The Danger of Assuming
Abraham, Sarah and Hagar
—Rabbi Yisroel Chait—
There are two statements of the Rabbis that require elucidation. One statement is “The entire Torah is a polemic against idolatry.” This statement is of an amazing depth. It means to say that the Torah and all of its Commandments are an attempt to uproot from man's nature his idolatrous tendencies. This is the work of the entire Torah.
Most people don't have the opportunity to study Halacha. But when one studies Halacha, one sees some of the higher formulations of Talmudic understanding. When one sees how Halacha is intricately formulated, one sees how true this statement really is. Many times, even in the rigid Halachic formula one cuts across into the sphere of understanding that teaches man to abandon his idolatrous tendencies. That is the entire Torah. I think the more one studies Torah the more one sees how true this is.
The second statement of the Rabbis is, “There is not a single chapter in the Torah which does not contain the Resurrection of the Dead.” The Rabbis did not mean this literally. The Resurrection of the Dead is a specific event. The reference to the Resurrection of the Dead is a mashal, a parable, of a powerful idea. Which means there isn't a single chapter in the Torah, that if you delve in, in-depth, you will not find the most powerful ideas. In other words, if you study the Torah in depth you will always emerge from any chapter with very profound ideas, like Resurrection.
The problem is that very often the Torah is counter-intuitive. Counter-intuitive means it goes against our emotional attitude. That's something that cannot be helped because in order for a person to be educated, he has to abandon the outlook and the attitude that he currently has, so that he can be introduced to a deeper way of thinking. This means there are going to be some things that go against what he feels is correct. That's true not only of Torah; it's true of every science.
For example, I will tell you that a table is really not solid, but it contains more space than appears to the naked eye. Additionally, the matter and sub-atomic particles are revolving around and around in it, at infinitesimal speeds. This is something which goes against our intuition, but knowledge teaches us that this is so. The same is true for mathematics and any other field of study. With any field of study, a person will find that their understanding of the material is going to be very different after they study than what they thought it was at first. The same is true with Torah.
With religion, it's more difficult because people cherish their religious beliefs. It's very difficult, even when their minds tell them that these beliefs are false, and that they must abandon them. This is the process that Torah takes one through.
There is a method that the Torah uses. God in writing his work used a very specific method. The Bible is something that anyone can read and yet the greatest genius can spend his entire lifetime understanding the depths of the Torah. How could the same book be read superficially, and also be read in depth?
A very basic method that we find in the Bible is what I would call “crypticism.” The Torah is intentionally cryptic. If one looks casually one may not notice it; but, if one looks carefully one will see that on a deeper level there is something disturbing. When one looks deeper, one finds that there is a more profound idea. As an example, we will take up the story of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar the maidservant.
We find something that typifies that crypticism of the Bible. In Genesis 16 we find that God had already predicted to Abraham that he would have offspring and his offspring will be very plentiful. At the same time, his wife Sarah was childless. So Sarah said to Abraham, “Take my maidservant Hagar and live with her” and from her you will be able to produce progeny because we know that it's God's will that the you should have children.
The Bible then tells us a peculiar story in Genesis 16:4. “And he went into Hagar and she conceived, and when she saw that she had conceived her mistress was despised in her eyes.”
Then the Torah relates a very strange exchange. “And Sarah said to Abraham. My anger is upon you.” Sarah complained to Abraham. Sarah said “I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes. Let the Lord judge between me and you.”
We then find that Abraham reacts in a strange way. Abraham said to Sarah, “Here is your maidservant in your hands; do to her whatever is good in your eyes.” The Torah then says, “And Sarah tormented her and she ran away from Sarah.”
The problem with this dialogue is the argument doesn't sound right. This would be a perfect argument for Sarah to use in confronting Hagar, but against Abraham it doesn't make any sense. What she's saying to Abraham is, I gave you my maidservant. What happened? She looked at me in a despised way. She looked down upon me. Let God judge between you and me. It's not Abraham’s fault that Hagar looked down on Sarah. Sarah was the one that gave Abraham the maidservant in the first place. The argument is actually contrary to her objective. It doesn't make any sense for Sarah to blame Abraham.
