Parashas Vayeira: The Oral Torah – Jews and Noahides
Rabbi David Katz
Parashas Vayeira introduces us to two paramount themes in the Jewish - Noahide relationship: “Derech Eretz” [proper conduct] and the Akeida [binding of Isaac]. The two concepts are interwoven in a roundabout way through the persona of Abraham primarily. Abraham was the one who took up the Torah methodology of Shem first and foremost, a concept that we will identify with Derech Eretz – “to learn the [“oral”] law of the land and it was Abraham as well who reached the “Jewish” abode of Shem’s service Above, a place called “Tzedek” [Bahir] in the upper world of Emanation called Atzilus, i.e. “Close to God.” Abraham was effectively a unique Ger Toshav – Tzedek who helped not only Jews find the Oral Torah [which originated with Shem] and the well that channels their souls, but Noahides as well would enjoy an Oral Torah and have Divine Knowledge as to where their Noahide Journey can ultimately end up.
To begin matters, let’s define first the concepts of Derech Eretz and the Akeidah.
Derech Eretz is the art of making it one’s business to learn the Divine Law for every and any place that the Noahide may stand. The source of this is learned from Avimelech and his exchange with Abraham the prophet. Avilmelech would have liked to have violated Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and he was found guilty by God for he was to learn [reality] and didn’t learn. Rashi in the Talmud Bava Kama cites this concept as Derech Eretz. The understanding of this being, Derech Eretz is the active measure to seek out the teaching of God, from an Oral perspective as is appropriate in the Land; the objective is to fulfill the Seven Laws of Noach to be fulfilled on the highest, most specific level possible. The undertone of this Oral Torah of the Noahide would be to encourage the Noahide to move along on his journey in a healthy way from points of revelation in his stake of being a Ger Toshav, with hopes of the Noahide Nations producing a more priestly sect from within that one might call the Ger Tzedek. [Righteous Ger] The Ger Tzedek is a Ger Toshav who is proactive in Derech Eretz and strives to keep nearly the entire Torah out of Love, while pushing the envelope of conversion, choosing to remain a Noahide until the point where the soul loses limitation and reaching the sacred place of Shem as we will soon discover through Abraham.
The Akeida [binding of Isaac] was the 10th and final test of Abraham, a test that would not only define Abraham but Isaac as well. The ramifications of Abraham working with Isaac, is the result of Abraham exercising his extreme powers as a Ger Toshav - Tzedek that actually had the ability to create a Jewish Soul. This would not be the last time in history a Ger Toshav – Tzedek would “break down the door” – for this would be the secret of Ruth – as she found the place that Jewish souls are created, i.e. the domain of Shem once Shem found his abode on High.
To clarify the concept of Noahides, Oral Torah, and Derech Eretz, the story of Chanukah provides tremendous insight as to how these principles work.
Just before Chanuka, The Temple was being officiated by Shimon the Righteous, and he had the duty of meeting with Alexander the Great, who himself was on a mission to rule the World; an inevitable clash between Jews and Greeks [in Wisdom especially]. Shimon erred in one key place, in that with a lack of Trust in God he ran out to approach Alexander, rather than having him approach the High Priest! Noah prophesied that in the future Jafeth would dwell in the tents of Shem – not the other way around. [באהלי שם] Interestingly, when we jumble the letters, one can make out two unique statements: “Moses comes to me” / “Hashem comes to me.” To suggest that Hashem would come to him, is to hint logically: if Hashem comes to he who stands in prayer, all the more so if a foreign king comes all the more so I should stand my ground! Alternatively, by standing ground, the Torah of Moses would come as if in a channel into the soul. However Shimon sinned, and the direct consequence was the Torah having been translated into Greek and out of context. Had the Men of this time had more faith in God, perhaps they would have had the merit to fulfill Noah’s wishes [Jafeth sits in the tents of Shem] and a Noahide Torah Teaching would have come to the World – even more miraculously than the miracle the Rabbis had of translating the Torah in unison.
When we look to Pirkei Avos [Ethics of the Fathers] Shimon the Righteous states that the World stands on three things: Torah, Service, and Kind Deeds. The Rabbis explain that these three traits refer directly to the Avot; the Avot are synonymous with Sechel [the intellect of Torah] and the Emanation of Binah [Understanding] which parallels the Written Torah. [Understanding and Wisdom (representing Noahide and Jew) must go together simply for the possibility to apply Torah-Intellect with Torah Proper; to negate this is to leave the Torah in eternal Exile; this was the danger of Shimon’s mistake! The Ger and the Jew have a unique relationship on this fact alone (Binah and Chachmah/Derech Eretz and Torat Moshe, etc.)] The Derech Eretz Oral Torah would come from this level of Understanding as the general term “Derech Eretz.” As politically correct as this may seem, one is left to wonder, where is Shimon’s reference to the aspect of Wisdom [which is higher and necessary] and all that it represents? If the Avos are to represent Derech Eretz then it is the Torah and Wisdom of Moses in “Chachmah” [Wisdom] that would be the primary agent in dispelling the Greek attack, and generate a direct flow of Divine Energy, pouring from Wisdom Above into Binah below, i.e. to empower Binah / Derech Eretz from Wisdom. For this Pirkei Avos makes quite clear: one must have BOTH Derech Eretz and Torah, i.e. Noahide AND Jewish Torah. To only choose “Derech Eretz” in the face of Torah – of – Moses, simply because of the desire of the end goal, the result will be in the acquisition of neither of them! Thus we should not be surprised by the fact that this slight would be the direct cause of what would be the Greek Exile – even on Jewish Soil, i.e. Chanukah’s storyline would now be able to develop.
