Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 3
13 Marcheshvan 5761
November 11, 2000
Orach Chaim 331:8-10
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nazir 25
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Bava Metzia 27
Many commentaries count among Avraham's ten tests his being
flung into a fiery furnace by King Nimrod. Yet, there is no
mention of this episode in the Torah. Why?
R' Menachem Mendel Krochmal z"l (Poland, 1600-1661; the
"Tzemach Tzeddek" - not to be confused with the chassidic rebbe
of the same name) explains: We read (Misheli 17:6), "The crown of
the elders is their grandsons." Says the midrash: "Avraham was
not saved from the furnace except in the merit of his grandson
Yaakov." Why was Avraham's merit alone not enough to save him?
And, why does the midrash cite the merit of his grandson Yaakov
and not that of his son Yitzchak?
R' Krochmal answers: Why did Nimrod to sentence Avraham to
death? Because Avraham smashed the idols in his father's store.
Avraham endangered himself and brought this sentence on himself,
which he had no right to do according to halachah. This is why
the event is not mentioned in the Torah; the purpose of reading
the Patriarchs' stories is to learn from them; here Avraham acted
contrary to the Torah and we should not learn from it. This also
is why Avraham was not saved in his own merit.
Yaakov's behavior was the opposite of Avraham's. Hashem had
promised to return Yaakov safely to his homeland, but Yaakov
nevertheless took necessary precautions against Esav such as
sending him bribes and praying for G-d's assistance. This is
behavior that the Torah wants us to learn; indeed, comparing
Yaakov's actions to Avraham's highlights the lesson for us, and
thus Avraham could be saved in Yaakov's merit. (Pi Tzaddik,
R' Simcha Kook shlita (Chief Rabbi of Rechovot, Israel)
observed: According to the midrash, Shir Hashirim 8:8-10
describes the deliberations that took place when Avraham was
thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nimrod because he (Avraham)
would not renounce his belief in one G-d. "We have a little
sister," says the verse; she is still young and inexperienced--
just as Avraham was thrown into the furnace before he had ever
seen G-d perform any miracles for him. The verse continues,
"What shall we do for our sister on the day she will be spoken
for?" What will happen at the "moment of truth" when Nimrod
throws Avraham into the fire?
Hashem answers (in the words of verse 9), "If she is a wall, we
will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she is a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar." The midrash explains
that G-d is laying down the conditions: if Avraham stands firm
like a wall, and is willing to protect his belief in G-d with all
that he has -- even his life -- then he will be enclosed with
silver. This is a simile for Israel. (See Tehilim 68:14 - "You
will be like a dove coated with silver.") If Avraham is willing
to give his life, he will live. Moreover, he will be surrounded
by, and perpetuated through, his descendants, the Children of
Israel. But if Avraham reacts like a door (in Hebrew, "delet,"
from the root "dal," meaning "poor, dismal"), he will be enclosed
only with boards, which can rot and be eaten away. Furthermore:
the disadvantage of a door compared to a wall is that the latter
is a permanent protection, allowing unwanted entrance to no one.
A door, however, is the weakest part of a building's enclosure.
It opens and closes, and it is unstable, and it therefore affords
only temporary protection. If Avraham is not stable, then there
is no hope for the future. For Avraham is the head of the
believers -- not just the first, but the chief and the leader.
Avraham answers (in verse 10): "I am a wall!" -- Not only am I
ready to give my life, but also my children, Chananiah, Mishael,
and Azariah (who were thrown into a furnace by Nevuchadnezzar),
Rabbi Chananiah ben Tradion and his colleagues who were killed by
the Romans for the Sanctification of G-d's Name, and all those
who gave their lives for the same purpose throughout the
generations are ready. And for this, Avraham emerged unscathed
from Nimrod's burning furnace - thanks to the call, "I am a wall;
I stand firmly for the sake of belief in G-d!"
R' Kook concludes: Every one of us has a spark of Avraham
within him, and we pray and strive that this spark should be
seen. This is why we recite three times a day the blessing (in
shemoneh esrei),"Magen Avraham" / "Shield of Avraham." We ask
Hashem to "shield" the "Avraham-ism" of unyielding faith that
lies within each and everyone of us. If we are a wall, we will
be like silver, which does not rot, and is very long-standing and
durable. But if not, we will be as vulnerable as wood.
(From an address delivered October 24, 1999 / 14 Cheshvan 5760)
"[Avraham] trusted in Hashem, and He reckoned it to him as
We are accustomed to using the word"tzedakah" to mean
"charity." However, writes Rambam z"l ("Maimonides"; 1135-1204),
we can learn from this verse what "tzedakah" in fact means.
Tzedakah means fulfilling the obligations which fall on a
person because of his duty to practice good character traits.
