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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem said to Avram, "Go for yourself from your land. (12:1)

Chazal teach that, among the many practical issues that concerned Avraham Avinu regarding his departure from Charan, he also had a spiritual basis. In the previous parshah, the Torah records the death of Terach, father of Avraham - when, in fact, Terach died more than sixty years later. Chazal explain that Avraham was anxious about what people would say. His father was at a point in life that an able son would have been an advantage to him. For Avraham to abandon his father at this point in his life would open him up to public criticism, implying that he was acting with disrespect. Thus, the Torah records Terach's death prematurely in order to assuage Avraham's guilt, lest he create a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name, by saying that Avraham was listening to G-d, while disregarding the health and welfare of his aged father.

The Midrash uses the words - Ani potercha mi'Kibbud Av v'Eim, v'ein Ani poteir l'acheir mi'Kibbud Av v'Eim; "I absolve you from the mitzvah of honoring your parents; I do not absolve anyone else from this mitzvah." What does this mean? In what circumstances does Hashem absolve us from a mitzvah as important as honoring one's parents?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, offers a penetrating insight into the meaning of Chazal's statement. Mitzvah performance consists of multiple levels; similarly, the essence of a mitzvah can be understood in diverse ways. One person's mitzvah may not be another person's mitzvah, and the manner in which a mitzvah may be carried out by one person may not suffice for another person. In other words, mitzvah performance is more complex than it seems superficially.

Let me explain. Avraham Avinu had before him the mitzvah of honoring his parents. By remaining at home and attending to the physical needs of his aging parents, Avraham was enjoined to do what each and every one of us is obligated to do. Hashem knew that Avraham was concerned about leaving, for two reasons: first, he had a responsibility to attend to his parents; second, what would people say? It would not appear to be in his best interests to leave. His departure might catalyze a public outcry which could lead to denigrating Hashem's Name.

The Almighty assuaged Avraham's fears, ensuring him that the mitzvah of honoring his parents would be fulfilled in an even greater manner, when people would realize what kind of a special son his parents had raised. When a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, achieves a deeper and more elevated knowledge of Torah, each and every one of his religious/spiritual endeavors has a more profound meaning and reaches a higher, more elevated place in the spiritual sphere.

As an example, Rav Zaitchik cites the halachah that a Kohen Gadol, High Priest, is exempt from the mitzvah of aveilus, mourning, even for a close relative. This exemption is the result of his lofty responsibility vis-?-vis the nation, while he is serving in the Bais Hamikdash. Someone who is so davuk, connected (in a state of clinging), to Hashem is prohibited from breaking that bond. Even a temporary lapse would create an unnecessary and unacceptable breach in the relationship.

Honor/respect is measured by the nature of the individual who is tendering the respect. A simple, poor man who is not blessed with advanced literacy-and whose concept of reverence is limited to his ability and acumen-is obviously not able to provide his parents with a very glorified form of pleasure. One gives what he has and what he understands he should give. One whose "possessions" are meager is concomitantly limited in his gifting ability.

The illustrious son, who has earned a distinguished reputation based upon his erudition and prolific self-expression, is a more dignified person whose concept of honor is much more advanced and far more elevated. The average public envies the parents who are worthy of a son, who is such a nachas, source of satisfaction, to them.

It is all about one's sense of values. In the financial world, the "yeshivah man," who has spent most of his life immersed in the Torah, does not garner much respect. His financial portfolio is nothing to speak of. Thus, to individuals for whom the barometer of an individual's success quotient is measured by his financial status, the ben Torah, who places Torah and his relationship with Hashem above all else, does not carry much weight. If his father runs in these circles, he might even tend to "cover up" the fact that he has a son that is "learning" (I must add that there are those who have chosen the path of derech eretz as a means of earning a livelihood, but this does not necessarily bespeak their value system.) There are those, however, to whom learning does not carry much significance and to whom the only achievements which matter are those that pertain to the secular fields of endeavor.

Rav Zaitchik goes on to distinguish between the various shevatim, tribes, who own and cultivate the land-thus allowing them to fulfill the many mitzvos associated with property development and money managing-and the one shevet that owns nothing, Shevet Levi. They do not have much: their nachalah, inheritance, is Hashem. If one thinks about it, it is specifically because they have nothing that they warrant having everything - Hashem as their nachalah. They are Hashem's legion, servants to the King. It all depends on one's priorities-the importance is not found in the individuals choice of profession, but rather, in his choice of focus in life.

