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Parashat Vayera


Memory and Forgetfulness

We generally assume that one who is upset or disturbed is more prone to forget things than one who is at ease with himself. Many commuters forget their belongings on buses, trains or taxis. People will forget not only small items, but even that which could potentially lead to serious damage or embarrassment. For example, consider the person who opens a bank account, deposits money, receives a checkbook and then forgets about the whole arrangement. Or how about the individual who receives a gift or bonus in the form of a check with everything but one small detail - the signature.

When a person in a certain mood forgets something, the response is generally one of understanding. The same holds true regarding those whose minds are constantly busy in involved, intellectual matters but neglect the basic necessities of daily life.

However, what about the other, "normal" people? Why do regular, average people forget matters which cost them their money, time and often their health?

Psychologists in the field claim that a person will forget that which he does not deem important enough to remember. If he fails to recognize the importance of any given piece of information from the outset, he can very easily forget it. Another reason for forgetfulness is that the item forgotten involves unpleasantness, and the individual thus prefers not to remember.

The function of many misvot is to remind us of that which is very easily forgotten. Pesah, for example, reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt; Shabbat reminds us of creation. Similarly, all the festivals and other events on the Jewish calendar remind us Jews of that which occurred in our history, and, as a result, they remind us of our obligations towards both God and man. Needless to say, many misvot contain many reasons, many of which we cannot fully comprehend or cannot even understand at all. Nevertheless, one of the central reasons behind the performance of misvot is to remind us of our being Jewish and our obligation to lead complete, Jewish lives, for how else is one's "Jewishness" expressed besides the performance of the misvot which the Almighty commanded us in His infinite love and compassion? We should mention, in conclusion, that there exists one misvah which can be performed only through forgetting - the misvah of "shich'hah," that a farmer may not go back to harvest the wheat which he had forgotten in the field, as this food must be left for the poor.


Measure for Measure (14)

Flashback: A wealthy man invited a poor scholar to converse with him in his home about intricate matters of Torah, without bothering to offer him anything to eat. This occurred several times and the impoverished scholar, who had not eaten in days, died of starvation. In the heavenly court he was told that severe punishment awaits the wealthy man and, since someone is to be punished on his account, he cannot be brought to his final resting place. He was therefore granted permission to appear to the wealthy man to instruct him along the proper path of repentance. He invited the wealthy man to the edge of the woods, and the wealthy man arrived as he was instructed.

The poor man pointed to a pile of clothing which lay under an enormous oak tree. "Take off your clothes," he ordered the wealthy man, "and put on those rags." The man obeyed, and took off his clothes. He picked up the clothes in the pile and made a face. The clothing was made from rough, low-quality material, and it was tattered and worn-out. He smelled them, only to discover a powerful odor which emanated from them. He slowly and begrudgingly put on the clothes, much of his own flesh showing through the rips. Can clothing ever change the essence of a person! Just a minute earlier he was a well-respected, renowned businessman, a man of dignity and distinguished stature. Suddenly, in an instant, he found himself buried under peasant clothing, which seemed to weigh down on him painfully as if they were lead. His face darkened, his countenance was now one of suffering and torment rather than honor and distinction. His appearance told the tale of misery, helplessness and crisis. As from a distance he heard the poor man's voice, ordering, "Go back, return to your hometown, to the Bet Midrash. You are fortunate that you love Torah, for you must now go and study Torah intensively, day and night, and you may not receive anything from anyone. Only when you feel so hungry that your life is waning, only then may you return home, and only to your home, and ask for something to eat."

"Until...until when," asked the man.

"For an entire year," answered the other poor man. "You will live a life of hardship and sleep on the ground. Do not change a single iota from that which I have instructed. If you follow these guidelines, you may come here at the end of the year to meet me right here in this place. Then I will tell you what to do. Only then will everything turn out well for both of us. Just remember, if you fail to follow these rules, you will die in an instant!"

The wealthy man lifted his eyes and realized that there was nobody around but him. The poor man disappeared along with the clothing which he had been wearing. He was all alone in the forest. From the distance he heard the voice of the driver, "Where are you, where are you?"

to be continued...


