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Parshas Vayeira - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayisa einav vayar v’hinei shlosha anashim nitzavim alav vayar vayaratz likrasam mi’pesach ha’ohel vayishtachu artzah (18:2)
Avrohom excelled in the mitzvah of hosting guests. Three days after he had circumcised himself at the age of 99, Hashem didn’t want Avrohom to burden himself with caring for guests. He brought a heat wave to deter all travelers on that day. Still, the weak Avrohom’s greatest concern was that the unusually hot weather would deny him the merit of welcoming guests. Avrohom decided to sit at the entrance of his tent in the hopes that he might spy a stray traveler.
When Hashem saw Avrohom’s suffering over the lack of guests, He sent three angels in the guise of people. Rejoicing at this improbable turn of events, the elderly and weak Avrohom ran to personally invite them to his home to serve them, where he proceeded to serve them a lavish and abundant feast.
The Medrash records that initially, Avrohom sent his trusted servant Eliezer outside to search for guests, but he returned to report that he was unable to find any. Avrohom responded by commenting that servants cannot be trusted. In other words, he felt that Eliezer hadn’t tried hard enough and exhausted all of the possibilities, and as proof, Avrohom went outside personally and returned with three guests.
This Medrash is difficult to understand. Eliezer was indeed Avrohom’s trusted and reliable servant. He knew how valuable the mitzvah of hosting guests was to his master, and when he went outside to look for guests, he certainly looked in every possible location, but he was unsuccessful because, unbeknownst to him, Hashem had taken out the hot sun to keep the guests away from the ailing Avrohom. What was Avrohom’s complaint against Eliezer, and what more could Eliezer realistically have done to locate guests?
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts that when he was growing up in Yerushalayim, he and a group of other boys studied together with a private teacher. At one point, they were studying tractate Shabbos during World War 2. At that time, it was virtually impossible to find complete Talmudic sets, and only the Rav of his neighborhood possessed an entire set of the Talmud, which was shared by everybody.
The teacher requested each of the boys to bring his own Gemora to their class, but every boy returned to say that he had searched throughout the entire neighborhood and was unable to locate an available Gemora, as in fact there weren’t any to be found. However, there was one boy who returned successfully with his own copy.
To the present day, Rav Zilberstein has no idea where the boy found it, but he explains that he was successful because he wanted more than any of the others to locate a Gemora. Because he desired the Gemora with his entire being, Hashem helped him to locate one where everybody else had failed. Not surprisingly, that boy grew up to become a well-known disseminator of Torah.
Similarly, Rav Zilberstein explains that although Eliezer indeed tried his utmost to locate guests, his lack of success emanated not from laziness or a half-hearted effort, but from a lack of desire. Avrohom understood that if Eliezer shared his burning desire to find guests, he would have been successful, as Avrohom subsequently was. Although the circumstances in which we find ourselves are often beyond are control, when we truly want something badly enough and exert ourselves to the fullest, Hashem often miraculously sends us the results for which we yearn.
Ki yadati l’maan asher y’tzaveh es banav v’es beiso acharav (18:19)
Avrohom merited Hashem’s love as a result of his dedication to commanding his children and his household to follow in his ways of Divine service. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein notes that given Avrohom’s reputation as an educator par excellence, it is curious that the Torah relates precious little of his actual conversations with his son and spiritual inheritor Yitzchok.
In fact, the only recorded interactions between them are on the way to the Akeidah, in which the Torah mentions (22:7-8) a total of two lines – a mere eight seemingly trivial words – which Avrohom spoke to Yitzchok, and those were only in response to a discussion initiated by Yitzchok. If we are to learn from Avrohom’s techniques in giving over our values and priorities to the next generation, shouldn’t we be given more examples?
Rav Zilberstein answers that in intentionally limiting the recorded words of Avrohom to his son, the Torah is teaching us a tremendous lesson regarding the education of our children. Many Americans mistakenly believe that raising children is as simple as constantly instructing and commanding them what they should and shouldn’t do. The fact that the parents themselves may not follow this advice is believed to be irrelevant, as “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to resolve the apparent contradiction.
reality, of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our children
are much smarter than we give them credit for, and they see right through
our double standards, recognizing that our actions reflect our true beliefs,
which they in turn absorb. The Torah tells us precious little of Avrohom’s
words to Yitzchok to teach us that this wasn’t Avrohom’s primary form of
conveying his beliefs. Rather, the most effective form of education came
through serving as a personal example of all that he valued and wished to
transmit to his son. This form of instruction was stronger than any words
and couldn’t be explicitly expressed by the Torah.
Ki atah yadati ki y’rei Elokim atah v’lo chasachta es bincha es yechidcha mimeni (22:12)
Avrohom was the paragon of piety and righteousness. Without precedent, he had single-handedly discovered Hashem, intuited the laws of the Torah and obeyed them even before they were given, and spread the knowledge of Hashem in the world. He had already passed with flying colors the vast majority of the ten tests to which Hashem subjected him (Avos 5:3). After passing the test of the Akeidah, the angel told him, “Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing person.” Why was Avrohom’s fear of Hashem established only at this time? Hadn’t he repeatedly proven it by all that he accomplished in his life?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the value of a mitzvah is measured by the degree to which its performance runs counter to a person’s natural inclinations and represents a more difficult test of his devotion to Hashem. Avrohom had clearly proven his devotion to Hashem and had passed numerous trials, but a number of them played into the central attribute of his Divine service, which was chesed. On the other hand, although the willingness to personally sacrifice one’s own son to Hashem is difficult for any father, its challenge was significantly magnified for one whose entire life was devoted to the trait of kindness. As this trial required Avrohom to act counter to his nature and all that he stood for, it was considered the trial which uniquely demonstrated Avrohom’s devotion to Hashem.
While every person has different mitzvos which specifically challenge him, the Mishnayos in Avos teach us that the strong person is one who conquers his evil inclination (4:1) and that the harder a mitzvah is for a person, the greater will be the reward (5:26), a lesson we should learn from the tremendous praise given to Avrohom for acting counter to his nature at the Akeidah.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (18:1) that Hashem came to visit the weak Avrohom on the third day after his circumcision. If one can fulfill either the mitzvah of visiting the sick or the mitzvah of comforting a mourner, which should he do? (Rambam and Radvaz Hilchos Avel 14:7, Bach Yoreh Deah 335, HaEmek Sheilah 3:6, Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:40, Ma’adanei Asher 5769)
2) Because she violated she commandment not to look back at the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt (19:26). Did she first die and then become a pillar of salt, or did the transformation occur while she was still alive? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah Vol. 1 230:8)
3) After Avrohom sent Hagar and Yishmael away with bread and a flask of water, the Torah records (21:14) that they became lost in the desert. Rashi writes that Hagar didn’t merely stray from the physical path through the desert, but now that she was away from his influence, she immediately abandoned his teachings and reverted to the idolatrous beliefs she had learned from her father. As the Torah only states that Hagar lost her way in the desert, from where did Rashi derive this additional fact, which seems to have no textual basis? (Lev Shalom)
4) Did Avrohom sleep the night before setting out with Yitzchok for the Akeidah (22:3)? (Har Tzvi, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Ayeles HaShachar 20:8)
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