Friday, November 27, 2020

arami oveid avi -- don't lose sight of what's important

 "Arami oveid Avi" (Devarim 26:5) is interpreted by Chazal (and Rashi follows in their footsteps) as referring to Lavan, who lived in Aram and tried to destroy our forefather, Yaakov Avinu.  Ibn Ezra and Rashbam learn the peshuto shel mikra differently.  Maor v'Shemesh in our parsha reads Arami like Chazal as referring to Lavan, but then puts a little twist on the end of the pasuk.  The word "ava" in Tanach means desire, razton, e.g. in the parsha of yibum/chalitza (Devarim 25:5) talks about the women coming to beis din and saying "lo ava yabmi," my brother in law does not want to do yibum with me.  In Parshas Nitzvarim (29:19) we read about a wicked person that "lo yoveh Hashem sloch lo," who is so bad that Hashem does not want to forgive him (which we discussed here.)  Maor vaShemesh similarly reads Arami oveid avi as having a lowercase a in avi = ratzon.  Yaakov Avinu, until he entered Lavan's house, was kulo Torah, yosheiv ohalim day and night, not even sleeping for a moment when he could be learning.  What do you think such a person wants out of life?  What is their ratzon, their aspiration?  The danger of Lavan was not so much the trickery, the duplicitousness, as that Yaakov could and would be on guard against.  As Rashi writes (29:14), Yaakov told Rachel "achi Aviha hu," I am your father's equal in trickery.  The real danger to Yaakov was far more subtle.  First, Yaakov has to work for seven years to marry Rachel.  Then it's more years working for Leah.  Then it's more years working to build his own flocks and have parnasa.  You have a family, you have to support them, right?  So by the time we are done, the years in the beis medrash during which, as Chazal tell us, Yaakov did not even take a break to sleep, have become years of "va'tidar shinasi mei'einay," (31:40) of not sleeping because of the burdens of work and life that have been thrust upon Yaakov.  The kollel guy starts out saying b'dieved, to support a family, a wife, he will work a few hours part time, then it becomes full time, then it becomes once I'm working why not get a better job, and then it becomes 80 hours a week trying to make partner  or to buy that bigger home, better car, and take the nicer vacation.  The kishronos that used to be dedicated to the beis medrash are now redirected elsewhere, with little left over for avodas Hashem.  We're not talking about someone who gives up observance.  We're talking about someone who still eats kosher, still has Shabbos, but what changes is the ratzon, what the person wants out of life and what he aspires for.  It's no more, "I really want to learn, but nebach, I need to get some parnasa," but v'nahapoch hu, it's, work where the person's real she'ifos are, and when it comes to learning,  the daf yomi with Artscroll is enough to be yotzei, and every seven years everyone will give you a big yyasher koach and make a party for that big effort.  That is the danger of Lavan.  That is the story of so many bnei Torah who in the chitzoniyus still wear the levush of the black hat and the dark suit like they are in yeshiva, like they are still holding by those 14 years of uninterrupted Torah, but inside, b'pnimiyus, they are checked out and are living in a different world entirely, the world of Lavan.

What was the result of Lavan's efforts?  When Yaakov is about to run away from Lavan's house, he hears Lavan's children saying "lakach Yaakov es kol asher l'avinu..." (31:1).   The Shem m'Shmuel in many places quotes the gemara in Sukah (41) that writes "u'lkachtem lachem" by lulav means מדאגבהיה נפק ביה, once you lift up the lulav you are yotzei.  We see from the gemara that lakach means to elevate, and the Sm"S writes that this can be in the spiritual sense as well as the physical sense.  Perhaps (the Maor vaShemesh does not say this) this is the upshot of what Lavan's sons were saying.  Lavan wanted to corrupt the avi=ratzon of Yaakov, but Yaakov turned the tables on him.  After years and years of work, of shepherding Laban's sheep, Yaakov still remained true to who he was, to the ratzon and aspiration he had when he was in the beis medrash, but now Yaakov also had a family of shivtei K-h dedicated to his same ideals, he had wives who were loyal to his own hashkafos and not to their father's ideology.  Instead of Yaakov being dragged into Lavan's world, Yaakov was able to extract from that world what he needed for himself.  "Lakach Yaakov," Yaakov was able to elevate and refine, "es kol asher l'avinu," the ratzon and wants of our world.  

The beginning of our parsha is the story of Yaakov davening on the road as nightfall arrives.  Yaakov instituted arvit, Chazal tell us.  Shacharis and mincha correspond to the times the korbanos tamid were offered and the blood was sprinkled on the mizbeiach.  At night, it was the leftover flesh and meat that was offered, the most physical part of the animal.  Avraham is the seichel, the innovator of the idea that there is a G-d; Yitzchak is the olah tmima, the paradigm of avodah = the nefesh.  Yaakov is the one who can sanctify even the guf.   Yaakov is able to enter the world of Lavan and not only not be pulled down, but to the contrary, he is able to elevate that world and take from it kochos for greater avodah. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


By coincidence something happened to me this week that gave me an insight into Rachel's complaint to Yaakov in the parsha "hava li banim" and Yaakov's angry response, and then I found that the Ohr haChaim beat me to saying it.  Rachel obviously knew Yaakov could not wave a magic wand and give her a child.  What was she asking of him?  Many of the meforshim, starting with Rashi, explain that Rachel was asking Yaakov to daven for her.  So why did Yaakov respond so angrily?  Chazal are in fact critical of Yaakov's response, for his not showing mercy, but it is impossible to believe that Yaakov was really that callous and there was no justification at all for his reaction.

