The portion of the Torah read this week begins:

"And G‑d appeared to him [i.e., Abraham] in the plains of Mamre, as he was sitting at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day." (Gen. 18:1)

[G‑d had previously] told Abraham: "You will come to your fathers in peace." (Gen 15:15) What sort of tiding was this? Rather, as our sages state, [G‑d hereby] informed him that Terah, his father, who was then an idol-worshipper, would repent." (Bereishit Rabba 30:4; Rashi on Gen. 15:15)

The expression "come to your fathers in peace" means that when the individual dies, his soul will repose in paradise with those of his forebears. Since Terah was an idol-worshipper, what sort of reassurance was G‑d offering Abraham here? We must therefore conclude that G‑d was telling Abraham that Terah would repent and that his soul would rest in paradise.

The words "in the heat of the day" allude to the statement of our sages that on that day G‑d removed the sun from its sheath (Baba Metzia 86b), this being the equivalent of Gehinom. One who…guards the purity of his sexuality merits Abraham's protection…

Abraham at all times sought guests to host. Since this incident occurred shortly after his circumcision, G‑d wished to let Abraham rest, so He made it extra hot so that people would refrain from traveling and no one would be on the road for Abraham to invite into his tent. The sun is seen as being encompassed by a sheath that protects the world from its rays. One aspect of the purification process of Gehinom is unbearable heat.

Abraham "…was sitting at the opening of the tent," referring to [our sages' statement] that he sits at the entrance of Gehinom and keeps whoever is circumcised and sealed with the holy covenant and has not blemished it from entering. (Eruvin 19a)

Abraham was the first Jew to be circumcised, and the covenant of circumcision is known to this day as "the covenant of Abraham". Thus, whoever fulfills the commandment of being circumcised and guards the purity of his sexuality merits Abraham's protection. Allegorically, this simply means that guarding sexual purity is sufficient merit to be spared the ordeal of Gehinom even if one has sinned in other ways that would have otherwise required that he undergo the purging process.

Now, this caused Terah to be reincarnated. When he returned, he descended as a woman and married according to leviratic law.

I.e., she married the brother of her deceased, childless husband. In such a case, the first child of this union is considered the child of the deceased man. Although Terah repented of his sin of idolatry before he died, he evidently had to be reincarnated in order to right his sexual sins.

The result of this union was Job. The initials of the words "And G‑d appeared to him in the plains of…" [in Hebrew, "vayeira eilav y-h-v-h be-alonei" - vav-alef-yud-beit] spell "Job" [in Hebrew, "Iyov", alef-yud-vav-beit]. The initials of the words "G‑d…in the plains of Mamre" [in Hebrew, "y-h-v-h be-alonei mamrei" - yud-beit-mem] spell the word for "levirate" [in Hebrew, "yavam" - yud-beit-mem]. This alludes to the statement of our sages that Job was the offspring of a leviratic marriage. (Zohar 2:33a)

Job [thus lived] in the generation of Isaac. He was not comforted by the words of any of his [three] friends who came to console him. He was only comforted when he met Isaac, [who is called in the book of Job] Elihu ben Berachel the Buzite. (Job 32:2) Isaac was called Elihu ben Berachel [literally, "Elihu the son of he whom G‑d has blessed"] for G‑d blessed him. [Elihu ben Berachel] was "from the family of Ram", meaning Abraham. Job's name is alluded to in the description of the splitting of the sea…

Job, like Isaac, was a grandson of Terah. He lived in "the land of Utz," and Utz was the son of Nahor, Abraham's brother. After G‑d inflicted suffering upon Job, his three friends came to console him. But Job was not consoled by their words, since they each tried to convince him that he had done something to deserve this suffering. Only the younger Elihu was able to console Job.

Abraham's original name was Abram (Avram), meaning "the father of Ram."

This is why Job said, "I therefore detest [my words] and am comforted over dust and ashes." (Ibid. 42:6) This alludes to Abraham, who said, "I am dust and ashes." (Gen. 18:27) [Job said, in effect,] "Now, because of him, I am comforted."

