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Vol. 18 No. 4
Thoughts on the Akeidah
(Adapted from the Beis Halevi)
A Nation that is Compared to a Donkey
The Gemara in Kidushin (68) raises the question as to why, when Avraham instructed Eliezer and Yishmael (the two servants who accompanied him to the Akeidah) to remain where they were until he returned with Yitzchak, he needed to add the words "Remain … with the donkey"?
And the Gemara explains that he was in fact stating that like a donkey, his two 'servants' had no Yichus, since the son of a Shifchah whose father is a Jew is not considered his son. And he was speaking, not only to Eliezer (whom the Torah specifically refers to as a slave), but to Yishmael, son of Hagar the Shifchah. He too had no Yichus! Halachically, he was not his son!
The Beis Halevi asks why Avraham saw fit to mention this fact specifically at this point, as he was about to embark on the actual Akeidah.
To answer the question, the Beis Halevi explains, G-d had already informed him (in this Parshah 21:12) that Yitzchak, and Yitzchak alone, was his offspring. This clearly implies that Yishmael was not considered his offspring. And He repeated this when He ordered Avraham to take his 'only son' to the Akeidah.
Avraham Avinu accepted this, he explains, and did not in fact consider Yishmael as his son (though Rashi in 22:1 does not seem to hold this view).
Now however, that he was on his way to sacrifice Yitzchak, he was afraid that, seeing as he had no other son to succeed him, an affection towards Yishmael (whom he had initially raised as his son) would automatically develop in his heart that would neutralize the disappointment of having no children to continue his life's work. And this affection would cause him a double loss. Firstly, it would detract from the Nisayon of the Akeidah, since it is obvious that it is far more difficult to bear sacrificing one's only son and be left childless, than it is to slaughter one son and to be left with another to replace him. And secondly, he would be contravening G-d's command not to reckon Yishmael as his son.
That explains why, on his way to carry out the Akeidah, he made a point of reinforcing G-d's earlier command to discount Yishmael as a descendent. He presented a Halachic source for the prohibition, thereby dismissing the temptation to fall prey to his natural instincts and to consider him his son.
Who's the Hero?
The Beis Halevi points out how whereas, on the one hand, the Torah attributes the Akeidah to Avraham Ovinu, confining every mention of Yitzchak to the fact that he was the object on whom it would take place. Whilst on the other, in the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, we precede the conclusion of the B'rachah of Zichronos with the words 'and remember with mercy the Akeidah of Yitzchak for his children' - 'of Yitzchak', and not 'of Avraham'?
To understand this apparent contradiction, the Beis Halevi explains, we need to remember that whereas Avraham was being tested with a command to slaughter his only son, a son who was born to him when he had reached the ripe old age of a hundred, Yitzchak's test was to accept being slaughtered. Now, bearing in mind that many people, due to the serious problems of earning a Parnasah combined with the love of their family, push them to perform many sins. Even though those very same people would not hesitate to give up their lives in order to sanctify G-d's Name.
This is a clear indication that the test of giving up one's life is easier to achieve than to remain alive and to forfeit just one aspect of someone that one truly loves. And by the same token, it is clear that the test aspect of the Akeidah on Avraham, which entailed slaughtering the son whom he loved over and above everything else was far greater than it was for Yitzchak, who stood to lose only himself.
And this explains as to why the Pasuk places the greatness of the Akeidah solely upon the shoulders of Avraham Avinu.
We on the other hand, ask G-d to accept our prayers on the merit of Akeidas Yitzchak. We need to understand. On what basis will the merit of Yitzchak save us? Did those same merits save Eisav? Did the merits of Avraham save Yishmael?
The answer lies in the fact that it is not in the merit of what the Avos did that we rely, but to the legacy of good deeds that they passed on to us (as R. Dessler explains, it is not just a matter of 'Z'chus Avos', but rather of 'Azkus Avos' [their pure deeds that we have inherited]). And this is what we mean when we say each day in the early part of Davening 'How fortunate are we … how beautiful is our inheritance'. And that is why it is befitting to mention their merits.
