Friday, November 24, 2023

how to prepare to survive in Lavan's house; "ain m'arvin simcha b'simcha"

1) Yaakov was told by his parents to go to Lavan's house to find a wife.  Why did he diregard his parents instructions and stop off for 14 years to learn by Shem and Eiver?  What happened to the mitzvah of kibud av?

R' Yosef Sorotzkin answers  that in order to survive in the environment of Lavan's house Yaakov had to fortify himself with non-stop Torah study for those 14 years.  This was an an abrogation of his mitzvah of kibud av, but rather a necessary step in order to be able to fulfill his parent's instruction.  

2) The Midrash writes on the opening of our parsha:

רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן פָּתַח (תהלים קכא, א): שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים, אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הַהוֹרִים לְמַלְפָנַי וְלִמְעַבְּדָנַי. (תהלים קכא, א): מֵאַיִן יָבוֹא עֶזְרִי, אֱלִיעֶזֶר בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהָלַךְ לְהָבִיא אֶת רִבְקָה מַה כְּתִיב בֵּיהּ (בראשית כד, י): וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד עֲשָׂרָה גְמַלִים וגו', וַאֲנִי לֹא נֶזֶם אֶחָד וְלֹא צָמִיד אֶחָד. רַבִּי חֲנִינָא אָמַר גָּדוּד שִׁלְּחוֹ. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי אָמַר שִׁלַּח עִמּוֹ, אֶלָּא שֶׁעָמַד עֵשָׂו וּנְטָלָהּ מִמֶּנּוּ. חָזַר וְאָמַר מָה אֲנָא מוֹבֵד סִבְרִי מִן בָּרְיִי, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, לֵית אֲנָא מוֹבֵד סִבְרִי מִן בָּרְיִי, אֶלָּא (תהלים קכא, ב): עֶזְרִי מֵעִם ה'. (תהלים קכא, ג): אַל יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ אַל יָנוּם שֹׁמְרֶךָ, (תהלים קכא, ה): הִנֵּה לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן וגו', (תהלים קכא, ז): ה' יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל רָע, מֵעֵשָׂו וּמִלָּבָן. (תהלים קכא, ז): יִשְׁמֹר אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ, מִמַּלְאַךְ הַמָּוֶת. (תהלים קכא, ח): ה' יִשְׁמָר צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ, וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב.

What was Yaakov's safeik of מֵאַיִן יָבוֹא עֶזְרִי ?  

The Ben Ish Chai explains that a person can be saved by Hashem b'derech ha'teva or b'derech nes.  He compares these two approaches to a father who gives his son an allowance and the son must decide how to spend the $ to manage his needs vs a father who pays all the bills and the son does not even need to carry a wallet.  Yaakov Avinu had bitachon that Hashem would save him, but he did not know how it would happen.  Would Hashem give him the wealth and resources needed and he would have to manage his affairs, or would his salvation be miraculous, without his having to take care of anything?  When Yaakov realized that he was penniless and had no ability to do anything for himself, he accepted that his plight was b'yad Hashem alone, and he would have a miraculous deliverance without having to worry about his own needs.

We once discussed the story of (Kesubos 62) Rebbi's son who went off to learn for any years and came home to find his wife was incapable of having children.  The gemara goes through Rebbis' thought process: could his son divorce his wife?  Could he take another wife?  Finally Rebbi came to the conclusion that there was no fair solution other than for him to daven for his daughter in law to be cured and be able to have children.

Why does the gemara go through the whole shakla v'terya of Rebbi's thinking?  If Rebbi knew he could daven and cure his DIL, why didn't he just do that?

This is the same yesod of the Ben Ish Chai.  It was only when Yaakov realized that he was penniless, that he could not do it himself, that he threw all his eggs into the basket of reliance on Hashem and his salvation came derech nes.  So long as there was even a hava amina that Rebbi's DIL would have a yeshu'a b'derech ha'teva, his tefilah would not have worked.  It is the realization that things are 100% b'yad Hashem that beings about a salvation.

