by Zvi Akiva FleisherBack to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues
PARSHAS VA'YEIROH 5760 BS"D
Ch. 19, v. 15: "Pen tiso'feh baavone ho'ir" - Rabbi Saadioh Gaon says that to understand this verse we must add a word, "Pen tiso'feh baavone ANSHEI ho'ir," so that the intention is not "Lest you will be destroyed through the sin of the city," but rather "Lest you will be destroyed through the sin of the PEOPLE of the city. This is called a "Mikro kotzeir," a shortened verse, leaving out a word which can be self understood.
However, Rashi on the words in verse 20 "Ho'ir hazose krovoh," explains "krovoh" to mean it was more recently established. Having been populated for a shorter period of time than Sdom, the inhabitants of the city have accumulated fewer sins. Rashi calculates that Sdom was inhabited for 52 years, while Tzoar was inhabited for one year less. Rashi points out that in the expression, "Imolto NOH," the word NOH, spelled Nun-Alef has the numeric value of 51. Indeed, the medrash says that Tzoar was destroyed a solar year later, just as Sdom was destroyed when it was 52 years old. The numeric value of Tzoar, Tzadi-Vov- Ayin-Reish equals 366. A solar year is 365 and 1/4 days long. Lote therefore thought that it would not be destroyed. During the Holocaust of World War II, a great tzadik was asked by one of his followers why European Jewry, which had many righteous, scholarly people, was being destroyed, while America, with a relatively weak Jewish community at that time, was not. The great tzadik answered that in spite of the much stronger Jewish communities in Europe, it was populated for many more centuries and had accumulated many more aveiros.
Possibly according to these words of Rashi our verse is not lacking a word to be fully understood. The angels told Lote that he might be destroyed through the sin of the city itself, meaning that although the inhabitants have sinned greatly, if they have not sinned to a point where an accumulative threshold of sin is reached, Hashem's trait of merciful patience would hold back immediate destruction. However, since the city of Sdom was already 52 years old, the accumulative sins done in the city, "AVONE HO'IR," would bring about its destruction and the death of Lote as well if he remained within the city.
Rabbi A.G. added an insight. Perhaps, only when Hashem destroys a city along with its inhabitants does the ruling of collective sin in a geographic location play a role.
The following offering is a repeat from last year with some minor additions.
However, it is included since I find it a most exciting insight into the parsha of the destruction of Sdom, befitting the Gaon of Ragotchov.
Ch. 19, V. 24: "Gofris vo'eish" - The Gaon of Ragotchov asks, "Why were these cities destroyed specifically by fire?" He answers with a Tosefta Sanhedrin 14:1 which proves that a city which has the status of "ir hanidachas," a city where the majority of its adult population has been lured into accepting false gods, has not only the guilty people's possessions destroyed, but also the property of the righteous inhabitants are burned along with everyone else's. The proof is from Lote who escaped the destruction of Sdom but was not allowed to remove his belongings. We see from here, says the Ragotchover Gaon, that Sdom had the status of an "ir hanidachas."
With this he explains a difficult ruling of the Rambam, hilchos avodoh zoroh 4:6. The Rambam says that before an "ir hanidachas" is destroyed, the court sends two Torah scholars to warn the people and attempt to have them repent from their wrong ways. If they repent, they are not judged as an "ir hanidachas," but more leniently, as independent people who have worshipped avodoh zoroh. The Ra'avad strongly disagrees, saying that he found no gemara stating that repentance changes the ruling of the court.
Now that it is established that S'dom is an "ir hanidachas" there is a basis for the Rambam's ruling. The Targum Onkeles on 18:21 "V'im lo, ei'doh'oh" says "v'im toyvin loh es'p'roh," and if they repent, I will not give them this punishment of "kolloh', total annihilation. We see from here that Hashem sent TWO ANGELS to see if they repented. This is the source for the two Torah scholars and that repentance changes the ruling.
