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Vol. 11 No. 3
Parshas Lech Lecho
The B'ris Milah
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)
Rabeinu Bachye explains that the Milah, the permanent sign that remains with a Jew both during his lifetime and after his death, reinforces his faith in G-d and in the unification of His Name. Indeed, it serves as a permanent sign that a Jewish man is G-d's servant and G-d's servant only, for as long as he lives.
Based on the Medrash, which describes the B'ris Milah as a Korban, Rabeinu Bachye draws a number of comparisons between them. Just as the blood of a Korban atones, so does that of the B'ris Milah; just as a Korban becomes eligible only on the eighth day, so too, does the B'ris Milah. And just as the Torah writes "And those who are atoned (by the Korban) shall eat it" (a Se'udas Mitzvah), so too, do Yisrael arrange a Se'udah after the B'ris Milah.
In addition, the legs of the Sandek are compared to the Mizbei'ach on which the Korban is brought.
If anything, says Rabeinu Bachye, the B'ris Milah is the more effective of the two, since a Korban is bought with one's money, whereas the B'ris Milah is performed on one's body (in the same way as Chesed is greater than Tz'dakah, for this reason).
In connection with the first of the above explanations, that Rabeinu Bachye cites the other two Mitzvos, which bear the title 'sign', Shabbos and Tefilin. It is befitting, he explains, for a man to always have two of the three signs with him, because everything is substantiated with two witnesses. Hence the importance of the Mitzvah of laying Tefilin every day, he says. Because, bearing in mind that both Shabbos and Milah are automatically there on the scene, someone who puts on Tefilin on a daily basis, will never be without two of the three signs. And what do these signs signify? They serve as a reminder of the unique bond that exists between G-d and Yisrael.
In addition to the two reasons for the B'ris Milah cited above, Rabeinu Bachye adds a third reason based on logic. Just as any other limb that is cut will become weaker, he explains, so too, the Eiver ha'Milah. In other words, one of the functions of the B'ris Milah is to weaken man's desire, thereby assisting him to overcome his Yeitzer-ha'Ra.
Someone who has been circumcised will not go down to Gehinom, says Rabeinu Bachye, and as one of many proofs for this, he cites the Pasuk in Zecharyah "Also due to the blood of your B'ris, I sent away your bound ones from the pit which contains no water". And it is for this reason that it is customary to circumcise even a stillborn child before burying him (since even a still-born baby has a portion in Olam ha'Ba).
In explaining the Torah's use here of the Divine Name 'Shakai', Rabeinu Bachye observes how the three letters of this Name are formed on three major limbs of a Jew's body. G-d formed the 'Shin' on the nostrils (which is where He breathed the Neshamah into him, the 'Daled' on the arm when it is outstretched from the body (to perform Mitzvos), and the 'Yud' on the crown of the Milah, after the B'ris has been performed and the skin folded over.
And it is on account of the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah, that Yisrael have been promised the three eternal gifts - the lineage of Malchus Beis David (incorporating Mashi'ach), Eretz Yisrael, and the resting of the Shechinah in their midst. All three of them are hinted in this Parshah, as we shall now see, and each of them is included in the covenant that G-d entered into here with Avraham.
The Torah writes here "And kings will descend from you" (18:6); in Pasuk 5, "And I shall give to you ... the land of Cana'an as an everlasting possession", and in Pasuk 8 "And I will be for you a G-d" ("for you", 'and not for the nations of the world') a clear reference to the three gifts currently under discussion.
Stressing the first of the three, Rabeinu Bachye proves that the land remains ours, even when we are in Galus, from the fact that since we were sent into exile, no nation has ever settled the land. Throughout our exile, they came and went, but they never felt sufficiently at home here, to set up a state on its soil (see also Rashi Bechukosai (26:32). Interestingly, it is only recently, after we began to rebuild it, that the Arabs staked a claim (or pretended to stake a claim) to the land.
Malchus Beis David too, is eternal, since the Pasuk writes in Tehilim "I cut a covenant with David My chosen one, I swore to David My servant, that I will establish your children forever ... ".
