The Greatness of the Patriarchs

It is written, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as E-l Sh-ddai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them” (Shemot 6:3). Here Rashi explains: “I appeared – to the Patriarchs.”

We know that many of the Torah commentators who pay great attention to the illuminating words of Rashi, the greatest of the commentators, are stunned by this remark. What does he mean by this? After all, the verse itself mentions the names of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – so what is Rashi trying to teach us here?

We must also recall what our Sages have said, namely that the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob constitute the Chariot of the holy Shechinah (Bereshith Rabba 47:6). Furthermore, the Zohar states that the Holy One, blessed be He, added King David as a fourth wheel to the Chariot, for a chariot consists of no less than four wheels (Zohar I:248b). We need to understand why the Holy One, blessed be He, did not add Moshe rather than King David. How was the greatness of the Patriarchs and King David greater than that of Moshe, of whom it is said, “You made him slightly less than Heavenly beings” (Tehillim 8:6), as well as: “Never has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem knew face-to-face” (Devarim 34:10)?

They Refrained From Asking Questions

Upon examining the subject more closely, we may say that here the Holy One, blessed be He, suggested to Moshe that, although the Patriarchs experienced many hardships – Abraham overcoming 10 trials, Isaac overcoming the trial of Abimelech and his servants, and Jacob overcoming the trials of Shechem and Joseph – they still did not question the Holy One, blessed be He. On the contrary, they accepted everything with love because they did not want to speak unnecessarily, and they personally fulfilled the teaching: “Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you” (Yebamot 20a). They would have been allowed to ask questions, but they refrained from doing so because they sanctified themselves over and above the norm, even in things that were permitted to them.

Since the holy Patriarchs conducted themselves in this way, they merited being the Chariot of the Shechinah, something that others did not merit. Perhaps it is for this reason that Rashi referenced the Patriarchs here, in order to suggest that this is what constituted their greatness. In fact the term haAvoth (“the Patriarchs”) has the same numerical value (414) as kadosh (“holy”) when the 4 letters of the latter are added to the sum. This means that the Patriarchs were infinitely sanctified, to the point that they controlled themselves even in permitted things and did not ask questions. Hence they deserved everything they received. We do not find the same thing with Moshe, who when sent to Pharaoh asked Hashem: “Why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me?” (Shemot 5:22).

Although Moshe was allowed to ask such questions, in this area the Patriarchs were at a greater level.

His Only Joy

The Holy One, blessed be He, added King David as the fourth wheel of the Chariot because when he served as King of Israel, he made himself into a stranger, acting as if the Holy One, blessed be He, owed him nothing. Thus we read, “Hear my prayer, Hashem, and give ear to my cry. Do not be silent at my tears, for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers” (Tehillim 39:13). Here the Midrash states, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David became as if non-existent, as if strangers in this world” (Aggadat Bereshith).

We also find David saying, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem’ ” (Tehillim 122:1). King David rejoiced when someone came to him and said, “Your majesty, I want to study Torah!” He would immediately stop everything he was doing and sit down to study. In this regard it is written, “That I may dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life” (ibid. 27:4). This was his only joy, in accordance with the verse: “The orders of Hashem are upright, rejoicing the heart” (ibid. 19:9).

He Never Rejected Anyone

In the Gemara we find that David said to the Holy One, blessed be He: “Sovereign of the universe, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and West sit with all their pomp among their hosts, whereas my hands are soiled with blood, with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband” (Berachot 4a). In other words, he never rejected anyone who wanted to study Torah. He had every right to rejoice in his majesty, but he chose not to because he sanctified himself in what was permitted to him. Since King David made himself into a stranger – like someone who felt that everything the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him was a gift – how much more did he not ask questions! This is because whoever depends on others for his sustenance will be happy with what he is given, and he will not dare make demands. To him, whatever he receives is enough.


Compassion Must Precede Anger
Book of Shemot Index
Torah: The Key to Redemption


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