Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 13   No. 3

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Zevulun Doron ben Shimshon z.l.

'To avoid the fire of Gehinom,'says Hashem, 'distance yourself
from Lashon ha'Ra, and you will meritboth this world and the World to Come'
(Medrash Tanchumah, Parshas Metzora)

Parshas Lech Lecha

G-d's Knowledge
Adapted from the Haftarah

"Why do you say, Ya'akov ... 'My ways are hidden from Hashem, and My judgement is removed from My G-d'? Don't you know ... that ... Hashem who created the ends of the earth ... there is no calculating His understanding"! (Yeshayah 40:27/8).


The Rambam, in Hilchos Teshuvah (5:5) poses his famous Kashya - How is it possible to accommodate both the fact that G-d knows what path a person will choose in life (and G-d's knowledge is irrefutable and unchangeable), and the fact that a person will be judged for every action that he chooses to perform?

Surely, either G-d knows what a man will choose to do (in which case he has no choice in the matter), or man is free to make his own decisions (in which case G-d cannot know in advance what he will do)?

And he answers that G-d certainly knows what each and every person is going to do, only just as we cannot understand G-d per se, we cannot understand His knowledge either. In other words, the statement 'that G-d knows' is totally beyond our comprehension, in which case it does not necessarily clash with man's free-will and choice. And that is what Yeshayah ha'Navi means when he writes (55:9) "Because as high as the Heaven is from the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts".


The Ra'avad queries the wisdom in posing a question and leaving it unanswered. He himself seems to say that G-d certainly has the ability to know everything. However, by granting man freewill, He withdrew from Himself (Kevayachol) the knowledge of man's final choice. And he compares this to the concept of the Mazalos (which G-d created and knows intimately), but left man with the ability to override what they predict. In this way, he explains, G-d's prior knowledge is just that, and not a decree. He offers this explanation as a suggestion to the Rambam's question, though he is clearly not happy with it. The Ra'avad's query on the Rambam is not clear however. Surely the fact that we do not understand G-d is not matter of ignorance. On the contrary, it is an important piece of information that we need to know, as is evident from the Pasuk in Yeshayah quoted by the Rambam.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:15) informs us that although everything is foreseen, permission is nevertheless given to act as we please. The Rambam, who delves into the Mishnah at length, interprets this to mean that G-d knows everything that man will do, even before he does it (though according to others, it refers to man's actions after he has performed them [i.e. that nothing that man does is hidden from G-d]). Presumably, that Mishnah (according to the way the Rambam explains it, serves as the his source for his statement in Hilchos Teshuvah).

The Tos. Yom-Tov there, counters the Ra'avad's Kashya from this Mishnah. The Tana deliberately poses the question, he explains, without making any effort to answer it, to teach us that this is something that we are forbidden to pursue further, bearing out the answer that I suggested earlier. And in similar vein, he explains the Mishnah in Chagigah (2:1), which lists certain questions to do with the Creation that we are forbidden to discuss.


To elaborate slightly on the Rambam's words, it is possible to pinpoint the exact area that is inaccessible to us. When we realize that we live in a world which is governed by time, which in turn, is divided into three segments, past, present and future, and that these segments are clearly defined, whereas G-d is above and beyond time, then we will know that G-d's knowledge is of a different nature to ours. In His world, it seems, past, present and future merge into one. And this is something which we cannot possibly fathom.

The Or Samei'ach compares this to someone who is born with green glasses, to whom everything will appear green. There is no way, he explains, that he will ever be able to recognize other colours. And so it is here. The whole of mankind is born with 'time' glasses, and it is impossible to ever understand existence without it.


In fact, says the G'ro, both the Rambam's question and his answer are contained in our opening Pasuk ... "Why do you say, Ya'akov that ... '(either) My ways are hidden from Hashem or My judgement is removed from My G-d'? Don't you know ... that ... Hashem who created the ends of the earth ... there is no calculating His understand ing" (it is unfathomable), rendering both theories wrong, because He both knows our ways, and He remains capable of judging us for our deeds.

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Parshah Pearls
Adapted mainly from the P'ninei Torah

Pride Before the Fall

" ... because it was all well-watered before G-d destroyed S'dom and Amora, like the garden of G-d, like the land of Egypt ... " (13:10).

In keeping with the Pasuk in Mishlei (16:18) "Pride comes before a fall", G-d deliberately gave S'dom and its environs a boost. Consequently, when the fall came it would be a big one, as the old saying goes. 'The taller they come, the harder they fall'. So it is hardly surprising that, bearing in mind the total devastation that S'dom was about to suffer, the Torah describes it as 'the Garden of G-d'.


Up Up, Down Down!

"And Hashem said to Avram after Lot had separated from him" (13:14).

