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

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Vol. 12   No. 4

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Parshas Vayeira

Mamrei Got It Right

Rashi explains that G-d appeared to Avraham specifically in Mamrei's territory, as a reward for advising Avraham about the B'ris Milah. The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos finds it rather surprising that Avraham, who passed all ten tests without consulting anybody, should find it necessary to consult Mamrei whether or not to go ahead with the very first Mitzvah that he was commanded.

And he replies that it was not whether to perform the Mitzvah or not that he asked Mamrei, but on details of how to perform it. And he offers three possible ways to explain Avraham's dilemma - 1. Whether he should perform the Mitzvah privately or in public; 2. On which part of the body to perform it; 3. How to persuade the members of his household, who were not too keen, to go ahead with it.

In the first case, Mamrei advised him to perform it publicly, so that others would follow suit. That is why the Torah records (17:23) "On this very day Avraham circumcised" (see Rashi there). In the second case, he advised him to circumcise on the part of the body which distinguishes between a man and a woman, as hinted in G-d's instructions (17:10) "Circumcise for yourselves all males".

And in the third case, after Aner and Eshkol had been at a loss what to answer, Mamrei advised him to first circumcise himself and Yishmael, after which he would have no trouble in convincing the members of his household to follow suit. That is why the Torah writes first that Avraham and Yishmael were circumcised, and then that all the members of his household were circumcised with him.


The G'ro accepts the Da'as Zekeinim M.T.'s original understanding of the Pasuk (the very one that the Da'as Zekeinim himself rejected), which he explains as follows.

Avraham, he said, placed tremendous importance on bringing people under the wings of the Shechinah for the sake of Heaven. He saw this as his life's greatest achievement, and Hashem blessed his endeavours with much success, as the Torah testifies "and the souls that he made in Charan" (see Unklus, Bereishis 12:5). And his success had much to do with the fact that the gentiles of that time practised a religion that was harsh and demanding; they would sacrifice their sons and daughters to their gods. Avraham preached that there was One G-d, and he succeeded in getting his message across, because His demands were easy - to believe in Him and observe the seven mitzvos, a task that was well within the reach of any average person. Maiming and killing were just not part of Hashem's agenda.


And now all of a sudden, when Avraham had reached the age of ninety-nine, G-d asked him to cut his foreskin, his own as well as that of every child that would be born in his household at the age of eight days. Avraham was afraid that all his teachings would go up in smoke. It seemed to him that now, people would stop coming to him to convert, since Hashem's demands on them no longer differed much from those of their own gods. Not only that, but he would become a laughing-stock in the eyes of the world, whose standards, that he had until then rejected, he now adopted. He would be branded a hypocrite.

That is why he consulted his friends, two of whom, Aner and Eshkol, considered his fears justified, and advised him to ignore the command to circumcise. Only Mamrei advised him not to rebel against the word of G-d, that the Divine command supercedes everything; yes everything!


And it is in this vein that the G'ro explains a Yalkut in the Parshah of the Akeidah. The Yalkut, commenting on a Pasuk in Iyov (4:2-7), describes how, when Avraham went to perform the Akeidah, the Satan met him, and warned him that offering his own son as a sacrifice to his G-d would be considered an act of hypocracy, and he would lose adherents.

When Avraham replied that his concern was to fulfill the will of G-d, and not to worry about the outcome, the Satan tried to convince him that he must have made a mistake. It could not possibly have been G-d who issued him with such instructions, he argued. In fact, it must have been the Satan! But Avraham remained firm. A Navi has no doubts about his prophesy, and he knew that it was G-d, and not the Satan, who had spoken to him. So he continued on his way, convinced in the knowledge that he was doing the will of G-d. As for the outcome, it was simply not his business.


Mamrei taught Avraham that the will of G-d overrides everything, not only one's physical life (which Avraham already knew and had demonstrated practically), but even one's spiritual ideals and ideologies, even if the Divine Will appears to clash with everything that one has ever learned and taught). No matter that one's entire spiritual world will crash, or that one will become a hypocrite in the eyes of the whole world. The will of G-d takes precedence. Mamrei taught Avraham a lesson that many others failed to appreciate, including Adam before him, who contravened G-d's command in order to grow spiritually, and Aharon after him, who would do the same in order to save K'lal Yisrael.

No wonder then, that the same G-d whose honor Mamrei was upholding, appeared to Avraham in his territory!

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Divrei Chochmah)

Tit for Tat

"Shall I hide from Avraham that what I am about to do? ... in order to bring on Avraham that which He spoke about him" (18:17/19).

What is the connection between the overturning of S'dom and G-d's promise to do to Avraham what He promised him, asks the K'sav Sofer?

