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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house. (12:1)

Rashi explains that the seemingly superfluous lecha, "for yourself" refers to l'hanaascha u'l'tovasecha, "for your own benefit and for your own good." What is the benefit and good that Avraham Avinu was to derive from uprooting himself and traveling into the unknown? Rashi continues, "There I will make you into a great nation. Here you will not have children. There I will proclaim your character to the world." In other words, leaving home was a "good thing" for Avraham, since the move would catalyze great things, bringing him closer to fulfilling his mission in the world.

This idea raises a question. Avraham's upheaval from his home is recorded as one of the asarah nisyonos, ten trials, to which the Patriarch was subjected. Avraham had to succeed in undergoing ten challenges to his faith in order to demonstrate his unequivocal conviction; moving from his home was one of them. According to the above, what was the challenge? Hashem promised him the "world" if he would leave. A challenge is measured by the level of hardship, contention - both physical and emotional - that one confronts. If it is overshadowed, however, by a tremendous reward, can it really be viewed as a challenge?

Is it any different from the father who tests his son's conduct and respect? He commands him to leave home to journey to a specific place. As an aside, the father adds that a wonderful reward will be waiting for him at his destination. Clearly, the promise of accolade and gain provides a carrot which renders the challenge more palatable. Why should he not take the plunge? He has so much to gain. Was Avraham's test really a test?

Horav Yecheskel Levenstein, zl, cites Rashi's commentary to pasuk 2 that extended travel has three detrimental consequences: its rigors make it more difficult for child-bearing; it diminishes one's wealth; and it harm's one's reputation. Hashem assured Avraham that he would not suffer these consequences. Now, let us put ourselves in our Patriarch's shoes. Travel is bad. It causes a series of problems which are the natural results of being on the move. Hashem commands Avraham to pick himself up and move. He adds that only then will he be blessed.. This runs counter to everything that Avraham has previously believed. If travel is bad, how could travel be the only means of engendering benefit? It just does not sit well in one's mind.

This is what coursed through Avraham's mind. The travel was not what bothered him; it was doing the exact opposite of what he had been led to believe was normal and natural. This, specifically, claims the Mashgiach, was Avraham's nisayon, trial. We think that a test challenges one's ability to follow a command. Will the child listen, or not: This is the test. Such a test is not applicable to our Patriarch. He listened without question. The test, however, was: Whether he would listen despite the many questions that he had concerning the logic behind the command? Would he follow instructions to move when moving is among the most destructive forces in the undoing of a person's structured life? Would he listen to Hashem when he was commanded to slaughter his only son, when this would mean an end to everything in which he believed? No more offspring, no more Jewish nation, no more future. To listen to such a command is a true test. Following orders when they go against the natural scheme of one's life is a test. Avraham must have had questions, but he moved forward undeterred by the glaring discrepancy that he confronted. Hashem says - I do!

Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, comments that Avraham Avinu's behavior should serve as a compelling lesson for us. Life does not always make sense. We are tested constantly: with financial woes, family issues, sickness and worse. We simply do not understand why Hashem treats us in a manner that we feel we do not deserve. Often, the basic underpinnings of our emunah, conviction, are shaken. We hold on and attempt to create stability, but the questions are still pressing.

A young person falls ill with a dread disease. Thousands throughout the world pray for the illness to subside, for the affliction to leave the doomed person. The Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, is beyond belief. Yet, the person's life comes to a tragic end. We prayed. Hashem listened. The answer was a resounding "no." We wonder what happened to all of the tefillos. No prayer is wasted. Where are our prayers? Apparently, they did not seem to help the one for whom we were praying. Or - so we believe. We have no idea how much every prayer helps. Perhaps we were unable to prevent the sick person's demise, but certainly our prayers made a difference. Every prayer has its place. Every prayer leaves its imprint. Every prayer ultimately has a purpose. We just do not know what that purpose is. We believe, however, be'emunah sheleimah, with perfect faith, that no prayer is wasted. It is all a test. Life is a test. Avraham Avinu showed us the way. He demonstrated that questions do not deter the individual from following Hashem's command.

