Maaseh Avos Simman La’ Banim

Taste of Prophecy

“And Avraham walked through the land until the place of Shechem.  And Avraham dug wells, and there was a famine in the land and Avraham went down to Mitzrayim”, etc., etc.  The Ramban asks, “What is to be learned from all of these seemingly unimportant details?”  The Ramban answers by saying that herein lays a major principle conveyed by our sages in a short phrase:  Maaseh Avos Simman La’banim: The actions of the Fathers are a sign for the Children.  There are a number of lessons included in this pithy statement.  The Ramban writes that all of these detailed events are ways of solidifying a prophecy.  For example, when G-d tells Avraham that his descendants will go down to Egypt and leave with abundant wealth this is concretized by having Avraham go through that same process on a smaller scale.  The Ran (In the second of his Drashos in Drashos Ha’Ran) asks a question on this approach.  The Prophets are replete with prophesies for good and bad that were canceled due to the sins or repentance of those involved.  Could it be that because the event was mimicked by our forefathers that our actions would not change the fulfillment of the Prophecy?  The Ran does entertain an approach that these actions of our forefathers were only choreographed to concretize prophesies which were so crucial to the Jewish nation that in truth they would not be effected by future actions.  The Ran himself explains the idea of Maaseh Avos Simman La’banim in another way.  In order to understand his approach we need to have a taste of Talmud and Halacha.    The Talmud in Sanhedrin (89b) says: There is a positive commandment in the Torah to listen to the words of a prophet this is derived from the verse, “Eilav Tishmaun” (to him you shall listen).  The Talmud explains that there is an exception to this rule.  A prophet cannot contradict the words of the Torah.  This leads the Talmud to ask: How was Eliyahu Hanavi allowed to offer a sacrifice outside of the Bais Hamikdash on Mount Carmel, and, why did Yitzchak listen to his father and allow himself to be murdered? The Talmud answers that there is an exception for Prophets of the caliber of Avraham and Eliyahu who had proven themselves to be true prophets through their previous actions. Once a prophet has proven himself to be a true prophet we are commanded to follow his directives.  How a Prophet proves himself changed after the Torah was given.  After the Torah was given, the litmus test to see if a prophet was a true prophet of G-d was merely by accurately predicting every exact detail of a future event.  Once the Jewish nation experienced the event of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it became known to us that G-d speaks to people through prophets.  That knowledge brought with it the obligation to follow the directives of a true prophet.  Moshe Rabbeinu became the Av Haniviim (father of Prophecy) and with that came the Mitzvah of, “Eilav Tishmaun”, the Mitzvah to heed the words of a prophet.  Prior to the giving of the Torah there was no such Mitzvah.  There was no command to listen to a Prophet.  It was a lot more difficult to be accepted as a Prophet of Hashem.  This is why we do not find commands being given to us through the Avos, for we would not have had an obligation to listen to them as of yet.  This is also why the Rambam, in codifying the laws of Prophets (Yesodei Hatorah Chapters 9 & 10), does not deal with the scenario of the Akeida for that has no bearing on the standards for listening to a Prophet after Matan Torah.   There is a different reason why Yitzchak went along with the act of Human sacrifice.  (Be”H we will discuss that next week). We can now understand the Ran’s explanation of Maaseh Avos Siman La’banim.  If G-d would have merely told the Avos what was going to transpire, it would not necessarily have been binding since the concept of prophecy had not yet been established.  By not only telling them what was to transpire and by having them go through the event itself on a smaller scale it made their prophecies real and binding.  This leads us to three other important messages included in the principle of Maaseh Avos Simman La’banim. If the Avos actually lived through what we are going through in a microcosmic way, then these events hold in them the keys of how to act under those circumstances.  Learning how Avraham Avinu conducted himself with Pharaoh, Avimelech, and Efron teaches us important lessons of how we should conduct ourselves under similar circumstances.  Furthermore, the strength of character which they showed became part of our national character. This too is a benefit for us as it gives us insight as to our potential.  Finally, we now have before us examples of people who represent the way G-d wants a human being to look act and behave.  In these ways the stories of the Avos are replete with lessons for us. We have only to delve into their details to get the messages of the Avos.  In this way we will become true Bonim of the Avos.

This week’s issue is dedicated

In Memory of Rebecca Saltzman:

Rivka Rachel bas Yehuda Leib

Whose Yahrtzeit is on the

13th day of Mar Cheshvan


Harold and Gilla Saltzman

Have A Great Shabbos!!


About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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