What are the categories of good deeds performed by Avraham mentioned here - (a) "Shama Avraham b'Koli" (Avraham hearkened to My voice); (b) "va'Yishmor Mishmarti" (he guarded My safeguards); (c) "Mitzvosai" (My commandments) (d) "Chukosai" (My statutes); (e) "Torosai" (My laws)?
Rashi: (a) Avraham passed all the tests; (b) he adhered to the decrees issued by the Chachamim (such as Sheniyos la'Arayos and Shevus l'Shabbos); 1 (c) he kept the logical commandments 2 (such as not to steal or murder); (d) he kept the Divine decrees that defy logic, such as not to eat pork and not to wear Sha'atnez (over which the Yetzer-ha'Ra and the nations of the world take us to task); (e) he observed the Oral Torah 3 as well (i.e. Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai). 4
Ramban #1: (b) Sheniyos la'Arayos of those commanded to Bnei Noach; (c) not to steal or murder; (d) Ever Min ha'Chai, Kil'ayim of animals and cross-grafting trees; (e) Dinim, and the Isur of Avodah-Zarah.
Ramban #2: (b) Avraham adhered to Emunah in HaSh-m, with which he called out in the Name of HaSh-m, and which he used to fight the idolaters; (c) he obeyed HaSh-m's every command (such as leaving his homeland and to sacrifice his son); (d) he went in the way of HaSh-m, to emulate His Midos and to teach his children to do likewise; (e) he kept the Mitzvah of Bris Milah and the seven Mitzvos Bnei Noach.
Rashbam: (a) The Akeidah (where the Torah uses the same expression, "Ekev Asher Shamata b'Koli" - 22:18); (b) Bris Milah (by which the Torah writes, "v'Atah Es Brisi Tishmor" - 17:9); (c) The Mitzvah of Milah on day eight (which he fulfilled with Yitzchak, where the Torah writes, "Ka'asher Tzivah Oso E-lokim" (21:4); (d) (Hadar Zekenim citing Rashbam) Milah for all generations - "va'Ya'amideha l'Yaakov l'Chok (Tehilim 105:10); 5 (d-e) "Chukosai and Torosai" incorporate all the Mitzvos, such as Gezel, Arayos, Lo Sachmod, Dinim and Hachnasas Orchim, all of which were observed before Matan Torah but were explained in more detail when it was given, in addition to the covenant that was made with Yisrael then.
Seforno: (a) To observe all that HaSh-m commanded him; (b) to perform Chesed, and to teach sinners how to do Teshuvah (when he called out in the Name of HaSh-m; (c-e) he kept all of the Mitzvos of Bnei Noach, as an example for everyone.
Ohr ha'Chayim: (a) Avraham passed all My tests; (b) he guarded himself not to do anything I forbade; (c) he guarded himself not to transgress Mitzvos through forgetting; (d) [he guarded] the Mitzvos that do not have a reason [that we understand]; (e) [he guarded] the Torah so as not to forget it.
Malbim: (a) Avraham obeyed commands I gave at particular times (e.g. Lech Lecha and the Akeidah); (b) [he obeyed] commandments that must be guarded always; (c) logical commandments; (d) Mitzvos without a known reason; (e) Emunos, e.g. Belief in Hashgachah, reward and punishment, and similar matters. The nations are conducted through nature; they are commanded only the logical Mitzvos. Avraham experienced Hashgachah Pratis; he and his seed were commanded all the Mitzvos, including Chukim, such as Bris Milah.
Ha'amek Davar: (a) L'Koli would mean to do as he was commanded. "B'Koli" means Avraham was meticulous about matters; (b) he engaged in Torah, which is called Mishmeres (Kidushin 82a). He learned greatly, and reached conclusion in Halachah, namely, (c) the Mitzvos, and (d) the methods of expounding the Torah; (e) both the Written and Oral Torah (Yoma 28b).
Machzor Vitri (composed by Rashi's Talmidim): "Mishmarti" refers to Shabbos.
Mishnas R. Aharon (Vol. 1, p. 167): Mitzvos are what we are commanded in the Torah about man's actions.
Machzor Vitri: Even Eruv Tavshilin. See also Ba'al ha'Turim.
The Ramban points out that this approach assumes that Avraham kept the entire Torah even before it was given - which has roots in the Midrash (refer to 45:27:1:1), that Yaakov was learning with Yosef the Parshah of Eglah Arufah, when they parted.
It is not clear how he can explain that Avraham fulfilled this.
What is the significance of the word "Ekev"?
Nedarim 32a: The Gematriya of "Ekev" is 172. Bearing in mind that Avraham lived to be 175, this hints that he was three years old when he recognized his Creator.
Why does HaSh-m, both here and in verse 26:24, bless Yitzchak only in the merit of his father Avraham, and not on his own merit?
Seforno: That was only the case as long as he (Yitzchak) did not call out in the name of HaSh-m. 1 Once he did, Avimelech went to him and blessed him, referring to him as "the one who is blessed by HaSh-m" (26:29).
Moshav Zekenim: Refer to 26:24:151:1.
Malbim: Your (Yitzchak's) great merit came due to Avraham, who did not receive Emunah from his parents and needed to be tested. You learned from your father!
Ha'amek Davar: Yitzchak's Midah is Avodah; it merits a consistent income. Avraham engaged more in Torah. Initially, Torah merits a small income - 'eat bread with salt' - but after one grows in Torah, it brings tremendous wealth.
See later, 26: 25-29. This is as opposed to Yaakov, who sat in the tent of Torah, where he learned Torah and taught others, from a very young age; therefore, HaSh-m blessed him on his own right.
