ABRAHAM AND HIS DISCIPLES
When Abram and Sarai come to the land of Canaan, they didn’t come by themselves. They arrived with Lot, Abram’s nephew. They arrived with all their possessions. And then the verse adds: “and with the souls they had made in Charan.” (Bereishit 12:25.) Rashi (in his second explanation) observes that the plain meaning of this phrase, is that it refers to the retinue of servants that they had acquired.
But Rashi’s first explanation is that “souls” refers to converts Abram and Sarai had made whilst in Charan. The role models they had displayed of faith, trust in G-d, and a complete repudiation of idolatry made such an impact that a number of people were drawn to them and accompanied them on their journey to Canaan.
However, this raises an obvious question: What happened to these people? We hear no more of them. If they were courageous enough to follow Abram and Sarai, even without the benefit of a Divine command, why do they not have any follow-up in history?
Some commentators explain that after Abraham’s death, they lapsed back to their earlier ways. (This is alluded to in the verse which refers to the wells that Abraham dug were filled up, after his death.) Sadly, they were too connected to Abraham’s personality to be able to stand on their own when he was no longer there.
The late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, (Orot Yisrael 3:3) makes the striking observation that people should take care never to identify too closely with the personality of even a tzaddik – an outstandingly righteous man. No-one is without fault. A total identification with another’s personality is never healthy. Because, as Rav Kook says: veyidbak gam ken, bechesronotav – the acolyte might fasten on to the master’s failings as well. Even exceptional individuals are going to disappoint. If there has been complete identification, this will sadly lead to disillusionment. The ideal disciple will never suspend his own judgement. He will emulate and explore. He will examine his teacher’s words and deeds carefully. He will scrutinise and question, so that he understands and does not misinterpret. And yes, there may come the time, when he respectfully disagrees.