This is the crypticism I was referring to before. Sarah’s argument makes no sense. Abraham's response is also difficult to understand. How does he respond? He said, “You're unhappy with the situation, you do to Hagar as is fit in your eyes.” And then, the great Sarah tormented her and she ran away and escaped into the desert.
This doesn't sound like something which is proper. After all, we are talking about Abraham and Sarah who are the greatest people. They were close to God and were both prophets. It doesn't seem proper that Sarah should act this way. A great person wouldn't act this way. Not even a common person would act this way. Why did Sarah do what she did and what did she have in mind?
I think if we look a little deeper into the verse the answer is not far from the text itself. We must understand the backdrop here. Here we have Abraham who is the philosopher of Torah, the philosopher of Judaism. He comes along with a new religion and he speaks to the world against idolatry; but not just against idolatry itself, against idolatrous thinking. His house becomes a center of monotheistic inquiry and education. People come to this house. They come to study, to learn, to grow in knowledge, to gain ideas, to gain insight, as to how man is supposed to properly relate to God, and learn what is the true religion.
What Sarah was saying was something extremely important. She said that Hagar is now in your very household. She is promulgating a false philosophy, a philosophy which is against your teachings.
What is this philosophy? When we examine what happened to Hagar, we find that she knew that her mistress Sarah was not able to conceive a child. Yet, as soon as Hagar lived with Abraham and she was successful, she conceived a child. What did Hagar say at that moment? She said, “Look, look at this. The great Sarah wasn't worthy of having a child. She's been living with Abraham for many years, and I instantaneously became pregnant with a child. God is with me.” Hagar had that feeling “God is with me.” “Look at how things happened. I am the chosen one, I am the superior one.” That was the emotion that grabbed Hagar.
We can now begin to understand what Sarah said and why she brought her argument to Abraham. This wasn't a personal vendetta. She said to Abraham, “Something very wrong is going on here. Do you believe that if a person is successful that this indicates that they are righteous or that if a person, heaven forbid, is suffering, does this indicate that they are wicked? Is that your philosophy? Didn't you teach us just the opposite? Didn’t you teach us that the Torah maintains you cannot assess nor evaluate the worth of a human being by the events that befall them in their life. That's God's business! We can't make such evaluations. How do we evaluate a person? How did you Abraham teach us is the proper way to evaluate a person? Not through superstition. Not through saying: Look what happened this person did something he's with God, he's successful. That is an idolatrous kind of thinking. You took us away from that kind of thinking. You taught us a deeper understanding. You taught us there's another way to tell, there is a true way to tell whether a person is with God and that's not by the events that befall them in a lifetime. This is a primitive belief.”
(The Puritans used to believe that if a person is wealthy that means he's with God, so this implies that a person who is poor is not with God.)
This was the belief of Hagar. This is precisely what Hagar said. Sarah is living with Abraham all these years she didn't deserve to conceive a child. I came forward and right away I conceived a child: I must be superior to her. All the events seem to be lining up. God is saying “I'm the one!” That is probably the most tempting type of emotion for a person to cater to.
Sarah was precisely attacking this philosophy and this way of life. That's what she said to Abraham. She said, “You taught us to abandon that emotion. That's primitivism. That's not Torah. We don't know why people live through different events in their lifetime; only God knows that! We don't judge people by events; but we do have a way to judge people. There is a way. It is through righteous deeds. That's the way to judge a person. When we see a person acts righteously, then we respect that person. We say: ‘Such a person, is a person that is with God.’ We determine whether a person is with God not based upon events or mystical happenings, but we determine that a person is with God based upon their deeds and actions.”
