Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
Avraham Avinu is nearing the end of his life. The Torah here sums up the life of our Patriarch and says: “Avraham was old, bo bayamim/well on in years, and Hashem had blessed Avraham bakol/with everything.”
While it may be true that Avraham was materially wealthy, how could we judge Avraham to be blessed with “everything” when his beloved wife and full life partner had just recently died, and the son who was destined to carry on his legacy was an alter bochur/an older young man who had not yet married? An enigmatic medrash tries to provide some answers, but the medrash itself requires deep analysis to arrive at some symbolic and allegorical meaning.
In the very first confusion over this “everything,” Rabbi Meir says Avraham was blessed with not having a daughter, (presumably avoiding the worries associated more with raising and marrying off girls [Ramban]) while Rabbi Yehudah says that “everything” means that he actually had a daughter.[All the women reading this, all who were once young daughters and may have daughters of their own, understand what a blessing a daughter is. CKS] This daughter’s name was Bakol. Alternatively, Bakol is referring to everyone, There was a gemstone acting as an amulet that hung around Avraham’s neck, and whoever looked at it would be cured from whatever ailed him. Upon Avraham’s death, Hashem hung the stone in the sun.
However, as is obvious from this convoluted story, our Sages interpret this medrash in purely allegorical ways.
First we must understand that while halakhah/law must be literal and clear to prevent violation, medrash and aggadah are often purposely obscure and guarded with the messages hidden and obscure, meant to be handed down through oral tradition to those who would understand them. With this in mind, we can begin to probe the meanings concealed in this medrash.
According to Ktav Sofer Bakol was indeed a daughter, born after Yitzchak, a blessing to silence the scoffers who claimed that Avimelech was Yitzchak’s father. In this interpretation, since there would be no man worthy of Avraham’s daughter, Hashem had her die, as a search for a husband would be fruitless [in contrast to the immediately following search for a bride for Yitzchak. CKS].
Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi interprets this medrash more simply and provides us with a simple yet profound lesson. Bakol literally means “with everything.” This was Avraham’s blessing, his realization that Hashem had indeed given him all he needs. To appreciate all of the blessings in his life, he called his daughter Bakol, to remind himself constantly of all Hashem’s blessings. When we recognize we truly have everything, even when we pray for things we may want, we are trying to connect with Hakodosh Boruch Hu and we know we are complete and have everything we need. As we say in Birkat Hamazon, Hashem nourishes us Betuvo, in His [complete] goodness, not Mituvo, from [part of] His goodness.
Rav Yosef Nechemiah, Av Beis Din of Krakow, gives us insight into the deep faith of Avraham Avinu and all tzadikim. They understand that although their human perception may think their life circumstances are not good, if Hashem has given them these challenges, they are all good. With this approach, Avraham was indeed blessed with everything.
What, however, is the gem around Avraham’s neck? In Rabbeinu Yosef Nechemiah’s interpretation, the gem refers to Avraham’s vocal cords. [The larynx encasing the vocal cords can indeed seem like a stone “bump” on one’s neck. CKS] The stone was the power of Avraham’s speech, the pearls of wise advice that had healing qualities. By teaching others the Oneness of Hashem and that all He does for us is good, Avraham Avinu brought them to an understanding that all is good. Even if it feels like the night darkness now, the sun will appear again, bringing the light of day. When you can believe that hope, the lustrous gem of feeling God’s blessing embedded in the sun is already here amid the darkness. You can embrace the darkness as part of the process and the blessing.
Therefore, writes Dovid Hamelech wrote in Tehillim 90, “Satisfy us in the morning with your chesed” so that we can perceive and appreciate the chesed Hashem bestows upon us immediately, so that we don’t need to wait until we are well in years. “Then we shall sing out and rejoice throughout our days.” So we bless a bride and groom “with joyous shouts immediately as they leave the chupah,” let them see and appreciate the blessings of this union and the building of a true Jewish home from the moment of its inception, not needing to see it only in old age, in retrospect through the life of marriage.
Sichot Mussar points out that the only time Yaakov was criticized for his speech was for bemoaning Yosef’s disappearance, for not being able to believe in Hashem’s guiding hand in even these circumstances. At that moment, he was looking at the details instead of trying to grasp a bigger picture, one that would not be revealed to him until later. We too must not look at current details of our lives, but must always have faith that all is for the good, whether in this world or in the World to come.
How can we reach that state of faith? Lashon Chasidim cites Bas Ayin in explaining that a person’s character trait is sometimes euphemistically called bas/daughter. The main character trait to work on, emphasizes the Bas Ayin is humility, for humility encompasses all other traits and enables us to serve Hashem most fully. Avraham was now full in yamim/days, whose numeric value is 100. The Torah asks: “Mah/what does Hashem ask of you? Only to fear Hashem… to go in all His ways…” We are asked to read mah as mayah/100, as the all encompassing number, as the trait that includes all others, the trait of humility. This was the blessing Avraham Avinu came with when he was well on in yamim/years/100. This trait of humility was his “daughter.”
