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

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Vol. 9   No. 4

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Chayim Mordechai ben ha'Rav Yisrael Ezriiel
al yedeimishpachto

Parshas Va'yeira

The Mitzvah of the B'ris Milah
(Part 2)
The Great Sacrifice

According to the Medrash, Rabeinu Bachye writes, the Mitzvah of Milah is compared to a Korban. Bearing in mind that a Korban is a sacrifice, one can conceive few greater sacrifices than offering one's new-born baby to be wounded in honour of his G-d. Indeed, there are a number of similarities between the two. B'ris Milah, like Korbanos, atones; the Mitzvah is performed on the eighth day, just like a Korban, that can only be brought when the animal is eight days old. And in the same way as it is a Mitzvah to eat the Korbanos, so too is it a Mitzvah to make a Se'udas B'ris, as we learn from Avraham Avinu.

As a matter of fact, he adds, the Bris Milah is more consequential than a Korban, since it is performed with the body, whereas a Korban is only brought with one's money.

Moreover, one performs the Mitzvah with the limb that Chazal refer to as the head (leader) of the body ('Rosh ha'Geviyah'), because the nervous system of all the other limbs is attached to it. That is why, he says, it is compared to the Akeidah (as if one had bound oneself before Hashem [like Yitzchak]) and to bringing G-d a sacrifice, as the Pasuk writes in Tehilim "those who cut the covenant on the sacrifice".


The comparison of the Milah to a Korban has many ramifications. It even has a source in the Torah, for the acronym of 'Mizbei'ach' forms the first letters of 'Milah Z'manah be'Yom Ches'. The Zohar bases the Minhag to place the Orlah in a container with earth on the fact that when a Jew brings his son for this particular sacrifice, it is as if he had brought all the sacrifices. Presumably, this in turn, is connected with the fact that the Torah refers to the Mizbei'ach as ''Mizbach Adamah'' ('a Mizbei'ach of earth', Sh'mos 20:21).

And the reason that one declines to appoint the same person as Sandek (the person who holds the baby during the B'ris) for more than one of one's sons, the Mateh Mosheh explains, is because the Sandek's legs are compared to the Mizbei'ach on which the Ketores is being brought. That being the case, the Sandeka'us, like the Ketores, is a Segulah (a means) to wealth. And like the Ketores, one does not give the same person the Mitzvah twice, so as not to deprive others of the opportunity of attaining wealth.


The Ba'al ha'Dibros writes that the Minhag for the father to stand beside his son for the duration of the B'ris is due to the fact that the B'ris Milah is compared to a Korban. Both are based on the Takanah of the early Nevi'im, who instituted the 'Ma'amad' (that a group of people would be appointed to stand by the Korban Tamid each day as representatives of the people, on whose behalf the Korban was being sacrificed). It is not correct, Chazal explain, for the owner of a Korban to be brought when the owner is not present.

And in the same way, it is not correct for a father to donate such a precious Korban, and then to bring it before G-d in abstentia.


Perhaps the Se'udas B'ris is also the result of the comparison of the B'ris Milah to a Korban. Because, Chazal have taught, the day that one brings a Korban is considered a personal Yom-tov. Consequently, the Se'udas B'ris too, is considered a Se'udas Yom-tov.


One of the reasons given that Milah in its right time overrides Shabbos, is in turn, based on the reason that Shabbos takes precedence over most Mitzvos - because to perform them at Shabbos' expense would contravene the 'Sign' of Shabbos. Not so the Mitzvah of Milah, which is itself a 'Sign' (Nachalas Binyamin).

It seems to me however that, if Milah is considered a Korban, then it only natural that it should override Shabbos, just like all Korbanos whose time is fixed, override Shabbos.


Eliyahu the Zealous

The reason that we place a chair for Eliyahu ha'Navi is based on the Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer, who relates how an evil decree was issued in his days not to perform the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah. That is what caused Eliyahu in his zealousness, to run away to the cave. And when Hashem asked him what he was doing there, he replied that he was zealous on behalf of his G-d, because they had annulled the Covenant. To which Hashem replied 'By your life, you were zealous on account of the Milah. Therefore, whenever they perform it, you will attend the B'ris and attest to the fact that they kept the Mitzvah. And that is the reason that one places a special chair for the Angel whose name is Eliyahu ... '.


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
The Covenant of the Milah

"Nimolu Ito ... Vayeiro eilav" (17:27 - 18:1).

The juxtaposition of these two phrases teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that G-d came to visit Avraham (not just because he was sick - one of the branches of chesed that we learn directly from Him - but also) because of the B'ris Milah. It is the covenant of the Milah that brings us close to G-d, and that grants us direct communication with Him.


