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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock and the Canaani and Perizi were then dwelling in the land. (12:7)

Rashi explains that Avraham and Lot were not quarreling; rather, their herdsmen were disagreeing with one another. Apparently, Lot's herdsmen lacked integrity, so that they would allow their sheep to graze in other people's pastures. They justified their nefarious actions with the notion that Hashem had promised the land to Avraham. Since the Patriarch had no direct heirs, the inheritance would go to his closest relative, Lot. Therefore, they had a claim to the land. This is why the Torah concludes this pasuk by emphasizing that the Canaani and Perizi were still in the land. Avraham had not yet become its legitimate owner.

The commentators, each in his own inimitable manner, explain why the pasuk ends with a reference to the pagan nations that continued to occupy the land. Sforno offers what I feel is a practical and timely response. He comments, "The quarrel between two relatives who were strangers in the land was odious in the eyes of the native dwellers who were led to believe that they were men who were prone to argument. This led them to assume that if they quarreled among themselves, how much more so would they dispute with the native dwellers? In other words, since they would be the minority living with a majority of pagans, they were exposing themselves to the contempt and eventual enmity of the land's inhabitants.

To put this exposition into perspective: Avraham was a tzaddik, righteous person. While Lot was clearly not on Avraham's spiritual plateau, he was far from the average pagan. The two seemed to live in harmony. It was their herdsmen, their followers, who were embroiled in controversy. Perhaps their issues were very real, and they might have even been centered upon halachic interpretation, but why should the goyim, gentiles, have to hear about it? Why should the outside world be privy to every machlokes, disagreement, within the Orthodox Jewish community? Furthermore, how are we to reach out to our own non-observant brethren when they see or hear some of the "goings- on" in the Orthodox Jewish community? This constitutes a gross chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. We now understand what concerned Avraham. When the herdsmen quarrel, it does not remain simply between them. It becomes known outside the sheltered environs of our community, where it is exploited and publicized in the most derogatory manner. Regrettably, what concerned the Patriarch then still leaves reason for concern today.

And it happened that as he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, "See now, I have known that you have a beautiful appearance." (12:11)

The Midrash Tanchuma contends that until this point, due to the great modesty that permeated their relationship, Avraham Avinu had not taken notice of his wife's beauty. What change transpired as they entered Egypt which brought her beauty to his attention? When he was a talmid, student, in Telshe Europe, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, would often correspond with Horav Ezra Altschuler, zl, the Veinutler Rav. In one of his letters, Rav Gifter revealed that he was an American studying in Lithuania, a phenomenon which greatly surprised Rav Altschuler. When Rav Gifter queried him concerning his amazement, Rav Alschuler explained that the state of spirituality in America at the time did not lend itself to producing Torah students of such exemplary character.

As a result of their dialogue, and in support of this frame of reference, Rav Alschuler explained what had transpired when Avraham and Sarah reached the borders of Egypt. When an area is plagued with an epidemic, the very air of that area becomes contaminated. The closer one moves to the epicenter of the disease, the greater the contamination. The same is true concerning spiritual contamination. In the spiritual dimension, one can attest that an area which has been profaned with spiritual impurity will have a profound negative spiritual influence on the individual. The closer one gets to the source of contamination, the greater the effect upon him.

Some geographical areas in the world are infamous for their spiritual deficiencies. The excess of moral turpitude which permeates these places has a negative effect on anyone who visits its environs. Egypt was such a place. Its moral climate was quite well-known. As a center for baseness and debauchery, its level of moral decay was unique-even in a world in which such a lewd lifestyle was acceptable. The spiritual contamination that so saturated Egypt catalyzed Avraham's reaction. Unwittingly, the standards of modesty that had been his and Sarah's hallmark were lowered, so that Avraham recognized Sarah's beauty.