The Oshorover Rebbe, Be’er Moshe, takes the symbolism further into the idea of the stone. The yetzer horo is often referred to as a stone [a stumbling block or a stone around one’s neck, weighing us down. CKS]. Avraham Avinu was able to take the negative stone, apply personal pressure, and transform the stone into something valuable, into a gem. Since Avraham was so humble, considering himself just dust and ashes, the yetzer horo had no power over him. Since Avrham had the power of turning a stone into a gem, a negative into a positive, all who saw him were cured of their ailments.
This healing was not a magic spell produced by a magic stone. The Shvilei Pinchas explains. The mishneh in Pirkei Avos states: “Envy, desire and [pursuit of] honor remove a person from this world.” How often do we make ourselves “sick” over perceived slights, or the feeling of entitlement for things we do not deserve? Avraham’s humble speech made people see themselves and the world more clearly. This change in perception cured them of their ills.
Now, without Avraham Avinu to guide us, how do we heal ourselves? The Be’er Moshe advises us to look at the sun, the gem in the sky. We can learn humility from the sun. The Gemorrah tells us that those who are humiliated and persecuted and do not respond to the humiliation love Hashem. At the beginning of creation, when Hashem created the sun and the moon, the moon arrogantly complained that there could not be two monarchs ruling the one realm of the sky. The sun remained silent, content in its position. The humble thus resemble the sun, exploding in its glory. Humility allows one to remain content with their position.
When Moshe reviews the Torah before his death and reenacts bringing the Torah down to Bnei Yisroel, He says, “Anochi/I stood between Hashem and you…” Rabbi Michel of Zlatchov interprets the verse homiletically, saying that that the I, the ego stands between Hashem and you. It is the ego that has expectations of entitlement and therefore is the source of anger and jealousy. The humble, having no such expectations, remain content and grateful, feeling blessed with what they have, adds Rabbi Friedlander. The humble make room for others while those with an overly strong ego push everyone out, including God.
The Divrei Yisroel of Modzitz also focuses on the sun in interpreting this medrash. When Avraham Avinu was alive, he inspired people to see the world with clarity and return to a belief that all Hashem does is for the good. When Avraham died, the inspiration for teshuvah was transferred to observing the sun, to return, as the sun “returns” to the earth each day. Teshuvah, connection to Hashem, is the source of all healing.
Today we do not have the voice of Avraham Avinu to guide us to do teshuvah, but, according to another medrash, every day a heavenly voice, called a bas kol/“daughter of all”/daughter of Heaven, calls out every morning to atone for the humiliation of Heaven.
How are healing and teshuvah connected? The Shvilei Pinchas explains that just as we cannot look directly at the full strength of the sun, so can we also not look at the meaning of Hashem’s four lettered name. Both require sheaths and shields. The name of Hashem is clothed in Elokhim, the name associated with nature. Avraham Avinu was able with his voice to open people’s eyes to see the truth of Hashem’s sovereignty as clear as day, in the unforgiving light of the sun. This clarity had a healing quality.
Avraham Avinu established our morning prayer at the time of the rising sun when truth is revealed in full daylight. Therefore, in the future, the Gemorrah tells us, the sun will be removed from its sheath, the tzadikim will be healed by its light of truth, while the evil ones will be judged in that same light of truth.
We must not get caught up in the world of hiddenness, in the world of nature. Recognize the core of nature itself and the essence of our own being as part of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Our soul is the diamond, the gem that connects us to Hashem, and the source of all healing.
Every negative heavenly decree has a specific term for it to remain in effect, writes the Be’er Hachaim. The term of someone’s suffering, or of his poverty is preordained. However, that time can be telescoped by also telescoping the performance of mitzvoth. If someone is destined to be ill for one year but he or others give an unusual amount of tzedakah on his behalf, the term of the illness may also be telescoped in the ratio of the tzedakah given. For example, if one donates a year’s worth of tzedakah in one month, a year of suffering may be reduced to one month’s suffering, or a month of reciting Tehillim may be compacted into one day’s suffering.
The healing mitzvah observance and teshuvah bring needs to be continuous, not broken into discrete sections. Twenty four continuous years of learning is more powerful than two twelve year periods with a gap between them. Therefore it is important for us to remain steadfast in our service to Hashem, to move forward in spite of whatever life puts in our path. We must put our necks forward and push through with the stone around our neck, knowing with clarity that it is all for the good.