No Gehinom for the Circumcised

"And he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day ('ke'chom ha'yom')" ibid. This phrase appears four times in T'nach - 1. Here; 2. "ke'chom ha'yom" (Shmuel [I] 11:9); 3. "ke'chom tzach alei or" (Yeshayah 18:4); 4. " ... ke'chom ha'yom el beis Ish boshes" (Shmuel [2] 4:5).

Chazal have taught that Avraham sits at the entrance to Gehinom, and does not allow anyone who is circumcised to enter, except for someone who had relations with a gentile woman, 'whose orlah is stretched and whom he therefore does not recognise'.

And this is hinted in the mesorah of these four Pesukim, says the Ba'al ha'Turim: "ve'hu yoshev pesach ho'ohel ke'chom ha'yom" - Avraham sits at the entrance to Gehinom and prevents anyone who has had B'ris Milah from entering (only) ("ke'chom tzach) alei or" - (he will enter) Gan Eiden (which is called "an everlasting light"). However, (" ... ke'chom ha'yom el beis) Ish boshes" - a man of shame (someone who had relations with a gentile woman) "ke'chom ha'yom" - he will enter Gehinom (because Avraham will not recognise him).


The Three Greats

"Va'yar ve'Hinei" ('And behold three angels' - 18:2).

The numerical value of "Va'yar ve'Hinei", the Ba'al ha'Turim comments, is equivalent to that of "Eilu Micha'el, Gavriel u'Refa'el".

Now guess the names of the three angels who came to visit Avraham.


The significance of these three angels in particular is based on the respective missions that they were sent to carry out. Refael came to cure Avraham (and then to save Lot), Micha'el (the Guardian Angel of Yisrael) came to give Avraham the good news that Sarah would bear him a child one year later, and Gavriel came to overturn S'dom. The link between the characteristics of each angel (Rachamim, Chesed, and Din, respectively) and his mission is self-explanatory.


The Ox and the Cave

"ve'El ha'bokor rotz Avraham" ('And Avraham ran to the cattle' 18:7).

The numerical value of "ve'El ha'bakar ratz" is equivalent to that of 'la'me'oroh rotz' ('he ran to the cave'). And not only that, comments the Ba'al ha'Turim, but the very letters of "ha'bokor" can also read "ha'kever", in which case the Pasuk will read 'And Avraham ran to the grave'.

Which cave and which grave, one may well ask?

The Medrash teaches us that when Avraham went to take a bull from the herd, it ran away. When he gave chase, it led him to the Me'aras ha'Machpeilah (the cave and the grave about which we are speaking). And that explains how Avraham (at the beginning of Chayei Sarah) knew about the Me'aras ha'Machpeilah.


Good Manners

"va'Yomru Eilav, ayei Sarah ishtecha?" (18:9).

In western society, it is considered bad manners to speak whilst eating.

Chazal take it more seriously still. They prohibit speaking during a meal, in case one chokes over one's food. And this is clearly hinted in this Pasuk, the Ba'al ha'Turim points out; "And they ate ... and they said to him ... ". Even though they had an important message to deliver, they ate first and then they spoke.


Incidentally, when Eliezer had an important message to fulfill, he refused to eat until he had delivered it.

Perhaps that was the right thing to do. The angels however, ate first, because they did not wish to insult Avraham, who had already served them a meal, or because they did not wish to decline his request to be seated and eat (in keeping with the principle 'One does not refuse a great man').

Or maybe, in the case of Eliezer, it was simply a matter of Divine protection. It was Hashem who put into his head to refuse to eat immediately, even though the meal was already served, because whilst he was speaking, the angel exchanged the plate that contained his poisoned food with that of Besuel, saving his life. Had he sat down to eat when they asked him to, he would have died. (Refer to 'The Great Plot', Parshah Pearls, next week).


Chazal have also taught that it is good manners to enquire from his host about the well-being of his wife, and from his hostess about the well-being of her husband (as Rashi explains here). This too, is hinted in the Torah here, as the numerical value of "va'Yomru Eilov ... " is equivalent to that of 'Omru eilehah, ayo' ('They said to her, where is he?').


The Cries of a Girl

" ... za'akas S'dom va'Amorah ki roboh" ('the cries of S'dom and Amorah are great') 18:20.

The numerical value of the words "ki roboh" is equivalent to that of 'be'chet riyvah' ('for the sin done to the girl'), says the Ba'al ha'Turim. This conforms with Rashi, who explains that the final decree to overturn S'dom was the result of a young girl (the daughter of Lot) whom they tortured to death for providing a poor man with food.


Dust and Ashes

"And I am dust and ashes" (18:27).

From here, say Chazal, Avraham's descendants merited the dust of the Sotah and the ashes of the Parah Adumah (Sotah 17a).

And this is hinted in the words "dust" - 'ofor,' whose numerical value equals that of 'le'Sotah', and "ashes" - 've'Eifer', which equals that of 'be'Parah'.