From the outset, let us make on thing absolutely clear so as to avoid any misunderstanding. The Torah outright condemns the mistreatment of anyone, child or adult, male or female, human or, "lehavdil," animals. This severe prohibition extends beyond physical abuse, and applies even to the infliction of emotional wounds on another. Causing unnecessary pain to animals constitutes a Biblical prohibition, all the more so when dealing with people, created in the image of Hashem, and Jews, who are considered children of the Almighty. One who raises a hand against another is called a "rasha" (wicked), regardless of whether or not he actually hit him. One who curses his friend has violated a Torah prohibition.

"It seems to me," writes the Rambam, "that one who curses a child who is embarrassed as a result, receives lashes" (Hilchot Sanhedrin 26). One who causes anguish to a fellow Jew - adult, child, male or female - likewise violates a Torah prohibition. "It is proper to be careful not to cause pain even to minors with words, except what is necessary for them to learn important lessons. Even one's sons, daughters and members of his household - if he does not cause them emotional harm, he will find blessing and honor" (Sefer Hahinuch 338). Although it has, tragically, become common for people to communicate all types of troubling hints, allusions, insults, and embarrassing memories to others, this is absolutely not our way. This opposes the spirit of the Torah and its sacred teachings. Our Torah is one of kindness, its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are laden with peace!

Nevertheless, everything follows the intentions of the heart, and the Sefer Hahinuch emphasizes one critical exception to the prohibition to cause emotional harm to his children - when directing them in the proper path. If the admonishment is for their own good, if it comes not as, Heaven forbid, a channel through which the parent releases his frustration and anger, but rather as a means to fashion their personalities in consonance with Torah values, with the sole intention of educating the child, in the appropriate measure, through love and a sincere concern for the future, then this admonishment, harsh as it may be, is positive and even necessary. It is often necessary to sharply criticize and chastise, and one who fails to do so violates the prohibition of "Do not stand idly by the blood of your friend." For this reason, the Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:10) says on the verse, "Anger is better than laughter" - "Shelomoh said, if my father would have been just a bit angry with Adoniyahu, it would have been preferable to the laughter which the Attribute of Justice laughed at him. However, 'His father never chastised him,' and he died."

One of the great leaders of the "mussar" movement, the Saba of Slobodkah zs"l, used to say, the first two patriarchs had one "delinquent" son in their homes together with the righteous son - Yishmael grew up with Yisshak in Avraham's home, and Esav lived together with Yaakov in Yisshak's house.

As we know, Yishmael eventually repented during Avraham's lifetime, and even showed respect to his younger brother, Yisshak (Bava Batra 16b). Esav, by contrast, died in his iniquity. A tanna as well as a highly-respected kohen gadol were named Yishamel. No Jew, however, is ever called Esav.

Why? Didn't Yishmael worship idols, commit adultery and attempt to murder Yisshak (Bava Batra 53)? How did he come to perform teshuvah? The Saba of Slobodkoh answers that Yishmael's father criticized his behavior forcefully to the point that he drove him out of the home. This admonishment eventually caused a serious internal trauma, which in turn led to an intense process of introspection, resulting in genuine repentance. Esav, who was never reprimanded, was never aroused to do teshuvah.

In summary, a critical distinction must be made between punishment which guides and directs, whose purpose is to correct the wrongdoing and establish a positive pattern of behavior, about which is written, "Anger is better than laughter, for with a harsh face the heart improves" (Kohelet 7:3), referring to the strict attitude of the parent or teacher which results in the improvement in the heart of the child or student, and a punishment which serves merely as a release of anger, which is not only counter-productive but strictly forbidden. But those who outlaw the entire concept of punishing children because of concern for their well-being perform, in effect, a grave disservice to the children whom they claim to protect. Without the proper degree of restraint, boundless freedom and reckless behavior surfaces. We must find the golden mean.