As long as that Rasha was with Avram, Rashi explains, the Shechinah did not speak to him ... . Earlier (12:7) G-d did speak to Avram even though Lot was still with him, but at that stage, Rashi explains, he was still righteous.

When we bear in mind that Eretz Yisrael is G-d's chosen country, it is obviously conducive to spiritual growth, and indeed as the Gemara teaches in Bava Basra, its very air makes a person wise, we need to understand what happened to Lot, whose move to Eretz Yisrael seems to have had the opposite effect, causing him to deteriorate and to go astray? And this is all the more disturbing when we compare him to Avraham, whose retinue he joined, and who certainly attained the highest levels of spiritual growth there.

The answer is based on the Torah's comparison of Torah to rain (see beginning of Parshas Ha'azinu). The commentaries explain that, for all the rain's importance, it will only nurture and make grow what one plants. If one plants fruit-trees then the rain will cause the finest fruit-trees to grow, but if one plants stinging nettles or even poisonous plants, then what can one expect, other than - the finest stinging nettles? Likewise, Torah will develop a person who studies it in the direction that he gears his heart. If he opens his heart to strive for spiritual perfection, then the Torah that he studies will help him achieve that goal. But if he sets his heart to wordly pleasures, then that same Torah will render his desires even more insatiable than they were before.

And so it is with Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael helps a person to grow, but his growth will be determined by what lies in his heart. Thus it was that Avraham Avinu, who conquered his Yeitzer ha'Ra already in Chutz la'Aretz, grew to still greater heights upon arriving in Eretz Yisrael. Lot, on the other hand, in spite of his proximity to Avraham, remained subservient to his desires; consequently, he degenerated from a small Rasha into a big one (adapted from the M'lo ha'Omer).


Small Here, Big There

"Look now at the sky and count the stars ... so shall be your descendents" (15:5). Stars seen from earth look very small indeed, yet in their location in the sky, they are vast. So too, said G-d to Avraham, will his descendents Yisrael appear very small in the eyes of the nations of the world. In Heaven however, they are extremely significant (based on the S'fas Emes).


The Righteous Sarah

"And Sarah the wife of Avram took Hagar her Egyptian maidservant ...and she gave her to Avram ... " (16:3).

Come and see Sarah's righteousness, the S'fas Emes observes. She surely must have known that G-d had promised Avram children, in which case she might well have remained silent, thereby forcing G-d's Hand (Kevayachol) to cure her from her barrenness. Yet she gave Hagar to Avraham, risking that she (Hagar) and not herself, would be the mother of the descendents to which G-d had referred. Why did she do that?

Because, he explains, she was afraid that Avraham's inability to father children was due to her. Every day that she withheld Hagar from Avraham was another day's delay until the promised child would be born, and she did not want to be responsible for the delay. Better she figured, to go without children (and even to grant her own maidservant the honour) than to cause her husband momentary pain.


Where Are You Off to, Hagar?

"Hagar maidservant of Sarah, where are you coming from and where are you going"? (16:8).

The Angel was reminding Hagar of why she was a maidservant in Avraham's household in the first place. He reminded her how her father Paroh, had decided (after witnessing the miracles that had occurred in his palace, after he abducted Sarah) that his daughter was better off as a maidservant in Avraham's house than a mistress elsewhere.

That is why he asked her where she was coming from and where she was going to. After all, he was pointing out to her, she had given up the life of a princess to live in Avraham's house, and now she was running away from there. And where was she running to? To a place which, wherever it was, was bound to be inferior to the place she was running away from.

To which she replied that she was not running away from Avraham's house per se, but from the anger of her mistress Sarah ("mipnei Sarah Gevirti ... " can also mean 'from the anger of Sarah my mistress ...' [see Targum Yonasan Sh'mos 33:14]), as the Pasuk writes in Yeshayah "Wait a moment until the anger passes" (Binah la'Itim).


The question remains though, why did Hagar not go back after Sarah's anger subsided?

The Chidushei ha'Rim explains the angel's question in similar vein. According to him, the angel was asking where Hagar thought she was going; whether she expected to find a better home anywhere else. And when the Pasuk concludes that Hagar went and strayed in Midbar Paran, it means that she herself came to the realization that she had erred by running away from Sarah.

Once again the question arises, why she did not then return and reinstate herself in her former capacity.

The answer seems to be that it is not so easy to admit one's mistake and to make amends, even if one genuinely intends to do so.

Nevertheless, we see that her good intentions made a deep impression on her, ultimately bringing her to Teshuvah. That explains why, some forty years later, Avraham remarried an outstanding Tzadekes known as Keturah (see Rashi 25:1).


Angel or Demon?