It does not seem far-fetched to attribute the three special gifts to the three special Mitzvos. Eretz Yisrael corresponds to the B'ris Milah (after all, did Yehoshua not circumcise all the people the moment they entered the Land?); Malchus Beis-David corresponds to Tefilin (which are referred to as the 'Crown of Torah'); and the Hashra'as ha'Shechinah corresponds to the Shabbos (indeed, the Neshamah Yeseirah joins us at the same time as Shabbos does).
(Based on the Commentary of the Rosh)
Giving Preference to Avraham
"And I will make you into a great nation ... and I will curse those that curse you" (12:2).
This implies that G-d will become personally involved when the Kavod of Tzadikim is at stake. By contrast, the Navi (Sh'muel 1 2:30) writes "and those who curse Me will be cursed" (automatically). It seems, says the Rosh, that G-d is more concerned with the Kavod of Tzadikim than He is with His own.
One Can only Die Once
"And it will be when the Egyptians will see you, they will say that you are my wife; they will then kill me and let you live" (12:12).
Avraham was afraid, the Rosh explains, that the Egyptians would kill him in order to avoid committing the sin of adultery.
The question arises however, that murder is forbidden to B'nei No'ach no less that adultery, as we learned last week. In that case, why were they more concerned about the one than about the other?
In fact, he answers, they chose the lesser of two evils, since to live with a married woman would have entailed sinning over and over again, whereas killing Avraham was a sin that would be committed only once and soon forgotten.
Perhaps we may add that alternatively they opted to get rid of Avraham, because of the risk of keeping him alive, for who knows what revenge an angry husband can wreak on those who abuse his wife? Once Avraham was out of the way, they felt they could go ahead and take Sarah with impunity.
So That's Why We're in Galus!
"And he armed his trainees, the members of his household" (14:14).
The Rosh, citing the Gemara in Nedarim (32), gives two reasons as to why Avraham was punished, in that, later in history, his children had to suffer Galus (as we will see shortly).
Firstly, says the Rosh, he ought not to not have questioned Hashem by asking "ba'Moh eida ki irashenah" (querying G-d's promise that his children would inherit Eretz Yisrael). His faith in G-d's promise should have been sufficiently firm to obviate the need for any questions.
And secondly, he should not have sent the members of his household, who were Talmidei-Chachamim, out to war.
An Unusual Sort of Tzedakah
"And He considered it Tzedakah" (15:6).
This means, says the Rosh, that G-d considered it Tzedakah on the part of Avraham that he had faith in Him and believed that His promise would come true (see also Rashi).
From here we have a proof that when the Navi Yeshayah prophesied (1:27) that the captives of Tziyon will be redeemed with Tzedakah, he was not referring only to acts of kindness or monetary Tzedakah, but also to Tzedakah in Emunah. In other words, the redemption will come about even on the merit of our faith in G-d that it will happen.
No Need to Cut it in Two
"But the bird(s) he did not cut into two pieces" (15:10).
If he cut all the animals (the calves, the goats and the rams) into two pieces, asks the Rosh, why did he not do the same with the birds (the pigeon and the young dove)?
Simple, he replies. The reason that he cut each animal into two, was in order to make two parallel rows for the Shechinah to pass in between. Seeing as he had three (an odd number) of each species of animal, he could not avoid cutting them up, in order to arrange all the animals in this way.
The two birds on the other hand, presented no problem, since he was able to place the one facing the other. So what would have been the point of cutting them in half?
Needless to say, if the cutting of the animals was intrinsically significant, as many commentaries explain (see for example, Rabeinu Bachye), then this explanation will be inadequate.
See also Rashi.
"And behold a smoking furnace and a flaming torch passed between these pieces" (15:17).
The Medrash interprets the smoking furnace as an analogy to Gehinom (a fire that has not been fanned), and the flaming furnace as Shi'bud Malchiyos (the subservience to the nations), who direct their unremitting fury at us without respite. And the Medrash goes on to explain how G-d showed Avraham the two options, and gave him the choice to pick one of the two for his children (for when the time came).
Avraham's reply was clear - 'Chas ve'Chalilah that my children should languish in Gehinom. Better that they suffer at the hands of the nations. Perhaps their cries will evoke Divine Mercy, and You will take pity on them for the sake of Your Holy Name that is desecrated through their suffering'.
