ויהי אחר הדברים האלה והאלקים נסה את אברהם ויאמר אליו אברהם ויאמר הנני. ויאמר קח נא את בינך …(כב:א-ב).
“It happened after these events that Hashem tested Avraham… and He said, ‘please take your son…’ (22:1-2).”
After which events? Rashi brings down two explanations as to what prompted Hashem to command Avraham to perform the test of the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchok. Either the verse reads, a) after the Satan prosecuted or b) after Yishmael teased:
The Satan prosecuted against Avraham in Heaven claiming that Avraham made a feast to celebrate the birth of Yitzchok, but never did he offer a single sacrifice to thank Hashem for the great miracle of Yitzckok’s birth. Hashem answered back, “if I were to ask Avraham to give up his very son for Me, he would carry out My wish without question.”
Yishmael would tease Yitzchok and say, “I was circumcised at the age of thirteen on my own consent. You however were only eight days old when you received your bris and had no choice. I therefore am better than thou!” Yitzchok responded, “circumcision involves only one limb, but I am willing to give up my entire self to Hashem should he ask (Sanhedrin 89b).”
Are these opinions arguing with each other as to what triggered the Akeidah? I suggest that they are not arguing, rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Everything Hashem does is weighed to perfection. Before Hashem makes something happen on earth, He calculates the outcome that it will have on every person effected by the change and determines that each person only gets what they deserve. When Hashem makes someone rich, He has calculations as to how these riches will effect this man’s family, friends, and the organizations that he supports. When Hashem, Heaven forbid, takes someone’s life away, He calculates how it will effect everyone who knew this person, and the exact pain which it will cause each one of them. No one has anything sent his way, good or bad, unless Hashem determines that he deserves it, and then it is delivered with utmost fairness and precision.
This is exactly what is being taught here. When Hashem commanded Avraham to offer his dear son Yitzchok as a sacrifice, each party involved deserved the test in his own right. The two opinions compliment each other as they are expressing why each individual party involved was given the ordeal. Avraham was deemed test-worthy because of the Satan’s prosecution against him and Yitzchok deserved the test because of his statement to Yishmael. Hashem, in His Infinite Wisdom, runs the world with exact precision!
ואקחה פת לחם וסעדו לבכם אחר תעבורו… (יח:ה).
“take bread, eat and then leave…” (18:5).
These words have always perplexed me. Avraham, the great patron of kindness, world famous for his generosity, speaks so seemingly harsh to his guests? He says, “eat and then please leave, promptly!” He doesn’t even invite them into his home?! What is going on here?!
To strengthen this question, I quote for you a story (see Sefer HaYashor (Vayeira) for more details) that happened with Avraham himself: Three years after he sent Yishmael away from his home, Avraham decided to go visit him. He promised Sarah that he would not even get off of his donkey. He arrived and Yishmael’s wife (she did not know who he was) answered the door to inform him that Yishmael was not home. Avraham asked her for some food and something to drink. She refused to invite him in or even to give him anything to eat or drink. Avraham gave her a message to relay to Yishmael when he returned home. “Please tell him that an old man visited from Canaan and he says you should replace the pegs of your tent”.
When Yishmael heard what had happened, he asked her for the details and was furious. He understood that Avraham was telling him that she was not a proper wife (why a wife is called “the peg of the tent” could be the topic of an entire article. Suffice it to say that the peg is what holds and carries the entire tent! The Torah celebrates the power and greatness of our Nation’s women). He then divorced her and married someone that possessed the quality of kindness.
We clearly see from this incident that Avraham was a big fan of inviting his guests inside!
The Ramban provides a most relevant answer to this question. He states that Avraham’s words were chosen not as an inconsiderate unfriendly invitation, but rather, on the contrary, a most thoughtful and appropriate gesture. A good host does not get carried away with doing his act of chessed, kindness, rather, he focuses on the recipient and gives to him according to his comfort and needs!
Avraham and Sarah loved to have guests at their home. However, not at the expense of the guest’s precious time. Avraham saw that these three men arrived at his tent and were traveling through the desert at a fast pace. He did not want to slow them down from reaching their destination. Thus, instead of bringing them straight into his house and pressuring them to stay more than they would have wanted to, he made it clear and comfortable for them from the outset that he sees they are in a rush and if they just want to stay outside, grab a quick bite and get going, that is fine with him and Sarah.
Avraham’s chessed was the highest form, it was recipient-focused. Avraham constantly asked, “what and how will this kindness be best for you?!”
Sometimes we visit a sick person or try to offer a friend advice, but neglect to get the hint that they do not desire our “services” at this present moment. We get so caught up in doing chessed that we don’t realize that we aren’t even doing chessed!
