The Legends of the Jews
Bible Times and Characters from the Creation to Jacob
After a sojourn of twenty-six years in the land of the Philistines, Abraham departed thence, and he settled in the neighborhood of Hebron. There he was visited by Abimelech with twenty of his grandees, who requested him to make an alliance with the Philistines.
As long as Abraham was childless, the heathen did not believe in his piety, but when Isaac was born, they said to him, "God is with thee." But again they entertained doubt of his piety when he cast off Ishmael. They said, "Were he a righteous man, he would not drive his first-born forth from his house." But when they observed the impious deeds of Ishmael, they said, "God is with thee in all thou doest." That Abraham was the favorite of God, they saw in this, too, that although Sodom was destroyed and all traffic had come to a standstill in that region, yet Abraham's treasure chambers were filled. For these reasons, the Philistines sought to form an alliance with him, to remain in force for three generations to come, for it is to the third generation that the love of a father extends.
Before Abraham concluded the covenant with Abimelech, king of the Philistines, he reproved him on account of a well, for "Correction leads to love," and "There is no peace without correction." The herdmen of Abraham and those of Abimelech had left their dispute about the well to decision by ordeal: the well was to belong to the party for whose sheep the waters would rise so that they could drink of them. But the shepherds of Abimelech disregarded the agreement, and they wrested the well for their own use. As a witness and a perpetual sign that the well belonged to him, Abraham set aside seven sheep, corresponding to the seven Noachian laws binding upon all men alike. But God said, "Thou didst give him seven sheep. As thou livest, the Philistines shall one day slay seven righteous men, Samson, Hophni, Phinehas, and Saul with his three sons, and they will destroy seven holy places, and they will keep the holy Ark in their country as booty of war for a period of seven months, and furthermore only the seventh generation of thy descendants will be able to rejoice in the possession of the land promised to them." After concluding the alliance with Abimelech, who acknowledged Abraham's right upon the well, Abraham called the place Beer-sheba, because there they swore both of them unto a covenant of friendship.
In Beer-sheba Abraham dwelt many years, and thence he endeavored to spread the law of God. He planted a large grove there, and he made four gates for it, facing the four sides of the earth, east, west, north, and south, and he planted a vineyard therein. If a traveller came that way, he entered by the gate that faced him, and he sat in the grove, and ate, and drank, until he was satisfied, and then he departed. For the house of Abraham was always open for all passers-by, and they came daily to eat and drink there. If one was hungry, and he came to Abraham, he would give him what he needed, so that he might eat and drink and be satisfied; and if one was naked, and he came to Abraham, he would clothe him with the garments of the poor man's choice, and give him silver and gold, and make known to him the Lord, who had created him and set him on earth. After the wayfarers had eaten, they were in the habit of thanking Abraham for his kind entertainment of them, whereto he would reply: "What, ye give thanks unto me! Rather return thanks to your host, He who alone provides food and drink for all creatures." Then the people would ask, "Where is He?" and Abraham would answer them, and say: "He is the Ruler of heaven and earth. He woundeth and He healeth, He formeth the embryo in the womb of the mother and bringeth it forth into the world, He causeth the plants and the trees to grow, He killeth and He maketh alive, He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up." When the people heard such words, they would ask, "How shall we return thanks to God and manifest our gratitude unto Him?" And Abraham would instruct them in these words: "Say, Blessed be the Lord who is blessed! Blessed be He that giveth bread and food unto all flesh!" In this manner did Abraham teach those who had enjoyed his hospitality how to praise and thank God. Abraham's house thus became not only a lodging-place for the hungry and thirsty, but also a place of instruction where the knowledge of God and His law were taught.
In spite of the lavish hospitality practiced in the house of Abraham, it happened once that a poor man, or rather an alleged poor man, was turned away empty-handed, and this was the immediate reason for the last of Abraham's temptations, the sacrifice of his favorite son Isaac. It was the day on which Abraham celebrated the birth of Isaac with a great banquet, to which all the magnates of the time were bidden with their wives. Satan, who always appears at a feast in which no poor people participate, and keeps aloof from those to which poor guests are invited, turned up at Abraham's banquet in the guise of a beggar asking alms at the door. He had noticed that Abraham had invited no poor man, and he knew that his house was the right place for him.
Abraham was occupied with the entertainment of his distinguished guests, and Sarah was endeavoring to convince their wives, the matrons, that Isaac was her child in very truth, and not a spurious child. No one concerned himself about the beggar at the door, who thereupon accused Abraham before God.
Now, there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, "From whence comest thou?" and Satan answered the Lord, and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down in it." And the Lord said unto Satan, "What hast thou to say concerning all the children of the earth?" and Satan answered the Lord, and said: "I have seen all the children of the earth serving Thee and remembering Thee, when they require aught from Thee. And when Thou givest them what they require from Thee, then they forsake Thee, and they remember Thee no more. Hast Thou seen Abraham, the son of Terah, who at first had no children, and he served Thee and erected altars to Thee wherever he came, and he brought offerings upon them, and he proclaimed Thy name continually to all the children of the earth? And now his son Isaac is born to him, he has forsaken Thee. He made a great feast for all the inhabitants of the land, and the Lord he has forgotten. For amidst all that he has done, he brought Thee no offering, neither burnt offering nor peace offering, neither one lamb nor goat of all that he had killed in the day that his son was weaned. Even from the time of his son's birth till now, being thirty-seven years, he built no altar before Thee, nor brought up any offering to Thee, for he saw that Thou didst give what he requested before Thee, and he therefore forsook Thee." And the Lord said to Satan: "Hast thou considered My servant Abraham? For there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man before Me for a burnt offering, and that feareth God and escheweth evil. As I live, were I to say unto him, Bring up Isaac thy son before Me, he would not withhold him from Me, much less if I told him to bring up a burnt offering before Me from his flocks or herds." And Satan answered the Lord, and said, "Speak now unto Abraham as Thou hast said, and Thou wilt see whether he will not transgress and cast aside Thy words this day."
God wished to try Isaac also. Ishmael once boasted to Isaac, saying, "I was thirteen years old when the Lord spoke to my father to circumcise us, and I did not transgress His word, which He commanded my father." And Isaac answered Ishmael, saying, "What dost thou boast to me about this, about a little bit of thy flesh which thou didst take from thy body, concerning which the Lord commanded thee? As the Lord liveth, the God of my father Abraham, if the Lord should say unto my father, Take now thy son Isaac and bring him up as an offering before Me, I would not refrain, but I would joyfully accede to it."
And the Lord thought to try Abraham and Isaac in this matter. And He said to Abraham, "Take now thy son."
