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Shavuos - Restoring Hashem's Name In This World

In this shiur, delivered in the Valley in Los Angeles, Rav Burg discusses the inner nature of the Mitzvah of Yibum. Our responsibility in this world is to restore the name of Hashem which has been hidden since creation. When Avraham Avinu took on the responsibility of his brother's legacy in a completely selfless fashion he made himself into the person that Hashem could rely upon to restore His legacy in this world.

Sources can also be found below.

When Hashem created the world there is an absence of His presence. When Adam and Chava sinned, His presence (name) was further hidden in the world.


The story of all of human history is how we deal with legacy in the face of death. Just as Hashem's name so to speak has been lost so to speak, so too do we grapple with the loss of our name, our legacy, in the face of death.

Psychologist Irvin Yalom:


It's not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death. It's like trying to stare the sun in the face: you can stand only so much of it. Because we cannot live frozen in fear, we generate methods to soften death's terror. We project ourselves into the future through our children; we grow rich, famous, ever larger; we develop compulsive protective rituals; or we embrace an impregnable belief in an ultimate rescuer.


Despite the staunchest, most venerable defenses, we can never completely subdue death anxiety: it is always there, lurking in some hidden ravine of the mind.

Genesis 4:9

(9) יהוה said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

בראשית ד׳:ט׳

(ט) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־קַ֔יִן אֵ֖י הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יךָ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי׃

The failure of Kayin is that he did not take responsibility for his brother's legacy after he murdered him.

Genesis 4:25

(25) Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, meaning, “God has provided me with offspring in place of Abel,” for Cain had killed him.

בראשית ד׳:כ״ה

(כה) וַיֵּ֨דַע אָדָ֥ם עוֹד֙ אֶת־אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֔ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵׁ֑ת כִּ֣י שָֽׁת־לִ֤י אֱלֹהִים֙ זֶ֣רַע אַחֵ֔ר תַּ֣חַת הֶ֔בֶל כִּ֥י הֲרָג֖וֹ קָֽיִן׃

Kayin killed Hevel but did not take responsibility for his brother's legacy. Hevel's name is only restored when Adam and Chava reunite after a 130 year separation and have Shes who is in place of Hevel.

(יח) וַיִּֽהְי֣וּ בְנֵי־נֹ֗חַ הַיֹּֽצְאִים֙ מִן־הַתֵּבָ֔ה שֵׁ֖ם וְחָ֣ם וָיָ֑פֶת וְחָ֕ם ה֖וּא אֲבִ֥י כְנָֽעַן׃ (יט) שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֵ֖לֶּה בְּנֵי־נֹ֑חַ וּמֵאֵ֖לֶּה נָֽפְצָ֥ה כׇל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כ) וַיָּ֥חֶל נֹ֖חַ אִ֣ישׁ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וַיִּטַּ֖ע כָּֽרֶם׃ (כא) וַיֵּ֥שְׁתְּ מִן־הַיַּ֖יִן וַיִּשְׁכָּ֑ר וַיִּתְגַּ֖ל בְּת֥וֹךְ אׇהֳלֹֽה׃ (כב) וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ׃ (כג) וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ׃ (כד) וַיִּ֥יקֶץ נֹ֖חַ מִיֵּינ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֕דַע אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ בְּנ֥וֹ הַקָּטָֽן׃ (כה) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָר֣וּר כְּנָ֑עַן עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְאֶחָֽיו׃ (כו) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר בָּר֥וּךְ יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹ֣הֵי שֵׁ֑ם וִיהִ֥י כְנַ֖עַן עֶ֥בֶד לָֽמוֹ׃ (כז) יַ֤פְתְּ אֱלֹהִים֙ לְיֶ֔פֶת וְיִשְׁכֹּ֖ן בְּאׇֽהֳלֵי־שֵׁ֑ם וִיהִ֥י כְנַ֖עַן עֶ֥בֶד לָֽמוֹ׃ (כח) וַֽיְחִי־נֹ֖חַ אַחַ֣ר הַמַּבּ֑וּל שְׁלֹ֤שׁ מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַֽחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃ (כט) וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ כׇּל־יְמֵי־נֹ֔חַ תְּשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת׃ {פ}

(18) The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth—Ham being the father of Canaan. (19) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole world branched out. (20) Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. (21) He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. (22) Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. (23) But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. (24) When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him, (25) he said, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves

Shall he be to his brothers.” (26) And he said, “Blessed be יהוה, The God of Shem; Let Canaan be a slave to them. (27) May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them.” (28) Noah lived after the Flood 350 years. (29) And all the days of Noah came to 950 years; then he died.

