SALT - Friday 7 Cheshvan 5778 - October 27, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we saw the comment of the Midrash, cited by Rashi (Bereishit 13:3), that when Avraham returned to Canaan after his sojourn in Egypt, he ensured to repay his creditors.  Avraham had left Canaan to escape the severe drought conditions that struck the area, and evidently was forced to take loans due to the financial hardships he experienced during this period of shortage.  Over the course of his stay in Egypt, he became very wealthy, having been showered with gifts by Pharaoh.  And so upon his return to Canaan, Avraham was able to repay all the loans he was forced to take during his period of hardship.  As we saw, a number of writers raised the question of why the Midrash would find it noteworthy that Avraham repaid his debt upon obtaining the means to do so.
            Some suggested interpreting the Midrash’s comments allegorically, as referring not to the repayment of loans, but to other forms of “debt” which Avraham felt he owed.  The Chatam Sofer explained that when Avraham found himself mired in poverty soon after relocating in Canaan in fulfillment of God’s command, his faith came under challenge by the people around him.  Why, they asked, would God command him to move to Canaan, promising him wealth and prestige in his new land, and then subject him to severe drought conditions, to the point where he needed to go elsewhere to sustain himself?  Avraham “owed” these challengers an answer, and when he returned to Canaan with wealth, he “repaid” this “loan” by showing them that indeed, God’s promises were fulfilled in full.
            Others offer a different allegorical reading of Rashi’s comments, suggesting that it refers to Avraham’s “debt” to the Almighty.  God helped Avraham rise from a state of deprivation to a condition of remarkable wealth, and miraculously rescued his wife after she had been abducted.  Avraham understood that the extraordinary events he experienced, and God’s assistance during his time of hardship, resulted in a “debt” which he now had to repay.  Having been saved by God’s kindness, Avraham now felt obligated to redouble his efforts to work towards disseminating monotheistic belief and inspiring people to live morally and ethically.  After surviving a turbulent period of poverty, relocation in a hostile environment, and his wife’s abduction, Avraham set out to repay his “debt,” to work even harder to publicize the Name of God and try to guide his contemporaries to live the life that God wants us to live.