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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayera

Hashem said, "Because the outcry of Sodom and Amorah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave. (18:20)

Even sin has limits. In order for Hashem to destroy an entire population, the evil must have stretched to its nadir. Indeed, we find only two places in the Torah which manifests destruction of such magnitude: the Mabul, flood; and the cities of Sodom and Amorah. True, other individuals sinned, but in these two incidents iniquity reached a milestone. What was there about these sins that was so baneful that the consequences for the sinners was total annihilation? As long as teshuvah, repentance, is an option, Hashem refrains from striking the final blow. Hashem's disciplinary measures are not punitive. They are therapeutic, a guide for us to mend our ways and return to the Almighty. In other words, the characteristics of the sin of the generation of the flood and the inhabitants of Sodom seem to have precluded teshuvah. Chazal teach us that while the generation of the flood was morally corrupt, Hashem sealed their doom only because of theft. Their theft was of a unique form. They stole only a pachos m'shaveh perutah, less than the value of a perutah, which is the smallest coin. Halachically speaking, this is not even considered to be stealing. A Bais Din does not punish a thief for such an act of stealing. Hence, the thief can even strut around, head held high, in total contempt of the law. Ostensibly, such a person will not repent. After all, what did he do wrong?

A similar behavior pattern was manifest in Sodom, where the people simply changed the rules to suit their needs. If an evil they sought to commit did not fit into their code of law, they conveniently altered the law. Thus, in their eyes, they did no wrong! If so, what would motivate them to repent? The people of these two generations had one thing in common: they did no wrong; they had no reason to repent. Consequently, there was no expectation that they would mend their ways. They would continue living an iniquitous lifestyle without any hope for change. This is why Hashem destroyed them. When one either does not care, or deceives himself into believing that he is doing the right thing; when there is no hope that a person will one day say, "I have sinned," then there is no hope for reprieve.

What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city? (18:24)

If there had been tzaddikim, would they have made a difference? In reality, there were not even ten righteous people. If there would have been ten tzaddikim, however, the city would have been saved. Why? Will a few tzaddikim accomplish so much that their presence would save the city from disaster? The answer is yes, if these few righteous Jews do not isolate themselves from the community. The key phrase is, "b'soch ha'ir," in the midst of the city. The fact that tzaddikim live in a community is not necessarily a guarantee that it will be spared. Hashem does not overlook sins, simply forgive iniquity, just because the city is host to a number of righteous, G-d fearing Jews. They must be involved in the community, living "in the midst of the city," giving shiurim, lectures, publicly displaying their conviction in the Almighty in order for their presence to have an effect. When the wicked see the righteous observing mitzvos, performing acts of chesed, reaching out to the unaffiliated, acting in a manner becoming a Torah Jew - they change. They can only put us down if we allow them to. The light of Torah can banish the darkest darkness. We have only to focus on the light.

Avraham Avinu 's advocacy on behalf of the evil Sodomites is remarkable and, indeed, sets the standard for the patience we must exert in order to give the sinner an opportunity to repent. Horav Moshe Schwab, zl, cites Sforno who interprets Hashem's statement regarding the fifty tzaddikim who would catalyze Sodom's rescue, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous men who will protest against the wicked ones." We infer from here that as long as someone protests, as long as there is one who will rebuke and attempt to set the wicked on the correct path, there is hope. If someone protests, the rasha has the possibility of hearing mussar. All is not yet lost.

Thus, on the one hand, we must vigorously challenge those who would defame the Torah and its way of life. On the other hand, however, if someone has a Yiddishe neshamah, such that when he is up against the wall he cries out, "Shma Yisrael," we are not permitted to "write him off" the spiritual ledger. If Hashem does not, how can we?

And Hashem remembered Avraham; so He sent Lot from amidst the upheaval. (19:29)

The Ran infers from this pasuk that Lot was spared only because of Avraham. Chazal question what did Lot do that granted him such merit that he was saved from the destruction that befell Sodom. They respond that when Avraham referred to Sarah as his "sister" in order to protect himself from the Egyptians, Lot did not utter a word in dispute. Since he was compassionate with Avraham, Hashem took pity and spared him. The various commentators ask if this was the only merit that Lot possessed. Surely, he must have performed acts of chesed and good deeds that would distinguish him from the wicked people of Sodom. In his sefer "L'maan Achai V'reiai" Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin,zl derives from here a remarkable lesson as to how much Hashem recognizes every good action and every good thought that one has. Hashem does not overlook even a momentary triumph over the subconcious yetzer hora, evil inclination, to harm someone. Indeed, Lot certainly had other merits, more profound and more significant, but the lesson of this merit is that nothing good is wasted. Lot was rewarded for his meritorious deed regardless of its simplicity. We must remember that everything counts; we never know when that seemingly insignificant good deed will benefit us.

The Ramban claims that it was truly because of Avraham that Lot was saved. He left his quiet, relaxed lifestyle in Charan in order to accompany Avraham. He ended up moving to Sodom indirectly because of Avraham. Had Avraham not moved initially, Lot would still be living in Charan, content and relaxed. "It does not make sense," says the Ramban, "that something should happen to Lot, since Lot had done Avraham a favor by accompanying him." This was actually the reason that Avraham fought with the kings who had taken Lot captive.

Horav Sorotzkin emphasizes the profundity of the Ramban's statement and its pertinence to us. Lot left Avraham on his own; he decided to go to Sodom in response to its material benefits and because the city's laws and philosophy coincided with his own perspective. In other words, Lot chose his "lot" in life. Thus, he deserved whatever happened to him. Yet, Avraham still felt pangs of responsibility for Lot. Perhaps, if not for Avraham, Lot "might" still be in Charan. We also do things "willingly" that are not necessarily appropriate, but result from years of exposure to a society that is not conducive to Torah. If we would not be here, if we were still in Eretz Yisrael with a Bais Hamikdash, we would be different. This should be a limud zechus, serve as a source of merit, for Klal Yisrael. After all, it worked in this manner for Lot.

