Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Chaya Sarah - 5775
A NAME FROM THE FAR EAST
As our patriarch Avraham was preparing for his passing, the Torah tells us about his interactions with his children. “Avraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines. He sent them away from his son Yitzchak to a land in the east.” The Midrash identifies the gifts as a “Shem Tumah” literally- a name of impurity. However the explanation of the Midrash requires clarification; what is a “name of impurity”?
The great rabbi and mystic Rabbi Yishaya Horowitz -also known as the Shelah HaKadosh- (d. 1630) notes that Tumah impurity always has an element of holiness to it. The concubines mentioned in the verse, in Hebrew, are pilagshim that can be read as palag shem – half a name. Thus notes Rabbi Horowitz half of what the children received was holy. In the messianic era the element of holiness from what was given by Avraham to his children will appear. According to Rabbi Horowitz a culture from the east will offer something in the messianic era that will be used for holiness.
The word Shem in Hebrew means name. However our rabbis tell us that it also means the essence, since in the holy language the name of something defines its essence. When Avraham gave to the sons of his concubines a Shem he gave them the tools to identify the true essence of being. It is very possible that eastern religions that focus on insight into the ultimate nature of reality and emphasize ethics and correct understanding- are concepts that originated with Avraham. It is interesting to note that one of the ancient Buddhist works is the Abhidharma.