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Parshas Vayera - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Bayom hashlishi vayisa Avrohom es einav vayar es hamakom merachok (22:4)
In Parshas Emor, the Torah lists the Biblical festivals and their laws. In discussing the mitzvos of Sukkos, the Torah commands us to take four species: lulav, esrog, hadasim, and aravos. However, none of the species are referred to in the verse using the names by which we know them. The esrog is called (Vayikra 23:40) a pri eitz hadar, the fruit of a beautiful tree. Commenting on this verse, the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:10) cryptically remarks that this refers to Avrohom. How is this Medrash to be understood, and in what way is Avrohom comparable to an esrog?
As mentioned, the Torah isn’t clear about the identity of the four species we are commanded to take. In attempting to identify the beautiful tree to which the Torah is referring, one of the proofs offered by the Gemora in Sukkah (35a) involves a play on the word “hadar.” Although the word means “beautiful,” by switching the vowels it can be reinterpreted to mean “dwells.” In other words, the Torah commands us to take a fruit which dwells on the tree from year to year. Unlike other fruits, which grow, blossom, and fall off of the tree in the span of a few months, an esrog remains on its tree from year to year.
Rav Yissochar Frand explains that the Gemora is symbolically teaching us that an esrog represents consistency and dependability, traits in which Avrohom excelled. The Torah (24:1) records that Avrohom was “ba ba’yamim” – coming with his days. This expression is difficult to understand. What does it mean to come with one’s days? The Zohar HaKadosh explains that each day of a person’s life which is used properly is deposited in his celestial bank account. The Torah testifies that Avrohom was consistent in using every day of his life to serve Hashem. As a result, he came with all of his days to Olam Haba.
In our verse, the Torah records that on the third day of traveling, Avrohom raised his eyes and saw the location where he was to perform the Akeidah. The Medrash Tanchuma (22) questions why Hashem waited three days to show the place to Avrohom? The Medrash answers that He did so to prevent the nations of the world from arguing that Avrohom was overcome by a momentary burst of emotion and slaughtered his son. Instead, Avrohom had three days to carefully and rationally consider the consequences of his actions. Even so, he passed this and nine other trials (Avos 5:3) to which Hashem subjected him with flying colors, demonstrating the reliability and consistency associated with the esrog.
The Maharal cites a fascinating Medrash, which discusses which is the most important and all-encompassing verse in the Torah. The first opinion proposes (Devorim 6:4) Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad – Here O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One. The next opinion argues that even more important is (Vayikra 19:18) V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Each of these positions is understandable and not surprising. The last opinion suggests that the most important verse is (Shemos 29:39) Es ha’keves ha’echad ta’aseh va’boker v’es ha’keves ha’sheini ta’aseh bein ha’arbayim – One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and one lamb you shall offer in the afternoon. How could this verse, which discusses one of the sacrifices, possibly be compared to the other verses which discuss fundamentals of Judaism?
The Maharal explains that this verse is referring to the Korban Tamid – the Continual Offering. This offering was brought every day of the year, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Regardless of anything which transpired in the Temple and independent of any other offerings which needed to be brought, the Korban Tamid was offered day-in and day-out, day after day, year after year. As such, it is the ultimate symbol of consistency, which is a fundamental concept in Judaism, so essential that it is mentioned in the same breath as the Shema and the obligation to love our fellow man.
We live in a society which bombards us each day with new obligations and new distractions. As a result, excuses, explanations, and requests for extensions have become commonplace and accepted. While they keep us out of trouble at work and in our interactions with others, we should realize that Judaism holds us to a higher standard. The next time we catch ourselves justifying our inability to perform a mitzvah due to extenuating circumstances, let us remember the importance of the Korban Tamid and strive to achieve the consistency of Avrohom and the esrog.
