Thursday, December 01, 2016

which was the cause and which was the effect

The Netziv in last week's parsha says something very interesting.  The relationship between Rivka and Yitzchak was quite different than the relationship between Avraham and Sarah or even that of Ya'akov and his wives.  Sarah had no qualms about telling Avraham how she felt about Yishmael and demanding that he kick him out of the house.  Rivka doesn't communicate with Yitzchak.  She knows Ya'akov deserves the brachos, but instead of telling Yitzchak directly, she arranges this whole surreptitious way of making sure he gets them.  The Netziv says all this, but I think many a careful reader could figure it out too.  What makes the Netziv fascinating is that the average careful reader would conclude that it's the lack of communication between Rivka and Yitzchak which is the cause of Ya'akov having to steal the brachos.  The Netziv (24:65) says that it's the exact opposite.  G-d wanted Ya'akov to get the brachos by "stealing" them from Eisav (see Harchev Davar to 27:1 as to why).  To allow for the brachos to be gotten by "theft," Hashem caused there to be a different type of relationship between Yitzchak and Rivka.  You have to know which is the horse and which is the wagon, what's the cause and what's the effect.

This distance between Yitzchak and Rivka is not something which develops over time, but rather, writes the Netziv, is set from the moment the two meet.  When  Rivka first sees Yitzchak, she reacts with fear and trepidation, falling from her camel, while Yitzchak is completely focused on his tefilah, blind to Rivka's presence.  That meeting sets the tone for the rest of their marriage. All this so that 83 years later Ya'akov would be put in a position to use trickery to get the bracha meant for Eisav.  Can you imagine Hashem causing something to happen on your first date with your wife that will set the tone of your relationship in such a way so that 83 years later some other event will work out in your lives or your children's lives? 

Chazal darshen "Va'yar Elokim es kol asher asah v'hinei tov me'od" that "tov ME'OD" is the yetzer ha'ra, the malacha ha'maves.  In other words, it's Eisav.   "Va'yeilech haloch v'gadeil ad ki gadal ME'OD." (26:13)  Yitzchak Avinu was as great as that power of "me'od."  The yetzer ha'ra turns good to bad; Yitzchak thought he could inspire and turn bad to good.  Isn't doing that even greater than being good to begin with?  "B'chol levacha" = with both sides of your heart, so that even the Eisav side cooperates.  When Eisav entered the room as Ya'akov was departing after taking the brachos, and Yitzchak finally realized the truth of who Eisav was, it's not just "va'yecherad charadah gedolah," but it's "va'yecherad charadah gedolah ad ME'OD."  (see here)  His dreams of overcoming "tov ME'OD" = the malach ha'maves, the yetzer ha'ra, the evil of Eisav, had been dashed.  (See Sefas Emes 5631)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

a whiff of the future

The Midrash in Parshas Noach comments on the pasuk "Vayarach Hashem es rei'ach ha'nicho'ach" that Hashem was smelling not just the fragrant odor of Noach's korban, but was also smelling Avraham in the furnace of Nimrod, he was smelling Chananya, Mishael, v'Azarya in their oven, he was smelling the sweet scent of all those who sacrifice their lives al kiddush Hashem. 

When you walk through the front door of your home on Friday afternoon, you know what is cooking and your mouth begins to water even before you see the food on the stove, hear the clanging of pots and silverware, or even get to the kitchen.  The aroma and smell of Shabbos food beckons and causes us to anticipate the meal ahead, the Shabbos ahead.  Similarly, even though Avraham hadn't come on the scene yet, Chananya, Mishael and Azarya were in the distant future, as was the sacrifice of so many others, Hashem already "smelled" and anticipated what was coming.  That whiff the future proved that there was hope for mankind.

