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

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Vol. 14   No. 4

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Chayim Azriel ben Yosef ha'Levi z.l.

Parshas Vayeira

To Be Perfect

Commenting on G-d's command to Avraham "Go before Me and be perfect", Rashi cites Chazal, who offer two explanations, both connected with the B'ris Milah, which is clearly the pivotal issue in the Parshah. 1. That Avraham would reach perfection only by performing the Milah, since a person who is uncircumcised is imperfect (and not the reverse [Medrash Rabah] see also Meshech Chochmah). 2. That before the Milah, Avraham did not have full control over five of his limbs (his eyes, his ears and his Milah), and that this would be rectified with his performing of the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah (Nedarim 32b). In effect, this means that the problem of controlling what one sees and hears, as well as one's physical desires, is largely resolved by observing the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah (see also Sifsei Chachamim). And this explains, Rashi concludes, the 'Hey' added to Avraham's name, which corresponds to the five limbs that would fall under his jurisdiction once he performed the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah.

Interestingly, the same Sugya in Nedarim lends support to the Medrash Rabah. The Gemara there teaches us that, when G-d said the words "Go before Me and be perfect," Avraham trembled with trepidation. Perhaps, he thought, G-d was referring to some spiritual imperfection that He had found on him. G-d's next words "And I will place My covenant with you" (with reference to the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah) however, reassured him that the implied imperfection was no more than a physical one, and put his mind at rest (Torah Temimah).


Based on Targum Unklus, who translates "his'halech lefonai" as 'Cleave to My service' (with no connection to the Mitzvah of Milah at all), Rashi adds a third explanation. "Ve'heyei somim" he explains, is a second command to pass all the Nisyonos (the ten tests, a number of which he had already experienced).

The Ramban quotes both Rashi's third explanation, and that of the I'bn Ezra, who interprets the Mitzvah of "ve'heyei somim" as to accept the Mitzvah of Milah without questioning it. But he prefers his own interpretation, which in turn, is based on the Pasuk in Ki Seitzei (18:13) "Tomim tih'yeh im Hashem Elokecho", which he defines as being convinced that it is not the Mazalos (or any other heavenly bodies) that determine one's destiny, but G-d, and G-d alone (Refer also to Parshah Pearls, Bereishis, Pearl 'Keeping the door shut', where, citing the G'ro, we defined it as not casting doubts on the Torah's prohibitions).


The Kotzker Rebbe evidently explained the Mitzvah of being Tomim literally as going with G-d in a simple, uncomplicated manner (if the Torah says 'Do it', then do it!), and he therefore commented that to be a 'Tomim' requires a large dose of Pikchus (sharpness). This comment, says the Chochmas Chayim, fits perfectly with the personality of R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who was renowned for his sharp mind, yet the Midah that was most dear to him was that of Temimus. It was the Midah that guided him constantly in virtually everything that he did. Indeed, as we just explained, not only do the two not clash; the one actually complements the other.

With regard to the Kotzker Rebbe's statement, R. Chayim used to say that whilst Temimus is a way of life, sharpness, necessary as it is, should be seen as a medicine. Just as medicines, far from replacing one's regular intake of food, serve to complement it in small measures, so too, should sagacity and cunning not replace Temimus, but should only be used to complement it, to counter the wiles and the cunning of the Yeitzer ha'Ra if and when necessary - in keeping with Chazal, who have said 'Wage war with him (the Yeitzer ha'Ra) with sagacity'. On a daily basis, he said, nothing can match Temimus. And what better proof do we have for this than Ya'akov Avinu, whom the Torah describes as "Ish tam". And it is only in his dealings with Lavan, that, when he first met Rachel, he described himself to her as 'achiv be'ramo'us' (Lavan's equal in trickery - because that was the call of the moment).


And it is in the same vein that R. Chayim explained the term "Ish tam" (that we just quoted) to mean 'a master of Temimus'. He was a Tam, not by nature, but by choice. He knew that there were times to discard this trait - and when the need arose, he was able to apply the Pasuk in Tehilim (18:27) "with the crooked, you shall act perversely", as he himself attested ('achiv hu be'ramo'us'). Rashi too, hints at this when he explains that somebody who is incapable of tricking is called a 'Tam'; Ya'akov Avinu on the other hand, was called an 'Ish Tam' precisely because, when it came to the crunch, he not only knew how to trick, but he was a master at the art.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Doing the Mitzvah Oneself

"And Avraham circumcised Yitzchak his son" (21:4).

The Gemara in Kidushin (29a) learns from here that the Mitzvah of circumcising one's eight-day old son lies primarily with the father.


