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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Go from your land and your birth place… And I will make of you a great nation. (12:1)

The Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b teaches that four things can nullify the unfavorable decree against an individual: Charity; prayer with tzeakah, crying out; changing one's name; change of action, or changing his way of life. The Talmud cites a fifth possible way to overturn an evil decree: a change of place. They support this idea with the pasuk: "Go from your land," which is followed up, "I will make of you a great nation." This indicates that, in his new location, Avraham Avinu would finally be blessed with a son, the precursor of a great nation. Rashi quotes the Midrash which interprets the pasuk differently: "Go out from your astrology, ie, abandon your astrological calculations." Apparently, Avraham had seen by way of the zodiacal signs that he was not destined to have a son. Hashem said that it was true with regard to Avram, but Avraham (his new name) shall have a son.

The first family of Judaism, Avraham and Sarah, were not destined to have children. Their mazel was against them. Hence, Hashem had to change "them," so that they would not be affected by the predetermined zodiacal signs.

Mazel plays a critical role. For some it is beneficial, and for others it means that they will be challenged throughout life. In his commentary to Parashas Noach, the Maggid, zl, of Dubno offers a mashal, parable, which gives us insight into the value of mazel. Indeed, he demonstrates how individuals, whom Hashem has endowed with tremendous opportunity for spiritual success, have used their gift wrongly, basically misapplying and undermining their mazel.

He relates the "story" of the man who met a great tzaddik, righteous person, who was well-known for the efficacy of his blessings. Whomever he blessed saw the fruits of the tzaddik's blessings. The man asked the tzaddik to "please bless me." The tzaddik responded, "It should be the will of G-d that the first enterprise in which you get involved should be blessed with success." When the man heard this he was overjoyed. He could not contain himself. Regrettably, he had no money to invest in a business deal. Therefore, he figured that he would go home and spend the day counting his savings. This meant breaking open his "piggy bank," filled with nothing but pennies, and counting each one separately.

He began counting: one, two, three, etc. During his accounting endeavor, his wife came home. After seeing what he was doing, she expressed that she thought that he had lost his mind. She asked him politely to stop his preposterous counting. He ignored her. "But it is only pennies!" she screamed. He ignored her. "Are you out of your mind?" she demanded. He ignored her. This went on for some time, until they got into an all-out brawl. In fact, it was the biggest fight they had ever had. She berated him, and he countered with his own critique of her. The tzaddik was proven right. He had blessed him with success in his very first enterprise. He had one doozy of a fight with his wife.

The Maggid explains the lesson to be derived from here. Noach had just been saved from certain death. The world had been wiped out. Noach was spared. Hashem saved Noach so that he should plant the seeds of the future. He would be the progenitor of mankind, the father of the new world. He was blessed. It would make sense that the first thing to which Noach would commit himself that day would succeed beyond anyone's imagination. So what did Noach do? He planted a vine tree, which immediately produced luscious grapes from which Noach made the most incredible wine. Noach imbibed and got carried away. The rest is history. Noach was granted an unusual gift from Heaven, and he used it unwisely.

Some individuals are born with silver spoons of blessing in their mouths. Their mazel is off the charts. They have the ability to achieve the greatest and most exalted heights in spirituality and scholarship. Some take advantage of this exceptional gift; others just allow it to slip through their hands. When someone sees that he is blessed, he should put it to good utility, or he might end up living a life filled with regret.

In his Ka'ayal Taarog, Horav Reuven Abitbul, Shlita, quotes the teaching of the Zohar HaChadash that in the elef ha'shishi, sixth millennium, an unusual surplus of wisdom will descend on the world. If Klal Yisrael will be worthy, they will use this blessing and apply it to Torah study. If they will be negligent, it will evade them and become the possession of the umos ha'olam, nations of the world. We have seen this presage achieve fruition in our generation. On the one hand, Torah study is at a new high. Never have there been as many yeshivos, so much learning, so many seforim published. It is amazing. Yet, we have been witness to a scientific and technological boom that is unprecedented in the annals of history. Let us take this to heart: all of this science; the technology; the growth of a system of communications and space exploration that is absolutely mind-boggling. All of this is important, but it could have been Torah! Every new smart phone, tablet, satellite, could be a yeshivah, a Bais Yaakov, a kollel. The blessing is there. It is up to us to make use of it.

Rav Abitbul quotes Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, who explains this with a mashal, parable. Our generation has merited an incredible spiritual flow of siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance. What are we doing about it? It is very much like the fellow who prepared a wedding for his son, inviting three-hundred guests. The day of the wedding, the city was hit with a major snow storm. Highways were shut down, schools were closed, the subways were off schedule, people were literally stranded. A wedding is still a wedding, and the festivities must go on. Those who were relatives of the chassan or kallah, or the close friends of either families braved the elements to attend the wedding. Indeed, one hundred guests did come. Upon factoring in the inclement weather and miserable driving conditions, this was regarded to be a considerable crowd.