Abraham: "I have two sons, and I do not know which of them Thou commandest me to take."
God: "Thine only son."
Abraham: "The one is the only son of his mother, and the other is the only son of his mother."
God: "Whom thou lovest."
Abraham: "I love this one and I love that one."
God: "Even Isaac."
Abraham: "And where shall I go?"
God: "To the land I will show thee, and offer Isaac there for a burnt offering."
Abraham: "Am I fit to perform the sacrifice, am I a priest? Ought not rather the high priest Shem to do it?"
God: "When thou wilt arrive at that place, I will consecrate thee and make thee a priest."
And Abraham said within himself, "How shall I separate my son Isaac from Sarah his mother?" And he came into the tent, and he sate before Sarah his wife, and he spake these words to her: "My son Isaac is grown up, and he has not yet studied the service of God. Now, to-morrow I will go and bring him to Shem and Eber his son, and there he will learn the ways of the Lord, for they will teach him to know the Lord, and to know how to pray unto the Lord that He may answer him, and to know the way of serving the Lord his God." And Sarah said, "Thou hast spoken well. Go, my lord, and do unto him as thou hast said, but remove him not far from me, neither let him remain there too long, for my soul is bound within his soul." And Abraham said unto Sarah, "My daughter, let us pray to the Lord our God that He may do good with us." And Sarah took her son Isaac, and he abode with her all that night, and she kissed and embraced him, and she laid injunctions upon him till morning, and she said to Abraham: "O my lord, I pray thee, take heed of thy son, and place thine eyes over him, for I have no other son nor daughter but him. O neglect him not. If he be hungry, give him bread, and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; do not let him go on foot, neither let him sit in the sun, neither let him go by himself on the road, neither turn him from whatever he may desire, but do unto him as he may say to thee."
After spending the whole night in weeping on account of Isaac, she got up in the morning and selected a very fine and beautiful garment from those that Abimelech had given to her. And she dressed Isaac therewith, and she put a turban upon his head, and she fastened a precious stone in the top of the turban, and she gave them provisions for the road. And Sarah went out with them, and she accompanied them upon the road to see them off, and they said to her, "Return to the tent." And when Sarah heard the words of her son Isaac, she wept bitterly, and Abraham wept with her, and their son wept with them, a great weeping, also those of their servants who went with them wept greatly. And Sarah caught hold of Isaac, and she held him in her arms, and she embraced him, and continued to weep with him, and Sarah said, "Who knoweth if I shall ever see thee again after this day?"
Abraham departed with Isaac amid great weeping, while Sarah and the servants returned to the tent. He took two of his young men with him, Ishmael and Eliezer, and while they were walking in the road, the young men spoke these words to each other. Said Ishmael to Eliezer: "Now my father Abraham is going with Isaac to bring him up for a burnt offering to the Lord, and when he returneth, he will give unto me all that he possesses, to inherit after him, for I am his first-born." Eliezer answered: "Surely, Abraham did cast thee off with thy mother, and swear that thou shouldst not inherit anything of all he possesses. And to whom will he give all that he has, all his precious things, but unto his servant, who has been faithful in his house, to me, who have served him night and day, and have done all that he desired me?" The holy spirit answered, "Neither this one nor that one will inherit Abraham."
And while Abraham and Isaac were proceeding along the road, Satan came and appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very aged man, humble and of contrite spirit, and said to him: "Art thou silly or foolish, that thou goest to do this thing to thine only son? God gave thee a son in thy latter days, in thine old age, and wilt thou go and slaughter him, who did not commit any violence, and wilt thou cause the soul of thine only son to perish from the earth? Dost thou not know and understand that this thing cannot be from the Lord? For the Lord would not do unto man such evil, to command him, Go and slaughter thy son." Abraham, hearing these words, knew that it was Satan, who endeavored to turn him astray from the way of the Lord, and he rebuked him that he went away. And Satan returned and came to Isaac, and he appeared unto him in the figure of a young man, comely and well-favored, saying unto him: "Dost thou not know that thy silly old father bringeth thee to the slaughter this day for naught? Now, my son, do not listen to him, for he is a silly old man, and let not thy precious soul and beautiful figure be lost from the earth." And Isaac told these words to his father, but Abraham said to him, "Take heed of him, and do not listen to his words, for he is Satan endeavoring to lead us astray from the commands of our God." And Abraham rebuked Satan again, and Satan went from them, and, seeing he could not prevail over them, he transformed himself into a large brook of water in the road, and when Abraham, Isaac, and the two young men reached that place, they saw a brook large and powerful as the mighty waters. And they entered the brook, trying to pass it, but the further they went, the deeper the brook, so that the water reached up to their necks, and they were all terrified on account of the water. But Abraham recognized the place, and he knew that there had been no water there before, and he said to his son: "I know this place, on which there was no brook nor water. Now, surely, it is Satan who doth all this to us, to draw us aside this day from the commands of God." And Abraham rebuked Satan, saying unto him: "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. Begone from us, for we go by the command of God." And Satan was terri fied at the voice of Abraham, and he went away from them, and the place became dry land again as it was at first. And Abraham went with Isaac toward the place that God had told him.
Satan then appeared unto Sarah in the figure of an old man, and said unto her, "Where did thine husband go?" She said, "To his work." "And where did thy son Isaac go?" he inquired further, and she answered, "He went with his father to a place of study of the Torah." Satan said: "O thou poor old woman, thy teeth will be set on edge on account of thy son, as thou knowest not that Abraham took his son with him on the road to sacrifice him." In this hour Sarah's loins trembled, and all her limbs shook. She was no more of this world. Nevertheless she aroused herself, and said, "All that God hath told Abraham, may he do it unto life and unto peace."
On the third day of his journey, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place at a distance, which God had told him. He noticed upon the mountain a pillar of fire reaching from the earth to heaven, and a heavy cloud in which the glory of God was seen. Abraham said to Isaac, "My son, dost thou see on that mountain which we perceive at a distance that which I see upon it?" And Isaac answered, and said unto his father, "I see, and, lo, a pillar of fire and a cloud, and the glory of the Lord is seen upon the cloud." Abraham knew then that Isaac was accepted before the Lord for an offering. He asked Ishmael and Eliezer, "Do you also see that which we see upon the mountain?" They answered, "We see nothing more than like the other mountains," and Abraham knew that they were not accepted before the Lord to go with them. Abraham said to them, "Abide ye here with the ass, you are like the ass--as little as it sees, so little do you see. I and Isaac my son go to yonder mount, and worship there before the Lord, and this eve we will return to you." An unconscious prophecy had come to Abraham, for he prophesied that he and Isaac would both return from the mountain. Eliezer and Ishmael remained in that place, as Abraham had commanded, while he and Isaac went further.