The child grew and was weaned. Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned. (21:8)

Rashi says that feast was "great" because the great men of that generation, Shem, Eiver and Avimelech attended it. In the Talmud Shabbos 130A, Tosfos contends that this feast took place on the day Yitzchak was circumcised, the eighth day after his birth. Rabbeinu Bachya feels that this unique feast took place on the day that Yitzchak began to study Torah. It is no wonder that Avraham "bypassed" the first "milestone" of Bris Milah. After all, he himself was three years old when he "realized" that there was a Creator Who ruled the world. Consequently, he felt that the most appropriate time for expressing his heartfelt joy was the moment that Yitzchak began to study Torah. Is there a greater expression of simchas haTorah than this? His son was weaned and went immediately to study Torah. He left his home prepared for greater spiritual heights.

Horav Chaim Elazary, zl, emphasizes the beauty and poignancy of this moment, which expresses a crucial message to all parents. Avraham and Sarah waited their entire life for a child. Finally, they were blessed with a miracle child, a son who is destined to be an Olah Temimah, perfect sacrifice. When he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, they still do not make a great feast. They expressed their joy and thanksgiving when he was about to study Torah, when he was ready to be sanctified to the Almighty. A simchah, feast, that does not include or manifest one's preparedness to serve Hashem is an incomplete simchah.

Hashem remembered Sarah as He had said...And she (Sarah) conceived. (21:1,2)

Rashi quotes Chazal, who explain the juxtaposition of Sarah's conception upon Avraham's prayer on behalf of Avimelech and his family. As punishment for Avimelech's abduction of Sarah, he and his household were subjected to a complete cessation of their reproductive functions. Avraham prayed for them and, in turn, was himself blessed. The inference is that, if one prays for another, if he himself is in need of that same cure/help, his prayers will soon be answered.

The Tiferes Shmuel interprets this statement with a slightly different twist, providing an important lesson. He reads the dictum in the following manner: If one prays for another as intensely as he would pray for his own personal needs, he will soon be answered. When a person shows that the concern he has for a fellow Jew is equal with that which he has for himself, then he merits a quick response from the Almighty.

"V'ahavta l'reicha kamocha," "Love your fellow as you do yourself." The Golden Rule is meaningful, but how many of us can say that we achieve this plateau? Can we say that when we pray for someone who is sick, that we expend as much kavanah, concentration and feeling, as if it were for ourselves? Avraham Avinu set the standard. He prayed for Avimelech, a gentile who had abducted his wife - as if he were praying for himself. This is the paradigm of chesed. Do not ignore your family - as a Jew, your family has just been extended. The concern you demonstrate for others is what you may come to expect from Hashem.

And He (Hashem) said, "Please take your son...and go to the land of Moriah." (22:2)

The Torah dedicates two parshios to Avraham Avinu. The first one begins with Hashem's command to Avraham, "Lech Lecha," (12:1) Go forth, leave the land and reach out to the world. The second ends with another Lech Lecha. Here he is instructed to take his son, Yitzchak, and go to the land of Moriah. He begins his mission focusing on himself, his responsibilities. He ends his mission by taking his son to Har Hashem, exposing him to the Divine, ensuring that he will carry on his father's legacy. Indeed, is that not what Yiddishkeit is all about? The father goes through life with its trials and tribulations. He stands steadfast in his belief in the Almighty, trusting in Him, "sharing" Him with others, seeing to it that others are brought closer to Hashem. Then, as life goes on, he must guarantee that his mission will continue, that it will not dissipate with him. The second "Lech Lecha" begins, "Kach na es bincha," "Take your son," make sure that he will continue your work.

"Continuity" is the key word in Hashem's message to Avraham. While the individual must strive to fulfill his own responsibility as a Jew, assuring that Hashem's Name is proclaimed throughout the world, it is not the final goal. He must see to it that his work is continued, that a world realizes that Judaism is a vibrant religion. Its observances and practices are as much a part of Jewish life today as they were thousands of years ago. This can only be accomplished if one sees to it that faith and conviction, Torah living and observance, are transmitted to the next generation.

Chazal ask which "Lech Lecha" is more significant: the first one, when Hashem instructed Avraham to leave his land and go forth in the land, or the second, the "Lech Lecha" of the Akeidas Yitzchak. They respond that the second Lech Lecha carries greater impact. We can understand this with the above idea in mind. Judaism with no future has little significant present. Parents who observe, but do not transmit their lifestyle to their children, either by example or through education, will regrettably reap what they sow.

1. Three angels came to Avraham, each one had a single mission. What were they?

2. What is the "cry" that Hashem heard from Sodom?

3. a. On what night of the Jewish calendar was Lot visited by the angels?

b. How is this inferred from the food he served them?

4. Why were Lot and his family prohibited from looking back at Sodom during its destruction?

5. What zechus did Lot have to be saved from Sodom's destruction?

6. Who was greater in nevuah, Avraham or Sarah?

7. Who were the two young men that accompanied Avraham and Yitzchak to the Akeidah?


1. One came to tell Sarah she would give birth; one came to heal Avraham; and one came to destroy Sodom.

2. A young girl cried out as she was put to death for giving food to the poor.

3. a. Pesach night.

b. He served them matzoh.

4. They were saved only because of a special intervention. Hence, it was not proper for them to look back while others were dying.

5. When Avraham told the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister, Lot kept quiet and did not dispute him.

6. Avraham.

7. Eliezer and Yishmael.

In honor of my good friend
Mark Mizrahi
Jeffrey Safdieh


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