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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they captured Lot and his possessions - Avram's nephew - and they left; for he was residing in Sodom. (14:12)

Upon reading the pasuk, one cannot help but note that the word rechusho, "his possessions," is out of order. The way the pasuk reads is: and rechusho/his possessions, the son of Avram's brother. Surely, rechusho was not Avram's nephew! In his Shevilei Pinchas, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites the Arizal in Likutei Torah, who comments that the neshamah, soul, of the famous Amora, Rava, had its roots in the neshamah of Naamah ha'Amonis, descendant of Lot. Thus, Rava's neshamah was held "captive" within Lot. If something were to happen to Lot, there would be no Rava. Hence, Avraham Avinu went to war in order to extricate Rava's neshamah. This is alluded to by the words, rechusho ben achi (Avram), the first letter of each word - reish, bais, aleph - spelling Rava. Furthermore, the Kabbalists explain that the Patriarch was on a mission to extract the sparks of Torah She' Baal Peh, Oral Law, which would be disseminated in Bavel/Babylon during the period of Abaye and Rava, its primary exponents.

Rav Friedman extends this idea further, demonstrating that Rava was the expounder of several unique halachos which, if not for him, would have evaded us. The Talmud Megillah 7B states: "Rava says, 'One is obligated to imbibe on Purim to the point that he is unable to distinguish between (the meaning of) Arur Haman, let Haman be cursed, and (the meaning of) Baruch Mordechai, let Mordechai be blessed.'"

In his Shtei Yados, Horav Avraham Chezkuni observes that prior to Rava, there had been no such obligation. It is not mentioned anywhere in Torah She' Baal Peh. He wonders why it was Rava who merited to be the one to reveal this chiddush, novel halachah. He advances his question with another novel wine-related practice executed only by Rava. The Talmud Berachos 35B, relates that Rava would drink wine throughout Erev Pesach, so that he would have a greater appetite for matzoh. While both of these practices are novel and thought-provoking, why was it Rava who seemed to have a "pre-occupation" with wine?

When we factor in Rava's "history," we have a better understanding of his two statements. Wine played a significant role in Rava's existence. Heralding from Naamah ha'Amonis, who herself descended from Lot's daughter, Rava was acutely aware of the role of wine. Lot's daughter gave her father enough of the intoxicating beverage so that he became inebriated, and he lost control of his faculties, impregnating his own daughter. Rava's neshamah was revealed to the world through the medium of wine. In order to "repair" the wine that eventually catalyzed Rava's birth, the Amora merited to teach two halachos concerning wine used for the purpose of mitzvah.

Rava taught us another powerful halachah which can be attributed to his "geneology." The Talmud Chagigah 15B states: "Rava expounded, 'What is the meaning of the pasuk in Shir HaShirim 6:11, I went down to the garden of nut trees to look at the green plants of the streams? This verse is an allegorical description of Torah scholars. Why are Torah scholars compared to an egoz, nut tree? To teach you that just as it is true of a nut, that even though it becomes filthy with mud and dung, nonetheless, whatever is within does not become repulsive; likewise, it is true of a Torah scholar, even though he sours, his Torah does not become repulsive.'"

Chazal were addressing the problem of Acher, Rebbe to Rabbi Meir, himself once a great scholar, who had soured. At first, he kept his spiritual flaws to himself, then he openly acted with scorn and derision toward Torah, its teachings and its disseminators. The question was: Could one accept Acher's earlier rulings? Rabbi Meir did, discarding Acher's openly sinful behavior and drawing out his valuable teachings. At first, Rabbi Meir's honor was in question for continuing to study under Acher. Later, however, after Rabbah bar Shila voiced his position in support of Rabbi Meir, the sage was vindicated. In any event, it was Rava who compared a Torah scholar that had soured to an egoz. Rav Friedman sees poetic justice in this statement. Rava's neshamah, being held captive within Lot, was much like a Torah scholar that was externally covered with grime. Once the shell is removed, as it is with a nut, the internal portion is fine. This was supported by Avraham's risking his life to save Lot - all because of the spark of holiness imbedded within him.

For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem. (18:19)

The angels had just recently informed Avraham Avinu of the wonderful news that Sarah would have a child. Yet, the Torah writes that Hashem loved Avraham for his parenting skills in imparting the way of Hashem to his offspring. Was this not a bit premature? Avraham did not yet have any children. The Patriarch was not yet a parent. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, derives from here that one's focus on how he will raise his children begins prior to marriage. Everything depends upon one's purpose in marriage, what it means to him. If one's goal is to increase kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven, by producing and establishing generations of believing Jews who will continue in His way, then he is, by his very marriage, demonstrating his parenting skills.