When R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who still lived in Chutz la'Aretz, was expecting his first child, he prepared for the event by learning the profession of Milah. Should Hashem then bless him with a son, he would be able to perform the Mitzvah himself, without having to appoint a Sheli'ach, in keeping with the principle that 'It is a Mitzvah to fulfill a Mitzvah oneself, rather than through the services of a Sheli'ach'. Yet, when his son was born, he honoured his Rebbe, R. Avraham Sha'ag with the Mitzvah, on the basis of the Mishnah ' ... and the fear of your Rebbe should be like the fear of Heaven'. The latter however, declined, arguing that the former principle took precedence over all other considerations. He therefore ordered R. Yosef Chayim to perform the Mitzvah, and he supported his decision with the Pasuk in Tehilim (112:1) "How praiseworthy is the man who fears G-d, who very much desires His Mitzvos", on which Chazal comment "His Mitzvos", 'and not the reward of His Mitzvos'. And he went on to explain that were he to perform the Milah, he would receive a reward for performing a Mitzvah, as opposed to the father of the baby, who would perform the Mitzvah with greater Hidur (in a more correct manner). Faced with either receiving a reward for performing the Mitzvah or of seeing it done with more Hidur, he opted for the latter, in view of the Pasuk in Tehilim.


On My Terms, Not on Yours!

"And now, swear to me please by G-d, that you will not deal falsely with me, with my children and with my children's children, in that, like the kindness that I performed with you, you will perform with me ... . And Avraham said, 'I swear' "! (21:22/23).

The Malbim explains that by 'Swear to me', Avimelech meant swear on my terms, which Chazal say, constitutes an oath that cannot be annulled. R. Yosef Chayim adds that what he really had in mind was to swear by his gods. Avraham therefore countered "Onochi ishove'a", which in now translated (not as "I swear", but) as 'I swear by Onochi (the One and only G-d [as in "Onochi Hashem Elokecho"]). Avraham made it clear that he was not willing to swear by Avimelech's god, only by his own.


(In similar vein, we find that, when Lavan made a treaty with Ya'akov over the pile of stones, by swearing by the G-d of Avraham and the god of Nachor, Ya'akov responded by swearing by the "Dreaded One of his father Yitzchak).

And this also explains Avimelech's reply "And also I (Onochi) did not hear until today", which ordinarily refers to alleged theft of the water-well, which Ya'akov claimed Avimelech's servants had stolen, but which according to the above explanation, refers to the Name 'Onochi', of which he had never before heard (just as Paroh would later deny of having heard the name of Hashem).

In this way, Avimelech's statement ""And also you did not inform me, and neither did I hear (about Onochi) ... ", is not a repetition (since it seems obvious that if Avraham did not tell Avimelech about the theft he could not have known about it?). According to the above interpretation of the Pasuk, the first statement refers to the wells, the second, to the Name of Hashem, and nothing is repeated.


He Didn't Withhold His Son

"And He said 'Don't stretch out your hand to the lad and don't do anything to him, because now I know that you a G-d-fearing man and that you did not withhold your son, your only son, from Me" (22:12). To better understand the words "You did not withhold your son ... ", the Chochmas Chayim compares it to a wealthy man who was once approached for a large sum of money that was needed to redeem a captive. The man promised to bring the required sum the next day. However, when he arrived with the money, he was told that the captive had already been set free, and that his money was no longer needed. The joy the wealthy man experienced was double. Firstly, on account of the money that he was prepared to donate for such a worthy cause (and have Chazal not taught that G-d combines a good thought with the deed that one intended to perform). And secondly, because when all was said and done, he still had the money.

Avraham might well have felt the same way. He too, had willingly handed over his son to be slaughtered, and he too, still had him. But he didn't! He continued to argue with the angel, even after being instructed to desist. Perhaps he could still do this! Perhaps he could still do that! He only condescended to desist when the angel told him in no uncertain terms not to do anything at all. It is clear that Avraham was not in the least interested in being spared from slaughtering his son, simply because nothing meant more to him than performing G-d's Mitzvos, not even the son that he loved dearly (see what we wrote above in the Pearl 'Doing the Mitzvah Oneself' regarding "His Mitzvos", 'and not the reward of His Mitzvos', which applies equally here). Yes, Avraham had proved beyond any shadow of doubt that he was a Yerei Elokim, so to ask to go ahead and sacrifice his son was no longer necessary. Hence the Torah continues "for now I know that you fear G-d, and you did not withhold your son from Me". Avraham's desire to give Hashem his son, and not to spare him, even after being relieved of the onus of killing him, is the greatest proof that his fear of G-d was complete. It was truly as if he had sacrificed Yitzchak, for retaining him was simply of no interest to him. And that is what the Pasuk means when it continues "And Avraham raised his eyes and he saw ... a ram ... caught in the thicket by its horns, and Avraham went and took the ram, and he offered up the ram instead of his son". Indeed, as he sacrificed the ram, he had in mind to sacrifice his son Yitzchak, without the least reservations, as Rashi explains.

* * *


'And it was after these things, when Yitzchak and Yishmael were quarreling, Yishmael was saying that he was the one to inherit Avraham, since he was the firstborn; whereas Yitzchak was saying that he was fit to inherit Avraham, since he was the son of Sarah, his wife, whilst he (Yishmael) was the son of Hagar, his mother's maidservant. Yishmael then claimed that he was more righteous than Yitzchak, because he had been circumcised at the age of thirteen ... ' (see also Rashi [21:1]).


