Vayera 5776

Volume 30, Issue 4

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The midrash states: Hashem saw that the Jewish People had no merit with which to enter the Land; then He “remembered” the merit of Yitzchak, who was born when his father was 100 and his mother was 90 [as described in our parashah]. The combined ages of Yitzchak’s parents parallel the gematria of the Hebrew word “Canaan” [the nation from which Yitzchak’s descendants conquered the Land], which is 190. [Until here from the midrash]

R’ Chaim Palagi z”l (Izmir, Turkey; 1788-1868) explains this enigmatic midrash as follows: We read in Parashat Noach that Canaan was cursed because of his disrespect to his grandfather Noach [see Rashi to 9:29]. In contrast, Yitzchak exemplified the highest level of kibud av / parental respect that any person ever reached when he believed his father that he (Yitzchak) was meant to be offered as a sacrifice. Therefore, it is fitting that Yitzchak should take the Land from Canaan. In general, our Sages say, one merits a share in Eretz Yisrael in the merit of kibud av va’eim. (Artzot Ha’chaim p.22)

Elsewhere, R’ Palagi writes about Yitzchak’s kibud av va’eim: The knife that Avraham took to perform the akeidah is referred to in the Torah as a “ma’achelet” from the root which means “to eat.” Why is the more common word “sakin” / “knife” not used? The verse alludes to the fact that the kibud av va’eim that Yitzchak practiced is a mitzvah whose reward his descendants “eat,” as the Gemara (Shabbat 127a) teaches: “These are the things whose fruits man eats in this world, but whose principle is preserved for the World-to-Come: kibud av va’eim . . .” (Tochachat Chaim: Parashat Toldot p.201)

“He lifted his eyes and saw: Behold! three men were standing over him. He saw, so he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground. He said, ‘My Master, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant’.” (18:2-3)

Rashi z”l explains: He asked G-d to wait for him while he ran and invited the travelers.

Based on Avraham’s actions, our Sages teach that hosting guests is greater than “receiving the face of the Shechinah.” But why is this so? R’ Baruch Shalom Ashlag z”l (1907-1991; chassidic rebbe in Israel) explains:

Man’s task in this world is to serve Hashem without thought of reward or glory. This means that, at every moment, one must ask himself: What does G-d expect of me right now? Often, we ask ourselves this question, but we arrive at the wrong conclusion. We fail to recognize what G-d wants of us, writes R’ Ashlag, because we assume that we are meant to be doing glorious deeds for Hashem, not the simple or mundane tasks that actually need to get done.

Avraham did not make this mistake. He understood that even when one is in the middle of the most glorious service, actually engaged in conversation with G-d, the task of the moment might be something else, something as (relatively) mundane as offering hospitality to stangers. It is this challenge which makes the “lesser” mitzvah (hospitality) the “greater” mitzvah.(Birkat Shalom 5745 No. 5)

“I will take bread and you may sustain yourselves . . . he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.” (18:5-8)

R’ Avigdor Tzarfati z”l (France; 13th century) writes: The phrase “I will take bread” is the source of the halachah that the host should be the one to recite hamotzi and distribute the bread.

From the phrase “He stood over them . . . and they ate,” we learn that, after the host recites hamotzi and eats a bit of bread, he should get up and serve any distinguished guests that are at his table. (Peirushim U’pesakim Le’rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati)

“Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem.” (19:27)

Our Sages learn from this verse that one should have a makom kavuah / fixed place for prayer. Why is that important?

R’ Avraham Meir Rosen z”l (Warsaw; 19th century) explains: Proper prayer requires subjugating oneself entirely to G-d, which is impossible if one prays haphazardly. By having a fixed place for prayer, one indicates that his prayer is not haphazard. (Be’ur Amarim Al Midrash Tanchuma)

“The child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak ‘hi’gamel’ / was weaned.” (21:8)

The midrash Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (ch.29) writes that this verse is the source of the custom to make a festive meal at a brit milah.