And while they were walking along, Isaac spake unto his father, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where then is the lamb for a burnt offering before the Lord?" And Abraham answered Isaac, saying, "The Lord hath chosen thee, my son, for a perfect burnt offering, instead of the lamb." And Isaac said unto his father, "I will do all that the Lord hath spoken to thee with joy and cheerfulness of heart." And Abraham again said unto Isaac his son, "Is there in thy heart any thought or counsel concerning this which is not proper? Tell me, my son, I pray thee! O my son, conceal it not from me." And Isaac answered, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is nothing in my heart to cause me to deviate either to the right or the left from the word that He hath spoken unto thee. Neither limb nor muscle hath moved or stirred on account of this, nor is there in my heart any thought or evil counsel concerning this. But I am joyful and cheerful of heart in this matter, and I say, Blessed is the Lord who has this day chosen me to be a burnt offering before Him."
Abraham greatly rejoiced at the words of Isaac, and they went on and came together to that place that the Lord had spoken of. And Abraham approached to build the altar in that place, and Abraham did build, while Isaac handed him stones and mortar, until they finished erecting the altar. And Abraham took the wood and arranged it upon the altar, and he bound Isaac, to place him upon the wood which was upon the altar, to slay him for a burnt offering before the Lord. Isaac spake hereupon: "Father, make haste, bare thine arm, and bind my hands and feet securely, for I am a young man, but thirty-seven years of age, and thou art an old man. When I behold the slaughtering knife in thy hand, I may perchance begin to tremble at the sight and push against thee, for the desire unto life is bold. Also I may do myself an injury and make myself unfit to be sacrificed. I adjure thee, therefore, my father, make haste, execute the will of thy Creator, delay not. Turn up thy garment, gird thy loins, and after that thou hast slaughtered me, burn me unto fine ashes. Then gather the ashes, and bring them to Sarah, my mother, and place them in a casket in her chamber. At all hours, whenever she enters her chamber, she will remember her son Isaac and weep for him."
And again Isaac spoke: "As soon as thou hast slaughtered me, and hast separated thyself from me, and returnest to Sarah my mother, and she asketh thee, Where is my son Isaac? what wilt thou answer her, and what will you two do in your old age?" Abraham answered, and said, "We know we can survive thee by a few days only. He who was our Comfort before thou wast born, will comfort us now and henceforth."
After he had laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac on the altar, upon the wood, Abraham braced his arms, rolled up his garments, and leaned his knees upon Isaac with all his strength. And God, sitting upon His throne, high and exalted, saw how the hearts of the two were the same, and tears were rolling down from the eyes of Abraham upon Isaac, and from Isaac down upon the wood, so that it was submerged in tears. When Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son, God spoke to the angels: "Do you see how Abraham my friend proclaims the unity of My Name in the world? Had I hearkened unto you at the time of the creation of the world, when ye spake, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? who would there have been to make known the unity of My Name in this world?" The angels then broke into loud weeping, and they exclaimed: "The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth, he hath broken the covenant. Where is the reward of Abraham, he who took the wayfarers into his house, gave them food and drink, and went with them to bring them on the way? The covenant is broken, whereof Thou didst speak to him, saying, 'For in Isaac shall thy seed be called,' and saying, 'My covenant will I establish with Isaac,' for the slaughtering knife is set upon his throat."
The tears of the angels fell upon the knife, so that it could not cut Isaac's throat, but from terror his soul escaped from him. Then God spoke to the archangel Michael, and said: "Why standest thou here? Let him not be slaughtered." Without delay, Michael, anguish in his voice, cried out: "Abraham! Abraham! Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him!" Abraham made answer, and he said: "God did command me to slaughter Isaac, and thou dost command me not to slaughter him! The words of the Teacher and the words of the disciple- unto whose words doth one hearken?" Then Abraham heard it said: "By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice."
At once Abraham left off from Isaac, who returned to life, revived by the heavenly voice admonishing Abraham not to slaughter his son. Abraham loosed his bonds, and Isaac stood upon his feet, and spoke the benediction, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who quickenest the dead."
Then spake Abraham to God, "Shall I go hence without having offered up a sacrifice?" Whereunto God replied, and said, "Lift up thine eyes, and behold the sacrifice behind thee." And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and, behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket, which God had created in the twilight of Sabbath eve in the week of creation, and prepared since then as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. And the ram had been running toward Abraham, when Satan caught hold of him and entangled his horns in the thicket, that he might not advance to Abraham. And Abraham, seeing this, fetched him from the thicket, and brought him upon the altar as an offering in the place of his son Isaac. And Abraham sprinkled the blood of the ram upon the altar, and he exclaimed, and said, "This is instead of my son, and may this be considered as the blood of my son before the Lord." And whatsoever Abraham did by the altar, he exclaimed, and said, "This is instead of my son, and may it be considered before the Lord in place of my son." And God accepted the sacrifice of the ram, and it was accounted as though it had been Isaac.
As the creation of this ram had been extraordinary, so also was the use to which all parts of his carcass were put. Not one thing went to waste. The ashes of the parts burnt upon the altar formed the foundation of the inner altar, whereon the expiatory sacrifice was brought once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the day on which the offering of Isaac took place. Of the sinews of the ram, David made ten strings for his harp upon which he played. The skin served Elijah for his girdle, and of his two horns, the one was blown at the end of the revelation on Mount Sinai, and the other will be used to proclaim the end of the Exile, when the "great horn shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and they that were outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem."
When God commanded the father to desist from sacrificing Isaac, Abraham said: "One man tempts another, because he knoweth not what is in the heart of his neighbor. But Thou surely didst know that I was ready to sacrifice my son!"
God: "It was manifest to Me, and I foreknew it, that thou wouldst withhold not even thy soul from Me."
Abraham: "And why, then, didst Thou afflict me thus?"
God: "It was My wish that the world should become acquainted with thee, and should know that it is not without good reason that I have chosen thee from all the nations. Now it hath been witnessed unto men that thou fearest God."
Hereupon God opened the heavens, and Abraham heard the words, "By Myself I swear!"
Abraham: "Thou swearest, and also I swear, I will not leave this altar until I have said what I have to say."
God: "Speak whatsoever thou hast to speak!"
Abraham: "Didst Thou not promise me Thou wouldst let one come forth out of mine own bowels, whose seed should fill the whole world?"
Abraham: "Whom didst Thou mean?"
