Undertones of Torat Shem
Rabbi David Katz
The previous Parasha ends with the circumcision of Abraham and Yishmael, and yet what most readers never find out, was that this was orchestrated by Shem. There are three ways of looking at the Brit of Abraham, and each one appears as he is the master of the art form; in fact, all three are really one in the same. Abraham musters the strength to go at it alone, as he is aided by Hashem, who in turn called upon the selfless Shem to be the facilitator to bring the command to form and function in God’s name. This is just one example of the hidden Shem; the entirety of our Parasha offers more of the same in regards to Shem, and his influence over the all of Jewish history.
With Shem having given circumcision to Abraham, we now have a perfect introduction into our Parasha, and a precedent that Shem never left Abraham’s side from their monumental meeting at the Temple Mount. As one flips the pages and scans each event that will revolve around Abraham, one can see the Shem undertones loud and clear. Up next for example, is the art of praying on behalf of the generation; where Noah would stumble Abraham shined...and perhaps Shem is was and will be the difference, as for the Final Redemption, Shem will be the all too famous Righteous Priest to get things started.
Hashem wastes no time in getting to business with Sedom and Gemorra, as their wicked cries have reached a boiling point for Divine retribution. At the same time, Hashem makes known that He must include Abraham in such matters, and Abraham meets the standard, as he prays for the lives of the righteous among the wicked. Here we see two direct connections to Shem – praying for the generation, and the link between Sedom and Jerusalem.
Where Noah stumbled in uplifting the generation, we can see that Shem rectified the problem, and helped pass the appropriate torch onwards to Abraham. The Zohar accounts that Hashem’s covenant after the Flood was actually inscribed in the merit of Shem. The Zohar also gives account that both Jerusalem and Sedom suffer common fate of destruction. However Shem took Jerusalem in a righteous direction, whereas the rest of the World made Sedom into a spiritual wasteland. That is where the similarities end, as Jerusalem is the one destined to become rebuilt. The Messianic dream of Jerusalem will also include a return of the righteous inhabitants who come as Nobleman who are in the mold of Abraham and are found in every Generation to the number of Thirty-Six. [The Zohar points out that there are 30 like Abraham, another three not included in the count, and three like the three men who appeared to Abraham at the beginning of the Parsha. These thirty-six men uphold the World every generation, and this was the precedent that Abraham prayed for.]
Fast forward to the episode of Lot and his two daughters at the tail end of the Sedom story, and we find the seeds of yet another Shem saga.
As we know, Lot fathered the eventual nation Moav; the same Moav that Ruth is destined to come from. Yet if we trek just a little bit deeper, it is almost common knowledge that the Davidic Kingdom comes out of this. These state of affairs are practically synonymous with not only David, but the Tribe of Judah. For the whole entire Judah – Ger Tzedek relationship is a sect of Torah that laid its first roots of fruition with Tamar and Judah. Tamar of course was Shem’s daughter, and their union would help shape and ferment the eventual Ruth story, along with the other Judah – Ger Tzedek relationships that would occur in close proximity of the Judah lineage. The Torah is about spiritual repair and leverage; for as much as Lot perverted the pathways [with his daughters], Shem sought to purify the World through righteous paths that the impure know not of. Of Judah, Shem, and the myriads of Gerei Tzedek; a word to the wise is sufficient.
The next stop on the Shem train is the encounter between Abraham and AviMelech. To quickly and simply put the story into Noahide context, the Talmud [and all subsequent authorities] understands that AviMelech was [Noahide] wrong for his out of bounds interest of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. To put it bluntly, in any situation [all the more so an openly dodgy situation] one must make it his business to know what is going on. As Hashem said in the Torah [and the Talmud expounded further] – AviMelech was obligated to learn, yet he hadn’t learned. This goes for all situations, places, and people. It was not impossible to know that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, thus he was obligated to make it his business to find out just exactly was going on; the difference being life and death. The Torah precept here is called Derech Eretz, and as is known Derech Eretz comes with Torah, and reminds us of Shem and Abraham on the Temple Mount that was embodied by an inheritance of Torah.
