I’d like to look at a Rashi at the beginning of the sedra:
This is the kind of Rashi we expect. There’s a question on the text (“why mention these three things specifically”) and Rashi explains why they are relevant to understanding the story of Avraham’s calling. If Rashi stopped there, everything would be fine. But he does not:
What does this add to our understanding of the text? We have three questions: What is missing from the first explanation that Rashi felt it necessary to add a second? How does this midrashic explanation fit in the text? Why this particular midrash; as we said last week, Rashi brings אגדה המישבת דברי המקרא?
The first question can perhaps be answered by looking at the Rashi on the first pasuk:
So we didn’t really need to specify how the move would benefit Avraham (especially since it leaves out what we would consider the most important ברכה: the inheritance of ארץ ישראל).
But how does this midrash help? There’s no hint of יצחק or יעקב in the text. It seems to make no sense. What’s worse, there’s a perfectly good source for the wording of the עמידה later in the Torah:
And the Abudirham (the original precursor to the Artscroll commentary) cites the מכלתא that this is the source:
I have to say that I came up with a brilliant explanation, but then found it mostly in the מהרש״א:
Which leaves me with a mixture of happiness (ברוך שכוונתי) that my thoughts were justified, and disappointment that it wasn’t original. Be that as it may, let’s look at the text more closely. Each of the אבות was explicitly blessed by ה׳ once (יצחק actually has the phrase ויברך one other time, but that was as נחום אבלים after אברהם died).
So the ברכה of אברהם was to have children, corresponding to אֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל.
So the ברכה of יעקב was to get a new name, one that reflected his increased stature, corresponding to וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ.
So we have answered the second question: how do we connect the midrash to the text. To understand the why of bringing this midrash, we need to look a little deeper. What do we mean when we say אֱלקֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלקֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלקֵי יַעֲקב?
So each of the אבות had his own approach to relating to הקב״ה. What were those approaches?
And the ברכות that each received corresponded with the way they served ה׳. אברהם served through חסד, in the way he interacted with other people, and he was blessed with becoming a גוֹי גָּדוֹל;(בראשית יז:ה) כי אב המון גוים נתתיך. עבודה at its core is using our material possessions to serve ה׳, and יצחק was blessed with ממון. יעקב served ה׳ through אמת, תורה, and his blessing was a new name. All of the אבות were named by ה׳, but יעקב's name was the only one to which ה׳, as it were, attached His own name. As the Ramban says in his introduction to the Torah, עוד יש בידינו קבלה של אמת, כי כל התורה כולה שמותיו של הקב״ה.
But these ברכות are more that an example of מדה כנגד מדה. The Rambam explains the purpose of reward in this world:
I said this at Liora’s bat mitzvah:
The reward for mitzvot is in עולם הבא. Nothing we have in this world is because we deserve it; ה׳ gives us the benefits of this world in order to allow us to fulfill the תורה. If you have done מיצוות, Hashem will give you the tools—health, wealth, influence—that will allow you to do more מיצוות. It’s like getting a second round of venture capital funding. At each stage, the funder looks at what you’ve managed to do with what you had before deciding that you should get more money. The big payoff at the IPO doesn’t happen until much later. So too, we need to realize that the gifts we have, that Hashem grants us, are tools, not rewards. We have to use them to give to others and then we will be granted more of those gifts.
I think Rashi brings this explanation of the pasuk to shape the narrative of Avraham’s life: that all that we see of him, even to the point of preparing to sacrifice his son, his ברכה, was part of his service of ה׳. And that is what we have in mind as we say אֱלקֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלקֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלקֵי יַעֲקב.