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The Inspiring Story of Rabbi Avner, the Sinner

The Inspiring Story of Rabbi Avner, the Sinner

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I recently read a fascinating story that I’d like to share with you.

​​Moses ben Nachman, commonly known as Nachmanides, and also referred to by the acronym Ramban, was a leading medieval Jewish scholar in the 13th century, in Girona, Catalonia.

He had a disciple, Avner, who strayed from the path of observant Judaism, left his community and became an important government official.

One Yom Kippur, Avner sent guards to the synagogue, ordering the Ramban to appear before him. In his palace, before the eyes of his former teacher and master, Avner slaughtered a pig, roasted it and ate it on this holiest of fast days.

The Ramban couldn’t contain his anguish and cried, “What caused you to fall so low? What compelled you to abandon the holy teachings of your ancestors?”

“It was you, my master!” Avner roared derisively. “Your teachings completely disillusioned me and caused me to reject Judaism.”

“You were once teaching the Torah portion of Ha’azinu,” he explained. “You taught us that in this brief Torah portion of 52 verses, the Torah encodes all the details of the long history of the Jewish people until the coming of Moshiach. You claimed, too, that encoded in its verses are the names of every Jew to have ever lived.

“This is obviously preposterous!” thundered Avner. “How could 4,000 years of history and millions of names be compressed into 614 words?”

“What I said is absolutely true,” declared the Ramban.

“If so, then I must be found there, too. Where is my name, and where is my fate?”

The Ramban’s expression grew serious. He prayed silently to G‑d to reveal this secret.

“Your name, Avner, can be found in verse 26. Tell me, what is the third letter in these words: AmaRti (reish) AfEihem (aleph) AshBita (beit) Me’eNosh (nun) ZichRom (reish)?”

The verse reads: “I [G‑d] said in my heart, that I would scatter them, causing their memory to cease from mankind.”

Here, G‑d rebukes the Jewish people for turning away from the path of the Torah and becoming so evil that He wanted to destroy them.

Avner turned deathly white and began to wail bitterly.

“Is there any hope for me?” he begged. “Is there anything that I can do to rectify my terrible sins?”

The Ramban looked compassionately at his former student. “The verse itself has provided the rectification. It says that G‑d will scatter them till their memory is erased. You must run away, never to be heard from again.”

Avner boarded a ship and was never seen again.


Notice that the name encoded in the third letters of this verse is not Avner, but includes the prefix “R,” which stands for Rabbi Avner. Even though up until this point Avner led a life that was the complete antithesis of what a rabbi stands for, the Torah calls him “Rabbi.”

Avner had free choice to choose whether or not he would repent. But the Torah is confident that ultimately the holiness of his soul will shine through, and that through repentance he will have transformed himself not only into an Avner, but an illustrious Jew, a rabbi.

What a lesson in how we must view every Jew, even ourselves—with the confidence that even a great sinner like Avner can, and will, become a great rabbi.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Hardly a Beinoni Boca Raton, Florida January 7, 2018

This story was first related by Rabbi Yechiel Halperin (1660-1746) in his opus magnum, Seder Hadoros, pp 214-215, and more recently, in Gedolei Hadoros, Vol.1, p. 58. It is alluded to by Ramban ( Rabbi Moses ben Nachman; Nachmanides;1194-1270) himself, in Sefer HaGeulah; Kisvei Ramban, Vol.1, p. 264.
Avner, a pupil (Rabbi?) of Ramban, converted to Christianity and became an apostate. Following his dastardly act on Yom Kippur and Ramban pointing out to him that his name is encrypted in Verse 26 of Shiras HaAzinu (Deut.32); vis,..I will make their memory cease from among men; Anver begged Ramban for a repentance protocol for his grave sins. According to Seder Hadoros, Ramban answered: You heard the words of the Verse; and walked away; implying, that there is no remedy to prescribe. It was then, that Avner, in his anguish, and despondence, set off, alone, without a seaman, into uncharted waters and sailed into eternity. His spiritual and physical fate being unknown to this very day. Reply

Meir Cohen January 1, 2018

Powerful lesson As it's known the Rebbe recounted this story by farbrengen (see Toras Menachem 5744) with a introduction

"When I was in Cheder, before we learned Parshas Haazinu my Melamed taught this story to give us a appreciation for the Parsha and the secrets it holds" .... Reply

Jojo Garfin Philippines December 31, 2017

Eye and heart opener Like Rabbi Avner, I am a sinner too, and thanks Hashem for guiding me in allowing me to chance upon and able to read and understand deeply this story and to be repentant because of this. Reply

jim dallas December 28, 2017

thanx for some treasured jewish history and some (also treasured) reference points and pertinents.
..your art is always inspiring and illuminating! Reply

Jorge Qro. Mexico December 26, 2017

After reading the trailer I was waiting for a story of G-d's anger where He was going to send a brimstone fallout over Avner's head. It was not so. Indeed a fascinating story, thanks a lot for sharing it. Reply

Mendel Blau brooklyn December 25, 2017

On a deeper level The deeper meaning of his question "where is my name"
Can possibly be explained as follows

If the Torah in fact includes every detail of life and permeates it's every aspect

Than the question is "where is my name"?! What would Torah have to say for a person as big a sinner like myself ...??!!

And to this was the powerful response Reb avner - even in your current downtrodden state the Torah continues to preceive you for who you truly are and for who you can be ....

It was this message that touched a cord and inspired his teshuvah and revealed the yechidah of his neshama.... Reply

S Uk December 25, 2017

How lovely and inspirational this account is.

We should try to see each person as a part of our self and not look at their behaviour. A hard task to do, but in time this can be accomplished.

Thank you
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