Tuesday, October 15, 2013

who will daven for us?

1) The Belzer Rebbe made a point (link) in his hesped for R’ Ovadya Yosef that I think few others touched on.  We all know of R’ Ovadya Yosef’s unparalleled command of shas and poskim and we all mourn the loss of his Torah knowledge.  But R’ Ovadya was also a leader who was sensitive to the needs of Klal Yisrael and who davened for all of us, for the entire generation.  “Who will daven for us now?” asked the Belzer Rebbe.  “We are surrounded by enemies like a lamb among seventy wolves.  We are surrounded by enemies without and enemies within.  Who will daven for us?” 

2) Avraham asked Sarah to tell the Egyptians that he is her brother “l'ma’an yitav li ba’avureiach v’chaysa nafshi biglaleiach.”  Although the Abrabanel reads the tovah anticipated by “l'ma’an yitav li” as no more than Avraham’s life being spared, the fact that these words are added on top of “v’chaysa nafshi” supports Rashi’s reading that it refers to presents and riches. How could Avraham, the man who refused to take any of the spoils of war in the battle he fought against the four kings, justify his taking money from the Egyptians?    

There are lots of answers to this one.  The Netziv notes that “yitav” is in the singular, not the plural.  It is not the Egyptians [plural] who will give Avraham wealth, but rather G-d [singular] who will bless him on account of his actions.  Others suggest that the Egyptians, thinking Avraham was Sarah’s brother, would compete with each other in trying to buy his favor so he would acquiesce to Sarah’s marriage.  Avraham never intended to take the money offered, but rather intended to keep the competition going back and forth as a delaying tactic until he could escape. 

The Ta”z writes that Avraham’s plan had a fatal flaw.  If the Egyptians asked, then Sarah could respond and tell them that Avraham was her brother.  But what if no one asked?  What if they just assumed Avraham was her husband?  It would certainly sound strange for Sarah, out of the blue, to start telling people that Avraham was her brother.  She needed an excuse to broach the subject.  Therefore, Avraham told her to concoct a story of her brother fallen on hard times who needed some help and support, some ”tovah” to get back on his feet.  By ostensibly trying to find funds for him, Sarah would be spreading the story that Avraham was her brother.

While not pshat, the Maor vaShemech has an interesting insight that raises an important moral question.  Avraham preached Torah, mussar, midos, wherever he went and he undoubtedly saw an opportunity to give mussar to an Egyptian society steeped in the sin of having illicit relations.  Yet, Avraham realized that to speak about arayos to others while his own wife was obviously a beautiful woman would look bad.  The Egyptians would never understand that he did not  give Sarah's beauty a moment's thought.  Therefore, he told Sarah to pretend to be his sister.  The "tovah" Avraham hoped to get out of the journey was finding a receptive audience for the dvar Hashem among the Egyptians.  It's remez/derush -- by re-reading "tovah" as spiritual riches (which is what we would expect to be on the mind of a tzadik like Avraham anyway), the question is rendered moot.  My wife objected to this idea on the grounds that Avraham should have known that if discovered, he would look like an even bigger hypocrite and lose his credibility entirely.  A valid criticism, but I still think the idea is creative.  Question this approach raises: Is using a little spin OK to help advance the message? 

3) A local Jewish newspaper just a few days before R’ Ovadya’s passing touted in its headline the “miracle” of R’ Ovadya’s apparent recovery.  Last week the same newspaper had a front page article on agunos and gittin.  One of the Rabbis whose views were quoted was arrested that same week by the FBI for having people beaten up to force them to give gittin.  I can’t wait to see this week’s headline. 
Another newspaper has an opinion piece saying Israel should take a softer line in dealing with Iran because, after all, the new Iranian president acknowledged [though there is actually some debate about how to parse his words] that the Holocaust happened.  Why do some Jews set such a low bar for peace talks?  Our enemies come to the table with a laundry list of demands that would essentially destroy us.  On our side, however the attitude is, "Hey, you acknowledge that a Holocaust happened (even if you deny the number of dead was 6 million, etc.), we’re ready to embrace you with open arms."  Accepting the facts of history is not a starting point for negotiation -- it's a starting point to being a human being.
Moral of both stories here: do not read newspapers.

4) After Avraham’s refusal to take money from the King of Sdom, Hashem appears to him and tells Avraham that his potential reward remains undiminished.  That reassurance would seem to fit better had it come immediately after the battle, when Avraham was perhaps looking back on the miracle of his victory and the potential cost in zechuyos it might have had.  What is it doing here after the conversation with the King of Sdom?

There is an old joke about a guy who refuses to leave his home despite an impending flood and instead trusts in G-d to save him.  The neighbors offer him a ride out of town in their car, but he insists G-d will save him.  He is forced by the rising water to his second floor, but he still refuses a lift in a passing boat because he trusts that G-d will save him.  He is now standing on the roof, but he still refuses a ride in the police helicopter because he trusts that G-d will save him.  Finally he drowns.  When he gets upstairs, he asks G-d, “Nu, I trusted in you – why didn’t you save me?!”  To which G-d answers, “I sent the car, I sent the boat, I sent the helicopter… what were you expecting?”

Avraham refused to take a penny from the King of Sdom because he trusted in Hashem's promise given to him at the beginning of the parsha that Hashem would make him rich and famous.  But then, writes the Ksav Sofer, it dawned on Avraham that perhaps the offer by the King of Sdom was the means by which Hashem was fulfilling that promise – it was the boat, the helicopter, etc. meant to help him!  Therefore, Hashem came to Avraham and reassured him that his instincts were right.  In this case, there was no reason to rely on the means offered by the King of Sdom; his riches would come from elsewhere. 

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