Rashi on Genesis 9:22:2

(2) וירא את ערות אביו AND HE SAW HIS FATHER'S NAKEDNESS — Some say that he castrated him and some say that he sodomized him (Sanhedrin 70a).

רש"י על בראשית ט׳:כ״ב:ב׳

(ב) וירא את ערות אביו. יֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים סֵרְסוֹ וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים רְבָעוֹ (סנה' ע'):

Rashi on Genesis 9:25:1

(1) ארור כנען CURSED BE CANAAN — Now what did Ham see (what reason did he have) that he castrated him? He said to his brothers,“The first man [Adam] had two sons, and one killed the other so as to inherit the world, and our father has three sons, and he still desires a fourth son!” -

רש"י על בראשית ט׳:כ״ה:א׳

(א) ארור כנען... וּמָה רָאָה חָם שֶׁסֵּרְסוֹ? אָמַר לָהֶם לְאֶחָיו אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן שְׁנֵי בָנִים הָיוּ לוֹ, וְהָרַג זֶה אֶת זֶה בִּשְׁבִיל יְרֻשַּׁת הָעוֹלָם, וְאָבִינוּ יֵשׁ לוֹ ג' בָּנִים וְעוֹדֶנּוּ מְבַקֵּשׁ בֵּן רְבִיעִי:

In the aftermath of the flood, when Noach has to continue the legacy of humanity, Cham takes Noach's capacity to populate the world (as Adam and Chava continued Hevel's legacy through Shes) for selfish purposes. As we will soon see, this is foreshadowing the story of Migdal Bavel.


Hashem is called the God of Shem. Yefes lives in the tents of Shem.


The legacy of Cham is destroyed. Canaan, his son, is cursed to become their slave.


They took care of their father but not their brother who was cursed.

Genesis 11:4

(4) And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

בראשית י״א:ד׳

(ד) וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ הָ֣בָה ׀ נִבְנֶה־לָּ֣נוּ עִ֗יר וּמִגְדָּל֙ וְרֹאשׁ֣וֹ בַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנַֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֖נוּ שֵׁ֑ם פֶּן־נָפ֖וּץ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כׇל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Faced with the prospect of another flood, the builders of the tower of Bavel sought to create a legacy.


Altruistic - We do something meaningful and as a result we have a strong reputation.

Narcissistic - We build something in order to have a great name. The purpose of the building is to make a monument to yourself.


The problem was that a real legacy comes by what you do for another, not what you build as a testament to yourself. They displayed the same fundamental selfishness as Cham.

The Mitzvah of Yibum:

The purpose of Yibum is so that the brother's name should not be lost to Klal Yisrael

Deuteronomy 25:6

(6) The first child that she bears shall be accounted to the dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out in Israel.

דברים כ״ה:ו׳

(ו) וְהָיָ֗ה הַבְּכוֹר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּלֵ֔ד יָק֕וּם עַל־שֵׁ֥ם אָחִ֖יו הַמֵּ֑ת וְלֹֽא־יִמָּחֶ֥ה שְׁמ֖וֹ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Yevamot 24a:6

The baraita continues and asks: Do you say that he succeeds in the name of his brother for inheritance, or perhaps it is only to inherit his name? If, e.g., the deceased brother was named Yosef, they must call the son born from levirate marriage Yosef, or if his name was Yoḥanan, then they must call him Yoḥanan. The baraita answers: It is stated here: “He shall succeed in the name of his brother,” and it is stated there: “They shall be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance” (Genesis 48:6). Just as the word “name” stated there in Genesis is referring explicitly to inheritance, so too, the word “name” stated here in Leviticus means with regard to inheritance.

יבמות כ״ד א:ו׳

אַתָּה אוֹמֵר לְנַחֲלָה, אוֹ אֵינוֹ אֶלָּא לְשֵׁם: יוֹסֵף — קוֹרִין אוֹתוֹ יוֹסֵף, יוֹחָנָן — קוֹרִין אוֹתוֹ יוֹחָנָן. נֶאֱמַר כָּאן ״יָקוּם עַל שֵׁם אָחִיו״, וְנֶאֱמַר לְהַלָּן: ״עַל שֵׁם אֲחֵיהֶם יִקָּרְאוּ בְּנַחֲלָתָם״, מָה שֵׁם הָאָמוּר לְהַלָּן — נַחֲלָה, אַף שֵׁם הָאָמוּר כָּאן — לְנַחֲלָה.

