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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem appeared to him in Elonei Mamre: And it happened after these things that G-d tested Avraham. (18:1;22:1)

There is something intriguing about the beginning of the Parsha, which commences with Hashem visiting Avraham Avinu as he recuperates from his Bris Milah, and the conclusion of the Parsha, which describes Yitzchak's preparedness to be sacrificed for Hashem. In both of these circumstances, the names of the major "player", Avraham and Yitzchak, are not mentioned. Indeed, Avraham's name is not mentioned until later, when he slaughters a calf and prepares the meat for his guests. Otherwise, we have no clue who Hashem is visiting and who saw the three angels dressed as Arabs. The story of Akeidas Yitzchak, which is one of the most seminal events in Jewish history, talks only about Avraham taking Yitzchak, preparing Yitzchak and almost slaughtering Yitzchak. But, it does not mention Yitzchak as playing a starring role in this episode of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Why?

We find a similar anomaly in Parashas Tetzaveh, in which Moshe Rabbeinu's name is not mentioned. Indeed, this is the only Parsha in the Torah, from the time of Moshe's birth, in which his name is not mentioned. The Baal HaTurim explains that when Moshe interceded on behalf of Klal Yisrael, following the sin of the Golden Calf, he said to Hashem that if He would not forgive the Jews, then "erase my name from Your Book." Because of this, Moshe's name is erased from one Parsha - interestingly, the one that corresponds with the anniversary of his death. Now, is it fair that the "reward" for his readiness to be moser nefesh for Klal Yisrael should be to have his name erased from the Torah?

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, distinguishes between the acts of mesiras nefesh that individual Jews have carried out throughout the millennia, and the acts of mesiras nefesh that were performed by our Avos, Patriarchs. Yitzchak stood primed to sacrifice his life to fulfill Hashem's command. Throughout the millennia, millions of Jews have done this. Chazal record the story of Channah and her seven sons who died Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name. When her youngest son was led to be executed, she cried out to him, "My son! Tell Avraham, your forefather, 'You bound one altar; I bound seven altars!'" While these acts of self-sacrifice certainly do not detract from Yitzchak's stellar sacrifice, they do, however, elicit us to question its primacy.

Obviously, there is a difference in the manner they withstood the nisayon, test, and the way individual Jews have triumphed. The Maharal in his Sefer Gevuros Hashem, explains that Avraham Avinu did not act throughout his trials as an individual person. He acted as the father of Klal Yisrael, as the root of a large tree, with the Jewish People, throughout the ages, as its branches. The Chasam Sofer in a homily on Rosh Hashanah adds that Hashem did not test the Patriarchs as individuals. In order to test the nation that would eventually descend from them, it was first necessary to test the Patriarchs - to have to wander from country to country, to trek the wilderness, to undergo sacrifice and hardship, so that they would serve as the shoresh, root, for their progeny.

Thus, Avraham's test concerning the Bris Milah, was Klal Yisrael's test. Yitzchak's sacrifice was Klal Yisrael's test. Moshe Rabbeinu's sacrifice was Klal Yisrael's sacrifice. When they triumphed - we triumphed. When they withstood the test - we withstood the test. Therefore, their names are not mentioned with regard to these seminal events, because it was really our tests which they passed and, subsequently, imbued us with the courage and fortitude to continue passing the tests.

And he said, "My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant." (18:3)

Avraham Avinu takes leave of the Almighty and implores Him to "pass not away from Your servant," but wait while he attends to the needs of the wayfarers. Chazal derive from here that hospitality to guests is greater than receiving the Shechinah. Avraham is visited by Hashem, yet he takes leave of Him to open his house to guests. What is the meaning of Avraham's "taking leave of Hashem?" Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, posits that although Avraham busied himself with the needs of his guests, he did not in any way completely disrupt his connection with the Shechinah. On the contrary, this is what is meant by "please pass not away from Your servant." He entreated the Shechinah not to leave him. In other words, even though for the time being, Avraham was involved in carrying out the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, welcoming wayfarers, specifically because this is the will of Hashem, nonetheless, his mind never left Hashem's presence. Never did Avraham break his connection with Hashem. He took it with him as he went to serve the guests.

Rav Shimshon explains that the greatest deveikus b'Hashem, clinging to Hashem, that one can achieve is through Torah study. It is a well-known axiom that one does not stop studying Torah even to perform any other mitzvah that could conceivably be performed by someone else. So, when we take off time to attend various milestone occasions, both joyous or not, we do so because we are permitted to attend to these various acts of chesed, kindness, because our presence at these occasions is necessary. This does not mean, however, that we are permitted to sever our connection with the Torah even temporarily, because we have an obligation to perform a chesed. No, we must take the bais hamedrash, the folio of Talmud, the Shechinah with us - in mind. We cannot break that tie that binds us to the Shechinah. We go where we must go - we do what we must do, but our minds must never leave.

