NOVEMBER 2-3, 2001 17 HESHVAN 5762
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And Yitzhak said to Abraham, 'Where is the sheep for the sacrifice?'" (Beresheet 22:7)
The Midrash tells us that Abraham and Yitzhak both went out to do the Akedah (Binding on the Altar) with the same zeal, love and dedication. The Satan, attempting to prevent them from doing this great misvah, came up with many arguments, all in vain. Then the Satan turned to Yitzhak and said to him that all of his prized possessions would go to Yishma'el, his half brother, if he let himself be sacrificed. It says in the Midrash that at that point, Yitzhak hesitated, and that's when he asked his father, "Where is the sheep for the sacrifice?"
We see from here a powerful lesson. All other arguments were not able to penetrate Yitzhak and prevent him from his self-sacrifice, but when he realized he would lose his possessions to his brother, that was enough to make him stop for a moment. The power of jealousy, of someone else taking from me is such that even a perfectly righteous person, such as Yitzhak Abinu could be affected, even momentarily. We see many incidents where friends, partners, brothers and families are torn apart because of this kind of jealousy. We become blinded by our interpretation of the facts, and we don't hear the other side or acknowledge that we could be wrong! The only way to view the situation objectively is through a third party who is neutral and has no personal considerations. The fact that our forefather, Yitzhak, was able to overcome his hesitation and do the Akedah shows that we have it within us to rise above jealousy and pettiness. If we look for the truth, Hashem will help us find it. Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And there is no man in the land" (Beresheet 19:31)
The daughters of Lot (Abraham's nephew) were modest and righteous women whose actions were nobly motivated. They thought the rest of the world was destroyed as the result of the destruction of Sedom. They felt it was their responsibility to save the human race by bearing children, even though the only living male was their father. The Torah doesn't label their actions as incest because they sincerely thought this was the only way to propagate the world.
I would like to tell a story told by Rabbi Yitzhak R. Rubin in his commentary to Tehillim. The Rabbi tells that he was privileged to meet a Jew who described himself as the last Jew alive in the world. Obviously he was mistaken, but at the time of the story, he rightfully thought he was. It took place after the Germans destroyed the Warsaw ghetto. Some Jews managed to hide away in small hidden places. Leibel was one of those Jews.
He would only sneak out at night to find something to eat, and hide by day. He lived out the rest of the war this way, never speaking, contacting or touching another human being. He was sure he was the last Jew alive in the world. Who could blame him for thinking it? But one fact is really striking. He said that throughout the entire ordeal, he never lost faith in Hashem. He looked to Hashem like a child of Ya'akob even if he was the last child. Where did he get this strength? Where do the Jews get this strength with the long history of vicious attacks against them?
There is a verse in Tehillim (92:3) "lehagid baboker hasdecha ve'emunatecha balelot - to tell of your loving kindness in the morning and your faithfulness in the nights." King David is saying he will sing Hashem's praises by day and have faith at night. The usual explanation is that the morning symbolizes the good times for our nation. It is easy to tell people of Hashem's kindness in the good times. The night, however, are the hard times. At night, we feel only pain so we must live by our faith. There is another hint here. The word "emunatecha," which means "your faith" should have said "emunati - my faith." But it says "emunatecha," meaning Hashem's faith in us! More than our faith in Hashem is Hashem's faith in us that keeps us going. When the night is long and dark, what keeps us alive is remembering how much Hashem believes in us that we can bring the morning light.
Hashem knows our potential and is rooting for us. He knows we can do it. Leibel did it. He proved that Hashem's faith in us has never been misplaced. Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Avner Taler
Abraham and Sarah went to Grar (chapter 20). The people there were very different, much more "civilized" than in Egypt. After all, when the king found out the truth about Abraham and Sarah he didn't insist they leave right away as Paroh did. Instead, he invited them to stay in his country and warned the population not to harm them. They were polite and courteous. But still, when Abraham was asked about Sarah he still said she was his sister. Apparently, Abraham's fears to admit she was his wife were justified.
The King Avimelech sent people and took her. There were no threats on Abraham's life; it was all in good nature. How did Abraham know that the danger here is as great, though hidden, as in Egypt? Abraham himself answers the question by saying: "because I said there is no fear of God in this place and they will kill me for my wife." In a place where there is no fear of God, everything is possible. The explanation is simple: human morals can not be stronger than humans themselves. Since humans have strong desires, then sometimes the strongest moral code will not stand in the way of those desires. There will always be a way to circumvent the moral code and justify the behavior (or kill the one who will protest, if all else fails). But how did Abraham know that there was no fear of G-d in Grar? He just got to the place for the first time!
The Midrash provides the answer to that question. When Abraham and Sarah came to town they were asked about their relationship. The Midrash says that Abraham told Avimelech: If a guest comes to town, should he be asked about matters of eating and drinking, about a place to stay, or should he be asked about his wife? This seemingly benign question told Abraham all he needed to know about Grar. This teaches us that we always make statements about ourselves in the way we talk and the subjects we choose to talk about. Shabbat Shalom.
"And G-d tested Abraham" (Beresheet 22:1)
What constitutes the greatness of Abraham? Throughout history Jews were martyred for the sake of Hashem! After years of childlessness, Abraham's unequivocal reply to the challenging Divine test was "Hineni - Here I am," I am ready. As father and son ascended the mountain we read, "And Yitzhak spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father,' and he said, 'Here I am, my son.'"
We can well imagine how engrossed Abraham was in his thoughts and meditations and how unwilling he was to be interrupted. Nevertheless, when his son called him, he abandoned his lofty activities and responded immediately, "Here I am, my son." The devoted first Jewish father and teacher realized that his child was his first priority. Many have died sanctifying Hashem's Name, but unfortunately not many have had the time for their children. Abraham passed his test with flying colors. Our challenge is to always be attuned to hear the call of our children and respond immediately, "Hineni!" (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Melachim II 4:1-23.
In our perashah, angels tell Abraham, "Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year..." In the Haftarah, we find the same phrase is used by the prophet Elisha. As he passed through Shunam, a woman saw him and invited him into her house. This woman, although of meager means, convinced her husband to build Elisha a room in their attic, to make the holy man more comfortable.
Elisha wanted to pay her for her kindness. He discovered that the woman wanted only one thing in life - a child. He told the woman, "Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year, and you will embrace a child." The story connects very well with the week's Torah reading. Not only is the prophecy similar, but the same exact phrase is used in both cases! (Tell it from the Torah)
Answer to Pop Quiz: To the desert of Be'er Sheba.
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