There was a Hava Amina that you may actually have to name the child after the deceased brother! In the end, he only inherits.

“Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That's when I will be truly dead - when I exist in no one's memory. -Irvin D. Yalom

Ramban on Genesis 38:8:1

The subject is indeed one of the great secrets of the Torah... The ancient wise men who were prior to the Torah knew of the great benefit in marrying a childless dead brother’s wife, and that it was proper for the brother to take precedence in the matter, and upon his failure to do so, his next of kin would come after him, for any kinsman who was related to him, who would inherit his legacy, would derive a benefit from such a marriage. And it was customary for the dead man’s wife to be wed by the brother or father or the next of kin in the family. We do not know whether this was an ancient custom preceding Judah’s era. In Bereshith Rabbah15785:6. they say that Judah was the one who inaugurated the commandment of marrying a childless person’s widow, for since he had received the secret from his ancestors he was quick to fulfill it. 

רמב"ן על בראשית ל״ח:ח׳:א׳

הענין סוד גדול מסודות התורה... והיו החכמים הקדמונים קודם התורה יודעים כי יש תועלת גדולה ביבום האח והוא הראוי להיות קודם בו ואחריו הקרוב במשפחה כי כל שארו הקרוב אליו ממשפחתו אשר הוא יורש נחלה יגיע ממנו תועלת והיו נוהגים לישא אשת המת האח או האב או הקרוב מן המשפחה ולא ידענו אם היה המנהג קדמון לפני יהודה ובבראשית רבה (בראשית רבה פ״ה:ה׳) אמרו כי יהודה התחיל במצות יבום תחלה כי כאשר קבל הסוד מאבותיו נזדרז להקים אותו 

Ramban: The Mitzvah of Yibum is one of the great secrets of the Torah and it was already a custom pre Matan Torah. 

Sefer HaChinukh 598

The commandment of levirate marriage: 

It is from the roots of the commandment [that it is] since the woman that a man marries, behold, she is like one of his limbs — as so does nature necessitate because of the story of the first father, as one of his ribs was taken and from it did God build woman — and since this man died with no sons, that there should be a portion from him for his memory and to fill his place in the world in the service of his Creator. And also there is no memory of him in the physical world besides this woman, who is the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh. And [so] it was from the kindnesses of God to him to establish seed from her for him, through his brother — who is also like half of his flesh — in order that this seed take his place and serve his Creator in his stead, and so that he merit through him in the world of souls, where he is. As it is known that a son gives merit to the father; as so did they, may their memory be blessed, say (Sanhedrin 104a), “A child gives merit to a father, a father does not give merit to a child.” And truthfully likewise does the living brother that fathered the children from the levirate wife also get a share in them for himself, and he also gets merit in their merit. Nonetheless, not all of the merit will go to him; but rather his brother will take his portion because of the big portion that he has in them — and that is the wife that fell to his portion first, as we have said.