Rabbeinu Bechayeh states that only two verses in the entire Torah begin with the word “ויטע, and he planted.” They are (Bereishis [2:8, 21:33]), “Hashem planted Gan Eden, Paradise” and, “Avraham planted an orchard (for guests)”. This shows that the road to Paradise is paved through caring for others.
Let us emulate Avraham and develop our emotional intelligence to be sensitive to other people’s precise needs so that we too can help them in the most considerate way!
Why Test Us?
This week’s Parsha contains the last of the Ten Trials of Avraham. A fundamental question begs to be explored. What is the purpose of Hashem testing us in the first place since He knows if we will pass or not?
The Ramban explains that when Hashem tests us, we conjure up inner strength and fight to pass the test. This willpower and dedication makes us even stronger in our resolve.
When we are put in a situation of choice and we choose correctly, this makes us stronger people. Every act of chessed, every statement of Emunah, faith, has a profound impact upon our spiritual growth and brings out from inside of us, what would otherwise lay dormant. Tests help us actualize our potential.
What do a baker, sailor and Arab have in common? No, this is not a joke, it’s a Parsha Question! The Midrash Rabbah (48:9) is apt on filling us in on the details of how the three angels that visited Avraham appeared. One looked like a baker, another like a ship’s captain and the last appeared as an Arab. What is this costume party all about?!
Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen from Lublin (1823-1900) tackles this issue and provides much insight. Tosfos in Pesachim states that the world is divided into three parts: one third is water, one third land and one third desert (an elaborate discussion of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article). These three areas represent the three portions of our Holy Torah: (1) the Written Law, (2) the Oral Law, and (3) the secrets which Mashiach will reveal. The Patriarchs represent the transmission of Torah to the Jewish Nation, thus:
Avraham lived in the desert and represents the Written Law that was given to the Jews in the Sinai desert. Avraham shared his chessed with the wayfarers in the desert.
Yitzchok lived only in Eretz Yisrael (dry land) and represents the Oral Law which is said to be studied with great toil and sacrifice and primarily in Eretz Yisrael, a fitting description of Yitzchok’s personal life.
Yaakov is the epitome of depth and truth and thus represents the secrets of Torah that will be revealed in the future. This material is described as, “knowledge will fill the world as water fills the sea (Isaiah 11:9).”
This directly connects to the three visitors. The angels came to tell Avraham that the Jewish Nation was about to be conceived.
Michael (angel of water, chessed) came to inform Sarah that she and Avraham would have a child and appeared as an Arab who dwelled in the desert. Just as Avraham was the foremost Patriarch, so too, Michael was the primary angel and thus Avraham addressed him.
Gavriel (angel of fire, din) came to utilize fire to overturn Sedom and appeared as a baker who provides sustenance to people on the dry land. Additionally, the Gemara calls an expert in the Oral Law, the owner of a bread store (Berachos 64a).
Refael (angel of balance) came to cure Avraham and to save Lot, the grandfather of Mashiach Ben David. He appeared as the captain of the sea. [Just as Yaakov didn’t die (Taanis 5b) so too David is considered to live forever (Rosh Hashanah 25a).]
Thus, Chazal reveal to us the depth and beauty of how to view a “story” in the Torah!
Lot was saved from the raging fires that Hashem sent to destroy Sedom. Rashi brings down from Chazal that Lot was saved in the merit of his keeping his mouth shut when Sarah was taken by Pharaoh and Avraham said that Sarah was his sister. Lot could have spoken up then and told the guards that Sarah was really married to Avraham and this would have granted Lot much monetary reward and perhaps even Avraham’s entire wealth had Avraham been executed. Instead, Lot controlled his temptation and kept quiet. In this merit, Lot was saved from being killed along with his fellow city members in Sedom.
The question is that Lot certainly had other merits as well. When the three angels came disguised as men to the city of Sedom it was Lot who risked death by inviting them in and doing Hachnasas Orchim, hospitality. Why was it specifically that above mentioned merit that saved him?
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) gives his most famous answer here. Hashem rewards a person according to his efforts expended and the harder it was for someone to do something, the greater reward the act receives. For Lot, who grew up in Avraham’s household, chessed and care for guests was a natural occurrence. He saw Avraham and Sarah host and care for guests and it became a habitual part of his essence. Thus, the act of Lot inviting in the angels is not impressive as it did not require any stretch on Lot’s part. On the other hand, Lot had a burning desire for wealth and was deeply greedy. The self-control that it required for him to keep his mouth shut in order not to turn in Avraham was the greatest internal act of strength that Lot had ever displayed. That act is what saved him from death for it carried the greatest merit.