The caterer could not take into account the weather. Three hundred portions had been prepared at the beginning of the week. What was he to do with the extra portions? Serve them! Thus, after each guest finished his portion, a waiter appeared with another portion. By the time he had completed the second portion, the guest could hardly think of food. Yet, the caterer sent out more food. The alternative was the garbage. The guests were visibly impressed. After all, who had ever heard of being served so much food at a wedding? Little did they realize that they were served three portions because two thirds of the guests had not been able to attend.

This is a parable. The lesson is obvious. At the beginning of each year, the Almighty allocates a certain amount of siyata diShmaya for those who study Torah in the coming year. If the siyata diShmaya which is set aside for one million students of Torah is redeemed by only half a million students, however, then they will be the lucky recipients of a double portion of Heavenly assistance. The assistance is there for those who are willing to come and get it. Otherwise, those wise students who make the effort will be blessed with a greater portion.

Go from your land and your birthplace and from your father's home. (12:1)

Hashem's command to Avraham Avinu, instructing him to leave his present surroundings is "stretched" out a bit. The Torah emphasizes the various phases of his departure: his land, his birthplace, his father's home. The Mizrachi suggests that the purpose in this emphasis was that the Patriarch would digest all that he was abandoning. It was not just his land; it was also his birthplace, and his father's home. Uhr Casdim meant a lot to Avraham. To leave was to forsake a major part of his past. He had a history in Uhr Casdim. The purpose of this detail was to increase the Patriarch's reward. He was not merely giving up his condo in Uhr Casdim; he was relinquishing a part of yesteryear. Obviously, with increased yearning comes greater reward.

We find Rashi expounding a similar interpretation when he addresses Hashem's command to Avraham concerning the Akeidah, Binding of Yitzchak Avinu. Hashem instructed Avraham to sacrifice: "Your son, your only one, whom you love - Yitzchak" (Bereishis 22:2). The Almighty could have simply said Yitzchak, without the buildup. Rashi explains that Hashem was underscoring Avraham's loss, thus adding to his reward. It was not merely his son; it was his only, beloved, Yitzchak, thereby making the Patriarch's sacrifice and devotion that much greater.

There is - or should be - a glaring difference between Avraham's love for Yitzchak and his relationship to his home. Uhr Casdim may have played a significant role in Avraham's life, but his love for it was nothing like his feelings towards Yitzchak. Furthermore, Uhr Casdim was not Yerushalayim. It was a spiritually bankrupt city, under the rule of a morally depraved demagogue, Nimrod. It was a community where paganism was rampant and licentiousness a way of life. Avraham must surely have been averse to living in such a community. Indeed, this was the place where he was thrown into a fiery cauldron! What affection could he possibly hold for such a repugnant community?

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains that a tzaddik is not a machine, a marionette that turns off to evil and thrives only on virtue. A tzaddik is cognitive of his environment and has feelings of emotion, just as everyone else does. He has desires, natural inclinations and feelings. He has not just overcome his natural tendencies and reprogramed himself to care only for Torah and mitzvos. On the contrary, he is just like the rest of us, but he has learned to control his urges, to curb his emotions, to channel them in positive directions. Uhr Casdim may have been a perverted community, but it was Avraham's birthplace, his father's home. He had feelings for the place, an innate sense of love for the country in which he had spent most of his life. Yet, his love for Hashem was greater. Thus, when he was commanded to leave, he did so with a co-existent love in his heart for the past and an excitement concerning the future.

When Avraham held the knife over his son, Yitzchak, he did not for one moment ignore the fact that this was his beloved son. He was no robot, blindly following Hashem's command without feeling towards his son. The Yalkut Shimoni points out that burning hot tears flowed from Avraham's eyes as he prepared to slaughter Yitzchak. Is this the reaction of a machine? Did he pretend that he was not holding a sharp knife poised over his son's throat? Avraham did not suppress his love for Yitzchak. He allowed his tears to flow freely, expressing his love for his only son. It was just that his love for-- and obedience to-- the Almighty took precedence.

Hashem does not want us to be robots, zombies, dehumanized dimwits. There is regrettably a religion of terrorists bent on destroying our People which preaches such automated, mindless devotion. The Almighty has endowed man's heart with an aggregate of emotions. We are warm, sensitive human beings, who love our parents, our spouses and our children. Our homes mean something to us. Natural affections are a part of our lives. We are normal people - and proud of it. The emotions Hashem bequeathed us should be nurtured and cultivated, because the greater the ability to love others within our family circle, the greater ability we possess to love Hashem. If we begin to desensitize ourselves, we become cold, dehumanized machines who have no emotion, no feelings, with no way of expressing our love to Hashem. The Almighty does not want a nation of mindless, cretinous imbeciles, who are unaware of their surroundings and inattentive to the feelings of others. He wants normal people, with normal emotions and caring hearts. Then He wants them to take it "all" and focus it on serving Him. This is what Avraham Avinu taught us. Take everything with which Hashem has endowed you and apply it to your service of the Almighty.