If we look again at the verse, we can see clearly how the text comes to life and explains this philosophy. Verse 5 says, “And Sarah said to Abraham, ‘My anger is upon you. I gave my maidservant in your bosom and she saw that she was pregnant and I became low in her eyes, let God judge between me and you’.”
What was Sarah’s complaint? She said, “Here is Hagar who looks down on me. What did I do? I did the most difficult thing that any woman could do. I gave the man that I love to someone else. Is there anything more difficult for a woman to do? I was able to overcome my emotions and I did that. I did a righteous deed. What happened? Hagar saw that she immediately became pregnant and she erroneously concluded, ‘The events demonstrate that God is favoring me. I'm superior.’ Is this justice? Is this the kind of teaching that you have been teaching us? God should judge between you and me.”
When Sarah said, “God should judge between you and me,” what she meant was, this is not just a personal thing. For this she invoked God's judgment. She was saying, “You Abraham are responsible, because you've allowed this teaching to be promulgated in your household. This is supposed to be a household that represents the true teaching of God. You, Abraham, allowed this lie to go on unaddressed. You didn't object! By saying nothing you are agreeing to Hagar’s distortion! You are responsible for committing the worst crime, which is to allow false ideas to be expressed in your house.”
This is why Sarah said, “God should judge between you and me.” She meant, “Now we have to invoke God's judgment, because you are doing something which is not righteous. On the contrary, I did the most righteous deed, and Hagar acted based on an idolatrous way of thinking; and you sat by and condoned it.”
This is why, when Abraham heard what Sarah said, he responded to her, “I see you have the insight in this case. I didn't. I allow you to make the judgment in this case. How can we correct the situation?”
The Torah teaches us that Sarah tormented her and she ran away. What was this tormenting?
The Rabbis explained that she treated her like a maidservant. It wasn't physical tormenting, it was emotional which is the worst kind of tormenting, she reduced her stature and she treated her as a maidservant.
There is an argument among the Rabbis. Without the Rabbis one could not understand the Bible. The Oral Law shines like spotlights on the Bible giving insight into the verses. It is a rare occasion to come up with anything where one doesn’t have to make recourse to the words of the Rabbis. The Rabbi's when discussing this area in the Talmud seem to say that Sarah was right. She did the right thing here and she did the right thing later when she chased away Ishmael.
Nachmanides however, who was a very respectable scholar, says that our mother Sarah sinned in this case. It was wrong for her to torment Hagar.
I would like to suggest that perhaps the two positions are not at odds. Whether she was wrong or not is a good question. Sometimes, when learning Torah, we are not that concerned about being right or wrong. We are more concerned about having the right approach. Even if we should accept Nachmanides, that ultimately it was the wrong thing to do, we must understand how could our great mother Sarah do this? Furthermore, since Abraham is known as the pillar of kindness, how could he allow this to take place?
I believe based upon our understanding of the dialogue up until this point we can now understand what Sarah's intention was. The facts are that this false philosophy was being expressed by Hagar and there is only one way to undo this. She must put Hagar back in her place as a maidservant. This would show that Hagar is not the selected one of God, and that her whole approach is false. This was Sarah’s method of undoing the harmful idea that Hagar had espoused.
Sarah wasn't simply acting on a personal level here. We must understand that we are dealing with a great human being. Rather, she was trying to correct the error. Abraham himself told her, “I didn't notice. You're right. I'm busy. I was involved in helping people. I was involved in thinking in Torah. I was involved in relating to God and I didn't notice this. You noticed this. You have superior knowledge, so you determine what to do.”
This is why the Rabbi's say, “Resurrection of the Dead is in every story in the Bible.” It refers to something which is important, a powerful idea. How many times in life do we feel, “Well look; I went, and I did this, I tried, I succeeded. Hey! God is with me! I am doing the right thing.” How many religions try to appeal to us by saying, “Look! We went, we did this, God was with us. Ordinarily, it would take us five days. It took us a day. It took us an hour. Miracles are happening all over, God is with us!”
