Vol. 7 No. 4
Chinuch, The Torah Way
When Soroh advised Avrohom to banish Hogor from the house, together with Yishmo'el, he hesitated, until Hashem corroborated her advice, telling Avrohom "all that Soroh tells you, listen to her" (21:12 - for as Chazal point out, Soroh was superior to Avrohom with regard to prophecy).
There is no doubt, explains the Chofetz Chayim, that, had Yishmo'el been educated together with Yitzchok, he would not have turned out to be the "wild man" that he eventually became. The environment would certainly have influenced him, and he would have grown up to become a better person for it. That clearly, was the reasoning behind Avrohom's hesitation.
Soroh however, understood the spiritual danger that Yitzchok faced in Yishmo'el's company, and so she decided that, for the sake of her only son's spiritual advancement, it was necessary to forfeit the chinuch of the unworthy son who would influence him adversely. And G-d Himself corroborated her views - Yishmo'el had to go!
The Chofetz Chayim explains this beautifully: 'When you pour hot water onto cold,' he says, 'you end up with luke-warm water' (and chinuch, like yiddishkeit, must be hot, not luke-warm).
By the same token, the Chofetz Chayim maintained that one should not enter into discussions on religious issues with the irreligious. One is always certain that one will convince the other disputant, but what guarantee is there that it is not the other disputant who will do the convincing, fully, or at least in part?
'The deeds of the fathers are an omen for the children', and we must learn from them how to act in our own individual situations. Parents, when choosing a school for their children, must place top priority upon sending them to schools where the observance of the other children is compatible with the level that they would wish for their own children. No-one can of course deny that there is great merit in teaching Torah to children from less religious backgrounds; after all, they are Jews too, driven by the same obligation to study Toah as their more religious-orientated contemporaries. But that does not authorise parents to compromise their own children's chinuch by one iota.
It is exactly as the Chofetz Chayim writes - the Torah's standpoint is clear. Yitzchok might have brought tremendous influence to bear upon Yishmo'el. He might have transformed him into a better person - that was Avrohom Ovinu's initial dilemma. But then, it might well have been the other way round. It might have been Yishmo'el who influenced Yitzchok. That was Soroh's concern - or they might have influenced each other slightly, till Yishmo'el improved a little, and Yitzchok deteriorated a little (the Chofetz Chayim’s analogy to luke-warm water). This issue might well have been debatable had the Torah not made its decision known - chinuch has to be of the highest possible standard, and one has no right to deprive one child of it, for the sake of another. Nor may one risk the 'good' child, using the vain argument that he will influence the 'bad' one, for, as Soroh taught us, there is just as much likelihood that it is the 'bad' child who will influence the 'good one' one, or that they will both influence each other, as we just explained.
And that decision is as binding upon the educators as it is upon the parents, when they are faced with the dilemma of retaining a wayward pupil who is disturbing the other pupils, knowing full-well that, should they dispel him, he is likely to attend a less religious school and deteriorate still further. It is a heart-breaking dilemma for any sincere mechanech.
In fact, the decision was made almost 4000 years ago by Soroh Imeinu, and corroborated by G-d Himself. It is no longer a dilemma!
We have assumed, throughout our discussion, that taking a tough line on the wayward child is as much to his detriment as it is advantageous to the 'good' child. In fact, this may be the case in the short-term, but not necessarily in the long. And a case in point is the very one that we are discussing. Yishmo'el in fact, did teshuvah later on in life, and it is more than likely that it was his harsh treatment, the fact that his father banished him, that eventually brought him to his senses.
Take in contrast, Yismo'el's nephew Eisov, who was favoured by his father Yitzchok, and who, as a result, never experienced the heavy hand that might have transformed him. He never mended his ways. He died the same rosho as he had lived.
Let the last word go to Shlomoh ha'Melech, who wrote in Mishlei (13:24) 'Spare the rod and spoil the child'.
(Adapted from the Seifer P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)
"And G-d appeared to him in the plains of Mamrei" (18:1).
Specifically in the plains of his associate Mamrei, Rashi explains, because he was the one to advise Avrohom to go ahead and perform the Bris Milah in the first place.
Now why should Avrohom need the advice of Mamrei to carry out the instructions of Hashem, asks the Gro?