ספר החינוך תקצ״ח

מִצְוַת יִבּוּם

(ב) מִשָּׁרְשֵׁי הַמִּצְוָה. לְפִי שֶׁהָאִשָּׁה אַחַר שֶׁנִּשֵּׂאת לְאִישׁ הֲרֵי הִיא כְּאֶחָד מֵאֵיבָרָיו, שֶׁכֵּן יְחַיֵּב הַטֶּבַע מִפְּנֵי מַעֲשֵׂה הָאָב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁלֻּקְּחָה אַחַת מִצַּלְעוֹתָיו וּמִמֶּנָּה בָּנָה לוֹ הָאֵל אִשָּׁה, וְהָאִישׁ הַזֶּה שֶׁמֵּת בְּלֹא בָּנִים, שֶׁיִּהְיֶה חֵלֶק מִמֶּנּוּ לְזִכָּרוֹן לוֹ וּלְמַלֹּאת מְקוֹמוֹ בָּעוֹלָם לַעֲבוֹדַת בּוֹרְאוֹ, וְעוֹד אֵין זֵכֶר לוֹ בָּעוֹלָם הַגּוּפָנִי זוּלָתִי זֹאת הָאִשָּׁה, שֶׁהִיא עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמָיו וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרוֹ, הָיָה מֵחַסְדֵי הָאֵל עָלָיו לְהָקִים לוֹ זֶרַע מִמֶּנָּה עַל יְדֵי אָחִיו שֶׁהוּא גַּם כֵּן כַּחֲצִי בְּשָׂרוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּהְיֶה אוֹתוֹ הַזֶּרַע מְמַלֵּא מְקוֹמוֹ וְעוֹבֵד בּוֹרְאוֹ תַּחְתָּיו, וְיִזְכֶּה עַל יָדוֹ בְּעוֹלַם הַנְּשָׁמוֹת אֲשֶׁר הוּא שָׁם, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיָּדוּעַ, דִּבְרָא מְזַכֶּה אַבָּא, שֶׁכֵּן אָמְרוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה (סנהדרין קד, א) בְּרָא מְזַכֶּה אַבָּא, אַבָּא לָא מְזַכֶּה בְּרָא, וּכְמוֹ כֵן בֶּאֱמֶת הָאָח הַחַי אֲשֶׁר הוֹלִיד הַבָּנִים מִן הַיְּבָמָה גַּם אֵלָיו חֵלֶק בָּהֶם וְזוֹכֶה גַּם הוּא בִּזְכוּתָם, אָמְנָם לֹא לוֹ יִהְיֶה כָּל הַזְּכוּת, כִּי גַּם אָחִיו יִטֹּל חֶלְקוֹ בִּשְׁבִיל הַחֵלֶק הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ בָּהֶם, וְהִיא הָאִשָּׁה שֶׁנָּפְלָה לְחֶלְקוֹ בַּתְּחִלָּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַרְנוּ.

Sefer HaChinuch: Like Adam and Chava, one's spouse is considered to be a limb of the same body. When a person dies childless, he has nothing left in the physical world aside from his wife, “who is the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh." Therefore, out of G‑d’s kindness to the deceased, there is a mitzvah to establish offspring through the wife, together with the brother—who is also like half of his flesh. This child will take his place and serve Hashem in his stead, bringing him great merit, as it is known that a child gives merit to the parents.

Rabbeinu Bahya, Devarim 25:6

(1) והיה הבכור אשר תלד יקום על שם אחיו המת, “It shall be that the firstborn which she shall bear shall succeed to the name of his dead brother.” The plain meaning of this verse is the kabbalistic approach. The word שם in this verse does not literally mean “name,” i.e. that the child will bear the name of the deceased brother; rather the Torah speaks of the soul of the new infant which will replace that of the departed brother. This is the meaning of the words ולא ימחה שמו מישראל, “so that his name will not be blotted out from the Jewish people.” If the deceased would not have a replacement on earth his name would be blotted out from Israel. When the Talmud in Yevamot 24 understands the words והיה הבכור אשר תלד to mean that the reference is to the firstborn son of the mother of these brothers, this is not the plain meaning of the verse. The sages only use this sequence as implying that the oldest surviving brother is first in line to “marry” (levirate marriage) the widow of the deceased brother. This is the reason the word בכור appears in our verse.

רבנו בחיי, דברים כ״ה:ו׳

(א) והיה הבכור אשר תלד יקום על שם אחיו המת. ע"ד הפשט בכתוב הזה הוא דרך הקבלה, כי הבכור אשר תלד אשת המת יקום על שם אחיו המת, ואין זה שם ממש שיהיה שמו כשמו, אלא יקום על שם אחיו המת בנפש ידבר הכתוב, זהו שאמר ולא ימחה שמו מישראל, שאם לא יקום ימחה שמו מישראל סבא, וזה מבואר. ומה שפירשו בו רז"ל, והיה הבכור אשר תלד, אמו של מת, הוא יקום בנכסים על שם אחיו המת ויזכר שם המת בנחלתו, אין זה פשוטו של מקרא, אבל הוא מדרש לרז"ל ומשם הוכיחו שמצוה בגדול ליבם, וזהו שהזכיר לשון בכור.

Rabbeinu Bachya: The mystics explain that the deeper reason behind the mitzvah of Yibum has to do with the reincarnation of souls. They explain that when the brother marries the deceased’s wife, the soul of the departed is reincarnated into their child, enabling the soul to complete the purpose for which it came down into the world.


