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

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Vol. 15   No. 3

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

Parshas Lech-Lecha

The Four Hundred & Thirty Year Myth
(Adapted from the Ha'amek Davar)

In Parshas Bo, Rashi, based on the Pasuk there that records the Galus in Egypt as having lasted four hundred and thirty years (12:40), writes that the B'ris bein ha'Besarim took place thirty years before Yitzchak was born. This is indeed the opinion of the Seider Olam. Tosfos too, in B'rachos (7b) assumes that Avraham was seventy years old when G-d spoke the Parshah of the B'ris bein ha'Besarim (starting from Shishi) with him, even though the opening paragraph in Lech-Lecha took place when Avraham was seventy-five, and the battle of the kings (at the beginning of the current chapter), when he was seventy-three.

Tosfos also cites the Rashbam, who proves the above explanation, by pointing out that just two Pesukim before Shishi, G-d instructed Avraham to look at the sky and count the stars, indicating that the events under discussion took place at night-time, whilst a few Pesukim later, the Torah records that the sun set and a deep sleep fell upon Avraham, implying that the Pesukim from Shishi occurred during the day, a discrepancy that falls away, once we divide before Shishi and after Shishi into two different time- periods, as we just explained.


The Ha'amek Davar also cites the Ramban however, who maintains that even though the source of the above explanation is the Seider Olam, the more simple explanation is that the B'ris bein ha'Besarim took place after the events recorded earlier in the Parshah, when Avraham was seventy-five, so that the Pesukim after Shishi follow the earlier ones in chronological order. Indeed, he argues, according to the Seider Olam, the Torah ought not to have begun the Pasuk after Shishi with the words "And He said to him", but rather 'And G-d said to Avram" (seeing as it is an independent statement, totally unconnected with the earlier Pesukim). Furthermore, he asks, if the B'ris bein ha'Besarim, incorporating G-d's promise to grant Avraham children and that they would inherit Eretz Yisrael, had already taken place some years earlier, what did He add in the Pesukim preceding Shishi, where He merely repeats the same two promises? And what does the Torah mean, one may add, when it writes "And He believed Hashem ", now as it was no more than a repetition of the promise that he had already been given earlier?

And what's more, why did Avraham doubt G-d's promise (for fear that sin might cause G-d to rescind His word), seeing as the initial promise (at the B'ris bein ha'Besarim) had been accompanied by a covenant, which can never be rescinded?


As for the Rashbam's proof (from the switch from night-time to day-time), Rashi, who conforms with the opinion that the Rashbam is supporting, refutes it, when he explains that when G-d instructed Avraham to look at the stars, He was telling him to look down at them, from the vantage point above the stars where He had lifted him. In that case, the Pasuk might just as well be speaking by day as by night.


The Ha'amek Davar also points out, even if we learn like the Seider Olam, the Pasuk in Bo (which we cited as the source of this explanation) does not fit the facts. Presumably, what he means is that the Pasuk gives the number of years that Yisrael sojourned in Egypt as four hundred and thirty, whereas the actual number of years did not exceed four hundred (as Rashi explains), and the fact that the B'ris bein ha'Besarim took place thirty years earlier, does nothing to resolve this discrepancy.


The Ha'amek Davar therefore concludes that it is far more logical to explain that the promise of the B'ris bein ha'Besarim was the direct result of the faith that Avraham displayed in the previous Pasuk and the fact that he considered it Tzedakah on the part of Hashem (see Parshah Pearls). And that is why G-d transformed the earlier promise into a covenant, which is eternal and cannot be rescinded, as we explained earlier.


And as for the Pasuk which gives the years that Yisrael spent in Egypt as four hundred and thirty, that refers, not to the B'ris bein ha'Besarim, but rather to G-d's decision to begin the Galus, which took place thirty years before Yitzchak was born (two or three years prior to the B'ris bein ha'Besarim). It was a decision that remained unspoken, but that set in motion the rise to power of Egypt, paving the way for the B'nei Yisrael to live there during their years of exile. In fact, says the Ha'amek Davar, this is similar to what Chazal say that the world was created in Tishri, and which Tosfos in Rosh Hashanah (27a) explain to mean that He decided to create it in Tishri, though the actual creation took place in Nisan.


