After telling our forefather to journey to a new beginning, the Compassionate One reveals to him that this journey will lead to a new nation and the following blessings:
“And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall become a blessing! I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2,3)
“All the families of the earth” – This is a biblical term which refers to the diverse peoples of humankind which began as extended families. For example, King David wrote, “Give to the Compassionate One, O families of peoples” (Psalm 96:7).
Abraham was told that through this journey, he will develop into a new nation; moreover, this nation is to “become a blessing.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, these words are not to be understood as a Divine promise, but as a Divine mandate, for the new nation that will emerge from Abraham is to strive to become a blessing to others. In what way is this nation to become a blessing? Rabbi Hirsch explains that this nation is to become a source of blessing by serving as an ethical and spiritual model of Divine service which can inspire others. In this way, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.” Abraham’s separate journey therefore leads to a universal goal.
This Divine promise was also given to Abraham's son, Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and to Isaac's son, Jacob (Genesis 28:14). Jacob was given the additional name "Israel" (Genesis 35:10), and his twelve sons became the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel that inherited this promise.
The Hebrew word for "will be blessed" in the above verse is v'nivrichu. This word can also mean "to be grafted on" or "to join"; thus, the Talmud interprets this Divine promise in the following manner: "All the families of the earth will join you" (Yevamos 53a). In what way will all the families of the earth join the Family of Israel? The Talmud explains that this is referring to converts from the families of the earth that will join the Family of Israel, and the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Elazar, cites as examples two famous female converts in the biblical period. He states:
"What is the meaning of 'all the families of the earth will join you'? The Holy One, Blessed be He, is saying to Abraham: 'I have two good grafts to graft on to you - Ruth the Moabite (the ancestor of King David) and Na'amah the Ammonite (a wife of King Solomon and mother of King Rehoboam)."
According to this Divine promise, the new family, Israel, that will emerge from Abraham and Sarah will not be limited to a single race or nationality, for it will include converts from all the families of the earth. This new family will be universal not only in its purpose, but in its very composition.
Why is this process necessary? I would like to suggest the following three reasons:
1. Through Divine Providence, humankind had evolved into a “rainbow” of families, and since the story of Israel is to express the human story, Israel is to become a “rainbow” family that has representatives from all the families of the earth.
2. Having representatives from all the families of the earth will enhance Israel’s ability to serve as a social model, for when the other families see Israel, they will be seeing themselves. In other words, the converts enable the other families to identity with Israel.
3. The presence of converts from all the families of the earth can remind Israel of its universal role and responsibility regarding all the families of the earth. Their presence serves as a reminder that our new beginning is for the sake of a new beginning for the entire world.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. According to tradition, Abraham and Sarah were the first teachers to bring "converts" to the service of the Compassionate One. They taught to their disciples certain basic beliefs and precepts which were later included in the Torah which was revealed on Mount Sinai. An allusion to this tradition is found in a verse which describes the journey of Abraham and Sarah to the Promised Land. The verse mentions that Abraham and Sarah were accompanied by "the souls they made in Haran" (Genesis 12:5). Rashi, citing Midrash Rabbah, writes:
“They are said to have ‘made’ the souls, for they took them in under the wings of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence. Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah would convert the women.”
The above commentary can be understood in the following manner: Through their spiritual teachings and through the power of their own example, Abraham and Sarah enabled spiritually-searching men and women to rediscover their own souls. As a result, their disciples experienced a spiritual rebirth. Abraham and Sarah therefore became the spiritual parents of these seekers, and it is as if Abraham and Sarah "made" their souls. In this spirit, the Talmud teaches (Sanhedrin 99b):
"Whoever teaches his friend's child Torah, it's as if he made him, as it is written (concerning the disciples of Abraham and Sarah): 'the souls they made in Haran' (Genesis 12:5)."
2. The Talmud states: “One who has become a convert is like a newborn child” (Yevamos 22a).