Thursday, November 01, 2012

Did Avraham call anyone 'My Master' besides Hashem?

Summary: According to Meshech Chochma, he did not, and so was of the select few to be called an eved Hashem. But it is not so simple, according to Rav Yechezkel Abramsky's son. According to one opinion, Adonay at the start of Vayera is chol. Then, I weigh in with what I think is an even stronger counter-example, עַל-עַבְדְּכֶם.

Meshech Chochma
The Meshech Chochmah, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, writes an interesting comment on the following pasuk in parashat Behaalotecha, on the pasuk:

כח  וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו--וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה, כְּלָאֵם.28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: 'My lord Moses, shut them in.'

He writes:

"And behold, there were three people mentioned in the Torah who were called 'My servant', namely 'Avraham My servant', 'Kalev My servant', 'in My servant Moshe'. These were the ones who never said to any person 'My master' or 'Your servant'. Not so Yehoshua, who said [in this pasuk] 'My master Moshe', and this is as they said, that they did not wish the mention the kingdom of heaven in relation to the kingdom of flesh and blood (the beginning of perek Shlosha sheAchlu). And so too by Aharon, it does no mention 'My servant', since he said 'Adoni' to Moshe."
R' Yechezkel Abramsky

This comment takes a position in the dispute in parashat Vayera, whether the "Adonay" that Avraham says is kodesh or chol, that is, whether it is directed to Hashem, or to the anashim/malachim, which is a machlokes in Shevuos and then later among the Rishonim.

In Chazon Yechezkel, Rav Yechezkel Avramsky writes the following, regarding Bereishit 18:2:
ג  וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ.3 and said: 'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.

That is, after summarizing the position of the Meshech Chochma, he writes:
"And my dear son, Mar Menachem Ezra comments that this general rule does not hold according to the one who says (on Shevuot daf 35b) that 'All names [of Adonay] said in the Torah by Avraham are kodesh except for this one, which os chol.'

And yet, by Avraham, it is said {in Toledot, in Bereishit 26:24}:
כד  וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא, וַיֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ; אַל-תִּירָא, כִּי-אִתְּךָ אָנֹכִי, וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, בַּעֲבוּר אַבְרָהָם עַבְדִּי.24 And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said: 'I am the God of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham's sake.'
" End quote.

This pasuk, and example of Avraham being called the eved of Hashem, was explicitly mentioned by Meshech Chochma, rather than being a mere example of a general rule. And indeed, if we take Adonay to be chol, meaning 'my masters' as a term of respect, then he is calling entities who are not Hashem his masters.

This is the most obvious counterpoint, since the dispute about the meaning of Adonai is a famous one. And the Meshech Chochma would likely acknowledge this point, and assert that this is according to the position that this shem is indeed kodesh.

However, a much stronger objection (though less immediately obvious) could be raised from a slightly later pasuk in Vayera, which everyone seems to have forgotten:
ה  וְאֶקְחָה פַת-לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם, אַחַר תַּעֲבֹרוּ--כִּי-עַל-כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם, עַל-עַבְדְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ.5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant.' And they said: 'So do, as thou hast said.'

Note that the word עַבְדְּכֶם is plural. While אֲדֹנָי could plausibly refer to Hashem, and עַבְדֶּךָ is singular, such that it could refer to Hashem, עַבְדְּכֶם is plural and so must refer to the malachim. And recall that Meshech Chochma said that these three never said to anyone Adoni or Avdecha.

I don't think that there is a good rejoinder to this objection, but I would offer the following anyway. Meshech Chochma did not forget עַבְדְּכֶם. And he did not forget the position that אֲדֹנָי was chol. But note that he said that this was not said לשום אדם, to any man. These are angels, not men. And indeed, there are interpretations of these pesukim that Avraham knew of the angels' exalted nature when he first saw them (though that might be coupled with the Shem Adnus as calling them by the name of their Master.)

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