Being Blessed With Everything
The midrash explains what it means that Abraham was blessed with everything and what a blessed life could mean for us.
R. Yehudah says that Abraham's blessing was complete because he had a daughter. What I like about his midrash is that it softens the patriarchy of the Biblical narrative, which is so focused on sons. R. Yehudah points out that the blessing of "everything" comes from both sons and daughters together.
While I appreciate R. Yehudah's effort to restore balance to the text, R. Nehemiah also has a good argument against this reading of it: We have no mention in the Torah of God making Abraham blessed with a daughter, and lots of mentions of the blessing of a son.
R. Levi offers three reasons why Abraham's blessing was described as "everything." One, Abraham achieved spiritual discipline and self-knowledge, controlling his passions and desires. Two, that Ishmael and Isaac were reconciled in their father's lifetime. This interpretation is based on the traditional rabbinic understanding of Ishmael as destructively jealous of Isaac, yet coming together with his brother to bury their father, in verse 25:9. The rabbis say that Ishmael's reconciliation with Isaac happened before Abraham died; there is scant textual evidence for this, but it's a lovely midrash. Finally, R. Levi says that Abraham was blessed with sufficient sustenance.
R. Levi then offers one last theory of Abraham's extraordinary blessing: that his tests were concluded with the near-sacrifice of Isaac, in Chapter 22. There is a strong midrashic tradition that Abraham had 10 tests, beginning with the call to leave his homeland, and ending with the Binding of Isaac--R. Levi points out that having calm and peaceful time, without a new crisis every day, is a complete blessing in and of itself!
Turning R. Levi's words around, we might point out that calling something a "blessing" is to name it as a spiritual value or goal- we don't feel "blessed" by things we don't really value. R. Levi is then setting out a vision of the ideal life, a life that encompasses emotional, material, and spiritual goals.
Abraham, he says, had deep self-knowledge and discipline; was able to experience harmony in his family; had enough material possessions so that he never suffered want; and came through life's challenges with a sense of peace, a sense that the "tests" were not so dramatic anymore.
"Everything," in R. Levi's interpretation, means all aspects of life, both the inner world and outward reality. It seems to imply a harmony between one's spirituality and one's situation, which we might note Abraham is not described as having till he was "advanced in years." Thus R. Levi teaches us not only about our sacred texts, but what might become our sacred values.
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