Parshas Lech Lecha
ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדיו כי היה רכושם רב ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו. ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט… ויאמר אברם אל לוט… הפרד נא מעלי… (יג:ו-ט).
“And the land could not support them both dwelling together for their possessions were abundant and they were unable to dwell together. There was quarreling between the shepherds of Avram’s livestock and the shepherds of Lot’s livestock ….So Avram said to Lot, ‘…Please separate from me’ (13:6-9)”.
“Six children covered in one tallis, prayer shawl.” This is how the poor people learned Torah in the generation of Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Illae (Sanhedrin 20a). Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902 – 1979) explained this phenomena with one powerful comment. He stated that six children fitting under one tallis is an unattainable feat when each person is only concerned for himself, it simply cannot be done. Only when each person solely worries to see to it that his friend is covered will they all share the warmth of the garment!
We find a similar Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) which teaches that when there is love between a husband and wife, then there is room for them both on even the blade of a sword, but when the love is weak, even a space of mammoth proportions is not su6fficient.
Chazal tell us that everything is hinted to in the Holy Torah. The above quoted idea finds its source in our Parsha. The verse begins by informing us that both Avram and Lot possessed such large masses of livestock that there was physically not enough room for both of them. The verse however does not speak about the necessity to separate at all; it seems that they would still live together. Somehow, they would both fit. It was only after the standoff and squabbling between the shepherds that talks of parting ways began. Once they could not get along, then there no longer was room for both of them.
It is important to explain that this is not to say that Avram’s feelings were not justified. Certainly he was correct to distance himself from an evil person such as Lot who refused to mend his ways despite Avram’s pointers to him. The lesson can still be seen and applied to many of our fights which are not always altruistically based. If there is room for one’s friend in one’s heart then physical accommodations are possible as well!
The Final Test
“and you (Avraham) will be a blessing” (12:2)….והיה ברכה (יב:ב).
Rashi tells us that in this verse we learn out the construction of Shmoneh Esrey. Each of the Avos is mentioned in the first blessing of Shmoneh Esrey, but the blessing concludes by only mentioning Avraham (“Magen Avraham, the shield of Abraham”).
Reb Shimon Shkop points out a homiletical rendition based upon the words of Rashi, “בך חותמים, with you (Avraham) they will conclude (the first blessing)”. He reads it to mean, “with you Avraham, the end of days will revolve”. He explains that Avraham was a lone Jew who stood up for what was right despite worldwide opposition. He did not care that the world was caught up in denial of Hashem, he stood firmly by what he knew to be the only logical truth. From his dedication emerged Hashem’s chosen nation.
So too, concludes Reb Shimon, in the end of days, , the concluding challenge that we will face will be this same scenario. The world is filled with a collective voice of denial of Hashem. The world states even more strongly that we just don’t care about any values whatsoever! But our job is to emulate our forefather and gain from him inspiration to stay strong. This is what it means “בך חותמים, we will conclude with you (Avraham)”, your attribute (of unrelenting faithfulness) will be the solution for getting past the final test.
It is very fascinating that in the Hebrew alphabet the three letters of the word אמת, truth, are place precisely at the beginning, middle and end of the 22 letters.א is the first letter, מis the middle and ת is the last. Truth is all encompassing.
I believe that the hint is that the ultimate אמת, truth, was expressed and will be expressed only 3 times on the history of the world.
The first letter of Emes, א, corresponds to the beginning of the creation of the world. Adam saw the Master of the world most clearly and undeniably. Time went on and many people were distracted from this truth. Next, came the middle of the 6000 year world span. מ stands for מתן תורה, the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The world saw and shook as Hashem appeared with undisputable clarity. The final stage is the letterת , all the way at the end of time, when Hashem will finally reign as Mashiach comes. This is the time that we are approaching.
I add to this that the three letters directly proceeding the last letter of the alphabet (the ת which represents Mashiach) are ק, ר, ש. They spell שקר, falsehood. This hints that the strongest lies and confusion will be present at the end of time, before Hashem reveals Himself once and for all (See Sanhedrin 97a, Sar Meyra…).
This is the time that we must learn from Avraham and dedicate ourselves to the true service of Hashem. We will be a light and inspiration for the rest of the world!
