Friday, November 03, 2006

Parshas Lech Lecha

ויוצא אתו החוצה ויאמר הבט נא השמימה וספר הכוכבים

אם תוכל לספר אתם ויאמר לו כה יהיה זרעך (15:5)

After Avrohom Avinu miraculously defeated the armies of the four kings and rescued the captured people and possessions, he feared that the miracles Hashem performed on his behalf had detracted from the reward awaiting him in the World to Come. Hashem reassured him and promised that his reward would indeed be very great. Avrohom then expressed his worry that he had no children to inherit him, to which Hashem replied by promising that he would indeed merit to have children.

Hashem then took Avrohom outside and instructed him to gaze toward the Heavens. Hashem challenged him to attempt to count the number of stars and cryptically added, “so shall your offspring be.” Why did Hashem present Avrohom with such an impossible task, and what did He mean with His blessing, “so will your offspring be?”

Rav Meir Shapiro beautifully explains that although finite, the number of stars is clearly so great as to be beyond human comprehension and certainly uncountable with the naked eye. An intelligent person who is challenged to do so will likely decline the impossible task. Knowing that he will be unable to successfully finish the project, he will choose not to even begin. Avrohom Avinu was also aware of this reality. Nevertheless, when Hashem suggested that he attempt to count the stars, he quickly went outside, looked up in the sky, and began counting, “One, two, three.”

Avrohom was undaunted by apparent restrictions and natural limitations, recognizing that the power of one’s will and commitment to a project can allow him to succeed where others foresaw only failure. Upon recognizing Avrohom’s contagious enthusiasm and willingness to disregard naysayers, Hashem quickly blessed him that so should his offspring be a nation known for their dedication and perseverance against all odds.

Not surprisingly, Rav Meir Shapiro – whose yahrtzeit (7 Cheshvan) traditionally falls in the week of Parshas Lech Lecha – lived by his own teachings. More than any other single figure in the 20th century, he singlehandedly revolutionized Torah study as we know it today through his development of the concept of Daf Yomi – learning one page of Gemora daily. The odds of his program spreading and taking off were clearly stacked against him. The potential for any of a number of obstacles to derail his plan before it got off the ground was great. Yet like his forefather Avrohom before him, he ignored the probability of not succeeding, realizing that with the aid of the fire which burned within him, he would be able to reach the stars, and beyond!


ויאמר אד-ני ד' במה אדע כי אירשנה (15:8) ׁ

The Gemora in Berachos (7b) derives from our verse that Avrohom Avinu was the first person in history to call Hashem אדון – Master. The story is told (see introduction to Shu”t Kanfei Yonah) that the author of a new commentary on the Siddur (prayer-book) brought his manuscript to the great Vilna Gaon to receive his comments and request a letter of approbation. The Gaon began to examine the work and noticed that the author suggested an original insight explaining why the morning prayers begin with Adon Olam (Master of the World).

The Gemora in Berachos (26b) states that each of the forefathers instituted one of the three daily prayers: Avrohom enacted Shacharis, Yitzchok originated Mincha, and Yaakov introduced Maariv. As the morning prayers were instituted by Avrohom Avinu, who was the first person to refer to Hashem as אדון, we therefore begin Shacharis with Adon Olam. Upon reading this, the Gaon was overcome with joy and remarked that if only for the beauty and truth of this one insight, the publication of the entire work is justified!

In a similar vein, the Meshech Chochmah notes that although the mitzvos of wearing a Tallis and Tefillin are applicable the entire day, we are accustomed to wear them only during the morning prayers. After miraculously defeating the armies of the four kings, Avrohom brought back all of the people and possessions which had been taken captive. The King of Sodom suggested that Avrohom return to him the people while keeping the possessions for himself. Lest the wicked king of Sodom take credit for making him rich, Avrohom refused to accept any gifts, emphatically swearing (14:23) that he wouldn’t accept even a thread or a shoestrap. The Gemora in Sotah (17a) states that in the merit of this statement, Avrohom’s descendants received the mitzvos of Tallis and Tefillin. Although they may be worn the entire day, because we merited to receive them through the actions of Avrohom, we are accustomed to commemorate this by wearing them during the morning prayers which he instituted!


ותקח שרי אשת אברם את הגר המצרית שפחתה מקץ עשר שנים

לשבת אברם בארץ כנען ותתן אתה לאברם אישה לו לאשה (16:3)

ותקח שרי - לקחתה בדברים אשריך שזכית לידבק בגוף קדוש כזה (רש"י)

After ten years of not bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that perhaps she would merit to give birth if she allowed Avrohom to marry her maidservant Hagar. Rashi writes that after Sorah spoke to Hagar to persuade her to agree to this plan, Hagar was convince and willing to go along with it. Rashi previously commented (16:1) that Hagar was none other than the daughter of the wicked Paroh. When she heard of the miraculous punishments which Hashem meted out there for the sake of Sorah (12:17), she decided to attach herself to this family in any way possible.

Although this surely required tremendous personal sacrifice on her part, she nobly preferred to be a maidservant to such holy people rather than a prestigious woman in Egypt. If Hagar had already given up everything she knew and enjoyed in life – wealth, honor, fame – in order to draw become even minimally attached to this holy family, why was it necessary for Sorah to convince Hagar to agree to be married to the righteous Avrohom?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers with a beautiful insight into human nature. At the end of Dovid HaMelech’s life, he gave his final instructions to his son Shlomo, who would succeed him as king. He commanded Shlomo (Melochim 1 2:8-9) to remember the vicious curses which Shimi ben Geira had heaped upon him (Shmuel 2 16:7-8). However, because Dovid had sworn to Shimi that he wouldn’t kill him for his actions, he advised Shlomo to use his wisdom to find a means to avenge his disgrace and execute Shimi.

