In Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Avoda Zara V’Chukat HaGoyim 1:2), Rambam writes as follows:

ועל דרך זה היה העולם הולך ומתגלגל עד שנולד עמודו של עולם והוא אברהם אבינו:

“The world continued in this way until the pillar of the world, Avraham Avinu, was born.”

Why is Avraham Avinu known as “the pillar of the world”? What does this mean, and what is the source for this term?


2 Answers 2


The second Mishna in Avot states:

עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים

The world stands (omad) upon three things: the (study of) Torah, the Avodah (Temple service/prayer) and acts of kindness.

Bartenura explains pillar to mean "The world was only created for the sake of these three things." A roof needs a minimum of 3 pillars to stand firm, so the world pillar is used because thanks to these 3 things, the world stands firm and isn't reverted back to as it never was.

Until Avraham, who epitomised gemilut chassadim, the world was just existing and continuing on Hashem's kindness, not on any inherent quality. When Avraham came along, the world had its first pillar to stand up on its own.

How do we know these 3 pillars correspond to the 3 Avot? The Maharal explains on Bereshit 24:22 that the Avot each correspond to one of the pillars:

גמילות חסד לאברהם, עבודה ליצחק שנעקד על גבי מזבח, תורה ליעקב יושב אוהלים

Acts of kindness [corresponds] to Avraham, Service to Yitzchak (because he was tied on the mizbe'ach) and Torah to Yaacov, because he dwelled in tents [of Torah study].

  • 1
    You can also add that there is precedent for explicitly referring to Abhraham as such in Ex. Rabbah 2:6: א''ל הקב''ה במקום עמודו של עולם אתה עומד אברהם אמר הנני ואתה אומר הנני Dec 25, 2023 at 19:27

Your answer is probably in N.T.'s comment that Rambam considered Yesod and Amuda interchangeable in this context.

In Kabbalah you have the traditional symbol that Abraham Yitzchak Jacob and David are the three pillars (Amuda) of the Tree of Life, Abraham being The Right pillar (Chesed), Yitzchak the left (gebura), Yaakob the Middle, and if you add David, Malkhut, they constitute the four foundations of the Merkaba.

For example you have in T. Zohar 1a

Rkia, firmament, reversed is Ikkar, root, the Foundation of the Merkaba, which of called Tzaddik Yesod Olam (Prov. 10:25), which is the upper Tzaddik.

ואיהו רקיע דאיהו לעיל מחיוון הדא הוא דכתיב (יחזקאל א') וממעל לרקיע אשר על ראשם, והפוך רקי"ע ותשכח ליה עיק"ר, ויסודא דמרכבתא (עלאה) דעליה קיימין חיוון וכורסיא דמרכבתא (עלאה), ועליה אתמר וצדיק יסוד עולם, על צדיק דלעילא:

And there are several other references to the Tzaddik Chai Admin being the Amuda Emsaita, the Center Pillar from Keter to Malkhut., or being the Torah.

Perhaps a better translation is " until a pillar of the world" (The Right Side) rather than "the pillar of the world" but chronologically Abraham would be the only one pillar at the time so perhaps Rambam reasoned that he's just the one pillar, the center pillar. "One was Abraham" so there's no right of left yet maybe.


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