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

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Vol. 17   No. 3

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

Parshas Lech-L'cha

Ur Kasdim
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

At the end of Parshas No'ach, the Torah relates that Haran died in the land of his birthplace in Ur Kasdim. This was also the birthplace of Avraham, comments the I'bn Ezra. However, he adds, 'Ur Kasdim' cannot possibly have been the name by which it was known at the time. This is because Kasdim, after whom the city was ultimately named, was a son of Avraham's brother Nachor, who was not yet born. Evidently, he claims, it had another name at the time, only Moshe referred to it as 'Ur Kasdim', since that was the name by which it was called then.

And the proof that Avram was born there, the I'bn Ezra explains, is the fact that his brother Haran, died there - and the Torah writes (about Haran) "in the land of his birthplace, in Ur Kasdim".

According to this explanation, it transpires that the first time that Terach and his family set foot in Charan was when he decided to break his journey on the way from Ur Kasdim to Cana'an; And that is when he decided to remain in Charan, as the Torah relates there (in Pasuk 31).


Rabeinu Bachye disagrees with the Ib'n Ezra's explanation, as we shall see shortly.

Commenting on the Pasuk at the end of No'ach "And Haran died in the lifetime of Terach his father in the land of his birthplace in Ur Kasdim", R. Bachye explains that in fact, this Pasuk, by way of hint, informs us of the greatness of Avraham Avinu, how he was ready to give up his life to defend his faith in G-d. Indeed, he maintains, if this Pasuk had not done so, then one would have expected the Torah to inform us in some other way as to who Avraham Avinu was, and to teach us something about his Midos, so that we should have some idea as to why G-d chose to communicate with him, before telling us that G-d ordered him to leave his land, his birthplace and his father's house, just as it did with regard to No'ach. Before G-d actually spoke with him for the first time, the Torah gives us a brief description of his greatness, as a background to his earning Divine communication.


The word "Ur", the author explains, has three possible meanings - 'a valley', 'a tall mountain' (on account of the fires that they used to light on the mountain-tops, as described by the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah) and 'a fire'. Consequently, 'Ur Kasdim' in this context could refer to a hidden miracle, whereby G-d put into the mind of the king of Kasdim (Nimrod) not to kill Avraham, but to release him from the mountain or the valley where he was imprisoned (which would in any event be the first miracle that G-d performed with man. See also final paragraph). Chazal however interpret "Ur Kasdim" as the fire (or furnace), and it refers to the open miracle of Avraham's salvation from the raging furnace into which Nimrod threw him, for daring to deny his gods' omnipotence (See main article, vol. 16).


Avraham Avinu, says R. Bachye, following in the footsteps of the Ramban, was not born in Ur Kasdim (to the west of Eretz Cana'an), but on the other side of the River Euphrates (to its north), in Syria. Indeed, says the Ramban, Avraham's ancestors were descendants of Shem, whereas Kasdim and the entire land of Shin'or (another name for Bavel), were sons of Cham. (And this is clear from the Pasuk in Yehoshua (cited by the Ba'al Hagadah) "On the other side of the River your forefathers always dwelt" - and that explains why Avraham is sometimes referred to as 'Avram ha'Ivri' (rather than 'Avram the Kasdi'). A further proof lies in the fact that Avram's brother Nachor, who did not accompany his father Terach when he left home for Eretz Cana'an, lived in Charan, not in Ur Kasdim, which is where he ought to have resided, had Terach initially lived there.

This means that Terach originally lived in Charan, and that at some stage he traveled to Ur Kasdim with Avraham and Lot (as we shall see shortly), leaving Nachor in Charan. Then, after leaving Ur Kasdim for Eretz Yisrael, he broke his journey in his hometown, Charan. And this is also borne out by the Gemara in Bava Basra (91a), which cites the location where Avraham was imprisoned as Kuta, and Kuta was not in Kasdim, but on 'the other side of the River', synonymous with Syria.


Terach, the author concludes, gave birth to his two older sons on the other side of the River. From there, he traveled with his son Avram to the Land of Kasdim, where his youngest son Haran was born. Nachor remained in Charan. And when the Torah writes "in the land of his birthplace", it is referring to Haran exclusively.

The author finally cites the Rambam, who agrees that Avraham was born in Kuta. But he explains that the King jailed Avraham for many years, on account of his dissenting views concerning his gods. There the latter held many religious debates with the people. And it reached a point that, afraid that he would convince the people to follow his 'heretical' beliefs and wreak havoc throughout the land, after confiscating Avraham's wealth, the King banished him to the other end of the Land of Cana'an.

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

The Three B'rachos

"And I will make you a great nation " (12:2).

Rashi explains that "I will make you a great nation" refers to the blessing of 'children', "And I will bless you", to the blessing of 'money', and " I will make your name great", to that of 'life'. This is synonymous with 'b'nei, Chayei, u'Mezoni', which the Gemara says in Nidah, depend, not on merit, but on Mazel.


