As Eliezer took Rivka from Aram to Eretz Yisrael, her brother and mother blessed her, saying, “Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit the gates of its foes” (sonav, from the word sonei, which we will translate as a foe). A similar brachah was given to Avraham after the akeidah, when the angel of HaShem said, “ ‘I swear,’ says HaShem, ‘that because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens… and your offspring shall inherit the gates of their enemies’ ” (oyvav, from the word oyev, which we will translate as enemy). So although the gist of both brachos is the same — a great number of descendants and the conquering of enemies — different words are used to describe their adversaries: to Avraham, the word oyev is used, and to Rivka, sonei. Besides understanding the difference between the two words, it behooves us to understand why one specifically was used to Avraham, and why the other one was used specifically to Rivka.
We will be digressing now in order to fully understand a most fundamental idea about the Jewish nation’s role in the world and in world history. What we will iy”H see is that the two different types of enemies we encounter are represented by the prototypes Esav and Yishmael, our basic enemies throughout history, each one aiming to destroy us with a different goal in mind and using different tactics. We are not meandering, but actually coming to a point — maybe not this week, maybe not even next — but we shall iy”H get there and, as stated, with a most cardinal and essential understanding of who we are and what we are doing here.
Ramban, on the passuk of the promise to Avraham Avinu mentioned above, states, “Now HaShem added that Avraham’s offspring shall inherit the gates of their enemies, meaning that now Avraham was assured that no sin of his could bring about the annihilation of his offspring or that they might finally fall into the hands of their enemies and not rise again. And this is a complete promise for the redemption that we are destined to experience.” This was an accomplishment of the akeidah.
To fully understand this, we go to Ramban on Devarim 32:26:
Moshe’s argument that ultimately a destruction (chas veshalom) of the Jewish people would lead to our enemies boasting that it was their might and power which accomplished this is not to be understood merely that HaShem wishes to display His strength before His enemies, for His enemies are of no significance to Him whatsoever. Rather, it is for the following reason: G-d created man in the lower realms so that he could acknowledge his Creator and give thanks to His great Name; and He gave man the ability to do good or evil. When all mankind sinned through their volition and denied the existence of G-d, only this nation, Yisrael, remained loyal to His name [at this point in history, the reference is to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and the elders of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt]. And He then demonstrated through them, with the signs and wonders that He performed on their behalf, that He is the G-d of all heavenly powers and the L-rd of L-rds… and through that He became known to all the nations. Thus, not only does Bnei Yisrael itself fulfill the purpose of creation through acknowledging HaShem, they also help fulfill this purpose by publicizing the existence and the power of HaShem to the other nations! And so, if HaShem were to destroy any trace of the Jewish people, the people of the world would come to forget His signs, His wonders, and His deeds, and they would no longer be recounted from person to person… And even if someone were to mention these miracles, they would think that it was all due to the supernal power of one of the stars or constellations, which have since gone away. And the objective of all of creation, which lies in man, would totally come to naught, for there would not remain among mankind anyone who knows his Creator, but only those who through their behavior incite His anger… Therefore, it must be His will to maintain the Jews as His nation for all times, for despite their sins, they are the closest to Him and the most knowledgeable of Him from amongst all the nations.
What Ramban is teaching us is that of course the future redemption will occur for the sake of HaShem’s name; but ultimately it will be due to the Jews’ essential righteousness!
And so, the secret of the eternity of the Jew is because it is only though the Jew that the purpose of the world’s creation can be reached, i.e. to acknowledge HaShem; for the rest of the world would claim that all is the effects of heavenly bodies, stars, and the like.
But then we must ask: through what means did the Jewish nation merit to be that nation?
That, my friends, lies in the secret of the promises made to Avraham Avinu! When Avraham Avinu exhibited through akeidas Yitzchak the most intense mesiras nefesh in the love of HaShem, he merited HaShem’s vow, which translates into the establishment of this trait in the spiritual DNA of his descendants, thus ensuring HaShem’s “presence,” so to speak, in this world. For the Jewish people now have the ability to withstand all enticements and threats; and that was the hidden gem of HaShem’s promise to Avraham Avinu.
To be continued…