What happens to all of the tefillos that are recited and, yet, do not generate the positive response for which we have waited? A number of responses have been suggested to this often-asked question. First, we believe that Hashem has a plan for the world. While our tefillos did not effect a positive response to our requests, it surely circumvented some other decree from occurring. Second, it is a tremendous z'chus, source of merit, for the one who so badly needed our prayers. This merit will accompany him. The Chazon Ish, zl, explained that every tefillah is heard - some are answered immediately, while others are answered over time - some even in Olam Habba, the World to Come.

Rav Beifus explains this concept. The very fact that one prays to Hashem reflects a remarkable chizuk, strengthening, of our emunah in the Almighty. The mere fact that we daven to Hashem demonstrates that He is the only address for salvation. The voluntary expression of this principle through our prayer which is catalyzed by an individual's illness serves as a powerful merit for the one in need. The prayers of thousands of Jews are tallied up, and the awesome merit is placed on deposit in the beneficiary's name. Every word of prayer, every groan, every tear, is a z'chus for him. If the prayers are "too late" for him in this world, the merit which they incur will be applied to his Heavenly account.

Last, those who continue to question, those who are so broken-hearted that they continue to wonder what happened to all of the tears? The answer, as expressed by the Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, is: The hot tears evaporate and become Clouds of Glory which join together with the many merits of the individual who is the focus of our prayer. Together, they rise before the Throne of Glory to praise the unforgettable individual for whom we have prayed so fervently. These merits will accompany him to his final resting place.

And I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. (12:2)

Avraham Avinu went through ten trials/tests/ ordeals through which Hashem challenged his faith. He triumphed, passing with flying colors. Did Hashem really need to test Avraham to confirm his faithfulness? Clearly, Hashem knew the sublime, spiritual level to which Avraham had ascended. The test was obviously for Avraham's benefit. It would give him the fortitude to withstand future trials. Nothing breeds success like success. I think there is more to it. Avraham needed to plow through these tests in order to temper his spirit and to understand what his future descendants would have to endure. Avraham was to experience the trials and tribulations to which his descendants would be subjected, so that he could prepare the way for them. His strength of character would strengthen their character; his unstinting conviction would buttress their conviction. A leader must lead from experience. He must understand firsthand what his followers are experiencing. If he does not understand, he will lack the empathy required in the decision process.

Horav Binyamin Diskin, zl, was a brilliant Torah scholar. He lived a short life, leaving this world at the young age of forty-six, but his legacy was one rich in Torah. Living in the city of Horodna where his father, a disciple of the Gaon of Vilna was rav, R' Binyamin became a distinguished Halachic authority and Torah genius. He attracted students, such as Horav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector and Horav Baruch Mordechai Lipschutz. In addition to his famous son, R' Yehoshua Leib, universally known as the Brisker Rav, his three other sons were each world-class Torah leaders. While Torah study was his life, he did not demur from involving himself in communal matters when the need arose.

During one such instance, he was compelled to speak at a celebration feting Napoleon following his liberation of Poland from under Russian rule. One evening, without prior notice, armed guards appeared at his home waiting to escort him to a celebration in Napoleon's honor. Only on the way did he learn of his destination.

R' Binyamin entered a banquet hall that was dazzlingly illuminated, with brilliant d?cor, and equipped with every possible luxury. Napoleon's ego was apparently quite well-known; the entire aristocracy of the land, both social and religious, was in attendance. The rav was walking a tightrope. If he spoke too little, he would enrage Napoleon; and if his speech were flowery with unabashed flattery, he might arouse the ire of the Polish peasants against the Jews. When R' Binyamin's turn to speak finally came, he began by describing what appears to be the strange and mysterious ways of the Creator. At first, they appear perplexing, but, in due time, when cogently contemplated, one sees how perfect they are. R' Binyamin invited them to consider the story of Yosef Hatzaddik, a pure soul, who was subjected to years of hardship, languishing for years in a dungeon, relegated to spending his time with the social elite of the Egyptian prison system. This was after he was wrongfully accused of misdoing by his brothers, subject to their animus and ridicule. Why did Hashem ordain such a miserable life for Yosef? Why was his life filled with such bitterness and misery?

