Dvar Torah Vayeira: Secular Charity

Abraham’s self-imposed mission was to spread the Name of God far and wide.Upon his arrival in the Land of Canaan, he built an altar to God opposite the terebinth of Moreh (Genesis 12:6). He then pitched his tent to the east of Beth-El, built another altar, and called out in the Name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8). After returning home from his brief sojourn in Egypt, he again called out in the Name of the Lord (13:4). Following his separation from Lot, Abraham built his third altar; this one was at Hebron (13:18). While the verbal root kara can have the connotation of quiet or private prayer, in this context it means that Abraham spoke in a loud and public fashion. He familiarized the local citizenry with his conception of the one true God (Bachya 12:8).

According to the Midrash, Abraham began his missionary activity while still in Haran, many years before his journey to the Promised Land. The Bible lists all the people and possessions that Abraham and Sarah took with them on their trek, including “the souls which they had made in Haran (12:5).” Rabbi Elazar ben Zimra noted that man is incapable of manufacturing even animal life, and certainly cannot infuse a human body with a living soul. Only God is capable of such wonders. Therefore, the phrase “the souls which they had made” must refer to the proselytes to monotheism which Abraham and Sarah made through their missionary work (Genesis Rabbah 39). Pseudo-Jonathan similarly renders the verse in similar fashion.

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