3) It's interesting that the Rambam in Ishus 10:14 quotes the source of אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה  from our parsha:

. ואפילו בחולו של מועד אין נושאין נשים כמו שביארנו לפי שאין מערבין שמחה בשמחה שנאמר מלא שבוע זאת ונתנה לך גם את זאת

Tos (Moed Katan 8b) points out that this source is quoted in the Yerushalmi, but not in the Bavli.

The Rambam in hil Yom Tov 7:16, however, writes as follows:

אין רואין את הנגעים במועד שמא ימצא טמא ונמצא חגו נהפך לאבל. ואין נושאין נשים ולא מייבמין במועד כדי שלא תשתכח שמחת החג בשמחת הנשואין. 

If I just stop the quote there it seems like the Rambam does not hold of אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה at all.  Instead, the reason for not getting married on Y"T is  שלא תשתכח שמחת החג , or as the gemara in MK puts it, מפני שמניח שמחת הרגל ועוסק בשמחת אשתו.  

The Rambam then continues in that same halacha:

אבל מחזיר את גרושתו. ומארסין נשים במועד. ובלבד שלא יעשה סעודת אירוסין. ולא סעודת נישואין. שלא יערב שמחה אחרת בשמחת החג:

Here he does quote the din of שאין מערבין, albeit without quoting a source like he does in hil ishus.

See Lechem Mishne for starters to unravel what is going on here.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Torah as our shield

וַיִּשְׂטֹם עֵשָׂו אֶת יַעֲקֹב עַל הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ אָבִיו (27:41) The simple pshat in the pasuk is that Eisav hated Yaakov and wanted to kill him because of the bracha that Yaakov stole from him.  Abarbanel (see Chizkuni as well) has a different twist:

אחשוב שחוזר לעשו וירצה על הברכ׳ אשר ברך אביו לעשו כי מפני שיצחק ברכו ועל חרבך תחיה והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עלו מעל צוארך חשב עשו כי בחרבו ינקום ממנו ויפרוק עלו מעל צוארו ולכן בעבור הברכ׳ אמר ברכו אביו ממנה נתיעץ וחשב מחשבו׳ להרוג את יעקב 

Eisav hated Yaakov and wanted to kill him, says Abarbanel, because of the bracha על חרבך תחיה that Eisav received from his father. Eisav felt emboldened, and thought that at the right moment he would have his revenge.  

For now, Eisav held himself in check: 

 וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו בְּלִבּוֹ יִקְרְבוּ יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי וְאַהַרְגָה אֶת יַעֲקֹב אָחִי

I do not understand R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul's question of why Yaakov had to flee if Eisav was not going to harm him at this moment.  How did Yaakov know what Eisav was thinking and know that there was no immediate danger?  (Though see Ibn Ezra יאמר עשו בלבו – יתכן שגלה סודו לאחד מאוהביו)

Why did Eisav hold back?  Did he delay to avoid causing pain to Yitzchak, or was it a calculated strategy?  The meforshim are divided.  Ramban writes that Eisav wanted to avoid doing anything to cause suffering for his father, and therefore he figured he would wait for Yitzchak's death before killing Yaakov.  It's an amazing thing -- even as he was plotting the crime of murder, Eisav was meticulous about kibuv av!  We also see that Eisav did not understand kibuv av in the sense of accepting his father as a role model of proper behavior.  Whatever Eisav could get away with outside his father's knowledge was fair game.

Targum Yonasan sees Eisav's delay as a calculated move:

ונטר עשו שנא בליביה על יעקב אחוי על סדר בירכתא דיברכיה אבוי ואמר עשו בליביה לית אנא עביד היכמא דעבד קין דקטל ית הבל בחיי אבוי והדר אבוי ואוליד ית שת ברם מתעכב אנא עד זמן דימטון יומי אבלא דמיתת אבא ובכן אנא קטיל ית יעקב אחי ואנא משתכח קטול וירית.

I don't understand why the theoretical possibility of Yitzchak having more children bothered Eisav given that his beef was specifically with Yaakov for having stolen the brachos.  

Netziv and Kli Yakar also see Eisav here as calculating, but instead of reading יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי as referring to the death of Yaakov, they understand it as referring specifically to the time of aveilus.  Netziv writes Eisav figured that Yaakov would avoid him, but when Yitzchak would die, they would come together, as all families do to bury their father and mourn.  That would provide an opportunity for him to pounce.  