Abraham and Sarah taught us this kind of thinking is basically of an idolatrous nature. That is judging things by events. Saying that if the event was successful the person behind the event is righteous, is false. What Torah teaches us is to look at the deed itself. Look at the action. Is the action righteous or is it not? Look at the cause; is the cause righteous or is it not? If it's intrinsically not righteous, it doesn’t matter how many events occur that seem to say they are going to be successful. It doesn't mean anything. That's an idolatrous type of thinking. That is what the Puritans used to think.
The lesson that the Torah teaches us right here in these verses is an extremely important one.
In Genesis 26:28 there is another story that seems tied to this one. This is the story of Avimelech the king of the Philistines. Avimelech, chased away Isaac. First he had an encounter with him. Then they chased him away. Later Isaac was successful and upon being successful, Avimelech approaches with a group of his friends and they go back to Isaac and wants to make peace with him. Avimelech and his entourage said, "We saw that God is with you and we said, ‘Llet there be a vow between us and let's have a covenant between us’."
Now that we are familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, this of course strikes us immediately. What do Avimelech and his entourage mean when they say “We saw that God was with you?” The answer is obvious. In the previous verses, it says that Isaac was successful. What kind of a philosophy is that? That's precisely the philosophy that Abraham and Sarah taught that one should eradicate. That's the false philosophy. Oddly enough the Torah tells us that Avimelech is saying exactly that.
Perhaps this second story does not present a difficulty, because one might say that Avimelech was not the individual who was a paradigm of Torah. He was operating on a primitive level. Really, what he said was wrong, but the Torah records it because that's what happened. One could interpret it that way, and that would remove the difficulty and the contradiction.
I must stress that it is important to be cautious and look at the words of the Rabbis. When we understand what they are saying and we look back in the verses we will see how correct they are. They have a remarkable sensitivity for the text. In this instance, the Rabbis of the Talmud comment that when Avimelech said we saw that God is with you, Avimelech did not say something wrong.
Literally what the verse says isthis: "Seeing we saw that God is with you." Raoh Raeenu, seeing we saw. There's an extra word that is completely unnecessary. The Rabbis of the Talmud asked,“Why does it say seeing twice in Hebrew? Because Avimelech really said we saw twice. We saw the deeds of your father Abraham, and now we see your deeds.”
The Rabbis of the Talmud are telling us that in this verse Avimelech said, "We saw that God is with you." The success may have attracted him to find out what was going on with this man, with Isaac. When he looked into the matter he came to another conclusion. It wasn't success that impressed him, it was the deeds. What Avimelech meant when he said, “Seeing we saw” was that we looked into this. We actually investigated this and we saw your father's deeds and your deeds which are on a very high level and that's why we said that God is with you. The Rabbis interpreted this verse to be precisely in line with the whole philosophy that took place before in the dialogue between Abraham and Sarah regarding Hagar.
When we see how the Rabbis interpreted the verse, we realize their extreme sensitivity for understanding the text. One gets the sense that the Torah is endorsing the statement of Avimelech. The Torah doesn't usually record things unless they have a deep meaning. So a higher sensitivity to the text, in my opinion, would warrant precisely what the Rabbis are saying. Namely, that Avimelech was on target.
This verifies something else. Abraham was so influential because one of his friends was Avimelech, the father of this Avimelech. When he had his party, he had Aner, Eshkol, Mamrei, and Avimelech all at the party when Isaac was two years old and he weened Isaac. Abraham was a man as you know, who dealt with all these great people. He was friendly with them all. To party with Abraham means to learn ideas. Abraham's parties were discussions about concepts and philosophy. This corroborates for us that Avimelech really was on the level where he was impressed by Isaac's unbelievable success, but that wasn't really what moved him. What moved him was when he looked into Isaac’s deeds. Avimelech said this man must be doing something different. When they told him Isaac is indeed righteous, and he is following his father's righteousness as well; that is when Avimelech said let there be a covenant between us.
