Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 3
8 Cheshvan 5758
November 6, 1997
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Edeson,
in honor of
Raizel's marriage to Tommy Stern.
We read in this parashah that Hashem took Avraham outside and
showed him the stars. "Just as you cannot count the stars," Hashem
told him, "so your descendants will be innumerable." The Torah
relates that Avraham believed Hashem and considered His promise to
be a kindness to him (Avraham). Hashem then said (15:7), "I am
G-d Who took you out of the furnace of the Chaldeans."
R' Yehuda Roseannes z"l (author of Mishneh Le'melech) explains
the progression of these verses as follows: Unlike the Jews, who
have a mitzvah to give their lives to sanctify G-d's Name,
Noachides have no such mitzvah. Since Rambam holds that a person
may not sacrifice his life when he is not halachically obligated to
do so, it follows that a Noachide also may not give his life to
sanctify G-d's Name.
Was Avraham Jewish? This is the subject of a dispute between
Tosfot and Ramban, and even Avraham did not know the answer. Thus,
when Avraham allowed himself to be thrown into Nimrod's furnace, he
was unsure of whether he was violating halachah. Even after he was
saved from the furnace, he continued to be nagged by lingering
doubts as to the propriety of his actions.
Chazal explain that when Hashem showed Avraham the stars, He
indicated that Avraham was not governed by astrology, but was under
Hashem's direct providence. Avraham understood this to mean that
he was Jewish; he was thankful for this and considered it to be a
special kindness. But Hashem said, "Why are you so thankful all of
a sudden? I am the same G-d Who took you out of the furnace." You
should have understood then that you were Jewish, for otherwise you
would not have been permitted to sacrifice your life and I would
not have saved you.
(Parashat Derachim II)
An Astonishing Midrash
"Say you are my sister" (12:13) from here we learn that one may
slaughter an animal on Shabbat to give fresh meat to one who is
sick. The Torah commands (Vayikra 18:5), "You shall live by them,"
from which we learn that virtually all Torah laws are preempted
when human life is at stake. Thus, for example, a person may
transgress a law of Shabbat if his life would otherwise be
How do we know, however, that a person may transgress a Torah law
in order to save someone else's life? We learn that from this
verse, where Avraham asked Sarah to lie in order to save his life.
"The Torah Is Not in Chronological Order"
Chazal (Pesachim 6b) teach that the stories in the Torah are not
always told in chronological order. For example, the death of
Terach (Avraham's father) is mentioned at the end of last week's
parashah when, in reality, Terach was still alive when Avraham left
for Eretz Canaan at age 75. Simple arithmetic bears this out.
(Rashi 11:32; Ibn Ezra 6:3)
Near the end of this week's parashah, we read of the "berit bein
habetarim"/ "covenant between the parts," in which Hashem told
Avraham that his descendants would be strangers in a foreign land
for 400 years. Rashi explains that these 400 years are counted
from the birth of Yitzchak until the Exodus; however, the
actual number of years that the Jews were in Egypt was only 210.
In Shmot 12:40 we read that the Jews were in Egypt for 430 years.
Rashi explains that these years were counted from the time of the
berit bein habetarimuntil the Exodus. One can thus calculate that
Avraham was 70 at the berit bein habetarim. This means, in turn,
that the berit bein habetarim, which is described near the end of
our parashah, occurred before the beginning of our parashah (when
Avraham was 75). And, since the berit bein habetarim took place in
Eretz Yisrael, this means that Avraham went to the Land before
Hashem told him to, and then left there.
Ramban disagrees with Rashi's calculations. He writes, instead,
that the exile did last 430 years from the birth of Yitzchak. When
Hashem told Avraham that the exile would last 400 years, He rounded
off. (Ramban, Shmot 12:40)
Ramban's view is consistent with his general understanding of the
principle discussed here (i.e., that the Torah is not in
chronological order). He writes that the Torah is in chronological
order, except where the verses clearly indicate otherwise. Even
then, if we wish to interpret the Torah in non-chronological
order, we are obligated to find a compelling reason why the Torah
would deviate from the proper order. (Ramban, Bemidbar 16:1)
In contrast, Tosfot (Chullin 95b) appears to be willing to use
the principle discussed here much more freely. Thus, to answer the
question of why Eliezer gave Rivka gifts before he knew that she
was Avraham's relative (see Bereishit 24:22-23), Tosfot says simply
that the Torah is not in chronological order. This use of the rule
is significant, also, because it assumes that details within a
story are not in order, not only that whole stories are out of
place. Indeed, Tosfot (Pesachim6b) explains that the rule can be
used wherever support can be found in the verses at issue.
Why is the Torah not written in chronological order? One can ask
this question only if one views the Torah as a history book.
However, if one sees the Torah as a book on law and ethics, one
realizes that there is no reason why the Torah should be written in
chronological order. Rather, an order that will serve the Torah's
purposes is called for.
For example, the gemara often finds halachic significance in the
order of the verses (See Sefer Hachinuch No. 413). Also, writes
Rav Shmuel Toledano z"l, the Torah is written out of the "proper"
order in order to hide part of its meaning and prevent unworthy men
from using its awesome mystical power (Mavo Lechochmat Hakabbalah
Part II, ch.2)
"Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace
from your father's house . . ."(12:1)
R' Moshe Chafetz z"l (early 18th cent.) writes that a person
usually loves his home for one of three reasons: He is used to it,
he was born there, or his ancestors have lived there for many
generations. Human nature is that it is difficult for a person to
leave a place that has all three of these "traits" in order to go
to a place that he has never even seen.
This was Avraham's first test, that he had to leave his land, his
birthplace and his father's home and go to a land that he did not
know. Generally, people love their homes even when they are bad
places, as Iyov said (Iyov 17:13-14), "Inasmuch as I crave the
nethermost depths as my home, I spread my mattress in the dark. I
called to the pit, 'You are my father!', to the worms, 'My mother,
my sister!'." Avraham's test was to love Hashem instead of his
R' Yitzchak Shifrin shlita (of Baltimore) lived part of his
childhood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a town famous for its
devastating floods. He used the people of Johnstown to illustrate
man's irrational love for his hometown; after each flood, these
people come home and rebuild, knowing full well that the next
year's floods may drive them out again.
R' Donash ben Tamim z"l
late 9th century
R' Donash was a philosopher, physician, astronomer and prolific
author. He was born in Iraq and died in Kairouan, Tunisia.
Only one of R' Donash's works, a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah,
survives. In it, R' Donash relates that many early manuscripts of
R' Saadiah Gaon (892-942), written while the latter still lived in
Egypt (before 928), reached R' Donash's teacher, R' Yitzchak
HaYisraeli. R' Yitzchak, in turn, instructed R' Donash which part
of those works he agreed with and which he disputed. R' Donash
also mentions some of his other books, including a treatise on
astrology written in honor of the caliph, and one on astronomy
written at the request of R' Chisdai ibn Shaprut.
R' Avraham ibn Ezra quotes R' Donash in some of his works
sometimes by the name "R' Adonim ben Tamim Hamizrachi" often
disagreeing with him. Nevertheless, ibn Ezra places R' Donash
alongside R' Saadiah Gaon and R' Yehuda ben Kuraish among those
whom he calls the "Elders of the Holy Tongue." (This R' Donash
should not be confused with R' Donash Halevi ben Labrat, the
disputant of Menachem ben Saruk who is quoted numerous times by
Rashi. That R' Donash lived a century later.) (Sources: The
Artscroll Rishonim, p.50; Commentary of Ibn Ezra to Kohelet 12:5)
Copyright © 1997 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
may be retrieved from
to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.
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