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Vol. 16 No. 3
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Avraham, Terach and Nimrod
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)
When Avraham Avinu was born, Rabeinu Bachye cites a Medrash, a star arose from the east and swallowed four stars from the four corners of the sky. King Nimrod's wise men told him that a son had just been born to Terach, from whom a nation would emerge that was destined to inherit both this world and the next. And they advised him to give Terach a house-full of silver and gold and to kill his son.
But when Nimrod suggested this to Terach, he replied with an analogy to a horse that was offered a house-full of barley if it would allow them to cut off its head, to which it replied 'Fools, if you cut off-my head, who will eat the barley?'
'In the same way', said Terach, 'If you kill my son, who will inherit the silver and gold?'
'From your words it is evident', said the King, 'that you did indeed bear a son!' 'To be sure I did', replied Terach, 'but he died!'
When he saw that Nimrod accepted his answer, Terach hid his baby son for three years in a cave. Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu formed two windows, through one of which He supplied the infant with oil, and through the other, with flour.
When at age three, the young Avraham left the cave, he wondered who had created heaven and earth, as well as himself.
Seeing the magnificent sun rising in the sky, he spent the whole day praying to it, until evening arrived, when the sun set in the west and the moon together the stars appeared in the east. 'This must be the one who created the heaven, the earth and me, and these (the stars) must be its nobles and attendants.'
And so he spent that night immersed in prayer to the moon. In the morning however, he noticed how the moon set in the west and the sun rose once again in the east, leading him to the conclusion that neither the sun nor the moon was the Divine Creator, but that there must be a G-d who is Master over them too, and it was to Him that he would pray and bow down!
Next he went to his father and asked him who had created heaven and earth and himself, to which his father replied that it was his god who had done that. And when he asked his father to show him his god, he promptly produced the idols that he worshipped. Next he asked his mother to prepare him some fine cooked dishes for him to serve to his father's gods, assuming that they would graciously accept his offering. When she gladly obliged, he took the dishes and placed them before the biggest idol. But the god failed to respond. So back he went to his mother with a request for more exquisite dishes than the first ones. She complied. Once again, he placed them in front of the same idol, and once again no response was forthcoming. It was then that the Shechinah rested on him, and after declaring "They have a mouth but they cannot speak", he burned them, with the exception of the biggest idol, which he moved outside, after placing in his hand the fire-making materials.
When Terach returned home and found his gods burned, he immediately pointed a finger at Avaham, who denied having done it. Instead, he informed his father that it was the big idol that had become angry with the other idols, and who in a rage, had set fire to them. But Terach only scolded his son for making such a stupid remark. Is it not well-known, he argued, that idols do not possess a spirit of life, and that they are incapable of doing such things? Why, he tried to prove his point, had he not carved them with his own hands out of a piece of wood?
But that is precisely what Avraham was waiting to hear. Turning to his father, he said 'Let your ears only hear what your mouth speaks! If, as you claim, your gods have no power, then why do you say that they created heaven and earth? Indeed, why do you worship them?'
But Terach was unimpressed. He went straight to Nimrod, and reported to him what his errant son had done.
Nimrod summoned Avraham, and asked him why he had burned his father's gods. When the brave boy repeated what he had told his father, that it was not he who had done it but the big idol, Nimrod simply repeated what Terach had said, to which Avraham reiterated the reply that he had given earlier, adding 'Why do you forsake the true G-d who created Heaven and earth and bow down to a piece of wood?'
'I created the Heaven and the earth with the might of my own hands' Nimrod retorted!
'Really', said Avraham. 'Are you really able to create? When I left the cave, I saw the sun rise in the east and set in the west. If you can reverse its course, to make it rise in the west and set in the east, then I will accept you as the Creator and I will bow down to you! But if you don't, the one who gave me the strength to burn the idols will give me the strength to kill you!'
Turning to his wise men, Nimrod asked them what should be done with the rebellious child.
After informing their king that the errant child was none other than the one to whom they had referred when, three years earlier, they had predicted that a nation would descend from him that was destined to inherit both this world and the next, the wise men suggested that what he did should be done to him. And so, without more ado, Nimrod ordered Avraham to be thrown into the fiery furnace. However, G-d, in His great mercy, performed a miracle and saved him, as the Pasuk states "I am Hashem, who saved you from the furnace of Kasdim".
According to some opinions, this was the first of Avraham Avinu's ten trials.
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(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)
"Please say that you are my sister … " (12:13).
This was considered a great sin (albeit an inadvertent one) on Avraham's part, says the Ramban, in that he brought upon his righteous wife the threat of a terrible sin, in order to save himself from death. In fact, he ought to have had faith that G-d would save him and Sarah. And by the same token, he adds, he should have trusted that having ordered him to travel to Eretz Cana'an, G-d would not forsake him there, but would protect him and his wife from the famine.Consequently, he should not have gone down to Egypt in the first place.
According to the Ramban then, Avraham committed a double sin, in leaving Eretz Cana'an and (spiritually) endangering his wife. Indeed, he maintains, that was the cause of Galus Mitzrayim - the punishment in the same location as the crime.