Then G-d opened her eyes and she perceived a well of water; she went and filled the skin with water and gave the youth to drink. (21:19)

There are two significant lessons to be derived from here. First, as the Midrash notes, it does not state here that a well was created for her. It says that she "opened her eyes" and saw a well. This teaches us that the yeshuah, salvation, provided by Hashem is always there waiting for us. We have only to open our eyes and look. Second, the Midrash notes from the phrase "she went and filled the skin with water," that she filled the skin with more than enough for that day. This prompts Chazal to declare that Hagar was deficient in her belief in Hashem. Otherwise, why should she be concerned about tomorrow? She should have taken enough water to address her present needs. Where was her trust that Hashem would continue providing for her?

Chazal's inference begs explanation. We have an anxious mother with a sick son wandering in the wilderness. Is there something wrong with taking along a little bit more water, "just in case"? Does this action manifest a lack of faith? Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, zl, explains that if one is traveling on a train as a guest of the king, he does not worry about food for tomorrow. If the king says he will provide him with his meals, he has no reason to be concerned any further. On the contrary, one who takes along extra food "just in case" is insulting the king.

This is exactly the way Heaven views the individual who worries about tomorrow. We are guests on Hashem's train. If he says that it is "all on Him" we no longer have any reason to be concerned. Hagar clearly saw that Hashem miraculously caused her to see a well before her eyes. In effect, He was saying to her, "I will take care of your needs." Why did she not trust Him? Why did she fill up water for tomorrow? Was she doubting Hashem?

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, was wont to say that the students of today's yeshivos eat from the king's table. Just as a soldier in the army is sustained by the commander-in-chief, so, too, are the soldiers in Hashem's army sustained by Hashem. Thus, the ben Torah who devotes himself to Torah study and serving Hashem, will be provided for by Hashem. He has only to open up his eyes and see.

"Please take your son, your only one… and go to the land of Moriah." (22:2)

Two mountains played a seminal role in the history of our people: Har HaMoriah, the mountain upon which the Akeidas Yitzchak took place, and Har Sinai, the mountain which was the site of the giving of the Torah. Interestingly, the Bais HaMikdash was later built on Har HaMoriah. Horav Chaim Sanzer, zl, explains that the mountain which was the site of the Jew's mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to carry out the will of Hashem, takes precedence even over the actual giving of the Torah.

While mesiras nefesh is undoubtedly one of the primary qualities inherent in a Jew and, certainly, one without which we would not have survived spiritually, yet can we say that it takes precedence over the holy Torah? Our Torah is the lifeblood of our nation. It is more than a blueprint for our lives - it is life itself. What is the mesiras nefesh for anyway - if not for the continued observance of the Torah?

Perhaps, we might suggest an alternative reason for selecting Har HaMoriah as the site for the Bais HaMikdash. On Har HaMoriah an epic event took place that set the tone and standard for the future of Klal Yisrael: a son listened to his father. This was the site of the first mesorah, transmission of a Heavenly command from father to son. This tradition has maintained our nation's vibrancy throughout the millennia. The Bais HaMikdash was the place from where the kedushah, holiness, and Torah law would emanate throughout Klal Yisrael. It ensured the future. But, without a mesorah from father to son, this could not continue. Veritably, the Torah that was given to us on Har Sinai is our lifeblood. But without the mesorah that began at Har HaMoriah the Torah would not continue. Avraham Avinu, together with Yitzchak Avinu, taught us more than mesiras nefesh. They taught us that whatever commitment we have, we must see to it that it is transmitted to the next generation.

On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place from afar. (22:4)

The Midrash draws a parallel between the three days that Avraham Avinu traveled with Yitzchak and their assistants, and the three days Esther prepared before going to Achashveirosh. Chazal say that Esther succeeded in her dialogue with King Achashveirosh in the merit of what her ancestor Avraham did on the "third day." His preparedness to sacrifice his son sent a message of strength and fortitude many generations later.

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that Esther needed incredible strength to remain committed and observant in the palace of the king. She succeeded in rising to the challenges with which she was confronted. If we think about it, Esther was, in effect, trapped in the palace, isolated from her world of religion. How was she able to carry out her commitment? We are taught that she arranged to have seven maids, naming each one for another day of the week, in order to identify the day when Shabbos would occur. Everything Esther did to identify with and fulfill mitzvos took an enormous amount of strength and strategic planning. What motivated her? From where did she get the emotional drive and resolve to be able to rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces and still remain uncompromising and unwavering in her religious beliefs? Chazal trace the source of her strength to her ancestor, Avraham. His heroic and courageous acts at the Akeidah infused these qualities in his future descendants. Esther survived because of Avraham. She maintained her valor and dignity, her commitment and courage, because she inherited these qualities from Avraham. She represented her heritage with pride, exercising self-control and resolve - first, over herself, thereby influencing others to emulate her. Every step that she took reflected Avraham Avinu's imbued lessons. Avraham's "three days" left an indelible impression and a solid foundation upon which Esther built her "three days."