In his commentary to Bereishis 6:11, "Now the earth had become corrupt before G-d," the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that the actual "earth," the physical environment of the planet earth, had become corrupt and contaminated. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, explains this with an episode that took place in the city of Lomza, in which he was a student in the yeshivah. There was a hospital in the city that was a magnificent, stately structure. It had been around for many years, and it manifested the "old world" regality that characterized architecture in the early nineteenth century. During Rav Elya's tenure in the yeshivah, a major medical conference took place at the hospital. Some of the world's most distinguished physicians were in attendance. They had all gathered to solve a problem that had been bothering the administration and faculty of the hospital and was trickling down to the citizens of the community. It seemed that any ill person who spent a lengthy stay at the hospital contracted another severe illness - even after he was healed of his original illness. Everybody - regardless of his original illness - even though he had been cured - became sick all over again with some new illness. They had no clue regarding the cause of this phenomenon.

Much discussion and dialogue produced a consensus of opinion that, after so many years and thousands of patients, the germs of the diseases had simply infested the wooden walls of the hospital structure. Anyone who was hospitalized for a lengthy period of time became infected with one of these many germs. There was only one solution to the problem: the building had to be destroyed, and every piece of wood and every brick had to be carted away and decimated.

Rav Elya continued: Imagine if this could occur in a physical entity, whereby an entire structure became infected with germs, how much more so can an environment become polluted with spiritual germs? There are countries whose lifestyle is glutinous; others, where their attitude toward morality, from their leadership down to the common citizen, is perverse and debased. The list continues where attitudes toward any form of spiritual ascendance is as foreign as extra-terrestrial exploration. People simply do not care, and this affects the "environment" in which they live. It creates a negative spiritual climate which affects those who live there and even those who just visit. Avraham and Sarah sensed it as soon as they entered into the spiritual pollution that had enveloped the land of Egypt.

And he (Avraham) believed in Hashem, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (15:6)

Clearly, Avraham Avinu's unswerving faith had been part of his belief for quite some time. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, interprets this pasuk as symbolizing Avraham's total submission, placing in Him his total confidence and seeking all his understanding of life through G-d's teachings. He had no need for any other disciplines. Avraham understood that in Hashem he would find the answer to every question, the direction to navigate through every dilemma.

Perhaps this can be better comprehended through a deeper conceptualization of emunah, faith, in Hashem. It is not as difficult to believe in Hashem during "good" times, when the sun is shining and everything makes sense. Our most essential beliefs, however, are crystallized when they are most challenged. When darkness prevails, it is most difficult to perceive the guiding hand of Hashem. It is precisely at such a time that our emunah plays its most crucial role. It was not challenging for the Jewish People to believe in Hashem following the miracles that wrought havoc on Egypt, nor did it come as a struggle when they passed through the standing waters of the Red Sea.

Pain, misery, suffering,and financial instability, are the situations that test one's faith. As the Chassidic Seforim explain: Moshe Rabbeinu perceived Klal Yisrael's inability to look forward, to listen to a message of hope, when they were broken-spirited from affliction and hard labor. "They could not listen to Moshe because of their broken spirit and hard work." (Shemos 6:9) They neither faltered, however, nor gave in to depression. The suffering strengthened them. It raised their resolve and gave them the fortitude to overcome the oppression.

Every time they suffered - and endured - they became stronger. Their faith was tested, and it became stronger. What was their secret? How did they master faith? What can we learn from their raza d'hemenussa, secret of faith? They discovered freedom - spiritual and emotional freedom- through their faith. How can we do the same? Furthermore, how does this faith descend from our first Patriarch, the father of faith?

The secret of faith is one's connection to Hashem. We are surrounded by the temporal. All of us are mortal, and everything in our possession is impermanent. Regardless of an object's age, it eventually erodes or changes with age. Indeed, the only constant in our lives is change. Everything changes. How do we mere mortals transcend the ever-changing world around us? We connect with the Eternal - an entity not subject to the fleeting change that governs life.

This is how our ancestors maintained their faith in Egypt and through all of the ensuing exiles: by connecting to the Eternal. Their faith had basis in its connection, giving them the fortitude to overcome the suffering and hardship. This profound faith that was revealed in Egypt, under the most difficult and trying circumstances, was an indication of how deeply imbedded in the Jewish human spirit it was. Their inner-connectedness with Hashem guided them through the hard times.