Abraham: "Didst Thou not promise me to make my seed as numerous as the sand of the sea-shore?"
Abraham: "Through which one of my children?"
God: "Through Isaac."
Abraham: "I might have reproached Thee, and said, O Lord of the world, yesterday Thou didst tell me, In Isaac shall Thy seed be called, and now Thou sayest, Take thy son, thine only son, even Isaac, and offer him for a burnt offering. But I refrained myself, and I said nothing. Thus mayest Thou, when the children of Isaac commit trespasses and because of them fall upon evil times, be mindful of the offering of their father Isaac, and forgive their sins and deliver them from their suffering."
God: "Thou hast said what thou hadst to say, and I will now say what I have to say. Thy children will sin before me in time to come, and I will sit in judgment upon them on the New Year's Day. If they desire that I should grant them pardon, they shall blow the ram's horn on that day, and I, mindful of the ram that was substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice, will forgive them for their sins."
Furthermore, the Lord revealed unto Abraham that the Temple, to be erected on the spot of Isaac's offering, would be destroyed, and as the ram substituted for Isaac extricated himself from one tree but to be caught in another, so his children would pass from kingdom to kingdom--delivered from Babylonia they would be subjugated by Media, rescued from Media they would be enslaved by Greece, escaped from Greece they would serve Rome--yet in the end they would be redeemed in a final redemption, at the sound of the ram's horn, when "the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south."
The place on which Abraham had erected the altar was the same whereon Adam had brought the first sacrifice, and Cain and Abel had offered their gifts to God--the same whereon Noah raised an altar to God after he left the ark; and Abraham, who knew that it was the place appointed for the Temple, called it Yireh, for it would be the abiding place of the fear and the service of God. But as Shem had given it the name Shalem, Place of Peace, and God would not give offence to either Abraham or Shem, He united the two names, and called the city by the name Jerusalem.
After the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, Abraham returned to Beer-sheba, the scene of so many of his joys. Isaac was carried to Paradise by angels, and there he sojourned for three years. Thus Abraham returned home alone, and when Sarah beheld him, she exclaimed, "Satan spoke truth when he said that Isaac was sacrificed," and so grieved was her soul that it fled from her body.
While Abraham was engaged in the sacrifice, Satan went to Sarah, and appeared to her in the figure of an old man, very humble and meek, and said to her: "Dost thou not know all that Abraham has done unto thine only son this day? He took Isaac, and built an altar, slaughtered him, and brought him up as a sacrifice. Isaac cried and wept before his father, but he looked not at him, neither did he have compassion upon him." After saying these words to Sarah, Satan went away from her, and she thought him to be an old man from amongst the sons of men who had been with her son. Sarah lifted up her voice, and cried bitterly, saying: "O my son, Isaac, my son, O that I had this day died instead of thee I It grieves me for thee! After that I have reared thee and have brought thee up, my joy is turned into mourning over thee. In my longing for a child, I cried and prayed, till I bore thee at ninety. Now hast thou served this day for the knife and the fire. But I console myself, it being the word of God, and thou didst perform the command of thy God, for who can transgress the word of our God, in whose hands is the soul of every living creature? Thou art just, O Lord our God, for all Thy works are good and righteous, for I also rejoice with the word which Thou didst command, and while mine eye weepeth bitterly, my heart rejoiceth." And Sarah laid her head upon the bosom of one of her handmaids, and she became as still as a stone.
She rose up afterward and went about making inquiries concerning her son, till she came to Hebron, and no one could tell her what had happened to her son. Her servants went to seek him in the house of Shem and Eber, and they could not find him, and they sought throughout the land, and he was not there. And, behold, Satan came to Sarah in the shape of an old man, and said unto her, "I spoke falsely unto thee, for Abraham did not kill his son, and he is not dead," and when she heard the word, her joy was so exceedingly violent that her soul went out through joy.
When Abraham with Isaac returned to Beer-sheba, they sought for Sarah and could not find her, and when they made inquiries concerning her, they were told that she had gone as far as Hebron to seek them. Abraham and Isaac went to her to Hebron, and when they found that she was dead, they cried bitterly over her, and Isaac said: "O my mother, my mother, how hast thou left me, and whither hast thou gone? O whither hast thou gone, and how hast thou left me?" And Abraham and all his servants wept and mourned over her a great and heavy mourning," even that Abraham did not pray, but spent his time in mourning and weeping over Sarah. And, indeed, he had great reason to mourn his loss, for even in her old age Sarah had retained the beauty of her youth and the innocence of her childhood.
The death of Sarah was a loss not only for Abraham and his family, but for the whole country. So long as she was alive, all went well in the land. After her death confusion ensued. The weeping, lamenting, and wailing over her going hence was universal, and Abraham, instead of receiving consolation, had to offer consolation to others. He spoke to the mourning people, and said: "My children, take not the going hence of Sarah too much to heart. There is one event unto all, to the pious and the impious alike. I pray you now, give me a burying-place with you, not as a gift, but for money."
In these last few words Abraham's unassuming modesty was expressed. God had promised him the whole land, yet when he came to bury his dead, he had to pay for the grave, and it did not enter his heart to cast aspersions upon the ways of God. In all humility he spake to the people of Hebron, saying, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." Therefore spake God to him, and said, "Thou didst bear thyself modestly. As thou livest, I will appoint thee lord and prince over them."
To the people themselves he appeared an angel, and they answered his words, saying: "Thou art a prince of God among us. In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead, among the rich if thou wilt, or among the poor if thou wilt."
Abraham first of all gave thanks to God for the friendly feeling shown to him by the children of Heth, and then he continued his negotiations for the Cave of Machpelah. He had long known the peculiar value of this spot. Adam had chosen it as a burial-place for himself. He had feared his body might be used for idolatrous purposes after his death; he therefore designated the Cave of Machpelah as the place of his burial, and in the depths his corpse was laid, so that none might find it. When he interred Eve there, he wanted to dig deeper, because he scented the sweet fragrance of Paradise, near the entrance to which it lay, but a heavenly voice called to him, Enough! Adam himself was buried there by Seth, and until the time of Abraham the place was guarded by angels, who kept a fire burning near it perpetually, so that none dared approach it and bury his dead therein. Now, it happened on the day when Abraham received the angels in his house, and he wanted to slaughter an ox for their entertainment, that the ox ran away, and in his pursuit of him Abraham entered the Cave of Machpelah. There he saw Adam and Eve stretched out upon couches, candles burning at the head of their resting-places, while a sweet scent pervaded the cave.