When one performs tzedakah -- for example, when one helps the
downtrodden get up -- he fulfills an obligation to himself by
doing what his own soul (or intellect) requires. This is
different from "chessed" (usually translated "kindness"), on the
one hand, and mishpat (sometimes translated "justice"), on the
other. Chessed refers to giving a person more than he is
entitled to while, mishpat refers to giving someone what he
deserves (for example, paying a worker his wages and paying off
When Avraham trusted in Hashem, as related in our verse, Hashem
reckoned this to Avraham as tzedakah because Avraham was doing
that which he was obligated to do - believing Hashem's promise.
(Moreh Nevochim III, ch. 53)
In other words, writes R' Yosef Kapach z"l (1918-2000; rabbi in
Yemen and Israel), when you give a pauper a donation, you are not
performing an act of kindness, but merely fulfilling the
obligation which the Creator has placed upon you. We can thus
understand statements of our Sages such as (Ketubot 68a), "One
who turns his eye away from tzedakah is akin to an idol-
The Sages taught us that just as a person's earnings are
decreed on Rosh Hashanah, so his expenses are decreed on Rosh
Hashanah. The gemara relates that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai
dreamt that certain of his relatives would have an unusual
expenditure of 700 coins during the coming year. Rabbi Yochanan
ben Zakkai tried to persuade his relatives to donate that amount
to charity, but all they gave was 683 coins.
On Erev Yom Kippur, the gemara continues, a tax collector
knocked on the relatives' door. "Don't worry," Rabbi Yochanan
ben Zakkai said. "All he will take is 17 coins [i.e., the 700
coins which Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai dreamt his relatives would
have to expend minus the 683 coins they had given to charity]."
And so it was.
Unfortunately, writes R' Kapach, we sometimes see charity
collectors as nuisances or even thieves. If we give them even a
small donation, we do so with annoyed expressions as if we have
just done them the greatest favor. If we act in this way, we
clearly have forgotten the above lessons as well as Rambam's
assurance, "No person ever became poor from giving tzedakah, not
did any person ever suffer as a result of giving."
(Ma'amar "Musag Ha'tzedakah Be'Torat Yisrael"
Collected Writings, Vol. I, p. 114)
R' David Shlomo Grodzenski z"l
R' David Shlomo Grodzenski was the father of R' Chaim Ozer
Grodzenski, one of the leading figures in the Lithuanian Torah-
world between the World Wars. However, R' David Shlomo also was a
noteworthy figure in his own right.
R' David Shlomo was born after his parents had been childless
for approximately 25 years. His father, R' Moshe Aryeh, was his
first teacher, and he later studied in the Neviezer kollel headed
by R' Yisrael Salanter.
In 1857, R' Moshe Aryeh passed away, and R' David Shlomo
inherited his position as rabbi of Ivye, Lithuania. Although he
was offered more prestigious positions, R' David Shlomo remained
in Ivye until his death in 1904.
The following story is told about R' David Shlomo during his
tenure in Ivye:
Early one morning, the rabbi was making his way to the bet
midrash to study for a few hours before the morning
prayers when he encountered a wagon-driver berating his
apprentice. "Imbecile! I told you to buy pitch for the
wheels last night before the stores closed. What were you
doing instead -- stuffing yourself with food? Now we will
be delayed at least three hours until the stores open."
The rabbi interrupted the wagon-driver and offered to buy
pitch for him. However, being a stranger in town and not
knowing that the man offering his help was the rabbi, the
wagon-driver refused to advance the two kopecks needed to
buy pitch without taking security. So leaving his hat
behind, the rabbi set out to buy pitch.
Word of the rabbi's act spread through the town, and an
irate community council dispatched one of their members to
admonish the rabbi for his seemingly undignified behavior.
The messenger, however, did not have the nerve to
criticize the rabbi, so he instead began speaking to the
rabbi of the evils of haughtiness. His plan was that the
rabbi would think that he was being accused of possessing
that trait and would defend himself by referring to the
morning's events; then the messenger would argue that the
rabbi's humility had taken him too far.
Instead, R' David Shlomo stood silently and accepted the
messenger's rebuke. When the messenger finished speaking,
R' David Shlomo said, "Yes, haughtiness is despicable and
I suffer from it. However, I can tell you that I have
worked for many years to overcome this trait and I hope
that some day I will."
R' David Shlomo's wife Rivka Elka was a niece of R' Ze'ev Wolf
Einhorn, author of Peirush Maharzav on Midrash Rabbah. (Sources:
Gedolei Ha'dorot p. 726; Reb Chaim Ozer p. 19-22).
The Edeson and Stern families
on the 56th anniversary of
Jacob S. Edeson's bar mitzvah
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 (Leon Vogel)
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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