Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Parshas Lech Lecha

ויקח אברם את שרי אשתו ואת לוט בן אחיו ואת כל רכושם אשר רכשו ואת הנפש אשר עשו בחרן

ויצאו ללכת ארצה כנען ויבאו ארצה כנען (12:5)

After Hashem commands Avrohom to leave his homeland to go to the land which He will show him, the Torah relates that Avrohom took his wife, nephew, their possessions, and those they had converted and set out for the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. Why does the Torah emphasize that they left for Canaan and that they successfully arrived there? Why isn’t it sufficient to simply state that they successfully arrived in Canaan, the land to which Hashem directed them?

The Chofetz Chaim and Rav Leib Chasman answer by noting that Avrohom wasn’t the first person in history to set out for the land of Canaan. In the end of Parshas Noach (11:31), the Torah relates that Avrohom’s father Terach set out with his family for Canaan, only to arrive at Charan in the middle of the journey and to settle there. Why didn’t Terach successfully reach his destination? Although Chazal don’t tell us exactly what happened, it’s clear that although Terach set out with a certain itinerary in mind, he wasn’t sufficiently focused and determined to see it to fruition. As soon as the first difficulty arose, his plan was derailed and he aborted it in the middle to settle in Charan.

Avrohom had been traveling with his father and saw what could happen when one’s commitment to a project is deficient. He understood that at any moment an obstacle could present itself and threaten the success of the entire mission. Avrohom therefore guarded the initial enthusiasm one has at the beginning of a new endeavor, constantly reminding himself, “I’m going to Canaan, I’m going to Canaan,” not letting his guard down even when he was only a step away from the border of Canaan. The Torah emphasizes that when Avrohom began his journey it was with a clear focus on his objective – to arrive in Canaan – and not surprisingly, he ultimately succeeded in doing so.

We all have moments in our lives – an uplifting shiur, Yom Kippur, or a miraculous “sign” from Heaven – when we see, hear, or experience something which gives us a tremendous flash of inspiration and excitement to make undertake new projects and make massive changes, yet so often the passage of time wears away that enthusiasm and we are left with nothing. Let us learn from Avrohom’s example that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions which remind us of our initial burst of inspiration so that we may keep it with us forever and not just set out for Canaan but actually arrive there!


והיה כי יראו אתך המצרים ואמרו אשתו זאת והרגו אתי ואתך יחיו

אמרי נא אחתי את למען ייטב לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך (12:12-13)

Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avrohom and Sorah decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avrohom became aware of Sorah’s beauty and began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so. Commenting on Avrohom’s concern, the Medrash Pliah cryptically comments מכאן ששוחטין לחולה בשבת – we may derive from here that it is permitted to slaughter an animal on Shabbos to feed a sick person. What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated topics?

In his commentary on Yoma (85a), the Ran questions why it is permitted to slaughter an animal so that a sick person may have kosher food to eat when it is possible to feed him readily available non-kosher meat? Although it is preferable to eat kosher food, why is it permissible to perform a more severe sin of desecrating Shabbos when it is possible to transgress the lesser sin of eating non-kosher food?

The Ran answers that although slaughtering an animal on Shabbos is more severe, it need be performed only once. The prohibition against eating non-kosher food, while not as great, will be repeatedly transgressed with each bite. Although each individual bite is less severe than desecrating Shabbos, the cumulative effect of all of them is actually greater. For this reason, it is preferable to perform a one-time sin, no matter how great, of slaughtering an animal to save the sick person’s life.

Commenting on our verse, the Daas Z’keinim question if Avrohom was sure that the Egyptians wouldn’t transgress the prohibition against having relations with a married woman, why wasn’t he equally confident that they would observe the commandment forbidding murder? In light of the explanation of the Ran, the Chanukas HaTorah and Rav Yosef Engel explain that Avrohom feared that the Egyptians would desire to have relations with his beautiful wife. Although they would prefer not to violate any of the seven Noahide commandments, given their lust for Sorah they would choose to do so in the manner which would minimize the extent of their sins.

Given the choice between committing the one-time heinous sin of murdering Avrohom to render Sorah a permissible woman or repeatedly transgressing the lesser sin of adultery each time they would have relations, Avrohom understood that they would choose the former, and hence he feared for his life. Recognizing the underlying logic behind Avrohom’s fear, the Medrash was able to apply this reasoning to the case of the sick patient on Shabbos and to conclude – just as the Ran did – that it is permissible to slaughter an animal once on Shabbos so that he may be saved from repeatedly eating forbidden food!


אמרי נא אחתי את למען ייטב לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך (12:13)

למען ייטב לי בעבורך - יתנו לי מתנות (רש"י)

There was once a man who fell into difficult financial straits. Unable to pay for even the most basic necessities, he had no choice but to begin accepting loans. Unfortunately, his situation didn’t improve and his debts continued to accrue. Recognizing his desire to pay off his debts and his frustration over lacking the means to do so, a friend offered to pay off the loans for him as a present.

The man was very appreciative of his friend’s generosity, but he felt uncomfortable accepting financial gifts of such magnitude. Though his friend encouraged him to reconsider, he remained obstinate in his position, justifying his decision with the verse in Mishlei (15:27) שונא מתנות יחיה – One who hates gifts will live. With neither willing to budge, they agreed to present the “dispute” to a Rav for resolution.

After hearing the two sides, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein ruled that the debtor was obligated to accept the gift. He supported his ruling by noting that as Avrohom and Sorah approached Egypt, Avrohom asked Sorah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians would give him presents on account of her. Why was Avrohom, who later refused to accept even the smallest gift from the king of Sodom (14:23), so interested in receiving presents from the Egyptians?