The answer in one word that my wife likes to use for things like this is "grubby."  "Hava" is a demand; it's saying "gimme."  It's like the tzedaka collectors who come around and will not hesitate to literally throw the $ you give them back in your face if it does not meet their expectations of what you should give.  "Hava!" your donation.  

If you have a relationship with someone, that's not how you speak.  There is a big difference between a request, a "Please help me...," and a "Gimme..."

The Zohar writes that someone who uses davening just as a means of asking G-d for their personal needs is like a dog barking "hav hav," give, give.  It's that same word: hav = hava.  The relationship with G-d becomes one of need fulfillment rather than the need fulfillment being a product of having a healthy relationship that leads to one side caring and giving to the other.

Make no mistake, I don't think that was Rachel's intention.  Her intent was, as the meforshim explain, that Yaakov should have mercy and daven for her the way davening should be done.  Nonetheless, her choice of words was off and that is what angered Yaakov.  

The Ohr haChaim puts it succinctly:

גם לפי שאמרה הבה לי וגו׳ ולא אמרה התפלל עלי.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

two elements of limud Torah

Chazal tell us that Yaakov spent 14 years learning in yeshivas Shem v'Eiver before going to Lavan's house.  Rashi also writes that after the akeidah Avraham sent Yitzchak to learn in yeshiva.  The Midrash gives a mashal: it is like a women who worked spinning thread and became rich doing do -- even though she was so wealthy that she didn't need to work anymore, she still did not abandon her spinning and continued to work.  So too, Avraham said that all he achieved came through Torah, and therefore he wanted his descendants to immerse themselves in Torah.

Meshech Chochma explains that there are two aspects to learning Torah: 1) Torah protects from the yetzer ha'ra; it curbs one's desires and helps develop proper midos and behavior; 2) Torah brings to dveikus with Hashem.  A person like Yitzchak who is willing to put their neck on the line for an akeidah has no yetzer ha'ra to speak of.  What do they need Torah for?  What does the rich person need to continue spinning thread for?  The Midrash teaches us that it doesn't work that way.  The threadmaker does not abandon her work even after she has grown rich and doesn't need the money. Avraham sent Yitzchak to learn because even without a yetzer ha'ra a person needs Torah. 

The gemara has a machlokes whether  "mitzvos b'teilos l'asid la'vo" or not.  The machlokes may hinge on these two elements.  If the purpose of mitzvos was simply to correct our character flaws, then l'asid lavo when there will be no yetzer ha'ra, we shouldn't need Torah and mitzvos. The other side of the argument is that even l'asid la'vao -- or I should say, certainly l'asid lavo -- we will still need to grow in closeness to Hashem.  Torah u'mitzvos is the means to that end.

Chazal tell us that an aku"m who is oseik on Torah is like the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur.  The M"C explains that Y"K is a day of kaparah.  For an aku"m, learning Torah is about fixing sin and correcting the negative.  It's all about that first element, the sur mei'ra.  For Klal Yisrael, it's about more than that.  

This may be the lesson Chazal are trying to teach us with respect to Yitzchak, but what about Yaakov?  His whole life was being yosheiv ohalim -- why do Chazal make a point of telling us that he stopped off in Yeshivas Shem v'Eiver for another 14 years of learning?

R' Baruch Sorotzkin explains that there are events in life that shake a person to their core and make them realize just how valuable every moment is.  Yitzchak was spared from the akeidah -- a near death experience.  In our parsha, Yaakov was on the run, and according to the Midrash Elifaz was going to kill him but spared his life.  In both cases, the response was the same -- head to the yeshiva.  No matter how much Torah and mitzvos was done before, it's not the same as what a person feels inspired to do after a life shattering event.  

We see the inverse of this idea in the haftarah of Vayeira.  The Isha haShunamis miraculously had a child in her old age thanks to the bracha of Elisha. The child grows up, he goes out to the field to work with his father, and he passes out and dies.  The woman runs to the navi and complains.  She says, "I never asked for a child, but you promised and I had one, only to now have him snatched away -- why play games and trick me?"  The haftarah then continues with the story of the child being revived.

What's the answer to the Isha haShunamis' complaint?  Why was this child taken from her?  

The Isha haShunamis dreamed of having a child her whole life until she was so old that she never thought it would happen, Then, lo and behold, a miracle happens.  How do she and her husband respond?  By sending that child out to work the field with his father as soon as he is able.  For this you waited your whole life, for this you got an open miracle -- to have another farm hand?!  If that's how you respond, then maybe you don't deserve that child after all.  When something extraordinary happens, it should force a person's eyes open and bring about a different perspective.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

the charade of deliberation

 וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיֵּ֔שְׁתְּ וַיָּ֖קׇם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וַיִּ֥בֶז עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָֽה

Rashi comments: העיד הכתוב על רשעו, שבזה עבודתו של מקום  The Torah here testifies for us that Eisav despised avodas Hashem.

We just read that Eisav sold the bechora for a pot of soup.  The act speaks for itself-- why do we need additional testimony to confirm for what should be obvious to any bar bei rav!?  (see Sifsei Chachamim)  

Furthermore, why is it only after Eisav eats and drinks and marches off that the Torah now comes and testifies that he despised avodah -- don't we know that from the sale itself? 

