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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem said to Avram, "Go for yourself." (12:1)

The Midrash cites an analogy: A man was traveling from place to place. Along the way, he came across a large house that was lit up. The man said to himself, "Is it possible that this house has no owner?" Suddenly, the owner of the house appeared and said, "I am the owner of this house." Avraham Avinu was in a similar quandary. He saw a great, illuminated world which seemed to have no "owner." Is this possible? At that point, Hashem appeared to Avraham and told him, "I am the owner of this world." This is a Midrash that we have heard numerous times, going back to our elementary school days. Its simplicity, however, begs elucidation. Avraham was apparently the first person to question the "ownership" of this world. Were there no others before him who wondered and asked the same question: Is it possible that this world has no manhig, leader? We know this not to be true. There were righteous people that preceded Avraham, such as Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem and Eivar. If so, what chidush, novelty, did Avraham add for which he has received such credit?

Horav Meir Chadash, zl, explains that Avraham developed a unique perspective of the world which previously had not been recognized. This is indicated by Chazal's analogy to a house that is all "lit up." Is it necessary to say that the house was lit up? What would be wrong if the man would have come across a large house that was not "lit up"? The answer is that the Midrash is not referring to a light that illuminates the inside of the house. Rather, the Midrash refers to a reflective light that lights the entire outer area which encompasses the house. Thus, the passerby takes note of a phenomenon unlike anything else he has seen before. Most houses have lights to illuminate the area within its confines. This house is lit in such a manner that it illuminated everything outside of it. Why would the owner of the house want to light up the area outside of his house? What benefit does he derive from this light?

Avraham Avinu realized what no one before him had comprehended. The purpose of this house was not self-serving. The owner of the house was not illuminating it for his own benefit. He was lighting the way for those who were outside, who traveled along the road past the house. This amazed Avraham. Never before had he seen a house that was built solely for the benefit of others. This house, of course, is a reference to the world that Avraham observed. He saw nature, the heavens, the entire creation. It was all there for its inhabitants, but where was the owner? He was not deriving any personal benefit from the house. This was a house built totally on chesed, kindness. The bricks and mortar of this edifice were pure altruism. How could this be? Where was this elusive owner? This is when Hashem appeared to Avraham and explained, Olam chesed yibaneh, "The world was built on chesed."

Our Patriarch realized that if this is the reason that the Creator created the world, then he must be like Him; imitato Dei, as He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate. Avraham then began to preach the importance of chesed for the continued existence of the world. He understood that a world that was created upon the foundation of kindness, for the purpose of doing kindness, must be a world in which acting benevolently is a constant reality: Under all circumstances, if one searches, he will find the opportunity to act with chesed. This is why, when Avraham was recuperating from his bris milah, he could not accept the fact that there was no one out there for whom he could do chesed. He was certain that the opportunity would materialize when chesed would be needed. Hashem created that potential.

Indeed, as descendants of Avraham, we understand that chesed is more than our mission in life, it is our raison d'etre. It is the reason for life itself. Chesed sustains life and serves as a catalyst for continued chesed, as evidenced in the following story:

The Dejer Rebbe, zl, was fleeing with his family from the Nazis. Their guide was to take them from their beloved home to the border of Romania. They camped in the forest for the night. By daybreak, their guide had disappeared. The Rebbe, his wife and eight children were left alone to stumble blindly through the forest. They walked at night and hid during the day. Tired, weak and hungry, they searched for food to no avail. Finally, they reached the edge of the forest where they noticed a little silo. They slipped inside and concealed themselves in the hayloft. While they now had temporary shelter, their hunger pains still had not been alleviated. It had been two days since they had last had a morsel of food. They knew that if they did not procure some food soon, they would succumb to hunger. They peered out of the silo and noticed two peasants tilling the soil. The rebbetzin and one of her sons decided they might as well take a chance, hoping that one of these men would have a kind heart.

They were fortunate that the first man they approached had mercy on them and told them not to worry. He would protect them. It happened that this man, whose name they later found out to be Tarnowan, was the village minister and judge. The rebbetzin took Tarnowan to meet her husband. The Rebbe extended his hand in greeting and graciously thanked their benefactor. "My name is Yoseph Paneth, and I understand you are Judge Tarnowan," the Rebbe said.

Suddenly, Tarnowan turned ashen, as he gazed at the Rebbe in awe and disbelief. "Did you say your name was Paneth? May I ask what was your father's name?" Tarnowan pressed on.

"My father was Rabbi Yechezkel Paneth," the Rebbe answered.