Rosh Chodesh too is a holiday of smell, of anticipation.  The Shem m'Shmuel (Noach 5675) writes that the letters of the word for moon, "yareiach" = yud, reish, cheis, are the same letters as "rei'ach"=reish, yud, cheis.  Rosh Chodesh comes when the moon is just a sliver, but we look forward to the day when we sill see "ohr ha'levanah k'ohr hachamah."  We say in Kiddush hachodesh, "David melech yisrael chai v'kayam," in anticipation of the restoration of malchus beis David.  We're not there yet, but we celebrate because we "smell" what is coming.

The gemara (Eiruvin 21) interprets Yirmiyahu's vision (ch 24) of two pots of figs, one of good figs, one of bad ones, as symbolic of tzadikim and evildoers.  Perhaps, says the gemara, these rotten figs are have no value and should be tossed in the trash?  The gemara responds by quoting the pasuk, "Hadudaim nasnu rei'ach," (Shir haShirim 7)interpreting "dudaim" not as mandrakes, but as the dud, the pot, of rotting figs.  That pot too will give off a sweet smell.  That pot may not look like much now, but Hashem smells, Hashem anticipates, and he detects a brighter future. 

When I saw this Shem m'Shmuel back in Parshas Noach I put it in the back of my mind to post now because I can't understand why he didn't tie it into our parsha.  Yitzchak smells the odor of Eisav's garments, "Va'yarach es rei'ach begadav."  Chazal read it not as "begadav," Eisav's clothes, but "bogdav," those who rebel against Hashem.  "Re'ei rei'ach b'ni k'rei'ach sadeh asher beiracho Hashem" -- Yitzchak remarks that he smells a field blessed by G-d.  Yitzchak doesn't see rebellion; he smells bracha.  Perhaps his loss of sight allowed Yitzchak to focus on and anticipate the future instead of dwelling only on the here and now before him, to smell instead of just seeing, and as a result, those "bogdav," rebels, he knew would turn out to be blessed as well. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

water from the well

1. Eliezer begins his prayer to Hashem to bring him the right girl for Yitzchak with the words, "Hinei anochi nitzav al ha'ayin," (24:13) I am standing next to the well.  Aside from the fact that the Torah already told us (24:11) that he had tied up his camels next to the well, the information seems entirely unnecessary in context. 

Abarbanel explains that these words are key.  If you are sitting in your home in the living room or some other room and ask one of your kids to bring you a drink, a good kid will (sooner or later) bring you the drink.  But if you are standing in the kitchen next to the refrigerator and ask your kid to pour you a drink, it would be very hard for any modern kid to not at least be thinking, if not to say openly, "Why can't you get it yourself since you are standing right there?"  That's just the reality of the way things are, and they probably were not that different back in Avraham's time.  "Hinei anochi nitzav al ha'ayin," says Eliezer -- I'm next to the refrigerator.  I'm not just looking for a good girl who will bring me water when I'm a bit far away from the well.  I'm looking for the girl who won't think twice about drawing the water for me even when I'm standing right there and could do it myself.  That's a real special girl.

2. Yitzchak brought Rivka "ha'ohela Sarah imo," into his mother Sarah's tent.  (24:67)  "Ha'ohela" is a strange construction. In Hebrew there is usually not a hey ha'yediah in front of a possessive, e.g. you would say "beis chaveircha" if you were talking about a friend's house, but not "ha'beis chaveircha."  See Ibn Ezra.  Also, the final hey in ha'ohela seems completely out of place.  HaKsav v'haKabbalah, as he always does, has an interesting linguistic insight that sheds new light (you will get the pun soon) on a pasuk we read in pesukei d'zimra every Shabbos. 

In Tehillim ch 19 we read that Hashem created the heavens and sky, "b'kol ha'aretz yaztah kavam u'bi'k'tzey teivel mileihem, la'shemesh sam ohel ba'hem."  The first half of the pasuk means the sky is spread over the earth, causing people to speak of its wonder (Rashi), or it's as if it declares G-d's wonders (Metzudah).  The way the Rishonim explain the second half is that G-d made the sky like a tent, an ohel, which contains the sun.  That's the translation you will find in your Artscroll siddur.  However, that's not how the Targum renders it.  Targum translates as follows: "l'shimsha shavei mishrivei ziharah be'hon" -- the sun casts its bright rays on them.  Ohel can mean light.