Kli Yakar suggests that Eisav knew that Yaakov's Torah protected him from harm.  (Interesting that although Eisav was a rasha, he recognized this reality.)  Therefore, he figured since an aveil is prohibited from learning Torah, the period of aveilus would be his moment to strike.

R' Shteinman in Ayeles haShacher questions the assumption of this Kli Yakar.  An aveil is in fact allowed to learn Torah.  He may learn hil aveilus, he can learn other sad things, similar to what we do on 9 Av.  Yaakov wouldn't have been just sitting and doing nothing during shiva.

Many answer by distinguishing between the mitzvah of limud haTorah, which even an aveil can engage in, and the segulah of Torah affording protection, which is a din not in learning per se, but rather is a product of ameilus and deep immersion in Torah.  An aveil can learn, but cannot learn with the same amkus and the same intensity as a regular person.  

Earlier in Lech Lech the Torah describes Avraham going out to war (14:13)

 וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָם כִּי נִשְׁבָּה אָחִיו וַיָּרֶק אֶת חֲנִיכָיו יְלִידֵי בֵיתוֹ שְׁמֹנָה עָשָׂר וּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת וַיִּרְדֹּף עַד דָּן

Netziv there comments:

 בנדרים (לב,א) איכא מ״ד שהוריקן בתורה. והוא פלא, מה זו שעה לדברי תורה? אבל הענין הוא כמו שכתבתי לעיל (יב,יז) דזכות התורה היא חרב של ישראל, ובזו הזכות הגין ה׳ ולחם בשביל אברם, על כן כל שהמלחמה כבדה יש להעמיק יותר בהלכה ולשנן את החרב.

וכך עשה אברם הוריק את חניכיו בהלכה עמוקה עד שהיה קשה להם להבין והוריקו פניהם.

He goes on in the Harchev Davar to cite the gemara (Meg 3):

״וילן יהושע בלילה ההוא בתוך העמק״ (יהושע ח,יג), וא״ר יוחנן, מלמד שלן בעומקה של הלכה

Not just any learning, but specifically learning in depth, learning with intensity and effort, is what bring us victory against those who would seek to harm us.

2) R' Yisrael Najara was the chief Rabbi of Gaza in the 1500's and was the composer of K-h Ribon.  If you don't already say it, maybe at this time it would be a good idea to make sure not to skip his zemer at your table.  

Thursday, November 16, 2023

hakaras ha'tov for the chayalim

Last week on one of the hareidi Israeli news sites there was a beautiful picture of a chayal dressed in uniform who was at a sheva brachos for a member of a Rebbe's family and approached the head table to get a bracha.  This is not the only picture of its kind I have seen, and so I think there is a lot of truth to this article in the WSJ about the shift in attitude in the hareidi world toward support for the Israeli army and even enlistment to serve.  

Kikar haShabbat quotes a sicha recently given by R' Yizchak Pinchas Goldwasser that apparently made a splash in the yeshivishe world:

הוא הוסיף ואמר לתלמידים כי הוא מודע למורכבות הדברים: "המשפטים האלו אמנם יישמעו צורמים, ואספר לכם עוד מעט עד כמה הם כאלו, אבל אני שוב חוזר ואומר בקול רם - 'אנחנו חייבים הכרת הטוב לחיילים שמסכנים את החיים שלהם'!".

"כל הדיבורים האלו שהם הולכים מרצון למלחמה, וחייבים ללכת למלחמה והם לא חושבים עלינו, זה דיבורי סרק והבל!", זעק המשגיח. "חיילים בשעה כזו חושבים על כולנו, לא רק על עצמם, יש הרבה שמתנדבים, שלא לדבר על הדתיים לאומיים שזה לא יאומן האכפתיות שיש להם".

הוא זעק מנהמת ליבו: "איך אפשר להיות כפויי טובה? אנחנו לא מרגישים את זה, כי פיטמו אותנו ואמרו שאנחנו ואנחנו ואנחנו, וזה נכון!".

הוא סיפר, שכשאמר דברים דומים בבית הכנסת בו התקיים שיעור והגיע אדם לשבח את הלומדים שהם הלוחמים האמיתיים, ניגש אליו אברך וגער בו: "איך אתה מדבר? אתה הורס את כל החינוך שלנו, כל החינוך שלנו הוא נגד הצבא, אין לנו שום קשר איתם, מה פתאום לדבר על חיילים, חס וחלילה".

