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The Torah says that Abraham gave gifts to his sons (other than Isaac) and sent them away:

And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of [his] concubines [he] gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East. [Gen 25:5-6]

The Talmud tells us what these gifts were:

ר' ירמיה בר אבא מלמד שמסר להם שם טומאה -- Rabbi Yirmiyah bar Abba says: This teaches that Abraham provided them with the name of [the supernatural spirit of] impurity [tumah], [enabling them to perform witchcraft]. [Sanhedrin 91a]

Why would Abraham give a thing like that to his sons, something the Torah would later forbid (and Abraham knew that)? Why not give them something good?

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  • Equally interesting is the fact that Avraham had access to the shem tumah in the first place. – The GRAPKE Nov 11 '20 at 22:49
  • Rb Mordechai Miller said it was so that these descendants could use these shemos tumah to develop the world. He also said that these children migrated to the Far East. – The GRAPKE Nov 11 '20 at 23:00
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    @TheGRAPKE -- Yes, they went to India, I heard. The Hindu "creator god" Brahma and his wife Sara are named after... guess who. Maybe Abraham wanted them to be idolaters so they would be clearly distinguished from Isaac and the Jews. – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 11 '20 at 23:20
  • I think this is a bit mysterious to us because as denizens of the Western World we do not really understand the far eastern peoples. – The GRAPKE Nov 12 '20 at 0:10
  • See Maharil Diskin al HaTorah. – IsraelReader Nov 12 '20 at 11:28
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So the Daas Zekeinim asks your question and gives a reason albeit a somewhat mystical one - that Avraham gave them strength to overpower demons and the like:

נתן אברהם מתנות, “Avraham had already given gifts.” According to the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin folio 91, these “gifts” were the ability to utter the names of the holy name of the Lord without thereby incurring severe harm. Even nowadays, according to our author, the Moslems who are trained in theology are able to do this without coming to any harm thereby. It was difficult for Rabbi Moses to understand how Avraham a great and devout man could possibly have taught the holy Name of the Lord to wicked people. In view of this problem, Rabbi Yaakov, son of Rabbi Nachman, interpreted that line in the Talmud differently by saying that the word טומאה used in the Talmud there refers to the names of certain demons. The names of these demons are associated with the evil spirits making their homes in certain ruins, or certain cemeteries as described by the Talmud in tractate Chagigah folio 3. This is alluded to by the fact that the spelling of the word “matanot” is spelled as if it were a singular, the letter ו having been omitted. As spelled in the Torah here, the numerical value of the letters in the words נתן אברהם מתנת equals the numerical value of למדם להשביע השדים. [I have not quite figured this out. At any rate, the idea is that Avraham taught these sons of his how, when they used the names of deities when swearing an oath, they could do it in such a way as not to be guilty of violating the third of the Ten Commandments. To The reader who is interested in pursuing this further I suggest that he turns to the commentary on Sanhedrin 91 by Rabbi Reuven Margolies, page 136 מרגליות הים. Ed.] (Sefaria translation and additional notation).

A similar idea is also expressed in the Chizkuni1.

Indeed, the Tur HaAruch follows this line of reasoning:

Avraham handed to these sons שם טומאה, i.e. seeing they referred to their idols by the sacred name of the Creator, he taught them to refer to these idols by some other name.

The Ksav VeHakabbalah perhaps sheds a bit more light:

מתנת. שם טומאה מסר להם (רש"י מרבותינו) ר"ל הודיע להם שמות אלה כדי ליתן אל לבם לדעת להשתמר מהם ולא יבואו להחליף שם טומאה בטהרה ולעבדם בלתי ידיעה:

Gifts - He gave them the name of (the supernatural spirit of) impurity (refer to Rashi) - this means that he wanted to make it known to them in order to place it in their hearts, the knowledge how to guard themselves and not that they should come and switch the impure name with that of the pure name and to serve them without knowledge

So at least from my understanding, it would seem from the Ksav Vehakabbalah that Avraham's intention was purely to give them this means of defence as we have explained already, but additionally, to give them enough knowledge of it so that that don't blindly come to serve it's power.

The Rabbeinu Efraim adopts a similar line explaining that he knew that these children were quite reckless and uncaring when it came to the power of tumah and therefore, he had to provide them with a means to utter a name which would not result in an inevitable death from misusing such names.

כי אברהם אבינו ידע והכיר כי בני הפלגשים אינם נזהרים מטומאה, ואילו היה מוסר להם שם משמות הקדש שצריכים להזכירו בטהרה, ואם לא היו נזהרים מטומאה היו מתחייבים בנפשם, ויהיה הוא סיבה בזה, אמנם הוא בחכמתו מסר להם שם משמות הקדושים שאפילו יזכירוהו בטומאה אינם ניזוקים שאין כל השמות שוים וצריכים טהרה, כי שמות יש בהם קדושה כל שם ושם לפי מה שהוא

Since Avraham knew and recognised that the sons by concubines were not careful with impurity, and if they were given a name from the holy names that need to be mentioned in purity, and if they were not careful of impurity they would kill themselves, and this is the reason for it. However he in his wisdom, gave them a name from the holy names that even if it will be mentioned in impurity it would not cause harm, as not all names are equal and need purity, since names have in them holiness, each and every name according to what it is.


