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Parshas Lech Lecha - Vol.
4, Issue 3
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayomer Hashem el Avram lech lecha me’artzecha umimoladtecha umibeis avicha el ha’aretz asher areka v’e’escha l’goy gadol v’avarech’cha v’agadla shmecha vehyeh beracha (12:1-2)
In commanding Avrohom to leave his homeland, Hashem promised him that in his new location he would have children and become a great nation, become wealthy, and become well-known and respected. Why is leaving his homeland considered one of the ten tests of faith to which Hashem submitted Avrohom (Avos 5:3) if he was promised such great reward for doing so?
The following story will help us understand the answer to this question. In Europe, a kosher set of the four species that are taken on Sukkos was often difficult to find. One year, try as he might, the Vilna Gaon was only able to obtain three of the species. Shortly before Sukkos, he was told that a non-Jewish woman in Vilna had the species that he was missing. Ecstatic at the turn of events, he quickly ran to her house and offered to pay any amount of money to purchase it from her. To his surprise, the woman insisted on a unique form of payment: she wanted the Vilna Gaon to give her the reward that he would receive in the next world for the mitzvah of taking the four species that year on Sukkos. He quickly agreed to her condition and took the species that he was missing.
Although the Gaon’s students expected him to be saddened by the turn of events, they were surprised to observe that, to the contrary, his simcha when he performed the mitzvah of taking the four species each morning surpassed anything they had ever witnessed. When they questioned him about his tremendous joy, he explained that each year, as much as he tried his utmost to perform the mitzvah solely for the sake of Hashem, there was some miniscule part of him that was aware of the reward he would receive for performing the mitzvah. As a result of the peculiar form of payment to which he had agreed, for the first time in his life he was able to do a mitzvah purely for the sake of Hashem with no ulterior motive, and it was this unique opportunity which gave him such unparalleled happiness.
In light of this story, we can now understand the answer given by the Panim Yafos to our question. He explains that although Avrohom was promised tremendous blessing by Hashem in his new location, the test was to completely disregard this knowledge and to travel solely to fulfill Hashem’s command without any consideration of the potential gain which awaited him there. Just as the Vilna Gaon found inspiration in the knowledge that his actions were pure and lacking any ulterior motivation, so too the Torah records (12:4) that Avrohom passed his test with flying colors by testifying that he traveled for no reason other than to fulfill Hashem’s command.
Vayishma Avram ki nishba achiv vayarek es chanichav yelidei beiso Shemoneh asar v’shalosh meos vayirdof ad Dan (14:14)
Although depression and despair are words which are heard today all too frequently, Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes in his work Divrei Sofrim (16) that these emotions have no place among the Jewish nation. The Gemora in Berachos (10a) teaches that even in a situation which seems completely lost, such as when a sharp sword is resting upon one’s neck ready to kill him, a Jew should not give up hope, for Hashem is merciful and all-powerful, and there is nothing beyond His capabilities.
Rav Tzaddok points out that the entire existence of the Jewish people came about after Avrohom and Sorah had despaired of giving birth to a child who would continue their spiritual legacy. The possibility of the barren, aged Sorah conceiving a child was so remote that their response to the promise that they would conceive at their advanced ages was to laugh in shock and disbelief (17:17, 18:12).
Avrohom and Sorah knew that Hashem doesn’t perform unnecessary miracles, and they assumed that if He wanted to bless them with children, He would have done so years earlier. What they didn’t understand was that this miracle was far from superfluous. In reality, Hashem specifically wanted their child to be born in this fashion for this very reason. He wanted the building of the Jewish nation to begin in a miraculous manner to teach the lesson that there is no place for despair in the heart of a Jew, as the very existence of our nation is itself testimony to the fact that no situation is beyond His salvation.
As the father of the Jewish people, Avrohom taught this lesson when his nephew Lot was captured in battle by the armies of four powerful kingdoms. Upon hearing this news, the hopelessly outnumbered Avrohom armed himself and 318 disciples and went to battle to rescue Lot. Rashi explains that these 318 disciples were in reality only his servant Eliezer, whose name has a gematria of 318.