Hinei charadta eileinu es kol hacharada hazos mah la’asos lach hayesh l’daber lach el hamelech o el sar hatz’va vatomer b’soch ami anochi yoshaves (Haftorah – Melochim 2 4:13)
During his travels, Elisha once traveled to Shunam, where a local woman graciously insisted on providing him with a meal, a practice which was continued each time that he traveled there. Eventually, the Shunamite woman convinced her husband to build a small attic for the holy Elisha to stay in on his future visits. Elisha was so grateful for her hospitality that he asked her what he could do to help her, suggesting that perhaps he could speak to the king on her behalf. She tersely replied, “I dwell among my people.” How is this cryptic response to be understood?
The Zohar HaKadosh (160b) explains that this episode occurred on Rosh Hashana. When Elisha mentioned “HaMelech,” he wasn’t referring to a human king, but to the King of Kings, Whose kingship we celebrate on that day. Since the entire world was being judged on that day, Elisha offered to pray on behalf of the Shunamite woman and asked what he should request. While this piece of information provides some background to this interaction, it still remains unclear what she meant by her reply.
The following humorous, if fictional, story will help us understand her intentions. A proctor was administering a final exam for a large college class. After giving several warnings, he announced that time had expired and exam booklets must be brought forward. One student continued frantically writing.
When he brought his booklet forward a few minutes later, the proctor refused to accept it. The student bellowed, “Do you have any idea who I am,” implying that he came from a prominent family and deserved leniency. The proctor answered, “I don’t know, and I don’t care. You broke the rules, and now you’ve failed this course.” The wise student, secure in his anonymity, smugly opened the stack of exam books to the middle, stuck his book in, and quickly walked out the door.
In light of this story, we can appreciate the explanation given by the Zohar HaKadosh for the Shunamite woman’s answer. When a person prays, it is important to include himself together with a larger community. Even if his merits are insufficient, he can be helped out by the collective merits of the group with which he affiliates himself. The woman worried that if Elisha singled her out and prayed on her behalf, her heavenly account would be specifically opened and critically examined. She was afraid that her deeds may be found lacking. Instead, she replied that she dwelled among her people, emphasizing that she was part of a larger group and preferred to rely upon being part of their collective judgment.
In more recent times, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, the author of Ohr Someach and Meshech Chochmah, was dangerously ill toward the end of his life. When he was asked for his mother’s Hebrew name so that communities around the world could pray for his recovery, he responded in the manner of the Shunamite woman. He explained that if prayers were said specifically on his behalf, the Divine court would examine the record of his deeds. Instead, he suggested that people be encouraged to pray generally for the healing of all sick Jews around the world, which would automatically include and benefit him.
As the intensity and focus of Rosh Hashana is still fresh in our minds, we can take this lesson with us throughout the upcoming year. If we live in our own vacuums, praying for and focusing on our own needs, we will be judged on our own merits, a terrifying thought. However, if we affiliate ourselves with a community, becoming an active part of our synagogues and volunteering to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy next Rosh Hashana an inscription for a year of health, happiness, and all good blessings!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (18:2) that one of the three angels was sent to heal Avrohom from the pain of his circumcision. The Gemora in Bava Basra (16b) teaches that Avrohom wore a precious stone around his neck which had the ability to heal any sick person who looked at it. Why did Hashem send an angel to heal Avrohom when he could heal himself by gazing at this stone? (Paneiach Raza, Maharsha Bava Basra 16b, Chida, M’rafsin Igri, Darash Moshe)
2) How was Lot able to intercede in order to save one of the cities (Tzo’ar) from destruction (19:18-22) when Avrohom, who was even greater and who argued even more on their behalf, was unable to do so? (Yad Yechezkel, Ayeles HaShachar, Derech Sicha)
3) Was Yitzchok required to recite Birkas HaGomel (the thanksgiving blessing) after being saved from sure death at the Akeidah? (Machazik Brocha Orach Chaim 219)
4) After Avrohom offered a ram on the altar originally built for Yitzchok, the Torah relates (22:19) that he returned to Eliezer and Yishmael, who had been waiting at a distance, but no mention is made of Yitzchok. Where did he go after this episode? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye 23:2, Ibn Ezra, Paneiach Raza, Tal’lei Oros, Darkei HaShleimus)
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