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

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Vol. 24   No. 4

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
R' Yaakov ben Eleizer z"l
whose Yohrzeit was on 24 Tishrei
by his children
t.n.tz.v.h.

Parshas Vayeiro

Avraham's Dilemma - Mamrei's Advice

"And G-d appeared to him (Avraham) in the Plains of Mamrei in the heat of the day" (18:1).

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G-d revealed himself to Avraham in the portion of land belonging to Mamrei, Rashi explains, because Mamrei gave Avraham advice concerning the Bris Milah. Therefore, immediately following the actual Milah, not only did G-d make a point of visiting him on Mamrei's land, but He also publicized it in the Torah, to let everyone know about Mamrei's righteousness.

It is not at first clear what piece of advice it was that Mamrei gave Avraham. It is of course inconceivable that Avraham should have had doubts about carrying out G-d's instructions to circumcise himself, that he should have needed to consult Mamrei about doing so, as the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos actually explains.

*

The Sifsei Chachamim explains simply that the advice in question concerned, not the recent command to circumcise, but an earlier dilemma, based on the fact that Milah, unlike other Mitzvos, can only be performed once in one's lifetime, which bothered Avraham many years earlier; namely, whether to perform the Mitzvah even before he was commanded - thereby fulfilling the principle 'Zerizim makdimin le'Mitzvos', or whether, based on the contrasting principle that 'a Mitzvah that one has been commanded is greater than a Mitzvah that one has not', to wait until G-d commanded him, and to then perform the Mitzvah in the ideal manner.

And it was in that regard that Mamrei advised him to wait until he was commanded,

*

The Da'as Zekeinim M.T offers three other suggestions:

1. Avraham asked Mamrei whether to perform the Mitzvah in private or in public - to which the latter replied 'in public', so that people would take their cue from him and perform the Mitzvah, too.

2. He asked him where about on his the body to perform the Mitzvah, as this was not clearly stated in G-d's command - to which he replied that since G-d had instructed him to circumcise all males, it must be on a location where there is a distinction between a man and a woman.

3. It was concerning himself Avraham asked Mamrei, but what to do in the event that some members of his household, whom he was ordered to circumcise at the same time, would refuse to be circumcised; to which came the reply 'Go ahead and circumcise! Once you perform the Mitzvah, you will see that the members of your household will follow suit'.

*

Each of these explanations however, present one or more of four problems

1. Why was it important for people outside Avraham's family and household to circumcise themselves?

2. It is difficult to conceive that Avraham should have failed to grasp the Halachic implications of G-d's instructions and that he should have required the services of an outsider, who had not even heard them, to clarify the issue?

3. How is it possible that Avraham Avinu doubted the loyalty of his own inner circle, and that Mamrei should have been aware of it more than him?

4. Who told Avraham that G-d would command him to perform the Bris Milah in the first place, thereby creating his dilemma?

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One can answer the last question by pointing out that, precisely because it cannot be performed to perfection without a Divine command, he knew that that command was bound to be forthcoming, and his dilemma was whether 'Z'rizin Makdimin' does not nevertheless take precedence.

*

The G'ro offers a fifth explanation - interestingly enough, one that conforms to that of the Da'as Zekeinim that we initially rejected - namely, whether to go ahead and to perform the Milah or not, and Mamrei told him to carry out G-d's command.

But how can that be? How could the pillar of Emunah ever consider disobeying G-d's instructions?

To answer the question, the G'ro attributes Avraham's dilemma to his self-established life-objective, to bring others under the wings of the Shechinah, to believe in G-d and to go in His ways. All this, he was afraid, would no longer be possible were he to circumcise. All his life, he had taught the people and influenced them his lovingkindness and with Mitzvos which portrayed extreme sensitivity towards one's fellow-man - not to steal, not to murder and to treat him with respect. How would they now relate to this Mitzvah other than with loathing? Perhaps, he thought, he would be justified in forfeiting this Mitzvah in favour of bringing others close to the Shechinah, to sacrifice his own perfection in favour of helping to perfect others. Oner and Eshkol, it seems, agreed with that. But Mamrei advised to obey G-d's command at all costs.