This philosophy is extremely important. Religious groups will always try to dupe you and to attract you with this kind of thinking. They will say, "Ah, look we are with God. Look what happened. We went there and we were successful." We know that those methods are used purely and completely by charlatans and we must always be wary and very careful never to be impressed by anything like that.
There is something very similar and is equally important, and is along the same lines. That is an incident that took place in Numbers 16, the famous story of Korach. This is the first rebellion against Torah, and in my opinion it is also the last rebellion. This is because every rebellion contains the same ideas that are found in Korach’s. It's the prototype of rebellion. This is why the Torah records it. It is not just an isolated case.
What is interesting? What did Korach do? What are the specifics of the case and how is it connected to our theme?
Korach rebelled with 250 men and came before Moses and Aaron and he rebelled against them. What did Korach say? What was his problem? The Torah text is very clear, it says, "And they arose before Moses and men from the children of Israel numbering 250 they were the heads of the congregation men of stature, men of name. And they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And they said to them, ‘It is too much for you’.” In other words, why are you, Moses and Aaron, taking so much for yourselves? The entire congregation is holy and God dwells amongst them. Why do you raise yourself up high upon the congregation of God?
Korach’s complaint to Moses was, “You, Moses and Aaron are taking all the honors and all the glory. Moses is the leader, he's the head. Aaron is the high priest and Aaron's offspring are going to be the priestly cast. This is arrogance the entire congregation is holy! You are not any different than anybody else. Isn't every Jew holy? Who are you to make yourselves superior?”
This is a very good complaint. Korach knew exactly what to say. The Rabbis tell us an interesting Midrash. It is important to understand that when one understands Midrash it fits right into the verses. It's not extraneous. If the Midrash seems extraneous or super-added it means one does not understand the Midrash.
The Midrash says that Korach came before Moses with Tzitzit. He asked Moses a question. He said, you know that for every four cornered garment you must put the Tzitzit on each corner; and on the Tzitzit you have the blue. The purpose of the blue is that it reminds one of the vastness of the ocean. Then of the space in the universe and the infinity and God. It's a mental journey towards the idea of God. Korach asked Moses, let's say the four corner garment itself is dyed completely blue. What would I need the Tzitzit for? It doesn't make any sense. I see the blue right away so what would you say Moses? Moses responded, “No. You still have to put the Tzitzit on the four corner garment.” They all began to laugh. This is ridiculous. That does not make any sense. Korach said, “Let me ask you another question. You know you must put a Mezuza on the doorpost. Why? To remind you of your purpose in life. God, the oneness of God, study of the Torah. All the most important ideas are contained in that chapter.” Then Korach asks, “Let’s say I have a house that's filled with scrolls of Torah...what's holier than that? The whole house is full of Torah scrolls. Do I have to put the Mezuza on the doorpost?” Moses responds, “Yes, you still have to do it.”
The Rabbis give us this backdrop. How does this Midrash fit in exactly with what his complaint was? The answer is that Korach was a very smart man. He knew he would not get very far with Moses unless he first breaks down the institution of Halacha. For any challenge that he proposes Moses would respond, “I am the leader. I'm the greatest scholar. God told me to appoint Aaron as high priest. This is Halacha.” Korach could not argue with the notion that the word of God is Halacha. Korach’s first step was he twisted the philosophy of Halacha. He proposed that one can take Halacha out of its rigid structure and philosophize it. It's nothing more than philosophy. Once you reduce Halacha to philosophy, you get a totally different picture.
Once one says there is only one purpose for Tzitzit, to remind one of the blue, one will conclude that if the whole garment is blue, what does one need the Tzitzit for? He influenced the people to believe that Halacha can be philosophized. Once you can philosophize it, the structure is gone. One can then say, “The philosophy makes no sense to me, so I'll do it my way. I have another way to do it. It's all philosophy, and there is no rigid Halachic system. There's no real structure to the Torah’s legal system.”
Korach threw Moses into a different light. What he did was, he projected onto Moses an arrogance and made him appear like is an arrogant person seeking respect for himself and his brother and his family.