When Hashem offered the Torah to the other nations each one of them questioned Hashem and wanted to know what laws the Torah entailed (See Sifri Vzos HaBracha). Hashem told Eisav’s descendents, “you may not kill.” They replied that it would be impossible for them to accept the Torah for that was their specialty “Yadayim Yidey Eisav.” To Yismael Hashem, “you cannot steal.” They couldn’t accept the Torah because that was their livelihood. To Amon and Moav Hashem said, “you may not commit adultery.” They rejected it stating that their entire existence stemmed from the adulterous relationship of Lot and his two daughters who bore them. Each nation rejected the Torah as a result of its conflict with their very essence.
This seems unfair, why did Hashem only preview to them their hardest challenge, would it not rather have been more appropriate for Hashem to have told them about the positive things in the Torah such as Shabbos, Mezuzah or Lulav? The answer is that Hashem was expressing to them the goal of Torah observance. Torah is meant to perfect man by taking his weakest point and turning himself over to the will of Hashem. Torah is meant to bring man to perfection through hard work. Torah inspired and changes a person at his or her core. The most worthwhile accomplishments in life are the ones that we worked hardest to achieve. Lot’s descendents of Amon and Moav did not learn a lesson from the grandfather regarding the value of internal work and effort. The Jewish people embraced the Torah and when Hashem asked them if they wanted the Torah, they did not ask any questions, rather, they proclaimed, “Naaseh V’Nishmah,” they were ready to put forth their full effort and to perfect themselves to the core with dedicated actions and commitment to truth.
As we learn the parshios about the Avos, Patriarchs, we take close note of their greatness and what they invested in the nation to fuse into our DNA and genetic makeup. In our parsha, Rabbeinu Bechaya devotes much time stressing the respectable points of the Avos and bringing home many powerful and relevant lessons. Let us explore some of the inspiring ideas that can be brought to practice for us as well.
Hashem elaborates (Bereishis 17:18) the praises of Avraham and expresses the fact that He does not want to take action against Sedom without first telling the great Avraham. This was a most powerful expression of the high esteem that Hashem help Avraham in. Avraham certainly could have taken this to heart and could have let it get to his head. But instead, points out Rabbeinu Bechaya, Avraham responded (ibid. 18:26), “I am but dirt and ashes.” He showed true humility. It is important for us to be proud of our accomplishments, this encourages us to do more. Avraham was proud, but he was not haughty. He knew his role and his place. He knew what he was here to accomplish.
Chazal express criticism against Noach for not helping his generation repent. They say that Noach did not compare to Avraham in greatness. If this is so, asks, Rabbeinu Bechaya, why did Avraham not march himself into Sedom and share his beliefs with the people in an effort to help them repent? Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that Sedom is located in Eretz Yisrael. There is a great responsibility for those whom live in the Holy Land to be on a higher spiritual plane. They should not have been committing the sins that they were doing. Avraham understood that by default the land would have to spit them out. Anyone that came to Avraham was taught truth and kindness, but those who were deaf to the word of Hashem remained excluded. This was a lesson and message for future generations as well: Eretz Yisrael does not tolerate those who do not act appropriately.
All From Hashem
The contrast of Avimelech’s palace inhabitants being punished with closed organs (ibid. 20:18) versus the next verse (ibid 21:1) which talks about the miraculous opening of Sarah’s womb and her being blessed with a child is most deliberate. Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that the Avos lived with a clear understanding that Hashem is the Only One who controls nature. He gives life and pregnancy and He decides who will not be blessed. We must daven, pray, to Him for help. This explains the small complaint against Sarah when she laughed at the news of her having a child. It was funny news, and anyone would have and could have laughed at the news that a 90 year old woman would conceive, but there was a twinge of disbelieve, that was the issue that needed to be rectified.
The Mesorah states that only two verses in all of Bereishis start with the word, “vayita, and he planted.” “He (Hashem) planted the Garden of Eden (ibid 2:8), and “He (Avraham) planted (established) an orchard (to supply guests with food). Rabbeinu Bechaya points out that the lesson is that one merits great rewards in the Garden of Eden by performing kindness and caring for others.
I would like to add two points here. Firstly, the two verses discuss Hashem and Avraham specifically to draw a correlation. Avraham strove to emulate Hashem in kindness and this was the trait that he preached to the world. Avraham taught his guests to recognize and thank Hashem for His Kindness which fills the world. Secondly, the word “he planted” shows that in order to merit the reward of Eden one must “plant” and work hard to care for others. It must be coming from a deep and true place where one establishes true care and concern for the needs of others. This is true kindness and what leads to the greatest pleasure and reward in this world and the next.