Therefore Abraham wished to acquire the Cave of Machpelah from the children of Heth, the inhabitants of the city of Jebus. They said to him. "We know that in time to come God will give these lands unto thy seed, and now do thou swear a covenant with us that Israel shall not wrest the city of Jebus from its inhabitants without their consent." Abraham agreed to the condition, and he acquired the field from Ephron, in whose possession it lay.
This happened the very day on which Ephron had been made the chief of the children of Heth, and he had been raised to the position so that Abraham might not have to have dealings with a man of low rank. It was of advantage to Abraham, too, for Ephron at first refused to sell his field, and only the threat of the children of Heth to depose him from his office, unless he fulfilled the desire of Abraham, could induce him to change his disposition.
Dissembling deceitfully, Ephron then offered to give Abraham the field without compensation, but when Abraham insisted upon paying for it, Ephron said: "My lord, hearken unto me. A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee?" showing only too well that the money was of the greatest consequence to him. Abraham understood his words, and when he came to pay for the field, he weighed out the sum agreed upon between them in the best of current coin. A deed, signed by four witnesses, was drawn up, and the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, the field, and the cave which was therein, were made sure unto Abraham and his descendants for all times.
The burial of Sarah then took place, amid great magnificence and the sympathy of all. Shem and his son Eber, Abimelech king of the Philistines, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, as well as all the great of the land, followed her bier. A seven days' mourning was kept for her, and all the inhabitants of the land came to condole with Abraham and Isaac.
When Abraham entered the cave to place the body of Sarah within, Adam and Eve refused to remain there, "because," they said, "as it is, we are ashamed in the presence of God on account of the sin we committed, and now we shall be even more ashamed on account of your good deeds." Abraham soothed Adam. He promised to pray to God for him, that the need for shame be removed from him. Adam resumed his place, and Abraham entombed Sarah, and at the same time he carried Eve, resisting, back to her place.
One year after the death of Sarah, Abimelech king of the Philistines died, too, at the age of one hundred and ninety-three years. His successor upon the throne was his twelve-year old son Benmelek, who took the name of his father after his accession. Abraham did not fail to pay a visit of condolence at the court of Abimelech.
Lot also died about this time, at the age of one hundred and forty-two. His sons, Moab and Ammon, both married Canaanitish wives. Moab begot a son, and Ammon had six sons, and the descendants of both were numerous exceedingly.
Abraham suffered a severe loss at the same time in the death of his brother Nahor, whose days ended at Haran, when he had reached the age of one hundred and seventy two years.
The death of Sarah dealt Abraham a blow from which he did not recover. So long as she was alive, he felt himself young and vigorous, but after she had passed away, old age suddenly overtook him. It was he himself who made the plea that age be betrayed by suitable signs and tokens. Before the time of Abraham an old man was not distinguishable externally from a young man, and as Isaac was the image of his father, it happened frequently that father and son were mistaken for each other, and a request meant for the one was preferred to the other. Abraham prayed therefore that old age might have marks to distinguish it from youth, and God granted his petition, and since the time of Abraham the appearance of men changes in old age. This is one of the seven great wonders that have occurred in the course of history.
The blessing of God did not forsake Abraham in old age, either. That it might not be said it had been granted to him only for the sake of Sarah, God prospered him after her death, too. Hagar bore him a daughter, and Ishmael repented of his evil ways and subordinated himself to Isaac. And as Abraham enjoyed undisturbed happiness in his family, so also outside, in the world. The kings of the east and the west eagerly besieged the door of his house in order to derive benefit from his wisdom. From his neck a precious stone was suspended, which possessed the power of healing the sick who looked upon it. On the death of Abraham, God attached it to the wheel of the sun. The greatest blessing enjoyed by him, and by none beside except his son Isaac and Jacob the son of Isaac, was that the evil inclination had no power over him, so that in this life he had a foretaste of the future world.
But all these Divine blessings showered upon Abraham were not undeserved. He was clean of hand, and pure of heart, one that did not lift up his soul unto vanity.
He fulfilled all the commands that were revealed later, even the Rabbinical injunctions, as, for instance, the one relating to the limits of a Sabbath day's journey, wherefor his reward was that God disclosed to him the new teachings which He expounded daily in the heavenly academy.
But one thing lacked to complete the happiness of Abraham, the marriage of Isaac. He therefore called his old servant Eliezer unto himself. Eliezer resembled his master not only externally, in his appearance, but also spiritually. Like Abraham he possessed full power over the evil inclination, and like the master, the servant was an adept in the law. Abraham spake the following words to Eliezer: "I am stricken in age, and I know not the day of my death. Therefore prepare thyself, and go unto my country, and to my kindred, and fetch hither a wife for my son." Thus he spake by reason of the resolution he had taken immediately after the sacrifice of Isaac on Moriah, for he had there said within himself, that if the sacrifice had been executed, Isaac would have gone hence childless. He was even ready to choose a wife for his son from among the daughters of his three friends, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, because he knew them to be pious, and he did not attach much importance to aristocratic stock. Then spake God to him, and said: "Concern thyself not about a wife for Isaac. One has already been provided for him," and it was made known to Abraham that Milcah, the wife of his brother Nahor, childless until the birth of Isaac, had then been remembered by God and made fruitful. She bore Bethuel, and he in turn, at the time of Isaac's sacrifice, begot the daughter destined to be the wife of Isaac.
Mindful of the proverb, "Even if the wheat of thine own place be darnel, use it for seed," Abraham determined to take a wife for Isaac from his own family. He argued that as any wife he chose would have to become a proselyte, it would be best to use his own stock, which had the first claim upon him.
Eliezer now said to his master: "Peradventure no woman will be willing to follow me unto this land. May I then marry my own daughter to Isaac?" "No," replied Abraham, "thou art of the accursed race, and my son is of the blessed race, and curse and blessing cannot be united. But beware thou that thou bring not my son again unto the land from whence I came, for if thou broughtest him thither again, it were as though thou tookest him to hell. God who sets the heavens in motion, He will set this matter right, too, and He that took me from my father's house, and that spake unto me, and that swore unto me in Haran, and at the covenant of the pieces, that He would give this land unto my seed, He shall send His excellent angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence." Eliezer then swore to his master concerning the matter, and Abraham made him take the oath by the sign of the covenant.
Attended by ten men, mounted upon ten camels laden with jewels and trinkets, Eliezer betook himself to Haran under the convoy of two angels, the one appointed to keep guard over Eliezer, the other over Rebekah.
