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NOVEMBER 14-16, 2003 20 HESHVAN 5764

Pop Quiz: Where did Akedat Yitzhak take place?


We are all familiar with the story of the three angels appearing to Abraham, and how he ran about doing kindness for them in order to show them hospitality. We also see in this same perashah that Lot received angels graciously and exerted himself on their behalf. There is, however, a major difference in how they are referred to in the Torah. When the angels came to Abraham, they are called “anashim” - people - and indeed, the Midrash says they looked like Arab peasants. When they came to Lot, they are called “mal’achim” - angels - because they looked like what they were. This is not coincidental, but rather to teach us an important lesson about the different types of hesed done by Abraham and Lot. Lot went out of his way to entertain his guests because they looked like angels. Had they appeared as regular people, and for sure as peasants, they would not have gotten such treatment. Abraham was on a higher level and even when he saw peasants, he went all out to take care of them. We, who are descendants of Abraham, must emulate our forefather and do kindness to everyone, not only the important people who need favors but even (and especially) the regular folks. That shows our hesed to be genuine and part of our inner self. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"The matter greatly distressed Abraham regarding his son." (Beresheet 21:11)

After many years of being childless, Hashem miraculously gives Abraham and Sarah a child. Abraham previously had a son, Yishmael, from Hagar. The two boys, Yitzhak and Yishmael, grow up together in the house of Abraham. Sarah sees that Yishmael will influence Yitzhak in a negative way, so she demands that Yishmael be sent away. Abraham hesitates. He feels that the good influence of his home on Yishmael should not be taken away. He feels that without his good influence, Yishmael might deteriorate even more. Hashem sides with Sarah.

This episode brings us into the subject of child upbringing (hinuch banim), which is very dear to our hearts. Allow me to relate to you some great insights by an expert educator in the Torah field, Rabbi David Kaplan. 1. The new teacher had just returned the first exam papers of the year to her sixth grade class. Little Miriam looked at her paper and saw a 99. She searched the paper to locate the mistake that cost her one point, but she found no mistake. So she approached the teacher and asked why she received a 99 instead of a 100. "Miriam," the teacher said, "I never give 100 because 100 means perfection, and perfection only exists with Hashem. The highest mark I ever give is 99."

Isn't that a beautiful story? Isn't it heartwarming? The answer is unequivocally no! This method of teaching is cruel and shortsighted. This little girl will now make the following association: "Hashem is perfect and therefore I must suffer." At the very least, this is an unpleasant religious experience. Why couldn't the teacher have given her 101, accompanied by a comment regarding the Divine infallibility of Hashem, instead of penalizing her with a 99? This is negative education. We must be more positive. Imagine how this teacher would feel if, on payday, the principal said something like, "Mrs. Feldman, you really deserve your full salary, but only Hashem is perfect, so we are taking off a few dollars symbolically. We're sure you understand." We're sure she wouldn't.

2. Here's a story that belongs in the hinuch Hall of Fame. Many years ago, a man had to punish his son for some reason. "Because of what you did," he told the boy, "at breakfast you may not have any jam on your bread. (At the time, jam was regarded as a delicacy.) And I am so upset about having to punish you that I'm not going to have any jam with my bread either."

An absolutely magnificent gesture. The child understands that it totally pains the parent to have to discipline him in such a manner. He'll feel bad that Dad is suffering on account of him, while at the same time he is acutely aware that his father loves him. This is a far more powerful lesson than taking the naughty youngster across your knee to spank him, saying, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." To show him that you are depriving yourself on his account is the most effective response you can make.

May Hashem always give us the wisdom to bring up our children in the best way, Amen. Rabbi Reuven Semah


Question: Why do the Kohanim separate their fingers in Bircat Kohanim? Answer: The verse in Shir Hashirim (2:9) is as follows: "Mashgiyah min hahalonot, mesis min haharakim - Hashem watches the Jewish people from a window, and peers at them through the cracks." He looks at us from between the cracks of the fingers of the Kohanim when they bless the congregation. This is a reminder that the blessings of the Kohanim actually emanate from Hashem, as He said, "Even though I directed the Kohanim to bless you, I stand with them and bless you." (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


Fear not, for Hashem has listened to the voice of the boy in the condition he is now" (Beresheet 21:17)

After being ordered out of Abraham's house, Hagar and her son Yishmael stumbled through the wilderness. Yishmael became feverish and drank all the water available to quench his burning thirst. He could no longer walk by himself and his mother could not hold him any longer. She put him down under a bush, and moved away to pray for his life, saying, "I can no longer watch the child dying." Yishmael also prayed and Hashem responded to his prayer, not Hagar's. This is because Yishmael had the merit of being Abraham's son, and also because he performed teshubah at that moment. Rav S.R. Hirsch notes that Hagar, an Egyptian woman, does not act as a Jewish mother would have acted under similar circumstances. A Jewish mother would not have abandoned her dying child saying she could no longer watch her child suffer. This is the mark of a selfish person, one who is more concerned with her own emotional stability than with her child's well-being. A Jewish mother would have sat at her child's side, holding his hand, consoling and comforting him until the very end. Yet, Hagar was too distressed to remain with Yishmael. Overwhelmed with her own self-pity, she prayed to Hashem on behalf of her son. Hashem responded to Yishmael's prayers and not Hagar's, because she had been thinking of herself rather than her child.

Hashem responded to Yishmael "ba'asher hu sham- in the condition he is now." We may derive from here that Hashem is eager to judge a person in his newly purified form, disregarding past offenses. If one repents and puts his best forward, then Hashem views him positively, consistent with his current behavior. Thus, from this narrative we learn that if a person who is overwhelmed with anguish cries out to Hashem, Hashem will heed his prayer. (Peninim on the Torah)


[Hashem said:] "For I have known [Abraham] that he will command his children and his household after him." (Beresheet 18:19)

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch states that the main objective in the education of our children is to teach them to continue to follow the teachings of their parents and teachers even after they gain their independence. This is why Hashem chose Abraham to be the forefather of His chosen nation. Hashem knew that Abraham could be trusted to teach his children so that they would follow in his ways, even aharav, after his death.

Rav Hirsch also teaches that the key to success is to teach by example. One cannot expect his child to develop a character trait in which he himself is lacking. One must first develop the trait himself, and only then can he hope to transmit the message to his children. This was how Abraham Abinu operated. He displayed unlimited faith in Hashem and set such a strong example that his descendents have followed in his footsteps long after he has passed away. As the pasuk says, "he will command his children and his household after him." Only after he himself followed the path of Hashem wholeheartedly did he ask of his children and students to do the same. Question: Do you "practice what you preach?" If you could pick one of your traits that you do not want your child to learn from you, what would it be? What are you doing to correct it in yourself?


This week's Haftarah: Melachim II 4:1-23.

In our perashah, angels tell Abraham, "Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year..."

In the Haftarah, we find the same phrase is used by the prophet Elisha. As he passed through Shunam, a woman saw him and invited him into her house. This woman, although of meager means, convinced her husband to build Elisha a room in their attic, to make the holy man more comfortable. Elisha wanted to pay her for her kindness. He discovered that the woman wanted only one thing in life - a child. He told the woman, "Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year, and you will embrace a child."

The story connects very well with the week's Torah reading. Not only is the prophecy similar, but the same exact phrase is used in both cases! (Tell it from the Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: On Har Hamoriah (the Temple Mount).

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