In kids books on the parsha Yaakov is depicted as the super-righteous little tzadik while Eisav looks like the bummy kid who hangs out on a street corner.  Were that the case, then Yitzchak would have never made the mistake of wanting to give a bracha to Eisav.  Chassidishe seforim say that to our eyes Eisav would look like a rebbe who is ready to say torah at shalosh seudos.  Eisav had tremendous kochos, and when we dedicated himself to using them for mitzvos, like the mitzvah of kibud av, his deeds were unparalleled. 

Eisav understood that the bechora is a tremendous gift in ruchniyus, which is why Yaakov bugged him on more than one occassion to sell it. But Eisav also understood, as Yaakov told him again and again, that this gift carried with it a tremendous responsibility and was filled with tremendous danger.  A mistake in avodah can prove fatal.  So the question Eisav asked himself day in and day out, as Yaakov never ceased reminding him that his offer was on the table, was whether it was worth it -- i.e. in the grand scheme of things, was the risk worth the reward?  And finally, one day after he came in from a long day out in the field, faced with overwhelming hunger and a fresh pot of soup on the stove, Eisav made his decision.

R' Baruch Sorotzkin explains that had we not had the final pasuk in the story, we would not have necessarily faulted Eisav.  He made a cheshbon -- he weighed the risks vs the reward -- and although we may say his cheshbon was wrong and he miscalculated, and we may think he underestimated the incalculable value of bechorah and avodah, we can at least hear the sevara going through his head and understand where he was coming from.

What tells us otherwise is Eisav's reaction after the fact.  When a person faces a life changing decision, something that he agonizes over and thinks deeply about, even after he comes to a maskana, he doesn't get up and do a dance afterwards.  Hard decisions weigh on a person even after they are made.  וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיֵּ֔שְׁתְּ וַיָּ֖קׇם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ -- if after the fact you just quaff down a meal and march off without a second thought, then you may tell yourself that there was a cheshbon, you may create all kinds of rationalizations to justify the decision, but those just are just a cover story for what really is in the heart.  וַיִּ֥בֶז עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָֽה -- that was the real motivation, and all the rest was window dressing.

That's how it is with so many calculations that we make on the individual level and on a communal level.  We pretend to weigh this factor against that factor, we pretend there are all kinds of important cheshbonos going on, but at the end of the day, in our subconscious at least, we already know the answer we are going to get -- the answer we want to get -- before going through the whole charade of deliberation.  It takes tremendous amount self awareness to see through that.


Akeidas Yitzchak is introduced with the words "Hashem nisa es Avraham," calling it a test for Avraham, even though it was Yitzchak's neck that was on the line.  R' Shaul Yisraeli explains that you can't produce a son who will willingly go to an akeidah unless your own emunah is 110%.  The test of Avraham's commitment and mesirus nefesh was whether that same commitment and mesirus nefesh would pass down to Yitzchak.   

"Avraham holid es Yitzchak"  is not about who Yitzchak's biological father was.  We know that from earlier in the same pasuk where it tells us "eileh toldos Yitzchak BEN AVRAHAM."  Tzror haMor writes:

אמר אברהם הוליד את יצחק. ולא אמר יעקב ועשו. להורות כי תולדותיו לא היו אלא היות בן אברהם צדיק כאביו והולך בדרכי ה׳. בענין שהיה ניכר במעשיו שהיה בן אברהם וכל הרואה אותו אומר בודאי אברהם הוליד את יצחק. כי הוא דומה לאביו במעשיו. ולזה רמזו ז״ל באמרם אברהם הוליד את יצחק שהיה זיו איקונין שלו דומה לאביו. בענין שכל העולם יאמרו אברהם הוליד את יצחק. וכ״ז להורות על מעשיו שהיו מתוקנים כמו שהיו דרכי אביו. וכמו שהיה דומה במעשיו כך היה דומה בצורתו. ולזה צר איקונין שלו דומה לו.

You want to understand who Yitzchak was?  Look at who his father was.  It was the greatness and values of Avraham that were passed on that made Yitzchak into who he was.  

Yitzchak on his part had to be receptive to those values and he had to stick to them.  Later in the parsha we read about the wells of Avraham that the Plishtim filled with dirt.  Yitzchak cleaned them out and called them again by the names his father had given them.  Rashbam explains that naming the wells with the same names as his father had given served to reinforce Yitzchak's claim to the property, as if to say these are not new sources of water to be fought over, but these are on property that the family already had a stake in.  Very practical and utilitarian.  R' Bachyei, however, suggests that there is a deeper lesson here.  This episode shows us that Yitzchak followed closely in his father's footsteps even in matters so trivial as what to name a well, kal v'chomer when it came to important matters -- to mesores ha'avos.  Yitzchak was faithful to the example of his father and did not deviate from what had been done before.  

(R' Mordechai Eliyahu writes that if this is true when it comes to naming wells, it is surely true when it comes to naming children,  He doesn't go as far as R' Chaim Kaniekski, who holds that a name not mentioned in Tanach or Chazal as not a name, but he does advocate for keeping to using traditional names that are part of our mesorah.)

On a completely different note, I just want to note the historic visit of Secretary of State Pompeo to the Psagot winery and his declaration that products produced in Yehudah and Shomron can be labelled Made in Israel, contrary to UE policy.  This, together with the statement that BDS is antisemitic, should be applauded.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of hakaras ha'tov to the current administration.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

hallel is m'akeiv tefilah?