"My G-d, if you are Rabbi Paneth's son, then I owe you a debt of gratitude." The judge gave the following explanation. "Thirty years ago, our two-year- old son was struck with a strange disease for which no doctor could find a cure. We had traveled all over Europe to no success. Being religious people, we could not give up hope. We heard that there was a holy rabbi in the city of Dej who was a miracle worker. We figured that we owed it to our son to seek this rabbi's blessing.

"I arrived in Dej and immediately proceeded to the Rabbi's house. After waiting a short while, I was ushered into the rabbi's study. This kind-hearted man listened to me and, with a gracious smile, he promised me that my son would be cured.

"I have one request of you, however," the rabbi said. You must promise me that whenever you see people in trouble, you will help them.

"I returned home to discover that my son's health had already miraculously improved. It could be for no other reason than the blessing I had received from your holy father. Now, thirty years later, I have the opportunity to repay that blessing."

For two weeks, the Rebbe and his family were hidden by the Tarnowans, until they were finally able to escape from that part of the country. It was the realization that an act of chesed may not go unrequited that catalyzed their salvation. For thirty years, this gentile had remembered the holy Rebbe's request: "Whenever you see people in trouble - help them."

Go for yourself, from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you. (12:1)

What seems to be the first dialogue in the Torah between Hashem and Avraham Avinu is His enjoinment to Avraham to leave his land, his birthplace, the home of his father, to go to a place that had yet to be announced. Certainly, there must be a singular lesson to be derived from here concerning the future of Avraham's descendants and their interaction with the world around them. At first glance, one would suggest that the message is simple: Your mission rises above land, nation and family. You must be willing to leave it all, out of a sense of conviction and dedication to Hashem; standing alone among the nations should have no effect upon your commitment. In fact, it is a requisite for spiritual success.

In his commentary to the Torah, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that while one's homeland and birthplace play a significant role in his life, Hashem is understood here to be explaining that to plant the first Jewish seed demands forsaking homeland, birthplace and paternal home. Indeed, the appreciation of these factors and their influence upon an individual underscores the isolation that Hashem demands of Avraham and, by extension, his descendants. This demand placed Avraham in complete contrast to the tendency of the culture in which he lived. Individualism was not valued; recognition of the significance of each and every individual was not the accepted norm. At that time, civilization tended towards a centralization of people, which by its very nature strips the individual of his personal value. This orientation denigrates him to being a mere subordinate, a "brick" for building the edifice called "community," a cog in the wheel of progress. This proclivity was the precursor of the misconceived notion that the majority should sway the direction of the masses. Thus, everything that is considered the most exalted by the majority, ipso facto become the most accepted and the most revered.

Certainly, the majority of every community should represent all that is truly auspicious and holy. In such a situation, Judaism also attaches a great importance to being connected to the community. Nonetheless, at the forefront of Judaism, at the basis of our belief, prominently stand the words, "Lech lecha," "Go for yourself" - you must rise above the rest. Nobody may rely on the time-honored clich?, "I am as good and as honest as everybody else." No! We must rise above the multitudes.

Everyone has his own personal responsibility to Hashem. If the majority is aggressively swayed towards this belief, then he should be a part of the majority. Otherwise, he must be prepared to swim against the tide. This is what was demanded of our Patriarch, Avraham, as the starting point of his and his future nation's mission. Hashem taught Avraham Avinu a compelling lesson, one that is with us on an almost daily basis: We must do our own thing. This is the meaning of Lech Lecha. The entire world around him was setting up shop and establishing themselves as secure nations, protected by borders and rights. He was prepared to be on the move, to be a refugee, to throw a protest against the lifestyles adopted by the pagans. Idol worship, sensuality, worshipping human power: these symbolized the spirit of the times. Avraham had the courage and conviction to fight it all, to be different, to stand in the minority, to be one man against an entire world. This is his legacy to us. It is our heritage to uphold it firmly.

Go for yourself from your land. (12:1)

Following the seminal test of Uhr Kasdim, when Avraham Avinu was thrown into a fiery cauldron because of his belief in Hashem, it would be superfluous to test him once again with leaving his home. Surely, this must be a much more facile test to pass than its predecessor. Horav Yitzchok Zilberstein, Shlita, lends some insight into the nisayon, trial, of "Lech lecha." The main point was not the move, uprooting himself from his home, from his birthplace, from his roots. Rather, the essence was the idea that he had no legitimate excuse to relate to people concerning why he was moving and to where he was moving. Indeed, he had no clue why or where. He only knew what Hashem had told him. Overcoming the stares and questions of his neighbors and friends was more difficult than the actual move.

When a person is thrown into the fire for his beliefs, he knows at least that people understand his sense of sacrifice. They are able to appreciate his commitment and justify his judgment. When a person uproots himself, however, from the place that had been his home for decades and has no answers when he is asked "why" or "where," he appears to have lost his senses. This concept explains the enormity of the test.

