Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVIII, No.4
20 Marcheshvan 5764
November 15, 2003
Rabbi and Mrs. Sam Vogel and family
on the yahrzeit of father
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisroel Vogel a"h
The Katz family
on the yahrzeit of
Avraham Abba ben Yitzchak Zvi Hakohen a"h
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
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Menachot 40
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 3
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: Why did Avraham do this? Of what value
is a blessing which is extracted under financial duress? R'
Yitzchak Or Zarua z"l (13th century) answers that Avraham did not
actually ask his guests for money. Rather he argued, "Think 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. You would have been willing to pay a small fortune had I
requested it, but I ask you for nothing for myself."
Upon realizing that G-d indeed looks out for each person's
needs, Avraham's guests would willingly thank G-d for their food,
the Or Zarua explains.
R' Moshe Zuriel shlita (former mashgiach of Yeshivat Shaalvim)
adds: At first glance, the above Midrash appears to say that
Avraham practiced "kefiah datit" / forcing others to observe
halachah against their will. However, the Or Zarua's explanation
reveals that the opposite is true. Avraham caused people to
serve Hashem by showing them how Hashem cares for every human and
by demonstrating the beauty of serving the One G-d. (Otzrot
Hatorah Vol. I. p.54)
"G-d tested Avraham . . ." (22:1)
What is the purpose of G-d's testing man? Obviously, G-d knows
in advance whether man will succeed or fail!
R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-1270) explains: Man has
free will; if he wishes, he can do what G-d orders, and if he
wishes to disobey G-d, he can. Thus, man can be tested only from
his own perspective. [Man can never know for certain how he will
react to a given challenge until he actually faces it.] From G-
d's perspective, the purpose of the test is to bring man's
potential into the open, in order to reward him for a god deed,
rather than merely for good thoughts.
Know, Ramban adds, that G-d tests only the righteous who he
knows will obey. He does not test the wicked, who will not
listen. Thus, a test can only be for the good of the person
(Commentary on the Torah)
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (died 1764) adds: People have the
mistaken impression that G-d rewards man for "good intentions."
That is not the case. Rather, our Sages say that G-d "joins"
good intentions to good deeds. Thus, one who does a good deed is
rewarded also for the thoughts that led to the deed. However,
one who merely thinks of doing a good deed, but then does
nothing, receives no reward [unless he was prevented from acting
by forces beyond his control].
R' Elchonon Wasserman z"l hy'd (rosh yeshiva in Baranovich,
Poland; killed in the Holocaust) writes: People ask, "What is so
impressive about Avraham's behavior at the Akeidah? After all,
how many millions of Jews throughout history have given their
lives al kiddush Hashem / to sanctify G-d's Name even though they
were not prophets like Avraham?!"
He explains: Giving one's life al kiddush Hashem is not
difficult if a person has faith that he is going to a better
world. Imagine, however, if a person thought that by giving his
life he would lose, not only Olam Ha'zeh / This World, but also
his share in Olam Ha'ba / the World-To-Come! For that person,
the test would be difficult beyond imagination.
Avraham devoted his life to spreading knowledge of the One G-d.
He knew that all of his efforts would have been wasted if he had
no son to carry on his legacy. Indeed, for him, that would be a
fate even worse than losing his share in Olam Ha'ba. That was
the challenge he faced at the Akeidah.
"He said, `Please take your son . . . and go to the land of
Moriah; bring him up there as an offering . . ." (22:2)
R' Elazar M. Shach z"l (Ponovezh rosh yeshiva) asks: If G-d
spoke to any of us, would we hesitate for an instant to fulfill
His command, no matter how strange? Certainly we would not! If
so, what was Avraham's test?
He answers: R' Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam) writes that Moshe
Rabbeinu's prophetic experience differed from the experiences of
all other prophets before and after him. Specifically, Moshe saw
his prophecies clearly -- the Torah describes it as G-d speaking
to Moshe face-to-face -- while all other prophets saw "parables
and riddles." In other words, all prophets except Moshe had to
interpret their own prophecies. And, as Chazal say about a
person's dreams, the interpretations that those prophets gave to
their visions actually had an impact on how those prophecies came
It follows that when Hashem appeared to Avraham and instructed
him to bring Yitzchak to Har Ha'moriah as an offering, Avraham
did not hear an unambiguous command. Rather, Avraham had to
interpret the prophecy. It turns out, then, that our original
question was not valid. Of course, if G-d spoke to one of us, we
would not hesitate for an instant to fulfill His command, no
matter how "strange." However, that would only be true if He
spoke to us unambiguously. If we had to interpret His command,
would we have the courage and the intellectual honesty to realize
what He was saying, or would we rationalize the command away?
"He [the angel] said, `By Myself I swear - the word of
Hashem - that because you have done this thing, and have not
withheld your son, your only one, that I will surely bless
you . . ." (22:16-17)
The Midrash relates that after the Akeidah, Avraham said to G-
d, "I will not budge from here until You swear to me that I will
never be tested again, for if I had not obeyed You, I would, G-d
forbid, have forfeited all that I accomplished in my lifetime."
Therefore we read, "By Myself I swear . . ."
R' Shmuel Yaffe Ashkenazi z"l (Turkey; 1525-1595) ask: How are
we to understand Avraham's demand? Was he refusing to fulfill
the tasks that G-d had in store for him?
He answers: The Akeidah was the hardest test that a person
could face short of physical suffering like that of Iyov (Job).
Avraham did not know whether he could withstand such suffering.
Indeed, many generations later, Chananiah, Mishael and Azaryah
would be thrown into a furnace just as Nimrod had done to
Avraham, yet the Gemara tells us that if those three tzaddikim
had been tortured, they would not have withstood the ordeal.
Avraham therefore asked that he not be tested further, in
fulfillment of the Mishnah: "Do not feel confident in your
righteousness until the day you die."
(Quoted in Meorei Ohr on Avot D'Rabbi Natan p.307)
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
halachic work Mishkenot Yaakov.
R' Yaakov is credited with "discovering" R' Yitzchak Elchonon
Spektor, who would be the leading Lithuanian 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. R'
Yaakov was so impressed 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)
Copyright © 2003 by Shlomo Katz
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