On Mossa'ei Shabbat we recite this beautiful prayer, in which we ask for the opening of the gates of goodness, the gates of blessing, joy and happiness, glory and distinction, going through the Hebrew alphabet with our requests, from "alef" through "tav." It is told that the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov was once asked, what are the most important gates? She answered, "The gates of divine assistance." How correct, indeed! How does the expression go - without divine assistance it is impossible to cross a single threshold, but with divine assistance one can cross the sea.

True, but what does a person do when the gates of divine assistance open for him? A person needs divine assistance just to know how to use it properly! Rabbi Hayyim Shemueleviss zs"l notes that Avraham was clearly granted divine assistance, as Avimelech said to him, "Hashem is with you in everything you do." After him, Yisshak and Yaakov merited this assistance, as did David, as the pasuk states, "...and Hashem was with him." Look how they took advantage of this divine assistance, to what great heights they ascended, what great achievements they reached - they yielded merit for all eternity.

Yishmael also saw the opening of these gates of divine assistance. And what does the pasuk say - "God was with the boy and he grew" - and how did he grow? "He was an archer."

How great a responsibility we have to steer our success and good fortune in the right direction, towards the performance of Torah and kindness both within the framework of our families as well as the community at large.


Avraham was but three years old when he recognized his Creator. He destroyed the idols in his town and embarked on a bitter struggle with his family and community. On account of his faith, he was cast into the fiery furnace, sat in prison and was tested with ten tests, passing each one flawlessly. He spent his life gathering assemblies of people, calling in the Name of Hashem, invited guests and teaching them how to thank the One Whose food they enjoyed and through Whose grace they live each day. In the end, the Almighty informs him that the divine love is given to him. For what? Not because he dedicated his life for God, but "For I know him [Rashi: i.e., I love him] on account of the fact that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will observe the path of Hashem to do kindness and justice."

Was all the love for Avraham - the father of all believers, the forerunner of spiritual excellence, the quintessential servant of the Almighty - only because he would steer his children in the proper path? Didn't he deserve the divine love in merit of his own work in the service of Hashem?

The answer will be understood through a parable told by the author of "Teshu'ot Hen" zs"l. There once lived a professional carpenter who excelled head and shoulders above the rest in his field. He manufactured the most elegant and magnificent furniture of all designs and made will all different types of materials. His work became the pride and joy of his customers.

As his reputation quickly spread, distinguished officers and dignitaries ordered from him closets, cabinets and bookcases and paid him generously for his labor.

Once, a group of friends were sitting and talking, and their conversation gradually moved to the subject of the remarkable success of this particular carpenter. They made no attempt to hide their jealousy at his wealth and prestige.

Finally, the wisest among them remarked, "Listen, friends, don't be jealous of him."

They turned to him curiously and asked, "Why not?"

"Do you guys know his son?"

"Yes," they answered, "his father opened a shop for him at the marketplace."

The wise friend continued, "So you see my point."

Nobody understood. "Sorry," they said, "we don't see what you're saying."

He stood and invited them to join him. "Come, my friends, walk a little with me." They stood and began following him. They reached the market and headed towards the son's shop. The wise man greeted the son who politely returned the greeting. "I have a question for you," said the man.

"Please, ask," responded the young merchant.

"Your father," said the man, "is a renowned, professional carpenter, who has achieved widespread recognition for the furniture he designs. He does very well, earning a highly respectable living. Why, then, did you choose a different profession? Would it not be preferable to become a distinguished manufacturer of furniture, rather than a small merchant in the market, just one of many other salesmen?"

The son answered frankly, "Now that you asked, I will tell you exactly what happened. When I asked my father what career he suggests that I pursue, he told me to be whatever I want, only not to be a carpenter. I asked him why not. After all, he established for himself quite a successful career in the field, and his wealth was the envy of many. He answered, 'You are just like all those who just look at the price, paying no attention whatsoever to the difficulty involved in the labor. The easiest part of the work is that you have to stand on your feet the entire week. Not to mention the grueling process of dragging the wood and carrying the heavy blocks. And don't forget all the sawdust which you breathe all day, all the cuts, bruises and splinters which you suffer on a daily basis. But these are just the minor inconveniences, before you get tot he actual work itself, which demands strength and stamina, concentration and precision, and is fraught with tension and anxiety. The wood cracks; the door gets scraped; the wood is just too small or just too large. No, my son. I began my work when I was young and I aged together with my career. It is too late for me now to give it up. But you have your whole life in front of you - find yourself a simple, easy job.'"