"Go for yourself from your land, the land of your birthplace, and from your father's home, to the land that I will show you." (12:1)

The Degel Machane Efraim teaches that the Torah is eternal and not limited to one specific period in time. Every Jew can discover a response to life's challenges in the Torah. Thus, the words, Lech lecha me'artzecha u'mimoladetecha u'mibeis avicha, applies to each one of us. The Zohar Hakadosh addresses this issue and explains that the words, Lech lecha me'artzecha, are stated by Hashem speaking to the neshamah, soul, which is viewed as being an av, father, to the guf, body, of a person. "Avram" would then represent the av, soul, which descends from ram, on high, Heaven above. Hashem instructs the neshamah to leave its "home" b'ginzei meromim, in the highest heavens, to descend to ha'aretz asher areka, to the guf (whichever) body, in which I will place you. Avram, the neshamah, listens, accepting any place or venue in which Hashem places it.

We now understand why Hashem did not inform Avraham of his destination. "To the land which I will show you," explain the commentators (Kedushas Levi), is Hashem's way of telling the neshamah that wherever you end up, I am with you (showing you) all the way. Hashem was giving Avraham the key to confronting the challenges of life: "You are not alone. I put you here, and I will be with you while you are here."

Life is filled with mystery. The inexplicable often happens, stymying us and undermining our ability to think rationally. Why? Why is this happening to me? While the answer to that question is most often beyond our ability to grasp, one thing we know for sure: we are not in this alone. All of "this" is decreed from Hashem, and He will be with us as we journey through the ambiguities that plague us. It is always asher areka - "which I will show you." We never know up front what our destination in this world will be. We are supposed to wander from place to place, with the realization that it is Hashem who is manipulating our life's journey, and He is with us every step of the way until we return back "home."

Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites the well-known Midrash, "Then G-d opened her eyes, and she (Hagar) perceived a well of water" (Bereishis 21:19). Rabbi Binyamin says, "All are in a state of blindness until Hashem opens up their eyes." A person travels down the road. It is hot, and his throat is parched. He really could use a cold drink right now. He must remember the famous words - el ha'aretz asher areka, and hope that Hashem will soon enlighten you (him) by illuminating the path of your (his) journey.

I conclude with the words of the Shlah Hakadosh, who writes (commentary to Bamidbar 9:18), "According to the word of Hashem, would Bnei Yisrael journey; and according to the word of Hashem, would they encamp." The Shlah writes: "There is a remez, allusion, here to the notion that, for every movement that a Jew makes, he should say Im yirtzeh Hashem, or B'ezras Hashem, 'If it will be the will of Hashem (G-d willing)' or, 'with the assistance of Hashem…' Hashem's Name should be fluent in his mouth."

This is how a Jew develops and maintains deveikus b'Hashem, clinging/closeness with the Almighty. The mere fact that we know that, without Hashem we cannot function, compels us to be constantly aware of His Presence in our lives. This is what deveikus is all about. When a Jew arises in the morning, his first thought should be to thank Hashem for granting him another day. Then, he should realize that whatever he will do that day, wherever his life's journey will take him, it will always be el ha'aretz asher areka, "To the land that I will show you" - to the place/endeavor/goal that Hashem will lead us to. Thus, our entire day will be very much like that of a child who walks holding his father's hand. Only - it will be Hashem's Hand which we will embrace.

Avram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother's son… and they left to go to the land of Canaan. (12:5)

Torah commentary is divided into four approaches. Each one delves progressively deeper into the esoteric background of a given situation, thereby lending the reader an unparalleled insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of occurrences which initially seem to mystify us. The fact that Avraham Avinu took his nephew, Lot, with him when he left for Canaan is one of those instances which baffle the reader. Lot was far from being a saint, which was evidenced later, when he chose to live in the plains of Sodom, despite the evil and corrupt nature of its inhabitants. Later on, when Lot separated from Avraham, he also severed his relationship with the G-d of Avraham. His moral compass is further witnessed later when he fathered two sons from his own daughters. True, he might have been drunk, but even insobriety has its limits. Our query becomes more pronounced when we see Avraham risking his life to save Lot from captivity. Apparently, everything for which Avraham extended himself must have had Hashem's approval, because we see that Lot merited experiencing miracles so that he be saved from death. How are we to understand the enigma that was Lot, and the enduring lesson which may be derived from his life?

With the assistance of Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, we are guided through this maze by delving into the Kabbalistic expositions of what otherwise appears to be a profound mystery. The Zohar Hakadosh asks the question: "What did Avraham see in Lot that he was determined to remain with him?" The Zohar replies: D'tzafa b'Ruach Hakodesh d'zamin l'mei pak minei David, "Through the medium of Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, Avraham saw that Lot was destined to have the saintly David Hamelech, progenitor of the Davidic dynasty and Moshiach Tzidkeinu." (Loose translation). Avraham saw a hidden spark that would precipitate the future of malchus Yisrael, Jewish monarchy, which, of course, would eventually lead to our future redemption through Moshiach, a scion of David Hamelech. That is certainly an undisputable reason for tolerating Lot.