And he answers with the famous adage 'Ma'aseh Avos Si'man le'Banim' (What happened to the fathers is a precursor of what will happen to the children).

Seen in this light, the Pasuk now refers to Yisrael's inheritance of Eretz Yisrael. When G-d would come to give Eretz Yisrael to K'lal Yisrael, the Satan would argue that it was not to people like these to whom the land was promised, since their sinful deeds rendered them unworthy of inheriting it. G-d would then answer him that He merely took His cue from their father Avraham, who prayed for S'dom's salvation. Now S'dom in its heyday was far more evil than Yisrael were at the time that they entered the land, yet Avraham pleaded that the presence of ten Tzadikim should suffice to save them from extinction. Surely then, the same treatment ought to be given to his descendents to earn them the merit of inheriting Eretz Yisrael. And there were certainly more than ten Tzadikim in Yisrael at that time.

That is what the Pasuk means when it writes "in order to bring on Avraham that which he spoke about it" (i.e. about S'dom that is mentioned just before these Pesukim).

In effect, G-d informed Avraham of his intention to destroy S'dom in the knowledge that, later in history, it would pay handsome dividends.


Freewill and Choice

"And Avraham approached (G-d) and said 'Will You in Your anger destroy the Tzadikim together with the Resha'im? Perhaps there are fifty Tzadikim in the midst of the city ... '? And G-d replied 'If I will find fifty Tzadikim in the city, I will pardon the entire place because of them' " (18:23-26).

How is it possible for G-d, who knows all the thoughts of all His creatures, to speak in terms of "If I will find"? Would it not have been more appropriate for Him to say 'If there are fifty Tzadikim ... ', in response to Avraham's request? Furthermore, why 'beat around the bush', raising Avraham's hopes to believe that there was the faintest chance to save S'dom, allowing him to continue with his futile requests? Why did He not inform Avraham immediately that unfortunately, there were not even ten Tzadikim in S'dom, sparing him the multiple frustration of having his requests turned down again and again?


R. Yosef Chayim answers these questions with the well-known principle that having granted us the freedom of choice, G-d always contends with the option of Teshuvah, behaving Kevayachol, as if He does not know what we will choose (as the Mishnah teaches us in Pirkei Avos (3:15) 'Everything is foreseen, yet the right to choose is granted'.

At any given moment, a Rasha has the option of doing Teshuvah, as we learned in Kidushin (49b) 'If someone betroths a woman on condition that he is a Tzadik, even if he is a complete Rasha, she is (Safek) mekudeshes; due to the possibility that perhaps he did Teshuvah in his heart'. Based on the above combination, it would have been futile for G-d to have told Avraham how many Tzadikim there were or were not. What was important was not how many Tzadikim there were at that moment, but how many Tzadikim there would be when the time came to destroy S'dom, something which G-d, Kevayachol, chose not to know in advance.


No Laughing Matter

"And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had born to Avraham, jesting (metzachek). And she said, drive out this maidservant and her son!" (21:9/10).

R. Yosef Chayim asks why Sarah made a mountain out of a molehill. Surely, asking for Yishmael to be expelled from their home just because of a few jokes, was overreacting. True, Rashi explains that 'metzachek' has connotations of idolatry and adultery. Yet the simple meaning of the word is 'jesting' and if we follow the principle that a Pasuk always retains its simple meaning, then we need to understand Sarah's extreme reaction to what looks like a minor infraction on Yishmael's part.

And he replies that this was not a minor infraction at all, but rather Yishmael's way of approach before or after sinning. He would begin with a joke or two, and end up with idolatry and adultery, or he would commit idolatry and adultery, and then make light of what he had done by turning it into a joke. Sarah with her Ru'ach ha'Kodesh, saw through Yishmael's jokes and realized the extent of his evil, and the terrible threat that this posed for her son Yitzchak. Perhaps Avraham, whose level of prophecy did not reach that of Sarah's, did not see through Yishmael's jokes to the extent that Sarah did, enabling him to play down Yishmael's wickedness in an effort to keep him at home and maybe save him (see following Pearl), until G-d instructed him to accept Sarah's version of the events that both of them had witnessed and accept her judgement.


A Time to Reject

" ... because the son of this maidservant will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak" (ibid.) The question arises what to do with a student who not only makes no progress in class, but who constantly disrupts the class with his antics, or worse still, who sets a bad example and then encourages the rest of the class to follow. The question is where one's priorities lie. Whether one throws out the student in order to save the class, or one risks the other students by retaining the bad one, in order to try to place him back on track.