Numerous other things fall into place with this Tosefta. In verse 24 we see that Hashem rained sulfur and fire upon S'DOM and AMORAH, but in verse 25, He only turned over the rest of the cities, but did not burn them. This is the source for the ruling that more than two cities are not judged as "o'rei nidachas" at once, as per the mishneh Sanhedrin 2a. Lote escaped, but did not want to once again live with Avrohom. He looked to a nearby community for refuge, but feared that it too might be destroyed. He came upon the idea of Tzoar, assuming it would not be destroyed because (v. 20) "ha'lo MITZOR hee u's'chi nafshi, is it not SMALL, and I will remain alive." What does its being small have to do with being a safe haven? Once again, since he feared the nearby towns would be subject to the same ruling of "ir hanidachas" as Sdom (see Rashi v. 30), he would be safe in a small community, as per the opinion of Rabbi Yonoson in the gemara Sanhedrin 15b that a city with a population of under one hundred cannot become an "ir hanidachas."
This opinion is the halachic conclusion of the Rambam hilchos avodoh zoroh 4:2.
Possibly, in the same theme, other points can be added. Rashi in verse 4 says (M.R. 50:5) that the angels spoke to Lote about the status of the city's inhabitants. He responded by saying that the MAJORITY was evil. Since they were sent by Hashem to destroy the city, what place is there for hearing about their level of piety? However, since Targum Onkeles says that verse 21 tells us that repentance would save the city from being destroyed, they had to know the most recent status. This would also explain why Lote told them the MAJORITY of the city is sinful. A majority is needed to have the status of "ir hanidachas."
Another possible point - Since the Rambam rules in hilchos avodoh zoroh 4:4 that more than two cities can be made into "o'rei nidachas" if they are not near each other, why were only two destroyed by fire? Rashi on 19:25 d.h. "Va'yahafoch" brings a Medrash Breishis Rabboh 51:4 that the five (Rashi says four, see Sifsei Chachomim) cities were all built on one rock. Since they were right next to each other, only a maximum of two can be ruled as "o'rei nidachas."
PLEASE NOTE: Although we have mentioned numerous exemptions from becoming an "ir hanidachas," this only means that the inhabitants of the city are not judged with the special "ir hanidachas" rules, such as death by decapitation and their belongings destroyed, but the individuals are still judged as idol worshippers, an offence which carries capital punishment.
We find in the narrative of the great test of the Akeidoh that Avrohom was the great hero upon whom the spotlight shines. Why doesn't the Torah stress the greatness of Yitzchok who was willing to be slaughtered? This question is raised by the Holy Zohar page 120.
1) The Beis haLevi notes that throughout the story of the Akeidoh we find Avrohom being the courageous hero, and in our prayers we mention the Akeidoh of Yitzchok as our merit, as in the musof prayers of Rosh Hashonoh we say "va'akeidas YITZCHOK l'zaro b'rachamim tizkor." He answers that to have a merit that carries over from the Ovos, or any previous ancestor, we require a connection to that merit. If we display a bit of that lofty characteristic, then we can cash in on the same merit in a larger dose from previous generations. The merit of Avrohom was his selflessness in being willing to sacrifice his child. Yitzchok's merit was his eagerness to be sacrificed. The trait that has carried over to us in a greater measure is that of Yitzchok, not of Avrohom. Indeed, Avrohom's deed was greater than Yitzchok's and it is therefore Avrohom who is highlighted in the story of the Akeidoh, but when we ask Hashem for the merit of our Patriarchs' actions, we must stress the action of Yitzchok.
2) Avrohom heard what seemed to be a prophecy that contradicted a previous statement of Hashem, "Ki b'Yitzchok yiko'rei l'cho zorah" (21:12), and still proceeded. (Ponim Yofos)
3) Fulfilling a mitzvoh actively is greater than fulfilling a mitzvoh passively (Ritvo ch. 1 of gemara Y'vomos). This is an insight into why "a'sei docheh lo saa'seh," when a positive and negative mitzvoh are in conflict, the positive mitzvoh is done at the expense of the negative mitzvoh. Avrohom participated with action, but Yitzchok as a sacrifice, was passive. (Ponim Yofos)
4) The gemara Kidushin 31a says, "Godol mitzu'veh v'oseh mimi she'eino mitzu'veh v'oseh," - One is greater if he is commanded to do and does than one who is not commanded to do and does. Avrohom was commanded while Yitzchok wasn't. (Ponim Yofos)
5) Avrohom envisioned that upon slaughtering his son he would suffer the terrible loss for the rest of his life, while Yitzchok was called upon to show heroism for a short period of time only. (See gemara K'subos 33b which makes this point regarding the test of Chananioh, Misho'eil, and Azarioh.)