"אם ככה" סיפר המשגיח, "אמרתי לעצמי, אני באמת צודק שצריך לדבר על זה, אם תלמיד חכם יכול לדבר בכזה ניתוק חייבים לזעוק

He continued:

אם זה יישמע לכם ציוני, אז קודם כל תדעו שיש שיחה עם ר' דוד פוברסקי מזמן שגם היתה מלחמה, והוא אומר לבחורים, אתם סומכים על הקב''ה? אם הייתם סומכים על הקב''ה הייתם רועדים מפחד! אתם סומכים על החיילים! ואם אתם סומכים על החיילים אתם לא מתפללים עליהם? לא אכפת לכם מהשלום שלהם? הרי זה מיניה וביה?!". 

Very wise words.

Yitzchak's favorite food

Yitzchak asked Eisav to prepare his favorite food for him (27:6),  וַעֲשֵׂה לִי מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתִּי וְהָבִיאָה לִּי וְאֹכֵלָה.  R' Shteinman in Ayeles haShachar asks a question only someone like R' Shteinman could ask: Why would a tzadik have such a thing as a favorite food?  You have to be a tzadik yourself to be bothered by questions like this.

Later in the perek we are told that Rivka prepared the food Yitzchak liked in order for Yaakov to bring it to his father (27:14),  וַתַּעַשׂ אִמּוֹ מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהֵב אָבִיו  I don't understand why Yitzchak was fooled by this.  If I were blindfolded and served something my wife cooked alongside the same dish prepared by someone else, I am pretty sure I could tell the difference between the two.  After so many years of marriage, how could Yitzchak not be able to tell the difference between some wild game prepared by Eisav and the cooking done by Rivka his wife!?  Was his completely oblivious to the sense of taste?

I usually don't like practical questions like this, but I'll make an exception for myself in this case because I found a Sefas Emes (5631, and see last year's post as well :

ובחי' המטעמים הוא ג"כ לקרב עניני עוה"ז להש"י ומה שהוא יותר מרוחק יותר נייחא לעלות להש"י. [כי במקום הנסתר לא יש רק הטעם שבחי' טעמים הוא למעלה מהכל וממילא נמצא ג"כ במה שלמטה יותר והבן מאוד]. ולכך ביעקב שלמעלה מהטבע לא הי' לו זה רק ע"י שרימה את יצחק בהברכות ע"פ רוה"ק של רבקה הי' עלי' כמטעמים שצוה לעשו כנ"ל. [ וז"ש הקול כו' והידים כו' וזה עליות הגשמיות לבחי' הקול כנ"ל]:

What made Eisav's food into מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתִּי for his father is not the way he seasoned it or the way he cooked it.  Like R' Shteinman says, things like that could not have mattered to Yitzchak.  What made the food Yitzchak's favorite is the fact that Eisav went out into the field, went out into olam ha'zeh, and took something out for the sake of ruchniyus.  To be a "yosheiv ohalim," plugged into spirituality 24x7, and remain a frum Jew, is not such a big kuntz.  But to go out into the world, where you don't see the yad Hashem, and not just to remain pure, but to even elevate that world and bring something positive out of it, that's a big deal.  That's the avodah that Yitzchak thought Eisav was engaged in.  

That's why, says the Sefas Emes, in this case, Yaakov's food as prepared by Rivka had that same flavor.  However you explain the details of why and how, Yaakov here seems to deceive his father and use the tools of our world of sheker to advance his cause.  It was this flavor of elevating our world of sheker and hester, the same flavor that Eisav was supposed to deliver,  that Yitzchak detected and savored.  

 הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב וְהַיָּדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו.  Sometimes we need to use the tools of Eisav and not just be a "yosheiv ohalim."  We sometimes need to get our hands dirty and take care of things in olam ha'zeh and it maybe doesn't look so nice.  So long as those hands are an extension of קוֹל יַעֲקֹב and are guided by the voice of morality and justice, they are elevated to something holy.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

no words

"The Biden administration on Tuesday reapproved a sanctions waiver that will allow Iran to access upward of $10 billion in frozen assets, the State Department confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon."