The journey to Haran took but a few hours, at evening of the same day he reached there, because the earth hastened to meet him in a wonderful way. He made a halt at the well of water, and he prayed to God to permit him to distinguish the wife appointed for Isaac among the damsels that came to draw water, by this token, that she alone, and not the others, would give him drink. Strictly speaking, this wish of his was unseemly, for suppose a bondwoman had given him water to drink! But God granted his request. All the damsels said they could not give him of their water, because they had to take it home. Then appeared Rebekah, coming to the well contrary to her wont, for she was the daughter of a king, Bethuel her father being king of Haran. When Eliezer addressed his request for water to drink to this young innocent child, not only was she ready to do his bidding, but she rebuked the other maidens on account of their discourtesy to a stranger. Eliezer noticed, too, how the water rose up to her of its own accord from the bottom of the well, so that she needed not to exert herself to draw it. Having scrutinized her carefully, he felt certain that she was the wife chosen for Isaac. He gave her a nose ring, wherein was set a precious stone, half a shekel in weight, foreshadowing the half-shekel which her descendants would once bring to the sanctuary year by year. He gave her also two bracelets for her hands, of ten shekels weight in gold, in token of the two tables of stone and the Ten Commandments upon them.
When Rebekah, bearing the jewels, came to her mother and to her brother Laban, this one hastened to Eliezer in order to slay him and take possession of his goods. Laban soon learnt that he would not be able to do much harm to a giant like Eliezer. He met him at the moment when Eliezer seized two camels and bore them across the stream. Besides, on account of Eliezer's close resemblance to Abraham, Laban thought he saw Abraham before him, and he said: "Come in, thou blessed of the Lord! It is not becoming that thou shouldst stand without, I have cleansed my house of idols."
But when Eliezer arrived at the house of Bethuel, they tried to kill him with cunning. They set poisoned food before him. Luckily, he refused to eat before he had discharged himself of his errand. While he was telling his story, it was ordained by God that the dish intended for him should come to stand in front of Bethuel, who ate of it and died.
Eliezer showed the document he had in which Abraham deeded all his possessions to Isaac, and he made it known to the kindred of Abraham, how deeply attached to them his master was, in spite of the long years of separation. Yet he let them know at the same time that Abraham was not dependent wholly upon them. He might seek a wife for his son among the daughters of Ishmael or Lot. At first the kindred of Abraham consented to let Rebekah go with Eliezer, but as Bethuel had died in the meantime, they did not want to give Rebekah in marriage without consulting her. Besides, they deemed it proper that she should remain at home at least during the week of mourning for her father. But Eliezer, seeing the angel wait for him, would brook no delay, and he said, "The man who came with me and prospered my way, waits for me without," and as Rebekah professed herself ready to go at once with Eliezer, her mother and brother granted her wish and dismissed her with their blessings. But their blessings did not come from the bottom of their hearts. Indeed, as a rule, the blessing of the impious is a curse, wherefore Rebekah remained barren for years.
Eliezer's return to Canaan was as wonderful as his going to Haran had been. A seventeen days' journey he accomplished in three hours. He left Haran at noon, and he arrived at Hebron at three o'clock in the afternoon, the time for the Minhah Prayer, which had been introduced by Isaac. He was in the posture of praying when Rebekah first laid eyes upon him, wherefore she asked Eliezer what man this was. She saw he was not an ordinary individual. She noticed the unusual beauty of Isaac, and also that an angel accompanied him. Thus her question was not dictated by mere curiosity. At this moment she learnt through the holy spirit, that she was destined to be the mother of the godless Esau. Terror seized her at the knowledge, and, trembling, she fell from the camel and inflicted an injury upon herself.
After Isaac had heard the wonderful adventures of Eliezer, he took Rebekah to the tent of his mother Sarah, and she showed herself worthy to be her successor. The cloud appeared again that had been visible over the tent during the life of Sarah, and had vanished at her death; the light shone again in the tent of Rebekah that Sarah had kindled at the coming in of the Sabbath, and that had burnt miraculously throughout the week; the blessing returned with Rebekah that had hovered over the dough kneaded by Sarah; and the gates of the tent were opened for the needy, wide and spacious, as they had been during the lifetime of Sarah.
For three years Isaac had mourned for his mother, and he could find no consolation in the academy of Shem and Eber, his abiding-place during that period. But Rebekah comforted him after his mother's death, for she was the counterpart of Sarah in person and in spirit.
As a reward for having executed to his full satisfaction the mission with which he had charged him, Abraham set his bondman free. The curse resting upon Eliezer, as upon all the descendants of Canaan, was transformed into a blessing, because he ministered unto Abraham loyally. Greatest reward of all, God found him worthy of entering Paradise alive, a distinction that fell to the lot of very few.
Rebekah first saw Isaac as he was coming from the way of Beer-lahai-roi, the dwelling-place of Hagar, whither he had gone after the death of his mother, for the purpose of reuniting his father with Hagar, or, as she is also called, Keturah.
Hagar bore him six sons, who, however, did scant honor to their father, for they all were idolaters. Abraham, therefore, during his own lifetime, sent them away from the presence of Isaac, that they might not be singed by Isaac's flame, and gave them the instruction to journey eastward as far as possible. There he built a city for them, surrounded by an iron wall, so high that the sun could not shine into the city. But Abraham provided them with huge gems and pearls, their lustre more brilliant than the light of the sun, which will be used in the Messianic time when "the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed." Also Abraham taught them the black art, wherewith they held sway over demons and spirits. It is from this city in the east that Laban, Balaam, and Balaam's father Beor derived their sorceries.
Epher, one of the grandsons of Abraham and Keturah, invaded Lybia with an armed force, and took possession of the country. From this Epher the whole land of Africa has its name. Aram is also a country made habitable by a kinsman of Abraham. In his old age Terah contracted a new marriage with Pelilah, and from this union sprang a son Zoba, who was the father in turn of three sons. The oldest of these, Aram, was exceedingly rich and powerful, and the old home in Haran sufficed not for him and his kinsmen, the sons of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. Aram and his brethren and all that belonged to him therefore departed from Haran, and they settled in a vale, and they built themselves a city there which they called Aram-Zoba, to perpetuate the name of the father and his first-born son. Another Aram, Aram-naharaim, on the Euphrates, was built by Aram son of Kemuel, a nephew of Abraham. Its real name was Petor, after the son of Aram, but it is better known as Aram-naharaim. The descendants of Kesed, another nephew of Abraham, a son of his brother Nahor, established themselves opposite to Shinar, where they founded the city of Kesed, the city whence the Chaldees are called Kasdim.
