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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


She called his name Moav (19:37)

At first glance, one views the naming of her son as a reflection of her immorality. To publicize that the child's father was none other than his grandfather takes a certain amount of either chutzpah, shamelessness, or plain foolishness. In light of the following incredible story our attitude towards Lot's daughter might change.

Once, Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, was called up to the Torah. Immediately following him was a student of the yeshivah who had an excellent reputation. Rav Moshe took one look at a small skin wound on the student's hand and asked him, "Do you know you have tzaraas?" (A form of leprosy visited upon a person for speaking lashon hora, disparaging, slanderous speech.) The bachur was shocked to hear this. Rav Moshe inquired, "Did you recently speak lashon hora?" "No," the bachur responded. "I am very careful in matters of speech." "Perhaps you spoke against the dead," Rav Moshe queried. "No, I really cannot remember an instance when I spoke against anyone… - except, I did recently say that Lot's daughter acted inappropriately when she named her son Moav." "That is the reason for your tzaraas. You slandered Lot's daughter," Rav Moshe declared. "Do you realize that she named him Moav to emphasize the fact that he was conceived from her father and not from G-d - as the Christians have claimed about their god? Moav was not the product of an immaculate conception. Indeed, she should be lauded for her forthright and truthful manner." Needless to say, the student accepted upon himself to do teshuvah, repent, and we are the beneficiaries of a new insight into the parsha.

And G-d tested Avraham. (22:1)

The Chida, zl, cites the Maharam Almusenino, zl, in his sefer Yedei Moshe, who asks a penetrating question. The Torah lauds Avraham Avinu for his adherence to Hashem's command, for his willingness to sacrifice his only son, his beloved Yitzchak. What about the scores of Jewish fathers, mothers and children who have given up their lives Al Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name? What about the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs, or those who were murdered during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the numerous pogroms that decimated European Jewry? Are we to ignore the Holocaust of not so long ago? Is there any question that if Hashem had appeared to them as He did to Avraham, that they would have done what He asked of them? What aspect of Avraham's act of faith resonates with such distinctiveness?

The Maharam explains that Avraham's uniqueness was evinced in his unparalleled joy in being able to serve the Almighty. He substantiates this idea with the words of Chazal in the Talmud Pesachim 117a, who say that nevuah, prophecy, Divine Inspiration, does not rest on a person unless he is in total joy. If there is any taint of depression, regardless of its insignificance, there will be no prophecy.

Avraham had every reason to develop a feeling of sadness as he held the knife in his hand, poised to slaughter Yitzchak. True, he was following Hashem's command, but it was a command that required him to take the life of his son. How could he execute this act joyfully? He did so because he was Avraham Avinu, our forefather, who set the standard for mesiras nefesh and avodas Hashem. He must have been filled with joy at having the opportunity to serve Hashem. Otherwise, the angel who told him not to slaughter Yitzchak would not have appeared to him.

The martyrs throughout the ages clearly died with faith and conviction. They believed that as a Jew one is asked to sacrifice at times, even his own life. They were prepared to do just that. We would be hard-pressed, however, to assert that it was with joy. They must have been depressed about leaving their families and their communities, about their inability to continue serving Hashem and performing His mitzvos. Whatever the motivation, they had every reason to be sad. This is the difference between our Patriarch and his thousands of descendants who followed his path of self-sacrifice: joy.

In an alternative approach, the Chida explains that Avraham's act of mesiras nefesh was unique in that he acted willingly. Throughout history, Jews have been sacrificed because of their belief, because of their commitment, or simply because they were Jews. Unquestionably, their portion in Gan Eden is of a level that is unimaginable. Yet, they were forced to die - they were not asked to. They did not have a choice. Avraham Avinu's test was unusual in that Hashem requested of him - "kach na" - "please take (your son)." Hashem asked him to give up everything for which he had previously worked. He had a choice.

Avraham could have said no. The Akeidah was counter to everything he had believed. It went against his personality. He was the Patriarch who symbolized chesed, kindness; surely the act of sacrificing his son was not an extension of this middah, attribute. When Hashem asked Avraham, however, he accepted unequivocally. This does not in any way diminish the mesiras nefesh of our martyrs throughout the generations. Rather it raises the degree of Avraham's level of commitment.

And G-d tested Avraham… and He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love - Yitzchak - and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering (22:1,2)."