6) Since Yitzchok already said to Yishmoel (M.R. 55:4) "I am ready to be offered as a sacrifice to Hashem," his test was not as demanding. (Nachalas Yaakov)
7) Had this test been attributed to Yitzchok, his son Eisov would have demanded a reward for his progeny as well. This does not apply to Yishmoel having a claim to the merit of Avrohom since he was specifically excluded from being the continued progeny of Avrohom when Hashem said, "Ki b'Yitzchok yiko'rei l'cho zorah" (21:12). (See Shaalose U's'shuvos Mahari"t O.Ch. vol. 2 teshuvoh #6.) (Meshech Chochmoh)
8) Perhaps, since Avrohom taught the world that offering human sacrifices was not the will of Hashem, had he now done so himself, he would have been the laughing stock of society. This would have brought him life-long humiliation of the greatest order. Yitzchok was only called upon to show heroism for a short period of time only. This thought is quite similar to answer #5.
9) Another possibility: I believe the Noam Elimelech says on the words "Va'yar es hamokome meirochoke" (22:4), that Avrohom saw Hashem (haMokome meaning Hashem the Omnipresent) from a distance, not perceiving Hashem's presence as he was used to perceiving. When totally in touch with Hashem this test would be relatively small. The main point of the test was to offer his son while Avrohom was feeling like an average person, quite removed from Hashem. Hashem did not remove this closeness from Yitzchok, and his test was much easier.
10) Another possibility: Rabbi Mendel mi'Riminov explains the words "Va'yishlach Avrohom es yodo va'yikach es hamaa'chelles." Why doesn't the verse simply say "va'yikach es hamaa'chelles?" He answers that Avrohom had so thoroughly trained himself to do Hashem's bidding that his organs always sprang to the task. However, since it was not truly Hashem's intent to have Avrohom carry out the actual slaughtering of Yitzchok, Avrohom's hand did not respond with its normal alacrity. This required a special effort to stretch out his hand, hence the extra words "Va'yishlach Avrohom es yodo."
According to this, perhaps Avrohom's test was greater than Yitzchok's because Yitzchok responded to the call with alacrity, doing everything that Hashem intended him to actually do. Not so with Avrohom. He had to force himself to act at the crucial moment of taking the knife.
By the way: Medrash Tanchumoh answers the question of the need to say "Va'yishlach Avrohom es yodo" in a different manner. It says that the "sitro acharo," the evil forces, attempted to stop Avrohom all along the way as he pursued fulfilling Hashem's will. Avrohom had already picked up the knife, but the "sitro acharo" knocked it out of his hand. This required a separate "Va'yishlach …… yodo," "reaching out" his hand and again picking up the knife.
11) Perhaps an insight from HRH"G R' M.M. Shach shlit"a into the greatness of Avrohom at the time he received the prophecy of the Akeidoh will also answer the question. He says that we know that only Moshe was a prophet of such stature that he received a clear, unequivocal prophecy from Hashem (see Bmidbar 30:2). All other prophets, including Avrohom, received a clouded message, somewhat open to interpretation. This being the case, how might Avrohom have reacted upon receiving a prophecy to bring his son as a sacrifice? This was contrary to everything that Hashem had taught him and that he espoused to the world. Add to this the prophecy that through Yitzchok he would have a chain of descendants (21:12). Add the fact that Avrohom had this only son from Soroh at a very advanced age. It would have been exceedingly easy for him to read another interpretation into the prophecy.
Yet he understood it properly and proceeded to fulfill it with alacrity. However, Yitzchok followed suit by relying on his father.