Though Abraham knew full well that Isaac deserved his paternal blessing beyond all his sons, yet he withheld it from him, that no hostile feelings be aroused among his descendants. He spake, and said: "I am but flesh and blood, here to-day, to-morrow in the grave. What I was able to do for my children I have done. Henceforth let come what God desires to do in His world," and it happened that immediately after the death of Abraham God Himself appeared unto Isaac, and gave him His blessing.
When the day of the death of Abraham drew near, the Lord said to Michael, "Arise and go to Abraham and say to him, Thou shalt depart from life!" so that he might set his house in order before he died. And Michael went and came to Abraham and found him sitting before his oxen for ploughing. Abraham, seeing Michael, but not knowing who he was, saluted him and said to him, "Sit down a little while, and I will order a beast to be brought, and we will go to my house, that thou mayest rest with me, for it is toward evening, and arise in the morning and go whithersoever thou wilt." And Abraham called one of his servants, and said to him: "Go and bring me a beast, that the stranger may sit upon it, for he is wearied with his journey." But Michael said, "I abstain from ever sitting upon any fourfooted beast, let us walk therefore, till we reach the house."
On their way to the house they passed a huge tree, and Abraham heard a voice from its branches, singing, "Holy art thou, because thou hast kept the purpose for which thou wast sent." Abraham hid the mystery in his heart, thinking that the stranger did not hear it. Arrived at his house, he ordered the servants to prepare a meal, and while they were busy with their work, he called his son Isaac, and said to him, "Arise and put water in the vessel, that we may wash the feet of the stranger." And he brought it as he was commanded, and Abraham said, "I perceive that in this basin I shall never again wash the feet of any man coming to us as a guest." Hearing this, Isaac began to weep, and Abraham, seeing his son weep, also wept, and Michael, seeing them weep, wept also, and the tears of Michael fell into the water, and became precious stones.
Before sitting down to the table, Michael arose, went out for a moment, as if to ease nature, and ascended to heaven in the twinkling of an eye, and stood before the Lord, and said to Him: "Lord and Master, let Thy power know that I am unable to remind that righteous man of his death, for I have not seen upon the earth a man like him, compassionate, hospitable, righteous, truthful, devout, refraining from every evil deed." Then the Lord said to Michael, "Go down to My friend Abraham, and whatever he may say to thee, that do thou also, and whatever he may eat, eat thou also with him, and I will cast the thought of the death of Abraham into the heart of Isaac, his son, in a dream, and Isaac will relate the dream, and thou shalt interpret it, and he himself will know his end." And Michael said, "Lord, all the heavenly spirits are incorporeal, and neither eat nor drink, and this man has set before me a table with an abundance of all good things earthly and corruptible. Now, Lord, what shall I do?" The Lord answered him, "Go down to him and take no thought for this, for when thou sittest down with him, I will send upon thee a devouring spirit, and it will consume out of thy hands and through thy mouth all that is on the table."
Then Michael went into the house of Abraham, and they ate and drank and were merry. And when the supper was ended, Abraham prayed after his custom, and Michael prayed with him, and each lay down to sleep upon his couch in one room, while Isaac went to his chamber, lest he be troublesome to the guest. About the seventh hour of the night, Isaac awoke and came to the door of his father's chamber, crying out and saying, "Open, father, that I may touch thee before they take thee away from me." And Abraham wept together with his son, and when Michael saw them weep, he wept likewise. And Sarah, hearing the weeping, called forth from her bedchamber, saying: "My lord Abraham, why this weeping? Has the stranger told thee of thy brother's son Lot, that he is dead? or has aught befallen us?" Michael answered, and said to her, "Nay, my sister Sarah, it is not as thou sayest, but thy son Isaac, methinks, beheld a dream, and came to us weeping, and we, seeing him, were moved in our hearts and wept." Sarah, hearing Michael speak, knew straightway that it was an angel of the Lord, one of the three angels whom they had entertained in their house once before, and therefore she made a sign to Abraham to come out toward the door, to inform him of what she knew. Abraham said: "Thou hast perceived well, for I, too, when I washed his feet, knew in my heart that they were the feet that I had washed at the oak of Mamre, and that went to save Lot." Abraham, returning to his chamber, made Isaac relate his dream, which Michael interpreted to them, saying: "Thy son Isaac has spoken truth, for thou shalt go and be taken up into the heavens, but thy body shall remain on earth, until seven thousand ages are fulfilled, for then all flesh shall arise. Now, therefore, Abraham, set thy house in order, for thou wast heard what is decreed concerning thee." Abraham answered, "Now I know thou art an angel of the Lord, and wast sent to take my soul, but I will not go with thee, but do thou whatever thou art commanded." Michael returned to heaven and told God of Abraham's refusal to obey his summons, and he was again commanded to go down and admonish Abraham not to rebel against God, who had bestowed many blessings upon him, and he reminded him that no one who has come from Adam and Eve can escape death, and that God in His great kindness toward him did not permit the sickle of death to meet him, but sent His chief captain, Michael, to him. "Wherefore, then," he ended, "hast thou said to the chief captain, I will not go with thee?" When Michael delivered these exhortations to Abraham, he saw that it was futile to oppose the will of God, and he consented to die, but wished to have one desire of his fulfilled while still alive. He said to Michael: "I beseech thee, lord, if I must depart from my body, I desire to be taken up in my body, that I may see the creatures that the Lord has created in heaven and on earth." Michael went up into heaven, and spake before the Lord concerning Abraham, and the Lord answered Michael, "Go and take up Abraham in the body and show him all things, and whatever he shall say to thee, do to him as to My friend."
The archangel Michael went down, and took Abraham upon a chariot of the cherubim, and lifted him up into the air of heaven, and led him upon the cloud, together with sixty angels, and Abraham ascended upon the chariot over all the earth, and saw all things that are below on the earth, both good and bad. Looking down upon the earth, he saw a man committing adultery with a wedded woman, and turning to Michael he said, "Send fire from heaven to consume them." Straightway there came down fire and consumed them, for God had commanded Michael to do whatsoever Abraham should ask him to do. He looked again, and he saw thieves digging through a house, and Abraham said, "Let wild beasts come out of the desert, and tear them in pieces," and immediately wild beasts came out of the desert and devoured them. Again he looked down, and he saw people preparing to commit murder, and he said, "Let the earth open and swallow them," and, as he spoke, the earth swallowed them alive. Then God spoke to Michael: "Turn away Abraham to his own house and let him not go round the whole earth, because he has no compassion on sinners, but I have compassion on sinners, that they may turn and live and repent of their sins, and be saved."