And this is what the Torah means when it writes in Ha'azinu (32:30), "How could one (of their enemy) chase a thousand (of them), and two, ten thousand, had not their rock sold them, and G-d delivered them!" "Their rock" refers to Avraham Avinu (as is hinted by the Navi Yeshayah 52:1), since he was the one to choose Shibud Galiyos over and above Gehinom.
And it also helps us understand the Gemara in Eiruvin (19a), which describes how after twelve months, Avraham takes all his descendants out of Gehinom, with the exception of those who pulled back the skin to cover the B'ris Milah (whom he leaves in Gehinom, because he does not recognize them).
The question arises, why specifically Avraham, particularly as with regard to the very Pasuk on which this D'rashah is based, Chazal in Shabbos (89b) extrapolate that both Avraham and Ya'akov have forsaken us. So why Avraham and not Ya'akov?
According to what we just said however, the question is answered, since it is specifically Avraham who reminds G-d of the deal that he brokered in this week's Parshah. Because it is that deal which enables him to take each Jew by the hand and lead him out of Gehinom. Neither is it surprising that Avraham fails to recognize those who pull back the skin of the B'ris Milah - considering that the only Mitzvah that he received in the form of a Divine command, they have rejected!
You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat it
Regarding the Gemara in Eiruvin that we just quoted, the Meshech Chochmah cites the one exception to the rule as someone who has relations with a gentile woman. Him alone, Avraham will allow to suffer the fires of Gehinom.
And he explains this with a Medrash. Medrash Eichah, on the Pasuk 'Galsah Yehudah', explains that when Yisrael go into Galus, it is real exile, because they can neither eat nor drink with the local people, nor marry their daughters. When gentiles go into Galus on the other hand, they soon begin to mix socially with the local people, and it is not long before they are fully integrated into the society in which they are residing. And that is not really Galus at all.
When a Jew in exile has relations with a gentile woman, he demonstrates that he is not concerned with mixing with the gentiles. His exile, like that of the gentiles, is not really an exile at all. Consequently, Avraham's choice of exile over Gehinom does not pertain to him, and Avraham, honouring his choice, allows him to suffer in Gehinom.
THE WORLD OF KORBONOS
(based on the morning Korbanos)
The Order of the Day
Even though Aba Shaul concludes his list with the Korban Tamid shel bein ha'Arbayim, another three Avodos still remained: the Ketores, followed by the lighting of the Menorah (the last Avodah of the day). And finally, came the burning of the limbs and the fat-pieces, which continued throughout the night.
The Bull and the Goat of Yom Kipur
The bull and the goat of Yom Kipur (constituting the Chatas of the Kohen Gadol and of the community respectively), like all Kodshei Kodshim (Chata'os, Ashamos, Olos and Zivchei Shalmei Tzibur [that are brought on Shavu'os]), are Shechted on the north side of the Azarah, and their blood is received (in a k'li shareis [a holy administering vessel]) on the north side of the Azarah.
Their blood requires sprinkling (with the finger) between the poles of the Aron ha'Kodesh, towards the Paroches (from the Heichal), and on the Golden Mizbei'ach. Even one of the many Matanos (sprinklings) is crucial to the Avodah.
The remainder of the blood is poured on to the western Yesod (the foundation, comprising the bottom Amah of the Mizbei'ach that surrounded most of the Mizbei'ach, and protruded one Amah from it) of the outer Mizbei'ach, though this is not crucial.
The Burned Bulls and Goats
The burned bulls and goats (comprising the Par He'elam Davar shel Tzibur and the bull of the Kohen Gadol who sinned on the one hand, and the goats of Avodah-Zarah of the community on the other) are Shechted on the north side of the Azarah, too, and their blood is received there in a K'li Shareis. The reason they are called 'burned' is because their bodies are burned outside Yerushalayim, rather than on the Ma'arachah on the Mizbei'ach (like most Korbanos are).
Their Din of their blood and the remainder of the blood, as well as that of the Chalavim, is identical to that of the bull and the goat of Yom Kipur, except that the blood is not taken into the Kodesh Kodshim.
The bodies of all of the above-mentioned Korbanos are burned in the 'Beis-ha'Deshen' (outside Yerushalayim).
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