Avraham was old.
Avraham’s old age was big news. He pretty much invented it. Before Avraham, teaches the gemara, people did not age. Avraham prayed that this should change, when he noted that visitors could not tell the difference between Yitzchok and himself. Each looked like the other. Avraham’s prayers were answered, and the years began to leave a mark on people. People were than able to tell the difference between father and son.
It is well established that the purpose of Creation was to make Hashem known in this world. Effectively, this means that His midos should become observable. Now, this requires that human beings should exist. Without people, how could it be made known that Hashem is compassionate and gracious? How could this be manifest, if there were no people to whom to be compassionate and gracious?
There is a catch to this, however. Hashem reveals His midos to the world only when He is prompted, as it were, by an arousal initiated by Man – by what we call isra’usa d’lesasa. Think of the aftermath of Creation, when nothing grew. “All the herb of the field had not yet sprouted. Hashem Elokim had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.” Rashi explains that what was lacking was Man who would recognize the need for rain, and daven for it. That davening aroused, as it were, Hashem’s interest in showering the earth with the chesed of precipitation. Similarly, our attaching ourselves to other of Hashem’s midos through following in their ways is a necessary precursor to His applying those midos to us.
Until the time of Avraham, the world existed in a state of the confusion of tohu. The generations of the Flood, the Dispersion, and Sedom provided no society to which Hashem could reveal His midos. Avraham was the first who was capable of isra’usa d’lesasa. He followed Hashem’s midah of chesed, applying it to all people without exception. This evoked a reaction: Hashem’s desire, as it were, to oversee the running of the world through His midos. The olam ha-tohu was a thing of the past.
Chazal tell us that the intention of Hashem’s commandment “You shall go in His ways,” is to imitate His midos. In the list of the Thirteen Midos, we know how to be “compassionate” and “gracious.” Those are preceded, however, by “Kel.” How do we deal with that one? Kel subsumes all the midos that follow. It means that whatever midah Hashem applies in overseeing events in our world, it is a reflection of nothing less than His Divinity. It is the negation of the idea of finding explanations for all phenomena – the good and the bad – that leave G-d out of the picture, rather than sharply focusing upon him.
Until the time of Avraham, nothing about the running of the world brought people to an appreciation of Hashem’s Divinity. Whether they detected compassion in their lives or strictness – i.e., whether they witnessed the chesed of Avraham, or the gevurah of Yitzchok – they were tone-deaf to the melody of Divine Providence. It was all the same as far as seeing G-d’s involvement. This is the meaning of Chazal’s assertion that until Avraham’s old age, none could tell father and son apart. No matter which of those midos they observed, they had the same effect, which had nothing to do with HKBH.
Avraham, however, harped on His Elokus. When his guests thanked him for the meal he had treated them to, he objected that the thanks were owed to Hashem, Who was the real source of chesed. And such was his message regarding all the midos of Hashem.
- Bereishis 24:1 ↑
- Bava Metzia 87a ↑
- Bereishis 2:5 ↑
- Tanna d’vei Eliyahu Rabbah, chap. 24 ↑
- Devarim 28:9 ↑
- Shemos 34:6 ↑