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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And he departed with them from Uhr Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. (11:31)

Rashi earlier (11:28) relates that Avraham Avinu left Uhr Kasdim when he was miraculously spared from death after being thrown into a fiery caldron by King Nimrod. Terach, Avraham's father, complained to the evil king that his son had smashed all of the idols in his store. In Pirkei Avos 5:3, this miracle is considered one of the Asarah Nisyonos, Ten Trials, over which Avraham Avinu triumphed. Rashi cites Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, who concurs. It is, therefore, surprising that when the Rambam enumerates the Ten Trials, he does not include Avraham's preparedness to die for his beliefs. Does this act of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, not warrant recognition?

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, derives from here that for Avraham the challenge to deny Hashem's existence was not a test. It is understood that this was an ideal for which he would gladly suffer and even die. It is related about Horav Shimshon, zl, m'Ostropolia, who died at the hands of gentiles in a most cruel and heinous manner: When he was asked during his final ordeal how he felt, he responded, "I feel nothing." Similarly, Rabbi Akiva went to his painful death at the hands of the Romans with total joy.

A nisayon is a challenge which is enigmatic, yet a person overcomes the challenge with equanimity, because of his deep abiding faith in the Almighty. To agree to worship a graven image, however, was so beyond Avraham Avinu's mindset, that it was not a nisayon for him. His conviction was unequivocal, and his faith unshakable. Indeed, the great tzaddikim, righteous Jews of every generation, followed in the footsteps of their ancestor to the point that dying Al Kiddush Hashem, by sanctifying Hashem's Name, was not considered to be a trial for them. In fact, these individuals viewed Kiddush Hashem as a z'chus, privilege.

The Ostrovtzer Rebbe, zl, garbed in his kittel and tallis, confronted the Nazis in Zusmir in the winter of 1943, prior to being shot, exclaiming, "For some time now, I have anticipated this z'chus of Kiddush Hashem. I am prepared!" The Shedlowitzer Rebbe, zl, comforted those packed into the cattle cars without food and water on a four day trip to the death camp, saying, "Fellow Jews, do not fear death. To die Al Kiddush Hashem is a great privilege."

Horav Mendele Alter, zl, the brother of the Gerrer Rebbe, was among a group of Jews in Treblinka during the summer of 1942 who were ordered to undress. Realizing these were his last few moments on earth, the Rebbe pleaded desperately for a glass of water. A Jewish guard, who was regrettably infamous for his cruelty to his fellow Jews, was moved by the plea. He provided the water, thinking that the Rebbe wanted to quench his thirst before he was killed. Instead, the Rebbe washed his hands, as an act of purification prior to Kiddush Hashem. He then urged his followers, "Fellow Jews, let us say Viddui, confessional, before we die."

The Piazesner Rebbe, zl, observes that he who is murdered Al Kiddush Hashem does not suffer at all. He explains that a person, in anticipation of this unique opportunity, is stimulated to such a degree of ecstasy that he numbs his senses from experiencing any pain. May Hashem bless us to be able to sanctify His Name in our daily lives, so that His honor and glory will be manifest in the way we live.

And as for you, take yourself of every food that is eaten and gather it in to yourself, that it shall be as food for you and for them. (6:21)

A number of ambiguities are manifest in this pasuk. First, why does it say, "Take for yourself"? Why does it not simply say, "Take food." Second, at the end of the pasuk, it states, "It shall be as food for you and for them," Is that not obvious? Why else would he be gathering food? Third, the pasuk begins with instructions for Noach to gather food for himself and ends, "It shall be as food for you and for them." Last, the Torah concludes by saying that Noach followed Hashem's instructions, presumably by bringing all of the necessary food into the Ark. What is so praiseworthy about this? Clearly, he had to bring in the food or they would all have starved to death.

The Shach and the Tiferes Yehonasan both explain that had Hashem demanded Noach to supply food for all the "passengers" of the Ark for an entire year, it would have been impossible to fulfill His command. In fact, one hundred arks would have been insufficient to provide the necessary space to warehouse such a great amount. Apparently, Hashem provided Noach with a great miracle. He first commanded him to gather enough food only for himself. He blessed that food, so that there was a never-ending supply of rations left over for all the animals, beasts and fowl aboard the Ark. Since a Heavenly blessing must have something tangible to rest on, Noach had originally to provide food for himself. The rest would appear miraculously. We now understand the sequence of the pasuk. Noach was first to gather food for himself, which Hashem would ultimately bless to provide sustenance for himself and for them. Hashem praised Noach for his trust and faith in Him, relying on the minimal amount of food to be the medium upon which Hashem's blessing would engender food for all the Ark's passengers for an entire year.