Where in this verse is there an allusion to brit milah? Rabbeinu Tam z”l (France; 1100-1171) explains that the word “hi’gamel” (literally, “he was weaned”) can be read: “‘heh-gimel” – 5+3, i.e., on the eighth day – “mal” – he was circumcised.(Tosafot to Shabbat 130a)

“He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him, for now I have known that you are a G-d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me’.” (22:12)

R’ Zvi Hirsch Kalischer z”l (1795-1874; German rabbi; leading advocate both for resettling Eretz Yisrael and for renewing the Temple service without waiting for the Bet Hamikdash to be rebuilt) asks: Why is Avraham called “G-d-fearing” rather than “G-d-loving,” considering that love of G-d is a higher level than fear of G-d? Also, what is meant by “Now I have known”; did Hashem, who is All-Knowing, not know before what was in Avraham’s heart?

He explains: Avraham’s love for Hashem was so great that he was seemingly incapable of fearing Him. Fear arises from the knowledge that the one who is feared can harm the one who fears, but Avraham loved Hashem so completely that nothing Hashem might do to Avraham would have been viewed by Avraham as harming him. Even being told to offer his son as a sacrifice did not shake Avraham’s love for Hashem.

Nevertheless, the test of the akeidah revealed the one thing that Avraham feared. Although he went without question to do Hashem’s Will, he now feared that his actions would negate the message of love for, and faith in, Hashem that he (Avraham) had preached to mankind. Avraham did not fear for himself, but he did show himself at this time to be a “G-d-fearing” man, i.e., a man who feared that G-d’s Will would not be done.

Of course, this was not new information to G-d Himself. That is why the verse says, “Now I have known”–what I have always known is now revealed for all to see. (Sefer Ha’brit)

“Avraham lifted his eyes and saw – behold, a ram! – afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns; so Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as an offering instead of his son.” (22:13)

R’ Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungary) writes: The Gemara (Yoma 28b) states that Avraham Avinu observed the entire Torah before it was given. Presumably, then, Avraham recited the berachah on bringing a sacrifice when he was about to “shecht” Yitzchak. Then, when the angel suddenly told Avraham not touch Yitzchak, Avraham was concerned that he had recited a berachah in vain. Thus, he was very relieved to see the ram which he offered “instead of his son,” i.e., the berachah applied to it. (Keren Le’David)

Zemirot Shabbat

“Behold! the Shabbat day is a day of redemption if you safeguard it. You shall be my treasured one. ‘Linu, v’achar ta’avoru.’ Then you shall thrive before Me and be filled with My hidden bounty.” (From the zemer Shimru Shabtotai)

The phrase “Linu, v’achar ta’avoru” literally means “stay overnight, then go on your way,” and is a pairing of two statements in our parashah–“achar ta’avoru” / “[eat, then] go on your way” (Bereishit 18:5), which was spoken by Avraham to his guests, and “linu” / “stay overnight [then be on your way]” (Bereishit 19:2), which was spoken by Lot to his guests. In the context of the zemer, commentaries explain the phrase to mean: If you keep Shabbat in the darkness of the exile, which is comparable to night, then, in that merit, you will soon be on your way out of the exile.

The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) teaches: Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, “If only the Jewish People would keep two Shabbatot, they would be redeemed immediately, as is written (Yeshayah 56:4-7), ‘For so said Hashem to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths . . . I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall gladden them in My house of prayer [i.e., the rebuilt Bet Hamikdash]’.”

Why two Shabbatot? R’ Moshe Teitelbaum z”l (1759-1841; chassidic rebbe in Ujhel, Hungary) explains that we actually need to observe only one Shabbat in order to bring the redemption. However, the definition of Shabbat is a day of rest that follows six, and only six, days of work. The first of the two Shabbatot mentioned by the Gemara is needed to frame the six days of work. (Quoted in Zemirot Shabbat Ha’mevo’ar Metivta p.441)