I was inspired by the new Chumash Mesoras HaRav and the comments on the beginning of this week’s parasha to look at an odd pasuk:
What does לה׳ הנראה אליו mean? Isn’t that redundant? Why would וירא ה׳ אל אברם warrant building an altar? Rashi doesn’t seem to help:
The Ramban addresses the issue directly:
And this idea, that וירא ה׳ אל אברם represented a new stage in Abraham’s relationship with הקב״ה, is important to Ramban’s understanding of Abraham’s life. Rav Soloveitchik wrote a book on this, called Abraham’s Journey. Going backwards from our pasuk, we find that before this, ה׳ only “spoke” to Abraham:
And before that, we find that he was evangelizing in Haran without any communication from ה׳:
And before that, he was in אור כשדים and had to leave:
Ramban notes that the text emphasizes that it was not Terach alone who left, but Abraham was part of that decision:
We don’t know from the text what happened in Ur but we know something happened:
The Rambam summarizes the Aggadic understanding of Abraham’s journey in Ur:
And going forward, Abraham’s relationship with ה׳ will peak at the ברית בין הבתרים:
So, our pasuk is the first time Abraham offers a קרבן. What made this special? Ramban talks about סוד הקרבן. When Ramban talks about סוד, he is referring to kabbalistic ideas:
But I’m going to go there, at least to the extent of my understanding. Ramban deals with סוד הקרבן in his commentary to the beginning of ויקרא. He first cites the Rambam’s explanation of קרבנות:
But he rejects this:
But then he goes kabballistic:
My understanding is that a קרבן must be part of a relationship (קרבן לשון קריבה). The name אלקים represents G-d in nature, transcendent. It’s a title, impersonal.
י־ה־ו־ה is ה׳'s “name”; it represents the closeness that G-d has to us, the השגחה פרטית. A קרבן must be a gift given to a friend, not lunch money given to a bully. Offering a קרבן to אלקים is עבודה זרה.
The problem with this is that is seems to be wrong. ה׳ tells Moshe that He never appeared to the אבות with the name י־ה־ו־ה:
And Ramban explains that the שם הויה is how ה׳ makes open miracles:
So now what? We can only offer קרבן to ה׳ but that seems to require open miracles; explicit השגחה פרטית. Our relationship (and Abraham’s relationship) doesn’t include that.
The Midrash explains that ה׳ is actually telling Moshe that he is wrong; it is possible to have a relationship with שם הויה without open miracles, with only the dialogue and the promise for the future:
So Rashi was explaining this מזבח after all. ה׳ הנראה אליו was בְּשׂוֹרַת הַזֶּרַע and בְּשׂוֹרַת אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל. Simply knowing that ה׳ would give him ארץ ישראל was enough to change the relationship from אלקים to י־ה־ו־ה, and to make Abraham not a servant of G-d but a friend of G-d: