Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number
15 Cheshvan 5758
November 15, 1997
Rabbi and Mrs. Sam Vogel
on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Aharon Shimon ben Shemaryah a"h Arthur Kalkstein)
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisrael a"h
Mrs. Rochelle Dimont and family
in memory of mother-in-law and grandmother Chana Dimont a"h
and father and grandfather Rabbi Louis Tarshish a"h
The midrash relates that after Avraham would feed the guests
who passed his way, he would say, "Now thank G-d whose food you
have eaten." If the guest refused, Avraham would say, "Then pay
me! The wine costs such-and-such, the meat costs such-and-such,
the bread costs such-and-such. Who would give you wine in the
desert? Who would give you meat in the desert? Who would give
you bread in the desert?" At that point, Avraham's guests would
agree to thank G-d.
The commentaries ask: Of what value is a blessing which is
extracted by financial duress? R' Yitzchak Or Zarua z'l (13th
century) explains that Avraham did not actually ask his guests
for money. Rather he argued, "Think about how much you would be
willing to pay for food and drink in the desert. Behold! G-d has
prepared that food and drink for you by causing me to be here in
your time of need. Moreover, it's all free, although you would
have paid a small fortune had I requested it."
Upon realizing that G-d indeed looks out for each person's
needs, Avraham's guests would willingly thank G-d for their food.
(Quoted in Otzrot Hatorah Vol. I. p.54)
(Parashat Derachim II)
An Astonishing Midrash
"Avraham ate as much as 74 people."
The Vilna Gaon explains as follows: The Torah says (Shmot 24:9-
11), "Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders ascended
[Har Sinai]. They gazed at G-d, and they ate and drank." In these
verses, appreciating the Shechinah is called "eating," and the
verses refer to 74 people (Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the 70
Avraham's appreciation of G-d was greater than that of these 74
people combined. He "ate" more than they did.
R' Avraham Mordechai Alter z'l (the Gerrer Rebbe) explains this
midrash in light of the mishnah (Avot 5:3) which states: There were
ten generations from Noach to Avraham. Because these generations
angered G-d, Avraham received the reward due all of them.
If you count, says R' Alter, you will find that 74 people are
named in the Torah from those generations.
What Was Avraham's Test?
"And it happened after these things that G-d tested
Avraham . . ." (22:1)
Most commentaries agree that the akeidah/binding of Yitzchak on
the altar was the culmination of the ten times that Hashem tested
Avraham However, the commentaries offer different explanations as
to what precisely was the nature of this test. Two of these views
are presented here:
R' Menachem Mendel Krochmal z'l (17th cent.) explains that
Avraham's willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak was not his main
achievement; after all, who would not obey a command which he
himself heard from G-d? Rather, Avraham's greatness was in not
questioning the apparent contradictions in G-d's messages to him.
He might have said: "Yesterday You told me (21:12), 'For through
Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours,' and now You tell me
to sacrifice him?" Instead, he said nothing.
This would explain why the akeidah is thought of as a test for
Avraham, more so than for Yitzchak. Just as it would not have been
difficult for Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak (since Avraham heard G-
d=FEs direct command), it would not have been difficult for Yitzchak
to submit to being killed (for Yitzchak had no doubt that G-d had
spoken to Avraham). The real test was how Avraham would react to
the contradictory prophecies. (This was not a test for Yitzchak
because Yitzchak never received contradictory prophecies.)
(Pi Tzaddik, Drush 41)
R' Elchanan Wasserman z'l (20th cent.) also observes that anyone
who had heard the command from G-d would readily have sacrificed
his son. Indeed, millions of Jews throughout history have
sacrificed their children and themselves without hearing G-d's
voice. [Ed. Note: R' Wasserman himself was killed in the
He explains that it is "easy" to make a sacrifice if you know
that the future holds something much better than the present. For
a martyr, that future is the World-to-Come. However, Avraham did
not value the World-to-Come above all else. When Hashem had
informed Avraham that he was guaranteed a place in the World-to-
Come (Bereishit 15:1, as interpreted by Chazal), Avraham replied,
"Of what value is it, if I am left childless?" Why? Avraham's
mission in life was to spread knowledge of G-d in this world, and
the success of that mission required that Avraham leave behind a
child. If he didn't, his teachings would quickly be forgotten, and
his whole life's work would have been wasted.
"As it is for this reason that you have passed your
servant's way" (18:4)
On the above verse, part of Avraham's attempt to persuade the
three angels to eat in his house, the midrash says: Avraham told
them, "You were destined from the time of creation to visit me."
R' A.Y. Yellin z'l (19th-20th cent.) explains this as follows:
The gemara (Shabbat 88b) records that when Moshe ascended to
receive the Torah, the angels argued that the Torah should remain
in the heavens. Moshe defeated them with several arguments: First,
he argued, the Torah says, "I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out
of Egypt, from the house of slavery." Were you, the angels, slaves
Also, he argued, the Torah prohibits eating milk and meat
together, yet you, the angels, ate milk and meat together at
Rashi (Shmot 20:2) writes: When Bnei Yisrael built the golden
calf and Hashem was about to destroy them, Moshe argued, "The Ten
Commandments are in singular form; they were given only to me.
Thus the Jews have not sinned." With this argument, Moshe appeased
This raises a problem, however, writes R' Yellin, for it defeats
Moshe's first argument to the angels. After all, Moshe also was
not a slave in Egypt, so why was the Torah given to him? For this
reason, Moshe's other argument was necessary; the angels could not
receive the Torah for they ate milk and meat together at Avraham's
The gemara (Shabbat 88a) teaches that the world was created only
so that Bnei Yisrael could receive the Torah. And, as explained
above, the Jews received the Torah only because the angels ate milk
and meat together at Avraham=FEs house. This is why Avraham said to
the angels, "You were destined from the time of creation to visit
R' Menachem ben Saruk z'l
born approx. 920 - died approx. 980
R' Menachem was a poet and grammarian. He was born in Tortosa,
Spain and was brought to Cordova by R' Yitzchak ibn Shaprut. R'
Menachem later became the private secretary to R' Chisdai ibn
Shaprut, foreign minister of the Spanish caliphs.
At R' Chisdai's request, R' Menachem compiled Machberet, a
dictionary of the Hebrew language. R' Menachem wrote his work in
Hebrew, thus departing from the accepted practice of writing in
Arabic. He also abandoned the practice of deriving the meanings of
Hebrew words from phonetically similar words in Arabic and Aramaic;
by doing so he stirred much criticism.
One of R' Menachem's foremost opponents was R' Donash ben Labrat,
who wrote an extensive criticism of the Machberet. R' Menachem did
not answer. He did, however, criticize R' Donash's introduction of
Arabic forms and meters into Hebrew poetry. R' Menachem's students
wrote a treatise to defend their teacher, as did the Tosafist,
Rabbenu Tam, two centuries later.
The Machberet was particularly popular in northern Europe, where
Arabic was not spoken. For example, it is quoted approximately 200
times in Rashi's Bible commentary. (Source: The Artscroll Rishonim
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.