Extra Short and Sweet
The Missing Test
Chazal (Avos 5:3) teach us that Avraham Aveinu underwent ten major trials throughout his life to prove his commitment to Hashem. The Commentators count the ten trials and most of them agree that the event of Avraham choosing to be thrown into a fire furnace by Nimrod rather than bowing to an idol was definitely one of the ten.
The question though is, why is this the only test not stated explicitly in the Torah? It would seem to be most significant? Avraham was ready to die for Hashem, whereas the other tests did not call for his death? Yet the only source for this event in the Torah are two meager words, “אור כשדים”, upon which Rashi brings from Chazal that this event transpired?!
Reb Leib Chasman says a beautiful one line answer. I will leave you to delve into it: “The most impressive part of a person’s service of Hashem is not that he is willing to die for Hashem, rather it is his dedication to live for Hashem. That is why it is given little attention in the Torah!”
The fascinating construct of the first Berachah of Shmoneh Esrey is found in our Parsha as a reward for Avram following Hashem. Rashi brings down Chazal’s words on Bereishis (12:2-3) in which Hashem expresses to Avraham that he will be mentioned in Shmoneh Esrey: ‘I will make you into a great nation’ refers to the words, “the God of Avraham,” ‘I will bless you’ refers to “the God of Yitzchok,” I will make your name great’ refers to “the God of Yaakov.” But only Avraham’s name alone will conclude the blessing as it says, ‘You will be a blessing’. Only Avram will grace the end of the first Beracha, ‘the protector of Avraham.’
The Eitz Yosef points out the dichotomy found in the first Beracha of Shmoneh Esrey. First we call Hashem “our God” and then we call Him, “the God of our fathers” and enumerate the three patriarchs. To explain this he quotes from the Chovos HaLevavos who states that there are two primary obligations of gaining knowledge of Hashem. One is through the Mesorah, tradition, and one is through one’s own search and personal efforts. Each on its own leads to true Emunah, but both avenues together are the ultimate achievement of connection to Hashem.
The first words of Shmoneh Esrey summarize this quest. We mention our belief in Hashem based on both (1) our forefather’s tradition and (2) our own connection.
In fact, the question can be asked as to why the first words of Shmoney Esrey contain extra wording, “the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchok and the God of Yaakov.” Why not simply state, “the God of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov?!” The answer is precisely in order to stress that even in the forefather’s quest for connection to Hashem, they themselves each found Hashem in a personal way and did not just rely on their illustrious father.
The person who had the most difficult task of recognizing truth was Avraham. His parents, siblings and the entire word all served Avodah Zarah. Nevertheless, Avraham saw the compelling evidence of Hashem’s existence and kindness and changed his life accordingly. The first Berachah stresses that Hashem shielded Avraham from his enemies who fought against his monotheistic ideology. Thus, Avraham was granted the honor of having the first Berachah single him out. He epitomized the deep conviction and connection to Hashem in a most personal way.
Rabbi Shimon Shkop zt”l commented that just as Avraham received the concluding words of the Berachah, so too, the final concluding challenge of Galus, the exile which we live in, is one of personal faithfulness and connection to Hashem as well. May we merit to recognize Hashem’s powerful presence and kindness in a most personal way.
Chazal tell us that Avraham Aveinu was tested with Ten Nisyonos (Avos 5:3). Delving into each one of them and understanding the greatness of Avraham and what he instilled in the heart our Nation is of utmost importance. The nature of each test and the lesson that each provides is of much relevance to us. The test of leaving his hometown and father’s home was one that challenged Avraham’s comfort and whether he would trust Hashem. The test of having Sarah kidnapped twice by Avimelech and Pharaoh and the test of famine challenged the deepest fibers of Avraham’s belief in Hashem. What exactly was the nature of the test of Bris Milah, was this merely one of whether or not Avraham would endure physical pain in performing the act on himself?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 – 1986) strengthens this question by quoting Chazal who say that Bris Milah was always a dear Mitzva of the Jewish nation and has always been performed with great joy. Avraham was not in any physical danger of attack based on him performing circumcision. Additionally, Chazal tell us that so dear is the Mitzvah of Milah that Avraham Aveinu waits by the door of Gehenom and will save any Jew who is sent there in the merit of Milah. What exactly was the challenge?