The very first teshuvah in Shu"T Maharasham (third paragraph in) quotes a Tosefta in Menachos (ch 6) that says hallel and tefilah are m'akvin zeh es zeh -- you can't have one without the other.  A big chiddush -- if you are mafsik in between tefilah and hallel, or miss reciting hallel all together, it means you were not yotzei your mitzvah of tefilah!  

The only problem is if you look up the Tosefta, that's not exactly what it says.  The Maharasham left out one word.  Here is the text:

הלל ושבח ותפלה מעכבות זו את זו

Ohr Sameiach in the beginning of Hil Tefilah quotes from the Sifri that tefilah has to follow a specific formula of shevah, bakasha, and then hoda'ah.  Even according to shitas haRambam that the mitzvah d'oraysa of tefilah requires only saying one tefilah a day, it is not enough to recite any old bakasha (like the MG"A writes) -- you have to recite a bakasha that fits the tzurah of what tefilah is and start with shevah, then the bakasha, and then hoda'ah at the end (assuming, as the Oh"S does, that the Sifri is a din d'oraysa).  

The Ohr Sameiach writes that this is what the Tosefta is telling us -- hallel is the praise that tefilah starts with, tefilah is the bakasha in the middle, and shvach is the praise of thanks at the end.  This is the tzurah which defines what tefilah is and is therefore m'akeiv.

This Oh"S is important because many women are under the (mis)impression that they do not have to daven shmoneh esrei because the mitzvah of tefilah derabbanan is zman grama and therefore not obligatory for them and the mitzvah doraysa of tefilah requires no more than reciting any simple prayer.  According to the Sifri and Tosefta, the structure of shevach, bakasha, and hodaah is m'akeiv the mitzvah.  If you don't follow the formula, you are not yotzei anything.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

how would you be maspid Sarah Imeinu?

1)  Baal haTurim comments on the little letter kaf in וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃:

ולבכתה – כ״ף קטנה שלא סכה אלא מעט לפי שזקנה היתה א״נ שהיתה כמו גורמת מיתתה שמסרה דין ועל כן נענשה היא תחלה והמאבד עצמו לדעת אין מספידין אותו.

The first explanation is that Sarah was very old, so her death was not unexpected, and Avraham did not cry much.  The second explanation is based on a gemara in BK 93 that says that since Sarah complained "chamasi alecha," about Avraham having a child with Hagar and not davening for her, the midas ha'din rebounded against her and caused her to die first.  Being me'orer din against someone inevitably comes back to haunt you.  The Baal haTurim suggests that the danger is so great it's tantamount to suicide, and the halacha is that someone who commits suicide does not deserve a hesped.

B'shalama according to the first explanation, I understand why the kaf in livkosa is small, but the second explanation has nothing to do with crying -- it has to do with a halacha of hesped.  Shouldn't it be a letter in the word "lispod"  that is small?

The second explanation does help resolve a point that many meforshim struggle with, namely, we are given every nitty-gritty detail of the negotiations involved in the purchase of Me'aras Hamachpeila, but not one word of the hesped for Sarah.  The Midrash Tanchuma fills in the blank and writes that Avraham said eishes chayil for Sarah, and it darshens how all the descriptions apply to her life.  But ikar chaseir min ha'sefer, none of that is in the text.  "Va'vavo Avraham lispod" -- he came to say a hesped.  Did he actually say one?  According to the Bh"T, he may not have. 

2) וַתָּ֣מׇת שָׂרָ֗ה ...וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃ It's obvious that Avraham was coming to cry for and be maspid Sarah -- why repeat her name a second time?  

Sarah's name was originally Sarai.  Rashi (17:15) explains that Sarai is a possessive, it connotes לי ולא לאחרים, a relationship that was exclusive to Avraham.  Gur Aryeh explains פירוש שהקורא קורא לה ׳שרי׳ מפני שלא נעשת שרה לכל העולם, לכך היתה נקראת שרי  The change to the name Sarah shows that she effected the entire world.  Just as Avraham was megayeir men, Sarah was megayeir women.  She, no less than he, was involved in outreach and teaching the dvar Hashem.  

When Sarah died, explains R' Simcha Bunim Sofer, Avraham must have felt great personal loss.  Yet he put that in the background.  His hesped was about Sarah, the public figure name, the loss to society that resulted from her death, not about the inner pain he must have felt.

It's a nice idea, but it doesn't feel right to me.  Klal Yisrael recently suffered the loss of R' Dovid Feinstein and R' Jonathan Sacks.  I have read many of R' Sacks books, I read his parsha sheets, I feel I know a little something at least of R' Sacks the public personality, the writer, the thinker (I do not know much about R' Dovid Feinstein).  It was Gila Sacks' hesped that I found most moving because she spoke of a dimension of R' Sacks that we, the public, could never fully know: R' Sacks as a father.  Not someone who gave lectures and wrote books, but someone who chatted with his kids while putting the kettle up.  When Dayan Binstock spoke, the most moving part of his hesped I thought was when he quoted what R' Sacks himself had told him once: "When I die I don't want to be remembered as the man who wrote lots of books.  I don't want to be remembered as the man who was Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth.  I want to be remembered as the man who gave out sweets to children in shul."  