The people of that time, he explains, practised religions that made heavy demands of them. Among other things, they were expected to burn their children in fire. And it was against such a background that Avrohom would preach in the name of G-d, a religion of lovingkindness. He urged them to believe in the one G-d who made no demands of them other than that they live as decent human-beings, by adhering to a code of conduct based on the seven mitzvos that G-d had commanded No'ach. Killing and maiming, he claimed, were barbaric, and were not part of the ritual that comprised G-d-worship.
And now all of a sudden, he himself was about to fulfill a mitzvah which entailed mutilating his own body and that of his children. He stood to lose his credibility among the numerous followers whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechinah. All the acts of chesed that he had performed and would perform, were about to come to an end in one stroke!
That explains why he turned to his three friends for their advice, and that explains why two of them, Oner and Eshkol, advised him to desist (because his life's work was more important than one mitzvah - who knows, perhaps that also explains why he had delayed the mitzvah of milah until then, not performing it even without being commanded, like he performed all the other mitzvos without being commanded).
But it was Mamrei whose sound advice he ultimately followed! If G-d said to perform the Bris Milah, then he would perform the Bris Milah, because it is nobody's business to query G-d's commands. And that explains why, after the Bris Milah, G-d appeared to him in the plains of Mamrei.
Know How to Answer
Based on the above explanation, the Gro explains a dialogue between the Sotton and Avrohom as the latter made his way to the Akeidoh: 'See what you are about to lose by performing this Akeidoh', the Sotton said to Avrohom. 'Because until now, members of other faiths were weak in their own beliefs. But when you explained to them that that is not the way to serve G-d, you fortified them. You strengthened the knees of those whom other religions bent.
But now that you have been commanded to slaughter your only son, your testimony will be rendered worthless.'
'In spite of your words,' Avrohom replied 'I have been commanded by G-d, and that is what I shall do.'
'You are making a mistake,' replied the Sotton. 'G-d cannot have spoken to you. Because who has ever heard of an innocent person having to die?'
'That does not worry me,' concluded Avrohom, 'because I walk in faith, and I do not query His commands."
The Power of Tzedokoh
"And he planted an orchard in Be'er Sheva" (21:37). Others translate "eishel" as a guest-house, which Avrohom set up for weary travellers.
The Medrash Tehilim explains that "eishel" is the acronym of Achilah, Sh'siyah, Linah (to eat, to drink and to stay overnight).
A story is told of a philanthopist who not only gave a lot of charity, but who would take in guests in a big way. He was exceptionally wealthy, and it happened once that his house burnt down.
When they asked Reb Chayim from Volozhin (some say that it was the Gro that they asked) why such a calamity should befall such a worthy man – and how it was possible that the house which was instrumental in the performance of so many mitzvos should be the object of his suffering? - he replied that he used to give his guests food (Achilah) and drink (Sh'siyah) but not places to stay overnight, thereby transforming the word "eishel" into 'eish' (fire).
The question remains however, why a person who performed so much tzedokoh should lose his house - just for not performing the mitzvah of linah?
This the Gaon explained in the following manner: Such is the power of tzedokoh, that it saves the person who has sinned from the fires of Gehinom and transfers the punishments to this world, where the fire is only one sixtieth of the fire of Gehinom and where the pain is far less intense.
And such is the power of tzedokoh, one may add, that, if it is performed to completion, (Achilah, Sh'siyah and Linah) then even that kaporah is rendered unnecessary.
On The Third Day
"On the third day, and Avrohom raised his eyes and he saw the place from afar" (22:4).
The Medrash Rabah quotes a posuk in Hoshei'a (6:2): "He will give us life from two days; on the third day He will establish us and we will live before Him".
The Gro explains this Medrash with the Gemoro in Chullin (142a), which states that there is no reward for mitzvos in this world. The reason for this, says the Gro, is because each and every mitzvah is in essence spiritual. Consequently, the world together with everything in it, which is only material, cannot possibly pay for even one mitzvah, since it is of inferior stock, as Chazal have said in Pirkei Ovos (4:17) "One hour of satisfaction in the World to Come outweighs all of life in this world".
In that case, one may well ask, how is it that we feed on the merits of the mitzvos that our forefathers performed?