Rabeinu Bachye however, cites Chazal, who attribute Galus Mitzrayim to Avraham's words "How do I know that I will inherit it" (where he queried G-d's promise to give him Eretz Yisrael [see 15:8]), which explains why the Torah juxtaposes the two issues.
Eliezer & the 318 Men
"And he armed his disciples, those who were born in his house, three hundred and eighteen men … " (14:14).
According to the simple explanation, these were Avraham's servants and attendants, whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechinah. Rashi however, cites a Medrash that the Pasuk in fact, is referring to Eliezer alone, since the Gematriyah of his name is three hundred and eighteen.
Rabeinu Bachye queries this latter explanation, in that it takes the Pasuk right out of its context, as that is clearly not what The Torah intends to say (particularly as the Pasuk speaks in the plural and Eliezer was only one person).
He therefore explains that what happened was that Avraham took 318 men to battle, only when he arrived at the battle-front, he made the various announcements that the Torah requires, at which point they all went home one by one, until he was left with only Eliezer.
According to R. Bachye, he did indeed set out with three hundred and eighteen men, but finished with Eliezer alone, whose Gematriyah is three hundred and eighteen.
The Four Exiles - Plus One
"And behold a great dark dread fell upon him (Avraham)" (15:12).
Avraham received a hint here about the four exiles that his children would have to undergo at the hand of the four kingdoms, says Rabeinu Bachye, for so Chazal interpret this Pasuk; "dread" refers to Bavel, 'dark', to Medes (who darkened the eyes of Yisrael with fasts); 'great' refers to Greece and 'fell upon him', to Edom (Rome). The Ramban, he says, explains how the fear that initially enveloped Avraham, seemed to grow from one moment to the next, until he felt as if he was carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders. And he adds that G-d chose to break the news of the various Galuyos to Avraham here, after having promised to give Eretz Yisrael to his children as an everlasting possession. This wonderful gift had its reservations however, in that should his children sin, these four nations would temporarily govern them. And He finally informed him of the exile in Egypt, which had already been decreed upon him for his sin (see above 12:13).
Four Hundred Years
" … and they will enslave them and afflict them for four hundred years … " (15:13).
According to the Ibn Ezra, the four hundred years took effect from that moment on, and the additional thirty years (referred to at the end of Parshas Bo), were added later, due to K'lal Yisrael's sins.
Whereas according to the Ramban, says the footnote in R. Bachye, the Galus in Egypt began only thirty years later, with the birth of Yitzchak (in which case nothing was added later).
The reason for the number four hundred, says R. Bachye, is not known.
It is interesting that he says that, bearing in mind that he himself cited Chazal (see above 12:12), who ascribe Avraham's sin to his querying of G-d's promise to give him Eretz Cana'an, comprising four words ("Ba'moh eida ki iroshenoh"); and according to the commentaries, the four hundred years Galus in Egypt corresponded to those four words.
In any event, R. Bachye attributes the number four hundred to "Ayin ha'Ra" (the evil eye [indeed, the Gematriyah of 'Ayin Ra' is four hundred]).
In fact, the number four hundred is commonly associated with Ayin ha'Ra, and the reason for this is based on the fact that the letter 'Tav' (four hundred) is the last ('tachlis') of all the letters, and in the same way, Ayin ha'Ra ends ('mechaleh' [i.e. destroys]) everything.
And it is due to the fact that the letter 'Hey' was just added to the names of both Avraham (Avram) and Sarah (Sarai) that Ayin ha'Ra enters the scene, seeing as the latter Hey denotes Midas ha'Din, which in turn, is the basis of Ayin ha'Ra.
So too, we find that the Gematriyah of 'Efron' (the Chiti, who sold the Me'aras ha'Mahpeila, and who displayed an Ayin ha'Ra in his dealings with Avraham) is four hundred (and what's more, Avraham paid him four hundred Shekel of silver for the Cave). Similarly, Eisav, who was sustained from the Midah of his father Yitzchak Avinu (whose Midah was Midas ha'Din), had an Ayin ha'Ra, which is why he came against Ya'akov with four hundred men. Indeed, Ya'akov sent him gifts with spaces in between, in order to satisfy Eisav's eye (to counter his Ayin ha'Ra). Furthermore, says R. Bachye, the Medrash, commenting on a Pasuk in Daniel (7:8), explains that the kingdom of Edom places an Ayin ha'Ra on people's money and property.
The Korban of Milah
"And My covenant on your flesh shall be an everlasting covenant" (17:13).
According to the Medrash, the Mitzvah of Milah is compared to a Korban; that is why, like a Korban, it may only be performed on the eighth day; and just as, in order to attain an atonement for K'lal Yisrael, the Torah requires the Kohanim to eat the Korbanos, so too, do we arrange a Se'udah following the B'ris Milah. (See also following Pearl).