The word uses the word ha'ohela in our pasuk, explains HaKsav v'haKabbalah, to suggest the secondary meaning of asher ohela, which gave light. The tent of Sarah, the tent of Rivka, was a place of light whose rays emanated out to the world (see Tagrum Yonasan as well).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

a mother can always carry her child

1. A fancy answer to why the malach sent to save Lot visited Avraham first (see last post)is as follows: Lot was saved because he would give rise to Moav, leading to Rus, leading to David haMelech and the lineage of Moshiach.  Even in David's lifetime, there was those who thought he should not even be accepted and allowed to marry into Klal Yisrael.  After all, the Torah says with respect to an Amoni and Moavi, "lo yavo b'kahal Hashem."  The counterview, which prevailed l'halacha, darshened the pasuk as applying to a Moavi -- but not a Moavis, which meant Rus was kosher.  What is that derasha based on?  The reason the Moavim were excluded is because, "asher lo kidmu eschem b'lechem..." that they did not come out and offer food and drink to Bnei Yisrael when they passed their territory.  It is the job of the men, not the women, to go out and greet others, says the gemara, and so only the males are excluded from Klal Yisrael.  The proof that this is correct comes from our parsha.  When the angels come to Avraham tent, they ask, "Ayei Sarah ishtecha?"  where is Sarah.  Avraham was the one who greeted and served the guests; Sarah remained behind the scenes, demonstrating her tzeniyus.  The malach sent to Sdom had to see this behavior to ratify the derasha that excluded Moavi women, allowing for the future hechsher of Rus and David, which justified Lot's being saved.

Last's posts answer was easier to explain : )

2. Rashi writes that Yishmael was arguing with Yitzchak over the right of inheritance, and therefore he and Hagar were expelled from Avraham's home.  How old was Yishmael at this time?  Remember, Yishmael was already 13 when Yitzchak was born, and if the events of the parsha are recorded in order, Yitzchak was already more than 2 years old, as they already had a party to celebrate his being weaned.  Realistically, he must have been a few years older to understand yerushah.  So was Yismael around 20?  (The Midrash says he was 17).  How can Rashi be correct, asks Ramban, when we read in the parsha that Hagar hoisted the sick Yishmael (called a 'yeled') on her shoulders?  Could Hagar carry a 20 year old boy plus the provisions she had?

R' Shteinman answers that no matter how big Yishmael was, a mother always has the strength to bear the burden of carrying her child.

I don't know if it's a pshat answer (see Gur Aryeh and the meforshei Rashi who discuss the issue), but it's an answer that's true anyway.

3. Speaking of bearing burdens, there is a Tzeidah la'Derech that has a beautiful comment on the repetition of "vayeilchu sh'neihem yachdav" 22:6 and again in 22:8 in the akeidah.  Since the Torah makes the point of saying it a second time, it means that the first time didn't work, that the were not walking in sync yet until the second time.

An elderly person and a young person usually do not walk at the same pace.  Avraham was an old man; he would have walked more slowly than the younger Yitzchak.  In 22:6 the Torah tells us that Avraham gave Yitzchak the burden of carrying the wood to slow him up so that they would walk together, the first "vayeilchi sh'neihem yachdav." 