The name Eliezer, the servant who assisted Avrohom in rescuing Lot against all odds, alludes in several ways to the importance of trusting in Hashem even in the most difficult times. The Torah records (Shemos 18:4) that Moshe named his second son Eliezer to commemorate the fact that Hashem saved him from the sword of Pharaoh. Even when Pharaoh’s sword was resting upon Moshe’s neck prepared to execute him for killing an Egyptian taskmaster, Moshe trusted in Hashem’s infinite mercy, and he was saved when his neck miraculously turned into marble.
Rav Tzaddok also points out that the numerical value of Eliezer’s name – 318 – is one more than the value of the word ye’ush – despair, which symbolizes the ability to rise above and overcome feelings of resignation. The seemingly arbitrary number of soldiers used to describe the size of Avrohom’s army was carefully selected to reflect his unwillingness to give in to feelings of despair. As the only monotheist in a world of idolaters, Avrohom was undaunted by apparent restrictions and natural limitations, recognizing that the power of one’s trust in Hashem can allow him to succeed where others foresee only failure.
V’hu yihyeh pera adam yado bakol v’yad kol bo (16:12)
The Beis HaLevi was once involved in an important meeting in his home when a neighbor burst through the door and announced that the Rav’s young son, Chaim, was tormenting the other children who were outside playing near him. The Beis HaLevi, slightly embarrassed, called for his son to come inside. Upon entering, the Rav cryptically asked his son, “The first half or the second half?”
The young Chaim looked at his father and immediately answered, “The second half.” Satisfied, his father smiled and gestured that he may leave and return to his outdoor recreation. The only thing more baffling to those present than the Rav’s original question was Chaim’s answer and the Rav’s acceptance of it. Garnering their courage, they asked the Rav to explain the perplexing sequence of events.
The Beis HaLevi smiled and answered them that in informing Hagar that she would conceive and give birth to a son, the angel added that the son would be quite wild, prophesying that, “his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.” The Beis HaLevi’s neighbor had informed him that his son was causing trouble, but the Rav understood that although Chaim may have been the instigator, he may also have been an innocent victim acting out of self-defense, which would cast his actions in a completely different light.
Calling his son in, he attempted to clarify which scenario was correct by asking whether it had been as described by the first half of our verse – his hand against everyone – or the second half – the hands of the other kids against him. When Chaim understood the reference and replied that it had been as described in the second half of the verse, his father understood that he had merely been protecting himself and quickly dismissed him, an explanation which young Chaim corroborated when questioned about it!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Gemora in Yoma (28b) teaches that Avrohom observed the entire Torah even though it had yet to be given. Rashi writes (12:11) that due to his level of modesty, Avrohom never looked at Sorah until they were about to enter Egypt. How was he permitted to do so when the Gemora in Kiddushin (41a) rules that it is forbidden to marry a woman until one has looked at her to ensure that she finds favor in his eyes? (Maharsha Bava Basra 16a, Oznayim L’Torah, Mishmeres Ariel)
2) After a quarrel broke out between the shepherds of Avrohom and Lot, Avrohom suggested to Lot that they should part ways for the sake of peace, suggesting that Lot could choose to go to the right and he would go to the left, or vice-versa (13:7-9). If the purpose was to separate from one another, why was it necessary for both of them to move instead of allowing Lot to travel in any direction he desired, or choose to stay put and allow Avrohom to leave? (Meged Yosef)
3) The Gemora in Sotah (17a) derives from 14:23 that the Jews received the mitzvah of tzitzis (Bamidbar 15:37-41) in the merit of Avrohom. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment (9:23) that the mitzvah of tzitzis was received in the merit of Shem’s alacrity in covering the nakedness of his drunken father Noach? (Tur HeAruch, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Divrei Dovid, Gur Aryeh, Levush, Kli Yakar, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Ayeles HaShachar, Torah L’Daas Vol. 9)
4) Rashi writes (17:3) that when Hashem appeared to Avrohom, he threw himself on his face out of awe for the Divine presence because until he was circumcised, he didn’t have the strength to stand while receiving prophecy. Why is no mention made of Avrohom falling on his face for this reason during the previous episodes (e.g. 12:1-3) in which Hashem spoke with him? (Sifsei Chochomim, Panim Yafos, Meshech Chochmah)
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