Go for yourself…And I will make of you a great nation… (12:1,2)

The Midrash Tanchuma notes the use of the word v'e'escha, "and I will make you," rather than v'asimch, "and I will place you." This indicates that Hashem was going to recreate /remake Avraham Avinu into a briah chadashah, new creation. Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, derives from here that not only was it necessary to pull up his roots and change homes, he needed to be recreated. The reason for this is that by leaving his present environment, he was ensuring that from now on in he would no longer be in the presence of that evil atmosphere. What about everything that he had until now seen and experienced at home? Would he not take that with him wherever he went? This is why the old Avraham had to be expunged and a new Avraham had to be created. In order to serve as a Patriarch, to be the father and foundation of the Jewish People, there had to be a total separation from the past. This totality could only be achieved by a total makeover of Avraham Avinu into a new person, with a brand new beginning.

We find the same idea expressed concerning Rivkah. In Bereishis 24:60, the Torah records Lavan saying, "Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads." Targum Yonasan adds, Ad kadun havis achosach. "Until now you have been my sister." He understood that with her marriage to Yitzchak, Rivkah's status as Lavan's sister would change, as she became a new creation, similar to a ger, convert, who no longer maintains any relations with her past.

If Avraham became a new creation, why was it still necessary for him to leave his homeland? After all, he was no longer the same person that had grown up there. We derive from here that being in the environment in which he was raised, observing the idolatry and debauchery that was in vogue, could quite possibly have a continuing influence on him. Thus, it was essential that the father of our People leave his roots and become a totally new person.

Please separate from me; if you go left then I will go right, and if you will go right then I will go left. (13:9)

Avraham Avinu and his nephew Lot parted ways. When Avraham saw that Lot's shepherds, with his support, resorted to stealing from the pastures of the neighboring farms, he felt that their relationship should be terminated. Lot decided to go to the lush fields of Sodom, even though the spiritual climate left much to be desired. His lust for material abundance clouded his ability to think rationally. Avraham's actions concerning Lot are enigmatic. Avraham was the original founder of the outreach movement. Thousands from all walks of life flocked to him, seeking guidance and counsel. He was known to have had four openings to his tent. Simply, this was to allow easy access for anyone to enter. On a more profound note, however, Horav Avraham Farbstein, zl, explained that Avraham's tent was open to all people from all directions and cultures. From all four corners of the world, they had an address to which to turn. Yet, despite all of this, Avraham could not come to terms with his errant nephew. He could not find a place for him in his tent. Why? Was Lot that bad? Indeed, one cannot say that his sin was that iniquitous in comparison to the sins of many others that Avraham permitted across his doorstep.

Horav Shlomo Lorincz, Shlita, in his eulogy for Horav Simchah Wasserman, zl, asked this question. Rav Simchah had a similar quality about him. His heart and home were open to so many, but there were times when he would tell an individual to "separate from me." What was the barometer for distinguishing between people? Avraham opened his tent to anyone who had not yet been exposed to monotheism, to the principles of Judaic belief, to his lovingkindness and warmth. He was patient, caring, and loving. He taught; he guided; he gave advice. When Lot's shepherds decided to pervert Avraham's teachings, however, to suggest loopholes concerning the laws of theft, to sway from the truth, he lost patience. He would not put up with those who sought to undermine his work, to impugn the integrity of his teachings in their attempt to amend and refashion their belief in the Almighty.

Rav Simchah had a big heart and an open mind - for anyone who was sincere and sought to listen. In contrast, he zealously challenged those who knew the truth, but endeavored to undermine it. He had no tolerance for those who had deserted Judaism for the verdant fields of secularism. One must be willing to sacrifice in order to demonstrate his commitment.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kodoshim Kalim - Offerings of lesser holiness.
Korban Todah - Thanksgiving-offering
Ayil HaNazir - Nazir's ram

The Mishnah describes two types of Korban Shelamim, Peace Offerings. The first is the Todah, the Thanksgiving-offering, brought in recognition of deliverance from misfortune: a sea journey, a trip through the wilderness, imprisonment or illness. When one's life is restored to normalcy, he recognizes Hashem as the source of his deliverance. The Nazir's ram is brought by the Nazir when he resumes a life without abstinence. Since these sacrifices neither involve guilt, nor atone for any indiscretion, they are Kodoshim Kalim, a lesser degree of sanctity. Their shechitah is, therefore, not limited to the tzafon, north. Those parts that may be eaten, may be consumed by anyone anywhere, within the environs of the city which is home to the sanctuary. The parts that are set aside for the Kohanim, the chazeh, breast, and shok, right hind leg, may also be eaten anywhere in the city, by the Kohanim and members of their household.

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