Yet one can expound further, and say that this precept is actually an [binding] invitation to take on Shabbat [something Abraham then did!] for if one is to learn [and incur possible guilt should he not learn] then Shabbat is the ticket! As Jewish Ger relations thicken towards Geulah [in relation to the Judah – Ger Tzedek tree], the two peoples will come into close proximity by nature on and around the Sabbath. Should the Jew entertain his Ger Tzedek [Ger Toshav] friends who have journeyed a great length to partake of his company, they will be obligated to have learned the ins and outs of an acceptable Shabbat. In most cases this is for the sake of the Ger, to know what is appropriate in the relationship, for Scholarship on the Jewish side may be weak as to what the function of the Ger is on Shabbat. [The same as well on the inverse] Accolades again fall upon Shem, for soon after Lech Lecha, we find Torah proof that Abraham was a Shomer Shabbat Ger, in conjunction with the Ger who learns Torah is as a High priest. [Abraham was given the High priesthood from Shem]
The last two locations of Shem in the Parasha are both tailored to Isaac. We find that the life of Isaac was inspired directly from Shem. After Isaac was weaned, the Midrash tells us that Abraham and Sarah had a party, and the generations greatest Men were in attendance. Amidst the congregation, as Sarah was attending to Isaac, she noticed that Shem and Ever had come to pay respects to young Isaac. It is a known wisdom that a nursing mother heavily influences an infant; one can imagine the Awe that Sarah had and imbued into Isaac when she saw Shem and Ever in full bloom and in relation to Abraham. Isaac was destined to be different.
And indeed he was, as after Abraham had succeeded in his 10th and final test [the Binding of Isaac, upon which both of them merited their higher self], the Midrash again fills in the missing gap, and makes the reader aware, that Isaac left the Mount, and enrolled into Shem’s Yeshiva for advanced learning. This would become the gold standard of the Abrahamic lineage, as Jacob and his sons would also learn from the mouth of Shem. In fact, Torah history would come to be defined by one’s proximity to Shem and the Torah of. Once we meet Malki Tzedek / Shem and Abraham together in Lech Lecha, the Torah’s secret precedent is established.
The lost doctrines of the Ger are not a tale of doom and gloom, for Shem is said to have eaten of the Tree of Life and Lives forever. As much as we find false religions that exploit the ambiguous nature of the Shem – Abraham connection, or in Judaism’s side it has sadly become forgotten, misquoted/learned, or blatantly left out of tradition, Shem certainly does live and thrive even to this day. Every year we have the chance to align ourselves with the Shem undertones in Genesis, and are given the opportunity to heal the Shem – Abraham union in a religious awakening. Whether it be a Ger Shabbat, extended Torah learning, or the classic Love the Ger message, we all have what to gain and learn from seeking out Shem in this new Torah cycle of the current year.
We are all given the choice – do we judge Abraham as the streimel [Chasidic fury head garb] wearing first Jew that he really wasn’t [but if we put enough makeup on him – he can be], or as the Universal message that Shem saw at the Temple Mount, and thus routed the Torah of Creation through him? Abraham makes a great Jew, maybe even the best Jew…but as a Ger, Abraham really was one of a kind, and the best part of the original Ger Tzedek story, is that it finally allows the truth of Shem and his Torah to radiate into our souls. Shem is not mentioned in our Parasha, but don’t be fooled, as Sechel is a Ger in this World. Thank God we have Abraham, the first Ger Tzedek as a constant reminder that all that we have, comes from Shem son of Noah. Thanks to Shem, Abraham goes from being a good Jew [through limited perception], and illuminates into Abraham the father of Chesed…and now, we can merit to know the difference.
Audio Shiur 11 P.M. Monday Night [Tzfat Time]