Thursday, October 30, 2014

Avraham’s Converts: Where Did They Go and Why Does it Matter?

Rav Turetsky

Rashi (Breishit 12:5) quotes Chazal’s interpretation that Avraham and Sarah converted many people in the land of Charan. Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3) similarly writes of the enormous impact Avraham had on those around him.

What happened to those converts? If so many people were positively inspired, why is there no record of them in subsequent generations?

Chazal explain that these converts eventually reverted to their previous ways; though moved by Avraham, their connection to religious life dissipated. Yet, we seem to know less about why exactly their religious change did not persist. What led them to lose their connection to authentic religious life?

What follows are three interpretations based on Chassidic sources, each with an important message.

  1. Chiddushei HaRim (Siach Sarfei Kodesh, Vol. 1, Parshat Lech Lecha) suggests that following the death of Avraham, these people went to study with Yitzchak. However, since Yitzchak worshiped Hashem differently than Avraham, they assumed Yitzchak was on a lower level than his father. As a result, they rejected him as a leader and refused to learn with him. Lacking a leader and teacher, they returned to their previous lifestyle.   Chiddushei HaRim’s idea highlights an important message about recognizing the validity of multiple forms of Avodat Hashem. That one worships differently need not imply one is inferior. He also reminds us of the need for teachers and leaders. They are incredibly helpful for maintaining growth and perspective.
  2. Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov is cited as offering an additional explanation. Avraham converted these individuals primarily through fear instead of love. Fear’s impact is brief, while the stamp of love is eternal. One must cultivate a positive emotional connection with Hashem and His mitzvot. Only this can ensure continued progress and enduring commitment.
  3. An additional explanation can be suggested based on certain Chassidic sources.[i] Maybe the converts were wowed by the power of Avraham and his charisma. To be in the presence of Avraham was moving and inspiring. But their relationship with the Divine remained shallow and superficial.  Long term religious success demands more. It requires a connection to Hashem predicated not on exposure to great figures alone, but on authentic personalized growth.

Have a Shabbat Shalom!

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