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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 40:27-41:16

NOVEMBER 7-8, 2008 10 HESHVAN 5769


"Haran died in the presence of Terah his father in his native land in Ur Casdim" (Beresheet 11:28)

Rashi mentions a famous story about Abraham and his father Terah. Terah had an idol store and one day he asked his son Abraham to take over the store for a while. A person came to buy an idol and Abraham asked the customer how old he was. The customer was about fifty, so Abraham laughed, "How can you buy this idol? It was just manufactured yesterday." The customer was embarrassed and left.

One day a woman came with a bowl of oatmeal to leave as an offering for the idols. Abraham took the bowl and placed it in front of the largest idol and placed a large stick in its hand. Abraham then went and smashed all the other idols. When Terah returned he was shocked and asked what happened. Abraham answered that a woman brought the offering and the idols began to fight about it. The largest idol smashed all the rest. Terah said, "Do these idols have any intelligence or any life in them?" Abraham answered, "If they don't, why should we worship them?"

Now this is a great story for young and old alike, but, Avi Shulman adds that we can learn a beautiful lesson from this story.

A store is a place where you shop and pick what you like. If you want to buy a tie, you pick one that fits your mood or matches you suit. This is exactly what people did in the idol store. A man might say, "I enjoy a few beers each day…Can you find an idol for me that says, 'No smoking,' but allows drinking?" A woman who smokes might say just the opposite. "Give me an idol that allows smoking but not drinking." Each person sought to find an idol that comfortably fit their personal lifestyle. Abraham was the first to call Hashem "Adon, the Master." With this idea we see the difference between Abraham and Terah. Terah taught religion as take what you're comfortable with, choose a religion that allows you to do what you want, you're the boss. Abraham viewed religion and Hashem as a servant views his master. "I'm here to do your bidding whether or not it's convenient, easy or comfortable."

Although this particular story happened thousands of years ago, is it not the ongoing battle between the non-Orthodox and the Orthodox even today? Conservative and Reform Jews find beautiful areas in Judaism. A Friday night family meal, a traditional Seder with symbols of freedom, etc. They want to choose the misvot that they want to keep. The Torah-true Jew sees his obligation as a servant of Hashem, to do all misvot. It has been said, "It is our task in life to try to make man in the image of the Al-mighty, not to try to make the Al-mighty in the image of man." Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And the fugitive came and told Abraham the Hebrew" (Beresheet 13:14)

When Abram's nephew, Lot, was captured by the four kings during their great battle with the five kings, the fugitive (Og Melech Habashan) came to tell Abram "the Hebrew" that his nephew was in danger. We know Abram went with his few men, destroyed the kings and brought back Lot. The Rabbis tell us that Abraham is called "Ibri", Hebrew, because the word "eber"?means side, meaning, the whole world is on one side and Abraham is on the other side. Abraham was willing to go against idol worship and recognize Hashem against the flow of the entire world.

The question is, why is this description of Abraham said here by the battle of the kings, and not anywhere else that it talks about Abraham? The Skverer Rebbe z"l answers that this point about Abraham is why the fugitive (Og) came to tell him that his nephew was a captive. Og knew that no regular person would put himself in danger to save someone else, only someone like Abraham, who is willing to be different than the rest of the world. Only Abraham would be different enough to save his nephew from danger.

We are descendants of Abraham and we are called Hebrews because we also stay apart from the world. When everyone else has a lifestyle which is trendy and popular, we examine the Torah to see how to conduct our lives. We begin fasting on a fast day when we reach twelve or thirteen years old, even though some would say it's dangerous. We close our stores on Friday by sundown even though it's only 4:30 pm, and others call it foolhardy. We are confident of our way of life because we come from Abraham the Ibri. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"Go out of your land and from your birthplace and from your father's home" (Beresheet 12:1)

In Pirkei Abot, Hazal enumerate the ten nisyonot, trials, to which Abraham was subjected. Some commentators count Abraham's ordeal in which he was thrown into Nimrod's fiery furnace as the first test. This is followed by Hashem's command to leave his birthplace and the ensuing abduction of Sarah. This order seems enigmatic. The logical sequence of trials should be from the easy to the difficult to discern Abraham's progressive degree of faith. It seems clear that if one were to withstand a difficult challenge to his faith by walking into a fiery furnace, the subsequent trial of leaving home would pale by contrast.