The answer is that it is only the mitzvos themselves that cannot be paid in this world. The merits that we benefit from the deeds of our forefathers are not for the actual performance of the mitzvos, but for the extra effort that they put into them - the keenness and the alacrity, the beautification of the mitzvos and so on – the accessories which are payable in this world.
The Torah therefore, makes a point of informing us, not only that Avrohom carried out the Akeidoh to the letter, but also the amount of effort and preparation that he put into it prior to the actual mitzvah - that he got up early, that he himself saddled his ass, that he chopped wood ... to teach us that that is what feeds us the tremendous rewards that we reap in this world - to this day. The main reward for the actual mitzvah is not payable in this world, as we just explained. It is reserved for us for the World to Come.
And that is what the Medrash means when it quotes the possuk in Hoshei'a, explains the Gro. "All that we enjoy in this life from the actions of Avrohom at the Akeidoh, is from what he performed during the first two days, in preparation for the great mitzvah. But whay he performed on the third day, the Akeidoh itself, Hashem will establish for the World to Come, when we will live before Him.
Emes ve'Yatziv (cont.)
The b'rochoh of Emes ve'yatziv is divided into three sections: 1) 'Emes ve'yatziv'; 2) 'Al ho'rishonim'; 3) 'Ezras avoseinu'. Each section seems to increase its allusion to the geulah, until the final section cites many details of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim and Keri'as Yam-Suf, culminating in the b'rochoh 'go'al Yisroel' followed by the Amidoh. Indeed, Chazal have taught us the importance of placing the geulah and tefilah in close juxtaposition.
Each of the three sections contains the word 'emes' twice, and the Besomim Rosh, quoting R. Chayim Vi'tal, explains how this corresponds to the six times that 'emes' is hidden in the last letters of three consecutive words in the opening parshah of the creation (1. 'Boro Elokim es'; 2. 'Va'yar Elokim es'; 3. 'Vayivro Elokim es'; 4. 'Boro Elokim es'; 5. Va'yar Elokim es'; 6. 'Boro Elokim la'asos) because 'emes (truth) is G-d's seal' (Shabbos 55a), and to teach us that the world was created with emes.
Perhaps mention of these issues also helps fortify our faith in the coming of Moshi'ach, who will come and redeem us the moment the time is ripe.
The Eitz Yosef explains that 'emes' is G-d's seal because, not only are its letters the epitome of stability, since each letter stands on a broad base - the aleph, the mem and the taf - but they are placed stably (like a tripod) - the aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, the mem, the middle letter and the taf, the last letter. And it also demonstrates that G-d is the first, He will be the last, and that there is none like Him - in the present.
Ve'tov, Ve'yofeh Ha'dovor Ha'zeh
It is not at first clear to what 'ha'dovor ha'zeh' refers - indeed, to what all the sixteen adjectives refer. Tosfos in B'rochos (12a) writes that 'emes ve'yatziv' etc. refers not to the Shechinah ('Hashem Elokeichem') but to 'ha'dovor ha'zeh'. He does not however, explain what ha'dovor ha'zeh' is referring to.
It seems to me however, that it refers to the last possuk of the Shema. What we are in fact saying is, how acceptable it is to us that G-d took us out of Egypt to be our G-d. This explanation will also help to place the whole paragraph into its correct perspective. For if it is not talking about the ge'ulah from Egypt, then what is it doing in the b'rochoh of 'emes ve'yatziv', which is clearly a b'rochoh on the ge'ulah. In addition, it is customary for the commencing words of a b'rochoh to resemble its conclusion (and the b’rochoh concludes ‘go’al Yisrael’ – ‘who redeemed Yisrael’) . It is only if 'Emes ve'yatziv' refers directly to the Yetzi'as Mitzrayim mentioned in the Shema that these difficulties are resolved. And it will also explain as to why Chazal have said that one should not interrupt between the last parshah of the Shema and 'emes ve'yatziv' because the latter is truly a continuation of the former, not an independent entity.
In the Parshas Noach edition we wrote in the main article 'Consequently, the Gemoro concludes that Yefes must have been the youngest, and the order of birth was Yefes, Chom and Shem'. This should have read 'Shem must have been the youngest'.
On page 3 we wrote the year of Shem's death as 2258 - this should have been 2158. We thank the readers who pointed this out.
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