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by Daneal Weiner
May the zchus of this Torah be a refua shlaimah b’karov for Yaffa Alisa bas Tamar Tema.Even after 1/3 of mankind is dispersed, 1/3 have their languages confounded and 1/3 are turned into monkeys, the survivors of the Dor Haflogoh- Generation of the Dispersion still defy Hashem. For 10 generations they descend into idolatrous practices until is born Avraham Aveinu- our father. Avraham does some looking around, some thinking and he realizes there must be a Creator of such a world. Logically, if there is a Creator He must have created everything for a reason, towards a goal, with intent towards a standard or conduct of life. It’s also logical that within His creation one would find the answers to these questions. And so begins Avraham on his quest for seeking Hashem’s will and his will to teach Hashem to the world.
Meanwhile, back in gothic city, Avraham’s mission of truth and responsibility are threatening to spoil the party. Nimrod, the first self-made king in the world, takes Avraham and his brother Nachor and tells them to either give up monotheism or be thrown into a blazing furnace. Avraham was first to chose the furnace. Nimrod orders the furnace fired up until 7 times it’s normal operating temperature.
Till this point it is only Avraham’s intellect and power of reasoning which tell him there is a G-d and yet it is so clear to him he chooses Nimrod's fiery furnace. Hashem sees Avraham as deserving of a miracle and saves him from the flames, from the heat, from the smoke. He steps out of the furnace as if he just got off an elevator. [It certainly was an elevating experience.] The two soldiers of Nimrod who had escorted Avraham to the furnace had died from their fleeting moment in its vicinity! [I have a couple theories on how this might have taken place. The one I like best is that at 7 times the furnaces usual intensity the angel dispatched to protect Avraham met him as he approached the furnace. The angel also protected the soldiers with him. As the soldiers shoved Avraham the final few steps they ended up out of the protection of the angel and went like flash paper in a raid.] Ouch!
Nachor did not reach his brother Avraham’s level of belief in Hashem. He saw what happened to the soldiers but he also saw what happened to Avraham. He was willing to walk into the furnace thinking he too would be saved. Willing to chose the furnace for the sake of the miracle did not merit him miracle. Before we cast too many aspersions on Nachor, how many of us would walk into a furnace with that kind of faith in Hashem? How many of us walk into prayer services with that kind of faith in Hashem? Nachor definitely died sanctifying Hashem’s name, Hy’d- may Hashem avenge his blood.
Only after Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice himself does Hashem speak to Avraham Aveinu for the first time and says, "It’s Me and you are My man!" (That's not in the parsha.) Hashem speaks to Avraham for a second time and says
"Go for yourself- from your land, from your place of birth, from your father's house- to the land I will show you."
Hashem’s first command to Avraham seems strange in its order. If I started walking south from my father’s house the first thing I'd leave is the front door! A few hours later I’d leave the city limits and eventually I’d reach Mexico. Why does Hashem reverse the order?
The Malbim says it's not a physical separation Hashem wants but a spiritual one. First Avraham has to give up the national ideologies. Not so bad. Then he has to give up the ways of his place of birth. A little tougher, but negotiable. Lastly he has to forget the teachings of his father's house. That’s the toughie. Hashem is breaking Avraham in slowly to what is now expected of him. Judaism is a growth process. Handle what you can as you can but know what lies ahead it a must too.
Then again, maybe Hashem’s words are really from the toughest to the easiest and in order to impress upon Avraham the importance of each? Allow me to explain.
It's easiest to leave the parents house. Everyone does it. If not before marriage, certainly after six months in the basement. Moving to a new town is less universal then leaving the folk’s house but no shortage of willing participants. But leaving the country? Not so easy. And not the way you’re thinking. You’re thinking transcontinental visits and mega-phone bills are the deterrents. I’m talking about a different scenario.
A young ideological Jew fulfills his dream of moving to Israel! He rents a caravan in the hills and opens up a little shop selling ‘I love Israel’ t-shirts. One day a happy customer leaves the shop forgetting his change. Our honest and earnest oleh puts the money in an envelope and leaves it in the cash register drawer for when the customer returns. An hour later the Israeli version of the IRS (more like the KGB) come a knockin'. They open the cash register and compare the drawer to the sales slips. The find an envelope with 11 sheckel not reflected in the sales. They’ve caught themselves a rightist anti-establishment black marketeer! They fine him 30,000 sheckel and close his store for a month pending further investigation. Imagine his outrage! Such injustice! As they weld an iron padlock to his door He screams at them, "You can't do this to me!” as he reaches into his pocket, “I'm an American citizen!!!" and he brandishes his American passport!
