Friday, November 10, 2006

Parshas Vayeira

וד' פקד את שרה כאשר אמר ויעש ד' לשרה כאשר דבר (21:1)

סמך פרשה זו ללמדך שכל המבקש רחמים על חבירו והוא צריך לאותו דבר הוא נענה תחילה שנאמר

ויתפלל וגו' וסמיך ליה וד' פקד את שרה שפקדה כבר קודם שריפא את אבימלך (רש"י)

Rashi writes that the section recounting Sorah’s conception of Yitzchok is juxtaposed to Avrohom’s prayers that Avimelech’s wife and maids be able to conceive (20:17-18) to teach that if one prays on behalf of another person when he himself needs that same thing, he will be answered first. A man once approached Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein with a fascinating question.

It is traditionally understood that this procedure works as a reward for the selflessness demonstrated by somebody who desperately needs something himself, yet he is able to magnanimously overlook his own personal needs in order to pray for another person in need of that very same thing. The man questioned whether a person who needs something and knows of another person who needs the same thing and prays for that person only out of a hope that doing so will cause him to be answered, will this technique still be effective, or must the prayers for the other be genuine and heartfelt in order for this method to work?

Rav Zilberstein replied by quoting the Maharal’s explanation of this concept. The Maharal writes that Hashem is the source of all blessing which come to the world. However, in order for His blessings to descend upon a person, there must be a conduit which connects that person to the Heavenly source of goodness and thereby facilitates the transfer. One such possible channel is prayer. When we pray to Hashem, we connect ourself to Him and allow Him to bestow His bounty upon us. When one prays on behalf of another and his prayers are answered, he becomes the channel which links his friend to the Divine source of blessing.

When a person uses a hose to water his lawn, the hose – which serves as the conduit for the transfer of water – becomes wet even before the grass does. Similarly, one who merits to serve as the medium by which Hashem bestows His kindness upon another, becomes “wet” with the goodness even before it reaches its ultimate target. Therefore, although it may be contrary to conventional wisdom, the power of prayer is so great that one who prays for his friend – even for ulterior motives – will still merit to be answered first!


ותאמר לאברהם גרש האמה הזאת ואת בנה כי לא יירש בן האמה הזאת עם בני עם יצחק (21:10)

The Medrash Tanchuma (Chayei Sorah 4) states that the famous chapter in Mishlei (Proverbs 31:10-31) known as אשת חיל – a woman of valor – was actually authored long before Shlomo HaMelech was born. Upon the death of his beloved wife Sorah, Avrohom began to eulogize her and composed this beautiful expression of his love and appreciation for his woman of valor. The Medrash explains how each line was a unique expression of praise for an event which occurred in Sorah’s life. While many of the comparisons are self-evident, the Medrash curiously writes that the line דרשה צמר ופשתים – she seeks out wool and linen – is illustrated by her forceful demand that Avrohom separate between Yitzchok and Yishmael: גרש האמה הזאת ואת בנה – send away this maid-servant (Hagar) and her son (Yishmael). What could possibly be the connection between looking for weaving materials and insisting that the wicked Yishmael be driven out of her house?

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik elucidates the intent of the Medrash with a most brilliant explanation. Rashi writes (21:9) that Sorah insisted on having Yishmael sent away only after seeing him engaged in idolatry, forbidden relations, and murder. She feared that he represented a negative spiritual influence on her beloved Yitzchok, and she was also afraid that he may even kill Yitzchok in order to guarantee his inheritance. Nevertheless, how was Avrohom permitted to send away Yishmael, thereby denying him of his rightful inheritance as the first-born, something which Yaakov was able to receive (25:31-34) only after rightfully purchasing the right from his older brother Eisav?

On a simple level, we may answer that he was allowed, even required, to do so because Hashem explicitly commanded him (21:12) not to worry about Yishmael and to follow Sorah’s instructions to send him away. Although Yishmael was lawfully considered Avrohom’s first-born, this concern should be outweighed by an explicit command from Hashem. However, the Gemora in Yoma (28b) states that Avrohom observed all of the laws of the Torah even before it was given. If so, he had a dilemma, as the Torah rules (Devorim 21:15-17) that if a man has two wives and the wife whom he hates bears his first child, he is forbidden to transfer the right of the firstborn to a son who is born subsequently from the wife whom he loves.

How was Avrohom to decide what to do when confronted with seemingly conflicting obligations: a positive commandment to listen to Sorah and to send away Yishmael, thereby depriving him of his rightful inheritance, and a negative prohibition forbidding him to do so? There is a Talmudic principle that עשה דוחה לא תעשה – when the performance of a positive commandment comes into conflict with observing a negative one, a person should nevertheless fulfill the positive obligation. The Gemora in Yevamos (4b) seeks to derive a source for this rule. The Gemora there concludes that the Torah juxtaposes (Devorim 22:11-12) the prohibition against wearing a garment which contains shatnez (a mixture of wool and linen) to the commandment to wear tzitzis in order to teach this principle.

With this introduction the Medrash becomes perfectly understandable. Avrohom was torn between obeying Hashem’s positive commandment to listen to Sorah and send Yishmael away and refraining from doing so in order not to transgress the Torah prohibition against transferring the inheritance of the first-born to a favorite child. He resolved his dilemma by “seeking out” the rule taught by the Torah’s use of wool and linen, from which we derive that a positive commandment should be performed even at the expense of a negative one, and he therefore concluded that he should follow Sorah’s instructions to separate between Yitzchok and Yishmael by banishing Yishmael from the house!