We get so caught up in the big accomplishments of big people that we sometimes forget that what they valued most in their lives is often what seems to us to be little things, the intimate relationships that exist on a micro- level.  But it's the attention to the little things, not just the big, public performance, that makes great people truly great.

If the purpose of hesped is for us to learn to improve our lives by emulating great people, then it makes more sense to speak of the things these people had in common with us -- being a father, mother, son, sister, friend -- than the exceptional things they did that we cannot hope to duplicate.  Odds are most of us will not write a best selling book on Jewish thought, but it's within the grasp of most of us to to make a child's life, or even an adult's life, just a little bit sweeter.  

R' Simcha Bunim suggests a different explanation for the little kaf we spoke about above.  The Midrash writes that Hashem arranges things so that there is a new tzadik ready to step on the stage before He takes an existing tzadik from the world.  Last week's parsha ended with the birth of Rivka, who would become the next one of the Imahos, and the world was now prepared for Sarah to depart.  The knowledge that there would be continuity, that there would  be someone to fill Sarah's shoes, mitigated Avraham's grief.  

If I can use running a company as a mashal, what Chazal are telling us is that Avraham and Sarah Inc would continue business as usual even after the co-CEO's passing.  The loss of Sarah as the public face of the company would not crush business --  a little kaf in livkosa was there, but life would go on.

Knowing that the "company" would continue was of small comfort to Yitzchak when Shabbos came and he no longer saw his mother's candles on the table, when he no longer could taste the sweet taste of her challah.  That loss seemed irreplaceable.  And the truth is that without that dimension of greatness on the micro level -- of being the great mother, wife, etc, -- the company of Avraham and Sarah Inc may have the same logo, the same brand name, the same product, but it would not the same company.  It is the Rivka's ability to recreate the home of Sarah which is what made her a true heir to the legacy of the Imahos, not just her ability to step into Sarah's role as a public leader.  

3) The episode of Avraham's purchase of Me'aras Hamachpeila ends וַיָּ֣קׇם׀ שְׂדֵ֣ה עֶפְר֗וֹן אֲשֶׁר֙ בַּמַּכְפֵּלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר לִפְנֵ֣י מַמְרֵ֑א  Rashi explains that of course a field does not get up off the ground; what the pasuk means is that תקומה היתה לו, שיצא מיד הדיוט ליד מלך, the field went up in status, in ruchniyus, as it was transferred from a common person to a king, to Avraham.

R' Nissim Yagen reminds us that there is another instance of the word va'yakam in the parsha, all the way at the beginning:  וַיָּ֙קׇם֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ  There are people who are crushed when a loved one passes away; there are people who lose faith, who question why it happened.  Avraham rose above it.  He became a stronger and better person from the inspiration and memories of Sarah that he took with him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

more on Avraham's tefilah for Sdom

1) The Torah introduces Avraham's tefilah on behalf of Sdom (18:3) with the words "VaYigash Avraham..."  Rashi comments:

ויגש אברהם – מצינו הגשה למלחמה – ויגש יואב (שמואל ב י׳:י״ג), הגשה לפיוס – ויגש אליו יהודה (בראשית מ״ד:י״ח), והגשה לתפילה – ויגש אליהו הנביא (מלכים א י״ח:ל״ו). לכל אלה ניגש אברהם: לדבר קשות, {לפיוס}, ולתפילה.

B'pashtus the milchama here is the conflict between Avraham and G-d, which sounds a bit strange -- Avraham raised questions, he begged for mercy -- is that called a milchama?

The Sefas Emes (5638) instead explains that the conflict here is an internal conflict -- Avraham had to battle himself.  Avraham considered himself afar v'eifer, completely unworthy of asking anything of G-d.  We do not find anywhere that Avraham davened -- he did not daven for Lot when Lot was taken in war, he did not daven when Sarah was taken by Pharoah and Avimelech, he did not even daven to spare Yitzchak's life when he was told to do the akeidah.  Yet here, Avraham davens.  To do so, Avraham had to overcome his inner reluctance to make requests of G-d, to fight against his feelings of unworthiness.  He had to allow his sense of rachmanus for the people of Sdom to win out.  "Hinei ho'alti l'dabeir el Hashem v'anochi afar v'eifer" is not an introduction to Avraham's prayer -- it is his prayer.  Avraham was saying to G-d that if he, a mere basar v'dam, can allow mercy to win out over his natural reluctance to prayer, then certainly G-d can allow the midas ha'rachamim to win out over the midas ha'din and spare the people of Sdom.

2) Last week I did a post on the significance of "Avraham shav li'mkomo" after his prayers on behalf of Sdom.  I later saw R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel deals with the same question and he uses a yesod we discussed once before to address the point.

The gemara (Ta’anis 21b) writes that there was once a plague that affected all the towns except for that of Rav.  The townsfolk had a dream in which it was revealed that the miracle of the town being spared was not due to Rav’s merit, but rather due to a certain person who would lend out shovels to help in burial.  The gemara says further that there was a fire that harmed a bunch of towns except for that of R’ Huna.  Again, the townsfolk had a dream in which it was revealed that the town was not spared in Rav Huna’s merit, but rather in the merit of a certain lady who would light the stove in the morning from which her neighbors then lit their own fires.

The Maharasha asks: isn’t bichlal masayim manah?  If the merit of small acts of kindness was enough to save these towns, they certainly would have been spared in Rav or Rav Huna’s merit!  Why do Chazal seem to go out of their way not only to credit the little people, but also to stress that it was not Rav or Rav Huna’s merit that caused the miracle?