So Michael turned the chariot, and brought Abraham to the place of judgment of all souls. Here he saw two gates, the one broad and the other narrow, the narrow gate that of the just, which leads to life, they that enter through it go into Paradise. The broad gate is that of sinners, which leads to destruction and eternal punishment. Then Abraham wept, saying, "Woe is me, what shall I do? for I am a man big of body, and how shall I be able to enter by the narrow gate?" Michael answered, and said to Abraham, "Fear not, nor grieve, for thou shalt enter by it unhindered, and all they who are like thee." Abraham, perceiving that a soul was adjudged to be set in the midst, asked Michael the reason for it, and Michael answered, "Because the judge found its sins and its righteousness equal, he neither committed it to judgment nor to be saved." Abraham said to Michael, "Let us pray for this soul, and see whether God will hear us," and when they rose up from their prayer, Michael informed Abraham that the soul was saved by the prayer, and was taken by an angel and carried up to Paradise. Abraham said to Michael, "Let us yet call upon the Lord and supplicate His compassion and entreat His mercy for the souls of the sinners whom I formerly, in my anger, cursed and destroyed, whom the earth devoured, and the wild beasts tore in pieces, and the fire consumed, through my words. Now I know that I have sinned before the Lord our God."
After the joint prayer of the archangel and Abraham, there came a voice from heaven, saying, "Abraham, Abraham, I have hearkened to thy voice and thy prayer, and I forgive thee thy sin, and those whom thou thinkest that I destroyed, I have called up and brought them into life by My exceeding kindness, because for a season I have requited them in judgment, and those whom I destroy living upon earth, I will not requite in death."
When Michael brought Abraham back to his house, they found Sarah dead. Not seeing what had become of Abraham, she was consumed with grief and gave up her soul. Though Michael had fulfilled Abraham's wish, and had shown him all the earth and the judgment and recompense, he still refused to surrender his soul to Michael, and the archangel again ascended to heaven, and said unto the Lord: "Thus speaks Abraham, I will not go with thee, and I refrain from laying my hands on him, because from the beginning he was Thy friend, and he has done all things pleasing in Thy sight. There is no man like him on earth, not even Job, the wondrous man." But when the day of the death of Abraham drew nigh, God commanded Michael to adorn Death with great beauty and send him thus to Abraham, that he might see him with his eyes.
While sitting under the oak of Mamre, Abraham perceived a flashing of light and a smell of sweet odor, and turning around he saw Death coming toward him in great glory and beauty. And Death said unto Abraham: "Think not, Abraham, that this beauty is mine, or that I come thus to every man. Nay, but if any one is righteous like thee, I thus take a crown and come to him, but if he is a sinner, I come in great corruption, and out of their sins I make a crown for my head, and I shake them with great fear, so that they are dismayed." Abraham said to him, "And art thou, indeed, he that is called Death?" He answered, and said, "I am the bitter name," but Abraham answered, "I will not go with thee." And Abraham said to Death, "Show us thy corruption." And Death revealed his corruption, showing two heads, the one had the face of a serpent, the other head was like a sword. All the servants of Abraham, looking at the fierce mien of Death, died, but Abraham prayed to the Lord, and he raised them up. As the looks of Death were not able to cause Abraham's soul to depart from him, God removed the soul of Abraham as in a dream, and the archangel Michael took it up into heaven. After great praise and glory had been given to the Lord by the angels who brought Abraham's soul, and after Abraham bowed down to worship, then came the voice of God, saying thus: "Take My friend Abraham into Paradise, where are the tabernacles of My righteous ones and the abodes of My saints Isaac and Jacob in his bosom, where there is no trouble, nor grief, nor sighing, but peace and rejoicing and life unending."
Abraham's activity did not cease with his death, and as he interceded in this world for the sinners, so will he intercede for them in the world to come. On the day of judgment he will sit at the gate of hell, and he will not suffer those who kept the law of circumcision to enter therein.
Once upon a time some Jews lived in Hebron, few in number, but pious and good, and particularly hospitable. When strangers came to the Cave of Machpelah to pray there, the inhabitants of the place fairly quarrelled with each other for the privilege of entertaining the guests, and the one who carried off the victory rejoiced as though he had found great spoil.
On the eve of the Day of Atonement, it appeared that, in spite of all their efforts, the dwellers at Hebron could not secure the tenth man needed for public Divine service, and they feared they would have none on the holy day. Toward evening, when the sun was about to sink, they descried an old man with silver white beard, bearing a sack upon his shoulder, his raiment tattered, and his feet badly swollen from much walking. They ran to meet him, took him to one of the houses, gave him food and drink, and, after supplying him with new white garments, they all together went to the synagogue for worship. Asked what his name was, the stranger replied, Abraham.
At the end of the fast, the residents of Hebron cast lots for the privilege of entertaining the guest. Fortune favored the beadle, who, the envy of the rest, bore his guest away to his house. On the way, he suddenly disappeared, and the beadle could not find him anywhere. In vain all the Jews of the place went on a quest for him. Their sleepless night, spent in searching, had no result. The stranger could not be found. But no sooner had the beadle lain down, toward morning, weary and anxious, to snatch some sleep, than he saw the lost guest before him, his face luminous as lightning, and his garments magnificent and studded with gems radiant as the sun. Before the beadle, stunned by fright, could open his mouth, the stranger spake, and said: "I am Abraham the Hebrew, your ancestor, who rests here in the Cave of Machpelah. When I saw how grieved you were at not having the number of men prescribed for a public service, I came forth to you. Have no fear! Rejoice and be merry of heart!"
On another occasion Abraham granted his assistance to the people of Hebron. The lord of the city was a heartless man, who oppressed the Jews sorely. One day he commanded them to pay a large sum of money into his coffers, the whole sum in uniform coins, all stamped with the same year. It was but a pretext to kill the Jews. He knew that his demand was impossible of fulfilment.
The Jews proclaimed a fast and day of public prayer, on which to supplicate God that He turn aside the sword suspended above them. The night following, the beadle in a dream saw an awe-inspiring old man, who addressed him in the following words: "Up, quickly! Hasten to the gate of the court, where lies the money you need. I am your father Abraham. I have beheld the affliction wherewith the Gentiles oppress you, but God has heard your groans." In great terror the beadle arose, but he saw no one, yet he went to the spot designated by the vision, and he found the money and took it to the congregation, telling his dream at the same time. Amazed, they counted the gold, precisely the amount required of them by the prince, no more and no less. They surrendered the sum to him, and he who had considered compliance with his demand impossible, recognized now that God is with the Jews, and thenceforth they found favor in his eyes.
This online book has been edited.