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At the brit bein habetarim (Bereshit 15:12) it is stated:

וַיְהִ֤י הַשֶּׁ֨מֶשׁ֙ לָב֔וֹא וְתַרְדֵּמָ֖ה נָֽפְלָ֣ה עַל־אַבְרָ֑ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה אֵימָ֛ה חֲשֵׁכָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה נֹפֶ֥לֶת עָלָֽיו׃

And it came to pass, that, when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a dread, even a great darkness, fell upon him.

What was this fearfull/dreadfull great darkness that came upon Avraham? And why was it fearfull/dreadfull? What caused Avram to be struck by it, overwhelmed by it, caught up by it or to get hit by it; in the sense it comes over him.

Was it the message or prophecy that made Avram get caught up with fear and great horror?

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    from Rashi: An allusion to the troubles and darkness of the exiles. [from above mentioned source, Targum Jonathan, Targum Yerushalmi, Gen. Rabbah 42:17, and many other midrashic sources] – rosends Mar 2 '17 at 12:07
  • @Danno so these troubles were represented by a great darkness – Levi Mar 2 '17 at 13:39
  • I assume so. I figure it is like the reason that Yosef and Binyamin cried -- they saw future sadness. – rosends Mar 2 '17 at 13:46
  • I remember a comment that it was the darkness of the beginning of creation, which was anti-light and not just the absence of light. I will have to look up Rav hirsch when I get home. – sabbahillel Mar 2 '17 at 15:51
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Abstract: According to Rambam and Rabbenu Avraham ben Sh'lomo it was just the prophecy itself that scared him, while according to Radak it was a combination of the prophecy and the message.


Rambam writes (Yesodei HaTorah 5:7) that this fear was a standard part of the prophetic experience (except for Moses):

וכולן, כשמתנבאין, אבריהן מזדעזעין.. ועשתונותיהם מיטרפות ... כמו שנאמר באברהם, "והנה אימה חשיכה גדולה, נופלת עליו" (בראשית טו,יב); וכמו שנאמר בדנייאל, "והודי, נהפך עליי למשחית, ולא עצרתי, כוח" (דנייאל י,ח).

And all of them--when they would experience prophecy, their limbs would shake...and their thoughts would become disturbed, as it says regarding Abraham "And then a great dark dread fell upon him" (Genesis 15:12), and as it says regarding Daniel "For my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength." (Daniel 10:8).

According to Rambam this was a funtion of the prophetic experience; not the message conveyed.

This is also clear from the commentary of Rabbenu Avraham ben Sh'lomo to I Samuel (p. 64):

נתיחד משה משאר הנביאים...ודבר ה' אל משה פנים של פנים ללא חרדה...ושאר הנביאים אינם כן...אמר באברהם...והנה אימה חשיכה גדולה נופלת עליו

Moshe was distinguished from the other prophets...And God spoke to Moshe face to face without fear...But other prophets were not like this...It is stated about Abraham...And behold a great dark dread fell upon him.

Radak, however, writes in his commentary to the verse:

ואמר כי אחר התרדמה נפלה עליו אימה חשכה, וכן אמר דניאל ובבאו נבעתי (שם) כי כן הוא דרך הנבואה פעמים, ולאברם בתחלת הנבואה לא היה לו כל זה, כי בתחלה אמר לו בשורה טובה, אבל עתה כשבא לאמר לו צרת הגלות שיהיה לבניו הפיל עליו תרדימה ואימה וחשיכה גדולה רמז לו על הצרות שיהיו קשות

And He said that after the slumber a dark dread fell upon him, and so did Daniel say "When He came, I was terrified" (Daniel 8:17), for this is frequently the nature of prophecy. And regarding Abraham, in the beginning of the prophecy all this [fear] wasn't present, for in the beginning he was told good tidings, but now when he came to tell him the travails of the exile that his children would undergo, he imposed a slumber and fear and great darkness, as a hint for the travails which would be difficult.

Like Rambam, Radak says that this was often the nature of prophecy. However, Radak adds that it was present here in particular because of the message of the prophecy; the terrifying gloomy exile.

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