ABRAHAM AND SARAH’S DISCIPLES
When Abram and Sarai came to the land of Canaan, they didn’t come by themselves. They arrived with Lot, Abram’s nephew. They arrived with all their possessions. Then the verse adds: “and with the souls they had made in Charan.” (Bereishit 12:25.) Rashi (in his second explanation) observes that the straightforward meaning of this phrase, is that it refers to the retinue of servants that they had acquired.
But Rashi’s first explanation is that the word “souls” refers to converts Abram and Sarai had made whilst in Charan. The example 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 their own 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 verses, which we will read in three weeks’ time, referring to the wells that Abraham dug. After his death, the wells were filled up. The spiritual wellsprings of Abraham followers were blocked 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 may disappoint. If there has been complete identification, this will sadly lead to disillusionment. Ideal disciples will never suspend their own judgement. He or she will emulate and explore. He or she will examine their teacher’s words and deeds carefully. They will scrutinise and question, so that they understand and do not misinterpret. And yes, there may come the time, when, within the parameters of Torah, the disciple respectfully disagrees.
Wishing you all a week of learning and growth,