'And they arrived at the place which G-d had told him to go; and Avraham rebuilt the Mizbe'ach which Adam had built, and which had become broken due to the water of the great flood, and which No'ach had built, and then which broke again in the time of the Dor Ha'flagah ... ' (22:9).


' ... Avraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And Yitzchak said to his father "Bind me well, to prevent me from shuddering in my grief, thereby causing the Korban to become invalid". Avraham looked in the eye of Yitzchak, whilst Yitzchak looked at the heavenly angels (whom he could see, but Avraham could not). The angels cried out (in amazement) ''Come and see two unique Tzadikim who live in the land, one slaughters, the other is slaughtered; The first does not hold back; the second, stretches out his neck" ' (22:10).


'And Avraham thanked Hashem and prayed in that place, and he said " ... it is revealed before You that there was no trickery in my heart, and I applied myself to carry out Your decree joyfully. Consequently, when my son Yitzchak's descendants enter times of trouble, remember them, answer them and deliver them; and all generations will say that on this mountain Avraham bound Yitzchak his son, and there G-d's Shechinah was revealed to him" ' (22:14).


'And heavenly angels took Yitzchak and transported him to the Beis-Hamedrash of the famous Shem (son of No'ach), where he remained for three years ... ' (22:19).


'And it was after ... Avraham had bound Yitzchak and the Satan had gone and informed Sarah that Avraham had (actually) slaughtered Yitzchak, that Sarah ... cried out, choked and died of heart-break ... and it was told to Avraham saying "also Milkah (who, like her sister Sarah, was initially barren) gave birth on the merit of her sister, and bore children to Nachor your brother" ' (22:20).

* * *

(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 61:
A Mitzvah for Beis-Din to Judge the Din of an Enticer (cont.)

The Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Rambam writes that when a sexual act occurs in town, it is assumed to have been one of seduction, unless witnesses testify that it was rape; whereas if it occurred in the fields (outside town), it is assumed to have been one of rape ... The Gemara in Kesubos (39a) states that the subsequent marriage to the seduced girl requires the consent of the father, the girl herself and the seducer, and that should the marriage take place, he is exempt from paying the K'nas (penalty) ... The Din of a Kohen Gadol (who is permitted to marry only a virgin, and) who seduced or raped a girl ... The Din of the K'nas that one needs to pay after having regular sexual relations with a girl, which is confined to a girl between the age of three and the time she becomes a Bogeres (generally at twelve and a half) ... And when the Torah writes that the money goes to her father, it means exclusively to her father. Should her father no longer be alive, then there is no K'nas, seeing as the seduction took place with her consent. This would not be the case, if it had been a rape (as the author will explain in its place in Ki Seitzei, Mitzvah 557) ... There are ten girls who are not subject to K'nas ... and all other details, are discussed in the third and fourth chapters of Kesubos (and in the Rambam, Hilchos Na'arah Besulah 1).

This Mitzvah applies wherever there is a Beis-Din of Semuchim, since one cannot arbitrate in matters concerning K'nas unless one has Semichah (which nowadays, nobody has). A Beis-Din that contravenes and that fails to rule in these matters, has negated an Asei.


Mitzvah 62:
Not to Let a Witch Live

It is a Mitzvah not to allow a witch to live, but to kill her, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (22:17) "Do not let a witch live". This Mitzvah is not confined to a witch, but extends to a wizard too, only the Torah refers to the more common case, since women tend to indulge in witchcraft more than men.

A reason for the Mitzvah ... Witchcraft is extremely evil, and causes many stumbling-blocks to people; it is not necessary to elaborate, for this is something that is well-known ... Therefore we are commanded to remove from the world those who practice it, since it is performed against the will of G-d, who wants the world to flourish, and to run along the lines of nature that He created for it at the beginning of the Creation; and witchcraft comes to interfere with the laws of nature ... The Chinuch defines witchcraft (Kishuf) as follows: When G-d created the world, He infused each and every item that He created with the natural means to perform the task that He had set for it for the benefit of the various inhabitants that filled the world. And what's more, He commanded each item to do its work according to its species, which is why G-d uses the term "le'mineihu" (according to its species) following the creation of each item. In addition, He placed each item under the jurisdiction of one of the celestial bodies to induce it to fulfill its potential. For as Chazal have said 'There is not a blade of grass down below that does not possess a Mazel above, which says to it "Grow!" '. Over and above its natural achievements, every item of the creation possesses another potential achievement which it can attain in conjunction with another creation. The problem is that this combination (which is attainable through witchcraft) produces certain side-effects that are harmful, which explains why G-d forbade man to create such a combination or to put it to use. And this why the Gemara in Shabbos (67b) issues the statement 'Whatever is needed as a cure, is not forbidden on account of Darkei ha'Emori (a branch of witchcraft)', meaning that one cannot forbid something on account of its potential damage, once its positive usefulness has been proven, since that usefulness overrides the harm that it might cause.


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