Rav Chaim Sheinberg responds to this question by citing the Drashot HaRan, who explains the reason that Abraham sent Eliezer away to seek a wife for Yitzhak. Abraham could have performed the same test that Eliezer staged in Canaan in order to probe Ribkah's moral character. Why was Abraham so adamant that Eliezer not take a Canaanite girl for Yitzhak? Is the daughter of Betuel, the heretic, better than a Canaanite girl of equal character? The Ran explains that the Canaanites' negative character traits were part of their integral genetic makeup. Their evil was unlike the atheistic and idolatrous tendencies exhibited by Betuel and his ilk. Philosophic misconception and ideological inaccuracies are not transmitted to children. It is clearly conceivable to take Betuel's daughter, a child of unquestionable moral character, out of his house and develop her positive characteristics. Canaanite girls, although they may currently exhibit good traits, are natural heirs to a virulent strain of immoral tendencies. They or their descendants could easily revert to the evil traits of their ancestors.

One's inner drives, both subconscious and conscious, are the prevalent factors in character development. With this idea in mind, Rav Sheinberg explains why, indeed, a challenge to Abraham's emotional belief was a greater indication of his resolute faith than a test of his intellectual sophistication. These tests cause us to grow far more than the intellectual exercises which we rationally work out in our minds.

In entering the fire of Ur Casdim, Abraham showed his philosophic acumen. He publicly indicated his cogent belief in Hashem. By asking him to leave his birthplace and family, Hashem challenged Abraham's subconscious resources, which are not privy to the strictures of human logic. This test was a purely emotional one. Rarely does one fall prey to heresy because of intellectual disbelief. Emotions affect us much more than logic. The pain and sorrow which accompany personal difficulties wear down one's belief. Our response to the piercing questions of "Why am I suffering?" and "Where is the merciful G-d?" indicates our genuine faith. Abraham Abinu was able to demonstrate that his belief extended beyond the cerebral to the emotional and subconscious levels. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Go away to yourself, from your land, from your birthplace" (Beresheet 12:1)

Ever since Hashem had driven Adam from Gan Eden to wander throughout the world, man has been seeking Hashem. Even man's early attempt to worship idols began as a form of searching for the source of all being. Abram was the one who discovered the secret, but not by exploring remote heights. The Midrash relates that "by himself he studied Torah." We may suggest that he didn't merely study Torah by himself, but the meaning here is that he studied from within himself. His introspection led him to reflect upon the precision by which the universe is ordered. This indicated to Abram that the world could have no composite origin, but must have been the creation of one unique Being, from Whom everything originates.

In response to Abram's discovery, Hashem said to him, "Lech lecha" - keep on going into yourself. You will learn nothing from outside. You will be alone, you will have no country, "Mimoladetecha" - You will have no environment, "Me'arsecha" - You will have no place of origin. You will learn from no one. On the contrary, they will learn from you. Only through faith in yourself will you find faith in Hashem. The first Jew started out - not knowing when and how, - but believing that somehow he will arrive at his destination. No Biblical figure was tested more than Abram. Throughout his trials, his faith remained unwavering. This is the initial message of the first Jew. Faith in Hashem and His misvot strengthens and fortifies us, so that what seems unattainable is within reach. This faith must come from within ourselves; through searching and introspection we will perceive and believe. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Abram heard that his relative [Lot] was captured, and he armed his servants and pursued them [the four kings] as far as Dan" (Beresheet 14:14)

The four kings were stronger than the five; why was this was so important to Abram that he went to battle putting his life and the life of Eliezer in danger?

Amrafel was one of the four kings. He was called Amrafel because "amar pol - he said 'fall into'" - he gave the order for Abram to be thrown into the fiery furnace for destroying the idols and propagating G-dliness. He was also known as Nimrod because "He incited men to rebel (?????) against G-d" (Erubin 53a).

Lot's appearance was identical to Abram's (Rashi 13:8). When Abram heard that Nimrod captured Lot, he worried that there might be a terrible desecration of Hashem (hillul Hashem). Abram feared that Nimrod would force Lot to declare in public that Hashem was false and that the idols were true. The people would think that Abram was speaking and. G-d forbid, conclude that since Abram himself changed his conviction about Hashem, they surely had no reason to have faith anymore. Therefore, Abram, wanting to avoid a hillul Hashem, endangered himself and went to rescue Lot from Nimrod. (Vedibarta Bam)

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