Parsha Halacha

Parshat Noach

Amatlai bat Karnevo

 Mother of Avraham and the Jewish People

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In the Torah portion of Noach we find the birth of our patriarch Avraham.[1] The patrilineal ancestors of Avraham are documented in the Torah, but there is no explicit mention of any of his matrilineal ancestors (with the exception of the first woman, Chava). This is not surprising as at that time, as well as in the traditional family structure, the men were considered to be the heads of the family with the wives part of that family.

The names of the matriarchs of the Jewish people (i.e., the wives of the patriarchs) are mentioned, however, as they were all righteous women from whom we can learn many lessons.[2]

The Talmud says[3] that the mother of Avraham Avinu was Amatlai, daughter of Karnevo. The Rashbam explains that, since the Torah specifies the names of the other matriarchs, the Talmud finds it necessary to inform us of Avraham’s mother’s name.

A Response to the Heretics

The Talmud concludes that knowing her name (and the other names listed there) can be used as a response to the heretics, that is, when people who question the authenticity of the oral Torah see that the sages know this remote piece of information, they must realize that the tradition of the sages is accurate.[4]

The Chatam Sofer explains that some non-believers deride the Torah by pointing out verses that seem useless. An example of this is ”The name of the sister of the prince of Se’ir was Timna.”[5] When these people realize that if even the sages of the Talmud knew the name of Avraham’s mother, certainly Moshe Rabeinu, who wrote the Torah, had that information. Since he did not include that, it is clear that the Torah only gives us information which is of great significance. They will then realize, as the sages did, that much can be learned from every verse of the Torah, including the one about Timna. See the footnote below as to the lesson that can be learned.[6]

The Talmud adds that Haman’s mother had a similar name, Amatlai, the daughter of Urvenai. The way to remember which is which is that an impure person (Haman) came from a person with an impure name (Urvenai sounds like orev, a raven, which is a non-kosher and particularly cruel bird) while a pure person (Avraham) comes from a person with a pure name (Karnevo relates to the words kar[7] and nevo[8] both of which mean sheep, a kosher animal[9]).[10]

Why Not Mentioned in the Torah

The Chatam Sofer cites the Talmudic teaching[11] that for incantations (lechishot) one should use the mother’s name. The reason for this is that a person’s mazal (destiny) is tied in to one’s mother more so than to one’s father (see below). As such, when writing about the founder of the Jewish people Avraham, the Torah left out the information about his mother’s name in order to teach us that Avraham and his descendants can rise above their destiny and not be limited to it.

Heavenly Signs

The commentaries explain[12] that, by using the names of the mothers, we can figure out the correct gematriyahs of the names of Avraham and Haman (lehavdil) respectively. Based on this calculation, we can figure out that Avraham is associated with the planet of Jupiter, which is called Tzedek (righteousness) and considered to be a positive energy while Haman is associated with the planet of Mars which is called Ma’adim (red) and is associated with violence and bloodshed.[13]

It is noteworthy that the names of all of the mothers of the kings of the Jewish people are given in the Tanach. One can use these names (as per above) to figure out each of their mazals. (The influence of the stellar bodies is commonly referred to as “mazal.”)

Hid in a Cave

According to the Midrash, Nimrod wanted to kill Avraham when he was a baby. In order to save him, his father Terach hid him together with his mother Amatlai, in a cave for three years.[14]

Reincarnation

The Seder HaDorot[15] writes that, since Amatlai was involved in idol worship (to some degree), she received her tikkun (spiritual rectification) by being reincarnated in Chana from the Hasmonean era, whose seven sons were killed by the Greeks because they would not serve idols. Subsequently, Chana committed suicide rather than bow to an idol but before doing so exclaimed that her sons should tell Avraham Avinu (in heaven) that while he had sacrificed one son to G-d she had sacrificed seven.[16] Her tremendous self-sacrifice atoned for her actions in her earlier reincarnation.

Others say[17] that Amatlai was a Niddah when she conceived Avraham and to rectify this sin,[18] she was reincarnated in Dinah (the Hebrew letters of Dinah – דינה are the same as Nidah – נידה) whose abuse by Shechem atoned for this sin. Dinah ended up marrying Iyov who was in turn a reincarnation of Amatlai’s husband, Terach.

Not the Daughter of My Mother

When Avraham and Sarah went to the land of the Philistines, Avraham claimed that Sarah was his sister in order that the Philistines not kill him in order to marry her. When Avimelech (the king of the Philistines) confronted him about his claim, he admitted that she was his wife but explained that she was also his “sister” since, “She is in truth my sister, my father’s (grand)daughter though not my mother’s; and she became my wife.” In this way, he was also alluding to the fact that Sarah was not on the same stature as he was since she was not the (grand)daughter of his mother who was a well-known righteous woman. In addition, the letters of the words he used – “(אַךְ) לֹא בַת אִמִּי” can be rearranged to spell אֲמַּתְלַאי, i.e., she was not the descendant of his mother אֲמַּתְלַאי.[19]

Segulahs

The holy books say that it is a segulah for protection or for finding favor before an important person[20] to mention the name of the mother of Avraham. By mentioning the name of a righteous person, we evoke the merit of that person. This is why, in the Beit HaMikdash, they would mention the holy city of Chevron every morning,[21] in order to evoke the merit of the patriarchs buried there. In addition, by mentioning her name we are pointing out that we, the Jewish people come from good stock and, as such, even if we sin, it is only a temporary aberration.