Avraham was the mechanech, educator, who taught us on what a parent should focus, what is important and what is not. Monotheism-- obedience to one G-d, emulating His ways, following His precepts-- this comprised Avraham's mantra to the world - and his family. His offspring, descendants, would have to carry on his work. It is, therefore, no wonder that, when Avraham heard that his son Yishmael was not "with the program," he had gone off the derech, path, and had fallen into evil ways, he became distressed.

The Torah (Bereishis 21:11) writes, "And the matter greatly distressed Avraham regarding his son." Simply put, this means that Avraham was upset that Sarah Imeinu wanted Yishmael out of the house. The deeper meaning, however, as expounded by the Midrash, is that Avraham was disturbed by his son's behavior. He was not his only son - but he was his son! A child is a child, regardless of how large his family is. When a child veers from the prescribed Torah way, it destroys a parent! If the Torah feels it is important to relate that Avraham was distressed concerning Yishmael's behavior, it is a lesson for us all. Parents should care - and they do. Some have difficulty showing the pain, the hurt, the humiliation, the distress, but it is there. Otherwise, they are not parents.

Rav Gamliel writes that he knew a man whose son had taken a "hiatus" from Judaism, eschewing observance and the way of life taught to him by his parents. His yarmulka, kashrus, and Shabbos, were all things of the past. After a while, his Rosh Yeshivah met the father and commented that he had noticed some positive movement on the part of his son. It appeared the crisis had passed, and he was slowly returning to traditional observance. "What happened?" he asked the father. "How were you able to stem the tide of his non-religious advances?"

The father's answer should inspire us all to some serious thought: "I approached anyone I knew - even people I did not know- and asked them to recite Tehillim for my son. I organized minyanim, quorums, all over, so that Tehillim could be recited in a communal fashion. I did all of this for one simple reason: If my son would have been physically ill and at the point of death, would I have done any less? Now that he is hovering at the precipice of spiritual extinction, should I sit by with folded hands and allow my child to waste his life away? Indeed, one who is spiritually ill is in worse shape than he who is gripped by physical illness. Spiritual disease affects eternity! I could not allow this to happen to my son!"

Thus, although Sarah Imeinu had achieved a greater spiritual plateau in nevuah, prophesy, Avraham still refused to accept tanchumim, words of consolation, from her. When a child goes out to tarbus raah, spiritually goes off the deep end- there is no accepting comfort. Only when Hashem told him, Al yeira b'einecha, "Be not distressed over the youth," ki b'Yitzchak yikarei lecha zera, "since through Yitzchak's offspring will be considered yours," did Avraham accept tanchumin. He was assured that Yitzchak would be his son for eternity.

Rav Gamliel derives another important parenting lesson from Avraham's reaction to Sarah's demand that Yishmael be sent away. Rashi tells us that, although Sarah was greater than Avraham in nevuah, he listened only to Hashem. Until Hashem told him to listen to Sarah, the Patriarch was not closing the door on Yishmael. Despite his son's reprehensible behavior and his imminent negative influence on Yitzchak, Avraham was not prepared to shut Yishmael out of his life. Why? Because Yishmael was his son, and, even when a son strays from the path of observance, he is still a son. We do not close the door!

Lamentably, it happens-more often than we are willing to concede-that not all Jewish children are prepared to tow the line. Some break away; others snap. What is a parent to do? What should be his reaction? Avraham Avinu showed us the way. He refused to send Yishmael from his home. He did not distance himself from him. He kept the light on, the door open. This is especially true in contemporary times, when sending a child away creates serious friction and even enmity, ingredients that generate more intense and lasting alienation from Yiddishkeit.

Avraham came forward and said, "Will you also stamp out the righteous along with the wicked?" (18:23)

Unlike his predecessor, Noach, Avraham Avinu prayed for the wicked people of his generation. The Torah makes a point of relating the Patriarch's dialogue with Hashem to spare the city of Sodom. This was a community inhabited primarily by evil degenerates whose narcissistic desires towered over any sense of humanity they might have had. They were totally evil. Yet, Avraham prayed for them. Likewise, Moshe Rabbeinu prayed on behalf of those Jews who had sinned with the eigel ha'zahav, Golden Calf. The prayer was for the sinners to repent and the sins to be forgiven. This is the area in which Avraham and Moshe distinguished themselves over Noach. Was Noach wrong in not praying for his generation? Apparently, Chazal question characterizing him as a tzadik, righteous person, had he lived during Avraham's generation. Something was missing in his spiritual responsibility towards his fellowman. Why did he not pray for them? Prayer works. He might have been able to counteract the decree. Why did he not try?

In his Be'er Moshe, the Ozrover Rebbe, zl, defends Noach's actions, citing the Kedushas Levi who writes: "Noach was also a righteous, wholesome person, but he was unaware of his sublime spiritual plateau. Noach viewed himself as being nothing more than a simple person. He did not believe himself capable of countermanding Hashem's decree. Noach figured that he was no more meritorious than the people of his generation. Therefore, if he was spared, they would also be spared. Thus, he did not feel compelled to pray on their behalf."