Finally, he explains, even the Seider Olam does not mean that G-d spoke to Avraham thirty years prior to the birth of Yitzchak (with reference to the Pesukim after Shishi), but rather, that He put it in Avraham's mind to leave Charan, as a result of which he began to toy with the idea of moving. The first time that He spoke to him was at the beginning of the Parshah, when he was seventy-five, and when He informed him that He would give 'the land to his children'. And it was here, some two or three years later, when Avraham arrived at the decision that the promise was an act of righteousness on Hashem's part, that He substantiated what He had already told him, and turned it into a covenant (as we explained earlier).

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Parsha Pearls

Seventy-Four men

It is cited in Masechet Sofrim (Perek 21) that 'the great man among the giants' refers to Avraham Avinu, who ate and drank as much as seventy-four men.

The G'ro connects this with the Pasuk in Mishpatim (24:9) which records how Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders ascended Har Sinai, and which concludes "and they saw G-d and they ate and drank". So there you have seventy-four men who reached the highest level of understanding of G-d, which the Pasuk describes as 'eating and drinking' (see Targum Unlkus).

What Chazal therefore mean here is that the level of understanding of Avraham (his 'eating and drinking') was equivalent to that of the seventy-four elders on Har Sinai.


The Alter Gerer Rebbe on the other hand, cites the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, which states that all ten generations from the time of No'ach angered Hashem with their deeds, until Avraham came and received the reward for all them. The Torah in Parshas No'ach lists seventy-four names that these ten generations incorporate (see Ma'ayanah shel Torah here). And the statement that Avraham ate and drank as much as seventy-four men is merely the Masechet Sofrim's way of saying that he received the reward of all of those men.


Double Departure

"And Avram was seventy-five when he left Charan" (12:4).

This is difficult to understand, seeing as the B'ris bein ha'Besarim took place after Avraham left Charan, and according to Rashi's interpretation of the Pasuk in Sh'mos (see 14:40), thirty years elapsed between the B'ris bein ha'Besarim and the birth of Yitzchak, which makes Avraham seventy when the latter event took place, and not seventy-five?


We are therefore forced to say that Avraham left Charan twice; once when he was seventy, and that was when Lot accompanied him (as the Torah records at the end of No'ach). And it was during that period that Lot was captured and Avraham defeated the four kings, to be followed immediately by the Bris bein ha'Besarim (as Rashi will explain later [15a]), all whilst he was still seventy.

However, after the B'ris bein ha'Besarim, Avraham returned to Charan, where he remained for another five years, when he returned to Eretz Yisrael, as the Torah describes here (Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, who cites the Seider Olam in support of this explanation. See main article).


Avraham, Yitzchak & Ya'akov

"Don't be afraid Avram, I will protect you" (15:1).

After Avraham killed the four kings, he was afraid that his merits had diminished, but G-d reassured him that all he had done was to 'destroy thorns from the vineyard' (an act, which, if anything, had added to his merits, rather than detract from them) and that he had nothing to fear, because G-d would protect him.

That is why, says the Tanchuma, Chazal insituted in the Amidah 'Mogein Avraham'.

And when Yitzchak was bound on the Mizbei'ach, waiting to be slaughtered, his soul departed, ascended to the Heaven and returned to him and revived him.

That is why they instituted 'Mechayeh ha'emisim'.

And when Ya'akov had the vision, he saw angels ascending and descending the ladder accompanying him constantly, and he heard how they thanked and praised G-d.

That is why they instituted 'ho'Keil ha'Kodosh'.


Avraham's Faith

"And he (believed) the word of Hashem, and he (Avraham) considered it a charitable act on His part" (15:6).