1 In the Sefaria link to the Chizkuni, the editor's note points to the Torah Sheleimah for further information on p.996 in the top footnote.

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Rav Hirsch explains that Avraham attempted to teach them the spirituality in which they should live in the world, but he was unable to prevent them from losing this status.

And in any case this sending away of Ketura's children was also in accordance with Hashem's stipulation כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע. According to the way our sages take it the מתנות include spiritual gifts which they took out with them into the world from Abraham's house, but which later became misused and muddled and lost their original purity.

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    Can't the Talmud say all this instead of just saying "he gave them an impure name"? – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 12 '20 at 3:40
  • @MauriceMizrahi Possibly that was why everything had to be learned face to face. – sabbahillel Nov 12 '20 at 15:15
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Your question revolves around understanding two ideas.

The first is what it means in Bereshit 25:5 that Avraham gave to Yitzchok all that he possessed.

The second is what these other gifts mentioned in Bereshit 25:6, which he gave to his children from the handmaidens are.

In this particular context, All is referring to the usage as it is brought in the written Torah to Bereshit 9:3

כָּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃

Following Noach's offering to G-d after the flood, G-d blessed Noach and gave to him All (כל). It's meaning is life which is associated in the posuk with green grass which grows through photosynthesis. This is the path of life, meaning the path of Torah and light, like Mishlei 6:23, נר מצוה ותורה אור. This same possession is what Avraham bequeathed to his son from Sarah, meaning Yitzchok. Avraham inherited this possession through his ancestor Shem, the son of Noach.

Concerning the other gifts, Rabbi Yirmiyahu Bar Abba as quoted in Sanhedrin 91a calls them Shem Tumah. Rashi to this expression says it means working with demons.

This all sounds very esoteric. But it is really referring to a general principle found within Torah teaching, for example in Sefer Ma'arechet Elokut, that there are two categories of influence within creation. Those of life (חי) and those of destruction and decay (הרס).

For those descendants of Avraham and Sarah, their path and focus is to be concerned with life and what leads to its increase and diversification.

The others were given the gifts related to destruction and decay. When understanding these gifts, it is easy to only see the more extreme levels of this which are truly frightening. Those which are referenced, for example in Shemot 7:11

וַיִּקְרָא֙ גַּם־פַּרְעֹ֔ה לַֽחֲכָמִ֖ים וְלַֽמְכַשְּׁפִ֑ים וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֨וּ גַם־הֵ֜ם חַרְטֻמֵּ֥י מִצְרַ֛יִם בְּלַהֲטֵיהֶ֖ם כֵּֽן׃

and in Shemot 22:17

מְכַשֵּׁפָ֖ה לֹ֥א תְחַיֶּֽה׃

We even mention them in the Hagaddah of Passover when discussing the 3,280 Angels of Destruction (מלאכי חבלה,מלאכי המשחית) that came to wipe out Mitzrayim at the time of the Exodus. They are alluded to in the written Torah by the word fist (אגרף) like in Shemot 21:18. The Hebrew word stands for 3 times 1000 plus 280 for a total of 3280 Angels of Destruction.

וְכִֽי־יְרִיבֻ֣ן אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְהִכָּה־אִישׁ֙ אֶת־רֵעֵ֔הוּ בְּאֶ֖בֶן א֣וֹ בְאֶגְרֹ֑ף וְלֹ֥א יָמ֖וּת וְנָפַ֥ל לְמִשְׁכָּֽב׃

But think of the ideas of decomposition, rotting, fermentation and molds (see also Destroying Angels and Death Caps). They are all levels of destruction, meaning they are moving away from life, not toward it.

And even to this day, looking at the special wisdoms of the far East (where Avraham sent these descendants) like in Japan and Korea, this wisdom is found for example with Kimchi (salt smoked vegetables), Tamari and Shoyu (fermented soy beans and wheat) and Katsuobushi (smoked, molded fish) which is used in Dashi.

So what Avraham was giving to his children from the handmaidens was a means to make a living in the world like all good parents. He knew they were not to have a claim in the inheritance that belonged to Yitzchok (What would ultimately be forbidden to Yitzchok's descendants.) and so gave them what remained. He blessed them.

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  • Interesting. But Abraham did not bless any of his sons. Genesis Rabbah 61:6: "Abraham argued: If I bless Isaac, the children of Ishmael and of Keturah are included; but if I do not bless the children of Ishmael and of Keturah, how can I bless Isaac? On reflection, however, he decided: 'I am but flesh; I will do my duty, and whatever God wishes to do in His world, let Him do it.’ Consequently, when Abraham died the Holy One, blessed be He, appeared to Isaac and blessed him. Thus it is written, ‘And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son.’ (Gen. 25:11) – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 12 '20 at 21:27
  • @MauriceMizrahi Providing your children with a means of making a living is giving them a blessing. My use of the expression was not intended like Yaacov Avinu blessing his children, but in a general sense. If you choose to think of it as Avraham's duty, like it is with all Jewish fathers to train their children to be able to earn a living, so be it. See the following: shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/3761 – Yaacov Deane Nov 13 '20 at 2:02

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