Let us critically examine the chronology of events in this week’s sedrah, Lech Lecha, and thus gain some insight into them.
We are told the story of Avraham Avinu’s battles with the Kings in Bereishis (14:1-24). Then, in the pesukim following (15:1-6), HaShem appeared to Avraham and said, “Do not fear, your reward is very great.” Avraham responded by “pointing out” that he was childless: “You have given me no offspring,..” HaShem then took Avraham Avinu outside and promised, “Only one who has come forth from within you shall inherit you… See if you can count the stars, so, too shall your offspring be.” We’ll call this “the promise of children.”
In verse 7, the Torah starts with, “And HaShem said to him, ‘I am HaShem who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it.’ ” Whereupon the Bris Bein Habesarim ensued, with its prophecy of slavery in a foreign land for the children of Avraham, and their ultimate deliverance and inheritance of Eretz Yisrael. This takes us up to verse 21, the Bris Bein Habesarim, and “the promise of the Land.”
In Gemara Brachos (7B), Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Shimon ben Yochai stated, “From the time that HaShem created the world, there was no one who called (i.e. declared) HaShem “Adon,” Master, or L-rd, until Avraham Avinu, who did so when he said, “Master, or L-rd, G-d, how shall I know that I will inherit the land (15:8)?” (The Name of HaShem is written here phonetically, alef-dalet-nun-yud, for which the simple meaning of the word is Master, or L-rd. That is always how we pronounce the Shem HaShem, even when it is spelled yud-keh-vov-keh, but we are talking here also about the simple meaning of the written word as well, and that therefore that particular Name means Master, or L-rd.) Besides our puzzlement about the very meaning of the Gemara (what was lacking in Adam Harishon’s knowledge of HaShem? Did Noach not recognize HaShem as the Master and L-rd of the universe? What was Avraham Avinu’s understanding of HaShem up to this point in time?), Tosafos there asks another puzzling question: There is an earlier passuk (Bereishis 15:2 regarding the promise of children) in which Avraham said, “HaShem, my L-rd (Master), what can You give me if I go childless?” Why in the world did the Gemara not bring the earlier passuk, in which the Shem HaShem is given as alef-dalet-nun-yud?! Tosafos answer that the promise of children (15:1-6) actually came after the promise of the land; thus, historically, verse 8 precedes verse 2! Tosafos says that we must say that this is so in any event, since verses 1 through 6 were definitely stated right after the battle with the kings (see Rashi to 15:1), and Tosafos proves that Avraham Avinu was 73 years old at that point in time; while at the time of the Bris Bein Habesarim Avraham was famously 70 years old (being 30 years before the birth of Yitzchak). And so Avraham at 70 (Bris Bein Habesarim) certainly precedes the battle of the kings and the promise of children, and therefore Rav Yochanan indeed cited the earlier event in finding the first instance where Avraham called HaShem “L-rd”(Master).
Quite neat. Yet apparently Ramban argues! For Ramban says (15:7) that HaShem was then set to promise the land to Avraham, and Avraham was concerned that inheritance of the land would be contingent upon his virtuous conduct (thus his question in verse 8, “How shall I know that I will inherit it,” meaning as an absolute reality, not contingent on anything). And Ramban elaborates, “For HaShem at this time had not decreed the giving of the land in the same way that He decreed that Avraham would have offspring.” It seems to be clear from Ramban that the question in verse 8 came after the promise of children in verses 1 through 6, which apparently was unequivocal, and the certainty of which Avraham wanted for the promise of the land as well.
But that brings us back to Tosafos’ question: Why does Rav Yochanan cite verse 8 in the parshah of the promise of the land as the first time HaShem was called Master, or L-rd, if Avraham Avinu himself did so in verse 2, in the parshah of the promise of children!
The key to the answer lies in a Gra on Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim siman 5) says that when one is reciting a brachah, and saying the Name of HaShem, one of the kavanos that one should have in mind is the meaning of the pronounced Name, that is, alef-daled-nun-yud, meaning L-rd and master of all. (For the halachah as we should execute it, and what to have in mind when reciting the Shem HaShem in all of davening, and Krias Shema, see there with Mishnah Berurah and all commentaries.) The Gra cites Rav Yochanan’s statement in Brachos as the source for this description! What does that mean? Clearly, the Gra sees in the precise wording of the Shulchan Aruch (Master of all) a specific, precise point, i.e. not just Master, but Master of all! And the Gra sees that as Rav Yochanan’s point, and the novelty of what Avraham Avinu was innovating here, that not only is G-d the Master, but He is the Master of all!
So we now understand the Gra on the Shulchan Aruch, and the way the Gra understood Rav Yochanan’s point and meaning. But what does all of this mean? What is the innovation of “Master of all” over just plain “Master”? And why did Avraham innovate that now; what had now happened that gave this new insight?
To be continued…
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