To answer that question, R' Amiel turns his attention to a different question that's come up here as well: how does it help for one person to daven on behalf of another?  B'shlama if a person daven for himself, the Rishonim explain that the tefilah does not change G-d's mind; what it does is that it changes the individual.  We talk about tefilah in binyan hitpael -- a person is mispalel -- because it is a reflexive action; the person is both the subject and the object of tefilah.  As a result of davening, a person grows and comes closer to Hashem and therefore is a different person than the was before.  The gezeira decreed against the old self is averted because that individual no longer exists.  But how can one person's davening bring another person closer to Hashem, change that person, when that person may not even be aware that someone is davening on their behalf?

R' Amiel explains that while tefilah of an individual on behalf of himself elevates that individual, tefilah on behalf of others lowers the individual and links them to the group.

If there is a gezeira against others and a tzadik davens on their behalf, what the tzadik is in effect saying to Hashem is that his fate is intertwined with theirs -- his tzidkus does not set him apart from the masses.  Therefore, if Hashem would have mercy on tzadik, He must in turn also have mercy on the entire group.

When Hashem tells Moshe on Har Sinai about the cheit ha'eigel, he says "Leich reid ki shicheis amcha."  "Go down to your people."  Meaning, when Moshe is on the mountain, all alone, separate from Klal Yisrael, Hashem judges the people as one group and Moshe as a seperate entity.  But if Moshe goes down, lowers his madreiga to join the people, then Hashem is forced, kavyachol, to  temper his judgment on the entire group in order to spare Moshe.

This is why Rav and Rav Huna's zechuyus did not help their town.  These tzadikim lived on such a lofty plane that they were completely apart from those around them; they were in their own world.  

When Avraham davened on behalf of Sdom, he was attempted to create some linkage between himself and the people of Sdom.  Yet, despite that attempt,  when all was said and done, "Avraham shav li'mikomo," Avraham remained in the same spiritual "makom" as he was before, in a world apart from the wickedness of Sdom.  Therefore, he was unable to save them.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Lot's wife

Once we get to this week's parsha and learn about Lot's wife looking back at Sdom and turning into a pillar of salt we understand the machlokes whether the tzohar in Noach's teivah was a window or whether he had some other source of light.  Was Noach worthy enough to be able to look out and witness the destruction of those around him, or, like Lot's wife, was he not allowed that privilige? 

Ramban quotes from Pirkei d"R Eliezer that Lot's wife looked back to see if maybe her married daughters had taken heed and fled the city.  According to Targum Yonasan she looked back to see what would happen to her parent's house.  Even though she was warned not to look, even though she knew she was jeopardizing her life by doing so, her natural instinct as a mother, as a daughter, took over, and Lot's wife could not help herself.  The wickedness of Sdom that had corrupted everyone who lived there could not extinguish the motherly instinct.

Rav Gifter writes that even though being turned into a pillar of salt was a punishment, there is a positive element to it as well.  He quotes the Yerushalmi that the salt of that pillar would be preserved until mashiach comes and there is a techiyas ha'meisim reuniting Lot's wife and her daughters and family.  Hashem preserved that moment of motherly rachmanus for eternity.

The gemara writes that if you see the pillar of salt, you say a bracha of dayan emes on Lot's wife, and you say a second bracha of baruch zocheir es ha'tzadikim to remember that Lot was saved.  Why mix Lot being saved into the bracha on his wife?  

Rav Kook explain in Ein Ayah (Brachos 9:12) that the destruction of Sdom = the destruction of the ideology of Sdom, as represented by Lot's wife's stinginess in providing salt to visitors, the antithesis of hachnasas orchim, is not an end in itself.  Negating the evil of the world has to go hand in hand with providing a positive alternative.  Hashem tells Avraham about the destruction of Sdom "ki yidativ asher yitzaveh es beiso acharav" -- Avraham was a force of good.  Therefore, when we say the bracha of dayan emes on Lot's wife, we say at the same time zocheir es ha'tzadikim to emphasize that alternative.  It is easy to criticize and find fault; don't stop there -- do something to change things if you want improvement.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Avraham shav li'mkomo -- no regrets

 The story of Avaraham's tefilah on behalf of Sdom ends "va'yeilech Hashem...v'Avraham shav li'mkomo," Avraham went home. (18:33)  I guess al pi peshuto shel mikra this is like the factory whistle blowing at the end of the day and then you go home from work -- Avraham did the same, only in his case "work" meant tefilah.  It seems like a trivial detail for the Torah to record, which suggests that there might be some message here below the surface.  

Seforno tells us to pay attention to the context:

וילך ה׳ – המתין שם אברהם, ולא הפסיק כוונתו לנבואה, עד שנסתלקה שכינה

Avraham was fully engaged and did not quit his tefilah until Hashem's presence lifted.  "Don't give up too soon!" the Torah is warning us; stay engaged until there is nothing at all left to do.