Rabbi Feinstein provides a fascinating explanation. Avraham was the first Kiruv professional. He wished to show the world Hashem’s Kindness and Greatness. He did so by engaging in friendly conversation and enjoyable interactions with people. He would feed travelers who passed by and while eating with them he would ask them if they thanked Hashem the One who provided them with their meal. His goal was to work with them and to connect thereby bringing them under the warm wings of the Shechinah. Avraham felt it important to speak a common language with the people and not to appear too aloof or give off an aura of ‘holier than thou’. Avraham recognized that the only way to work with and connect with people that came to his house was to show them his common ground with them and to appeal to their own concept of gratitude and thanks. They very much related to how down-to-earth Avraham and Sarah were and how wise and beautiful their hospitality and classes were.
Avraham feared that if he were to go against the trend of his time and would perform a circumcision on himself and his family, this would stress the difference between him and others. People would see Avraham as separate and this would prevent them from relating to him and from hearing his important message. Hashem taught Avraham that despite his feelings that this action would segregate him, one must always strive to grow spiritually and not worry about the repercussions that the observance will produce. Hashem promised Avraham that if he were to take on this holy act, he would not lose contact with others that did not yet know about Hashem. This was the challenge of Avraham regarding Bris Milah, would he take this next step up in spirituality and perform Milah despite his fears that he would no longer be able to continue his spiritual guidance. Avraham passed this test just as all of the ten tests and he showed how one could grow spiritually and yet at the same time still relate to others who stand at a different level. With love, respect, and an open heart, Avraham and Sarah continued to show the world the beauty and greatness of closeness to Hashem.
Share it With the World
It is well known that Avraham and Sarah were the first “kiruv couple.” Chazal tell us that Avraham taught, inspired and converted the men while Sarah did so for the women (Bereishis Rabbah 39:14; quoted by Rashi Bereishis 12:5). Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that all three of the Avos and all four of the Imaos were truly involved with spreading the beauty and truth of Hashem.
The Midrash (ibid.) states that when the verse talks about the “souls that Avraham and Sarah made in Charan” this refers to the converts that they had inspired. Rabbeinu Bechaya continues this theme and states that we also find that Yizchok had inspired converts as it states, “Yaakov dwelled in the land that his father had (migurei) dwelled in (Bereishis 37:1).” Read the word megurei as referring to gerim, converts, that Yitzchok had helped connect with Hashem (Midrash Rabbah 84:2). We similarly find that Yaakov commanded his household members to remove their idolatry (Bereishis 38:2). Rabbeinu Bechaya explains based on the above quoted Midrash that obviously this command was not given to the holy family of Yaakov which included Rachel, Leah and the 12 Shevatim, tribe leaders. It was a command to all of the people whom Yaakov taught Torah to stating that if they wished to come with him, they would have to take the next step by renouncing their idolatry. The next verse states that they enthusiastically followed the order. The Avos worked tirelessly to spread knowledge of Hashem throughout the world.
Chazal (Sifri Devarim 6:5) tell us that when the verse commands us to “love Hashem our God,” this refers to learning the Torah. Chazal continue and state, “part of this commandment is to spread your love to others just like Avraham your forefather did as it states, “the souls that they made in Charan…” Rabbeinu Bechaya quotes the Rambam’s question here (from Sefer Hamitzvos). How does the verse’s commandment to love Hashem incorporate spreading this love to others as well? Is it not possible for one to simply love Hashem and just keep it to him or herself? The Rambam explains, and Rabbeinu Bechaya (Kad HaKemach, ahava) elaborates on this by stating the following. The love that the Torah commands us to have for Hashem is one in which the feelings of appreciation and gratitude are so strong that one is compelled to share it with others.
When someone loves something truly and deeply he wishes to tell others about the great object of his love. He wishes to profess his love to the world. When someone gets engaged, he wishes to give his bride a ring so that he can share and express his love. Throughout marriage, he finds appropriate ways and venues to share and express the love as it deepens more and more. When someone has a child he or she wants to show that child to others and to express his love repeatedly. This is a natural and healthy manifestation of true love and commitment.
The Avos deeply and passionately connected with Hashem. They were profoundly in awe and in love with Hashem to the point that they were compelled to share His Greatness and Kindness with others. They experienced His daily Guidance and Kindness. Our great Patriarchs and Matriarchs spent their lives sharing the greatness of Hashem with others. They began with themselves, gave it over to their families and shared it with the world.