The legacy of Yitzchak. In the form of Mesiras Nefesh, has by and large remained with us. In every generation, many Jews give up their lives for the sake of sanctifying G-d's Holy name. The legacy of Avraham Avinu on the other hand, beyond most people, is rarely put into practice. That explains why it is the Z'chus (Zakus) of Yitzchak that we evoke in our prayers, and not that of Avraham.
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(Adapted from the Rivo)
Greeting a Woman
"Where is Sarah your wife?" (18:9).
The Riva queries the angels from the Gemara in Kidushin, which forbids greeting a woman - even in the presence of her husband?
And he cites some commentaries, who explain that angels are not bound by this ruling.
Rashi, in the previous Pasuk, cites a Gemara in Bava Metzi'a, which finds it necessary to explain how Avraham fed the angels meat and milk. This suggests that the angels were careful not to clash with local custom ('When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do!'). But perhaps it was Avraham, and not the angels, who was careful not to serve meat and milk together.
Alternatively, the Riva cites the S'mag, who answers that the prohibition of greeting a woman via her husband is confined to asking him to greet her on one's behalf. But to enquire of her husband how she is, is permissible (perhaps even good manners).
The initial question assumes that the angels were enquiring after Sarah, deepite the fact that they did not say 'How is Sarah …?', but 'Where is Sarah … ?.
The Or ha'Chayim however, translates the Pasuk literally. The angels had not come to inform Avraham (who had already ben told about it in Lech-L'cha) about the birth of a baby son; they had come to inform Sarah! So they asked Avraham where she was, to make sure that she heard the news when they said it. To which he replied "Sarah is in the tent", ready to hear whatever they had to say.
Needless to say, according to the Or ha'Chayim, the Riva's Kashya falls away.
Dust & Ashes
" … and I am dust and ashes" (18:27).
'I ought to have been dust at the hand of the four kings and ashes at the hand of Nimrod', Rashi explains.
This does not conform with the chronological order in which the two events took place, asks the Riva, since the episode with Nimrod took place many years earlier. The question therefore arises as to why Rashi did not switch the order - to connect dust with the episode with Nimrod and ashes, with that of the four kings.
The answer he says, is that 'ashes' are the result of a fire, which can only pertain to the episode of Nimrod, who cast Avraham into the furnace, and not to that of the kings.
The question remains as to why the Torah changed the order, but Rashi is vindicated.
Hashem and His Beis-Din
"And Hashem rained upon S'dom … sulphur and ashes" (19:24).
Wherever we find the term "And Hashem", it always refers to Hashem and His Beis-Din.
How will we then explain the Pasuk in Divrei Hayamim "And Hashem made the Heaven", asks the Chizkuni, since the first angels were only created on the second day?
R. Elyakim replies that Rashi is referring specifically to Pesukim that are talking about punishment.
Although the wording is unclear, it seems to me that the Chizkuni quoted by the Riva answers this Kashya with Rashi in Bereishis, who commenting on the Pasuk "on the day that Hashem Elokim made the earth and the Heaven", explains that G-d combined the Midas Rachamim to the Midas ha'Din (with which He initially created the world). Consequently, he explains, "And Hashem" there, means that Hashem (the Midas ha'Rachamamim) consulted with the Midas ha'Din.
The question remains however, from the Pasuk in Bo - "And Hashem killed all the first-born … ". Even though He did this without the help of any angel, as we have learned in the Hagadah?
In answer to the question, the Riva explains that what Chazal mean is (not that no angel accompanied Hashem, but) that this particular task was not something that He could entrust to any angel to perform by himself. Indeed, Rashi explains there "And Hashem killed all the firstborn" - 'He and His Beis-Din'.