Ramban asks - If Avraham observed the entire Torah, and also taught it to his children (18:19), how did Yaakov marry two sisters, and the Shevatim married their own sisters (as well as other examples)? How did Moshe build Matzevos (Shemos 24:4)?
Gur Aryeh #1 (to 46:10): The Avos did fulfill the entire Torah. They assumed the status of converts, who are like newly-born, and therefore have no prohibited relatives for marriage. 1
Gur Aryeh #2 (ibid.): In these specific examples when they contravened the Torah, they did so based on Ru'ach ha'Kodesh [and for specific reasons]. He Who usually forbade such marriages, permitted it to them here. 2
Gur Aryeh #3 (ibid.): Prior to Matan Torah, observance of Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, which had not yet been commanded, was not uniform; 3 rather, every member of Bnei Yisrael observed them to a degree, according to his level and unique traits. They did observe Mitzvos Aseh, which bring reward (just as women today observe time-dependent Mitzvos Aseh, although they have not been commanded to do so). As for Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh (which do not entail an action that brings reward), however, there is no reason to fulfill them without having been commanded (just as women do not voluntarily refrain from Lo Sashchisu, a prohibition from which they are exempt). 4
Gur Aryeh (ibid.): Nevertheless, the generation that left Egypt was forbidden to marry their relatives.
See Gur Aryeh further, as to why this was nonetheless considered a detriment for Yaakov (see Pesachim 119b).
Gur Aryeh: Although Avraham observed the entire Torah - both positive and negative Mitzvos - and likewise Yaakov after him, not necessarily did their decendants do so prior to Matan Torah.
Gur Aryeh: The distinction is that a positive Mitzvah is an acquisition, an added merit, and if one does not fulfill it, he will be lacking that acquisition - despite that he was not obligated to perform it. A negative Mitzvah is not an extra merit, but rather refraining from violating HaSh-m's will. As such, when HaSh-m did not command it, there is no reason to refrain. At that time, each person fulfilled Mitzvos Aseh according to his level, and was more careful about those prohibitions that were associated with his nature.
The Gemara derives from this Pasuk that Avraham fulfilled the entire Torah, and even the enactments of the Sages. But the Mitzvos had not yet been commanded, so what does this mean? Why is this attributed to Avraham specifically?
Maharal (Tif'eres Yisrael Ch. 20, p. 61): Avraham was uniquely qualified to observe the entire Torah (both Mitzvos Aseh and Lo Sa'aseh). The Torah is HaSh-m's Divine wisdom; and Avraham had recognized his Creator independently at the age of three (whereas Yitzchak and Yaakov learned from their parents). Additionally, Avraham's trait was Chesed, and the Torah begins and ends with deeds of Chesed. He therefore fulfilled the Torah independently.
The Gemara derives from this Pasuk that Avraham fulfilled the entire Torah. Why is Avraham singled out; we find that Yitzchak and Yaakov also fulfilled certain Mitzvos?
Maharal (Tif'eres Yisrael Ch. 20, p. 62): Yitzchak and Yaakov fulfilled all of the Mitzvos Aseh. The Sages single out certain Mitzvos that they fulfilled, because these Mitzvos are especially associated with their respective traits. Regarding these Mitzvos they are deemed to have been commanded, and their reward is greater. (Avraham was considered to be "commanded" regarding the entire Torah.) They did not, however fulfill Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh, which do not bring reward in the absence of a command. 1
The Gemara derives from this Pasuk that Avraham fulfilled the entire Torah. Why is Avraham singled out; Yaakov also declared that he kept the 613 Mitzvos (Rashi to 32:5)?
Maharal (Tif'eres Yisrael Ch. 20, p. 63): According to that source, Yaakov was also qualified to observe the entire Torah. Yaakov's trait was Emes (truth), and the Torah is Toras Emes. Avraham is singled out because he was more worthy to fulfill the Torah on a level as if he had been commanded, 1 Yaakov to a lesser degree, 2 and Yitzchak less than Yaakov. They nonetheless volunteered to observe it on their own.
QUESTIONS ON RASHI
Rashi writes: "Avraham hearkened to My voice - when I tested him." Why explain this way?
Gur Aryeh: "Kol" (lit. 'sound') means speech, [the implication of] which is not understood. That was precisely Avraham's test - to obey HaSh-m's voice, without second-guessing His words.
Rashi writes: "And he (Avraham) guarded My safeguard - i.e. decrees to distance [a person] from Torah prohibitions." Why are the safeguards listed before the Mitzvos themselves?
Gur Aryeh: The Mitzvos of the Torah are far removed from man's comprehension, whereas the safeguards were enacted by our Sages. From the perspective of our comprehension, the safeguards come first. 1
Also see Maharal (Be'er ha'Golah, Be'er 1, p. 17) - The words of our Sages were expressed with human intellect, whereas the Torah's words are G-dly.
Rashi writes that the Avos kept the entire Torah. If so, how could Yaakov set up a Matzevah (i.e. a Mizbe'ach of one stone), and marry two (or even four) sisters? How could Amram marry his aunt, and how could Moshe set up twelve Matzevos?
Ramban: Avraham undertook to learn and keep Torah and Mitzvos via Ru'ach ha'Kodesh, voluntarily, like someone who has not been commanded. However, he (and the other Avos) made this undertaking only in Eretz Yisrael. 1
Gur Aryeh: Refer to 26:5:3.1.
See Ramban, who explains how all the cases in which they 'contravened' the Halachah, took place in Chutz la'Aretz, except for Yaakov's Matzevah. (The Torah forbade a Matzevah only later, when it became despised due to association with idolatry.) On the other hand, Yosef kept Shabbos even in Egypt, because Shabbos is equal to all the Mitzvos, and testifies that HaSh-m created the world. Refer to 29:28:151.