One who believes in Hashem does not require great material abundance. Whatever he has serves as the source and springboard for blessing. The Brisker Rav, zl, once related the following story about a young girl who was a chozeres b'teshuvah, had recently become observant. Her parents were vehemently against her decision. Thus, everything that she did had to be performed in the utmost secrecy. The young girl was subject to constant derision, as her parents did everything in their power to undermine her beliefs and to impede her spiritual development. They had a hardware store which was open seven days each week. One weekend, the parents told their daughter that they were taking a vacation and that she would be in charge of the store for Shabbos.

Erev Shabbos, she went to the store and did everything possible to enable her to remain open on Shabbos without having to desecrate its sanctity. She unlocked the door and left the lights on. When she arrived at the store on Shabbos morning, she began to recite Tehillim, with the hope that no customers would appear. All day, no one showed up to purchase anything. She began to get nervous. Her parents would certainly not believe her assertion that there had been no customers. They would probably claim that she had never opened the store.

Shortly before sundown, a man came to the store searching for a specific gadget. It was a simple dollar item that he had not been able to find anywhere else. When he came to the girl and inquired about the price, she became disconcerted. What could she do? She could not allow him to purchase the gadget. She told him the gadget cost five hundred dollars, truly an outrageous amount of money for such a simple device. The man was in great need of the device, so he began to haggle over the price. He left and returned a number of times, until he finally agreed to pay the asking price. What could she do now?

She told the customer that she could not sell him the gadget for another half-hour, after which Shabbos would be over. When Shabbos ended, she was filled with excitement that she had not been mechalel Shabbos, had not desecrated the Shabbos. She told the customer why she had raised the price, asserting that she would now sell it to him for the regular price of one dollar. The man, a paragon of integrity, countered that once he had reconciled himself to spend the higher sum, he would not go back on his word. The girl had kept Shabbos and, in the end, had even made a healthy profit.

When her parents returned, she related to them the entire episode that had occurred. "You probably would never have made so much money had you been open on Shabbos. I was able to keep Shabbos and still earn a huge profit," she told her parents. The parents were moved by her piercing words and eventually became baalei teshuvah themselves. When one believes in Hashem, he eventually sees his hopes realized.

Noach did according to everything G-d commanded him. (6:22)

What was Noach's reward for his role in saving the world? For one hundred and twenty years, he attempted to inspire his generation to repentance, to no avail. For one year, he slaved on the Ark in a manner that is simply indescribable. His middah of chesed, character trait of loving-kindness, was unprecedented and unrivaled to this very day. So, what was his reward? Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, suggests that his remuneration was to become a gabbai, caretaker, and - to some extent - a proprietor of the world. He bases this premise on a statement made by the Maharam Shick, that when one "saves" a mitzvah from extinction by standing up to revive it, it becomes his acquisition, his property, so to speak. This occurred during Noach's generation, when robbery and injustice were a way of life. The mitzvah of chesed, caring for another human being was about to become extinct. Nobody cared; nobody empathized. Noach arrived on the scene to rescue this mitzvah from obsolescence. It became his mitzvah. Because he survived the Flood, it became his world.

Chesed has been the hallmark of the Jewish People. Jews, regardless of their level of observance, have always maintained a close adherence to the mitzvah of chesed. It is part of the Jewish psyche, an inheritance from our Patriarch, Avraham Avinu. Yet, even among a nation of loving and caring people, there are always individuals who are superstars, who exemplify the middah of chesed to its zenith. There are always individuals who are there to visit the sick, assist the infirm, raise money for the needy, support the widow and orphan both morally and financially. What about those types of chesed, however, from which people naturally shy away? In certain instances we are called upon to help in situations that are not popular, that are physically and emotionally demanding, as well as aesthetically repulsive. This is where we need a baal chesed who is unusual, who is truly a tzaddik, righteous person.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld, zl, was such a unique individual. His love and caring for others were legend. He sought out those areas requiring kindness that were ignored by the populace at large. Hidden away in one of Yerushalayim's side streets was a miserable hovel that housed the community's most unfortunate citizens. The Hospital for Degenerative Diseases was one place where even the most kindhearted person hesitated to visit. Here, beneath disheveled blankets, lay people appearing more dead than alive. These were people who once were strong and healthy, but now - due to the cruel diseases from which they suffered - their bodies had been transformed into wretched shadows of their former selves. They lay in agony, knowing that their days were numbered, anticipating death's welcome release from misery. Even their closest relatives shied away from visiting them, not out of a lack of concern, but rather, because they became severely depressed seeing their relatives in such miserable predicaments.