This way, Noach did not enter the Ark until the very last moment when the floodwaters were rising. Chazal refer to him as being mi'ketanei emunah, "those of limited /small faith." The Ozrover explains that in his outstanding humility, Noach did not consider himself worthy of being saved. Why was he any different from the people of his generation? It was only after the waters were up to his throat that he realized that his place was in the Ark, and that, indeed, he was different.

We derive from here that it is essential that one prays that evil be eradicated and that the sinners repent. One should not pray that a sinner die. He is not G-d. The Almighty determines who lives and who perishes. Man should pray that the sinner receive a wake-up call that will motivate his return to observance. How many righteous Jews were descendants of evil people? If Terach, the idol worshipper, would have died, our Patriarch, Avraham, would not have been born. We never know who actually has a z'chus, hidden merit, that makes him worthy of being the progenitor of a righteous descendant. Thus, we pray for all Jews, regardless of their beliefs or disbeliefs. If they are Jewish - we pray for them.

Ish L'rei'ayhu relates that Horav Shlomo Zalman Liphshutz, zl, author of the Chemdas Shlomo and Rav of the great city of Warsaw, had many detractors. There were secular Jews who despised anyone who was observant. This was especially true if the Rav was distinguished and erudite. These hooligans went out of their way to make life miserable for the Rav of Warsaw. He was once walking through the street when a few of them threw garbage on his head. When the members of the observant community became aware of this affront to the Rav's kavod, dignity, they became outraged. How dare these vacuous misfits denigrate their Rav!

Rav Liphshutz calmed down those who were about to take matters into their own hands in defense of his honor. He told them to go home. Everything would work itself out. He returned home and withdrew to his study. Shortly thereafter, his wife heard him weeping. She entered the room and asked her husband, "Is it worth working yourself up over such low people? Why should you cry over such contemptible individuals?" The Chemdas Shlomo replied, "I am not crying over what they did to me. I am entreating Hashem not to punish them because of me. Why should another Jew suffer because of me?"

Likewise, Horav Yechiel Michel, zl, m'Zlotchav enjoined his children always to pray on behalf of their enemies, that they be blessed with success and only good. This is a service to Hashem that is even greater than prayer itself.

We have no idea how far-reaching tefillah, sincere prayer, can go, and the long-term effects it can have. One morning, an American Jew living in a major metropolis received the dreaded phone call that he knew would come one day. The administrator of the Jewish nursing home in London where his elderly mother was a patient, called to notify him that his mother had passed away during the night. The son reacted as any loving son would react, immediately reciting the blessing, Baruch Dayan Ha'Emes, Blessed is the Truthful Judge, and then broke down in tears. His mother had reached an advanced age, and she had been quite ill. The news did not come as a surprise, but a mother is a mother. Reaching London in a timely fashion was impossible. Could the local Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Burial Society, see to his mother's funeral? They agreed, and the son prepared to sit shivah, observe the seven day mourning period, at home.

Two days later, he was shocked to receive a call from none other than his mother - alive and well! She was fine, and leaving this world prematurely was the farthest thing from her mind. Her son immediately contacted the nursing home, where he discovered that apparently there had been a terrible mistake. Somehow, it was his mother's roommate who had died. One can only imagine the administrator's feelings of trepidation when they had to notify the son of the other woman who had passed away. It was thus shocking to hear the "other" son declare, "Good! Make sure that you cremate her body as soon as possible!" When the administrator told him that, "alas," they had already buried his mother by mistake, he was overcome with angry emotion, and declared, "Well, my mother won out. She got her way after all!"

The administrator felt that he had to get to the bottom of this story. After some research, he discovered that many years earlier, the son had had a falling out with his mother, followed by his complete break with Judaism. He became a virulent apostate with an animus towards religion and his mother. Clearly, the man was unhinged. He demonstrated his lunacy when, every time that he visited, he would yell at his mother and say, "When you die, I will see to it that you are not buried in a Jewish cemetery, but cremated."

This disturbed man's mother was herself a righteous, observant woman who prayed fervently everyday of her life. As the end drew near, she would constantly supplicate the Almighty that somehow she would merit burial in a kever Yisrael, Jewish cemetery. Her tears flowed over the spiritual demise of her son and the consequent missed opportunity for her to be buried among Jews. Her prayers intensified when she heard her son's plans to have her cremated - a procedure that is prohibited by Jewish law, a method reserved for and utilized by our most rabid enemies to dispose of a Jewish corpse.