Faith, however, is only the beginning, the first step on the road towards developing true hope and confidence. The Seforim explain that faith, emunah, leads to bitachon, trust. While faith alone can be a passive state, in which a notion in one's mind tells him that Hashem can always change the most challenging situation, bitachon, trust, tells him that it will get better. Emunah says it could happen; bitachon says it will happen.

When one has trust, he is not complacent concerning any given situation. He believes that with his trust, he can change destiny - so resolute is his bitachon. Indeed, the Tzemach Tzedek once remarked to someone who was in need of a blessing for a refuah, healing, "Think good, and it will be good." Every fiber of his being must cry out that he trusts unequivocally, that he believes that it will be good.

When one connects with the Eternal, he has absolute conviction that good will prevail and that the power to make it happen rests in his belief. Trust is an active effort, which must be cultivated over time. After one has worked on his inner soul, he can achieve the plateau of, "Think good, and it will be good." Trust is a tool that is hidden deep within the recesses of the soul. One does not uncover it through passive belief. He must believe with a fervor, an enthusiasm, an excitement. This will lead to his "thinking good."

I think this is what the Torah is teaching us concerning Avraham. When one is passionately involved in a project; when his belief in an endeavor becomes his mission and his raison d'etre, his emunah reaches bitachon level. He is not happy with his own belief; he must convince others that he has the elixir that can change their lives. Avraham was ve'heemin, wanted others to believe. He caused others to believe. By doing this, he elevated his emunah to the status of bitachon . It became an active force in his life - and in the lives of others.

Developing a sense of connecting with Hashem is probably one of the most critical issues in today's world of chinuch, education. We live in a society - as noted by a number of popular Orthodox writers-in which some frum boys and girls, from very observant homes, no longer retain a geshmak, satisfaction and enthusiasm, for Yiddishkeit. When we raise our children in a society in which great emphasis is placed on material wealth, when the home, car or school one attends determines his status in the community, we are precluding their ability to connect with Hashem. When we bury our heads in the ground, asserting that there is no clash between secular culture and a frum lifestyle, we are creating tension for ourselves and our children.

It is essential for us to imbue our children with emunah and work towards bitachon, based upon having activated the connection with Hashem and everything that is eternal. As part of the eternal people, we ascribe to striving for nitzchiyus, eternity, recognizing that nothing else has any validity. If we place the focus of our activity and education on developing a feeling and desire for nitzchiyus within our children, we will notice a tremendous drop in the numbers of "at-risk" children. They will have developed an understanding for what is important, and, above all, they will feel that they are an intrinsic part of it.

This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you… Every male among you shall be circumcised. (17:10)

Avraham Avinu's transition/conversion to Judaism occurred when he had his Bris Milah, circumcision, as mandated to him by Hashem. Until then he was not halachically considered a Jew. As such, his circumcision marked the Jewish People's separation from the rest of humankind. Avraham's--and subsequently the Jewish nation's-- nationalism was pronounced with this act of circumcision. It is ironic that immediately afterward, Hashem conferred upon "Avram" a name change, as he now became Avraham, which connotes his role as av hamon goyim, "a father of a multitude of peoples." This implies the Patriarch's universal mission, which is to be followed by his descendants. Thus, we see what appears to be a paradox between the disparate aspects of the Bris Milah: the Jew's nationalism versus his universalism. On the one hand, Avraham's Bris Milah and ensuing conversion represents a form of tzimtzum, an inward constriction of sorts, rather than an expansion into the world community. Yet, on the other hand, he becomes the universal "father," the leader of the world, responsible for its continued spiritual growth and development. How are we to understand this?

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, explains that this holds true only if we fail to comprehend the fundamental difference that exists between the general conception of universalism and the Torah's idea of universalism. In order to understand this distinction, it is essential that we take note of two independent aspects of the mitzvah of Bris Milah.