Arizal (Shaar HaGilgulim 3:7): Ordinarily, when a soul needs to reincarnate, only the spark of the soul that needs rectification reincarnates; in the case of Yibum, the entire soul reincarnates.


The wife removes the brother's shoe and spits in his direction.

Tzemach Tzedek (Ohr Hatorah, Devarim, pp.1013-14): The removal of the shoe represents the removal of any buffer or hindrance to the feet being on the ground—allowing the departed soul to be a “walker” (as opposed to an Omed as Malachim are referred to) in this world once again. The spitting is “letting out,” so to speak, the piece of her husband’s soul that remained connected to her, enabling it to continue on its journey and reincarnate if it needs to.

Avraham Avinu and Yibum

Genesis 11:26-32

(26) When Terah had lived 70 years, he begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. (27) Now this is the line of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. (28) Haran died in the lifetime of his father Terah, in his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans. (29) Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. (30) Now Sarai was barren, she had no child. (31) Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. (32) The days of Terah came to 205 years; and Terah died in Haran.

בראשית י״א:כ״ו-ל״ב

(כו) וַֽיְחִי־תֶ֖רַח שִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֙וֹלֶד֙ אֶת־אַבְרָ֔ם אֶת־נָח֖וֹר וְאֶת־הָרָֽן׃ (כז) וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת תֶּ֔רַח תֶּ֚רַח הוֹלִ֣יד אֶת־אַבְרָ֔ם אֶת־נָח֖וֹר וְאֶת־הָרָ֑ן וְהָרָ֖ן הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת־לֽוֹט׃ (כח) וַיָּ֣מׇת הָרָ֔ן עַל־פְּנֵ֖י תֶּ֣רַח אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מוֹלַדְתּ֖וֹ בְּא֥וּר כַּשְׂדִּֽים׃ (כט) וַיִּקַּ֨ח אַבְרָ֧ם וְנָח֛וֹר לָהֶ֖ם נָשִׁ֑ים שֵׁ֤ם אֵֽשֶׁת־אַבְרָם֙ שָׂרָ֔י וְשֵׁ֤ם אֵֽשֶׁת־נָחוֹר֙ מִלְכָּ֔ה בַּת־הָרָ֥ן אֲבִֽי־מִלְכָּ֖ה וַֽאֲבִ֥י יִסְכָּֽה׃ (ל) וַתְּהִ֥י שָׂרַ֖י עֲקָרָ֑ה אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ וָלָֽד׃ (לא) וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃ (לב) וַיִּהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־תֶ֔רַח חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּ֥מׇת תֶּ֖רַח בְּחָרָֽן׃ {פ}


1. What is the significance of the fact that Haran died while his father Terach was still alive?

2. What is the significance of the juxtaposition between Haran's death and Avram and Nachor taking wives?

3. So confusing - וְשֵׁ֤ם אֵֽשֶׁת־נָחוֹר֙ מִלְכָּ֔ה בַּת־הָרָ֥ן אֲבִֽי־מִלְכָּ֖ה וַֽאֲבִ֥י יִסְכָּֽה - and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Who is Milcah and Iska? Why does it matter? 

4. Why does the Torah tell us now that Sarai is barren. In what way is this significant?

5. Why is Nachor left behind as they set off on their journey to Canaan?

6. Why did they stop and settle in Charan?

7. Why is this the introduction to Avraham Avinu?

We know that Nachor married his niece Milcah, the daughter of the deceased Haran. 


Who is Sarai?

Rashi on Genesis 11:29:1

(1) יסכה - This was Sarah; she was also named Iscah (from a root meaning “”to see”, “to look”) because she could see the future by holy inspiration, and because everybody looked (gazed) at her beauty (Megillah 14a). The name Iscah also has reference to princely dignity (נסיכות) just as the name Sarah (שרה) has an allusion to “ruling’’(שררה).

רש"י על בראשית י״א:כ״ט:א׳

(א) יסכה. זוֹ שָׂרָה, עַל שֵׁם שֶׁסּוֹכָה בְּרוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְשֶׁהַכֹּל סוֹכִין בְיָפְיָהּ; וְעוֹד יִסְכָּה לְשׁוֹן נְסִיכוּת, כְּמוֹ שָׂרָה לְשׁוֹן שְׂרָרָה:

Both Avram and Nachor married their nieces, the daughters of Haran!


Though Haran had a son Lot, one could argue that there is a type of pre Matan Torah Yibum here as Haran died young and would have had more children.