This idea is supported in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 41:4). The Torah teaches (Bereishis 13:5), "And also to Lot, who traveled with Avram, there were sheep, cattle and tents." Chazal teach that these two "tents" are a reference to Rus HaMoaviah and Naamah HaAmonis. Rus married Boaz, and together, they were the progenitors of David Hamelech. Naamah married Rechavam ben Shlomo Hamelech. Thus, we see that, despite the fact that these women descended from two such contemptible nations as Moav and Ammon, nations whose male converts may not be accepted into the Jewish fold-they were holy and virtuous, suitably fit to be the Matriarchs of the Davidic dynasty.

It is interesting that David Hamelech, who was the paradigm of chesed, descended from Lot, who fathered Ammon and Moav, two nations not known for their proclivity to act kindly to anyone, especially Jews, and who made his home in Sodom, the country that rewrote the primer on human kindness. It all goes to show that we, as human beings, know absolutely nothing of the ways of Hashem. There is a Divine Plan which transcends us. In Kabbalistic literature, much is written concerning the nitzotzos, holy sparks, which are to be found all over the world. They are imbedded in people, and they are waiting to be discovered and eventually repaired, so that they can find their rightful place among the Jewish People. Therefore, when we find ourselves in a certain place and we cannot rationally understand why we are there, we must be cognizant that there is a Divine Plan. Horav Mordechai Pogremanksy, zl, was wont to say, "A Jew is never lost." If he finds himself in a strange place, it is because he is supposed to be there for a reason.

Fear not Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great. (15:1)

In his He'Emanti Va'Adabeira, Horav Moshe Toledano, Shlita, cites the Peninei Ben Ish Chai, who quotes the Aderest Eliyahu that Hashem is mavtiach, assures/guarantees those who observe Hashem's mitzvos, with great reward, commensurate with their performance. Chazal teach (Kiddushin 39b) s'char b'hai alma leka, "There is no (payment of) reward in this world." In other words, mitzvah performance is rewarded in Olam Habba, the World to Come. The commentators wonder how this reward is reconciled with the pasuk in the Torah, B'yomo titein s'charo, "On that day shall you pay his hire" (Devarim 24:15). A day-laborer must be paid each day. It is preferable to pay as soon as the day's work is over (so that he does have until the next morning). If so, why does Hashem delay payment of one's s'char for mitzvah observance until the World to Come?

The answer is based upon a Halachic stipulation found in Choshen Mishpat 339:7 that, when a person who hires workers through the medium of an agent, such as a foreman, the law of b'yomo titein s'charo does not apply. Only when the worker negotiates directly with the owner who is paying the bill is there a requirement that payment be made on that very same day that the work was performed. Therefore, since Moshe Rabbeinu was Hashem's medium in giving us the Torah, the demand that payment be made immediately does not apply.

Based upon this we may suggest a novel suggestion, (I assume this is from the Ben Ish Chai). Klal Yisrael heard the first two commandments of the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, directly from Hashem, without the advantage (or disadvantage) of a medium." Two mitzvos for which Hashem will not withhold reward are: Anochi Hashem Elokecha, during which Hashem "introduces" Himself and enjoins us in the mitzvah of emunah, faith/belief, in Hashem; and Lo yiyeh lecha elohim acheirim, "Do not worship other gods", the prohibition against idol worship. A Jew who maintains his uncompromising faith in Hashem, who unstintingly does not waiver in his belief by believing in other deities, will receive his just reward in this world.

This is derived from the pasuk in our parsha. Al tira Avram, "Fear not Avram." Do not fear that you will have to wait until you reach the next world before you can receive My reward. Anochi magen lach, "I am a shield for you" The Anochi, I, of Anochi Hashem Elokecha, the first commandment that charges us to be faithful and believe in Hashem, will protect us and be the source for our reward b'olam hazeh, this world.

Alternatively, Hashem was giving Avraham Avinu the key to Jewish survival in galus, our bitter exile, to which so many of our brothers and sisters have succumbed. Anochi magen lach. The belief in Hashem, a Jew's emunah in the face of the most difficult challenges, will carry him through the ordeal, the pain, the trauma, that has accompanied our people for most of this exile. Faith in Hashem is the only support that we have. It is the only panacea that works. Faith carries us over the hump and walks us through the pain and uncertainty. Indeed, one who has faith may be certain of one thing: he is not alone in his travail.

