Thursday, November 05, 2015

role models

When my son is home for Shabbos he almost always insists on our singing K-h Echsof, which is by far his favorite zemer.  It’s interesting that K-h Ecshof seems to have such a broad appeal, from the chassidic world of Karlin to the intellectual halls of Gush:

I mention it this week because of the remez in the parsha.  Avraham is called “NASI Elokim” by the Bnei Cheis.  The letters of NASI, says the Viznitzer – nun, aleph, s(h)in, yud -- are the same letters as K (with a yud)-h Echsof Noam Shabbos.  Avraham was a prince because he carried with him the niggun of K-h Echsof, the dveikus of Shabbos.

Coming back down to earth : ), in last week’s parsha, when Avraham davens on behalf of Sdom, he cries to G-d that he is “afar v’eifer,” dust and ashes, and therefore his prayers should be heard.  I think the simple pshat is that Avraham stressed his own nothingness because of the gemara (Sotah 5) that G-d does not reject the prayers of an anav.  Maharal (Nesiv ha’Anavah 1) explains that tefilah is like a korban.  The point of sacrificing an animal as a korban is to show that everything is bateil before G-d – the animal is destroyed and becomes nothing.  Being an anav is even greater because instead of just a symbolic act of bittul, the anav’s whole life is one of bittul before Hashem.  That creates a special relationship.

Chasam Sofer has a different approach.  People learn by example.  Liberals have rachmanus for those who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and were deprived of solid role models and a good home environment and as a result become what they become.  No one has the same rachmanus if they hear that a criminal had a wonderful home, the best education, etc.  The people of Sdom lived in the same area as the greatest exemplar of chessed, Avraham Avinu.  They had the best role model in the world!  Still, they didn’t get the message.  Under those circumstances, how could Avraham ask for rachmanus on their behalf?   Avraham therefore prefaced his tefilos by saying he is afar v’eifer.  Avraham wanted to minimize his own reputation and influence.  What he was saying is “Don’t blame Sdom for not learning from me.  What am I?  I’m a nothing.”

The same idea comes up at the end of last week’s parsha as well.  When travelling toward the site of the akeidah, the Torah says that Avraham saw the place from a distance.  Rashi writes that he perceived a cloud that enveloped the mountain.  Yishmael and Eliezer failed to see the same cloud, and Avraham therefore told them, “Shvu... im ha’chamor,”which Rashi interprets based on Chazal to be an allusion to the fact that they are like the donkey they rode on.  Obviously this was some type of spiritual cloud, not a rain cloud that anyone could see.  But that begs the question – just because they couldn’t see this special spiritual cloud they deserve to be equated with the chamor?

In the sichot of R’ Ya’akov Shapira he explains that when you grow up and live in the house of an Avraham Avinu, then not being able to perceive that spiritual cloud is in fact indicative of a major defect.  Even Hagar, as we read in last week’s parsha, was so used to seeing angels that it made no impression on her; she had no fear of them.   When you have the right role models and/or the right environment, then there is no excuse for not growing.

When Avraham charges Eliezer with the shlichus to find a shidduch for Yitzchak, he tells him not to take from the “Bnos Canaan asher anochi yosheiv b’kirbo.”  We know Avraham lived in Canaan – why repeat that fact here?  To rehash a Ksav Sofer that we discussed once before, Avraham was telling Eliezer *why* he should avoid the Bnos Canaan.  Like Sdom, the Bnos Canaan lived in Avraham Avinu’s neighborhood.  If even with Avraham Avinu, the paragon of tzidkus, living among them, these Bnos Canaan were still lacking in midos, still ovdei avodah zarah, then that indicates that something was very wrong with them. 

The regular day job has been too mind numbing lately to do more with these posts than discuss parsha once a week.  Chaval. 

A question to work on: Eliezer asks Lavan and Besuel to do "chessed v'emes" for Avraham and let Rivka leave to marry Yitzchak (24:49).  In Parhas vaYechi, Ya'akov Avinu asks Yosef to do for him "chessed v'emes" and not bury him in Egypt.  Rashi there explains that "chessed v'emes" refers in particular to burial because it is a kindness that will never be repaid. If so, how does the term make sense in the context of Eliezer's conversation? 

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