Genesis 11:4

(4) And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

בראשית י״א:ד׳

(ד) וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ הָ֣בָה ׀ נִבְנֶה־לָּ֣נוּ עִ֗יר וּמִגְדָּל֙ וְרֹאשׁ֣וֹ בַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנַֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֖נוּ שֵׁ֑ם פֶּן־נָפ֖וּץ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כׇל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

The story of Avraham begins in the aftermath of the story of the tower of Bavel. Interestingly, just as the story of Avraham begins with ensuring the continuity of his brother's name, the purpose of Migdal Bavel was to make for themselves a name.


Altruistic - We do something meaningful and as a result we have a strong reputation.

Narcissistic - We build something in order to have a great name. The purpose of the building is to make a monument to yourself. 


Yibum is the ultimate act of Chesed: You share your own personal biological legacy with your brother who can longer no longer perpetuate his name.


Kayin did not restore Hevel's legacy. Cham destroyed Noach's legacy. Shem and Yefes did not restore Cham's legacy. Migdal Bavel tried to protect their legacy with vanity.


If Migdal Bavel was the narcissistic act of building a name, Avram marrying Sarai was the ultimate act of kindness as he shares his own name with his brother. It is the perpetuation of someone else's name.


But Sarai was barren. As well intentioned as Avram is, he will not be able to perpetuate his brother's legacy.

Genesis 11:2

(2) And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.

בראשית י״א:ב׳

(ב) וַיְהִ֖י בְּנׇסְעָ֣ם מִקֶּ֑דֶם וַֽיִּמְצְא֥וּ בִקְעָ֛ה בְּאֶ֥רֶץ שִׁנְעָ֖ר וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃

Genesis 11:31

(31) Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.

בראשית י״א:ל״א

(לא) וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃

Only two times is the phrase וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם found in the Torah: Migdal Bavel and Avram's journey to Canaan.


The question is: Will Avram stop his journey of perpetuating his brother's name because Sarai is barren and focus on his own legacy (and in this way he will be behaving like the builders of Migdal Bavel - וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם) or will he continue on his journey to Canaan and spend his life focusing on the act of kindness of perpetuating his brother's legacy?


When Hashem tells Avraham to continue on his journey to Canaan, He is telling him to double down on kindness. This is what makes Avram worthy of being the first Jew! Our job is to perpetuate Hashem's name in this world. Only someone who spends his life engaged in this pursuit can build a nation that will restore Hashem's name in this world. 

Zechariah 14:9

(9) And GOD shall be sovereign over all the earth; in that day there shall be one GOD with one name.

זכריה י״ד:ט׳

(ט) וְהָיָ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כׇּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃

Genesis 12:2

(2) I will make of you a great nation,

 And I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

 And you shall be a blessing.


בראשית י״ב:ב׳

(ב) וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

Genesis 12:5

(5) Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the land of Canaan,

בראשית י״ב:ה׳

(ה) וַיִּקַּ֣ח אַבְרָם֩ אֶת־שָׂרַ֨י אִשְׁתּ֜וֹ וְאֶת־ל֣וֹט בֶּן־אָחִ֗יו וְאֶת־כׇּל־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר רָכָ֔שׁוּ וְאֶת־הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂ֣וּ בְחָרָ֑ן וַיֵּצְא֗וּ לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אַ֥רְצָה כְּנָֽעַן׃

Rashi on Genesis 12:5:1

(1) אשר עשו בחרן The souls which he had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Shechinah. Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women and Scripture accounts it unto them as if they had made them (Genesis Rabbah 39:14). However, the real sense of the text is that it refers to the men-servants and to the maidservants whom they had acquired for themselves. The word “עשה” is used here as (in Genesis 31:1), “he has acquired (עשה) all this wealth”, and (Numbers 24:8), “And Israel acquires (עושה) wealth” — an expression for acquiring and amassing. 

רש"י על בראשית י״ב:ה׳:א׳

(א) אשר עשו בחרן. שֶׁהִכְנִיסָן תַּחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה; אַבְרָהָם מְגַיֵּר אֶת הָאֲנָשִׁים וְשָׂרָה מְגַיֶּרֶת הַנָּשִׁים, וּמַעֲלֶה עֲלֵיהֶם הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ עֲשָׂאוּם; וּפְשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא עֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחוֹת שֶׁקָּנוּ לָהֶם, כְּמוֹ עָשָׂה אֵת כָּל הַכָּבֹד הַזֶּה (שם ל"א), וְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֹשֶׂה חָיִל (במדבר כד יח), לְשׁוֹן קוֹנֶה וְכוֹנֵס:

Note for later: the language of Tachas Kanfei HaShechina is interesting.