It was in this forsaken place that Rav Yosef Chaim's chesed shone forth. He was a frequent visitor, who made it his business to come by and offer words of solace. He would stand by the bedside of these living dead and imitate Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who, the Talmud in Kesubos 77b relates, would visit those afflicted with contagious diseases and study Torah with them. Rav Yosef Chaim spoke to them as a father speaks to his child, offering hope and inspiration. Their faces would light up when he entered the hospital and, for a short time, they were transported from their misery and affliction. "Rav Yosef Chaim is here," they thought, "and if this great saintly person finds time to visit us, then our lives cannot be altogether hopeless." Indeed, the chief nurse at the hospital recalled that Rav Yosef Chaim's coming was the one thing to which these patients looked forward. "When is Rav Yosef Chaim coming?" they would always ask. "When is the tzaddik coming to visit us again?" His visits were neither perfunctory nor routine. He took personal interest in every patient's life. Their suffering was his suffering. Their concerns were his concerns. It was not below his dignity to serve as their personal secretary, as he would read their letters and even compose a reply together with them, which he, of course, would jot down for them. A smile of satisfaction would spread over the patient's face as Rav Yosef Chaim would read "his" reply to the letter he had received.

Those patients who were childless had a deeper concern: Who would recite Kaddish for them after they passed from this world? Rav Yosef Chaim assured them that he personally would see to it that Kaddish be recited for them after their death. He would then pay a young talmid chacham, Torah scholar, from the charity funds at his disposal to say Kaddish and study Mishnayos for these unfortunate souls. Rav Yosef Chaim taught us that greatness in Torah goes hand in hand with greatness in chesed.

Every moving thing that lives shall be yours for food. (9:3)

Adam HaRishon, the first man, was not permitted to eat meat, only vegetation. After the Deluge, the prohibition was lifted and man now entered a state in which eating meat was permissible. Horav Simcha Wasserman, zl, observed that this change suggests a profound failing concerning the members of that generation. To sustain one's life at the expense of another life is not the ideal situation. Veritably, this was all a result of their original iniquity.

A major sin of the generation of the Flood was theft. The ensuing corruption of that generation led to its demise. Prior to the contamination of the human dimension with theft, only vegetarian food was permitted. When mankind chose to prey on others via thievery, meat became an intrinsic part of man's diet. There is a very distinct relationship between theft and a meat diet: in both cases, one is sustained by depriving another of what is rightfully his. When a person's possessions are forcibly taken from him, the result is that man falls into a situation in which he is sustained by taking the life of another creature.

We are punished middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. The consequences of one's actions are manifest in parallel. The annihilation which the Flood catalyzed was not total - mankind was saved. He could not, however, live as he had before. Mankind's remnant was permitted to repopulate the world in such a manner in which he is always living at the expense of other creatures. This serves as a constant reminder of the difference in plateau between what life was like prior to the Flood and what it is in the aftermath. We must always remember that our present sustenance depends upon the flesh and blood of another earthly living creature. Thus, when we sit down to eat a meal, a sandwich of meat or any other derivative of what once had been a living creature, we should stop to think what this sandwich symbolizes and what human shortcoming it represents.

We can go a bit further. There are a number of commentators who view our sustaining ourselves by ingesting other forms of life as, in fact, a form of tikkun, spiritual rectification. When one creature eats another, the first becomes part of the body and life force of the second. That which is eaten becomes assimilated and absorbed into - and therefore, a part of - the latter. Hence, when plants incorporate inorganic matter into their substance, the inorganic substances become part of the plant world. They are now given a life form. Animals which eat these plants, in turn, elevate the plants to the level of the animal world. When these animals are eaten by humans, the entire chain becomes elevated to the level of humans.

There is, however, a catch to this process. The adjustment made by the human is commensurate with the spiritual level achieved by the human. When a righteous person is nourished by food derived from the animal world, that food is elevated immeasurably. The righteous person will use his strength to perform mitzvos and acts of loving kindness. Therefore, the food is transmuted into spirituality. What loftier destiny can there be for an inanimate creation or an animal, than to become part of the life force of a spiritually enhanced human? Regrettably, the converse is true when the food is ingested by one who is spiritually deficient. Thus, we see that the effect of eating meat is not insignificant.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'al tashlet banu yetzer hora…v'chof es yitzeinu l'hishtaled lach. Let not the evil-inclination dominate us…Force our impulse to be subservient to You.

Siyach Yitzchak explains that there are two forms of evil inclination with which man must contend. There is the yetzer hora ha'ruchni, spiritual evil inclination, whose sole purpose is to lead man to sin and to contaminate his soul. This is a never-ending battle which man must fight. When he triumphs over this yetzer hora, he is rewarded. Thus, this yetzer hora's mission is to catalyze reward for man. The second form of evil inclination is the yetzer hora ha'tivi, natural inclination, made up of the natural tendencies and impulses of man. This yetzer is necessary for the continuation and propagation of the world. In this case, man must employ his seichal, common sense, to make use of this impulse appropriately. In the above tefillah, we ask Hashem to guard us from the ill effects of these two inclinations.

In an alternative explanation, Horav Refael HaKohen, zl, m'Hamburg, explains that the first yetzer hora is the one created by Hashem and implanted within our being. If we fall prey to its blandishments, then we strengthen it and assist in its growth. Thus, through our weakness and sin, we create the second form of yetzer hora, which grows stronger and greater as a result of our iniquity. We entreat Hashem to spare us from this destructive process.

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