Sarah made no bones about her point of view, insisting that Yishmael be banished so as not to interfere with the growth of Yitzchak. Avraham was not so sure. He too, was most certainly aware of the danger that Yishmael's presence posed for Yitzchak. Yet he thought that as long as Yishmael remained under his jurisdiction, there was still a chance that he might bring him back to the right path. Whereas if he were to expel him and allow him to return to Egypt, he would be lost forever. And Yishmael after all, was as much his son as Yitzchak (see previous Pearl). So G-d Himself intervened and said to him - "Do not feel bad about the boy and about your maidservant. Accept Sarah's opinion and do whatever she says, because in Yitzchak will be your offspring."

'If you want Yitzchak to go in your footsteps,' G-d was telling him, 'then you will have to separate them for good and evil cannot coexist. By expelling the one that is evil, you might lose him, but you will save the one that is good. If on the other hand, you try and save them both, then you will eventually end up by losing them both.'

Where's the Lamb?

"And Yitzchak said to his father ... behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the Olah" (22:7).

The Malbim explains that Yitzchak asked his father to explain why he had taken with him fire and wood, but no lamb. If he was heading for a town where he would be able to find a lamb, then why did he bother to carry with him the fire and wood, which would be no less available there than a lamb, whereas if he took with him fire and wood because he was going to an uninhabited area (which after almost three days of traveling now seemed to him the more likely alternative), then he should have taken a lamb with him too, since he would be no more likely to find one there than he would fire and wood.


R. Yosef Chayim however, explains that Yitzchak only queried his father on the third day because at first, he suspected that he would be the burned-offering. And it was only on the third day, when he overheard Avraham say to his servants 'and we (incorporating Yitzchak) will prostrate ourselves and return to you', that he realized that he was not destined to be the Korban after all. And that was why he asked him about the lamb for the Olah.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 25:
To Believe in the Existence of G-d

It is a Mitzvah to believe that the world has One G-d, who created the whole of existence, that all that is, was and will ever be, is the result of His Power and His Will, and that He took us out of Egypt and gave us the Torah, as the first of the Ten Commandments states (in Yisro 20:2) "I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt ... ". It is as if the Torah had written 'Know and believe that the world has a G-d', because the opening word "Anochi" implies 'existence'. And when the Pasuk continues "who brought you out of the land of Egypt", it is in effect saying that our hearts should not deceive us into ascribing the slavery in Egypt and the subsequent plagues to chance, but rather that this was all part of the Divine plan, as G-d promised our fathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov.

This Mitzvah does not require any reason, for it is obvious and clear to all that this belief is the basis of our faith, and that anyone who does not believe it denies everything and has no portion or merit in Yisrael. What is important is that we accept this as the absolute truth, and that nothing can change it. In fact, if someone were to question us about it, we would be obligated to reply in the affirmative, come what may, even on the pain of death. Because expressing this belief verbally, brings it from the potential to the factual, and serves to reinforce it in one's heart. Someone who becomes totally convinced, beyond the slightest shadow of doubt, as to its veracity, to the point that his heart perceives it and his eyes see that there is no other possibility, has fulfilled this Mitzvah to its fullest extent.

The Dinim of the Mitzvah ... to believe that the ability, the greatness, the might, the glory, the splendour, the power of blessing and the entire existence lies with G-d, and that we possess neither the strength nor the wisdom to even fathom, let alone relate, His greatness and goodness. Because the extent of His superiority and glory is known only to Himself ... and to negate with all our might any suggestion of shortcoming in Him or anything that detracts from His total perfection and absolute superiority. From the above it is understood that we are obligated to believe that G-d exists but that He has neither the form nor the driving force of a human being, since human beings are subject to shortcomings and deterioration, whereas He is not ... (See also Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah, chapter one).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women. Someone who contravenes it has no portion or merit in Yisrael, as we explained. This is one of the Mitzvos that has no specific time limit. At all times throughout a person's life, he is obligated to apply these thoughts.


Mitzvah 26:
Not To Believe in the Existence of Any God Other than Hashem

We are not permitted to believe in any Divine power other than G-d alone, as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:3) "You shall not possess any god other than Hashem alone", meaning that we may not believe in any other god. The Ramban explains that the term 'other gods' never appears with regard to manufacturing them, only in connection with believing in them in one's heart. This is because G-d is not corporeal, in which case it is impossible to make other gods. The Chinuch agrees with this observation.

This Mitzvah is a pivotal one, on which everything else depends, for so Chazal have said 'Someone who gives credence to idolatry, denies the entire Torah'. And someone who accepts on himself the jurisdiction of any god other than Hashem, or who worships it in one of two ways has contravened this La'av. Either he worships it in the way that it is formally worshipped by its adherents, or he performs one of the four well-known major acts of G-d-worship - shechting, sacrificing, pouring wine (or sprinkling the blood of sacrifices) to it, or prostrating himself before it.

(to be cont.)

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