R' Binyamin explained that the Almighty wanted someone who one day would hold the lives of people in his hands, who could punish as well as pardon, to first taste the bitterness of suffering and imprisonment himself. He had to experience injustice and inequality personally. Later, when he would become a leader among men, he would know the meaning of being falsely accused, and how it felt to be imprisoned. He would sympathize with those who stood before him in trial. Thus, he would be able to mete out punishment accordingly.

An insight into Yosef's life might find a parallel with the Polish nation. The Creator knew that the Polish nation was destined for greatness. One day, it would rule over nations and dominate the lives of thousands of human beings. It would decide; it would adjudicate; it would grant life; and it would mete out punishment. Thus, Divine Providence saw fit to give this nation a foretaste of injustice and oppression, so that it would empathize with those over whom it would reign. R' Binyamin's speech had its desired effect. While reflecting the festivity of the moment, it also called attention to the plight of the Jews who had been suffering pain, indignation and misery under the capricious tyranny of the aristocrats who were sitting on the very dais from which he spoke. At the conclusion of his speech, the royal guard escorted R' Binyamin home.

This is a powerful story with a compelling lesson. One earns distinction, great people pay a price. It is all part of the Divine Plan. The leader who takes the lessons to heart will be a great leader. Avraham Avinu's trials were appropriate lessons for the father of our People.

And you will be a blessing. (12:2)

Rashi cites the Midrash which divides this pasuk into three parts, each individual part relating to one of the Avos, Patriarchs. "And I will make you a great nation" is a reference to that which we say in Shemoneh Esrai, Elokai Avraham, "G-d of Avraham." "And I will bless you" is a reference to that which we say, Elokai Yitzchak, "G-d of Yitzchak." "And I will make your name great" is a reference to that which we say, Elokai Yaakov, "G-d of Yaakov." One might think that the blessing is concluded with all of their names. Therefore, the pasuk says, V'heyei berachah, "And you will be a blessing." With you, Avraham, they conclude the blessing - and not with them. Hence, we conclude the berachah with Magen Avraham, the "shielding of Avraham." What are Chazal teaching us? What is the advantage of concluding the blessing with the name of Avraham Avinu?

Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, distinguishes between the Patriarchs, their backgrounds, and, thus, their individual spiritual achievements. Avraham's origins were quite bleak, growing up in the home of an idolater, living in a community in which paganism in its most depraved forms prevailed as a way of life and culture. Avraham discovered Hashem through his own individual thought process. No one showed him the way. It was his own personal journey.

Yitzchak Avinu, on the other hand, was taught by his great father. Avraham taught Yitzchak the basics, and the second Patriarch added his own novel approach to serving Hashem. Yaakov Avinu was a third-generation believer. Having imbibed from his father, Yitzchak, who himself had been suffused with deep emunah, conviction, from his father, Yaakov was bequeathed a noble tradition of faith in the Almighty. He, like his father before him, also added his innovations. With this process in mind, it would reason that every succeeding generation would add to that of its predecessor. In this way, emunah would become stronger with each succeeding generation of Jews.

This is the meaning of "one might think that the blessing is concluded with all of their names." One might assume that the process of each successive generation adding its own innovation towards bolstering its inherited belief in Hashem would reach the point that, at the conclusion, Klal Yisrael's emunah will be based on a long succession of faith in Hashem strengthened by each generation. Well, that is what one might think. Regrettably, it did not happen as planned. Instead, we stand today in Acharis HaYamim, the End of Days, in which the prevalent theme is that of Avraham Avinu: people returning to the Source; Jews that have been estranged and alienated for generations are discovering Hashem - for the first time - similar to the path of Avraham.