Go you from your land. (12:1)

Two Avos, Patriarchs, left their homeland - Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu. The Torah uses "different" vernacular in describing their respective departures. Avraham is to lech lecha, leave, go, while concerning Yaakov, the Torah writes, va'yeitzei, "And he (Yaakov) went out." Rashi comments that when a tzaddik, righteous person, leaves a place, it makes an impression. He impacts the city's beauty, glory and luster. Why does the Torah choose to make Yaakov's departure impactive, while Avraham's departure seems more like an escape, as if no one really cared?

The Chasam Sofer, zl, distinguishes between the communities that hosted Avraham and Yaakov. The third Patriarch left a city that had come under the influence of his father, Yitzchak Avinu, and his grandfather, Avraham. Torah, yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, ethics and morality were the hallmarks of this community. The citizens were refined and upstanding individuals who appreciated and venerated the individual who had raised the standard of their community. Thus, when Yaakov departed, a void was felt in the community. One of its tzaddikim had moved on; his presence would no longer be felt within the community.

Avraham, on the other hand, lived in a city where idol worship was the norm and moral depravity was the accepted way of life. Nimrod, with his heretical beliefs, held sway over the minds and hearts of its inhabitants. Avraham was neither revered, nor liked. He was an outcast, a persona non grata, whose monotheistic teachings were reviled. Therefore, his leaving made no impact on the community. Indeed, the people were happy to be rid of him.

This explanation seems enigmatic. One would think that in a city filled with tzaddikim, the departure of one tzaddik would not leave much of an impression. On the other hand, in a city where ethics and morality are at a premium, every tzaddik would be venerated and elevated. Yet, we see the opposite. Why?

The answer is "appreciation": If a tzaddik is to leave an impression on a community, he must be appreciated. People must acknowledge his value and contribution to their community, to their personal and communal lives. Otherwise, he is not appreciated. He is just another citizen. Impact comes with appreciation, and appreciation only comes with acknowledgment. One must open his eyes to observe how the tzaddik's presence has changed his life. Otherwise, the tzaddik may as well live elsewhere.

So Avram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between me and you… please separate from me." (12:8,9)

Chazal teach us that maasei Avos siman labanim, "The actions of the Fathers are a sign for the sons." The Torah is teaching us that the varied approaches to life's challenges encountered by the Patriarchs serve as a portent and guide for their descendants to follow and emulate. They are teaching us the correct path to take upon confronting similar situations. Clearly, as in all "maps," it takes the educated and discerning eye of a teacher to explain the meaning of various actions, the underlying reason for taking such action, and the lessons to be derived. This brings us to Avraham Avinu's separation from Lot. Let us ignore the fact that Lot was family, a close student, and Avraham was the only mentor that he had. It is surprising that Avraham, whose entire life was comprised of reaching out to the unaffiliated, would separate from Lot. Avraham personified the middah, attribute, of chesed, kindness. Is there a greater and more significant kindness than bringing someone under the kanfei ha'Shechinah, wings of the Divine Presence? Furthermore, Hashem apparently agreed with Avraham's actions, since He did not appear to Avraham as long as Lot was with him.

Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, derives from here that reaching out to a fellow Jew has its limits. While it is wonderful chesed, and truly the most remarkable favor one can do for his fellow Jew, there comes a time when the answer must be "no." I cannot risk my own ruchniyos, spirituality, in order to provide chesed for another Jew. One must have priorities in his life, and his own spirituality must be one of those priorities. Our Patriarch was prepared to go to great lengths on behalf of his nephew. He risked his life to save Lot during the War of the Kings. He did not shirk from any chesed that was asked of him. When their relationship endangered his spirituality, however, Avraham backed off.

While the answer is obvious, it still does not explain why Avraham would be spiritually diminished by Lot. Our Patriarch was not your average tzaddik. He towered above everyone. How could Lot have an effect on him? I think the answer lies in the words - al na tehi merivah beini u'beinach. "Please let there be no strife between me and you." Avraham could deal with every spiritual challenge Lot could throw at him, except for one: machlokes, dispute/argument/controversy. The poison of a machlokes has a malignant effect on all of the participants. Since one cannot have an argument unless two people are involved, Avraham would reluctantly be implicated. He recognized that if their relationship were to continue, it would end in dispute. Understanding that machlokes must be circumvented at all costs, Avraham was determined to distance himself from Lot.