Those Who Curse Araham

"And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse " (12:3).

This indicates, says R. Bachye, quoting the Ramban, that the people of Ur Kasdim despised Avraham and cursed him, which explains why G-d instructed him to leave and move to Eretz Cana'an.

And the reason that the latter phrase is written in the singular, R. Bachye suggests, is because it refers to Nimrod, who retaliated against Avraham's denial of his gods by cursing him, and it was from him that the people took their cue. And when the king is cursed, then the whole nation is cursed together with him.

(See also Ba'al ha'Turim on this Pasuk).


The author also suggests that the people of Ur Kasdim worshipped a variety of idols. There were those who worshipped Molech, whose priests would preach that whoever sacrificed some of his children to their god, would be blessed with many offspring; then there were those who worshipped a god who, they believed, would grant them wealth and prosperity; and there were others who maintained that their god promised his adherents everlasting fame and a good name.

And it was to counter these three facets of Avodah-Zarah that G-d assured Avraham that he would bless him with many children, financial success and a good name. It taught him that all the Heavenly powers can only grant man that which lies within their limited jurisdiction, as handed over to them from above. And they are certainly not empowered to carry out actions that are contrary to their area of jurisdiction. For example, he explains, even if the Mazel Ma'adim (Mars) were to stand on man's right, it would not be able to defend him or to assist him in any way. That is because, seeing as Ma'adim's power lies in destruction, it is unable to do anything constructive. Likewise every celestial body that G-d created with the power to destroy is unable to build; whereas those that have the power to build are unable to destroy.


And that is why the Pasuk adds here "And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse' - to stress that it is G-d, and G-d alone, who is able to perform two opposites (blessings and curses), and nobody else!


Yisrael, the Source of Blessing

"And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you" (Ibid).

R. Bachye, citing the Medrash, explains that a. the rain falls on the merit of Yisrael, and b. that the gentile nations always seem to attain their blessings at the hand of a Jew. Ya'akov blessed Par'oh (that the Nile should rise to greet him), Yosef interpreted Paroh's dream; Daniel did the same for Nevuchadnetzar (and later deciphered the writing on the wall for Beltshatzar). And so on numerous occasions throughout history, when the nations of the world are in trouble, it is to us that they turn for guidance and assistance, and we save them.


Alternatively, he explains, all B'rachos come upon the world via Yisrael. (Similarly, Chazal have said that the blessings of the entire world come via Eretz Yisrael.) In other words, Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael serve as the conduit of B'rachah for the rest of the world.

And that, says R. Bachye, is what the Pasuk in Tehilim means when it says " Praise Him all nations, for His kindness has prevailed upon us".


Midah ke'Neged Midah

"And there was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Egypt"(12:10).

Ma'aseh Ovos, Chazal say (what happened to our forefathers) si'man le'bonim (is a harbinger of what will happen to the children).

Already above (in Pasuk 6) R. Bachye explained that the first place that Avraham (or Avram, as he was then called) set up his tent was between Beis-El and Ai, the area that would be the first to be captured by his descendants upon entering Eretz Yisrael.

Similarly, says the author, when Avraham was forced to leave Eretz Yisrael on account of the heavy famine that confronted him upon his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, virtually everything that happened to him at that time was a reflection of what was destined to take place over two hundred years later, when Ya'akov and his family was forced to go down to Egypt, due to a famine. Par'oh's subsequent efforts to take Sarah failed. In similar vein, the Egyptians' plot to obtain the Jewish girls by drowning all the baby boys fell flat, and just as Sarah remained totally inaccessible to Paroh, so too, did the Jewish girls remain inaccessible to the Egyptians.

Moreover, just as Paroh was plagued, until such time as he let Sarah go, so too, were the Egyptians smitten with plagues until they allowed Yisrael to go free. Even minor details such as the way Sarah and Yisrael were set free was remarkably similar. The Torah records how Paroh sent for Avraham and told him "Here is your wife; Take her and go!" And in the same way, it tells us how Paroh sent for Moshe and Aharon and said to them "Arise and go from the midst of my people!" Regarding Avraham, the Pasuk writes "And Paroh commanded men, who sent him away", and regarding Yisrael " to hurry and send them from the land".

The Torah informs us here, that Avram was "very heavy with cattle with silver and with gold", and there it states "And they asked from the Egyptians silver and golden vessels" (and we know too, from Parshas Bo that they left Egypt with an abundance of sheep and cattle).

And finally, whereas the Torah writes here "and he (Avram) went on his travels", there it writes "And the B'nei Yisrael traveled from Ra'amses to Succos".

* * *


"And I will bless those who bless you (va'Avorchoh mevorchecho), and the one who curses you I will curse (u'Mekalelcho o'or)" (12:3).

