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Parshas Lech Lecha - Vol. 11, Issue 3
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avrohom and Sorah decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avrohom became aware of Sorah's beauty and began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so. Commenting on Avrohom's concern, the Medrash Pliah cryptically comments מכאן ששוחטין לחולה בשבת - we may derive from here that it is permitted to slaughter an animal on Shabbos to feed a sick person. What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated topics?
In his commentary on Yoma (85a), the Ran questions why it is permitted to slaughter an animal so that a sick person may have kosher food to eat when it is also possible to feed him readily available non-kosher meat? Although it is certainly preferable to eat kosher food, why should it be permissible to perform a more severe sin of desecrating Shabbos when it is possible to transgress the lesser sin of eating non-kosher food? The Ran answers that although slaughtering an animal on Shabbos is indeed more severe, it need be performed only one time. On the other hand, the prohibition against eating non-kosher food, while not as great a sin, will be transgressed repeatedly with each k'zayis (olive-sized portion) that is consumed. Although each individual bite is less severe than desecrating Shabbos, the cumulative effect of all of them is actually greater. For this reason, it is preferable to perform a one-time sin, no matter how great, of slaughtering an animal in order to save the sick person's life.
Commenting on our verse, the Daas Z'keinim question if Avrohom was sure that the Egyptians wouldn't transgress the prohibition against having relations with a married woman, why wasn't he equally confident that they would observe the commandment forbidding murder? In light of the explanation of the Ran, the Chanukas HaTorah and Rav Yosef Engel explain that Avrohom feared that the Egyptians would desire to have relations with his beautiful wife. Although they would prefer not to violate any of the seven Noahide commandments, given their lust for Sorah they would choose to do so in the manner which would minimize the extent of their sins.
Given the choice between committing the one-time heinous sin of murdering Avrohom in order to render Sorah a single and permissible woman or repeatedly transgressing the sin of adultery each time they would have relations, Avrohom understood that they would clearly choose the former, and hence he feared for his life. Recognizing the underlying logic behind Avrohom's fear, the Medrash was able to apply this reasoning to the case of the sick patient on Shabbos and to conclude - just as the Ran did - that it is permissible to slaughter an animal once on Shabbos so that he may be saved from repeatedly eating forbidden food.
After leaving Egypt to return to Canaan, the Torah relates that Avrohom traveled on the same path which he had taken on his way down. Rashi explains that he stayed in the same inns in which he had lodged on his way to Egypt. This seemingly trivial fact teaches that proper etiquette dictates that a person shouldn't change the lodgings he is accustomed to. Rav Pam notes that on his way to Egypt, Avrohom was fleeing from the famine in Canaan and was surely in a difficult financial position. Indeed, Rashi writes that he was unable to pay for his lodging along the way and was forced into debt. It is reasonable to assume that somebody in such a position would stay in the most basic accommodations available.
On the return journey, however, the situation was quite different. In their desire for Sorah, the Egyptians had given Avrohom tremendous gifts of gold, silver, and livestock. Avrohom surely could have afforded to upgrade to more luxurious accommodations. In choosing to return to his original hosts, Avrohom was teaching the proper perspective toward money. Although Hashem had blessed him with newfound wealth, he recognized that it wasn't given to him to be wasted on earthly pleasures. On his original journey he had been content with basic accommodations, and this would still be the case even with his recent windfall.
His nephew Lot, on the other hand, viewed money differently. The Torah relates (14:12) that the armies of the four kings "captured Lot and his possessions, the nephew of Avrohom." Why does the Torah interrupt the description of Lot's identity as Avrohom's nephew with the seemingly tangential fact that they also seized his possessions? Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that the Torah is teaching us that Lot was attached to his money to the point that it became an integral part of his definition of self. Just as his familial relationship to Avrohom was a fundamental feature of his being, so too was his bank account. This week's parsha presents us with a clear distinction between Avrohom's use of money as an external means to better serve Hashem and Lot's view of possessions as ends which become part of one's very essence. Let us learn and internalize this lesson well, and choose to live our lives following in the footsteps of Avrohom Avinu.
After being married for ten years without bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that he should marry her maidservant Hagar and attempt to have children together with her. After Avrohom married Hagar and she successfully conceived, Sorah became upset with Avrohom. Rashi explains that she argued that Avrohom hadn't prayed on her behalf. When he beseeched Hashem for a child to inherit his spiritual legacy, he prayed only that he should merit offspring but didn't include her in his petitions.
As the Gemora in Yevamos (64b) teaches that Sorah didn't have a uterus and was physically incapable of conceiving a child, it is difficult to understand Sorah's claim. Of what benefit could Avrohom's prayers have been, and for what reason did she hold him responsible for not asking Hashem for something which was impossible according to the laws of nature? Rav Nosson Wachtfogel answers that we ask this question only because we don't understand the tremendous power of true heartfelt prayer. While it is true that Hashem normally runs the world based on the physical laws of nature, prayer is a supernatural instrument which allows a person to bypass scientific obstacles.
When the K'sav Sofer was a mere six years old, he became so ill that the doctors despaired of his life. Based on their diagnosis of his ailment, they despondently said that there was nothing they could do to save him. His illustrious father, the Chasam Sofer, requested that everybody present leave the room in which his son was resting. The Chasam Sofer entered the room, locked the door, and prayed as he had never prayed before. He emerged and confidently announced that he had successfully attained a yovel (50 years) on his son's behalf. To the amazement of all but his father, the child had a miraculous recovery and went on to lead a prolific and productive life, one which was cut short at the tender age of 56.
Sadly, the Gemora in Berachos (6b) teaches that while prayer has the potential to reach the greatest heights imaginable, people don't recognize this power and disrespectfully take it for granted. The Gemora in Yevamos (64a) teaches that the infertility of the Avos and Imahos was due to Hashem's desire for their intense prayers. Sorah understood this lesson and therefore wasn't the slightest bit fazed by the apparent obstacle presented by her lack of a womb, instead focusing her frustration on the real impediment to her pregnancy - Avrohom's lack of prayers on her behalf. Many times in life we face seemingly insurmountable challenges. At such times, we may take inspiration and comfort from the recognition that there is no hurdle large enough to stand in the way of our heartfelt prayers.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) When approaching Egypt, Avrohom asked Sorah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians won't kill him in order to marry her (12:12-13). Of what assistance would this plan have been, as it would have served to spare Avrohom's life, but it would have resulted in the married Sorah engaging in forbidden relations? (HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah, Taima D'Kra, Mishmeres Ariel)
2) 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)
3) May a woman call her husband by his first name? (Radak 17:15, Shu"t B'tzeil HaChochmah 1:70)
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