Having said this, we return to the main thrust of this lesson. Avraham Avinu teaches us that one may exert all efforts, expend all costs, give all of himself in his quest to perform chesed. This is true only with regard to gashmiyus, material/physical chesed. Time, energy, and expense are all commendable when one is carrying out acts of kindness that do not infringe on his spirituality. Once his spiritual dimension is impacted; if his spiritual growth becomes impeded, he must immediately desist. There comes a time when one must declare: hipared na meialai, "Please separate from me." Kiruv-- outreach, to the unaffiliated, the alienated, and the assimilated-- is the most noble form of chesed one can perform for a fellow Jew. It avails him the opportunity to save a life. A life devoid of spirituality, a life without G-d, is not a life. It is an existence. The kiruv fellow literally performs spiritual resuscitation when he reaches out, but - and there truly is a "but"- there are times and circumstances when the risks outweigh the benefits. When the kiruv fellow himself is spiritually frail, when the conditions under which he must work, and the environment in which he finds himself, are actually too much for him to overcome, he must relinquish his role, discontinue his relationship. One may not destroy himself to help others. It must be hipared na meialai.

Avraham, the pillar of chesed, taught us the meaning of chesed and when it is applicable and when it is dangerous. We cannot run on emotion, allowing our sentiment and sensitiveness to prevail over reason and logic. A physician does not treat family, because he must remain objective. A kiruv fellow must determine the rationality of his endeavor based upon common sense and dialectic. If he might personally sustain a spiritual blow, he must follow the lesson set forth by the Patriarch: Hipared na meialai.

Fear not Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great. (15:1)

Hashem promises those who fulfill His mitzvos that they will be rewarded commensurate with their good deeds. We understand, of course, the rule of schar b'hai alma leka, "reward does not apply to This World." The ultimate reward that one will receive will materialize in the World of Truth, Olam Habba. The Ben Ish Chai questions this rule. We are all aware of the Torah's injunction that a Jewish worker be paid on the day that he completes his work. B'yomo titein scharo, if one is hired for day work, he must be reimbursed for his work at the end of the day - not the next day - but that day. One's wages may not be delayed - not even overnight. Why then does Hashem not reimburse us immediately for our mitzvah observance?

The Ben Ish Chai explains that the answer is concealed within a halachah in Choshen Mishpat. One who hires workers through an agent does not have to pay them at the end of the day. The mitzvah of b'yomo titein s'charo is in effect only if the worker is hired by the owner. A shliach, agent, does not carry such weight. Therefore, since Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah through the agency of Moshe Rabbeinu, the prohibition against delaying a Jewish worker's payment does not apply. An added caveat involves the first two mitzvos of the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, which Klal Yisrael heard directly from Hashem. Concerning these two mitzvos, the s'char, reward, is immediate. These mitzvos are: Anochi - referring to emunah, belief/faith in the Almighty; and Lo yiheyeh lecha, idolatry. Thus, one who believes in Hashem and shuns any form of foreign belief is worthy of receiving his reward in Olam Hazeh, This World. This, claims the Ben Ish Chai, is alluded to by the pasuk, Al tirah Avram, "Do not fear, Avram." Hashem assured Avraham that he need not worry concerning his descendant's reward, because Anochi magen lach, "The Anochi" will serve as a shield to protect you. This refers to the Anochi of Anochi Hashem, the mitzvah of emunah. A Jew who is faithful, who believes in Hashem with all his heart, will merit great reward - in This World.

Va'ani Tefillah

v'laasos u'lkayeim. And to do and to uphold.

Listening, learning, teaching and guarding are of no significant value if our learning does not achieve "doing." We request that our learning catalyze deeds, that our learning not be without intention of doing. We ask Hashem that He not prevent us from carrying out our mission, that we do not become ill, that we are not hindered in any way from fulfilling His mitzvos. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, adds that we ask to be able to carry out the mitzvos ha'teluyos b'aaretz, those commandments that are connected with Eretz Yisrael, and that we be fortunate speedily in our days to fulfill the mitzvos connected with the Sanctuary. We also pray that what we do perform is done properly: with fear and love; with purity of intention; and fulfilling all of the requirements outlined by Halachah. We hope that the mitzvos are executed with alacrity and with proper zehirus, care, to avoid error. Last, included in the entreaty "to do," is the request to be able to catalyze mitzvah performance by others.

"To uphold" is to accept enthusiastically upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven with joy and nobility, without any reservation. We also will see to it that other Jews, albeit unaffiliated, will one day be included among the ranks of the observant. Another area of upholding the Torah is the support - both material and emotional - of those who devote their lives to the study and dissemination of Torah. The encouragement we give them goes a long way in assuring that the Torah is maintained and that its vibrant future is ensured.

l'ilui nishmas
R' Eliezer ben R' Yitzchak Chaim z"l
niftar 12 Cheshvan 5766
Izsak Keller
Perl & Harry Brown & Family
Marcia & Hymie Keller & Family

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