Genesis 12:8

(8) From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar to יהוה and invoked יהוה by name.

בראשית י״ב:ח׳

(ח) וַיַּעְתֵּ֨ק מִשָּׁ֜ם הָהָ֗רָה מִקֶּ֛דֶם לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל וַיֵּ֣ט אׇהֳלֹ֑ה בֵּֽית־אֵ֤ל מִיָּם֙ וְהָעַ֣י מִקֶּ֔דֶם וַיִּֽבֶן־שָׁ֤ם מִזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהֹוָֽה׃

The mission of our world is the restoration of Hashem's name in this world.


Avraham is promised with the growth of his name.


The mission of Avraham Avinu is educating about Hashem and restoring His name. The first thing that Avraham does when he arrives in Canaan is build a Mizbeach and invokes Hashem's name!

Ruth 3:9-10

(9) “Who are you?” he asked. And she replied, “I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread your robe over your handmaid,-a for you are a redeeming kinsman.” (10) And he said, "May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter; your latest act of kindness is greater than the first, not to follow the young men, whether poor or rich.

רות ג׳:ט׳-י׳

(ט) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מִי־אָ֑תְּ וַתֹּ֗אמֶר אָֽנֹכִי֙ ר֣וּת אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וּפָרַשְׂתָּ֤ כְנָפֶ֙ךָ֙ עַל־אֲמָ֣תְךָ֔ כִּ֥י גֹאֵ֖ל אָֽתָּה׃ (י) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בְּרוּכָ֨ה אַ֤תְּ לַֽיהֹוָה֙ בִּתִּ֔י הֵיטַ֛בְתְּ חַסְדֵּ֥ךְ הָאַחֲר֖וֹן מִן־הָרִאשׁ֑וֹן לְבִלְתִּי־לֶ֗כֶת אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הַבַּ֣חוּרִ֔ים אִם־דַּ֖ל וְאִם־עָשִֽׁיר׃

Ruth 1:11-13

(11) But Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters! Why should you go with me? Have I any more sons in my body who might be husbands for you? (12) Turn back, my daughters, for I am too old to be married. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I were married tonight and I also bore sons, (13) should you wait for them to grow up? Should you on their account debar yourselves from marriage? Oh no, my daughters! My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the LORD has struck out against me.”

רות א׳:י״א-י״ג

(יא) וַתֹּ֤אמֶר נׇעֳמִי֙ שֹׁ֣בְנָה בְנֹתַ֔י לָ֥מָּה תֵלַ֖כְנָה עִמִּ֑י הַֽעֽוֹד־לִ֤י בָנִים֙ בְּֽמֵעַ֔י וְהָי֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲנָשִֽׁים׃ (יב) שֹׁ֤בְנָה בְנֹתַי֙ לֵ֔כְןָ כִּ֥י זָקַ֖נְתִּי מִהְי֣וֹת לְאִ֑ישׁ כִּ֤י אָמַ֙רְתִּי֙ יֶשׁ־לִ֣י תִקְוָ֔ה גַּ֣ם הָיִ֤יתִי הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ לְאִ֔ישׁ וְגַ֖ם יָלַ֥דְתִּי בָנִֽים׃ (יג) הֲלָהֵ֣ן ׀ תְּשַׂבֵּ֗רְנָה עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִגְדָּ֔לוּ הֲלָהֵן֙ תֵּֽעָגֵ֔נָה לְבִלְתִּ֖י הֱי֣וֹת לְאִ֑ישׁ אַ֣ל בְּנֹתַ֗י כִּֽי־מַר־לִ֤י מְאֹד֙ מִכֶּ֔ם כִּֽי־יָצְאָ֥ה בִ֖י יַד־יְהֹוָֽה׃

Ruth 2:11

(11) Boaz said in reply, “I have been told of all that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before.

