט is that this is a reason for wanting a wife for Isaac:
But this doesn’t quite fit; this is the statement that ה׳ blessed Abraham in everything except…
Rashi uses a דרש to put this in context:
Abraham was blessed with “all” but the only thing that really mattered was his son, and he now had to provide for him.
The Baal HaTurim turns this pasuk around, explaining that ה׳ ברך את אברהם בכל was because אברהם זקן בא בימים:
Rabbi Marc Angel expanded this idea: after the death of Sarah, he needed the blessing.
The Netziv sees ה׳ ברך את אברהם בכל as a reason why Abraham had to send an agent:
The ברכה meant that he was busy serving others. The בכל reflects a blessing not of physical wealth but of mission.
The Ibn Ezra starts with the פשט interpretation, then adds a comment about a דרש:
He’s saying the derash can’t be right, because it should say “בבכל” if בכל is the name of Abraham’s daughter. What is he talking about?
It certainly seems like an outlandish aggadah. Where do we see any hint to daughters? And what’s the deal with the name? Ramban takes Ibn Ezra to task for “mocking” it:
להבדיל אלף הבדלים, this is the criticism against Donald Trump’s critics:
The argument between רבי מאיר and רבי יהודה is one of מציאות: in the social milieu in which Abraham lived, would having a daughter be considered a blessing? A wife became part of her husband’s household. She would be lost to the “Jewish” people. If we assume that ה׳ blessed Abraham with everything good, what can we conclude about the possibility of him having daughters? The question is left unanswered. But the comment of the anonymous אחרים is something else entirely:
Now, the Artscroll translation drops it here:
But I’m going to try to read the Ramban and see what we can understand.
I’m not a mystic. I understand these סודות התורה as semiotics, not mysticism. These concepts mean something to us and are relevant to our lives. Let’s see what the Ramban says:
First, there is a מדה called “כל” that is one of the seven “lower” ספירות. When we list them nowadays (as during ספירת העומר) we call it “יסוד”. I understand the ספירות to be the ways we experience the manifestation of ה׳'s actions in the world, and the ways that we are supposed to emulate Him. They come from the pasuk in דברי הימים:
All these attributes are ones that we can experience ourselves and thus act in a G-dly way:
Even מלכות, authority over other human beings, is divine and carries awesome responsibility:
יסוד is the idea that G-d created all; כי כל בשמים ובארץ. As a side point, we express our imitation of that by resting from our creation on Shabbat.
This is כל. So what is בכל?
ה׳ ברך את אברהם בכל means ה׳ blessed Abraham who was the manifestation of בכל, the derivative of כל. It was his baby, his “daughter”. What is that? I don’t understand the Ramban. He calls it בית דינו של הקדוש ברוך הוא and כנסת ישראל and I have no idea how to interpret that. But it’s connected to Abraham’s comment, בה׳ אלקי השמים ואלקי הארץ.
Fortunately, Rav Kook discusses this in his introduction to אורות הקדש part 3, about fear of Heaven and morality. Unfortunately, understanding Rav Kook is a life-long task in itself. So here is my understanding of Rav Kook’s understanding of Ramban’s understanding of אחרים's understanding of the pasuk:
So כל is ה׳'s creation of the universe. בכל is the recognition that ה׳ created the universe, and the implication of that fact, called יראת שמים. And that is why Ramban refers to בה׳ אלקי השמים ואלקי הארץ:
This, the recognition of ה׳'s role in creation, is Abraham’s mission, his “daughter”. And when he realizes that he is בא בימים, he realizes that his son needs a family to help him carry on that mission:
A postscript, from אורות הקדש:
Last week, I ended with the observation that Rav Kook disagreed with the idea that ה׳'s command trumps natural morality. His actual words are more nuanced:
An important part of Rav Kook’s theology is that there is הכרת האלקים הגנוזה
בעומק נפש of every person. The מוסר הטבעי is not a philosophical concept, but an inherent part of our souls. If we only allow ourselves to listen to it, it gives the form and strength to our יראת שמים, so we can reach out true potential as human beings.