Our Father in Heaven had other plans - plans that did not coincide with those of her lunatic son. What appeared to be an error by an administrator was actually part of Hashem's Divine Plan that this righteous woman be buried in a Jewish cemetery, as per her wish. This is the power of tefillah.

A mother's tears have special value, their sincerity unquestionable. Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, would often visit the Tchebiner Rav, zl, and share his novella with the sage. One time, Rav Shternbuch related an unusually brilliant dvar Torah. The Chebiner Rav enjoyed it very much, commenting, "The chiddush is not yours!" Rav Shternbuch was frightened. "Why does the Rav think that it is not my chiddush?" Rav Shternbuch asked. "Does the Rav think that I, chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, 'borrowed' it from another source?"

The Tchebiner Rav chuckled as he explained the reason for his strange remark: "Such a brilliant chiddush could only be the result of a mother's tears. For you to have rendered such an incredible chiddush, your mother must have prayed incessantly and with great intensity that she be worthy of such a son!"

So Avraham hastened to the tent of Sarah…Then Avraham ran to the cattle…and he gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it. (18:6, 7)

There seems to be an unusual amount of "hurrying" and "running." Also, did Avrham Avinu have to serve his guests personally? The Alshich HaKadosh writes: "Avraham teaches us two proper courses of action in carrying out mitzvos. First, zerizus, alacrity. Second, whatever one can do personally is preferred." The Patriarch ran personally to serve his guests. Zerizus is one of the fundamental attributes listed by Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair as leading up to kedushah, holiness. Indeed, alacrity/enthusiasm is a fundamental step in mitzvah observance and toward leading a productive life. One who acts with zerizus does not defer to tomorrow what can be done today. To do something at the first possible chance indicates that one cares.

Furthermore, zerizus is transformative, having the ability to change a person who is by nature slothful into one who is excited and eager, who promptly carries out his responsibilities. In the seventh perek, chapter, of Mesillas Yesharim, the author teaches us about one of the extraordinary benefits of zerizus. Acting externally with zerizus transforms a person internally into an individual who loves his Master and is eager to serve Him.

Ish L'Reiehu cites two inspirational stories which reflect the attitude of our gedolim, Torah leaders, concerning the middah of zerizus. Once, a group representing the lay leadership of Bnei Brak came to the Chazon Ish to consult with him concerning a communal issue. The matter was discussed and the sage issued his ruling. He observed, however, that these men were in no apparent hurry to carry out the decision. They seemed to be procrastinating. The Chazon Ish looked at them with his penetrating eyes and commented, Linu poh ha'laylah, "'Spend the night here,'" was Bilaam's advice to the elders of Midyan (Bamidbar 22:8). Decisions that are reached should be carried out immediately. Pushing it off until the next day is the way Bilaam and his cohorts work."

A poignant lesson concerning the significance of alacrity is gleaned from the Alter m'Slabodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl. When his son, the future Rosh HaYeshivah of Mir, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, was learning in Yeshivah away from home, his father would write him a short letter at various intervals. While each letter was a profound pedagogical masterpiece, one comment remained the same in each correspondence. The Alter would write: "My dear son, Every subject that you confront; every question which you must answer; every issue that must be clarified - think how you would render a decision to this question if today happened to be the very last day of your life."

What a powerful and meaningful suggestion. We offer advice without thinking through the issue rationally. We make statements that often are without foundation, that lack prudence. If this were to be the very last decision that we render, our attitude would change quickly. In this sense, zerizus means aforethought, realizing the significance of what he is about to do. When one thinks before he acts, he acts differently. That makes all the difference.

Va'ani Tefillah

Lishmor v'laasos. To guard and to do.

The terms "to guard" and "to do" seem redundant. Are they not one and the same? In his Baruch She'amar on tefillah, Horav Baruch HaLevi Epstein, zl, explains that, throughout the Talmud, we find the word hishamer, guard, used to imply guarding oneself from acting negatively. Guard yourself from committing a sin. Be careful not to act inappropriately. It is always about refraining from action. Shemirah is never about being proactive. It is about deactivating ourselves - not doing. In contrast, asiyah, doing, is about positive action, proactivity. These two ideas are to be derived from the pasuk in Tehillim 34, Sur meira v'asei tov, "Turn away from evil and do good." The command, sur meira, "turn away from evil," focuses on Mitzvos Lo Saasei, prohibitive commandments. Asei tov, "do good," addresses Mitzvos Asei, positive commandments. Thus, lishmor, "to guard," is our entreaty to Hashem to grant us the ability to refrain from sin, while laasos is our request that He enable us to act positively to fulfill His mitzvos.

Dedicated in loving memory of our dear
father and grandfather
Arthur I. Genshaft
Yitzchok ben Yisrael z"l
niftar 18 Cheshvan 5739

Neil and Marie Genshaft
Isaac and Naomi

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