Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Parshas Vayeira

וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו (18:2)

אחד לבשר את שרה ואחד להפוך את סדום ואחד לרפאות את אברהם שאין מלאך אחד עושה שתי שליחות ...

ורפאל שרפא את אברהם הלך משם להציל את לוט (רש"י)

As Avrohom was in the middle of speaking to Hashem, he looked up and noticed three men approaching him. Excited at the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of hosting guests, he ran to greet them. Although they appeared to him in the guise of Arab wayfarers, Rashi writes that in reality they were angels sent on Divine missions. Because an angel may perform only one unique mission, Hashem had to send three angels to Avrohom: one to announce that Sorah would conceive and bear a son, a second to cure Avrohom from the pain of his circumcision, and a third to destroy the town of Sodom.

Rashi adds that after healing Avrohom, the angel Rafael proceeded to save Lot from the destruction of Sodom. If the reason for sending multiple angels was because each may perform only one task, why didn’t Hashem send a 4th angel to rescue Lot, and once Rafael was able to perform multiple tasks, why wasn’t he able to come alone and do everything single-handedly?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that although Lot was a wicked heretic who had renounced his belief in Hashem and settled in the moral cesspool that was Sodom, he was nevertheless saved from the destruction which befell his neighbors in the merit of his future descendants Rus, Dovid, and ultimately Moshiach. However, the Gemora in Yevamos (76b) relates that in the time of Dovid, the status of all of these great individuals was called into question by Doeg HaEdomi. The Torah prohibits (Devorim 23:4) an Ammonite or Moabite to enter the Jewish people. Doeg argued that because Dovid was descended from the Moabite Rus, he was unfit not only to be king but even to marry into the Jewish nation.

The Gemora concludes that because the prohibition applies only to the males of these two nations and Dovid was descended from the female Rus, his ancestry was indeed acceptable. The reason for the prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites marrying into the Jewish people is because they didn’t greet the Jews with bread and water as they were leaving Egypt. Because it is the practice of men to go out and greet guests but for women to modestly remain in their homes, this lack of hospitality doesn’t reflect negatively on the females of these nations, who are therefore permitted to marry Jews. The Gemora derives the rule that a woman isn’t expected to go out to greet visitors from the behavior of Sorah, who modestly remained in her tent (18:9) as Avrohom hosted their three guests.

With this introduction, we can now understand why Hashem didn’t initially send a 4th angel to save Lot. In reality, Lot should have been destroyed along with the rest of Sodom, but because of the merits of his pious descendants he was saved. The ability of these offspring to become righteous members of the Jewish people, however, was dependent on their descent from a female Moabite. The female Ammonites and Moabites should have also been prohibited to marry into the Jewish nation, thereby negating any merit Lot could have had from his descendants.

However, because Sorah remained in her tent and taught the concept that a woman should remain in her home rather than go out to greet guests, Lot’s female descendants became permissible and his merit to be saved was confirmed. However, because this became clear only through the conduct of Sorah toward her guests, at the time of sending the three angels to Avrohom it would have been impossible to send a 4th to save Lot because his merit to be saved had yet to be established!


וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו וירא וירץ לקראתם מפתח האהל וישתחו ארצה ... יקח נא מעט מים ... ואקחה פת לחם וסעדו לבכם (18:2-5)

Avrohom excelled in the mitzvah of hosting guests. Three days after he had circumcised himself at the age of 99, Hashem didn’t want Avrohom to burden himself with caring for guests. He brought a heat wave to deter all travelers on that day. Still, the weak Avrohom’s greatest concern was that the unusually hot weather would deny him the merit of welcoming guests. Avrohom decided to sit at the entrance of his tent in the hopes that he might spy a stray traveler.

When Hashem saw Avrohom’s suffering over the lack of guests, He sent three angels in the guise of people. Rejoicing at this improbable turn of events, the elderly and weak Avrohom ran to personally invite them to his home to serve them. Avrohom proceeded to serve them a lavish and abundant feast with one exception: although he was generous with all of the other courses, he instructed that only a small amount of water be brought for them. As caring for guests was Avrohom’s raison d’etre and he was so generous with all of the other portions, why was he so stingy when it came to the water?

The following story will help us answer this question. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter spent Shabbos in a small village. The locals were excited about the opportunity to host the renowned Rabbi in their community and to learn from his pious ways. When the time came to wash his hands prior to the meal, his hosts were surprised to notice that he used a very small amount of water.

Worried that they had done something wrong or offended the Rav in some way, they respectfully asked for an explanation of his behavior. Rav Yisroel explained that the water in this village was drawn from a distant well. Carrying the water over this long distance was a very difficult task. Although he was normally accustomed to washing his hands with more water in the legally preferable manner, in this case it would be inappropriate to do so at the expense of the water-carrier.

In light of this story, the Darkei Mussar explains that almost all of the preparations for the meal were performed by Avrohom. The actions which he did on behalf of the guests were done with great alacrity and revealed a giving spirit. The water, on the other hand, was the one item which Avrohom asked somebody else to bring. As much as he wanted to offer the guests generous portions, he understood, as did Rav Yisroel, that it would be inappropriate to do so at someone else’s expense.

