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Parashat Vayerah


Abraham our father was the pillar of Chesed, “Chesed to Abraham” (Michah 6, 6). Where did he learn this? From looking at creation he derived that the will of Hashem, the Creator, is benevolence with plentitude and graciousness. The graciousness of Hashem fills the earth and Hashem feeds the world with much mercy through his benevolence. Abraham wished to follow the ways of his Creator and to be part of the great Chesed operation that was operating in Hashem’s world.

Someone else also demanded that we follow the ways of the Creator. “Turnus Rufus the wicked asked Rabbi Akiva: If Hashem loves the poor, why doesn’t he support them” (Bava Basra 10)? In other words, if the Creator did not wish to give the poor the essentials they need for existence, then you should follow His ways and allow them to die from hunger. This was probably the philosophy of the people of Sodom. They are following the ways of the Creator! The Creator gave them wealth – it is theirs: but if he did not give it to the poor – then I shouldn’t either.

The Torah is a fountain of life to those who use it properly. It can also be a death potion to those who use the Torah to justify their twisted beliefs. Therefore, we have no choice but to follow the sages of the Torah - the lights of the generation, who will straighten our ways and show us the path that goes up to the house of Hashem.

Article of the Week:

In the land of Israel there was a province – a union of cities that were known for their cruelty, corruption, envy, stinginess, sin and evil. These were Sodom and her fellow cities. Nevertheless, Hashem was patient and did not destroy them for a long time. He waited to see if they would repent so that He could give them another chance.

Suddenly, their destiny was sealed. It was determined without the possibility of repeal that they would be destroyed through fire and sulfur, upheaval and destruction. The smoke from the burning of Sodom rose over the earth like that of a large furnace. This occurred when it seemed that Sodom might be changing for the better! Lot, Abraham’s nephew was appointed to be a judge and sitting in the gate of Sodom (Rashi 19, 1 B”R 3). We need to understand that Lot was righteous in Sodom. If there had been ten like him the whole city would have been saved. Now they appointed him a judge in the city. There was hope for change, for different norms, for new tunes. Why specifically at that time did Hashem decide to completely destroy the city?

Not only this but the difficulty becomes sevenfold when we see the words of the Medrash Tanchuma that says: “There were five judges in Sodom, and Lot was the most cruel of them all” (21). If Lot was the most cruel why was he saved? Why weren’t the others saved? How could Lot be a righteous person if he was the most cruel of the judges of Sodom? Ours sages teach us how the laws of Sodom were conducted: “There was a story about Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who arrived in Sodom. Someone threw a stone at him. Eliezer took the aggressor to court. The judge saw the bleeding wound. He said to Eliezer “You should pay because he did medical bloodletting for you”! What did Eliezer do? He took a stone and threw it at the judge, who was wounded, and bleeding. He said to the judge: “Now I did that same “service” for you. Go and pay him what you owe me!" If these were the laws of Sodom is it possible that Lot was the “most cruel” of them?

To answer the difficulty let us introduce a legend that involved the establishment of the Jewish community in Saloniki (Greece). The story goes that when the exiles from Spain reached the port of Saloniki, four distinguished people of the community disembarked and went to see the city. As they were walking through the city they saw a Turk murder a Greek person for no reason. The Turk was brought to jail, but very soon he was released. This event was very frightening for the Jews. They asked themselves how could we settle in this place that seems to be run like Sodom? However, when they inquired they discovered that the reason that the Turk had been released was “Baksheesh” – bribery. They concluded that they could handle that, and settle there with the rest of the community (Saloniki Ir Vaem Beyisrael, p. 197).

This story is critical of the way the Turkish Empire was run about a hundred years ago. However, the individual could survive there by using the crooked system in order to twist it back to justice. If they gave bribes they would balance it with their bribes….

This is what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. As evil and unjust as it was, it was possible to manage there if you knew how to work the system. That is why the cities existed for so long. However, when they appointed Lot as a judge they had for the first time a judge who judges “according to the book”. He would not accept bribes. He was honest. Therefore he was the cruelest judge because he actually enforced the cruel laws of Sodom. That is when it had to be destroyed. When the evil system is actually working, the individual cannot survive there.