Netziv comments:

ואברהם שב למקומו – לאנושותו, שלא הוסיף להתבודד ולהתפלל, אע״ג שאפשר להתפלל גם בלא גילוי שכינה, מכל מקום הסיר מעליו עיון האלהות ושב למקומו. {והודיענו הכתוב צדקת אברהם אבינו, שאע״ג שמסר נפשו על לוט במלחמת המלכים, מכל מקום כשהבין רצון ה׳ שלא יבקש עבורו, אע״פ שלא ידע שמלאך אחד נשלח בשביל זה, מכל מקום לא התפלל עבורו

Avraham could have persisted in davening even though Hashem's presence departed, but he didn't.  Once he saw that the ratzon Hashem was against his request, he stopped.  According to Netziv, "shav li'mkomo" is not a geographical shift so much as a spiritual shift, a shift away from nevuah/tefilah back to normal life.  

Once you see the pasuk as not talking about physically going anywhere, it opens the door to other ideas.  Some explain (this was the explanation Daughter #1 immediately thought of) similarly that "shav li'mkomo" means Avraham returned to his normal demeanor, to being the same Avraham Avinu that he was before engaging in this tefilah.  That's no small thing.  Someone once came over to me after davening and asked if I had heard the news that a certain Ploni that people had been davening for to recover from an illness had unfortunately passed away.  This person was totally broken not only from the passing of his friend, but because he felt that his tefilah and the tefilos of the community had been rejected.  Chazal warn us against "iyun tefilah," against davening with the expectation that our desires will be fulfilled if only we put enough into it (Tos Brachos 32 and many other places).  Avraham certainly put everything he had into davening for Sdom, but at the end of the day G-d rejected his efforts.  Still, he did not walk away discouraged.

Remember as well that in last week's parsha Avraham went to battle and saved the city and possession of Sdom while saving Lot.  He (as recorded in Midrash) saved the King of Sdom from death after he fell into a pit.  Now, he comes to Hashem with the charge, "Ha'shofet kol ha'aretz lo ya'aseh mishpat?!" calling into question G-d's own judgment regarding Sdom.  It's not just Avraham's tefilah which was rejected, but his whole outlook on Sdom was rejected by G-d.  The wool was suddenly pulled off his eyes and Hashem showed Avraham that the people he fought alongside, the people who he was praying for, the people whose king he had rescued, had absolutely no redeeming qualities to speak of.  Nonetheless, "Avraham shav li'mikimo" -- he continued on in his avodas Hashem as usual, unperturbed that his efforts had been for naught and that his judgment had been off.  A lesson in how to accept setbacks.

The Ishbitzer goes yet a step further, and says something amazing (as he always does):

ואברהם שב למקמו. היינו אחר שמסר את עצמו והציל אנשי סדום, ועתה אחרי רוב התפלה שהרבה עבורם להצילם והש"י השיב לו כי הם שונאי ה' מאוד הצר לו רוב יגיעתו על שונאי ה', ועכ"ז ואברהם שב למקומו, היינו מקומו הראשון על תוקף שלו, לאשר ידע באמת שאינו אוהב בלתי לאוהבי ה' ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו.

It's not that Avraham's gadlus was in accepting that he was wrong without regrets or complaints.  Rather, the blinders were taken off and Avraham nonetheless continued to believe that if he was moved to fight for Sdom, to pray for Sdom, then he must not have been mistaken! -- לאשר ידע באמת שאינו אוהב בלתי לאוהבי ה  He did not rethink his life's mission, rethink who he reaches out to or how he reaches out, rethink his initial impression of Sdom and its people.  Ahh, but G-d said he is going to destroy their city because of their wickedness?  G-d said that the people who he thought were worth praying for were truly evil?   ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו OK, so kashye.  There is something here, said Avraham, that is too deep for me to unravel.

"Va'yehi achahr ha'devarim ha'eileh v'Elokim nisa es Avaraham..."  According to Rashi the "achar ha'devarim ha'eileh" refers back to the seudah Avraham made when Yitzchak got his milah, and the satan was taking him to task for not offering a korban then.  If the 37 year span of time between those events doesn't stop Rashi from seeing a link (see Netziv), then maybe it's not going to far to suggest "achar ha'devarim ha'eileh" refers to this story of Avraham's prayer for Sdom and his conclusion, as the Ishbitzer explains,  ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו.  Avraham possessed what Keats called "negative capability."  He did not need to work everything out and resolve every kashe to be at peace with what he sensed his mission was. That attitude is what set the groundwork for his passing the test of the akeidah.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

an election guarantee

I don't have the patience to stay up all night for election results, but I can guarantee this in advance -- the blatt gemara you are holding in will look the same tomorrow morning no matter who wins or loses.

Let's not lose sight of what's important.


patach and kamatz - which havara is correct

Avraham sees the angels/people who he wants to welcome as guests, and he says:

 וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֗י אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ אַל־נָ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר מֵעַ֥ל עַבְדֶּֽךָ׃ 

Rashi discusses whether the adnus in the pasuk is a shem Hashem (kodesh) or whether it is chol.

