The Logic of the Impossible, Part 2- The Patriarchs

This is Part 2 of 3 posts about the Logic of the Impossible. In part 1, I explained how G-d addressed Moses at the Burning Bush and how Moses understood His essence through His Name. Here, we will see how the Patriarchs’ relationship with G-d differed from that of Moses.

The Patriarchs

Now, let us turn to the second part of God’s communication to Moses: “I appeared to Abraham, to Yitzhak, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God (El Shaddai), but [with] My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.” 

In the section Lech Lecha of the book of Bereshit (15:7), we read:

And He said to him, ‘I am YHWH, Who brought you forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.’” 

The phrase is similar to the one spoken to Moses. But Abraham asked the question, “O Lord God (Adonai YHWH), how will I know that I will inherit it?” (Bereshit 15:7-8). In response, the Almighty told Abraham about the future enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their exodus (Bereshit 15:13-14). 

Some of the commentaries believe that the Jews’ exile and slavery in Egypt was a punishment for Abraham’s question. Others, however, disagree. Why? In my view, the reason that Abraham could not be faulted for asking the question is because he was not aware of the logic of Havayah [YHWH]— the logic of the impossible. According to the logic of the world around him, it was incomprehensible that he, and the 318 people who were with him, would inherit a land populated by numerous and powerful nations. However, it is an obvious fact that for the rest of his life, Abraham lived with the troubling thought that his descendants would be slaves. 

Similarly, when the Almighty told Abraham that He would give him a son from Sarah, we read in the Torah: “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed (va-yitzhak, in the Hebrew). And he said to himself, ‘Will [a child] be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?’” The Almighty heard what Abraham said to himself, and said to him, “You shall name him Yitzhak.” (“will laugh”) (Bereshit 17:17, 17:19). Subsequently, when Sarah hears about the future birth of her son, she also laughs, and the Almighty reproaches her for this (Bereshit 18:12-15). 

It is paradoxical that Yitzhak, whose name means “will laugh,” embodied the quality of Gevurah (constriction, severity, judgment), and apparently, he rarely laughed. Nor was it a laughing matter for Abraham and Sarah when the Almighty ordered Yitzhak to be sacrificed as recorded in Bereshit chapter 22 known as the parshah of the akeidah

However, after Abraham’s circumcision, and the subsequent miraculous birth of Yitzhak, everything changed. Abraham no longer asked the Lord questions, and even when the Almighty ordered him to sacrifice Yitzhak, despite the fact that He promised Abraham offspring from him, Abraham did not ask God questions — the lesson had been learned. From this fact, we can conclude that after his circumcision and the miraculous birth of Yitzhak, Abraham was at a much higher spiritual level than he was before. He had begun to recognize the Almighty as He operates with the name of YHWH, with the logic of the impossible.

To be continued in Part 3.

About the Author
Eduard Shyfrin received a Ph.D. in metallurgy from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys, and went on to found several businesses. He is a member of Chabad and his Torah commentaries have appeared on Chabad.org. He is the author of From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics.
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