The Torah is eternal, and this message must have relevance for us as well. There are two kinds of people. There are people like Abraham our father who is righteous and holy, and their path is that of pure truth. They should be blessed. However, there are people - and the majority are like that - who are full of desires and aspirations, and the evil inclination has established a beachhead in their heart. Evil traits nest in their heart. Let us admit – there is here a hint of Sodom. However, we are Jews and we know how a Jew should behave. We know, but the evil inclination does not give us respite. There is a way to deal with this. We can “bribe” the evil inclination as the judges of Sodom had been bribed. We learn that one should learn Torah and Missvot even for the sake of external gains because if a Jew does that, he will come to learning with the proper intention. First we may have to “bribe” the evil inclination to allow us to do Missvot. There are those who demand pure truth. They demand that Missvot be done only for pure benevolence. The answer to those people is the passage: “you are dwelling in the midst of cheating – in cheating they refused to know me (Jeremiah 9; 8). If the evil inclination is successful in its tricks we must use counter measures to twist things back so things will be straightened out.

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

“Vehaelokim nissa et Avraham” – Hashem tested Abraham:

1) Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon wrote in his book “Beliefs and Opinions” (Essay 5; 3) that the purpose of testing a Ssadik is that the Ssadik succeed in the test and that all should know that Hashem brought him close to him for a reason and it is not arbitrary that Hashem bestowed the Ssadik with great and divine levels, divine inspiration, and prophesy. Therefore, a trial for the Ssadik is like a “nes” – a banner, to prove Abraham’s righteousness and loyalty to Hashem to the whole world.

2) Rabbi Yosef Albo, author of the book of “Principles” (Ikarim) said: (Essay 4, 13) The issue that is mentioned in the Akeidah is that Hashem wanted that the good will that dwelled in Abraham’s heart should be actually utilized. This way he will be rewarded for the good deed and not just for the thought alone.

3) The Ran in his Drashot writes that when the thought of the Ssadik is good and his fear is strong, Hashem gives him a trial so that his thought will be combined to the deed. Therefore, Hashem will test only a Ssadik who is destined to manage to cope with the trial presented to him. The passage says: “Hashem will test the righteous.” The Medrash says: A potter does not test weak barrels which break at the very touch of his hand. He tests strong barrels which can handle the test. The second benefit from the test of a Ssadik is the benefit of the general public who will see to what extent the love of Hashem is in the heart of the Ssadik, so they will learn from this.

4) Maimonides writes (Guide to the Perplexed part 3 ch. 24). “The issue of Abraham in the Akeidah, involves two great elements that are foundations of Torah. The first is to teach us the potential intensity of the love and fear of Hashem. Here, Hashem commanded a person to do something that is more demanding than sacrificing his own life, or losing all his money. It is greater than anything conceivable that man would do for his G-d. That a man who had been childless for many years, and yearned so much for a child, rich, well respected, who hopes to establish a nation from his descendants. Long after he had given up on having a child, he finally has one: how much he must love him and love to be with him! Despite all this, he agrees to sacrifice him because of his fear of Hashem and his love in order to fulfill his missvah. The second is to show us how clear the words of prophecy are. If Abraham had had any doubt whether G-d really commanded him to do this act, he would not have tried to do it. Obviously, he was completely confident that indeed Hashem had told him to do it. From this we learn how clear prophecy is to the prophet!

The Golden Era:

About three hundred and ten years ago, in Babylon, there lived and operated the holy Rabbi, Rabbi Sasson Mordechai, zatzal, author of “Kol Sasson”. Great people of former generations have defined him as a “man of Hashem, terrifying like one of the ancients, like an angel”. The Ben Ish Chai in his book “Ben Yehoyadah, quotes stories about the Rabbi, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Sasson Mordechai, zatzal.

Rabbi Sasson authored many books, most of which were not published. The most well known is the “Kol Sasson” which contains Mussar and advice that is studded with parables and songs. We will quote from there a parable that is connected to our Parshah. The people of Sodom wanted to get rich, and did not allow guests to pass through their territory. In the end they were lost with all their riches. On the other hand, Avraham Avinu invested his energy in worshipping Hashem, and he was bestowed with wealth, goodness, long life, and honor. This is similar to a King who says to a person: “I am giving you a choice. You can carry a load of brambles that are sharp and no one will help you carry them, but when you come to your house they will be yours, or not carry them”. What do you think he will choose? Thus the people of Sodom distanced themselves from the Creator, and spent their time in chasing after money, envying others, being stingy, and fearing competition. In the end they were lost together with their wealth.

Abraham our forefather lived quietly and happily, almost like life in the world to come. He was assisted by Hashem, received divine help and was given presents, and surrounded with honor and admiration. He performed much charity and kindness and many Missvot. His funeral was attended by very many people, and his merit has protected us for generations. Everyone has the choice whether to be like the people of Sodom, to chase after money obsessively and not to see any blessing from it, or to rely on Hashem’s help, to do many Missvot and to enjoy both worlds.

