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

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Vol. 23   No. 3

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

Parshas Lech-L'cha

Men of Peace, Men of War

"And Avram heard that his 'brother' was captured; so he mobilized his disciples, the members of his household, three hundred and eighteen men, and he pursued them as far as Dan" (14:14)


Those who would picture the Avos as emaciated, old men, with long white beards and hunched shoulders, would have been mightily surprised to see the aged Avraham Avinu gather his small army (some say that it was only Eliezer his servant - the Gematriyah of whose name is 318) whom he took with him to war, and unhesitatingly attack the combined forces of four mighty kings.


The Avos may well have spent most of their time studying Torah - Ya'akov left the Yeshivah of Shem and Eiver when he was seventy-seven. Yet they were lacking neither in courage nor in strength. Despite their inherent love of peace and abhorrence of warfare, they were perfectly capable of defending themselves when the need arose. They were ready to spring fearlessly and determinedly to the attack at a moment's notice, irrespective of whether it was their own lives that were under threat or the lives or honour of those that they felt duty-bound to protect.


And they would be even more surprised to have witnessed Avraham's success against the numerically far superior army, which he totally decimated. Nor were his prompt actions a spontaneous act of wanton bravado, performed by a man who did not know how to wield a sword or shoot a bow, in which he bravely risked his life to rescue his hapless nephew and brother-in-law, fighting a battle which he won by a fluke. Not at all!

In fact, Avraham Ovinu was a superman, whose fighting ability matched his indomitable spirit and boundless courage. And we can understand how the Avos obtained this amazing ability in the following way


The Avos were imbued with Torah knowledge and Torah philosophy to the extent that Torah dominated their every thought and action at all times. They trained their bodies to respond instinctively to any situation, based solely upon those bases, to the point that their physical and spiritual beings merged into one, and to the point that everything they ever did was performed solely in the service of their Creator.

And their Creator reacted, measure for measure, by blessing their every endeavor with success. That is why they succeeded with distinction in their every venture and why they distinguished themselves even in the most extenuating circumstances.


This is what the Navi Yeshayah means when he writes that "Those who hope for Hashem will 'exchange' strength", by which he means that their physical strength will be replaced with a Divinely inspired one, empowering them to achieve what would otherwise be impossible. Hence we find, for example, Ya'akov overpowering an angel and Aharon waving twenty-two thousand Levi'im (one after the other).


The story is told of the leaders of the Reform Movement of Brisk, who presented a play based on the Parshah in Shoftim with regard to the Jewish army before going into battle. With the intention of mocking Torah in general and the Torah sages in particular, the play depicted a scene at the battle-front, where groups of soldiers left the camp because they were betrothed, had built houses or planted vineyards. And it showed how, following the announcement that whoever was afraid of his sins should leave, all the remaining soldiers took leave - with the exception of the three Torah giants of Brisk - three old men with white-beards, with bent backs, hobbling along with sticks in hand. The play was the subject of much mirth and laughter among the reformers.

When the Torah sages heard about the play, they too, commended the organizers for a fine performance. They criticized them however, for not putting on the last act - that the three Ga'onim went to war - and routed the enemy!

* * *

The B'ris Milah
(Adapted from the 'Yalkut Yitzchak')

Why the Mitzvah of Milah?

G-d gave signs to the Kosher animals, bird and fish to distinguish them from their non-Kosher counterparts (see Parshas Shemini). In the same way, says the Nachalas Binyamin, he placed a mark of distinction on Avraham Avinu and his descendants, the Kosher nation that chose to go in his ways.


The Tanchumah, however, explains that G-d did not give the Mitzvah to Adam ha'Rishon, because for Adam to have to perfect himself (the essence of the Mitzvah) would have required G-d to create him imperfect. And that is logically impossible, as since G-d is perfect, it follows that His creations had to be perfect too.


So why did He not then give the Mitzvah to Adam
to pass on to His children?

Because He foresaw that in the generation of the Mabul, it would fall into disrepute, and would need to be re-instated afterwards. He therefore preferred to wait until after the Flood and to then command it to Avraham Avinu.

Alternatively, prior to Avraham, even the Tzadikim of the caliber of Adam, Chanoch, No'ach and Shem did not live up to the principles that the B'ris Milah embodies, or at least they failed ro pass them on to their children. The first person to both implement them and pass them on to his children was Avraham Avinu - as the Pasuk indicates in Vayeira (18:19).


If G-d wanted Yisrael to have the B'ris Milah,
why did He not create them already circumcised?

This is the very question that Turnusrufus (a Roman dignitary) asked Rabbi Akiva, who replied that most people don't eat raw kernels - G-d created them raw for man to perfect. And just as He left man to perfect his material needs, so too, did He leave him room to perfect himself spiritually - a concept that is hinted in the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah (Korban Eliyahu).


Another answer offered by the Nachalas Binyamin is - had G-d created all Jews (exclusively) circumcised (besides clashing with the principle that the world takes its normal course and does not run on miracles), it would have encouraged belief in two gods - one who created Jews, the other gentiles. Another possible answer is based on the sensitivities of converts. Imagine their embarrassment once they got to know that they were circumcised by man whereas those who were born Jews were circumcised by G-d Himself.


Why did Avraham not perform the B'ris Milah before G-d commanded him - at the age of ninety-nine?

1. Because a Mitzvah that one is commanded to perform is greater than one that one volunteers. So, bearing in mind that B'ris Milah can only be performed once, he waited until G-d commanded him to perform it (Eizor Eiyahu).

2. The Megaleh Amukos explains that the birth of Yitzchak atoned for the three evil generations - that of the Mabul, of Enosh & of the Haflagah, the first letters of which spell 'Me'ah' (a hundred). Avraham, not yet aware that Yitzchak would be born then, planned to perform the B'ris Milah when he turned a hundred. G-d however, instructed him to circumcise one year earlier, so the birth of Yitzchak should achieve the atonement.

* * *

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