The truth of the matter is of course being well known. The event took place where God intervened and Korach and his entire congregation were swallowed up. This demonstrated one very important principle. You cannot philosophize away Halacha. Halacha is not subject to philosophy.
For instance, let’s compare a Kohain, a priest, and a Levite. Who is superior? Perhaps you'll say the Kohain is superior since he does the work in the Temple. The Levite is more limited; he only has two responsibilities with respect to the Temple. He sings in the Temple and opens and close the gates. Perhaps you'll say the Levite cannot do what the Kohain can do therefore, the Kohain is superior. But! The Halacha states that the Kohain cannot do what the Levite does as well. He is equally responsible to abstain from performing what the Levite does. The Rabbis explain that what the Torah teaches is each man is on his post as it says in Numbers 4:49 “Ish Ish Al Avodaso VeAl Masaoh.” Each man on his work and onto his assignment.
What does this mean? It means that you cannot philosophize personal position in Torah. If one person is a Kohain, it doesn't mean the Kohain is superior. Not at all. This is where it ties in with what we said above by Abraham. One cannot determine based on the events in a person's life that because this person was successful and became wealthy, and he has a good family, and he and his family are healthy and happy, that they are righteous people. It doesn't mean a thing. The converse is also true. It is not the case that if a person and his family are not well and he cannot earn a living, that he's evil. This is nonsense. The same thing is true with the Halachic positions. This is what Moses was trying to explain.
The Rabbis say, and it’s pretty obvious from the text of the Torah, that the tribe of Levi was superior because they didn't serve the Golden Calf. If you read between the lines it becomes clear that they did have some kind of superiority. That is why they were given the Kehuna, the priesthood.
There are two types of situations in life with respect to our relationship to God. One is what we deserve. We believe that a righteous person that keeps the Torah deserves a certain good and that God will not fail to repay him, to give him that good.
There’s another system. God in His divine wisdom sees fit to create certain institutions that are necessary for Torah to be able to exist; and for us to be able to study Torah, right here and now thousands of years after the Torah was given.
These institutions were taken by certain people. They took what was given to them because at that time they were the most capable of doing it. That's not the same thing as saying that the institution defines them as superior. It a subtle concept, but there's a big difference.
If somebody would come here and say,“I have one million dollars to give out to somebody in this room, and now you must decide who it is to be,” we would have an unpleasant meeting. Begrudgingly, we would say that this so and so person is the most righteous person. (If such a thing were possible among humans to do such a thing). We would conclude this so and so person deserves it. It wouldn't mean that the million dollars indicate that this person is worth a million dollars and the fellow next to him isn't. It doesn't mean that at all. It means there is only one gift and the one who should get the gift is the one that is most capable at the time of the giving.
This concept we do find in Torah. You see the Levites at the time did have a superior edge. God wanted to give an institution of priesthood, (Kehuna) and of the Levite, and he gave it to that tribe. But it was a gift at the time because it was necessary, and it was given to the ones at the time who were the most capable. The best ones. It doesn't mean that it indicates an intrinsic superiority. It means that's the way it was. The same is true of Bnai Israel. The Torah had to be given at a certain time. Bnai Israel were the ones that at that time were ready to receive it. It does not indicate superiority in any way. It indicates that God's plan will always take place. When He has a plan, He will give it to the one at the time that is most capable. That is something different than saying intrinsic superiority. Quite different.
We have two types of situations. That’s precisely what I meant what I said before. When one looks carefully now at the verses again after one arrives at the correct notion of Torah, one sees how the text starts to light up. It has meaning. It comes together.
Let us examine the story of Korach that we were referring to before. The Torah says they gathered against Moses and Aaron and they made their complaints. Then it says that Moses heard and he fell on his face. Apparently Moses simply couldn't respond. Why couldn't he respond? Because Korach was lodging against him a complaint that you can't defend against. It's indefensible. If someone says you're doing this because you're arrogant that's it. What are you going to say? Korach took Moses and depicted him in such a light that everything he did was just for his own glory. It wasn’t true, but how does one defend oneself. Anything Moses says, Korach is going to blame him. Moses was just stunned at this point.