In the introduction to Shema Yisrael from the Kaliver Rebbe, a collection of testimonies of devotion, courage and self-sacrifice, as evidenced during the terrible Holocaust, the saintly author shares with readers his emotions concerning the lofty attribute of emunah and how the Jewish People have demonstrated that their faith in the Almighty is invincible. I take the liberty of sharing a few vignettes from this most poignant thesis.

The Rebbe begins by stating that, after all of the calumnies to befall our people during the Holocaust, after the terrible bloodshed and brutal deaths of six million Jews under the most heinous forms of murder, we would still stand resolute and strong in our faith, declaring, "We have not forgotten Your Name! Despite everything that we experienced, despite the pain and travail, we stand with emunah sheleimah, perfect faith, and shout from the depth of our hearts, "Shema Yisrael!"

How… after a long day of backbreaking labor, during which they had been mercilessly beaten and abused, they finally arrived at their decrepit barracks to "enjoy" their longed-for daily slice of moldy bread and a little rest. Yet, they gave up the food and rest, so that they could put on Tefillin!

Tefillin?! They only had a shel yad, Tefillin of the hand, but they, nonetheless, ran to carry out the beloved mitzvah, so they could carry out the will of Hashem.

The Rebbe is convinced-and states so emphatically-that the only reason that most, if not all, of those who survived that living purgatory did so because of their indomitable faith in Hashem. This empowered them to put aside all mundane, physical considerations. Otherwise, there is no way they could have physically and emotionally survived such horrible torments. While many of these Jews had never before evinced any semblance of such spiritual greatness, the fires that burned within them were so strong that they kept on burning throughout the many challenges that they confronted.

Those, however, who were of little faith quickly wasted away physically and lost their minds emotionally. Faith has always been the foundation stone of our people - without which we cannot survive.

The Rebbe relates how, when he was in Auschwitz, he saw the son of a great Rav from Grosswardein being taken to his death. Knowing where he was being taken, confronting the brutal truth of his soon to be mortality, he screamed out, "Yidden, dear Jews, please remember to say Kaddish for me!" What greater example of Mi k'amcha Yisrael?; "Who is like Your People - Yisrael?" A member of any other nation would have gone mad, lost complete control of himself. Yet, here stood a young Jew about to meet his Maker, and all he could think about was that someone should recite Kaddish for him! What is Kaddish? It is praise for the Almighty. This is what this young man was thinking about seconds before his death - praise for the Almighty! That is the meaning of emunah. A Jew who has faith lives on an entirely different plane than the rest of the world. He transcends physicality and the mundane, because he is holding on to G-d.

I could go on with pages of testimony and stories of faith and courage, but I will close with a well-known story that took place concerning Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan. This story imparts a powerful lesson, which every one of us should reiterate on a constant basis. Rav Meir'l (as he was referred to endearingly) would immerse himself in a mikveh that was on top of a snow covered mountain. Obviously, the trek up the mountain was not easy - especially for an elderly man to whom physical conditioning was not familiar. Yet, despite his advanced age, Rav Meir'l climbed the mountain easily and without issue. The man who accompanied him would slip and fall numerous times.

After a number of such trips, the shamash, Rebbe's attendant, who was a man half the Rebbe's age, asked, "Rebbe, how is it that Your Honor walks up the mountain so steadily, without straining, and without slipping and stumbling, while I am constantly stumbling?" The holy Premishlaner replied, "He who is bound to the One Above will not fall below."

The legacy of emunah that has been left to us from Avraham Avinu and transmitted throughout the generations is one of critical significance to our survival. It is a legacy from which we may not deviate. It is our lifeline to eternity - and life on this world, as well!

Va'ani Tefillah

Shirah chadashah - A new song.

Shir/shirah, the Hebrew word for song, can be-and is-written in both lashon nekeivah, female, and lashon zachar, male. The early commentators (Shibolei Haleket, Rav Yehudah bar Yakar) distinguish between the implication denoted by male in contrast to female. Since the female conceives and gives birth, the word shirah, spelled in the female, implies a song that will lead to another song, because the reason that we are singing now is not complete. If we sing for the redemption from exile, then the female spelling alludes to another exile which will engender shirah, once again. A song which is a shir, in the masculine, underscores that this is it - no more reason to sing, because there will not be another exile. This is the Final redemption. There will be no other exile.

The shirah after the Splitting of the Red Sea was feminine, because there would be other exiles that would follow. It does not diminish the inherent joy of "today's" redemption, but, like a woman who will have multiple births, so, too, will there be other exiles.

On Pesach night, we say Shiru l'Hashem shir chadash, "Sing to Hashem a new song." That song is written in the masculine, shir, because that song refers to the song following the Final Redemption. It is called "final" for a reason. Therefore, the song is expressed in the masculine.

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