Leaving one’s land could be the hardest of all and the most defining of all. Chazal- our Sages say someone who lives in 4 cubits of Torah (i.e. a life of Torah) and mitsvos is considered as living in Israel, even while in his place of birth, in his father’s house.
(P.S. My tale did bear a little exaggeration. They wouldn’t padlock the store.)
Avraham Aveinu sets off, as Hashem ordered, and when he reaches Canaan he is told to stop. (12:8) "And he [Avraham] built an Alter there and cried out in the Name of Hashem." The Targum Onkelos translates the verse as saying that Avraham prayed there to Hashem. The Ramban writes that the correct understanding is that he shouted out Hashem's Name. He climbed the mountain, cupped both hands, inhaled deep and announced, "Haaaaaasssshhhheeeeeemmmmmmmm!" He wanted to go public. Something he couldn't do at home since his parents frowned upon his becoming religious. Well, the Ramban writes Avraham didn’t need to do this back home because he had taught them already about Hashem. He just arrived at a new place and was giving them their first introduction. There is no mention of Avraham’s voice being miraculously heard throughout Israel. Bearing in mind elements of human nature, as this issue is, show me a guy building an alter and I’ll show you a crowd of people gathering round watching him do it.
I heard in the name of Rav Yosef Tsainvort, shlit’a, a story of a student of the Magid of Mezritch, the Chernobler Rebbe. The Magid made tremendous efforts involving himself heavily in mitsvos between Jew and fellow Jew. When he passed on his Chasidim took it upon themselves to continue in their Rebbe’s footsteps. Not being their Rebbe, each student committed to one particular mitsva. The Chernobler Rebbe took upon himself the mitsva of redeeming captive Jews.
Ironically enough, the Chernobler Rebbe found himself before the magistrate on trumped out charges of espionage. Probably spying for Israel. He was put into a crowded general holding cell to wait for the inevitable sentencing. After a couple days a women is brought into the cell. She greeted the Chernobler Rebbe and said, “When Hashem told Avraham Lech Lecha without telling him where he was going, Avraham really didn’t have far to go. What experience did Hashem want to create by sending Avraham on an undefined journey?
“Avraham was the living attribute of chesed- kindness but he wasn’t born that way. He worked at it. He perfected himself in it. When he wgoing to open his tent to travelers, he intended on showing them the most kindness he possibly could. But he could never show them the MOST kindness unless he had been a traveler himself. Hashem helped Avraham to help himself become the best. So it didn’t have to be a long journey. Likewise, Rebbe, you dedicated your life to redeeming captives. Now that you know what it’s like to be one will you be better able to draw on your strengths to redeem others. And like by Avraham, you will not be in here long.”
The woman was soon released and never seen again. A few days later the Chernobler was released. The woman could not have been from this world having known the future. Rachel Emainu- our mother, was buried on the road out of Jerusalem so when her children would be taken into captivity they could pray by her and ask her to pray for their redemption.
Avraham walks the length and breadth of Israel and a famine strikes the land. Avraham decides to take the family down to Sin City Egypt. Egypt has detectors at all the gates. Not metal detectors. Beauty detectors. Sarah Emainu is unquestionably dressed with the utmost modesty and still there is concern because Egypt WILL KNOW she is beautiful. Avraham Aveinu knows that the Egyptians are decent people and would never take a wife away from her husband. They would kill him first and then she would be available.
Verse 12:13 has Avraham saying to Sarah, "Please say that you are my sister so that it will be good for me on account of you and I will live because of you." On the words ‘good for me’ Rashi says he means, "They will give me presents." What? Not only is it a wonder that Avraham Aveinu would be looking for handouts but he places concern for his life second to his desire for presents? “Say you’re my sister so I can get that new power mower and, hey, maybe my life will be spared too”?! You hear the question? Let's make it even bigger!