Having passed his test, Job completes the rectification of the soul of Terah, initiated by the spiritual accomplishments of Abraham.

This is why his name was Job [Iyov] for he was the father of Abraham - who considered himself dust and ashes before his Maker - reincarnated.

The letters that make up the word "Iyov" (alef-yud-vav-beit) may be rearranged to spell "his father" (in Hebrew, "aviv" - alef-beit-yud-vav).

This is also alluded to in the fact that "Job" [Iyov] permutes to spell "and he came" [vayavo].

Vayavo: vav-yud-beit-alef.

Job is also alluded to in the verse [describing the reaction of the Jewish people to the splitting of the sea] "And the people revered G‑d, and they believed in G‑d and in His servant Moses." (Ex. 14:31) The initials of the words for "…G‑d, and they believed in G‑d…" [in Hebrew, "et y-h-v-h vaya'aminu be-y-h-v-h" - alef-yud-vav-beit] spell "Job" [Iyov].

We can now understand why Job's name is alluded to in the description of the splitting of the sea.

This is because Job apparently did not figure at all in this incident.

And also [we can now understand] why G‑d delivered him into the hands of Samael. A shepherd once was tending his flock next to a river…

Samael is an angel identified with the Accuser in the heavenly court, i.e., with Satan. The beginning of the book of Job describes how "G‑d said to Satan: 'Did you notice My servant Job? There is no one like him on earth; a wholesome and upright man, who fears G‑d and shuns evil.' Satan answered G‑d, 'Is it for no reason that Job fears G‑d? Have You not set a protective wall about him, about his household, and about everything he owns from all around? … Send forth Your hand and touch everything that is his, and see if he does not blaspheme You to Your face!' So G‑d said to Satan, 'Everything that is his is hereby in your hand….'" (Job 1:8-11)

The parable our sages use to explain this is: A shepherd once was tending his flock next to a river. [A wolf attacked the flock, and the shepherd threw it a lamb to divert its attention from the rest of the flock.] (Y. Sotah 5) Now, in the parable, the wolf would certainly be satisfied with one sheep, for he has no desire to eat the whole flock! But in the analogous case, Samael was accusing the entire Jewish people, saying, "These are idol-worshippers, and those are idol-worshippers!" How, then, would he be satisfied just to receive [permission to inflict suffering upon] Job?

At a certain point while the Jews were crossing the Sea of Reeds on their way out of Egypt, the Egyptians entered the sea in pursuit. At that point, we are told, the heavenly accuser protested to G‑d, saying, "Both these and those are idol-worshippers. Why are You planning to save these and drown those?" G‑d thereupon "threw Satan a bone", i.e., suggested that he inflict suffering upon Job. This diverted his attention from the Jewish People, who proceeded to cross over to dry land unimpeded, leaving G‑d to overturn the sea on the Egyptians.

Furthermore: why did G‑d use Job to ransom Israel? This seems biased, to say the least. "If Tuvia sinned, should Zigud be punished?" (Pesachim 113b)

To understand this, we must explore another matter first. …purity of insight is dependent upon the purity and force of one's intentions

We have seen that at "the covenant between the parts", G‑d said to Abraham, "…your seed will be sojourners in a land not theirs. [They will serve them, and they will oppress them for four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation that they will serve, and in the end they will leave with great wealth. You, however, will come to your forebears in peace; you shall be buried in good old age. The fourth generation will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite will not be full until then.]" (Gen. 15:13-16)

In this covenant, G‑d promises Abraham the land of Israel in exchange for his children going into exile. It is called "the covenant between the parts" since it was "endorsed" by Abraham and G‑d (represented by a pillar of fire) passing in between the severed halves of several animals. The idea expressed was: "just as these halves are not complete without each other, so are the two of us not complete without the pact that binds us together."