There are just no words...  

Monday, November 13, 2023

Kislev and the tribe of Gad

Shem m'Shmuel writes (Chayei Sarah 5672) that if you pair the order in which the  shevatim were born with the months of the year, the month of Kislev connects with the tribe of Gad who was blessed with courage and might:

הנה לפי סדר לידת השבטים מתיחס חודש כסלו לגד,..., והנה גד מתברך מיאע"ה וממרע"ה בגבורה ובניצוח האויבים, גד גדוד יגודנו והוא יגוד עקב, ברוך מרחיב גד כלביא שכן וטרף זרוע אף קדקוד, והרמב"ן במדבר הביא מדרש בענין דגל ראובן, ראובן בתשובה וגד בגבורה ושמעון באמצע לכפר עליו

This is why the Chashmonaim were victorious in this month, and IY"H we will emerge victorious in our current battle.

I would suggest that there is another connection as well.  We read in Zos haBracha (33:21) regarding Gad  וַיַּ֤רְא רֵאשִׁית֙ ל֔וֹ כִּי־שָׁ֛ם חֶלְקַ֥ת מְחֹקֵ֖ק סָפ֑וּן.  Rashi explains

 ראה ליטול לו חלק בארץ סיחון ועוג, שהיא ראשית כיבוש הארץ, כי ידע אשר שם בנחלתו חלקת שדה קבורת מחוקק הוא משה   

Gad wanted their portion of land to be in Eiver haYarden because they knew this would be the burial place of Moshe.  It's not that Gad knew that a burial plot near the Rebbe was worth a premium price.  When we read in Matos that וּמִקְנֶ֣ה׀ רַ֗ב הָיָ֞ה לִבְנֵ֧י רְאוּבֵ֛ן וְלִבְנֵי־גָ֖ד, what it means, says R' Bunim m'Peshischa, is that Reuvain and Gad had a kinyan, an attachment, to the רַ֗ב, to Moshe Rabeinu.  They did not want to leave his presence even after Moshe was no longer in this world. (I don't know how you read the whole rest of that parsha that seems to focus on the sheep and cattle, unless maybe it was all a smokescreen.)  It is this powerful connection to Moshe Rabeinu that Gad had which is the antidote to להשׁכּיחם תורתך, the aim of Yavan. 

women reciting birchas haTorah

I thought this was an interesting sevara.  Someone suggested that when women say birchas haTorah they should have to learn a halacha, not just recite the pesukim of birkas kohanim.  I assume the logic here is that even the Beis Yosef, who holds that women cannot recite  birchas hamitzva on mitzvos they are exempt from, agrees that women can recite bh"t since they are obligated to study the halachos that apply to them (there are other explanations as well).  Since learning halacha is the mechayeiv of the bracha, it follows that they should do so right after saying the bracha.

R' Ovadya rejects this out of hand.

Friday, November 10, 2023

no other land is like it

When Avraham administered an oath to Eliezer not to take a Canaanite girl for Yitzhak, he referred to Hashem as אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹקי הָאָרֶץ (24:3): 

 וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ בַּה׳ אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹקי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִקַּח אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ

However, just a few pesukim later, Avraham told Eliezer that Hashem אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם will send an angel to guide him (24:7).  

ה׳ אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַנִי מִבֵּית אָבִי וּמֵאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתִּי וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לִי לֵאמֹר לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת הוּא יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִשָּׁם

Why here does Avraham omit any reference to Hashem as אלֹקי הָאָרֶץ and only refer to him as ה׳ אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם? 

R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel answers that in the first pasuk Avraham is speaking about taking a wife for Yitzchak.  In this second pasuk Avraham is speaking about his having left his homeland to go to Eretz Yisrael.  Avraham is telling us that if you want to know why he left home, you won't find the answer if you look at the land, if you focus on אלֹקי הָאָרֶץ.  There are other countries that have more natural resources, that have the benefit of not being surrounded by hostile neighbors, where life might be easier or more economically rewarding.  You can only understand our love of the land through the lens of ה׳ אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם.  What Eretz Yisrael has more than any other place is a direct pipeline to connect to Hashem.

