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Posted on October 25, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

I will bless you, and make your name great. You shall be a blessing.[1]

The three elements in this pasuk, say Chazal, are references to the three avos, as they are referenced in the first bracha of Shmonah Esrei. Nonetheless, they are not treated equally. The conclusion of that bracha mentions only one of them: magen Avraham. We are kept in the dark as to why it is that only Avraham is featured at the end of the bracha.

We’ll get to the answer only after dealing with another question, this time in Chumash Devarim. “I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse. Choose life! so that you will live, you and your offspring.”[2] Who is going to respond to this? If a person is already convinced that he is obligated in all the mitzvos (as mentioned in previous verses), he will observe them without the dramatic appeal. If he does not believe, then no threat is going to change his mind.

The point may be that observing mitzvos is insufficient. Many people do so, simply out of force of habit. Observance is something that the family does. It is part of their life-style – meaningful practices that are sprinkled on as a garnish to life otherwise unrelated to Hashem. They don’t see themselves as created for the sole purpose of serving Hashem, either because they don’t comprehend what this means, or because they just don’t believe it.

The difference between the two attitudes becomes apparent in the education of their children. Those whose own observance is simply the continuation of the life-style they knew when they were young are not going to make following the dictates of the Torah the primary focus of their parenting. Those who understand that they exist only to serve HKBH will communicate that to their children as well.

The first one who fully understood and committed himself to a life of singular purpose was Avraham. He also inculcated his values in his son Yitzchok, and Yitzchok did the same with Yaakov. That is not to say, however, that Yitzchok and Yaakov were merely carrying on “tradition.” Their greatness was in blazing their own trails in avodas Hashem, having found their own ways to commit themselves to Hashem’s service.

The Torah demonstrates this when it says,[3] “I will remember my covenant with Yaakov, and also my covenant with Yitzchok, and also my covenant with Avraham.” Why are they given in reverse chronological order? Rashi says to teach us that each was sufficient on his own. What this may mean is that each one’s contribution was sufficient through his own avodah, and not merely a product of his upbringing. Although Yaakov had a supportive father and grandfather, his commitment to Hashem resulted from his own achievement.

This explains Moshe’s challenge to his people in Devarim. Choose life! Commit yourselves to a life whose chief goal is drawing closer to Hashem. Don’t make the mistake of coasting on the vehicle of family practice. Choose a Yiddishkeit of real depth, rather than one of ceremony and “tradition!”

We arrive back at our pasuk and its lesson. Yes, each of the avos made his own contribution, and each one is worthy of mention. Still, we conclude the first bracha of Shemonah Esrei with Avraham, because his job was more difficult than the others. He had to buck the trend in his home. Yitzchok and Yaakov achieved their own greatness, but the task was much easier for them. They at least received a jump-start from their early chinuch.

We therefore put Avraham front and center. He was the first, by reason of his determined personal choice, to provide an antidote to the Fiddler. The latter would soon by toppled from the roof where he shouted “Tradition!” by changing times. Avraham lives on.

  1. Bereishis 12:3
  2. Devarim 30:19
  3. Vayikra 26:42

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