The wise man thanked him for his response and turned to his friends. "You see, you have no reason to be jealous of the wealthy carpenter. I realized this the moment I heard that he bought his son a shop in the market rather than teaching him to continue his own work."

Similarly, the Almighty says, Avraham worked his entire life to do My will. But when will it become perfectly clear that he has no reservations about the path he chose, that he is totally confident in his decision? When he educates his children in the same direction, when he trains them in his trade!

We see today with our own eyes that those who truly aspire to fulfill the divine will train their children likewise, enrolling them in Torah educational systems. In this way they demonstrate their conviction that the path they chose is the correct one, and with a full heart they choose this direction for both themselves and the next generation!


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Continuation From Last Week

12) It is proper to recite the parashah of the binding of Yisshak (the "akeidah") before shaharit each morning in order to mention the merits of our patriarchs before the Almighty and so as to subjugate our evil inclination to the service of Hashem the way Yisshak was prepared to give his life for the divine will. After this recitation, the custom of the Sefaradim is to recite the pasuk "veshahat oto" (Vayikra 1:11), because the Midrash says (Vayikra Rabbah 2:10), "Said the Almighty, I have appointed the heavens and earth as witnesses, be it Yisrael or the other nations, at the time when they recite this verse, 'towards the North, before God,' I remember the binding of Yisshak." Afterwards, the short "ribono shel olam" prayer is recited. The pasuk "veshahat oto" is then repeated prior to the recitation of "eizehu mekoman."

13) Some say that one should privately recite the Ten Commandments each day. However, the widespread custom is not to recite it, neither privately nor publicly, neither before or after the tefilah, so as not to give any indication that these ten are the only missvot which Hashem commanded us, Heaven forbid.

14) Similarly, those who normally sit during the Torah reading in the Bet Kenesset should not stand when the Ten Commandments are read in Parashat Yitro or Parashat Vaethanan (or on Shavuot), so as not to allow for people to think that only the Ten Commandments were commanded by God. However, those who have the custom to have the Ten Commandments embroidered on the parochet or posted on top of the aron kodesh or the wall of the synagogues have authorities on whom to rely.

15) The custom is recite daily the parashah dealing with the daily sacrifice (the "tamid") as well as the fifth chapter of mishnayot Masechet Zevahim ("eizehu mekoman"). This custom is based upon the statement of Hazal (Megilah 31b), "Avraham said before the Almighty, should Yisrael sin before you, you will do to them what you did to the generation of the flood! He said to him, no, Avraham then asked, how will I know that I will inherit it? He said, take for me a triple calf... (i.e., sacrifices). He said, Master of the World, that is fine when the Bet Hamikdash is standing. When the Bet Hamikdash is not standing - what will happen then? He said, I already instituted for them the recitation of the order of the sacrifices, for whenever they read it I will consider it as if they sacrificed a sacrifice to me, and I will forgive them for all their sins."

Hazal comment further (Masechet Menahot 110a), "Rabbi Yisshak said, what is meant by the pesukim, 'This is the Torah of the hatat sacrifice,' 'This is the Torah of the asham sacrifice'? Everyone who involves himself in the Torah of the hatat sacrifice is considered as having sacrificed a hatat and anyone who involves himself in the Torah of the asham sacrifice is considered to have sacrificed an asham. Therefore, it is appropriate for everyone to recite the entire section of korbanot as printed in the siddurim.

Some have the custom of reciting the section of the olah sacrifice, the section of the minhah sacrifice, the section of the todah sacrifice, the section of the shelamim sacrifice, the section of the hatat sacrifice and the section of the asham sacrifice. Nowadays, however, we rely upon the reading of the mishnayot in "eizehu mekoman" which contains the laws of all these sacrifices.


