Rabbi Shelton Donnell & Esther Edelsburg
Congregation Kol Haneshama, Jerusalem
Our Torah portion begins with the death and burial of Sarah in the cave of Machpela that Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite at a very generous price. It was the sole property that was in Abraham’s possession at the end of his life. After the period of mourning, Abraham showed concern for the continuity of his line, “He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, ‘Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by Adonai, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my people and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Gen. 24:2-4).
But, even before the story of Abraham’s servant and his encounter with Rebecca – the “rose among the thorns” – in Padan-Aram enfolds, the text notes, “Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and Adonai had blessed him in all things [ba-kol]” (Gen. 24:1). It appears that the meaning of the verse is quite straight-forward – it emphasizes the material wealth (if not the happiness) of Abraham at the end of his life. And this is how ibn Ezra interpreted the verse, “with length of days, wealth, honor, and children. And this is all that a person really desires.” As for Rashi, he argues that there is a symbolic meaning to “in all things [ba-kol].” “Ba-kol” in gematriya has the numerical equivalent of Ben, meaning “son,” suggesting that after he had a son there was a need to find him a wife.
The Babylonian Talmud brings us another interpretation, “’And Adonai had blessed him in all things [ba-kol]’ – what is meant by in all things? Rabbi Meir says, he did not have a daughter. Rabbi Judah says that he did have a daughter. And the sages add that Abraham had a daughter and that her name was Bakol” (Baba Batra 16b). According to the sages, Abraham had a daughter and her name was Bakol, thus “And Adonai had blessed Abraham with Bakol.”
The Ramban cites the Talmud and adds, “The sages added in their comment to the text a very profound insight…God has an attribute that is called Kol [All] because it is the foundation of all.” And therefore God bestowed a measure of this divine attribute upon Abraham “because he was a man of loving-kindness and acted accordingly.” Thus, the sages noted that the blessing that he was blessed in all things [ba-kol] does not infer that he fathered a daughter with his wife Sarah, nor does it suggest that he did not, rather it alludes to the blessing of the divine attribute of Kol, this is in keeping with the expression, ‘My Name is in him’ (Ex. 23:21).”
- Which interpretation do you prefer, and why?
- Abraham’s life included its ups and downs, he suffered many setbacks, especially in his relationships with Sarah and Hagar and with his two sons, despite all this it was said, “’And Adonai had blessed him in all things.” This refers to a divine attribute that symbolized wholeness (according to the Ramban). Under what circumstances might we say that one’s life becomes a blessing? When and how can that which is negative be turned into something positive?