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

1) Rashi writes (18:2) that one of the three angels was sent for the purpose of healing Avrohom from the pain of his circumcision. The Gemora in Bava Basra (16b) states that Avrohom possessed a precious stone which he wore around his neck, which had the ability to heal any sick person which looked at it. Why did Hashem need to send an angel to heal Avrohom when he could have healed himself by gazing at this stone? (Paneiach Raza, Maharsha Bava Basra 16b, Chida, Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri, Darash Moshe, Eebay’ei L’hu)

2) Rashi writes (18:8) that although Avrohom had requested Sorah to make bread, it wasn’t served because it became impure when Sorah touched it. When the angels blessed her that she would merit to conceive a child, she laughed and questioned (18:11-12) how a woman with such an old, withered body could bear a child. If she had already become menstrually impure prior to their blessing, why didn’t this miracle cause her to believe their words, and if she only became impure after their blessing, why was the bread – which she prepared before they spoke – considered impure and not served at the meal? (Tosefos Rosh Hashana 11b, Maharsha Niddah 6b, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

3) Rashi writes (18:9) that the angels asked Avrohom where Sorah was in order to send her the כוס של ברכה – cup of wine which was used for reciting the Grace after Meals. As Rashi writes (18:8) that although Avrohom had requested Sorah to make bread it wasn’t served because it became impure when Sorah touched it, why did they recite the Grace after Meals? (Maharil Diskin, Derech Sichah, Rav Simcha Zissel Broide quoted in M’rafsin Igri)

4) The angel which informed Sorah that she would merit to bear a child promised that he would return to visit them one year later, at which time Sorah would have a child (18:10). Where do we find that the angel ever returned? (Tosefos Rid, Rashi in Sefer Pardes)

5) Because she violated she commandment (19:17) not to look back at the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s wife was punished and turned into a pillar of salt (19:26). Did she first die and then become a pillar of salt, or did the transformation occur while she was still alive? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah Vol. 1 230:8)

6) How was Lot able to intercede in order to save one of the cities (Tzo’ar) from destruction (19:18-22) when Avrohom Avinu, who was even greater and who argued even more on their behalf, was unable to do so? (Derech Sichah)

7) Who in the Torah could say the following to somebody else in the Torah: “Your father is my father, your grandfather is my husband, I am your sister, and you are my son?”

8) Rashi writes (21:2) that the angels announced that Sorah would give birth one year from the date on which they visited her. In order to allow her to verify their promise, they made a mark on the wall and said that she will give birth on the day that the sun reaches that line in the following year. This episode occurred on the 15th of Nissan, and Yitzchok was indeed born one year later on the 15th of Nissan (Rashi 18:10). As the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar year, which is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, how did the sun reach the mark they made in the wall on the day of Yitzchok’s birth when another 11 days needed to go by for the completion of a full solar year? (V’HaIsh Moshe, M’rafsin Igri, Peninei Kedem, Nesivos Rabboseinu)

9) Hashem asked Avrohom to “please” take his son Yitzchok and bring him up as an offering. Was this a commandment for which Avrohom would have been punished had he refused, or was it merely a request that Avrohom could have chosen to refuse without receiving any punishment? (Terumas HaDeshen 2:99, Derashos HaRan Derush 1, Shiras Dovid)

10) Rashi writes (22:2) that in commanding Avrohom regarding the Akeidah, Hashem told him to take his son, to which Avrohom replied that he has two sons. Hashem clarified that he should take his only son, and Avrohom responded that Yitzchok is his father’s only son while Yishmael is his mother’s only son. Hashem added that He was referring to the son whom Avrohom loved, and Avrohom answered that he loved both of his sons. Finally, Hashem explicitly told him to take Yitzchok and bring him up as an offering. Rashi explains that Hashem didn’t initially specify Yitzchok so as not to scare and confuse him. As the verb of the sentence in which Hashem told him to bring Yitzchok up as a sacrifice hadn’t yet been spoken, why would Avrohom be overwhelmed by the simple command “Take Yitzchok?”

11) Rashi writes (22:3) that the two men who accompanied Avrohom and Yitzchok on the journey to the Akeidah were Eliezer and Yishmael. As Avrohom had previously sent Yishmael away with his mother Hagar (21:14) and he settled far away in the desert of Paran (21:20-21) with no mention in the Torah of his returning home, why was he with Avrohom at this time? (Seder HaDoros, Me’am Lo’ez, Meged Yosef)

12) As Avrohom and Yitzchok approached the mountain on which the Akeidah would be performed, Avrohom placed the wood for the offering on Yitzchok, at which point Yitzchok questioned his father why they have the necessary equipment for the sacrifice but no sheep (22:6-7). Why did Yitzchok assume that his father intended to offer a sheep as opposed to another animal, such as a cow or goat? (Yavin Shmuah, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Eebay’ei L’hu)

13) Was Yitzchok required to recite Birkas HaGomel (the thanksgiving blessing) when Hashem commanded his father (Bereishis 22:12) not to harm him when he was already bound on the altar in preparation to be offered as a sacrifice to Hashem, thereby saving him from sure death? (Machazik Brocha by the Chida, Torah L’Daas Vol. 10)

14) After a ram is offered on the altar originally built for the sacrifice of Yitzchok, the Torah relates (Bereishis 22:19) that Avrohom returned to Eliezer and Yishmael, who had been waiting at a distance, but no mention is made of Yitzchok. Where did he go after this episode? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Paneiach Raza, Darkei Hashleimus)


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