After leaving Egypt to return to Canaan, the Torah relates (13:3) that Avrohom traveled on the same path which he had taken on his way down. Rashi explains that he stayed in the same inns in which he had lodged on his way to Egypt. As Avrohom had lacked the means to pay for his accommodations, he was forced to stay in lodging which extended him a line of credit. On his way home, he was careful to stop at each of these inns to pay the bills he had accumulated.

We can now understand that as Avrohom approached Egypt in a time of famine, he feared that on his return journey he would be no better off than before and would lack the means to pay off his creditors. As much as he was loathe to accept gifts, he was even more uncomfortable remaining a debtor to people who had been kind enough to help him in his time of need. Out of desperation, he hatched a plan to claim that Sorah was his sister so that the Egyptians would shower him with gifts, thereby allowing him to repay his debts. As מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, we may derive from Avrohom that it is indeed appropriate for a person facing financial hardship to accept presents in order to pay off his accrued debts!


ותאמר שרי אל אברם חמסי עליך אנכי נתתי שפחתי בחיקך

ותרא כי הרתה ואקל בעיניה ישפט ד' ביני וביניך (16:5)

חמס העשוי לי עליך אני מטיל העונש כשהתפללת להקב"ה מה תתן לי ואנכי הולך ערירי לא התפללת אלא עליך והיה לך להתפלל על שנינו והייתי אני נפקדת עמך (רש"י)

After being married for ten years without bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that he should marry her maidservant Hagar and attempt to have children together with her. After Avrohom married Hagar and she successfully conceived, Sorah became upset with Avrohom. Rashi explains that she argued that Avrohom hadn’t prayed on her behalf. When he beseeched Hashem for a child to inherit his spiritual legacy, he prayed only that he should merit offspring but didn’t include her in his petitions.

As the Gemora in Yevamos (64b) teaches that Sorah didn’t have a uterus and was physically incapable of conceiving a child, it is difficult to understand Sorah’s claim. Of what benefit could Avrohom’s prayers have been, and for what reason did she hold him responsible for not asking Hashem for something which was impossible according to the laws of nature?

Rav Nosson Wachtfogel answers that we ask this question only because we don’t understand the tremendous power of heartfelt prayer. While it is true that Hashem runs the world based on the physical laws of nature, prayer is a supernatural instrument which allows a person to bypass scientific obstacles.

When the K’sav Sofer was a mere 2 years old, he became so ill that the doctors despaired of his life. Based on their diagnosis of his ailment, they despondently said that there was nothing they could humanly do to save him. His illustrious father, the Chasam Sofer, requested that everybody present leave the room in which his son was resting. The Chasam Sofer entered the room, locked the door, and prayed as never before. He emerged and confidently announced that he had successfully attained a yovel (50 years) on his son’s behalf. To the amazement of all but his father, the child had a miraculous recovery and went on to lead a prolific and productive life, one which was cut short at the tender age of 52!

Sadly, the Gemora in Berachos (6b) teaches that while prayer has the potential to reach the greatest heights imaginable, people don’t recognize this power and disrespectfully take it for granted. The Gemora in Yevamos (64a) teaches that the infertility of the Avos and Imahos was due to Hashem’s desire for their intense prayers. Sorah understood this lesson and therefore wasn’t the slightest bit fazed by the apparent obstacle presented by her lack of a womb, instead focusing her frustration on the real impediment to her pregnancy – Avrohom’s lack of prayers on her behalf. Many times in life we face seemingly insurmountable challenges. At such times, we may take inspiration and comfort from the recognition that there is no hurdle large enough to stand in the way of our heartfelt prayers.


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

1) In commanding Avrohom to leave his homeland, Hashem promised him that in his new location he would merit to have children and become a great nation, would become wealthy, and would become well-known and respected (12:1-2). Why is leaving his homeland considered one of the ten tests of faith to which Hashem submitted Avrohom (Avos 5:3) if he was promised such great reward for doing so? (Panim Yafos quoted in Matnas Chaim, Darkei Mussar, Darash Moshe Vol. 2, Bod Kodesh, Mas’as HaMelech, Beis Aharon quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

2) Rashi writes (13:11) that in parting from Avrohom, Lot renounced Avrohom and his G-d. Why do we find him in next week’s parsha eating matzos on Pesach (19:3, Rashi) and risking his life for the mitzvah of hosting guests (19:1-11)? (Ayeles HaShachar, Zichron Meir)

3) When did the ברית בין הבתרים take place, as it seems to begin at night with Hashem telling Avrohom to try to count the stars which were out (15:5) only to later mention that the sun set and it became dark (15:17)? (Tosefos Berachos 7b d.h. lo, Bechor Shor, Ramban, Shaarei Aharon)

4) Rashi explains (17:19) that the name Yitzchok comes from the word צחוק – laughter. What is the deeper connection to be inferred from the fact that the name Yitzchok, who is associated with serving Hashem with the attribute of fear and strength, connotes laughter? (Ohr Gedalyahu)

5) Avrohom circumcised himself, his son Yishmael, and all of his male servants in the middle of the day (17:23). As we derive from Avrohom the concept of doing mitzvos with alacrity at the first possible opportunity (see Rashi 22:3), why didn’t he perform the circumcisions as early as possible in the morning? (Tosefes Bracha, Mishmeres Ariel, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6) Was Avrohom’s circumcision of himself (17:24) considered a Jewish circumcision, just like that of any other Jew, or was it a circumcision of conversion to Judaism? (Chavatzeles HaSharon)


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