Hashem did not immediately reveal the clear identity of the sacrifice to Avraham Avinu. Chazal record the dialogue between Hashem and Avraham. Hashem said, "Take your son." Avraham replied, "But I have two sons. Which one should I take?" "Your only one." "But each of them is the only one of his mother." "Whom you love," Hashem answered. "But I love them both." "I mean Yitzchak," Hashem responded. The Midrash asks, "Why did Hashem not immediately reveal the identity of the offering to Avraham?" Chazal explain that the gradual revealing of the identity of the sacrifice was designed to make the commandment more precious to Avraham by arousing his curiosity and rewarding him for complying with every word of the command. We must endeavor to understand the meaning of Chazal's statement. How does the extra wording engender greater reward for Avraham? Furthermore, another Midrash states that Hashem sought to increase Avraham's love for Yitzchak by slowly building his prominence as being the only child that he loves. Why did Hashem do this prior to the sacrifice? Did he doubt Avraham's feelings towards his son?

Horav Yitzchak Aizik Sher, zl, explains that for a korban of sheep or cattle there are certain criteria that must be met to render that korban valid (unblemished; one year old; male). Similarly, Hashem presented conditions to Avraham that set the standard of acceptability for this sacrifice: bincha, your son; yechidcha, your only one; asher ohavta, whom you love. In other words, it was intrinsic to the korban's admissibility that these conditions be met. Why is this? He explains that during the heightened spiritual experience of the Akeidas Yitzchak, a clear possibility existed that Avraham would become so enveloped in the mitzvah and ensuing kedushah, holiness, that he might even forget that he was sacrificing his only beloved son! This could not be. It was essential for this korban that the sensitivity and love which a father manifests for a son should not in any way wane, even for a moment. Avraham has to remember that this was his son - his only son - whom he loved unequivocally. It was Yitzchak, his future, the legacy that was to be the foundation of Klal Yisrael - gone! When Avraham accepted these conditions, when they stood before him as he prepared to sacrifice his son, the mitzvah became more significant. Thus, the reward increased by extension.

The Sefas Emes reiterates this idea when he says, "It is 'easy' for a father to relinquish his fatherly love for his son out of his deep love for Hashem. Hashem Yisborach did not desire this. He wanted Avraham to include this love, to take the son that he loved and sacrifice him to Hashem." We must note the Sefas Emes' words "It is 'easy' to relinquish his love for his son because of Hashem." Only someone of the caliber of the Sefas Emes would make such a statement. This concept was ingrained in his descendants, as demonstrated by the following episode. It was Shabbos night, Parasah Vayeirah, 1935, in the Gerer Bais Hamedrash in Poland. The Rebbe was Rav Avraham Mordechai, the famous "Imrei Emes." He was conducting his Friday night "Tish," festive table, which was a chassidic tradition. He was surrounded by his chassidim, who were still in a state of traumatic shock, reeling from the terrible tragedy that had befallen their beloved Rebbe, just a few hours earlier. His son, Rav Yitzchak, a tzaddik, pious and virtuous in all aspects of his relationships - between man and G-d and man and his fellow man - had just that day been taken from them. They had just a few hours previously returned from laying his mortal remains to rest. Yet, the Imrei Emes were conducting his festive tish as if it was any other Shabbos. He stated, "One does not mourn on Shabbos. It is Hashem's day." Everyone present was in shock and stunned silence - everyone but the Rebbe whose face shone with a Divine countenance as he began his Torah lecture on the Akeidas Yitzchak.

How appropriate were his words, as "Avraham" had just laid his "Yitzchak" to rest. Indeed, he went further than the Patriarch: he had returned bereft of his beloved son. The Rebbe began by saying that Avraham's test was, as the Sefas Emes writes, to integrate his love for his son as he prepared to sacrifice him to Hashem. While it may be "easy" to ignore one's filial love for a child for a greater love to Hashem, it was necessary that the love for the child be an inherent component of the sacrifice. The mitzvah was not to transcend his fatherly love, but to incorporate it in the Akeidah. These words, emanating from an individual who had just experienced tragedy as no Jewish soul should ever experience, penetrated the inner recesses of the chassidim's hearts. These words echoed, inspiring them to go their ultimate sacrifice Al Kiddush Hashem some years later, when Hitler's hordes slaughtered the Jews of Poland.

