Ten Generations from Adam to Noach | Rabbi David Weissman
By Rabbi David Weissman
In Pirkei Avot, (5th Chapter), we are told that:
There were 10 generations from Adam until Noah. To show how much patience exists before Him, for all those generations increasingly angered G-d, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood. There were 10 generations from Noah until Abraham all of them increasingly angered G-d, until Abraham came and took upon himself the reward for them all.
This statement implies a juxtaposition of Abraham to all previous generations. It suggests that what the prior generations got wrong Abraham got right.
What was the basic characteristic that Abraham successfully obtained that the previous generations failed to acquire?
Another question: Abraham is called by G-d “Abraham who loved me” (Isaiah 40) implying that Abraham’s strongest quality was love of G-d. However, after the binding of Isaac, G-d calls out to Abraham and tells him that “now I know that you are one who fears G-d” (Genesis 22). This implies that Abraham’s fear of G-d was his greatest quality, and that it expressed his true essence.
Further, it is well known that, according to the Sages and early commentaries, the binding of Isaac was Abraham’s final test. If so, this final accomplishment of reaching the level of “one who fears G-d” appears to be the highest spiritual zenith Abraham reached. This implies fear of G-d is greater than love. This seems counter-intuitive. Is not the closest relationship built on love? In what way is fear of G-d greater than love of G-d?
If we examine the sins of the generations before Abraham we will find that all of them failed to comprehend G-d in a way that developed a great and passionate love for the Creator that was greater than other loves and desires they experienced.
Adam loved his wife so much he trusted her more than G-d and thus took the fruit from her hand without question. Cain’s love of wealth and possessions lead him to kill his brother and attempt to inherit the entire world himself. The generation of the Flood loved bodily pleasures and personal freedom so much they chose to completely forget the Creator. The generation of the Tower of Babel loved fame and power, and they foolishly sought to build a Tower and vanquish G-d himself, Heaven forbid.
Abraham was different. He searched for G-d from the tender age of 3. He continued to study, meditate, and act in accordance with ethical imperatives he comprehended from G-d’ s creation. All this lead to a great yearning to know G-d, a thirst for Him, and finally boundless love. The way a person feels an overwhelming love for his wife and children, (hopefully) that negates and precludes feelings of love and desire for others, so too, and even more so, was Abraham’s love of G-d. There was no room for the impure, corrupted, and dysfunctional forms of love that plagued the previous generations before him. Abraham’s heart was full. There was no room for these other “loves “.
How did Abraham accomplish this? What was the fundamental ethical character trait that Abraham had that the previous generations failed to cultivate? Gratitude. They all took their blessings and all of creation for granted, starting from Adam who complained about the wife he was given, and blamed G-d’s gift of Chava (Eve) for his failure to refrain from eating of the Tree of Knowledge.
It was Abraham’s boundless gratitude to G-d for all that he was given that lead to a burning love that could not be extinguished.
In that case, why did the Almighty describe Abraham as a person who feared G-d after the binding of Isaac? Why was Abraham’s final test related to fear of G-d? Is fear of G-d greater than the love of G-d? If so, why?
The answer is that none of Abraham’s conceptions of G-d, and his attributes, fit with G-d’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Despite all the meditation, study, and work Abraham did to bridge the gap between himself and the Infinite One, Abraham could not comprehend the Divine command to bring up his son, and spiritual heir, Isaac, as an offering to G-d, ending Isaac’s life.
Abraham had many questions about this command. It seemed to go against everything he understood about G-d’s ways and G-d’s will. Not only was G-d asking him to murder a human being, something Abraham certainly knew G-d abhorred, he was being asked to murder the most saintly and perfect human being on earth and the heir to his spiritual mission.In order to carry out this task, Abraham could not draw from his wellsprings of love for G-d. He needed to nullify himself and submit to G-d’s infinite will. This impetus came out of obedience alone, an obedience based on trust, ultimately stemming from Abraham’s understanding that in the end, the gap between G-d and man can never truly be bridged, and that man in this world often cannot understand the ways of G-d. “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts”. (Isaiah 55)
In order to carry out this task, Abraham could not draw from his wellsprings of love for G-d. He needed to nullify himself and submit to G-d’s infinite will. This impetus came out of obedience alone, an obedience based on trust, ultimately stemming from Abraham’s understanding that in the end, the gap between G-d and man can never truly be bridged, and that man in this world often cannot understand the ways of G-d. “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts”. (Isaiah 55)
This was an incredible test. Abraham was being asked to abandon all his ambitions and hopes for the future. He was being asked to disregard all of his spiritual and theological concepts that he had acquired, and developed, over his entire life up until this point. He was being asked to destroy his entire life’s work, everything he sacrificed his life for.
In response, Abraham looked to the heavens and trembled in awe at the vastness of the universe, and knew that all that paled in comparison to the Creator, the Holy One Blessed be He. He then rejoiced in the knowledge that he had the opportunity to do G-d’s will not because it made sense to him, which ultimately is an act stemming from the person’s own ego, but out of pure trust and faith in G-d.
Every day we are confronted with foreign “loves” and desires -“foreign gods “. How can a person defeat this torrent of destructive impulses seeking to distance him from G-d? Through consistent and intense meditation, study, and practice, which generate love of G-d, the corrupt desires of the world, greed promiscuity, jealousy, and the like, can be washed away in the holy waves of Ahavat Hashem.
However, love is not enough. To truly be faithful to Hashem and his Torah there are times when we must have awe. We must realize that He is infinitely beyond our ability to grasp. We must know that “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts”.
Sometimes we won’t understand Hashem’s will and we will have to nullify our ego before the awe of His grandeur, power, and wisdom. This is not mindless submission. This is rational submission based on our knowledge of G-d’s attributes and will. It is a submission based on trust, and the knowledge that G-d loves us, and if we do his will we have nothing to fear because whatever befalls us must be for our benefit and all will be well.