NOVEMBER 7-8, 2003 13 HESHVAN 5764
"Look up at the sky and count the stars." (Beresheet 15:5)
Let's say someone told you to do the impossible. What would you do? You probably would shrug your shoulders and forget about it. Since it is impossible, you wouldn't even try. Well, Abraham Abinu had no children and Hashem told him to go outside and count the stars. Hashem promised him "koh yihyeh zar'echa - so shall your children be." We usually understand this promise as a promise of great numbers. However, Rabbi Frand, quoting Rabbi Meir Shapiro, gives a different twist. When Hashem told Abraham to count the stars, Abraham didn't shrug his shoulders. He started counting! Hashem responded by saying, "So shall your children be! They will be blessed with the trait of eternal optimism." We were given this great attitude, to refuse to acknowledge the impossibility of any task. The Jewish people will not despair no matter how difficult a task may seem. We will try and try again.
When a person is persistent and keeps trying, amazing things happen. A blind Jew once approached the great Rabbi, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (Rav Aharon Kotler's father-in-law). He asked the Rabbi to read an interesting novel idea (a chidush) that he wrote. This piece that he wrote was the last piece he had written before he had gone blind. He recounted to the Rabbi an amazing story. For many years, he worked very hard, writing important explanations and interpretations of the Talmud and its commentaries. Finally he grew tired and decided that he would continue to study, but that he no longer had the strength and stamina to produce these difficult essays. When he finished this last piece, he went blind! Of course, he went to the biggest doctors. They told him a shocking piece of news. Upon examining the condition of his eyes, it was clear that he should have been blind ten years earlier! For ten years, he had done the impossible!
We should never settle for mediocrity, not for ourselves and not for our children. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Abraham went on his sojourns" (Beresheet 13:3)
After Abraham went down to Egypt because of the famine, he came back to the land of Canaan. Rashi says that he stopped off at all the old lodging places in order to pay up his debts. While the simple meaning may be that Abraham had to borrow during the famine and now he could clear up those loans, there is a deeper meaning.
When people saw Abraham leaving Canaan because of the famine, they questioned him, "What happened to Hashem's promise to take care of you during your journey?" The faith in Hashem was weakened due to Abraham's struggling during these years. After Abraham was made wealthy in Pharaoh's palace, Abraham went back to the same people to show them, "Here is the fulfillment of Hashem's promise!" It sometimes takes time to see the Hand of G-d, and Abraham showed people that Hashem will not neglect anyone. That is the "repayment of the debts" that is meant in this chapter. We should all take note of when things are not going the way they should, so that when they are straightened out, we should realize how Hashem works it out for us. Don't forget to "pay up those debts!" Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And that I will not take from all that is yours, lest you say 'I have enriched Abram'" (Beresheet 14:23)
Although Abram had previously accepted goods from Pharaoh, he refused to accept anything from the evil Sedom. Accepting goods from the wicked inhibits the recipients from criticizing the giver, and Abram had no intention of ceasing to rebuke Sedom. This thought may be noted from the choice of words in this pasuk. It does not say, "Lest I say..." which would imply that by accepting these gifts from Sedom, he might forget that all wealth and prosperity comes solely from Hashem. Had this been the reason, he should have similarly refused Pharaoh's gifts. The pasuk, likewise, does not state, "Lest they say..." (meaning people in general), which would imply that Abram feared that people might consider the inhabitants of Sedom to be kind benefactors. The pasuk states, however, "Lest you say..." (referring to Sedom). If Sedom would bestow wealth on Abram, the inhabitants would consider themselves superior to him, the recipient of their generosity. This feeling of superiority and prestige would have compromised Abram's ability to chastise them.
We may also derive from here that Abram constantly chided Sedom, constantly urging them to follow his teachings, including the principle of hospitality to wayfarers. It was for this reason that he was so vehement about his refusal. The giver of a gift becomes the teacher. The recipient, in turn, becomes the disciple. Instead of viewing Abram as a mentor, Sedom would mistakenly view itself as the patron. This would prevent the people of Sedom from holding Abram in esteem. By refusing the gifts, Abram was elevated even more in their eyes. (Peninim on the Torah)
"Your children will be strangers in a land which does not belong to them" (Beresheet 15:13)
The words "be'eress lo lahem - in a land which does not belong to them" seem extra. Obviously when one is a stranger, he is not in his own land. When Yosef came before Pharaoh he predicted that there would be seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to save up food for the seven years of famine. The people of Egypt came to Yosef to buy food, and when they ran out of money, Yosef took their cattle in lieu of money. When they ran out of cattle, he took their land.
Afterwards, Yosef relocated the people to different cities from one end of Egypt to the other. He did this so the Egyptians would not be able to embarrass his brothers by calling them strangers or refugees. Now the Egyptians themselves were also strangers in the places where they lived. Hashem told Abram, "Your children will be in the exile of Egypt for 400 years and
be strangers in the land. However, it will not be too bad, because it will be 'eress lo lahem' - a land which does not belong to them, the Egyptians. Thus, they will not feel less comfortable than their Egyptian neighbors." (Vedibarta Bam)
Question: Why do the Kohanim say the first word, yebarechecha, by themselves, instead of repeating after the hazan?
Answer: 1) We do not want to separate between their blessing and the beginning of Bircat Kohanim. 2) When the hazan calls out "Kohanim" it is as if he is calling out, "Kohanim, say yebarechecha. 3) We are not worried that the Kohanim will err on the first word. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
"Go for yourself from your land." (Beresheet 12:1)
Rashi explains that by saying "Go for yourself," Hashem was telling Abraham that leaving his homeland will be to his benefit. He would merit to have children, he will gain great wealth and his reputation will become widely known.
It is known that Abraham was given ten tests by Hashem to demonstrate his loyalty, one of which was this command to leave his homeland. One may ask, "If Hashem guaranteed Abraham great benefit if he were to follow Hashem's instruction, how could this be considered a test of Abraham's faith?"
A later pasuk states: "Abram went as Hashem had spoken to him." In other words, Abraham's sole motive for leaving his homeland was to follow Hashem's command. This was Hashem's test - would Abraham follow Hashem for the sake of receiving the reward or would he do it simply for the sake of fulfilling Hashem's request? This pasuk testifies that he passed the test.
It is taught in Pirkei Abot that one should serve Hashem but not for the purpose of receiving reward. Although the knowledge of the reward may help someone to push himself to do the misvah, this should not be his objective. One should strive to serve Hashem simply for the sake of following his commandments.
Question: When you do misvot, are you thinking about the reward that is in store for you, or are you content in the knowledge that you are serving Hashem? If a decree were announced that there would be no Heavenly reward for giving sedakah on Tuesdays, would you still give sedakah on Tuesdays? Or would you hold on to the money to give it on a different day?
This Week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 40:27 - 41:16.
In the perashah, Hashem explains the path of life that Abraham must take. Hashem tells Abraham to leave everything behind and to follow Him. Abraham has great confidence in Hashem; this enables him to defeat the neighboring kings in battle.
In the Haftarah, the prophet Yeshayahu consoles the people, who think that Hashem has deserted them. The prophet explains that what makes the Jewish people successful is their confidence in Hashem. As long as the people are confident of their relationship with Hashem, they will overcome all obstacles. (Tell it from the Torah)
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