According to the Ha'amek Davar, the Pasuk is referring to Avraham's doubts about G-d's promise to grant him children and to give his children Eretz Yisrael, doubts that were based on the fear that sin might cause G-d to rescind it (in the same way as his grandson Ya'akov would later cast doubts on the promise that G-d would make to him [and for which, one might add, he was not taken to task]).

And it is after G-d expressed His displeasure over those doubts that Avraham (who was still called Avram at the time) realized that the promise was irrevocable, and that he had no reason to question their eternal nature that 'he believed in the word of Hashem, and considered it a charitable act (and not contingent upon any conditions)'.


Avraham's Choice

" and behold an oven full of smoke and a torch of fire that passed between these pieces" (15:17).

The Medrash commenting on this Pasuk, explains that G-d showed Avraham Gehinom (the oven full of smoke) and his children's subservience to the nations (the torch of fire), and asked him to pick which of the two punishments he would prefer his children to be subjected to, when they would rebel against Him (see next paragraph). 'Heaven forbid', he replied, that my children should go to Gehinom. Better let them suffer at the hands of the nations; perhaps then, you will have mercy when they cry out to You, for the sake of Your great Name which will be desecrated in the nations among whom they live'. (The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos adds that G-d also showed Avraham the Torah and the Sacrifices. As long as his children would busy themselves with these two, they would be spared from the other two [Gehinom and subservience to the other nations]. There would come a time however, when the Beis-Hamidkash would be destroyed and the sacrifices to be discontinued. And it was regarding that time that He asked Avraham to choose between the two evils.)

And this, says the Rosh, explains the Pasuk in Ha'azinu (32:30) "How is it possible for one to chase a thousand were it not for the fact that their rock had sold them, and Hashem had handed them over". The rock, he explains, refers to Avraham (about whom the Pasuk writes in Yeshayah "Look at the rock from whom you were carved" [51:1]). Just as Avraham had requested, he explains, Avraham 'sold' his children to the nations of the world, and G-d complied, by delivering them into their hands, up to the point that, in His mercy, He will redeem them (may it happen soon, in our days!)


Taking the Resha'im Out of Gehinom

The Rosh cites a Gemara in Eruvin (19a), which describes how Avraham takes the sinners out of Gehinom at the end of twelve months (with the exception of those who had relations with non-Jewish women).

Based on the above Pearl, it is little wonder, he explains, that Avraham does that. After all, he is the one who reached an agreement with Hashem that his children would suffer at the hand of the hostile nations, not in Gehinom, giving him the right to prevent any Jew from languishing there permanently.


Rectifying Oneself First

"Himol yimol y'lid beischo" (Circumcise all those who are born in your house)" (17:13).

Avraham circumcised many babies before circumcising himself, but they all died, until his friend Mamrei advised him that it was only once he had circumcised himself that he was permitted to circumcise others. And he extrapolated this from G-d's very words to Avraham "Himol yimol", implying 'ha'mal, yimol' (one who has been circumcised may circumcise others).


Chazal actually say that Mamrei advised Avraham about the Milah, without explaining what it was that he advised him, and the commentaries ask why Avraham would have needed to ask advice at all, seeing as he had a specific command from G-d. According to the above explanation however, says the Rosh, the matter is clear.

* * *


"And He said to Avraham; 'You should surely know that your children will live in a land that is not theirs, because you did not believe ' " (15:13).


"And also the nation that will enslave you I will judge with two hundred and fifty plagues " (15:14).


"And the sun set and there was darkness, and Avram saw Gehinom, a burning furnace, fiery coals and burning flashes of flame, with which to punish the wicked " (15:17).


"On that day, G-d made a covenant with Avram, that He would not punish his children in it (Gehinom), and that He would redeem them from the nations, saying "I will give your children this land, from the Nile of Egypt up to the great river, the River P'ras" (15:18).


"And Sarai the wife of Avram had not born him children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. She was the daughter of Paroh, whom he gave to Avram as a maidservant, when he took her and was smitten with leprosy by the word of Hashem" (16:1).