The Kuzari makes a similar point (II:9-10):

אָמַר הֶחָבֵר: כֵּן הַכָּבוֹד: נִיצוֹץ אוֹר אֱלֹקי מוֹעִיל אֵצֶל עַמּוֹ וּבְאַרְצוֹ. 

  אָמַר הַכּוּזָרִי: מַאֲמָרְךָ "אֵצֶל עַמּוֹ" כְּבָר הִתְבָּאֵר לִי, אֲבָל מַאֲמָרְךָ, "וּבְאַרְצוֹ" קָשֶׁה לִי לְקַבְּלוֹ. 

 אָמַר הֶחָבֵר: אַל יִקְשֶׁה בְעֵינֶיךָ שֶׁתִּתְיַחֵד אֶרֶץ בְּדָבָר מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת, וְאַתָּה רוֹאֶה מָקוֹם שֶׁמַּצְלִיחַ בּוֹ צֶמַח מִבִּלְתִּי צֶמַח, וּמוֹצָא מִבַּלְעֲדֵי מוֹצָא, וְחַיָּה מִבַּלְעֲדֵי חַיָּה, וּמִתְיַחֲדִים יוֹשְׁבָיו בְּצוּרוֹת וּמִדּוֹת מִבַּלְעֲדֵי זוּלָתָם – בְּמִצּוּעַ הַמֶּזֶג. וְהִנֵּה עַל פִּי הַמֶּזֶג תִּהְיֶה שְׁלֵמוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וְחֶסְרוֹנָהּ.

It's understood that plants, minerals, animals, thrive in the environment best suited for them.  If you want champagne, you need grapes from a specific region in France.  If you want to raise a giraffe, you should move to the African plains.  The same is true of ruchniyus, of the connection to ה׳ אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַיִם.  You need the proper environment for it to flourish, and that environment is Eretz Yisrael.   

The Kuzari there goes on to discuss nevuah and he writes that prophecy takes place only in and for Eretz Yisrael: אָמַר הֶחָבֵר: כָּל מִי שֶׁנִּתְנַבֵּא לֹא נִתְנַבֵּא כִּי אִם בָּהּ אוֹ בַעֲבוּרָהּ

This, I think, helps explain a seeming redundancy in the pasuk.  Avraham refers to Hashem  וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לִי.  If the point is that Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to him, then just referring to the shevu'a should suffice.  What is this אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לִי?  (See Meshech Chochma, Seforno)  What Avraham I think is saying is that only in Eretz Yisrael can Hashem speak to him.  Only Eretz Yisrael has the "climate" which is suited for conversing with G-d.  

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

lessons from Avraham's treaty with Avimelech

The Torah introduces the parsha of the treaty between Avraham and Avimelech by telling us (21:22) that it happened "בָּעֵת הַהִוא," at that specific moment in time, implying that there was some prior string of events that led to this moment being ripe for what unfolded:

 וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַיֹּאמֶר אֲבִימֶלֶךְ וּפִיכֹל שַׂר צְבָאוֹ אֶל אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר אֱלֹקים עִמְּךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה.

What the Torah does not tell us is what specifically made this THE moment.  I'm actually surprised Rashi does not tackle this question.  Two of the many answers meforshim give I think are relevant to inyana d'yoma.

Meshech Chochma writes:

הוא כי אברהם היה נעלה בהצלחתו ברצות ה׳ דרכיו וחסדו היה גדול לרחוק ולקרוב לבלי קץ, ואמנם כעת אשר ראו אכזריות גדולה מאברהם לשלוח שוכבת חיקו עם בנו הבכור אל המדבר עם חמת מים ולחם, אז פחדו ממנו שכיניו אולי בחרות אפו בם ינקום נקמתו, ועשו עצות בנפשם להקדים רפואה ולכרות עמו ברית וזה שאמר ויהי בעת ההיא ויאמר.

It was not Avraham the man of chessed that caused Avimelech to beg for a treaty, but rather it was Avraham the man who showed toughness in expelling his own son, Yishmael, out of the house, that caused Avimelech to ask for peace.  "If that's what Avraham did to Yishmael, imagine what he would do if he had a run in with us?" they thought.