Why, [in this passage,] does G‑d interrupt [the description of what is to befall Abraham's descendants] with the statement that Abraham will come to his forebears in peace?

Furthermore, [as we said above,] what sort of tiding is this, seeing that [Terah] was still serving idols, selling them, and through them causing everyone to err?

Know, then, that chochma is what clarifies everything, and the elevation [of the sparks of holiness that fell from Tohu] depends chiefly upon it.

The key to differentiating between good and evil - and knowing how to release the kernel of good within evil in order to liberate it - is chochma, or insight. The purer one's insight, the clearer one will be able to recognize what is good and what is evil, and purity of insight is dependent upon the purity and force of one's intentions.

By way of analogy: when a blacksmith strikes his hammer on a piece of iron, sparks fly forth from it. If the blacksmith is an expert, he collects these sparks and returns them to their original state.

Apparently this refers to the slivers of iron that break off the larger piece. The skilled blacksmith knows how to "recycle" these splinters and use them.

This is the essence of the sages' dispute over whether or not a blessing is to be pronounced over unripe fruit. (Berachot 40b) He who contends that we do not recite a blessing over them feels that once they have fallen off the tree and the forces of evil have appropriated them, they are not suitable for a blessing.

As long as unripe fruit remains on the tree, it can ripen and become edible. Thus, it potentially can be eaten and thereby elevated into the service of G‑d (assuming the person eating the fruit uses the energy and "lift" he gets from eating it for holy purposes). Once the unripe fruit falls (or is picked), however, it has lost its chance to ever become fit for food; it has thus fallen into the realm of evil and can only become useful again through the roundabout way of decomposing and turning into fertilizer for the next generation of crops.

He who contends that we do recite a blessing when we eat them feels that since they issued from the realm of holiness, they still possess some holiness and may therefore be returned to their source. As it is written: "He plans out schemes, so that no one be banished from him." (Sam. II 14:14) They are therefore suitable for a blessing. Satan considered Job a fair exchange for the Jewish people…

Thus you will understand that when G‑d told Abraham that "your seed will be sojourners…and in the end they will leave with great wealth", Abraham asked how this could be, inasmuch as Terah - the progenitor of the clan - was so depraved. How could he be rectified and rectify others? G‑d therefore told him that "you will come to your forebears in peace", telling him that Terah would repent.

This is also why G‑d told him, "the fourth generation will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite will not be full until then." I.e., Job was amongst them, but was not yet rectified. Afterwards, [when he passed his test and was rectified,] he is called "a 'finished' man" [ish tam]. (Job 1:1)

Although this phrase refers to Job before he was tested, we are told that after his suffering G‑d restored to Job all his previous wealth and happiness. Presumably this means that he did not suffer spiritually either, and remained as "finished" as he was to begin with, if not more so. Or perhaps just being born, Job signified the completion of the rectification of Terah, who, as we said before, had been reincarnated as Job's mother.

Nonetheless, Job was a non-Jew, and the "shells" claimed him as their own and his merit protected them.

For all his perfection, Job was not part of the line of Abraham (being descended from his brother Nahor, as above), and thus was not a link in the chain of the primogeniture of the Jewish people. We are told that when the spies entered the land of Israel, they found the inhabitants mourning over Job's passing, since his merit protected them. (Rashi on Numbers 14:9)

The Arizal concludes by saying that this is why Satan considered Job a fair exchange for the Jewish people, and why it was not unjust that G‑d offered him as "ransom" for Israel. Before his trial, he was the as yet unrectified Terah, the source of the evil of idolatry that the Jewish people were in the process of uprooting. But whereas the line of Abraham was on the way to receive the Torah, i.e., to replace idolatry with its opposite, the true spiritual path, Job's task and trial was merely to renounce idolatry and remain true to G‑d throughout his test. Since he thus represented the hope and perfection of the rest of humanity, Satan was satisfied to vex him instead of the Jewish people. Unwittingly, he thereby enabled Job, and by extension, all humanity, to reach perfection.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.