"And Sarai said to Avram 'Behold G-d has withheld from me children, Come to my maidservant and I will set her free ". And Sarai the wife of Avram took Hagar her Egyptian maidservant she set her free and gave her to Avram her husband as a wife" (16:2 & 3).


"And Sarai said to Avram 'All my shame is on you, since I trusted that you would perform justice on my behalf. Remember that I left my country and my father's house and went with you to a foreign land; and then, because I was unable to have children, I freed my maidservant and gave her to be intimate with her, and when she saw that she was pregnant, she despised me. And now, may my shame be revealed before G-d and may He spread His peace between me and you, and let the world be filled with our children, so that we should not need the sons of Hagar the daughter of Paroh, the son of Nimrod, who cast you into the fiery furnace" (16:5).

* * *

(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 74:
Not to Listen to One Litigant when the Other Litigant is not Present

A Dayan is not permitted to hear the argument of one litigant as long as the other litigant is not present, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (23:1) "Do not accept a false report". The reason for this is because a person tends to speak falsely when his opponent is not present (to contradict him). The Dayan is therefore commanded to refrain from doing so, so that he should not take to heart the lies of one litigant. The Mechilta also explains the Pasuk in this way. The Mechilta adds that the La'av also extends to the litigant, who is prohibited from stating his case in the absence of his opponent, even if he is (wrongly) asked by the Dayan to do so. And it is this regard that the Torah writes (in Pasuk 7) "Distance yourself from falsehood". Furthermore, the Gemara in Makos (23a) incorporates in the La'av, the prohibition of speaking Lashon-ha'Ra or accepting it, as well as that of testifying falsely.

A reason for this Mitzvah is obvious in that lying is something that is abhorrent to everybody. There is nothing more despicable than it, and a house in which lives someone who loves it is accursed. This is because Hashem is a G-d of truth and of all those who speak the truth, and blessing is therefore not to be found other than by those who emulate His ways in their deeds, to be honest like He is, to be merciful like He is merciful and to be kind like He is kind. But people whose deeds are the very antithesis of Hashem's good Midos, such as those who lie, will find that there rests on them the very opposite of His Midos too. For His Midos include blessing, whereas they will be constantly cursed. His Midos include Simchah, Sholom and Ta'anug (pleasure), but they will live with worry, strife and suffering; all of these are "the lot that the wicked man receives from G-d" (Iyov 20:29). And that explains why the Torah warns us to keep well away from falsehood, as we explained earlier. Notice how the Pasuk uses the word "Distance yourself", (an expression that it does not use in connection with any other La'av), an indication as to how utterly despicable lying is. And as part of that distancing oneself, the Torah warns us not even to listen to anything that might be false, even if we do not know for sure that it is; much in the same way as the Gemara in Chulin (44b), which warns to keep away from anything which is 'ugly', and whatever is comparable to it. And when I speak about Midos in connection with Hashem, writes the author, I am merely borrowing a term used by Chazal, who talk about His Midos from the point of view of human-beings. Because as far as Hashem goes, there is no such thing as Midos, since He, His wisdom, His desire, His ability and His Midos are One without combination and without division.

Some Dinim of the Mitzvah The Gemara in Shavu'os (30b) obligates a Dayan who senses that the testimony of witnesses is false (even though he cannot prove it) to withdraw from the case. He is not allowed to go ahead with it and place the blame on the witnesses The Chachamim have much praise for those who seek the truth and keep far away from lies in judgement and the many other details are explained in Sanhedrin and in Medrashim (see also Rambam, chapter 25 of Hilchos Sanhedrin). This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times to men but not to women, since they are not eligible to judge. Therefore they are not included in the La'av of not hearing the words of one litigant not in the presence of the other. They are however, included in the Din of not presenting their case, as litigants, before their opponent has arrived. Likewise they are warned against all form of lies, just like men. Someone who contravenes this La'av has transgressed a Divine command, though he does not receive Malkos, because it does not comprise an act.

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