We can say that in the Shema we find the command to serve Hashem, “with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our wealth.” If this is an ascending order of commitment, indeed we learn some people do value their money more than their life. Right, Rochester? But we are talking about Avraham Aveinu. He can’t be one of those people. Or better put, he is NOT one of those people. In fact…
Later in the parsha we have the 1st world war. The 4 kings attack and defeat the 5 kings (one of the 5 is the king of Sodom) and they scoop up Avraham's nephew Lot amongst all the citizens and booty of Sodom. Avraham Aveinu leads his army of 318 into battle to save Lot. He defeats the 4 kings! According to Roberts Rules of War, article 2.16-6, "The victor shall be entitled to all slaves and booty of the victee." Avraham has full right to everything he’s just won. The king of Sodom, feeling a little lonely but with a modicum of graciousness asks Avraham for the return of his people but tells him he can keep the booty. Avraham gives EVERYTHING back to him saying, "Not from a thread to a sandal strap will I take from you. It should never be said that you made me rich. I rely on Hashem!" So spoils of war that were legally and legitimately his Avraham gives away because he relies only on Hashem but from the Egyptians he’s looking forward to them giving him presents? Would you agree the question is bigger? Let’s make it biggest!
At the end of Parshas Chayai Sarah it says that Avraham gave all he had to Yitschak and to the children of the concubines he gave PRESENTS! What presents? Rashi says everything he received from Egypt! So in summation, Avraham wants Sarah to say she’s his sister so he will get presents and maybe he’ll survive too even though we see from Sodom he is not interested in others people money and decades later he’s going to give away everything he received from Egypt. What in Hashem’s Name is going on???
That’s close. What is going on is in Hashem’s Name. That’s on the money!
Avraham just made his grand entrance into Israel. He climbed what will be the Temple Mount and called out in the Name of Hashem. He then walked the length and breadth of the land shaking hands and kissing babies saying, “I’ve been elected to teach you monotheism.” Next thing we read, a famine breaks out! What would you imagine the Canaanites response to Avraham would be? “You monotheistic bum! We've been doing fine here for years and you come along and boom, a famine! The gods are obviously not happy with you nor your monotheistic dribble!"
Avraham, of course, knows Who’s running the show. Hashem promised him sustenance and material wealth but he has to do what circumstances call for. He descends to Egypt. Realizing the potential of the situation he tells Sarah a plan. Success! When Avraham returns to Israel he tells the scoffers, "It was MY G-d who had enough of your idolatry and punished YOU with a famine! While you were here suffering for your sins He was making me rich!" The presents Avraham sought were a testimony to Hashem. So he said to Sarah, "It will be good for me" before "and it will save my life, too." He was putting the honor off Hashem before his own. Avraham didn’t use the money because ‘spiritually impure’ money taints the spender. That’s by the hands of a Jew. There is no spiritual purity or impurity by gentiles so he gave it all to his children from his concubines.
When Avraham and his 318 students defeated the 4 national armies, no spoils were necessary. The miracle of the victory said it all.
When Avraham returned the booty to the king of Sodom he said, "Not from a thread to a shoe strap will I take from you. I rely on Hashem”, the Gemorah Sotah says that because of these words Hashem rewarded Avraham Aveinu with 2 mitsvos, tsitsit strings and the straps of the tfilin. The Midrash says that Hashem rewarded him with the mitsva of Yiboom. If a man dies childless it is a mitsva called Yiboom for the deceased’s brother to marry the widow so their child will re-establish the deceased’s name in the world. What is the measure for measure in rewarding Avraham with tsitsis strings, tfilin straps and Yiboom?
The Zohar explains (and it also appears in the explanation of the Gro'h, Orach Chaim, hilchos Tfilin) that the talis- prayer shawl to which the tsitsis strings are fastened, is like a throne prepared to have rest upon it the Shchinah- Hashem’s presence. With the throne prepared, what draws the Shchinah down? The T'filin. The Shchinah used to rest between the Cherubs in the Holy of Holies. Not only do our 4 cubits of Torah and mitsvos transport us to Israel, but the male halves of the soul get to build the Holy Temple! But the Temple was made from gold and silver?
When Avraham said to the king of Sodom, “not a thread or a shoe strap” what he was saying was " I don’t need more gold and silver. I have enough." Measure for measure Hashem said, "I don’t need more gold and silver. Completing the mitsvos of talis and tfilin with some string and leather straps is enough.”
What about Yiboom? Giving the ring to the bride under the chupah- canopy is really the engagement. The remaining chupah ceremony is the wedding. Days gone by, the engagement was up to 12 months prior to the chupah. At that time the bride became an Aishes Ish- wife of the man. Although not yet married she has a status of a wife and is forbidden to any other man. As far as support goes, she remains in her father’s house. If by the end of the 12 months they do not yet marry, she leaves her fathers house (not physically) and the groom is now obligated to support her. (You know, take out, food drop-offs, reimbursements.)