Parents have that effect upon their children. We, the Jewish People, have been bequeathed a noble heritage of blood, sweat and tears. We have suffered, but we have triumphed. This is the legacy that we bequeath to the next generation. We must make sure that we transmit the correct values to our children. What we bequeath them will endure long after we are gone. I recently read an article by a rabbi who contrasted two funerals that he had attended in one week. One funeral was a very public one, in which a large gathering had assembled to pay tribute to a family patriarch. The deceased grandson spoke lovingly of his grandfather's character, his love of life and sensitivity to people. True, it was a funeral, but the assemblage departed with a sort of "good" feeling about a man who lived his life well.

The other funeral was a graveside service where, regrettably, they could not even put together a minyan, quorum, of ten men. In this case, a daughter was burying her father next to her mother, who had preceded him in death some ten years earlier. As the casket was being lowered into the ground, the woman got down on her knees and screamed, "Daddy, don't hurt Mommy! Don't hurt Mommy! Leave her alone!" Unfortunately, this woman had grim memories from her youth.

I have stated this fact numerous times: Our children are watching, and what they see becomes a part of them that they will one day transmit to their children. We must see to it that their memories are always of a positive nature.

There is a deeper aspect to our heritage that should be noted. Throughout history we have been witness to an incredible phenomenon. Jews who were clearly distant from religious commitment, who had strayed far from any form of observance, suddenly, under pressure from tormentors and oppressors, have refused to renounce their faith. They have been willing to forfeit their lives for Jewish ideals. Indeed, Rav Yaakov Emden, zl, writes that during the Spanish Inquisition, many sophisticated Jews abdicated their beliefs and renounced Judaism, while the simple, unpretentious Jew went to the burning stake, undeterred, with Shema Yisrael on his lips.

Horav Yaakov Twerski, zl, the Milwaukee Rebbe, explains that this is represented by Moshe Rabbeinu's vision of the Burning Bush. The thorn bush represents the Jew who seems to be unproductive: dry, empty, providing no shade, devoid of any signs of Jewishness. Yet, when he is put to the test, he comes out alive, with a fiery passion, a burning fervor which gives a glow that extends beyond time and space. Moshe Rabbeinu asked the Almighty, "From where comes so intense a rapture in someone who otherwise shows no sign of Jewishness?"

Hashem's response was, "This is the legacy of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. They bequeathed every Jew with a spark of their own neshamos, a nucleus of Jewishness that is the heritage of each Jew. At any moment that hidden spark can erupt into an intense and absolute devotion. Thus, no Jew may ever be written off as lost to his People."

Mitzvah performance can spur this spark to burst into flame. Rav Twerski would relate the story of an assimilated Jew in Kiev, Russia, who, due to concealing his Jewishness, had been accepted by the gentile community. Once, while on vacation at a seashore, this man chanced upon a scene where a body had washed ashore. The deceased man had no identifying papers on him, but the mere fact that he was wearing Tzitzis identified him as a Jew. As a result, he was given a Jewish burial.

Our assimilated Jew received a rude awakening: While his newly-acquired status gave him access to the higher echelons of gentile society, what good would it do him after his death? He realized that when it really mattered, he wanted to be buried as a Jew. One cannot die as a Jew if he does not live as one. So, he began to wear Tzitzis. One mitzvah led to another, and a complete metamorphosis took place. Shortly thereafter, the man assumed his rightful position in the Jewish community. One should never despair of a Jewish soul. It has a noble heritage.

Va'ani Tefillah

Korban Shelamim - Peace-Offering. While the Korban Todah and Ayil Nazir are a Korban Shelamim, they are brought only on specific occasions. However, they are distinguished from other korbanos in that the period for their consumption is slightly longer. These korbanos signify a certain inadequacy in the performance of duty. As a rule, danger and suffering expiate and improve the personality of a person. Hence, the Korban Todah, which is brought after one has been delivered from a trying experience, and the Ayil Nazir, which is brought by one who took a vow of Nezirus in order to strengthen his moral fibre through physical abstinence, are eaten only during the same limited time span as a Korban Chatas and Korban Asham. Ordinary Shelamim may be eaten anywhere and, thus, bestow some of the sanctity of the Bais HaMikdash into the home in which they are eaten. Also, in calculating the time during which these sacrifices may be eaten, the "ordinary day" which is from sundown to sundown, is combined with the day as reckoned in the Bais HaMikdash, from morning to morning, to compute one unit of time, extending the period to include two days and one night. Hence, the time allotted for eating the Korban Shelamim includes both the "day" as reckoned in the Bais HaMikdash, and the "day" as calculated in Jewish life outside the Sanctuary.

Dedicated in loving memory of our dear
father and grandfather
Arthur I. Genshaft
Yitzchok ben Yisroel z"l
niftar 18 Cheshcan 5739

by his family
Neil and Marie Genshaft
Isaac and Naomi

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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