view counter
Dust And Ashes
Tue, 07/01/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

Why does Abraham declare, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). The Beit Halevi (Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik) offers a brilliant insight.

There is a difference between dust and ashes: Dust represents something that has never been of value, but might one day be of value. You can sow plants in dust, or make pottery from it. Ashes, on the other hand, are of no value in the future, but represent something that has had value in the past, before being reduced to ashes. So Abraham was referring both to what he had been and what he might be. It was a statement of complete humility.

Of course, from God’s point of view in choosing Abraham, the other side of the Beit Halevi’s comment is also true. Abraham’s descendants, God says, will be as the dust of the earth. In other words, they may start as nothing, but God will plant in them something that will grow and flourish.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe

Our Newsletters, Your Inbox


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


Dust and ashes would it be from death to life a new Nation . I like your point of view. I always view God as a loving father who cares for use here on earth.

Humility was my first thought too. I'm trying to think of something wise and worthwhile to say, and all I can think of is that fireplace ashes make excellent fertilizer.

The Beit Halevi points are not valid. Ashes had value in most of the Western world (and elsewhere) up until the industrial revolution.

Ashes were NOT valueless. They were used to make soap. Ashes helped people get themselves and their clothes clean. The ashes would be saved until a household -- or the community -- had a great big pile. Then water would be passed through the ashes and filtered. The lye solution produced would be added to hot rendered fat to make soap.

If you're writing again, you must be making a recovery. May God help you get and stay strong.