There is a comment of R' Bachyei here that catches the attention of poskim:

אע״פ שנראה שהקמ״ץ והפת״ח הכל דבר אחד ותנועה אחת, אין הדבר כן, אלא שיש הפרש ביניהן במבטא, שהרי תנועת הקמ״ץ גבוהה ועליונה, ותנועת הפת״ח למטה ממנה, כי הקמ״ץ בתיבה יורה על מעלה גדולה ועל דבר שהוא עומד בפני עצמו, אינו נסמך לאחר, כענין ארון שהוא קמו״ץ, ומצינו ארון הברית שהוא בפת״ח, וכן (שמות כג) הנה אנכי שולח מלאך (במדבר כ), וישלח מלאך, שהוא בקמ״ץ, ומלאך הברית הוא בפת״ח, כי הפת״ח נסמך לעולם למה שאחריו, ולא כן הקמ״ץ כי הוא עומד בפני עצמו, ומטעם זה כל אתנחתא וסוף פסוק הוא בקמ״ץ, כי שם עומד לא יסמוך. ומטעם זה בנקוד זה השם לא תמצא פת״ח אלא קמ״ץ, כי המעלה העליונה הגדולה המורה עליונות ושהוא בלתי נסמך לאחר כדבר הנברא, ומפני זה נכתב באל״ף דל״ת כשהוא קדש בקמ״ץ, וכשהוא חול בפת״ח. ומה שכתוב בלוט אל נא אדני, בקמ״ץ, והוא חול, לפי שהוא סוף פסוק. וזהו ההפרש הגדול שיש בתורתנו בין קמ״ץ לפת״ח, כהפרש שיש בין אור לחשך

R' Bachyei writes that the fact that the adnus is spelled with a kamatz at the end instead of a patach indicates that it is kodesh.  And even though, he writes, that these two vowels are easily confused, the truth is that they are different sounds.

Ashkenazi poskim (from Yaavetz down to R' Tzvii Pesah Frank) focus on the distinction R' Bachyei's draws between kamatz and patach, which sefardim and speakers of Ivrit do not articulate -- they pronounce both vowels with the same aahh sound.  These poskim see this as proof that the Ashkenazi havara is correct.  R' Ovadya (Yabi'a Omer vol 6) counters by highlighting the first sentence of the R' Bachyei, ע״פ שנראה שהקמ״ץ והפת״ח הכל דבר אחד ותנועה אחת, where he writes that the two vowels are easily confused.  If you speak havara Ashkenazis, the two sounds are very distinct -- how can they be confused?  R' Bachyei must mean, he writes, that there is only a very subtle difference between the two vowels, a distinction that he claims Sefardim in the know can articulate.  

The last line in the R' Bachyei also draws attention.  He writes that the name adnus in this pasuk is chol:

 וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹט אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אַל־נָ֖א אֲדֹנָֽי׃

The gemara (Shavuos 35) writes that every adnus reference in the Lot episode is chol except for this one!  

kicking the can down the road

There is no need to talk about why you should not vote for the candidate that supports abortion, LGBTetc, higher taxes, green energy and the destruction of the oil industry, BLM and Antifa, the imposition of a "two state solution" = treating Israel like a criminal country, etc. in today's election. This is aleph beis.  The mistake some people will make is thinking that there are "safe" candidates within the party that supports all that.  Don't be fooled. 

But there is an even bigger mistake.  From what I hear and read it is clear to most people in our community that a vote for the D party is a vote against our interests, to the point that people realize that if the Ds are in charge life for us here will not be so good and maybe those aliya plans need to be looked at more realistically and moved up in time.  But if the R's win, then shalom al yisrael.

The truth is that even with the R's in charge, we're just kicking the can down the road. The only difference is the amount of time we have bought for ourselves. 

The loonies on the left will not go away if Trump wins any more than they went away after his first victory.  American society will not change for the better overnight.  And in our own communities, between the assimilation rate, the high costs of Jewish life here, the secular values that penetrate our self-imposed ghettos willy-nilly, the lack of true depth in religious fervor and experience, how much longer do you think this can go on?   

It's up to us to use whatever time we have here wisely. To stop building multi-million dollar mansions in chu"l and instead put that $ toward a home in Eretz Yisrael.  To produce graduates from our schools that can speak Ivrit without saying things like "Ani tachas omeid" when they want to say "I understand" (thanks to daughter #3 for that one).  For Rabbis and teachers and of course parents to encourage our kids to build there future elsewhere, even if it means giving up the lucrative career or life in the suburbs -- those are not Jewish values last time I checked.  

Let's not wait until fear forces difficult choices upon us.   אמר עולא ייתי ולא איחמיניה וכן אמר [רבה] ייתי ולא איחמיניה 

Monday, November 02, 2020

v'zakeini l'gadeil... yirei Elokim

I ended off last week discussing Avraham's reaction of "Lu Yishmael yicheh lifanech," (17:18) to being told that Sarah would give birth to a child.  Last week we looked at the first Rashi on that pasuk.  The second comment of Rashi is equally interesting because of a question asked by the meforshei Rashi.  Rashi comments on the word "yichyeh:"

יחיה לפניך – יחיה ביראתך

Avraham did not mean that Yishmael stam should live, but he meant that Yishmael should live with yiras shamayim.

Sifsei Chachamim (see Gur Aryeh as well) asks:

ואם תאמר והאיך יתפלל על יראת שמים הא אמרינן (מגילה כה.) הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים

How can Avraham daven that Yishmael have yiras shamayim when "hakol b'ydei shamayim chutz m'yiras shamayim?"  Yiras shamayim is something a person has to work on and acquire for themselves; it cannot be bestowed upon them by Hashem.

I don't understand.  You mean Sarah Imeinu didn't daven every Friday night when she lit candles  וְזַכֵּנִי לְגַדֵל בָּנִים וּבְנֵי בָנִים, חֲכָמִים וּנְבוֹנִים, אוֹהַבֵי הַשֵם, יִראֵי אֶלֹקִים?  Avraham and Sarah didn't know the song?

(This all boils down to the same issue we discussed here.)