Abraham represented the goal at hand, Derech Eretz, but what we learn is, that for the sake of the Ger Tzedek, [like Abraham was] the Torah of Moses must always be included with the [Oral] Torah of Derech Eretz. For everything that the attribute of Wisdom implies [Moses, The Oral Torah, Jewish People etc.] must serve to influence into the attribute of “Binah” [Derech Eretz, Avos, Noahides, Oral Torah that is NEVER written, etc.]. For this it says in Kabbalah that these two levels of Wisdom and Understanding must never separate; by focusing on one over the other [in this case Binah – for it was the desired outcome; even for Jews proper conduct is the necessary result, thus making the union of the Jews and Noahides all the more so paramount, when in the name of Torah] resulted in Shimon the Righteous in gaining neither, rather paving a path to exile.
Abraham may serve as the template of the Derech Eretz concept [for Avimelech was to learn (and didn’t learn) proper conduct, orally, and Abraham was his prophet on the spot to help and witness] in theory, but do not forget Abraham was a master of Derech Eretz for as a Ger Tzedek this is the territory of ascent in a relationship with God from Love. Abraham had learned everything of the Ger Tzedek from Shem and now he was determined to reach the place of his Priestly teacher yet again, for Abraham is commanded to deliver the Kingdom of Priests to the World, i.e. the Jewish People – only he isn’t Jewish, but rather a Ger Tzedek.
Abraham through our Parsha has now gone through 9 Tests, and the 10th and final test is at hand: to bind Isaac, his “Only Son.” Abraham is the Ger Tzedek and it is always presumed that Isaac is the father of the Jewish People [Talmud Shabbos]. It is at the Akeidah where the schism takes place for Abraham through his diligence and sends Isaac above, to which the Zohar says he stayed “up” on this level, causing both Abraham and Isaac to have passed the test together.
Abraham was commanded to slay his son but it seems there was more behind this 10th and final test. It is as if Abraham was “pushing” Isaac to reach a place above, to which the angel called out and said, “Do Not touch the boy! For now I Knew you are a God Fearing Man. Abraham achieved the near impossible: he launched Isaac to a place that he would be considered [even after the fact, for Isaac was 37] a Jew, the first Jew. Had the Akeidah failed, Isaac would have died, for the goal was to create a Jewish son by reaching the place of righteousness [Tzedek] which is synonymous with Shem [Bahir]. From here we see that it is possible for the Ger Tzedek to reach the place of Jewish seed, not much different from Ruth who would achieve similar merit later on in Jewish History. The strange grammar of the text in our Parsha alludes to these truths, as it says now Abraham “Fears”, a stark contrast to his known levels of Love, which identify his seed now as Jewish/ Fear as opposed to Noahide/Love. Another interesting phrase of note, is that the Torah says, “Now I Knew!” This strange past/present tense usage implies retroactive relationship, i.e. their future actions cause a reality of the past, i.e. Isaac being Jewish by his Ger Tzedek father. The Midrash follows suit in our earthly plane, by explaining that Abraham even sent Isaac after the Akeidah to learn in the Yeshiva of Shem! This matches reality on high with our reality in our World, called Asiah, the World of doing. Abraham and Isaac essentially found the place of Jewish souls. [The Bahir claims that Jewish souls are the product of archetype Noahides who God sent to the Throne of Glory, much like Isaac and Ruth]
The end of all things here: Jews and Noahides are bound in more intricate ways than we can imagine. From sharing concepts of Oral Torah, soul-making by God, souls going into spiritual abyss on their journey with Hashem, etc., Jews and Noahides share Holiness in what could be deemed the Holy of Holies in Torah thought. Abraham brought out for the World Derech Eretz – knowledge of the Oral Torah that dates back to Shem his teacher. He brought out the pathways of all souls – which ultimately take root in the abode of Shem, for Shem may not have been “Jewish”, yet it is he who took residence in this place of Jewish souls called Tzedek. [Shem is even called Malki Tzedek and Kohen Tzedek – expressing his familiarity with this place; Kohen Tzedek-Shem as we know, is a redeemer of Jews with the likes of Messiah’s David and Joseph.] In short, there is a union in the Noahide World and the Jewish World, of which Abraham is the father and creator of this bridge, as he followed the blueprint of Shem before him. The two of them in the microcosm are even said to mirror this “Binah-Wisdom” / Derech Eretz – Torah relationship, preparing the World for the eventual Noahides and Jews to walk the same path. Abraham shows just how far the Ger Tzedek can go [a place that Shimon the Righteous and Avimelech both under-estimated, while the Akeidah offers a fantastic view of the Truth] – to a union between two Worlds; Worlds that both contain familiar territory in Torah and journey with God. Only the bravest of Men could have walked down this alley and set precedent as did Abraham, however this is the nature of Derech Eretz, for if there is something to learn, one is then obligated to learn – even if the practical outcome is an Akeidah! Jews and Noahides now have their paths of which to walk side by side, paths that were paved long ago by Shem and Abraham, with a common Derech Eretz between them. These concepts are not new, only they have been buried by lack of modern precedent. We can only hope that with a return to authentic [Oral] Torah [especially] we can lay witness to the return of the Ger Tzedek - and finally realize how intricately woven he is with the Jewish People and vice versa, while neither need to lose their integrity.