Apparently even with the wood on his back, Yiztchak was walking faster.  The Torah then tells us that Yitzchak asked Avraham where the sheep for the korban is -- they have the wood, the knife, etc., but no animal?  Avraham (22:8) cryptically answered that G-d will show them then sheep.  Yitzchak at that moment understood exactly what was going to transpire, that he was the korban.  Now, "vayeilchi sh'neihem yachdav."  The burden of the wood was something he could carry and still outpace the gait of Avraham, but the psychological burden of the impending akeidah was enough to slow Yitzchak's gait to match that of his father.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

why the malach sent to destroy Sdom visited Avraham first

After posting earlier in the week about "Lot yosehiv b'Sdom," I guess the logical place to start on the new parsha would be the description of Avraham, "v'hu yosheiv pesach ha'ohel."  Avraham experienced post-milah a tremendous revelation of G-d's presence, and nonetheless, Avraham remained "yosheiv," present tense, in the doorway, at the threshold, feeling not yet there, like he had not yet entered and arrived at where he wants to be (Sefas Emes).  That's how we all should feel, otherwise we would stop growing.

Chazal tell us that the three visitors who came to Avraham were in reality three malachim, one of whom came to heal Avraham, one of whom came to tell Sarah that she would have a child, and one of whom came to destroy Sdom. Why did this last malach need to visit Avraham’s home? Couldn’t he have gone directly to Sdom?  (See Gur Aryeh)


One of the strategies used by oppressors is to dehumanize their victims and enemies so that it becomes easier to treat them harshly.  The Torah takes the opposite approach.  The Ne’os Desheh of Ishbitz explains that before administering justice, the malach of din needed to first see the potential for greatness in mankind -- the gemilus chassadim Avraham demonstrated and the heights simple flesh and blood can rise to.  At first, when the malachim arrived they were “nitzavim alav,” standing above, i.e. on a higher madreiga, than where they thought even Avraham could be holding.  By the time the food was served, “v’hu omeid aleihem,” he stood above them.  When they left, the Torah tells us that Avraham escorted his guests, “v’hu holeich imam."   Something of Avraham’s chessed was carried with those angels even as they continued on their way to fulfill their mission of destruction.  Avraham's efforts could not help Sdom, but the payback would come years later when Bnei Yisrael themselves would be deserving of punishment but would be spared.  The midas ha'din was tempered by having seen the greatness of Avraham's home.  (I'm not sure what I wrote fits what the Ishbitzer says exactly, so blame me if you don't like it, and see Sefas Emes in a few places on "ha'michaseh ani mei'Avraham" who says something similar).


The malachim finally get to Sdom in time for a Pesach seder with Lot.  What's going on here with Lot baking matzah to serve them?  I think the answer is that this is Lot's yetzi'as Mitzrayim.  This is the night where even though "halalu ovdei avodah zarah v'halalu ovdei avodah zarah," even though Lot was not so different than the people of Sdom (after all, he chose to live there), and might not even deserve to be saved on his own merits, he would get pulled out of the fire.  Just as Bnei Yisrael could not tarry when they left Egypt, the malachim tell Lot not to tarry -- to just run. 

"Va'tabeit ishto mei'acharav..."  On the way, Lot's wife looked back.  Shouldn't it say "mei'achareha," in the feminine?   When Moshe Rabeinu asked Hashem to reveal Himself, meaning, to explain the mystery of tzadik v'ra lo v'rasha v'tov lo, Hashem answered, "v'ra'isa es achorai u'panay lo yeira'u," you can see my back but not my face.  We can only understand in hindsight, from a great distance away in time.  We cannot understand things so clearly as they unfold before us.  Lot's wife looked back at Sdom and struggled at that moment to understand the "mei'acharav," the back of Hashem, the hindsight view, the explanation for Divine justice.  That was a privilege that she did not deserve to enjoy. (see Alshich)

Monday, November 14, 2016

v'Lot yosheiv b'Sdom - no regrets

1. Last post I dealt with the question on why Avraham had to ask G-d for a child when he saw b'nevuah Ya'akov and the shevatim and when he saw b'nevuah Bnei Yisrael entering Eretz Yisrael.  Obviously he would have offspring!  Nevuah is like knowing the ending scenes of a movie -- no matter how suspenseful the plot is, you know the conclusion. 

