Lech Lecha – Early on

The mishnayot in Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot discuss the nature of the generations prior to Abram’s appearance on the world scene: Mishna 2 says, “There were ten generations from Adam until Noah, to inform you of the patience of God.  They angered God continuously, until He brought upon them the flood.”  The mishna then continues, “There were ten generations from Noach until Abraham, in order to inform you of the patience of God.  All of these generations continuously angered God, until Abraham arrived on the scene and received the reward of all of them.””

There are lots of questions to ask here: 1) If all the generations from Noah until Abraham angered God, what reward was there for Abraham?  Their behavior merited no reward, so what does it mean that Abraham “received their reward?”  2) The previous generations from Adam to Noach also angered God, but it does not say that Noach received any reward whatsoever – on the contrary, they were all destroyed in the flood, which was a punishment.

The mishna is best understood by placing it in context.  The previous, first mishna of the chapter (Ch. 5) speaks of the ten utterances of creation that also revealed reward and punishment in the creation.  They also indicated God’s patience while waiting for sinners to return to Him.  However, the second mishna describes two different ways of dealing with such sinners.  We can describe the different approaches by comparison to behavior during a war.  Warriors can neutralize the enemy in two different ways:

1) They can kill and destroy the enemy.

2) They can capture the enemy soldiers, thereby rendering them ineffective.

The second mishna first mentions the ten generations from Adam to Noach.  These were generations who acted in ways that produced no reward whatsoever – and therefore even though Noach went to work to rebuke them, there was no reward for their behavior and therefore he received no reward.  In fact, they were destroyed in the flood.  The next phrase of the second mishna though speaks of the subsequentt generations from Noach to Abraham, who was very outgoing in nature and charismatic as well.  Because of his efforts there were meritorious people in his generation.  However, they were only meritorious under Abraham’s influence; the minute he was not in contact with them, they did not continue in his monotheistic approach.  Therefore, though he “captured them” with his influence, it was Abraham who received all of their reward.

For a more detailed and full explanation, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly/w_LechLecha_5767.php

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 15, pp 70-74

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