Thus, concludes the Rosh Yeshivah, when we see the bleak circumstance in which Judaism is presently mired, when we see so many who have reneged the faith of their ancestors, we should not give up hope. It is not the end. We will have a new beginning. For Chazal have prophesized that the descendants of the fathers who have turned away from Hashem will follow Avraham's example and return. We conclude the blessing with the name of Avraham, because that is how the future will unfold.

And when Avram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he armed his disciples… and he pursued them as far as Dan. (14:14)

When Lot was captured, Avraham Avinu could easily have saved him, without going through the extra bother and danger of saving his compatriots, the people of Sodom. Instead, Avraham risked his life to save people that, for all intents and purposes, were his mortal enemies. He did this because he was a baal chesed, a man whose devotion to acts of loving-kindness was consummate. Furthermore, the people of Sodom had themselves uprooted the basic underpinnings of chesed in their community. They would execute anyone who shared his bread with a poor man. Nonetheless, Avraham saved these people as a result of his unparalleled commitment to performing chesed. When Hashem divulged to Avraham His plans to destroy Sodom, Avraham prayed for the people. Remember, these were his enemies. Yet, he entreated Hashem on their behalf.

In contrast, Bilaam the wicked, had no problem cursing the Jews, despite the fact that they had done no harm to him. One basic difference summarizes the issues: A true tzaddik, righteous person, has no desire to see any harm against even the most wicked person. A tzaddik is truly a good person, seeking nothing for himself, but everything for others. The rasha, wicked person, is quite the opposite. He goes out of his way to incite, provoke and directly cause immeasurable harm to the tzaddik, for no reason other than that he is filled with evil.

The Chazon Ish, zl, saw no possibility of coexistence between Torah and secularism - be it in government or social areas. The two simply could not mix, their goals and objectives were to remain totally distinct, and, at times, antithetical to one another. Yet, just as his condemnation of secularism was unequivocal, so was his love and compassion for the individual Jew who, due to circumstances, had been led astray. In his writings, he clearly distinguishes between secularism as a movement and as a way of life for the tinok she'nishbah, literally children taken captive, denoting a person who is viewed as a victim of circumstances concerning his religious beliefs. The Jew who is a product of his environment is not to be held liable for his erroneous beliefs. He writes: "It is incumbent upon us to draw them to us with bonds of love, so that the light of truth will illuminate their ways to whatever degree possible" (Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 13).

The Chazon Ish was adamantly opposed to resorting to any use of violence to promote the Jewish community's goals. He felt that, with love, we would accomplish more for Torah. By bringing home those who are estranged from Torah, we will succeed in overcoming the scourge of secularism that has plagued the Jewish community for the last two centuries. Ultimately, each individual's return will ignite a candle. These candles will join together to form a large flame that will dispel the darkness.

Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her domination. (16:9)

Sarah Imeinu was a baalas chesed, a woman who performed acts of loving-kindness on par with her husband, Avraham Avinu. It is, therefore, difficult to accept that she would afflict Hagar. Such practice was not consistent with her saintly character. She made Hagar work; for someone of Hagar's royal background, work could be subjectively viewed as an affliction. In any event, the Torah writes that Sarah afflicted Hagar, creating a situation whereby Hagar left, and, in the course of running away, was met by an angel. She was instructed to return to Sarah's home, even if it meant suffering. Hagar had clearly shown disrespect to Sarah. Thus, she warranted an element of discipline, but the Torah uses the word "afflicted" to describe Sarah's attitude towards Hagar. Such behavior does not sound like the Sarah Imeinu who was the Matriarch of our People.