Let's say the wedding is scheduled for 11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days after the engagement and that morning the bride comes down with a 48 hour flu. The wedding is postponed because of her! Who is responsible for her support, the Gemorah wants to know? For the groom it can be argued, "Why should I feed you? It's your fault we're not married. Let your dad continue to feed you." The bride can claim, "YOU are commanded to bring children into the world, not me. Marriage is an institution YOU require. If I became sick it's because YOU are not yet worthy of being allowed even the attempt of fulfilling the mitsv! I'll take a shwarma, a burrito, two dogs, a side of slaw, fries and a diet coke." Now the Gemorah does not actually expect such a conversation to take place. It is theoretically arguing each side to get down to the reality of the halacha. Is it the father's responsibility or the husband-to be's? (husband's-to-be?) (husband-to's-be?)
If the Gemorah put forth the argument it did on the brides behalf then that reality plays a role in related areas of Jewish law. In other words, if a man dies childless it’s because HE didn’t merit fulfilling his mitsva of having children. Heaven put an end to his family tree. Oy. Avraham, however, just merited Yiboom, a second chance for the husband! The verses in Vayikra which list the forbidden marriages between relatives say a half dozen times, “Don’t marry so and so for I am Hashem!”? Just as Avraham’s words to Sarah put Hashem’s honor before his personal risk of dying childless, measure for measure Hashem puts His honor aside and allows a man who died childless a second chance. Good G-d!
Hashem’s honor wasn’t the only reason Avraham Aveinu brought Sarah down to Egypt? Chazal say it was to lay the foundation for their descendants. In this parsha we see tremendous amounts of Ma'asim Avos simmon l'bonim - the actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children. Not a sign as in what choices to make but a sign as in what events WILL take place. By Sarah Emainu being taken into the house of Pharaoh and withstanding unimaginable offers and advances, she built a solid foundation in Egypt that would protect the daughters of Israel 200 years later, 210 years long, 116 years of which they were slaves! In all that time not a single daughter of Israel succumbed to advances nor surrendered to rape from an Egyptian! [Only one incident occurred, when an Egyptian impersonated a husband.] What am I saying?!? ( -having just remembering what Rabbi Akivah Tatz said.) For thousands of years the daughters of Israel have conducted themselves with the utmost sanctity!!! This Sarah did for the women. Only in recent decades have we fallen so far, G-d help us! Yoseph, who fought off the advances of Potiphars wife set the foundation for the men. Rav Wolfson relays to us that the temptation Sarah resisted that one night was tantamount to what Yoseph resisted the entire year!
Other mentions of Ma'asim Avos simmon l'bonim in the parsha. Og, a giant, a living, human example of chamets- leavened products whose swelling and rising symbolizes unmitigated materialism, he comes to Avraham with news of Lot’s capture hoping that Avraham will try to save Lot and get killed in the process freeing Sarah for himself. But Avraham is already making matsos when Og comes a knockin’! Matsas non-leaven character symbolizing pure spirituality is not just the antithesis of chamets but it is the power that defeats it. These events are being played out on what will be Pesach.
Avraham defeats the 4 kings indicating our eventual emergence, victorious over the 4 kingdoms which exiled us.
Putting a couple Rashis together it seems Avraham and Lot part ways in Shchem. Shchem represents Avraham’s descendant Yoseph (and is where Yoseph is buried). Lot, through his son Moav will have a descendant Ruth, the mother of the house of David, representing the monarchy of Yehudah. Avraham and Lot separating in Shchem foreshadows the eventual split in Israel between Ephraim (son of Yoseph) and Yehudah which began in Shchem. Yorovom of Ephraim rebelled against Rechavom, son of King Solomon, of Yehudah.
Lech Lecha is read in this 8th month of Cheshvan, as they’re counted in the Chumash. 8 symbolizes the era of the Mashiach. Lech Lecha narrates for us the beginnings of the Messianic line by Lot going to Sodom, and it ends with the command of the circumcision on the 8th day. All indications of events to commence any day now, may it be Hashem’s will!
Throughout all of Breishis solid foundations are being built and set by our incredible ancestors who knew every time they’d move a limb it would have ramifications throughout all our Jewish history.
Now's the time for us to lay a foundation for our descendants. For G-d’s sake, have a solid Shabbot Shalom!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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