"And she called the name of (the angel of) Hashem that spoke with her 'You are G-d who sees' " (16:13).

According to Rashi, each statement that was made to her in the course of the current conversation was spoken by a different angel. In that case, asks the Torah Temimah, what did she see in the statement of the fourth angel, to call him by a name, any more than the first three?

And he answers with a Gemara in Megilah (3), which forbids greeting one's friend at night (in the dark, and according to Tosfos in Sanhedrin, even during the day if he meets him in a field) in case he is a Sheid (a demon). The Gemara permits such a greeting however, should the Sheid mention the name of G-d (because Sheidim are careful not to mention the name of G-d in vain).

The first three angels did not mention G-d's Name, causing Hagar to suspect that perhaps they were demons, and not angels. The fourth angel however, ordered her "to name the son that she would bear to Avraham, Yishmael, because Hashem has taken heed of your affliction". When she heard that, says the Torah Temimah, she knew that whatever the first three 'angels' were, this fourth messenger really was an angel, and so she called him by the name she considered appropriate.

* * *

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 33:
Kibud Av vo'Eim

It is a Mitzvah to honour one's parents, as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:12) "Honour your father and mother". The Gemara in Kidushin interprets 'honour' as providing them with food and drink, purchasing for them clothes and dressing them, accompanying them in and accompanying them out.

A reason for the Mitzvah is ... because it is correct to acknowledge and to deal kindly with someone who has performed a kindness with oneself, and not to be ungrateful and to deny what he did, for this is an extremely despicable character trait in the eyes of both G-d and men. One should also bear in mind that he owes his parents his very existence.

Consequently, he should give them all the respect and assistance that he possibly can, for not only did they bring him into the world, but they also toiled ceaselessly on his behalf when he was small. And once a person acquires this Midah, he will automatically extend it to his relationship with G-d, to acknowledge His goodness and to realize that He is the cause of his own existence as well as that of his ancestors all the way back to Adam ha'Rishon. It was G-d who brought him into the world and who provided (and provides) him with all his needs, including his good health. He also gave him a Soul which knows and understands, without which he would be no different than a horse and a mule (which are devoid of understanding), and this should lead him to realize just how much he is obliged to toil in the service of G-d.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... such as with whose money he is obligated to honour his parents (with his or with theirs). In fact, we rule 'with his father's money', provided he has the means. If he has not, then the son is obligated if necessary, even to go begging from door to door, in order to provide his father and mother with food ... Which takes precedence, his father or his mother ... How far does the obligation go ... If his father foregoes his honour; does this absolve his son from honouring him? ... In the event that he sees his father sinning, how should he stop him ... A son is not permitted to obey his father, if he orders him to sin ... Kibud Av vo'Eim applies even after their death (though the format will obviously change) ... and all other details, are discussed in Kidushin and in other places in Shas (See Yorei De'ah Si'man 260).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere to men and to women as long as they are able to perform it (i.e. if their husbands do not object). Someone who contravenes it has negated a Mitzvas Asei. His punishment will be great, because he will inevitably go on to deny his relationship with his Father in Heaven. If Beis-Din has the authority, they should force such a person to keep the Mitzvah, because as we have already written, Beis-Din may enforce the observance of Mitzvos Asei.


Mitzvah 34:
Not to Murder an Innocent Man

It is forbidden to murder (a fellow-Jew), as the Torah writes in Yisro "Lo Tirtzach".

The reason for this Mitzvah is self-evident, because G-d created the world and He commanded us to increase and to multiply in order to inhabit it, and to that end, He forbade us to destroy it with our hands, by murdering the people that inhabit it. However, the Miynim (the heretics) and the sneaks are not included among those who inhabit the world, and about them it is written in Mishlei (11:10) "And when the Resha'im perish there is jubilation", for they do not add anything to the world. On the contrary, they destroy it with all their strength. That is what the Chacham in Bava Metzi'a (83b) meant when, after causing the death of Resha'im, he declared 'I am merely destroying thorns from the vineyard', meaning that by destroying such people, the world is inhabited in a more positive way than it was previously, in the same way as the fruit of a vineyard grows more abundantly and is of better quality, once one has removed the thorns.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... Chazal have said in Sanhedrin (88a) that one is Chayav Miysah irrespective of whether the murdered man was healthy or dangerously ill, or even if he was a Go'ses (who is about to die) ... The Din of a murderer (how he is sentenced and put to death) ... along with the remaining details, are discussed in the ninth Perek of Sanhedrin, in Makos and in Chosen Mishpat Si'man 409.

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women. Someone who murders a fellow-Jew be'Meizid and there are witnesses who warned him, is put to death by the sword. If on the other hand, he did so be'Shogeg, the author will discuss his Din in Parshas Mas'ei.

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