"God tested Avraham"

Rabbenu Saadyah Gaon zs"l, in his work "Emunot Ve'deot" (5:3), writes that the purpose of the tests which the Almighty brings upon the sadik is in order that the sadik will pass the test, thus demonstrating publicly that it is for good reason that the Almighty has raised the sadik to such remarkable heights, including ruah hakodesh and prophecy. Therefore, the word for test is "nisayon," related to the word "nes," a banner, as the test serves as a public acknowledgment to the genuine righteousness of the sadik.

"God tested Avraham"

The Ba'al Ha'ikarim, Rav Yosef Albo zs"l, writes (4:13) that the concept of the "test" of the incident of the binding of Yis'hak is that the Almighty wanted that the intense love which Avraham felt for the Almighty would be actualized and translated into deed, rather than remain as emotion. In this way, Avraham would merit not just the reward for his internal feelings, but for his actions, as well.

"God tested Avraham"

Similarly, the Ran zs"l (Derashot, 6) writes that since the thoughts of the sadik are pure and his fear of Heaven is intense, Hashem brings a test upon him in order that his thought be joined with action. Therefore, Hashem will only test a sadik with a test which he is capable of passing, as the Midrash compares these tests to an artisan who does not test his vessels by hitting them unless he is sure that they are capable of withstanding the pressure of his blows. The second function of the tests is for the benefit for the community at large, that people see to what extent the love Hashem is implanted within the hearts of his lovers, and they will then take an example from these sadikim.

"God tested Avraham"

The Rambam writes (Moreh Nevuchim, 3:26):

The subject of Avraham and the binding of his son includes two critical concepts which constitute fundamental precepts of the Torah. The first aspect is to teach us the power of the love of God and His fear, to what extent they apply. He instructed something which cannot be compared to any other form of self-sacrifice or monetary loss, but something qualitatively different from anything else within existence and impossible to imagine ever to be within the nature of man. Meaning, that a barren man, who was at the peak of yearning in his desire for a child, and was very wealthy and prominent, who wanted a nation to be established from his offspring, a son was born to him after having given up - how strong is his affection and love for the child! But in his fear of Hashem and the love of the performance of His misvot, he agreed to sacrifice him.

And the second concept is to teach us the power of the clarity of prophecy, that the prophet has no doubts whatsoever regarding the authenticity of his prophecy, and it is absolutely clear to him, so much so that because of it Avraham and Yis'hak went to the "akedah"!


Rabbi Mordechai Libton zs"l

Rabbi Yehudah Sedakah zs"l related a story about Rabbi Mordechai Libton zs"l, who was the head of the rabbinical court in Aram Soba. When he became old and his strength began waning, he was no longer able to wake up early to go to the Bet Kenesset or stay late. He therefore asked the people in his community to arrange for a minyan to come to his home morning and evening so that he could join a public prayer. And so, the minyan was arranged, and they would go morning and evening to pray in his home.

One day, in the middle of the winter, a furious rain poured down from the skies and the group of men never came. The sadik was terribly upset and said to his attendant, "Do me a favor, and gather the people together for the minyan." The attendant agreed, and he went out into the storm and knocked on the people's doors. After a long while he returned alone and reported, "The people will not come in these awful conditions. They told me that today they will pray privately in their homes."

The sadik responded, "You know that I am not a wealthy man but, over the course of my years, I have saved penny by penny, so that I have enough to pay for scholars to come to my house after my death to learn in my memory. Take this last money that I have prepared for after my death, and use it to pay all the people of our minyan to come here so we can pray together with a minyan."

The attendant obeyed the sadik's wish. When the people heard how precious public prayer is in the eyes of the sadik, that he was willing to allocate for this purpose the money set aside for the study of Torah in his memory after his death, they all came to his home, even in the pouring rain, and refused to take a single coin. They enthusiastically reported this incident from mouth to ear, until the entire community recognized the importance of public prayer and how much one must sacrifice on its behalf. For it is worth far more than any sacrifice we make!

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