An additional segulah[22] is if someone wants to overcome his enemy, he should mention the name of Haman’s mother seven times. Just as Haman, the ultimate enemy of the Jews had a swift downfall because he was an evil person to his very core (as is evident from his negative ancestry), we pray that the same happen to all our (evil) enemies.[23]

How a Tzadik Can Be the Son of a Rasha

The Midrash says[24] that sometimes a wicked person (a rasha) can have a son who is a tzadik. An example of this is the tzadik Avraham whose father (Terach) was a rasha. Avraham grew up to be a tzadik due to the influence of his mother Amatlai, who was a righteous woman.[25] This means that Avraham had to undo the negative belief systems that his father tried to inculcate in him. But as far as Avraham’s kind and generous nature, this was natural to him as his mother, too, was kind and generous. Her very name alludes to this as she was called the daughter of sheep (karnevo alludes to sheep, see above) which are a symbol of kindness and empathy.[26]


May we emulate the kind and generous ways of all of our matriarchs!


[1] Gen. 11:26

[2] See Likutei Torah by the author of the Tanya, Shir HaShirim, page Tet Vav, side 3, that the matriarchs had a higher spiritual source than the patriarchs. See there Parshat Matot, page Pei Vav, sides 2 and 3 in regards to Rochel, and there Parshat Nasso, page Chof Alef side 4.

[3] Bava Batra 91a

[4] Ri Migash and Shita Mekubetzet on ibid

[5] Gen. 36:22

[6] See Sanhedrin 99b that this verse teaches us not to reject a person who (sincerely) wants to convert. Because Timna was not accepted as a convert by Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, she became a secondary wife to Elifaz, son of Eisav, and bore a son, Amalek, who became the arch-enemy of the Jewish people.

[7] See Amos 6:4 “Who eat karim (fatted lambs) of sheep.”

[8] See Isaiah 60:7 “The rams of Nevayot (a place) will be served to you.”

[9] The Ri Migash says that Karnevo is the name of a kosher bird.

The Ben Yehoyadah points out that the gematiryah (numerical value) of כר/Kar is the same as טהור/tahor – pure (220).

[10] The commentaries discuss why, at this point, the Talmud mentions Haman before Avraham. The Ben Yehoyadaexplains that the connection between Haman’s mother’s name and the non-kosher bird is clearer than the connection between Avraham’s mother and a kosher animal.

[11] Shabbat 66b

[12] Orach Yesharim by Menachem Tzvi Taksin (printed in Pietrokow, Poland, in 1909) on Bava Batra ibid based on Rabbi Saadiah Ga’on’s explanation of Sefer Yetzirah.

[13] The method of this calculation is as follows (as explained in Margaliyot HaShas by Rabbi Aharon Perlow):

1)      Calculate the gematriyah of the name and mother’s name.

2)      Divide that number by 7.

3)      Take that whole number (without the decimals) and multiply it by seven.

4)      Deduct that number from the number of the Gematriyah of the name.

5)      If the number is exact, then the planetary influence is Saturn, if the number is 1 then the planetary influence is Jupiter; 2 is Mars, 3 is the sun, 4 is Venus, 5 is Mercury and 6 is the moon. See Shabbat 156a as to what the influence of these planets are.

[14] See Me’am Loez, end of Parshat No’ach.

[15] Year 1548

[16] See Gittin 57b

[17] Chessed LeAvraham (by Rabbi Avraham Azulai of Fez, Morrocco, 1570 – 1643), Mayan 5, Nahar 25

[18] It is not clear to me why this needed atonement since gentiles are not commanded regarding the Niddah laws.

[19] Sipurei Chazal by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Stern (Jerusalem 2015), page 491

[20] The sefer Segulot Yisrael, first printed in 1805, Ma’arechet chet, ot 37, quotes the sefer Refu’ah VeChaim who writes to say it three times while the Chida (quoted there) recommends to say it 17 times.

[21] Middot :1

[22] Agra DePirka by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelch of Dinov, ot 99, citing early sources

[23] Tov Lev by Rabbi Aharon Lauer of Skokie, Illinois (2015).

[24] Shir Hashrim Rabbah 1:6

[25] Yalkut Yaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, passed away in 1991, page 445

[26] Torah Vada’at by Rabbi Yaakov Eliezer Grodski, printed in Riga 1936, Parshat Chayei Sarah, ot 3

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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