Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XIII, Number 2
16 Cheshvan 5759
November 7, 1998
Orach Chaim 8:9-11
Yerushalmi Pesachim 50
The Torah describes to us Avraham's greatness in that, despite
his weakness and the unbearable heat, he was saddened that no
guests arrived at his door. The Torah describes that when he saw
three "men" approaching, he ran to them and invited them in. The
Torah further describes in detail the food that he prepared for
them and served them.
R' Shalom Mordechai Schwadron z"l (of The Maggid Speaks fame;
1913-1997) asks: Since Avraham was so hospitable, presumably he
had overnight guests in his tent who had arrived on previous
days. Why then was it so important to him that new guests come?
R' Schwadron explains that Avraham's goal in having guests was
not merely to feed them. His goal was to teach them how a person
should eat - not in a ravenous, animal-like manner, but in a
refined way. He taught that eating should be part of man's
spiritual life, not a physical activity. And, just as Hashem
renews His creation every day, so Avraham wished to renew his own
work every day.
The midrash Tanna D'vei Eliyahu states that although angels do
not ordinarily eat, Hashem opened the "mouths" of the angels who
came to Avraham's house and they ate. R' Schwadron explains that
this was a reward for Avraham. Since he taught men to behave
like angels during their meals, his reward was that real angels
ate in his house.
Chazal say that Avraham's descendants received the mahn in the
desert as a reward for the bread which Avraham offered to the
angels. Because Avraham fed human food to the angels while
trying to teach humans to eat like angels, his descendants
survived on the mahn, which was not real food and which Chazal
refer to as the "bread of angels." (Lev Shalom p.145)
"Avraham awoke early in the morning, took bread and a bag of water and gave them to Hagar." (21:14)
R' Binyamin Kornet z"l (New York; mid-20th century) writes:
Avraham was hinting to Hagar that man's primary mission is "to
wage war"/"le'hilachem" - related to "lechem"/"bread" - against
the yetzer hara. Also, man must not fall prey to his desires;
rather he must live in accordance with the Torah, which Chazal
frequently liken to water. Indeed, the Torah forms a
"wall"/"chomah" - related to "chemet"/"bag" [of water] - around
The next verse relates: "He placed them [the bread and water]
on her shoulder . . . She departed and strayed in the desert . .
." R' Kornet explains: The mitzvot are intended to be a yoke on
a Jew's shoulders to keep him from straying, as a yoke keeps an
ox from straying. However, Hagar departed on her own way and
therefore strayed in the desert. As a result, the next verse
tells us, the water dried up from the chemet, i.e., whatever
Torah she had learned departed from her and she was not protected
from spiritual predators by any forces of holiness.
(Kibbutz Mezareh Yisrael)
"It happened after these things, G-d tested Avraham . . ."
What were "these things" which preceded the akeidah? Rashi
explains that the satan complained: "Avraham made a party in
honor of Yitzchak [verse 21:8] and did not offer even one
sacrifice." Hashem responded that Avraham would even sacrifice
Yitzchak if he were so commanded.
R' Chaim Moshe Gostynski z"l (Poland and New York; 20th
century) observes that if the names of the letters of the word
"akeidah" are spelled out (as follows: ayin-yud-nun kuf-feh yud-
vav-dalet dalet-lamed-yud-tav heh-heh) their gematria equals 784,
the same as the gematria of the phrase, "Achar divrei
satan"/"after the words of the satan."
The Greatness of the Akeidah
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l ("Chida"; 1724-1806) writes: R'
Moshe Almosnino z"l (16th century) asks in his work, Yedei Moshe:
Why is Avraham glorified so for his willingness to sacrifice his
son? How many thousands of Jews sacrificed themselves for Hashem
from ancient times until today?
R' Almosnino answers: Avraham's greatness was that he fulfilled
Hashem's command joyfully. How do we know that he did? Because
he experienced prophecy in the middle of the akeidah (see 22:11),
and Chazal teach (Pesachim 117a) that prophecy can be experienced
only when the prophet is in a joyful state. Surely one would
have expected Avraham to experience sadness as he prepared to
sacrifice his son, but Avraham experienced only joy at fulfilling
the word of Hashem.
Chida himself offers a different answer. Throughout Jewish
history, when Jews went to martyrdom, they were forced to do so.
Even Avraham, when he entered Nimrod's furnace as a child, was
forced to enter it. Not so Avraham at the akeidah; nobody forced
him to sacrifice his son, yet he did so willingly.
Another way in which Avraham's actions were noteworthy is that
he did not question Hashem's judgment. Avraham had every reason
to question Hashem, Who had previously promised that Yitzchak
would be the progenitor of a great nation and Who now appeared to
have changed His mind, yet Avraham remained silent. [Although
there may have been other martyrs who did question their lot,
they had not previously received promises from Hashem of a
glorious future. No question that they might have asked would
have had the same force as the question that Avraham could have
Also, writes Chida, we know that Avraham was the epitome of a
kind person. Surely it was against all he believed in to
slaughter his son. Nevertheless, Avraham conquered his natural
tendencies and fulfilled Hashem's will.
(Ruach Chaim: Drush 19;
quoted in Torat Ha'Chida Vol I. p.138)
R' Elchonon Wasserman, who himself died a martyr's death in
1941 (see below), offers a different answer to our question:
Martyrdom is relatively easy, for the martyr knows that he is
going to a better place, to Olam Haba/The World-to-Come. What
if, however, a martyr were asked to give up his Olam Haba? Could
he do it?
Avraham was asked to do something even harder than giving up
his Olam Haba, for Avraham valued the continuation of his
teachings in this World more than he valued his place in the
World-to-Come. (We learn this from the fact that after Hashem
promised Avraham (15:1), "Your reward is very great," Avraham
replied (15:2), "What can You give me when I am childless?") If
Avraham had slaughtered Yitzchak, the continuity of Avraham's
teachings would have been at an end. Even so, Avraham went
willingly to the akeidah.
(Kovetz Ma'amarim p.43)
The details of R' Elchonon Wasserman's last days were related
after the war by survivors of the Kovno ghetto:
"Reb Elchonon was fully aware of what awaited him. Hence
his face brightened, exhibiting what could only be called an
angelic expression. The Jews who saw him then - among them,
only two were to survive - all received the same clear
impression, that of a great leader of Israel preparing to
offer his life for the sanctification of G-d's Name.
R' Elchonon told his fellow captives: "Apparently they
consider us tzaddikim in Heaven, for we were chosen to atone
for Klal Yisrael with our lives. If so, we must repent
completely here and now. We must realize that our
sacrifices will be more pleasing if accompanied by
repentance, and we shall thereby save the lives of our
brothers and sisters in America."
(Reb Elchonon, pp.409-410)
R' Yaakov Beruchin z"l
R' Yaakov ben R' Aharon was born in 5548 (1787/8). He and his
brother, R' Yitzchak (author of the Talmud commentary Keren Orah)
were among the leading students of R' Chaim of Volozhin. It is
said that R' Chaim sometimes asked R' Yaakov to lecture in the
R' Yaakov was rabbi of Karlin and was recognized as one of the
leading sages of his generation. He is best known today for his
work Mishkenot Yaakov.
R' Yaakov is credited with "discovering" R' Yitzchak Elchonon
Spektor, who would be the leading posek/halachic authority of the
second half of the 19th century. This happened after R' Yitzchak
Elchanan lost all of his wedding presents in a business venture
and came to seek R' Yaakov's advice. Finding R' Yaakov immersed
in a Talmudic problem, R' Yitzchak Elchanan volunteered that the
question was answered in a certain work. So impressed was R'
Yaakov with the young scholar that he recommended R' Yitzchak
Elchanan for his first rabbinical position. (He also gave the
young scholar 40 rubles.)
R' Yaakov died in 5605 (1844/5). In his last minutes, he asked
his son to read to him from Ramban's Torah commentary because he
was very fond of that work. The tombstone which R' Yaakov shares
with his brother reads in part:
On the death of the two sons of Aharon - The staff of Aharon
gave forth a blossom and a flower and it was to the
congregation of Israel a miracle and a wonder. The honor of
Hashem shone on the house of Aharon. These two sons of his
were a wonder; they were known as the genius of Yaakov and
Yitzchak, and they raised a banner and a mast on the sea of
Torah. They were known to their nation for their [written]
works Kehillot and Mishkenot Yaakov and Keren Orah. Woe!
The cedars of G-d in the land; they studied the Torah of
Hashem the entire day. Who will teach our nation? Who will
close the breach?
(Readers may recognize the many biblical allusions in the above
text.) (Source: Gedolei Torah p. 571-572; Avi Ha'yeshivot p.416)
Sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Vogel and family on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Aharon Shimon ben Shemaryah a"h (Arthur Kalkstein) and
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisrael a"h (Leon Vogel)
Dr. and Mrs. David Maslow in memory of their fathers
Archie Maslow a"h (18 Marcheshvan)
and Samuel Holstein a"h (25 Marcheshvan)
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
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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