We close with the Gerer Rebbe's promise, "The reward of the Akeidah is that, regardless of Klal Yisrael's iniquity, Hashem's love for them will never wane." This is the love that we allude to in Tefillas Shemoneh Esrai, "U'maivi goel livnei b'neihem l'maan Shemo b'ahavah." "and (He) brings a Redeemer to the children's children for His Name's sake, with love." The exemplary love exhibited by Avraham Avinu is reflected by Hashem's love for his descendants.

And Avraham took the wood for the offering and placed it on Yitzchak, his son…. And then the two of them went together… Then Yitzchak spoke to Avraham, his father… but where is the lamb for the offering?… and Avraham said, G-d will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son. And the two of them went together… Avraham returned to his young men, and they stood up and went together to Beer Sheva. (22:6,7,8,19)

The word "yachdav," together, is used three times. The Midrash focuses on the significance of the first two. When Yitzchak questioned his father, Avraham, regarding the whereabouts of the korban, sacrifice, they were intending to offer, Avraham responded, "Hashem will select for him a sheep, and if there is no sheep then you - Yitzchak - will be the sacrifice!" The Torah records that even after this exchange, during which Avraham knew that Yitzchak was the designated korban, and Yitzchak was still unaware of the role he would play in Akeidah, both were together, manifesting the same joy. Father and son - one about to slaughter, and the other about to be slaughtered - both walking in unison, about to serve their Creator.

Afterwards, Avraham and Yitzchak returned to their lads whom they had left waiting. They all left together - yachdav. We must endeavor to understand the relationship of this last yachdav to its two predecessors. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that the last yacdav defined the spiritual plateau of Avraham and Yitzchak after they returned from the seminal event of the Akeidah. Their actions and self-sacrifice set the tone and standard for mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, and devotion to the Almighty for Klal Yisrael until the advent of Moshiach. It would, therefore, be appropriate to posit that they had reached the zenith of spiritual devotion. Yet, the word yachdav relays a different message. This yachdav includes Avraham's ne'arim, two lads, who were not on an appropriate spiritual level to continue on to the Akeidah. They were asked to stay back. It was not for them. They were like the donkey with whom they spent the time. As the donkey did not have a clue what was transpiring, so, too, did they have no idea of the significance of the Akeidah. They had no idea why they went to the mountain, nor did they understand what had occurred prior to their return. Like the donkey.

Now we have a clear picture of the scenario. Avraham and Yitzchak return from the Akeidah and left together with the two lads who had not experienced this incredible event. Are they in any way the same? Is there any relationship between these two pairs of people? Obviously, the answer will emphatically be - no. Yet, the Torah writes that they all returned yachdav, together. What happened? This is the Torah's message: Avraham and Yitzchak felt no different than the two lads. What did they do that was so special? They served Hashem; they carried out His will. Is that not what we are here for? They were just doing what was expected of them as Jews. Total equanimity, complete composure. They had only done what was expected of them. They demonstrated no arrogance. They were servants of the Almighty. A servant does what he is told. This gives us but a glimpse of the profundity intrinsic to the Akeidas Yitzchak.

Questions and Answers

1. What was Avraham perceiving when he ran to greet the three angels?

2. Why did Sarah Imeinu laugh when she heard the guests say that she would have a child?

3. Avraham offered his guests food, while Lot invited them also to lay down. Was Lot more meticulous in his observance of hachnosas orchim?

4. Who was the first person to experience illness?


1. Unlike Rashi, who says the three men appeared as Arabs, Sforno feels that even when angels appear as human beings their countenance is awe-inspiring. Thus, Avraham ran to greet them out of respect.

2. She laughed in disbelief because she thought that the guest's statement was discourteous and meaningless - and not a prophecy from Hashem. In view of her advanced age she thought such a miraculous rejuvenation was akin to Techias Ha'meisim, Resurrection of the Dead, an act that only G-d Himself can accomplish (Sforno).

3. No. It just happened that Avraham's guests arrived during the "heat of the day" when the proper thing was to offer food and drink. In contrast, Lot's guests arrived at night when the correct manner of hachnosas orchim was to provide them with a place to rest (Rashbam).

4. Yishmael became ill as a result of Sarah's placing an ayin hora, "evil eye," on him. Otherwise, sickness was the result of Yaakov Avinu's prayer to Hashem that people should first become ill before they die (Daas Zekeinim).

Rabbi & Mrs. Naphtali Burnstein
In honor of the Bar-Mitzvah of our son
May he continue to be a source of nachas to the Ribono Shel Olam and all of Klal Yisrael


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