12) Perhaps an insight from the Malbim will also answer the question. He says that the greatest component of the test of the Akeidoh was when Avrohom heard that he should not slaughter his son. How would he react at this point?
Would he say to himself, "B"H my son's life is saved," and immediately unbind him, or would he do this with the same attitude of fulfilling Hashem's wish?
We see from the words of the angel, "Al tishlach yodcho el hanaar v'al taa'seh lo M'UMOH" (22:12), which the M.R. 56 says means "don't cause even the smallest blemish (mum mah) in Yitzchok," that Avrohom wasn't relieved at the turn of events, but to the contrary, he was still very eager to sacrifice Yitzchok. Only upon being specifically commanded to stop in his tracks did he relent. This is why Avrohom was credited with this test, while we have no such test for Yitzchok.
Ch. 22, v. 12: "KI y'rei Elokim atoh v'lo chosachto es bincho" - MVRHRH"G Rabbi Yaakov Kamenecki explains the title of "y'rei Elokim" which Avrohom received at this point as follows: "Y'rei Elokim" means being far removed from murder, as in Breishis 20:11, "Ein yiras Elokim bamokome ha'zeh," 42:18, "Es ho'Elokim ani yo'rei," Shmos 1:17, "Va'ti'renoh hamyaldose es ho'Elokim," and Dvorim 25:18, "V'lo yo'rei Elokim." Each of these expressions refers to a "Yo'rei Elokim" as one who is distanced from committing murder. According to this our verse should be understood as: "Now I know that EVEN THOUGH you are distanced from murder, nonetheless, you would not hold back from slaughtering your son to fulfill My request. The second word KI in this verse means "even though," one of the four translations for the word KI.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh tells us about an occurrence at the Akeidoh that sends a VERY POWERFUL message. On the words (15:10) "Shov oshuv eilecho" he says that the angel announced that he would return to put a new life source, n'shomoh, into Yitzchok at the Akeidoh. This is mentioned in the Holy Zohar, parshas Noach page 60 and in the Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer ch. 31. They both say that Yitzchok's n'shomoh left him when the blade came to his neck and a new one from the upper realms replaced it. The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh brings allusions from the verses that Yitzchok at birth received the n'shomoh of a female, and would be unable to reproduce. The new n'shomoh he received at the Akeidoh was a male n'shomoh and after the Akeidoh he was capable of reproducing. We imagine that with the Akeidoh the existence of the Jewish nation came to within a hairbreadth of extinction, and was saved at the last possible moment; that the Akeidoh was a stumbling block that was put in the way of our continuity and was just barely avoided. However, with the insight of the Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh we see the EXACT OPPOSITE! Without the Akeidoh, Yitzchok would not have been able to procreate. It is specifically BECAUSE OF the Akeidoh, and NOT IN SPITE OF the Akeidoh that there is a Jewish nation in existence.
Perhaps we can find an illusion to the concept of the Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh that not only was the outcome of the Akeidoh an avoidance of a catastrophe, but also a positive event. In the second verse of the Akeidoh story Hashem tells Avrohom, "v'LECH L'CHO el eretz haMorIoH V'Haa'leihu." Rashi on the words "LECH L'CHO" (12:1), says that the going will be for Avrohom's benefit, including that he was childless until now, and in Eretz Yisroel he will merit to have children. Similarly here it says the words "v'LECH L'CHO," indicating that this going will bring him children. Without the Akeidoh, Avrohom's offspring through Yitzchok would have stopped in its tracks. As well, the last two letters of "haMorIoH," Yud-Hei, and the first two letters of "V'Haa'leihu," Vov-Hei, spell Hashem's holy name of mercy, indicating that when Yitzchok will be elevated onto the altar, a great merciful event will take place.
If we want to have the merit of the actions of our Patriarchs, we must connect with their actions, as mentioned above in the name of the Beis haLevi. When challenges come up which we feel stand in the way of our spiritual progress, and we feel like saying, "Hashem, I try so hard to do what's right. Why do you make it so difficult?" we should remember this lesson from the Akeidoh.
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