This phrase epitomizes Avraham's humility, indeed the humility of all Jewish leaders (see Rashi Devarim 7:7).

The Gemara in Sotah explains how the dust of the Sotah and the ashes of the Parah (as opposed to the dust of Kisuy ha'dam) are a source of benefit to Yisrael (the former, because it creates shalom bayis, reduces the incidence of mamzeirim and even results in childbirth, should the woman be innocent of the actual sin of adultery - despite her having sinned; the latter, because it is the source of purity and atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, granting life instead of death [Rashi]).

These are the fruits of humility!


Part 2
(adapted from the Chochmas Adam)

10. Chazal stated a major principle with regard to Shevi'is. Whatever is food for either humans or animals, or a kind of dye, if it does not remain in the ground, it and its value (the money with which it is purchased) are subject to both Sh'mitah and Biy'ur. This includes for example, the leaves of a wild luf [a species of onions] and of mint, and andives (human food), various types of thorns and thistles (animal food) and the plant 'Istis' (which produces indigo dye) or 'Kotzeh' (which produces a red dye).


11. Whereas any of the three categories of plants which do remain in the ground, it and its value are subject to Sh'mitah but not to Biy'ur. And this includes for example, the main plant of a wild 'luf' and of mint. They may be eaten or used as dyes on an ongoing basis.


12. Pomegranate peels and fluff, nut-shells and fruit-pits, which are only fit to be used as fuel, are subject to Sh'mitah, due to the fact that the main fruit is fit to eat, but not to Biy'ur, since they themselves are not edible. However, pits that are fit for dyeing, for animal food or to produce oil, are subject to Biy'ur as well. The branches of a sperling tree or of a carob-tree are subject to Shevi'is and Biy'ur, and so is their value. The branches of an oak-tree, of a pistachio-tree and of a thorn-bush, are subject to Shevi'is but not to Biy'ur, and the same applies to their value.


13. Rose-bushes, cypress-trees (or a spice known as 'grufuli') and a chestnut-tree (the former two of which are grown for their fragrance) are subject both to Shevi'is and to Biy'ur. The sap that comes from a balsam-tree, from the leaves and from the roots is not subject to Shevi'is. But that which comes from young figs is subject to Shevi'is and so is its value.

The sap that comes from the leaves and the roots of a non-fruit-bearing tree however, is subject to Shevi'is (whenever its non-edible fruit is), and so is its value.


14. If someone pickles three different species in a barrel, each species must be treated individually regarding Biy'ur. Consequently, the moment one of the species is no longer to be found in the field, the owner must fulfil the Mitzvah of Biy'ur with that species, and the remaining species will be permitted. And if he began to perform Biy'ur with one of the species, it is as if he completed it, and the rest is permitted (see Biynas Adam).


15. If fruit of Shevi'is has been pickled in oil or wine of the sixth year, one removes the fruit when the time of Biy'ur arrives, and the oil and wine must be eaten with Kedushas Shevi'is, but do not require Biy'ur. If however, it is pickled in oil or wine of the eighth year, then, when the time of Biy'ur arrives, one must make Biy'ur on the oil and the wine as well. According to the Rambam however, the wine and the oil in which the Sh'mitah-fruit is pickled, always requires Biy'ur, provided that is, that the fruit adds taste to the mixture (see para. 18). The Rambam will concede however, that a Sh'mitah-rose does not forbid the oil in which it has been pickled, because mature oil does not absorb the taste of a fresh rose.


16. Just as human food requires Biy'ur, so too, does animal food. Consequently, once a particular species of animal food is no longer available in the fields, it is forbidden to feed it to one's animals before having performed the Mitzvah of Biy'ur with it.


17. And just as Sh'mitah-produce requires Biy'ur, so too, does the Damim. Suppose for example, someone still has the money that he received for the sale of Sh'mitah pomegranates, and the time arrives when there are no more pomegranate on the trees, he is obligated to perform the Mitzvah of Biy'ur on the money. This entails, either buying food with the money and distributing it, not more than three meals per person, or throwing it into the Yam ha'Melach (where it will soon lose its form and disintegrate).


18. If Sh'mitah-fruit became mixed-up with other fruit of the same species, then the smallest amount renders the entire mixture forbidden. But if it became mixed-up in a different species, then the mixture will become forbidden if it adds taste to the mixture (which is normally assumed to be more than one in sixty). According to the Rambam, it makes no difference whether it is before Biy'ur or after Biy'ur. The Ra'avad however, establishes it specifically after the time of Biy'ur; before that, even if it became mixed up in the same kind as itself, it will be permitted if the Isur does not give taste to the mixture.


19. Even though 'finished from the field' is not applicable to oil and wine, nevertheless, it seems to me (says the Chayei Adam), that they are subject to Biy'ur (when there are no olives or grapes [respectively] to be found in the fields).


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