And what's more, says R. Bachye, the B'ris Milah is even greater than a Korban, since whereas the latter is performed with one's money, the former is performed on one's body (thereby increasing the value of the Mitzvah), and on a limb to which all the other limbs are connected, which is why it is known as 'the head of the body'. And this explains why it is the Mitzvah of Milah that saves a person from the fire of Gehinom, as the author goes on to explain.
B'ris Milah on Yom-Kipur
Quoting the Pirkei de'R. Eliezer, Rabeinu Bachye teaches us that Avraham Avinu performed the B'ris Milah on Yom Kipur (even though under normal circumstances, a belated B'ris does not over-ride Shabbos or Yom-Tov). The source for this is the Gezeirah-Shavah "be'Etzem ha'yom ha'zeh" that appears in both instances.
And so each year, G-d sees the blood of Avraham Avinu's B'ris Milah and he atones for the sins of Yisrael, as the Torah writes in Acharei-Mos (16:30) "For on this day He will atone for you from all your sins … ".
Talk about the B'ris Milah being a Korban.
"Walk Before Me and be 'Tamim" (17:1).
What exactly does "tamim" mean?
Rabeinu Bachye defines it as a person by whom there is no contradiction between his mouth and his heart ('Piv ve'libo shavim'), whose interior and exterior act in complete harmony. This, he explains, is the epitome of perfection.
And it is about those people who say one thing with their mouths and think otherwise in their hearts that David ha'Melech writes in Tehilim (78:36/7) "And they enticed Him with their mouths, whilst with their tongues they lied to him. And their hearts were not on the same wave-length as His, and they were not faithful to His covenant".
Hence the Mitzvah in the Torah to be "Tamim with Hashem … " (Shoftim 18:13).
Indeed, the Torah uses the term "Tamim" in some form or another, in connection with most of the great Tzadikim of that time … No'ach, Avraham. Yitzchak and Ya'akov.
David ha'Melech praises this Midah often, and even teaches us (in Tehilim 41:13) that whoever attains it will live forever.
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'And I will increase you … and kings who rule over nations will descend from you' (17:6).
'This is My covenant that you shall observe … you shall circumcise all males, in the event that they have no father to circumcise them' (17:10).
'Whoever has been circumcised may circumcise … ' (17:13).
...THE BA'AL HA'TURIM
"Lech L'cha … " (12:1).
G-d hinted to Avraham that the first B'rachah (of becoming a great nation) would only begin when he turned a hundred (the Gematriyah of "Lech l'cha").
Alternatively, it was a hint that after he left his hometown (at the age of seventy-five) he would live another hundred years.
Alternatively, the double expression (which can be read as 'Lech lech') hinted at the two exiles that his children were destined to suffer.
Alternatively, it was a hint that they would go into Galus after fifty generations (the Gematriyah of "l'cha"), in the time of Tzidkiyahu ha'Melech.
"And I will make you into a great nation … and I will bless those who bless you … " (12:2/3).
G-d blessed Avraham here with seven blessings: 1. To become a great nation (the greatest B'rachah of them all); 2. Wealth; 3. Making his name great (from Avram to Avraham); 4. That he would become the source of blessing; 5. That G-d would bless whoever would bless him and 6. Curse those who would do him harm; 7. That all the nations of the world would be blessed on account of him.
The first three B'rachos correspond to the three B'rachos of Birchas Kohanim "Yevarech'cho, Yo'er, Yiso" (Ba\al ha'Turim).
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AND THEIR MEANING
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article
reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch
and are not necessarily Halachah.
Not to Eat Meat and Milk (cont.)
Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah … The Gemara in Chulin (113a) restricts the prohibition to the flesh of a Kasher species of Beheimah (to the exclusion of a non-Kasher one, and of a Chayah or bird [even if they are of a Kasher species]). And they derive this from the fact that the Torah inserts the word "G'di" (a kid-goat) by all three La'avin, when it could just as well have written 'Basar' (flesh) instead. Consequently, Chazal Darshen "G'di", 've'lo Beheimah Temei'ah'; "G'di", 've'lo Chayah'; "G'di", 've'lo Of', permitting these three to be cooked together with milk, and to derive benefit from the mixture, though they did forbid eating it, so as to avoid confusing one kind of meat for another, and permitting the meat of a Kasher Beheimah too (a mistake that is likely to occur); in the same way as they issued certain prohibitions with regard to the meat of a Kasher animal, such as even placing it on the table together with milk or cheese dishes. According to some commentaries, one is even required to wait between these kinds of meat and cheese, the same time-period as between the regular meat and cheese … The Chachamim did not however, include the meat of fish and locusts in the prohibition, since their meat is not comparable to real meat, and one is unlikely to confuse them … Another stringency that the Gemara there (108a) introduced with regard to Basar be'Chalav, over and above other prohibitions regarding eating, concerns a case where a piece of meat into which milk fell (and which does not contain sixty times as much as the milk) is subsequently cooked. The combination, they say, becomes a piece of Isur (which the Gemara there (in 110a) refers to as 'Chatichah Na'asis Neveilah'. This is due to the fact that (unlike other Isurim which fall into Heter) it is the actual mixture that is forbidden.
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