The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the Gematriyah of "va'Avorchoh menorchecho" is equivalent to that of 'Kohanim ha'mecvorchim bonecho'; whereas that of "u'Mekalelcho o'or" is equivalent to that of 'Bil'am ha'bo lekalel bonecho'. This explains why the former phrase is written in the plural, and the latter, in the singular! (See also first Parshah Pearl).


"And G-d appeared to Avraham and he built there a Mizbei'ach to the G-d who had appeared to him (la'Hashem ha'nir'eh eilav)" 12:7.

The same word "ha'nir'eh" is used in Parshas Vayishlach (35:1), when G-d appeared to Ya'akov, where the Torah writes "and build there a Mizbei'ach to the G-d who appeared to you (lo'Keil ha'nir'eh eilecho)".

Just as G-d appeared to Avraham as he began his exile, comments the Ba'al ha'Turim, so too, did He appear to Ya'akov as he began his.


"And they separated one from the other. Avram (ish me'al ochiv. Avram )" (13:11/12).

The last letters of the words "ish me'al ochiv Avram spell 'sholom', the Ba'al ha'Turim observes. Sometimes it is through separation that one achieves peace. And the reason for this will become immediately apparent


"Avram dwelt in the land of Cana'an, whereas Lot dwelt in the cities of the plains " (13:12).

The only other occasion where the Pasuk begins with the word "Avram" is in Divrei Hayamim (1:27), "Avram hu Avraham".

Chazal have said that anybody about whom the Torah writes "hu" was a Tzadik from beginning to end. That explains, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, why Avram had to separate from Lot (who, as we know, had become a rasha).


" raise your eyes and see from the location where you are - north, south, east and west" (13:14).

By Ya'akov, observes the Ba'al ha'Turim, G-d changed the order to "west (which the Torah calls "yamah"), east, north and south"?

In this Pasuk, he answers, G-d was showing Avraham the merits of the Korbanos, the most holy of which are Shechted on the north side of the Mizbei'ach; whereas He was showing Ya'akov that it was on his merit that Yisrael were destined to cross the Yam-Suf. Hence, the Ba'al ha'Turim concludes, the Pasuk in Beshalach writes (in connection with the crossing of the Yam-Suf) "And Yisrael saw the Great Hand" - with reference to Yisrael their grandfather!

* * *

(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 425:
To Annihilate the Seven Nations (cont.)

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah Chazal have said that the first battles that the King of Yisrael must fight are those of Milchemes Mitzvah, incorporating those concerning the seven nations, Amalek and defending Yisrael when under attack. Regarding these battles, the king is not obligated to seek permission from the Sanhedrin and the remaining details are explained in various locations.

This Mitzvah applies to both men and women everywhere at all times, whenever we are able to kill them.

The Rambam z.l. writes that one may well believe that this Mitzvah no longer applies, seeing as the seven nations have been destroyed. That is only because they do not fully grasp the difference between Mitzvos that apply in all generations and Mitzvos that don't. Any Mitzvah which does not apply, not because its time has past, is not obsolete. Examples of this are 1. the Mitzvos that applied in the Desert, but not once they arrived in Eretz Yisrael and 2. the Mitzvah of 'Hasovas Nachaloh' (a woman who was destined to inherit, marrying someone from another tribe, so that, when she died, the land that she owned moved across to her husband's tribe), that was confined to the generation of the conquest of Cana'an. But Mitzvos that do not apply simply because the object of the Mitzvah is not available (but not because the Torah attached it to a certain time period) - such as the Mitzvah of destroying the seven nations and of destroying Amalek, the Torah commands us to erase their name and to obliterate them from the world in every generation, whenever they are to be found. And this continues to apply even after having already fulfilled the Mitzvah at the hand of David Hamelech, who wiped out Amalek. He destroyed them as a nation to the point that only a few individuals remained, and those individuals scattered and became absorbed among the nations, their memory lost, and we no longer have the ability to destroy them. This does not fall under the category of a Mitzvah that does not apply nowadays.

Someone who comes across an Amoleki or a Cana'ani, who is able to kill him without endangering himself, but fails to do so, has negated this Mitzvah, besides having transgressed the La'av of "Do not let any soul live", as the author will discuss at the end of Parshas Shoftim (20:16).


Mitzvah 426 :
Not to Grace or to Have Mercy on Gentiles

It is forbidden to take pity on a gentile idolater. We are not allowed to agree with whatever they do - meaning that we should distance from our thoughts, nor should it pass our lips, that anybody who worships idols can provide any benefit, nor should he find favour in our eyes in any way, so that the Gemara in Avodah-Zarah prohibits making a statement as to how good-looking or pleasant so-and-so gentile is. And it is in this regard that the Torah writes in Va'eschanan (7:2) "Do not favour them", which Chazal interpret to mean that one should not credit him with 'Chein', as we just explained. Others interpret the Pasuk to mean that one may not give them free-gifts; Both interpretations stem from the same root.

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