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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sara 5775

Hemdat HaRambam: In the Name of the Lord, The Creator of the World

An appeal to humanity to recognize the truth and to a life of righteousness.

R. Yohai Makbili, Chief Editor in Mishne Torah Project

After our father Abraham made his covenant with the king of the Philistines, he planted an “eshel” in that place and called “in the name of Hashem El Olam” (Gen. 21:33). According to one interpretation in the words of our sages “eshel” was a roadside inn where our father Abraham would greet travelers. After hosting them and giving them food and drink, he would teach them to say the blessing, “Blessed is El Olam of whose bounty we have partaken” (Genesis Rabbah 54:6, Sotah 10a), and in that way cause the name of Heaven to be pronounced by all mankind (Leket Tov Breishit 21,33).

Judaism isn’t a missionizing religion, and it doesn’t call for the whole world to convert. Rather it calls for everyone to accept the Seven Noahide Commandments, seven simple universal truths. The first and foremost among them is to recognize Hashem as the creator of the world.  Rambam gives an astounding description at the beginning of the Laws of Idolatry in the Book of Knowledge of the Mishne Torah how our father Abraham fought idolatry, not by sword or spear, but by spreading knowledge and proper understanding of the natural world, trying to wipe out the ignorance and suffering idolatry entails.

After this mighty man [Abraham] was weaned, he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think incessantly throughout the day and night… his mind explored and sought to understand until he achieved the true path and understood the just way by use of correct reasoning and arrived at the knowledge that there exists one God… once he recognized and comprehended this he began to debate with the people of Ur Casdim, and he told them that they weren’t following the true path and broke their idols … he then started to travel and call on people and gather them from city to city and kingdom to kingdom until he arrived in the land of Canaan. There he made his proclamation, as it is written, “And there he called in the name of El Olam”. And since the people were gathered around him and asked him the meaning of his proclamation, he would teach them one by one each according to his inclination until he returned him to the true path, “And our Father Jacob taught all his children”… to teach them the way of Hashem and to fulfill the commandments of Abraham. (Laws of Idolatry 1:3)


According to the simple sense of Scripture, the meaning of “El Olam” is the Eternal God, since in the entire Hebrew Bible, the term “olam” refers to eternal.  Rambam recasts the meaning of “olam” to refer to a place, our world; Hashem is the Creator of the world. This new emphasis had a deliberate intention, the name of Hashem is not just a philosophical term, but rather it marks the connection between humanity and Hashem the Creator and ruler of the world. It is this proclamation, “In the name of Hashem El Olam” that Rambam, like that of our Father Abraham, chose to place at the beginning of all his books: at the beginning of his magnum opus the Mishne Torah, at the beginning of each book of the Mishne Torah (as can be found in the manuscripts, something which in hundreds of years of printed editions the publishers saw as superfluous and expunged), at the beginning of each order in his commentary on the Mishnah,  at the beginning of each part of his profound Guide of the Perplexed and at the beginning of his important correspondence. Rambam saw this verse not just as an expression of the truth, but as a summons to all humanity to recognize this truth and unite around it.

To teach the path of Hashem

What is this path? Rambam already explained this in the Laws of Human Dispositions (end of chap. 1).

And along this path the prophets referred to God with all those attributes: long suffering, full of loving-kindness, saintly, steadfast, upright, heroic, mighty and similar expressions – to proclaim that these paths are straight and good, and that a person must conduct himself according to them and to follow Hashem’s example according to his strength ... and because these names refer to the Creator they are the “middle path” we are obligated to follow – the path known as “the way of Hashem”. This is path that our Father Abraham taught to his children, as it is written: “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Hashem to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19).  And the one who walks in this path brings goodness and blessing to himself, as it is written, “that Hashem may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of to him” (same verse).

The existence of the God of Truth and the way of life of truth that brings goodness is the yardstick that guides humanity toward the truth and gives us a focal point for righteous judgment.  The Middle East, in the days of Abraham and in the days of Rambam was full of murderous violence.  With continuous threats (such as ISIS) the situation hasn’t changed all that much. Our father Abraham’s faithful, passionate appeal in the name of Hashem to the entire word, that there is true and false in the world, there is a path of life and a path of death, and that “the path you are travelling is not the path of truth” – is an appeal that still resonates today. Presidents of the United States throughout history in their inaugural addresses have called on God as the foundation and inspiration for their efforts toward truth and justice. Can our leaders draw from those wellsprings today?


*The Mishne Torah Project – the whole Torah for everyone is an initiative to make the Rambam and his outlook approachable, written in collaboration with Eretz Hemdah and other organizations.

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