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The concept of the actions of the forebears being an indication of their descendants' actions is referred to by many commentators and midrashim, including the famous Ramba"n on B'reshis 12.

What is the idea intended by this rule? On one hand it seems to be a matter of information - i.e. that we know about the things our predecessors did and can observe that our actions and circumstances are similar to theirs and possibly even compare the two. On the other hand it could be used as a guide - i.e. the implicit instruction to do the same things they did.

In either case, is this idea limited to the avos per se, or does it mean all earlier people?

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I'm only familiar with the Ramban's idea. In those cases, the future action is in Hashem's plan (gezeirah), but, for some mystical reason, needs a physical activation to become realized.

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