Peace comes not from conciliatory gestures, but comes when we show strength.

The Midrash offers a somewhat different answer.  

 וְאִלּוּ הָיָה צַדִּיק לֹא הָיָה דוֹחֶה אֶת בְּנוֹ בְּכוֹרוֹ, כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאוּ אֶת מַעֲשָׂיו, אָמְרוּ לוֹ אֱלֹהִים עִמְּךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה.

Seeing Yishmael banished, Avimelech and the UN, the world press, and other such clowns immediately accused Avraham of wanton cruelty.  Is this the behavior of someone who is a tzadik?

In this case, Avimelech at least came to his senses.  כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאוּ אֶת מַעֲשָׂיו when he saw how Yishmael behaved, he realized that Avraham was in the right.  Yishmael was just a force of destruction.  

For some people, maybe, and it is a longshot, the behavior of Hamas, the behavior of people pulling down posters of kidnapped children, the behavior of campus radicals, etc. will finally open their eyes.  

2) Back in 2011 I called Obama, y'mach shemo, a disaster, and since then I am only more convinced that he is perhaps the worst president in US history.  He recently gave one of his usual say-nothing speeches where he tried to spread the blame for Hamas' massacre across the board.  We all make mistakes... blah, blah, blah. Leil Lebovitz, editor of Tablet, had a wonderful response, worth reading in full, but here are the highlights:

Nah, man. Not all of us are complicit. It's just you.

It's you, because you're the one who gave that stentorian speech about red lines in Syria and then sat by and did nothing as those red lines were crossed and Assad continued to slaughter his own people, allowing the Iranians and the Russians to creep in and fill the vacuum left by your devastating lack of leadership.

It's you, because you're the one who came up with the idea of empowering Iran, the world's premiere exporter of terrorism, Holocaust denial, and chaos, all the while telling the American people you were merely trying to stop Teheran from getting a nuclear bomb. Billions of dollars and thousands of dead later, we can all see how well this idea—which you, with the eloquence only a professor could muster, called "regional integration"—is working.

It's you, because you're the one who delivered a parting gift to the region, ending your final term as president by reversing four decades of American bipartisan support of Israel and abstaining from a U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements, while funneling $400 million in annual payments to the despotic Palestinian Authority, which then promptly used this money to fund its pay-for-slay program, doling out large cash payments to any Palestinian who murdered Jews.

So, please, Mr. President: Spare us your opinions.   

Friday, November 03, 2023

Avraham the "buddy" of Aneir, Eshkol, and Mamrei vs Avraham the spiritual tamim: a contradiction?

 At the beginning of the last perek (17) in last week's parsha Avraham is given the command of milah:

וַיְהִי אַבְרָם בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים וַיֵּרָא ה׳ אֶל אַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי קל שַׁדַּי הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים.

וְאֶתְּנָה בְרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וְאַרְבֶּה אוֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד

Rashi quotes from Midrash that וֶהְיֵה תָמִים  is the outcome of milah: תהיה תמים – שכל זמן שהערלה בך אתה בעל מום.  It's descriptive, not prescriptive.  Ibn Ezra, however, understands הְיֵה תָמִים as a command, part of the instruction given to Avraham of how to do milah: שלא תשאל: למה המילה  Fulfill the command without any questions.  

(Other meforshim also read it as a command, but not specifically related to milah -- see Ramban, Seforno.)

Fast forward to our parsha where we read that Hashem appeared to Avraham in Elonei Mamrei.  Rashi comments that the Torah mentions the place because הוא שנתן לו עצה על המילה.  Avraham consulted with his friends for advice, and Mamrei encouraged him to go ahead with the mitzvah of milah.  Therefore, he is named as a way of giving credit.  

The meforshei Rashi all struggle to understand why Avraham would consult with friends after he has been given a command by G-d to fulfill.  Was there any question in his mind that he was going to do the mitzvah?  I would just add that the Midrash is even more striking in light of Ibn Ezra's pshat that in this case an explicit part and parcel of the mitzvah is not to ask any questions!   