The technical bris, circumcision, is comprised of two components: krisas ha'orlah, removing the foreskin; and hatafas dam bris, letting of blood which must occur during the removal of the foreskin. The reasons behind these two distinct aspects underscore the character and mission of the Jewish nation. Orlah represents imperfection. By removing the foreskin, we indicate that the physical world in general and man in particular were specifically created by Hashem in an imperfect form, so that man can focus on correcting the imperfection. This applies to the physical imperfection corrected through Bris Milah, and the moral/spiritual imperfection which one ameliorates through repentance.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that Hashem created us in an imperfect form by design. Had man been perfect, there would be no purpose in his creation. Hashem wanted man to be a "partner" with Him in building up the world. Thus, man had to be a "creator." He perfects his physical impediment, as well as harnessing his instincts, which can be the source of evil. By sublimating them to the performance of mitzvos, they become tools of virtue. This is all part of the krisas ha'orlah process.

The hatafas dam bris, whereby blood is let, is an essential process which is performed even if there is no actual circumcision, as in a case of one who had already been circumcised. This procedure symbolizes sacrifice. A Jew goes through his mortal life enduring periods of suffering. Some suffer more than others, but no one escapes suffering. It is a part of the human experience. For the Jewish nation, it plays a pivotal role in our relationship with Hashem. When we couple our suffering with commitment to the Almighty, we play a role in affirming our unique Jewish identity. When Jews suffer, they must do so with dedication and commitment. It is all part of the Jewish experience. This is symbolized by the letting of blood at the Bris Milah.

As the distinguishing sign of a Jew, Bris Milah is a necessary prerequisite for a gentile undergoing conversion. The Jew is distinguished from the gentile through his dedication to the improvement of the physical and moral imperfections in the world. This is symbolized by the two aspects of Bris Milah: removal of the foreskin; and letting of the blood.

While Bris Milah was clearly a contraction for the Jew, marking what is considered the genesis of Jewish nationalism, this constriction was basically a spiritual segregation. With Avraham's circumcision came conversion to the new chosen people. The chosenness of Judaism is based upon a goal, a task, a mission. It is more burden than privilege - but clearly a "privileged burden." It is this idea which differentiates Jewish nationalism from its worldly counterpart.

We are dedicated to all of mankind. In our Yamim Noraim, High Holiday, prayers, we pray to Hashem for the day when "all creatures will bow before You and form one group to do Your will with a full heart." We follow this prayer with an entreaty to "grant honor to Your people…joy to Your land and exaltation to Your city." With Avraham's circumcision came a new name. Avram, the name carrying local significance, became Avraham, a name which has global implications. The Jewish nation, whose members are heirs to the Abrahamitic legacy, is duty-bound to serve as the nucleus which is to preserve all of mankind. We do this through our commitment in suffering. It is only through this dedication that mankind survives. Suffering without commitment becomes a personal journey of pain. When it is coupled with commitment to the Almighty, it is a sacrifice which expiates and achieves atonement. Avraham's segregation was part of his spiritual calling, but his commitment to suffering and his advocacy for chesed, kindness, were the foundation stones of Jewish universalism, Jewish character traits that have endured throughout the millennia.

Va'ani Tefillah

Einei kol eilecha yesabeiru V'Atah nosein lahem es achlam b'ito.
The eyes of all expectantly look forward to You, and You give them their food in its time.

The word ochlam, their food, seems to be exclusionary in that Hashem supplies a small amount of food, as if a person is given exactly what he needs and no more. Are we lauding Hashem for His "portion control" of our daily bread? Furthermore, the fact that this exact portion is given b'ito, in its time, implies that it is granted to us at a preset time. What if we would want a little more later on? What is the meaning of these praises? Siach Yitzchak cites the Chovas HaLevavos, who explains that one who has trust in Hashem will never worry if he has a shortage of food one day. He will say, "He Who has brought me into this world at a specific time - neither one minute earlier, nor one minute later - He is holding back my food, because He knows what is good for me and when is the best time for me to have it." Likewise, when he receives a restricted portion of food, he will say, "He Who provided me with food through my mother when I was an infant, and continued to provide for me as I grew, giving me more and more, knows exactly how much I need. He will not give me less and He will not cause any harm." That is the attitude we must have. Hashem provides for our needs, at the time that we are in need. He will see to our satisfaction. We must trust in Him. B'ito, in its time, is a reference to the time that Hashem has decided for us. He knows when we must have our sustenance.

l'ilui nishmas
R' Eliezer ben R' Yitzchak Chaim z"l
niftar 12 Cheshvan 5766
Izsak Keller
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