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Parshas Vayeira - Vol. 11, Issue 4
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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. However, 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 - that 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 lecturing and instructing 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.
In 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. A son who sees that his father treasures his daily learning seder and prayer with a minyan, and a daughter who observes that her mother cherishes her commitment to chesed and tznius, will learn these values by osmosis, as this form of instruction is stronger than any words, but it could not be explicitly expressed by the Torah.
Rav Nissan Kaplan of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim adds that of Avrohom's eight words to Yitzchok that are recorded in the Torah, two of the words are απι - my son - which is an expression of love and endearment. He explains that this teaches us that in addition to the paramount importance of educating one's children through personal example, it is also essential that each child understands and feels that his parents' messages and teachings are motivated by their caring and love for him.
Parshas Vayeira details the destruction of the wicked city of Sodom and its environs as punishment for their evildoing, in particular for their staunch opposition to doing acts of kindness for others. The angels that were tasked with destroying Sodom told Lot to flee with his wife and two daughters in order to be spared, but they were cautioned not to look behind them to witness what was transpiring in Sodom. Lot's wife did not heed their warning, and when she turned to gaze at the destruction, she was transformed into a pillar of salt.
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 51:5) explains that because Lot's wife had sinned with salt, this punishment was particularly fitting for her. In what way did she sin with salt? When Lot brought the angels to his home as guests, his wife circulated to all of her neighbors to ask if any of them had salt that she could borrow in order to serve her guests. Although her behavior seemed innocent, in reality, her secret objective was to publicize to the townspeople of Sodom that she had guests, so that they would converge on her house and demand that the guests be handed over to them, which is indeed what occurred. Because she claimed to be out of salt in order to backhandedly announce the presence of her guests, she was punished by being turned into a pillar of salt. This story is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, how is it possible that a self-respecting housewife ran her kitchen without such an essential spice as salt? Second, why is the fact that Lot's wife didn't have salt a reason that she was transformed into a pillar of salt? Had she been lacking potatoes, would she instead have become a potato? What is the deeper connection between her sin and her punishment?
Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter explains that salt is a food which, if eaten by itself, lacks good taste and nutritional value. Paradoxically, it is also an essential ingredient in countless recipes, and if omitted, its absence is clearly detectable. Even though salt seems to lack value when viewed in a vacuum, it is in reality an extremely versatile spice with the ability to enhance the flavor of other ingredients. In this sense, salt can be described as a food whose entire purpose is to serve other foods.
In light of this insight, it is completely understandable that Lot's wife was so steeped in the self-centered and stingy mindset that permeated Sodom that she viewed salt, a food whose very essence is dedicated to benefiting others, as an alien product which had no place being stored in her home. Similarly, her punishment of turning into a pillar of salt was particularly appropriate for her sin. Because she spent her life focused solely on her own selfish needs with an utter lack of concern for the less fortunate, she was transformed into an eternal monument to chesed by being forced to exist in the form of a food which serves no function other than assisting others.
1) 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)
2) Tosefos writes (Shabbos 130a) that Avrohom made a festive meal on the day of Yitzchok's circumcision (21:8). If a person is invited to attend a circumcision and a pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born son) that are occurring at the same time and he may attend only one, to which one should he go? (Shu"t Shraga HaMeir 2:89, Bishvilei HaParsha)
1) Rav Chatzkel Levenstein answers that as fervently as Avrohom prayed on their behalf, it wasn't possible for him to match the intensity of the prayers of Lot, who personally dwelled in the cities being obliterated and was directly affected by their destruction. He also suggests that the angels were grateful to Lot for hosting them, which obligated them to honor his request, while Hashem had no such debt to Avrohom. Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that Avrohom didn't present the argument made by Lot (that Tzo'ar's sins were less than its neighbors), which would have indeed been accepted had he made it.
2) Rav Shraga Feivel Shneebalg cites the Gemora in Pesachim (113b), which teaches that somebody who is invited to join a seudas mizvah, which includes the meals celebrating either a bris mila or a pidyon haben, and doesn't attend becomes excommunicated. As such, even though there are numerous Talmudic statements that seem to indicate that circumcision is the more important mitzvah and one might think he should go to that meal, he suggests going to the first meal to which one was invited to avoid being classified as somebody who refused to attend. However, Rav Elyakim Devorkas cites sources that explain that the primary purpose of the festive meal after a pidyon haben is to publicize the fact that the first-born Jews were miraculously saved in Egypt during the plague of the first-born. He therefore suggests that because a greater turnout for the meal will result in a greater publicizing of the miracle, one should always go to the pidyon haben.
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