The commandments are traditionally divided into two categories: those between man and Hashem, and those between man and his fellow man. As piety is often associated with the mitzvos in the first group, it is sadly all too easy and natural for somebody wishing to demonstrate his religious devotion to emphasize this type at the expense of the commandments governing our interpersonal relationships. In reality, our forefather Avrohom teaches us that true piety requires recognizing that both classes emanate equally from Hashem and must be balanced accordingly.


ויאמר ד' אל אברהם למה זה צחקה שרה לאמר האף אמנם אלד ואני זקנתי (18:13)

Upon hearing the blessing of the angels that she would merit to give birth to a child one year later, Sorah laughed in wondrous disbelief and questioned how she and her elderly husband could possibly conceive a child. Hashem responded by challenging Avrohom regarding Sorah’s lack of belief in His ability to perform miracles. Why did Hashem question Avrohom regarding his wife’s behavior instead of rebuking Sorah directly?

When Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was a young boy, his father (the Beis HaLevi) hired for him a private teacher to allow him to diligently progress in his Torah learning. The tutor quickly recognized the genius of his student and was eager to show off the young prodigy. As the teacher was a chossid of the Slonimer Rebbe, he decided to take his protégé to visit his Rebbe.

After they entered and were seated, the Slonimer Rebbe gave an apple to the young Chaim, who proceeded to take a voracious bite without first making a blessing. The Rebbe voiced his disapproval to his chossid, noting that if he were a better teacher, his student would understand the importance of reciting a blessing before eating. The young Chaim rejoined by passing the buck one step higher and impudently suggesting that if the Rebbe were on a higher level, his chassidim would be better teachers, who in turn would have better students!

The Darkei Mussar similarly suggests that Hashem understood that Sorah’s knowledge and beliefs were learned from Avrohom. If she demonstrated a deficiency in her emunah and bitachon (faith and trust), she must have subconsciously picked it up through observing Avrohom. It was for this reason that Hashem transferred the ultimate blame to Avrohom and approached him to demand an explanation!


כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו (18:19)

Avrohom merited Hashem’s love as a result of his dedication to commanding his children and his household to follow in his ways of Divine service. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein notes that given Avrohom’s reputation as an educator par excellence, it is curious that the Torah relates precious little of his actual conversations with his son and spiritual inheritor Yitzchok. In fact, the only recorded interactions between them are on the way to the Akeidah, in which the Torah mentions (22:7-8) a total of two lines – a mere eight seemingly trivial words – which Avrohom spoke to Yitzchok, and those were only in response to a discussion initiated by Yitzchok. If we are to learn from Avrohom’s techniques in giving over our values and priorities to the next generation, shouldn’t we be given more examples?

Rav Zilberstein answers that in intentionally limiting the recorded words of Avrohom to his son, the Torah is teaching us a tremendous lesson regarding the education of our children. Many Americans mistakenly believe that raising children is as simple as constantly instructing and commanding them what they should and shouldn’t do. The fact that the parents themselves may not follow this advice is believed to be irrelevant, as “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to resolve the apparent contradiction.

In reality, of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our children are much smarter than we give them credit for, and they see right through our double standards, recognizing that our actions reflect our true beliefs, which they in turn absorb. The Torah tells us precious little of Avrohom’s words to Yitzchok to teach us that this wasn’t Avrohom’s primary form of conveying his beliefs. Rather, the most effective form of education came through serving as a personal example of all that he valued and wished to transmit to his son. This form of instruction was stronger than any words and couldn’t be explicitly expressed by the Torah.


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

1) Upon hearing the blessing of the angels that she would merit to bear a son, Sorah laughed in wondrous disbelief, to which Hashem responded by challenging her deficient belief in His ability to perform miracles (18:12-14). As the angels appeared in the guise of Arabs, why was she expected to believe in the power of their blessings? (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Darash Moshe)

2) The Gemora in Berachos (26b) derives from 19:27 that Avrohom instituted the morning prayers. As the Jewish day begins from sundown, why didn’t he establish the evening prayers which chronologically come first? (Mishmeres Ariel, Panim Yafos)

3) A child is declared a wayward and rebellious son for stealing and gluttonously consuming meat and wine (Rashi Devorim 21:18). Although none of these is a capital crime, he is punished today based on his future actions, for such a child will eventually murder to steal money to support his excessive desires. How can this be reconciled with the principle (Rashi 21:17) that a person is only judged באשר הוא שם – based on his present deeds – by virtue of which Yishmael was saved in the desert? (Tur HeAruch, Paneiach Raza, Matamei Yaakov, Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Derech Sicha, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

4) The Gemora in Kiddushin (68a) derives from Avrohom’s instruction to Eliezer and Yishmael, who accompanied him to the Akeidah (Rashi 22:3), to remain with the donkey while he continues with Yitzchok (22:5) that non-Jews are עם הדומה לחמור – similar to a donkey in that their children aren’t considered legally descended from them. Is this to be read and understood as “am” – a nation which is similar to a donkey – or “eem” – deriving from the Torah’s use of the word “eem” (with) that they are being compared to the donkey? (Kesuvos 111a)

5) According to Avrohom’s assumption that he was actually to slaughter Yitzchok, why did he plan to do so on top of the altar (22:9-10) instead of on the ground as was done with all other sacrifices in the Temple? (Ayeles HaShachar, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Tzafnas Paneiach, M’rafsin Igri)


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