Shlomo dutifully called Shimi and commanded him to build a house in Jerusalem, informing him that he must remain within the city limits, for on the day that he departs he will be killed (2:36-37). Shimi agreed to the terms and indeed built a house in Jerusalem and refrained from departing the city for 3 years. At that time, two of his slaves escaped and he pursued them out of the city in order to bring them back. Upon hearing of this, Shlomo had Shimi summoned and decreed that because he had violated the conditions of their agreement he was to be killed.

Although in hindsight this represented a brilliant method of reconciling Dovid’s promise not to directly kill Shimi for his act of rebellion with Dovid's desire to have Shimi punished, how did Shlomo know that his plan would succeed, as we indeed find that Shimi managed to abide by the condition for 3 years before an unexpected episode caused him to stumble? Why did Shimi, who was a wise man who understood the consequences of leaving Jerusalem and managed to refrain from doing so for 3 years, suddenly commit such a foolish mistake, one for which he paid dearly with his life?

The Alshich HaKadosh explains that Shlomo, in his infinite wisdom, understood human nature profoundly. A person’s natural inclination is to crave freedom and resist any restraint on it whatsoever. Although Shimi’s “jail” didn’t resemble the typical cell, in that he was free to enjoy everything offered by the greatest city on earth, he was nevertheless artificially confined. Shlomo recognized that sooner or later Shimi’s need to feel free and unrestrained would win out and he would violate the terms of their arrangement. When that eventually occurred, Shlomo was ready and waiting to execute Shimi in a dignified manner, just as his father had requested.

Similarly, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz suggests that Hagar had demonstrated tremendous dedication and commitment to her ideals in willingly leaving behind the splendor of her father’s palace in Egypt. She was willing to give up everything in order to take a menial job serving the family of the holy Avrohom in degrading ways. Nevertheless, she knew deep down that at any time, she was free to change her mind and return to her homeland. Although a marriage to Avrohom would offer her the unique opportunity of being married to the man who introduced the knowledge of Hashem to the world and to bear a child with him, it would also require a commitment on her part to voluntarily renounce her independence and autonomy, and it was for this reason that Sorah needed to convince Hagar to overcome her internal resistance.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Tosefos writes (Berachos 7b d.h. lo) that the events in Parsha Lech Lecha are related out of chronological order. Avrohom was 73 years old when he fought the war against the four kings (14:14-16), but he was only 70 at the time of the ברית בין הבתרים (covenant between the parts), even though it is related later (15:7-21). The commandment at the beginning of the parsha to leave his homeland (12:1-3) occurred when Avrohom was 75 (12:4). As the covenant between the parts took place in the land of Canaan (15:7), why did Avrohom go there before Hashem commanded him to do so (12:1-3), and once he had gone there why did he return to Charan?

2) Rashi writes (12:5) that in addition to Lot, when setting out for the land of Canaan Avrohom and Sorah also took the people whom they had converted during their time in Charan. What happened to all of these converts and their descendants, as no subsequent mention is made of them? (Meshech Chochmah 21:33, Ayeles HaShachar)

3) Rashi writes (12:11) that due to his great level of modesty, Avrohom never looked at Sorah until they were about to enter Egypt. How was he permitted never to look at her when the Gemora in Kiddushin (41a) rules that if it is forbidden to marry a woman until he has looked at her to ensure that she will find favor in his eyes? (Maharsha Bava Basra 16a, Oznayim L’Torah, Mishmeres Ariel, Eebay’ei L’hu, Maharsha Yevamos 100b)

4) When approaching Egypt, Avrohom asked Sorah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians won’t kill him in order to be permitted to marry her (12:12-13). As forbidden relationships are one of the three categories of sins for which one is required to give up his life rather than transgress them (Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:6), how could he ask her to do so in order to save his life? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, Taam V’Daas, HaK’sav V’HaKaballa, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri, Eebay’ei L’hu)

5) Rashi writes (13:14) that as long as the wicked Lot remained with Avrohom, Hashem didn’t speak to him. How can this be reconciled with an explicit verse which states (12:7) that Hashem did speak to Avrohom during the time that he was traveling with Lot? (Moshav Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza, Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, Akeidas Yitzchok)

6) A person who sees a large and impressive lake recites the blessing עושה מעשה בראשית – Who makes the work of Creation (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 228:1). However, this is only the case if the lake was created in that location at the time the world was formed, but not if it was subsequently formed through the actions of man (Mishnah Berurah 228:6). Does one who sees the Dead Sea recite this blessing, as the Torah seems to indicate that it was only created in the time of Avrohom (Rashi 14:3), but the Gemora in Bava Basra (74b) seems to indicate that it was one of the 7 lakes which was formed at the time of Creation to surround the land of Israel? (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv quoted in Ayeles HaShachar, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:47, Mor U’Ketziah Orach Chaim 228, Sefer Pardes quoted in Nimukei Orach Chaim 228:2, Piskei Teshuvos 228:3)

7) After Avrohom miraculously defeated the four kings and rescued the captured Lot (14:14-16), he feared that the miracles performed on his behalf had detracted from the reward which awaited him in the World to Come. Hashem reassured him and promised him that his reward would indeed be great (Rashi 15:1). Of what concern was this to Avrohom, as the Mishnah in Avos (1:3) advises one to serve Hashem without concern for the reward he may receive for his actions? (Ayeles HaShachar, Ruach Chaim)


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