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, cites Sforno who interprets the angel's question of Hagar practically. The angel asked, "Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, from where have you come, and where are you going?" (ibid. 16:8) Sforno interprets this to mean: Look seriously at the place and environment which you rejected. You are leaving a home of tzaddikim, righteous people, and returning to a land filled with pagan beliefs, to a place of spiritual contamination and wicked people." The Rosh Yeshivah explains the angel's comments: "What are you doing to yourself? You were a princess, daughter of Pharaoh; yet, you rejected fame and fortune and chose to live with Avraham and Sarah when you saw the miracles which G-d performed for them in your father's home. You recognized the truth - pure and unadulterated. Therefore, you were determined to leave home. It is better to be a maidservant in the home of Avraham, than a princess in the house of Pharaoh. And now, you are running from the home of righteous people to a place suffused in spiritual darkness and contamination. How can you forfeit everything that you fought for all of your life?"

In other words, Hagar was giving up. She had chosen a life filled with spiritual integrity over one built upon base desire and immorality. How could she throw away all of her achievements?

Now that we understand the angel's indictment of Hagar, we must endeavor to understand Hagar's response, "I am running away from Sarai, my mistress" (ibid. 16:8), as well as the angel's retort that she return to Sarai's domination.

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, explains this, based upon Sforno's presentation of the contrast between Hagar's roots in an environment of immorality and spiritual filth and Avraham's home of spiritual illumination and virtue. Hagar countered that she had, indeed, absorbed much from Avraham and Sarah. She veritably felt accomplished and protected against the harsh influence of paganism. She could handle the world "out there." Therefore, as long as Sarah was "nice" to her and treated her with respect, she remained in their home. Now that Sarah was afflicting her, however, she has had enough. She was ready to take on the world. In addition, she had lost respect for Sarah as a mentor, as a result of the way she was treating her. She had no reason to put up with the abuse, as long as she was spiritually ready to leave this "protective" environment.

Hearing this, the angel replied that the protective environment was effective as long as she remained within its confines. Once she returned to her original heathen culture, she could easily be swept into the web of sin and immorality. Therefore, she should return to Sarah and be afflicted, because this specific affliction would purify her character. This tempering of her character would elevate her soul and make her a better, more spiritually ascendant person.

Accordingly, Sarah's "affliction" was part of the "lesson plan" for Hagar. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that Sarah understood that Hagar had to be purified through the crucible of toil and labor. What to Hagar might seem to be affliction was actually part of the learning process, much like "boot camp" for a soldier in the army. If boot camp were to be a vacation, the soldier would hardly survive a military conflict. When Sarah took note of Hagar's ingratitude and haughtiness, she realized that Hagar had a long way to go to achieve perfection. When Sarah intensified her efforts, however, Hagar balked and ran away. Spiritual development is demanding, but then, nothing of true value comes without effort. Hagar was not prepared to accept the lesson that would change her life.

Va'ani Tefillah

Va'taas lecha shem k'hayom ha'zeh.
And You brought Yourself renown as it is to this very day.

The greatest of all miracles is that Hashem allows us to exist today, as He did throughout the millennia. Surrounded by a sea of hatred, we are blessed with continued survival as a result of Hashem's will. This is no small miracle, as attested to by the disintegration of all the other nations of antiquity who attempted to destroy us.

What is the meaning of k'hayom hazeh, (like) "this very day"? Should it not have said ba'yom hazeh, "on that very day," referring to that day on which Hashem liberated the Jews from Egypt? The Chasam Sofer explains that this applies to the phenomenon of "today." When it is daylight in one part of the world, it is night in the opposite end of the world. Likewise, in Egypt, when "darkness" and plagues were occurring in one part of the country, where it affected the Egyptians, light and joy were dominant in the "Jewish" part of Egypt. Thus, the pasuk teaches us that just like ha'yom ha'zeh, this day, today, when the sun shines in one part of the world, it is night in another part of the world; so, too, was it "night" and "day" in Egypt during the Jews' liberation.

This is also the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim 118:24, "This is the day Hashem has made." The redemption from Egypt was similar to this day - in which light and darkness reign in different parts of the world.

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