רות ב׳:י״א

(יא) וַיַּ֤עַן בֹּ֙עַז֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָ֔הּ הֻגֵּ֨ד הֻגַּ֜ד לִ֗י כֹּ֤ל אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂית֙ אֶת־חֲמוֹתֵ֔ךְ אַחֲרֵ֖י מ֣וֹת אִישֵׁ֑ךְ וַתַּֽעַזְבִ֞י אָבִ֣יךְ וְאִמֵּ֗ךְ וְאֶ֙רֶץ֙ מֽוֹלַדְתֵּ֔ךְ וַתֵּ֣לְכִ֔י אֶל־עַ֕ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יָדַ֖עַתְּ תְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם׃

Genesis 12:1

(1) יהוה said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

בראשית י״ב:א׳

(א) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

Comparing Rus and Avraham Avinu:


Both are not born Jewish but enter into Judaism.


Both leave everything behind to go on a journey.


Both are known for their kindness - Just as Avraham married a barren Sarai and stayed the course so too did Rus say with Naomi

Ruth 2:12

(12) May the LORD reward your deeds. May you have a full recompense from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought refuge!”

רות ב׳:י״ב

(יב) יְשַׁלֵּ֥ם יְהֹוָ֖ה פׇּעֳלֵ֑ךְ וּתְהִ֨י מַשְׂכֻּרְתֵּ֜ךְ שְׁלֵמָ֗ה מֵעִ֤ם יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֖את לַחֲס֥וֹת תַּֽחַת־כְּנָפָֽיו׃

Just as Avraham perpetuated the name of Hashem and brought converts under the wings of the Shechinah so too Boaz is expressing that because Rus acted like Avraham Avinu and followed Naomi even though there were no chances of having children she should be rewarded accordingly.

Ruth 4:10

(10) I am also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife, so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate, that the name of the deceased may not disappear from among his kinsmen and from the gate of his home town. You are witnesses today.”

רות ד׳:י׳

(י) וְגַ֣ם אֶת־ר֣וּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה֩ אֵ֨שֶׁת מַחְל֜וֹן קָנִ֧יתִי לִ֣י לְאִשָּׁ֗ה לְהָקִ֤ים שֵׁם־הַמֵּת֙ עַל־נַ֣חֲלָת֔וֹ וְלֹא־יִכָּרֵ֧ת שֵׁם־הַמֵּ֛ת מֵעִ֥ם אֶחָ֖יו וּמִשַּׁ֣עַר מְקוֹמ֑וֹ עֵדִ֥ים אַתֶּ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃

Genesis 17:4-6

(4) “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (5) And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations. (6) I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you.

בראשית י״ז:ד׳-ו׳

(ד) אֲנִ֕י הִנֵּ֥ה בְרִיתִ֖י אִתָּ֑ךְ וְהָיִ֕יתָ לְאַ֖ב הֲמ֥וֹן גּוֹיִֽם׃ (ה) וְלֹא־יִקָּרֵ֥א ע֛וֹד אֶת־שִׁמְךָ֖ אַבְרָ֑ם וְהָיָ֤ה שִׁמְךָ֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם כִּ֛י אַב־הֲמ֥וֹן גּוֹיִ֖ם נְתַתִּֽיךָ׃ (ו) וְהִפְרֵתִ֤י אֹֽתְךָ֙ בִּמְאֹ֣ד מְאֹ֔ד וּנְתַתִּ֖יךָ לְגוֹיִ֑ם וּמְלָכִ֖ים מִמְּךָ֥ יֵצֵֽאוּ׃

Ruth 4:17

(17) and the women neighbors gave him a name, saying, “A son is born to Naomi!” They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, father of David.

רות ד׳:י״ז

(יז) וַתִּקְרֶ֩אנָה֩ ל֨וֹ הַשְּׁכֵנ֥וֹת שֵׁם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יֻלַּד־בֵּ֖ן לְנׇעֳמִ֑י וַתִּקְרֶ֤אנָֽה שְׁמוֹ֙ עוֹבֵ֔ד ה֥וּא אֲבִֽי־יִשַׁ֖י אֲבִ֥י דָוִֽד׃ {פ}

The King that is promised to Avraham Avinu is Dovid HaMelech, the descendant of Rus. In other words, Rus is the culmination of the Bris Bein HaBesarim.

Avraham could be trusted to perpetuate the name of Hashem because of what he did for Sarai. Rus acted as Avraham did and was totally selfless and in that merit she completes the mission of Avraham Avinu.

Shavuos - the nature of Torah is to perpetuate the name of Hashem in this world. This is the Jewish mission.

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