According to the rulings of the Light of Israel – the Rishon Letzion Harav Obadiah Yosef, shlita
Harav Hagaon Harav David Yosef

• 1) If the cantor forgot to say “Anenu” as a separate blessing but he remembered while he was in the middle of the blessing of Refaenu after he had said “Baruch ata Hashem” before he concluded “Rofeh cholei amo Yisrael”, he may not finish the blessing “lamdeni chukecha”, and then say “Anenu” as a blessing in itself. He should finish saying “Rofe cholei amo Yisrael” and say “Anenu” in “Shomea Tefillah like an individual and conclude “Shomea Tefillah”. Similarly, if he forgot even in “Shomea Tefillah”, before he concluded the blessing but had already said the name of Hashem, he may not conclude “lamdeni chukecha”. He should finish the blessing with “Shomea Tefillah”, continue his prayer, and say “Anenu” at the end of the prayer without concluding with a blessing.

2) In previous generations, there were places that would not say “Ressai’ in the Minchah prayer every day.They would start with the words “veishei Yisrael” etc. Only in Shacharit and Arvit would they start with "Ressai". On a Fast day when there is Birkat Cohanim in Minchah, they would start from “Ressei”. They would also do so in Minchah of Yom Kippur even though there is no priestly blessing. Many Poskim dismissed this practice as a mistake, and the practice today is to start from “Ressei” all the time, and that is the practice we should follow. However, if one makes a mistake and begins the blessing with “Veishei Yisrael”, and finished the blessing, one does not go back even in Shacharit.

3) When praying the Amidah one should bow down at the beginning of “Modim” and at the end. When one says the word “Modim” one should bend one's whole body, and when one gets to the “name of Hashem” one should straighten up – in such a way that when one gets to the name of Hashem one is standing erect. Similarly, when one gets to the end of that blessing, one bows down at the beginning of the blessing, and when one says the name of Hashem, one should be erect again.

4) Our sages said (Berachot 33b and Megillah 25a): “He who says Modim Modim we tell him to be quiet. The Gemara explains that the reason for this is that it looks like he is worshipping two different deities, chas veshalom. This is the case whether he repeats the words or whether he repeats sentences. One should be stringent about this even when one says Modim Modim without bowing down. One should not distinguish between an individual praying and repeating the ‘Modim’ and the public. Nevertheless, if one said some of the words of Modim without proper intention but wishes to repeat them and say them with concentration, he may do so.

5) After the blessing of “Modim” we say “Birkat Cohanim” in the cantor's repetition of the Amidah. The practice of some Ashkenazim is that the individual says Birkat Cohanim in his prayer and says “Elokeinu velokei avotenu barchenu baberacha hameshuleshet etc.” Some Acharonim wrote that one should not tell them off.

Kashrut Kahalachah:
The Prohibition of "Chadash" Outside Eress Yisrael:

It was recently explained that at this time of year the prohibition of "chadash" is most problematic because in Eastern Europe and many places in the U.S. wheat is planted in the summer, which is after Passover, and prohibited until next Pessah. Therefore, the wheat products coming on the market at this time of year may very well be the prohibition of "chadash". Indeed the Bayit Chadash (Yore Deah 293) found room for leniency, claiming that the prohibition applies only to wheat grown by a Jew and not wheat that is owned by a gentile and grown by a gentile. However, the Tosafot reject this idea, basing themselves on the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Shulchan Aruch rules like them against the words of the Bach (ibid). See also Mishnah Berurah (Orah Hayim 489) which says that it is better not to rely on the leniency of the Bach.

If one is outside the Land of Israel, therefore, or is purchases a product manufactured outside Israel, one should make the utmost effort to ensure that the wheat is from the "old" wheat (Yashan). Nevertheless, if this would mean that one would not have wheat to eat, one may buy wheat about which it is not known whether it is from this summer or last. Certainly it is better in this issue to be stringent and not rely on the national Hechsharim (kashrut certificates) in Chutz Laaretz, as they rely on the Bach and Ramah and are lenient concerning the prohibition of "Chadash".

Hagaon, the author of the "Shaagat Aryeh", was very stringent indeed about this prohibition. In his time, all the communities in Europe were lenient about it, but he forbade even using the pots in which Chadash was cooked because of the absorption of the Chadash by the pots! Therefore when he traveled and had to eat in people's houses, he would bring along his own dishes. Indeed, the Rama in a Responsa wrote that even if one is stringent in the prohibition of Chadash one does not have to be stringent in what is absorbed by the dishes.

Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom

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