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Parshah Pearls

Avraham's Strategy

"And Avraham said about Sarah his wife that she was his sister" (20:2).

*

After having seen the consequences of the earlier incident in Egypt, when Par'oh took Sarah and she was only returned to him by way of a miracle, asks Rabeinu Bachye, why did he ask for trouble by once again claiming that Sarah was his sister? Did he expect a miracle to recur a second time?

Not at all, he answers citing Rabeinu Chananel. This time he actually divorced her, and his claim that she was his 'sister' (and not his wife) was actually true.

Consequently, it would have been perfectly legitimate for Avimelech to have married Sarah. However, G-d intervened and informed him that she was Avraham's wife, since Avraham only gave the divorce under duress, out of fear for his life, and the Get was therefore invalid.

*

Consequently, in Pasuk 5, when Avimelech asked G-d why He would kill a "Goy who is righteous", he meant that firstly, the claim that Avraham's Get was not valid did not apply to him, seeing that as far as Dinei No'ach go, if a man divorces his wife, she is divorced, even if he does so under duress, and secondly, he was innocent, since he was not intimate with her. And for good measure, he added (in the following Pasuk) that both Avraham and Sarah had insisted, time after time, that they were brother and sister.

*

When There's No Yir'as Shamayim

"And Avraham said (replied) 'Because I said that there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will therefore kill me on account of my wife' " (20:11).

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The moment Avimelech was informed that Sarah was Avraham's wife he offered them citizenship in P'lishtim, and the right to settle down wherever they pleased. In contrast, Par'oh, under similar circumstances, ordered Avraham and Sarah to leave immediately.

Rashi attributes these two opposite reactions to the fact that, whereas the P'lishtim were decent and civilized people, morally upright and would not molest the beautiful Sarah, the Egyptians were pervert, a highly immoral nation, and Par'oh could therefore not assure Avraham that Sarah would be safe.

*

Yet Avraham saw things differently - radically so. Avraham made no bones about the fact that, people who are more concerned about a stranger's beautiful wife than about greeting him in a friendly manner and offering him board and lodging have no Yir'as Shamayim. And without Yir'as Shamayim, there is no limit to the level that a person will stoop - even to commit murder, to attain what he fancies.

And Avraham's foresight has been proven over and over again - and was clearly demonstrated in Germany by one of the world's most civilized and cultured nations in the previous century.

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A Yir'ah Born of Ahavah

"And he (an angel representing G-d) said 'Don't stretch out your hand against the lad and don't do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing person, and you did not withhold your son from Me' ". (22:12).

*

From the Torah's testimony that, following the command to sacrifice his son, "Avraham arose early and saddled his (own) donkey", it is clear that Avraham's participation in the Akeidas Yitzchak stemmed from Ahavas Hashem, and not fromYir'ah. Indeed, G-d Himself describes Avraham as "Avraham Ohavi" (Yeshayah, 41:8). Why then, does the Torah here refer to him as "Yerei Elokim"?

To answer the question, let us refer to the Gemara in Sotah, which incidentally, will also explain the practical difference between Ahavas Hashem and Yir'as Hashem.

*

The Beraisa there (31a), citing Rebbi Meir, writes that the Yerei Elokim mentioned in connection with Avraham, was born of Ahavah. In other words, it was a higher level of Yir'ah (Yir'as ha'Romemus, an awe of G-d) that followed Ahavah - unlike the regular Yir'as Hashem, which is a fear of sin; and it learns this from the Pasuk in Yeshayah that we quoted earlier.

The Gemara then goes on to explain the difference between Ahavas Hashem and Yir'as Hashem, in that whereas the reward for the former can last up to one thousand generations, the reward for the latter can last as much as two.

Perhaps, we might add that, whereas the regular Yir'as Shamayim still requires the person to work on Ahavas Hashem (since fear often leads to hatred), by Avraham, where his Yir'ah incorporated Ahavah, this was not necessary.

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