Then he said the only thing he could say. This demands an experiment. He told them to take the incense and to bring it before God the following day and then you'll see what will happen. That was his first response. Once he was put in the light of an arrogant person he couldn’t defend himself. Moses only response was, we'll see what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Then later Moses added something. In verse 9 he says, “Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel separated you from the Congregation of Israel to bring you, to draw you near to Him to serve in the Mishkan and to stand before the congregation to serve them?”
What was Moses’s second argument? The second argument is that you are making a mistake. You think that if a person is a priest it indicates intrinsic worthiness. It doesn't. A given Israelite could be more worthy than the given priest. That's not the measure of a human being, but it is a gift of God and it was given to people. When He gave the gift, it was to the ones that were most capable of doing it. Simply because that plan had to be implemented.
Moses was saying to Korach and his followers, “Why are you complaining? You should be happy because you've got a gift already. Isn't it enough that God gave you this gift, you want the Kehuna, the priesthood? You're demanding that gift too? That doesn't make any sense. It's not a matter of intrinsic worthiness. God has certain plans and He decides who at the time is best capable of carrying out these plans. He gave you part of the gift already, but that's not enough for you?” That's what Moses taught.
Moses taught the correct ideas concerning the Kehuna, the priesthood. He explained how God dispenses His responsibilities. The responsibility is given based on the facts at the time. Those people that receive it are the most capable. But that does not indicate intrinsic worthiness. It doesn't mean that a person who's a priest is better than a given Israelite who is not a priest. It has nothing to do with it. It's a general concept that the Levite were superior and therefore this gift which had to be implemented, was given to them. “You already received one gift and now you're being greedy demanding the Kehuna as well. You want the priesthood also? You're misunderstanding the whole concept here”Moses said.
This lesson follows through. It begins with an incident in Genesis and it follows through here in Numbers. This teaches man an important concept. It is one of the most basic concepts of Torah. This concept is that God judges a person based upon his deeds, his actions, his knowledge, his understanding, his love of Torah and his love of God. There are no other indicators.
We have in Israel an unfortunate institution. It’s the institution of Mamzer. Which means that the child of a certain type of illicit relationship cannot marry into the nation of Israel. That's a tragedy, a terrible tragedy. But it is an institution that God gave in the Torah and apparently, God in His divine wisdom felt that this is something that must be done to prevent these illicit kinds of relationships.
It is unfortunate for the individual. Halacha is usually very kind. The purpose of the Torah is not to be stringent. It is to work within a certain framework of reasoning and thinking, that's the objective. It says in the prophets, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness." But sometimes that's it. The system is made mainly to avoid discomfort and difficulties and to get a person into a certain intellectual framework where one has the knowledge but one doesn’t have to suffer the inconvenience. Sometimes there's nothing one can do. Sometimes that's it, one can’t do anything. There is Halacha, and we invoke the statement of the prophets, “There is no knowledge and there is no advice, no council against God." Sometimes we say,“That's it. There is nothing we can do.”
Now you know what the Halacha states, the Halacha states that a Mamzer, a person who is an unfortunate, if he is a great scholar, he gets more respect than the high priest. That is the message of the Torah. The fact that he is a Mamzer, we can't do anything about. We can't change it. Does this indicate he is an inferior person? On the contrary, it does not mean a thing. No indication whatsoever. And on the contrary, he could be the greatest scholar in Israel and will deserve, and receive more respect than the high priest himself. Because a person’s worthiness is determined by the internal self. Not by any kinds of institutions or events. Events or institutions even if they are Halachic institutions, cannot indicate personal worthiness.
That is the philosophy of Torah. That is what the Torah teaches us. That's the philosophy of Abraham.