Par­shat Lech Lecha – Satan; Devil or Ser­vant

The Jewish Voice - - PARSHA - By: Rabbi David Bibi

Dear Rabbi: “If the Nachash – the snake – was the em­bod­i­ment of Satan (or the ve­hi­cle upon which Satan rode) was al­lowed into the Gar­den of Eden with all his trick­ery and temp­ta­tions, wasn’t man meant to fail and how can Adam be blamed? If the Satan was al­lowed to pro­vide the fer­til­izer for Noah’s vine­yard which led to Noah’s down­fall af­ter he be­came drunk, was any other out­come pos­si­ble? If Satan rep­re­sents evil, why does Hashem give him free reign?”

I be­lieve there are a num­ber of ways of look­ing at Satan. We must be very care­ful not to take on a Western or Chris­tian view of Satan as some fallen an­gel in­de­pen­dently act­ing against G-d rep­re­sent­ing the forces of evil. This view of a sov­er­eign op­pos­ing power work­ing against G-d is to say the least hereti­cal. Many Rab­bis look at Satan as a ser­vant of Hashem and po­ten­tially a ser­vant of man who is there to test man in man’s self-con­trol. If man is suc­cess­ful in gov­ern­ing his de­sires, he comes to gov­ern Satan as well, re­turn­ing Satan to his role of ser­vant.

We can see this through­out the To­rah and Tal­mud, but as we are read­ing the por­tion of Lecha Lecha, let us be­gin here with a few ques­tions, the an­swer to which will shed light on our ques­tion.

Hashem com­mands Abra­ham to leave his land. The verses tell us that Abra­ham takes all the prop­erty or money which he earned with him. Why is it so im­por­tant for the verse to tell us this?

When Abra­ham ar­rives is Canaan we are told he pitches a tent for his wife and then one for him. Are we be­ing taught eti­quette? Does the To­rah want us to know ladies first?

Al­though G-d has promised Abra­ham chil­dren, wealth and fame, we are told that there is a famine in the land of Canaan and Abra­ham quickly goes through all his as­sets and wealth and be­comes desti­tute. With no way to sur­vive in Canaan, he has no choice but to go to Egypt. Why was it nec­es­sary for Abra­ham to be­come desti­tute be­fore go­ing to Egypt?

As they pass into Egypt, Abra­ham turns to his wife and says to her, “Now I see that you are a beau­ti­ful woman”. Rashi writes, un­til now, he did not rec­og­nize her beauty be­cause of the mod­esty of both of them, but now he rec­og­nized her beauty through an in­ci­dent where he saw her re­flec­tion in the wa­ter. Con­sid­er­ing that the Tal­mud states that com­pared to Sarah all other woman are mon­keys. we must ask, he is 75 and she is 65, has he not seen her face and rec­og­nized her beauty in all these years? What are we meant to learn?

Re­al­iz­ing the Egyp­tians will take her be­cause of beauty, Abra­ham asks Sara, “please state that you are my sis­ter, in or­der that it should be good for me be­cause of you and so that I may live for your sake”. We can un­der­stand a re­quest to lie to save his life, but how do we un­der­stand that “it should be good for me”? Rashi ex­plains, “that they will give me gifts”. Here one needs to ask. Is Abra­ham ac­tu­ally ask­ing his wife to act with du­plic­ity in or­der to at­tain wealth? And even if, though im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve, this is Abra­ham’s in­ten­tion, shouldn’t sav­ing his life come first and wealth sec­ond?

En­am­ored with the beauty of Sarah, Pharaoh wants to marry her. But it would be be­neath him to marry a poor trav­eler. So Pharaoh show­ers upon Abra­ham and Lot an abun­dance of wealth in­clud­ing sheep, cat­tle, don­keys and camels, ser­vants, sil­ver and gold, so much so that when they re­turn to Canaan, they have so much that the land can­not sup­port them in the same place and they must sep­a­rate. One must be con­fused. When Pharaoh dis­cov­ers that Abra­ham and Sarah have acted with de­ceit and sends them away, why does Abra­ham take this il­le­git­i­mately earned wealth? Isn’t he em­bar­rassed? Isn’t this pil­fered money? Is he not wor­ried about a chillul Hashem?

This ques­tion be­comes grander in light of Abra­ham’s ac­tions fol­low­ing his vic­tory dur­ing the war of the four kings against the five kings. When the King and in­hab­i­tants of Se­dom are cap­tured and taken pris­oner, among them Lot, Abra­ham goes to bat­tle with his pri­vate army, con­quers their en­emy and frees them. The King of Se­dom begs Abra­ham that al­though it is Abra­ham’s right of con­quest to take both the peo­ple as slaves and the prop­erty as spoils, that Abra­ham lim­its him­self to the spoils. The verses state that Abra­ham re­fuses to take even a string or shoelace so that one should never state that Se­dom made Abra­ham wealthy. And the Tal­mud tells us that this act was a great Kid­dush Hashem, sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of G-d’s name. Huh? Abra­ham won’t take that which he le­git­i­mately de­serves through con­quest, but will take that which he pos­si­bly earned il­le­git­i­mately through de­ceit? Some­thing is very con­fus­ing here!