The Chidushei haRI"M explains the purpose of Avraham's consultation with others:

 ואחר המילה שנשתנה מכל עולם ודחתה בריתו לברית של נח הי' ירא שיהי' נבדל מאנשי עולם. ולא יהי' מעורב עם הבריות שיוכל ללמדם ולגמול חסד מאחר שע"י המילה הוא למעלה מהטבע. ושאל לענר כו' איך שנראה להם ענין המילה דכ' מחשבה בעצה תכון שע"י שנתברר חלקי הסותר ונדחו. נעשה הענין מקוים לנצח. ומה"ע שאלם שיאמרו דעתם ויטה את לבבם וישארו דבוקים בו גם אחר המילה. וב' סתרו שע"פ הטבע א"י למול וממרא אמר הש"י הצילך כ"כ במדרש. והיינו שע"פ שכל אדם מחויב לעשו' דבר שלמעלה מהטבע מאחר שהקב"ה מתנהג עמו למעלה מהטבע. וכך סדרו של עולם. שצריך שיהי' אומה אחת דביקה בה'. והנהגה למעלה מהטבע. ועי"ז תתפשט חיים וקדושה אל הטבע וכל העולם. וזכה עי"ז שנגלה בחלקו והי' בו הרגשת קדושה ממראה שהי' לאברהם וכתוב גם לדורות שמי שטוב בעיניו הנהגת הצדיק וישראל מתברך מכלל ואברכה מברכיך. וכן באדם עצמו אם עכ"פ טוב בעינו הקדושה. לממ"נ לשי"ת גם שרחוק ממנו יש תקנה וג"כ בכלל ואברכה מברכיך

Avraham's life's work was kiruv and outreach.  Even though the world of chessed and tzidkus that he inhabited was alien to the world of idolatrous behavior around him, he somehow was able to bridge that gap and draw others into his world.  The mitzvah of milah posed, in Avraham's mind, a risk to all that.  He could not be sure that the world could relate to someone who would do a mitzvah of milah, and so he reached out to see how his friends would react.  One could say the Ch haRIM is raising the question of balance between our particularism and the universal message of being an ohr ha'goyim.  Does the former impede on the latter?  But the Ch haRI"M is also raising another issue as well, a more personal one, namely, whether an increase in one's personal religious committment, in this case the mitzvah of milah, need create a distance between oneself and others.  How, for example, does a baal teshuvah, who takes on a host of practices not in sync with family or friends, still relate to those who do not share those newfound beliefs and practices?  What the Ch haRI"M is suggesting is that by consulting with the Mamrei's of the world, one can invite the respect of others, who thereby can join in one's spiritual ascent, even if in practice they remain in a world apart.

R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul writes (here you have a Sefardi spin on a Gerrer vort) that the Ch haRI"M gives us a better appreciation for the context of Avraham's search for visitors as he sat by his tent entrance after the milah.  Avraham was wondering whether he would now find himself isolated, or whether he would still be able to continue his outreach efforts.

In a few brief lines R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul makes another point that, to be honest, completely slipped by me when I saw this Ch haRI"M.  I gave the example above of the baal teshuvah whose adoption of mitzvos may impinge on his relationships with others.  One can flip the same issue around and look at things the other way as well: Imagine the kiruv program organizer who wants to hang out and be one of the guys in order to build a relationship.  Does that interaction and intermingling pose a threat to his own religious commitment and development?  Can Avraham the "buddy" of Aneir, Eshkol, and Mamrei, one of the guys, also be Avraham the tamim who is spiritually perfect, or is there a conflict between the two roles?

Ramban writes in our parsha:

והנה פירוש הפרשה הזאת: אחרי שאמר כי בעצם היום הזה נמול אברהם (בראשית י״ז:כ״ו), אמר שנראה אליו השם בהיותו חולה במילתו יושב ומתקרר בפתח אהלו מפני חום היום אשר יחלישנו, והזכיר זה להודיע שלא היה מתכוין לנבואה, לא נופל על פניו ולא מתפלל, ואף על פי כן באה אליו המראה הזאת.

What G-d is showing Avraham is that even when he is not 100% spiritually ready, able, and prepared, he can still experience nevuah.  R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul links this message to the Ch haRI"M.  Being one of the guys means that sometimes one is not in a spiritually 100% ready to go mode.  However, that is not an obstacle to greatness, to temimus, to coming close to Hashem.