My wife's grandfather, R' Dov Yehudah Shochet, gave a simpler answer than the one I posted last week.  My analogy to a movie is all wrong.  When the navi is given a glimpse of the future, he is seeing the possible future based on the madreigah he is on at that moment.  If he or his offspring fail to live up to their potential, then that vision and future will never come to fruition. 
 
2. In discussing the pasuk of “VaYikchu es Lot v’es rechusho ben achi Avram… " last week, I did not deal with the end of the pasuk, "v'Lot yosheiv b'Sdom."  We know already that Lot had left Avraham to move to Sdom.  Why does the parsha repeat this point here?
 
Ohr haChaim suggests as follows: Avraham by this time was already a well known personality.  In a short time we will read in Chayei Sarah that the people of Cheis call him a prince.  So how did anyone dare lay a hand on Lot, Avraham's relative?  The Torah gives us the answer: "v'Lot yosheiv b'Sdom."  They saw a Lot who was disconnected, a Lot who had abandoned the spirituality of Avraham's home, a Lot who had forsaken his family and their beliefs in his pursuit of a different lifestyle. 
 
What they did not reckon for is that even if Lot turned his back on Avraham, Avraham would never turn his back on Lot.  Maybe a temporary split with Lot was necessary, but once Lot was in trouble, Avraham would always be there for him.

I thought perhaps the Torah is telling us something else here.  Put yourself in Lot's shoes: you left Avraham to go move to greener pastures, and suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a war, taken hostage, and all the wealth you had accumulated thanks to Avraham gone.  What would be going through your mind?  I know what I would be thinking.  I would be imagining the quiet evenings sitting in an armchair in Avraham's tent and kicking myself for turning my back on that.

The Ba'al Shem taught that a person is where his machshava is.  You can be eating in your dining room on Shabbos night, but because you have in the back of your mind your eiruv techumin that is sitting 2000 amos away, that's considered your makom shevisah.  You would expect to find a regretful, remorseful Lot thinking of Avraham's home that he had abandoned, and therefore, that's where he would be.  No, says the Torah!  Even after being taken captive and losing everything, "v'Lot yosheiv b'Sdom," Lot was still mentally living in Sdom, connected with that place, that lifestyle.  He still did not turn his thoughts to Avraham, he still had no remorse over leaving and could not imagine himself returning.    

3. My wife asked the following question: Each one of the five kings mentioned by the Torah is named (14:2): "Bera melech Sdom, Birsha melech Amorah, Shinav melech Admah, v'Shemever melech Tzvoyim,"  with the exception of the last one, "u'melech Bela hi Tzo'ar."  Why is his name not given?  All we have is the name of the place King Anonymous ruled over, but not his name.  My simple answer is that he had no name, i.e. once he assumed the throne he was just known as "The King."  Does anyone else have a better idea?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

the rechush of Lot

VaYikchu es Lot v’es rechusho ben achi Avram…” (14:11) The phrasing of the pasuk is difficult.  Shouldn’t it have said “Lot achi Avram v’rechusho?”  Why put “achi Avram” after the word rechush?
 
We know from later in the parsha that Lot had no problem leaving Avraham for the greener pastures of Sdom, so we know that Lot was not exactly committed to Avram's mission.  Why did he follow Avram to Eretz Yisrael to begin with?  Rav Kook explains (Shmu'os Ra'AY"H) that it was the neshomah of Rus, the lineage of Moshiach, that was deep within Lot which drew him like a magnet to follow Avraham Avinu and go to Eretz Yisrael.  Ask one of the Jews who show up to shul on R"H, Y"K, and maybe attend a seder why they do it and you are not going to here a philosophical explanation.  They probably can't articulate a rational explanation.  It's something inexplicable that draws them there, something inside that they haven't manage to kill (sometimes despite their best efforts).
 