The Riva queries Rashi from two more places: One from the Pasuk later in the Parshah "And Hashem visited Sarah as He had said"; the other, from the Pasuk in Lech-L'cha "And Hashem said to Avraham after Lot had separated from him … ". What, he asks, is the significance of Hashem's Beis-Din in each of these cases? What was there to discuss with them?
In answer to the first question, he explains, based on the Pasuk in connection with a Sotah "If she was not intimate (with the man concerned), she will have children!". Sarah too, G-d consulted His Beis-Din as to whether she ought to be compensated with a child, seeing as she had been secluded with Par'oh. And they concluded that since Sarah was not intimate with Par'oh, she falls under the above category, and deserves to have children.
Whereas in answer to the second question, He consulted with His Beis-Din whether Avraham did not deserve to die for keeping company with a Rasha such as Lot. And in this case too, G-d concluded that Avraham should be removed from the Mazel of death and transferred to the Mazel of life.
Between the Two of Them
" … And He sent us to destroy it (S'dom)" 19:13.
Why, asks the Riva, did the angel speak in the plural, when it was only one angel who performed the actual destruction, as is well-known?
And he answers that in fact, S'dom was destroyed beween the angel who actually destroyed it and the angel who saved Lot and his family, seeing as the former was not allowed to do anything until the latter had led Lot and his family to safety.
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THE BA'AL HA'TURIM
"And all the men of his household were circumcised with him … And G-d appeared to him (Avraham) … and he was sitting in the heat of the day" (17:27 & 8:1).
The Torah juxtaposes " … were circumcised with him" (at the end of Lech-l'cha) next to "and he was sitting in the heat of the day", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, a hint to what Chazal say, that Avraham sits at the entrance of Gehinom and does not allow anyone who is circumcised to enter, except for someone who has had relations with a gentile woman. That is because his Orlah has grown long and he (Avraham) does hot recognize him.
"And behold three (ve'Hinei Sheloshoh) men were standing 'over' him" (18:2).
The Gematriyah of "ve'Hinei Sheloshoh" is equivalent to that of 'Eilu Micha'el, Gavri'el u'Refa'el' - (see Parshah Pearls, vol. 15).
"Yukach no me'at mayim (Let there be taken a small amount of water)" (18:4).
The Gematriyah of "Yukach no me'at mayim", the Ba'al ha'Turim points out is equivalent to that of 'mi'Ka'n zochu la'Be'er' (from here they merited the well (of Miriam).
" … ve'rachatzu ragleichem (and wash your feet)" Ibid.
Later in the Parshah (18:2), Lot uses exactly the same expression. Only Lot preceded the invitation to stay overnight to washing their feet, whilst Avraham first asked them to wash their feet. From there we learn, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, that Avraham was afraid that they were Arabs, who worshipped the dust of their feet, as Rashi explains.
"And I will take a loaf of bread … " (18:5).
In keeping with the previous Pasuk, Avraham should really have said "And let them take a loaf of bread".
This is a hint, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that it is the host who recites the B'rachah over the bread.
"And Avraham ran to the cattle (ve'el ha'bakar ratz … )" 18:7 .
The three Tagin (crowns) on the 'Kuf' hint that he took, not one, but three bulls (as Rashi explains), says the Ba'al ha'Turim. He adds that as a reward, he merited to have a son when he was a hundred.
The letters 've'el ha'bakar … ' are equivalent to "ve'el ha'kever ratz … (and he ran to the grave)'.
This hints, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, to the Medrash that the bull fled and Avraham gave chase, and that he caught up with it when it entered the Me'aras ha'Machpeilah.
" … they ate … And they said to him … " (18:8/9).
This hints, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains to the Chazal that one should refrain from speaking whilst eating, in case the food goes down the wind-pipe instead of the esophagus.
"And they said to him (Avraham [Vayomru eilav]) 'Where is Sarah … ?' " (Ibid.)
The words "Vayomru eilav" can also spell 'Amru eilehah ayo?' (They said too her "Where is he?" ' [see Rashi]).
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