We send our chil­dren to school and we hope they learn some­thing and grow in­tel­lec­tu­ally and in their in­tegrity, hon­esty, ethics and con­fi­dence. To ac­com­plish this re­quires tests, both as part of the class­room ed­u­ca­tion and life ed­u­ca­tion. Pass­ing a test gives us the con­fi­dence that we can and the mo­ti­va­tion to reach for more. Know­ing there are tests forces us to pre­pare, fo­cus, study and do. We don’t al­low a driver on the road without prac­tice and be­ing tested. We don’t al­low a doc­tor to op­er­ate without be­ing tested again and again. We don’t al­low a lawyer in the court­room without pass­ing the bar. We don’t al­low a pi­lot to fly a plane with as­sur­ance that he has met all re­quire­ments. We don’t al­low a teacher into a class­room without a li­cense and we don’t ac­cept a Rabbi as an au­thor­ity without be­ing rig­or­ously tested for Semicha. In the same vein Satan is there to test us, not so that we fail and not so that we prove any­thing to Hashem. Satan tests us so that we grow and prove to our­selves. Rather than imag­ine Satan de­pressed when we succeed, we must imag­ine him thrilled that we passed and we have grown and he sets about de­sign­ing a greater test. “The greater the per­son, the greater his in­cli­na­tion”, states the Tal­mud. And the truly free per­son is the one who masters his in­cli­na­tion com­pletely.

Adam wants a chance to prove him­self and grow yet fails. Chava lusts for the fruit on the tree and gives to him to eat. But as we have said many times, the Zo­har says that in fact it was Adam who also lusted for his beau­ti­ful wife and in­stead of look­ing at her as Chava, the mother of all, he looks at her as Isha, his pos­ses­sion. In­stead of wait­ing for Shab­bat when all would have been per­mit­ted, he jumps the gun and takes her be­fore the wed­ding and be­fore Shab­bat. His lack of con­trol is dis­played in Kayin who in his jeal­ousy may have killed Hevel over a wife. We see lack of con­trol in Lemach (the blind, who kills Kayin and his grand­son) who must marry two wives, a pretty wife who he makes bar­ren to main­tain her beauty and a sec­ond wife to mother his chil­dren and care for his home. We see it again in the fi­nal story of Bereshit in fallen an­gels who af­ter chal­leng­ing man’s right to ex­ist come to earth and fail in the same way tak­ing earthly women.

Noah is a sadik. He has the self-con­trol and there­fore he is cho­sen to sur­vive and re­build the world. But Noah too fails in this qual­ity of re­straint. He comes out of the ark and he goes from Ish Sadik to Ish Adamah, like Adam. He plants Adam’s vine, takes the fruit, drinks the wine, be­comes drunk and rolls naked in his tent un­aware of his naked­ness. He en­gages in a ho­mo­sex­ual act with Cham and fi­nally is cas­trated by his own son. Then man of re­straint be­comes the man of in­dul­gence and fails.

When Adam failed he was cursed. You will live by the sweat of your brow, he is told and life will be lim­ited and end with death.

We wait ten gen­er­a­tions af­ter Noah for Abra­ham. Abra­ham who was will­ing to walk into the fire at Ur Kas­dim, Abra­ham who left all be­hind, Abra­ham who never looked at his wife with lust as the Egyp­tians would.

Abra­ham leaves Haran with all he earned, but that which he earned, was through the sweat of his brow and a re­sult of the curse. Abra­ham is above this and all that is taken from him. He sets a tent for his wife, be­cause un­like Adam who didn’t re­spect his wife, call­ing her at first Isha, his pos­ses­sion, and blam­ing her, Abra­ham re­spects his wife. He does not look at her as an ob­ject as the Egyp­tians would.

Abra­ham is Adam. Sarah is Chava. To­gether they will go to Egypt and face the test of the Satan, the snake, this time em­bod­ied in Pharaoh whose crown is in the im­age of the snake. If we succeed, Abra­ham tells Sarah that we will re­verse the curse of man. We will no longer live by the sweat of the brow and we will not die. Pharaoh is pun­ished with lep­rosy as a snake. Yet when Adam or in this case Abra­ham passes the test, it is the snake who will serve him and pro­vide him with wealth and life. Thus Abra­ham can take that which he law­fully earned from the snake by pass­ing his test.

The snake is Hashem’s ser­vant, meant to serve man as well. When man fails, man faces dif­fi­cul­ties and death, but when man suc­ceeds it is even the snake, the Satan who serves him. We pray not to be tested, but every day in re­al­ity is a test. May we succeed and be blessed.

A artist’s ren­der­ing of the pa­tri­arch Abra­ham and his wife Sarah leav­ing Haran

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