R' Kalman Frankel (the compiler of the Shemuo's Ra'AY"H) explains derech derush that the nations of the world sensed this in Lot as well.  The rechush they were after was not cash or jewels -- the rechush they were after the fact that he was "achi Avram."  The sensed there was a spiritual time bomb in Lot that was set to be activated somehow by his relationship with Avraham.  They were out to stop that by any means.  You leave a Lot around with an Avraham anywhere in the neighborhood and who knows -- the kids may become ba'alei teshuvah and wind up as Roshei Yeshiva somewhere.  The nations know this better than we do, and so they want to get rid of the Lot's of the world completely.
 
Rav Kook goes so far as to suggest that the reason G-d appeared to Avraham after the war against the five kings to reassure him that his reward will still be great and he will have a son who will inherit him is because Avraham sensed that Lot held the key to future redemption and was concerned that perhaps Lot and his offspring would be the central players in G-d's plan instead of Avraham and his own offspring!
 
The mefoshim (see Ramban, Ohr haChaim, Seforno) wonder why Avraham was so anxious lest he not have children and why he needed to ask -- tefilah -- for this when earlier in the parsha (13:15-16) Hashem already promised Avraham that his children will inherit Eretz Yisrael and his descendants will be as innumerable as the sand.  Ramban says that tzadikim always are worried that they may prove unworthy of Hashem's promises.  But the question goes beyond being worth of a promise.  One of the first things Avraham did when he came into Eretz Yisrael was go to Shechem.  Rashi (12:6) explains that he davened there for Ya’akov’s children, who would have to one day fight Shechem.  He then camped near the city of Ay, and Rashi (12:8) again explains that Avraham came there to daven for his children, because he saw the sin of Achan that would happen in the battle against Ay.   Avraham saw Ya’akov Avinu and his children, he foresaw Yehoshua leading Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.  This wasn't just a promise -- it's like seeing the later scenes in a movie.  I'm in the middle of reading a book about the days leading up to Pearl Harbor (I like history), and it's very suspenseful, but for all the suspense, I know what's going to happen -- there is no surprise ending in store.  Avraham saw he future of his children just like I know the history of the past.  So what was he worried about?  Why did he need to daven for a child? 
 
The Sefas Emes discusses this in the likkutim here, but the yesod is really the same idea we discussed 2 years ago from the Sefas Emes on Purim.  The megillah (4:1) tells us that Mordechai knew what had happened, “u’Mordechai yada es kol asher na’asah,” and he put on sackcloth and ashes and went crying through the streets.
 
What did Mordechai know that no one else knew?  The end of the previous chapter in the megillah says that messengers went out to the entire kingdom with the decree to carry out Haman’s plot, and the city of Shushan was in a state of confusion.  Everyone knew what was going on!

Answers the Sefas Emes: Mordechai knew that in shamayim the refuah for this decree was already in place and there was no chance of it becoming a reality.  Nonetheless, he went out to the streets mourning and crying and being mispallel as if his life and the life of Klal Yisrael depended on it.
 
When I wrote this up two years ago I stressed the idea of being mishtatef in the tzarah of the tzibur, but here the Sefas Emes stresses the philosophical idea: yedi’ah and bechirah -- the twain can never meet.  Even if a person is shown a glimpse of the future and knows what’s going to happen, that does not excuse him/her from doing whatever needs to be done in the present just as if he/she knew nothing.  Avraham could see it all, but he still had a mitzvah to beseech Hashem for a son as if nothing was determined and no promises were on the table.  Ya’akov Avinu was promised that Hashem would return him home safely, and nonetheless, he davened and made plans to fight Eisav as if nothing was guaranteed.  Mordechai knew it would work out okay for Klal Yisrael, but he still fulfilled his chiyuv of tefilah as if everything hung in the balance.
 
I’m having a hard time digesting and comprehending this idea, but I thought it was worth trying to write it up in the hopes of getting a handle on it myself.