The Beauty Within the Shadows
Volume 19, No. 4
15 Marcheshvan 5765
October 30, 2004
Rabbi and Mrs. Sam Vogel and family
in memory of father and grandfather
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisroel a"h (Leon Vogel)
The Katz family
in memory of
Avraham Abba ben Yitzchak Zvi Hakohen Katz a"h
Mrs. Rochelle Dimont and family, on the yahrzeits of
grandmother and great-grandmother, Chaya Sarah Tarshish a"h
mother-in-law and grandmother, Chana Dimont a"h
father and grandfather Rabbi Elazar Tarshish a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Kreitot 14
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Kiddushin 6
The Midrash relates that as Avraham, Yitzchak and two servants
traveled to the as yet unspecified site of the akeidah / the binding
of Yitzchak, Avraham saw a cloud hovering over a distant mountain.
Avraham recognized that this cloud was a sign from Hashem as to where
Avraham should take his son to offer him as a sacrifice. Avraham then
asked Yitzchak, "What do you see?"
Yitzchak answered, "I see a beautiful mountain with a cloud
hovering over it."
Next Avraham asked the two servants what they saw. They
answered, "We see a barren wasteland."
To this Avraham responded (Bereishit 22:5), "Stay here by
yourselves with the chamor / donkey while I and the lad go until koh /
there." The Midrash elaborates, "Stay here by yourselves for you are
like a chamor / donkey, whereas I and the lad will go on in fulfilment
of the verse, "Koh / thus [like stars] will your offspring be."
R' Yitzchak Yaakov Reines z"l (1841-1915; Rosh Yeshiva in Lida
and founder of the Mizrachi) explains: Avraham wanted to know whether
his son Yitzchak could see the light that shines through the darkness
of exile and martyrdom. Yitzchak could see; he told his father, "I
see a beautiful mountain. True, there is a cloud hovering over it,
but the dark shadow of that cloud does not detract from the beauty
that I see."
In contrast, Avraham's servants couldn't share Yitzchak's world
view. All that they could see was a dark, barren wasteland. Avraham
therefore consigned them to the world of the chamor, symbolic of the
chomer / materialism which obscures from some people's view a proper
understanding of the world.
Avraham and Yitzchak, both of whom could see the beauty within
the shadows, left behind the materialistic servants and went "until
koh" - to the fulfilment of the verse, "Koh / thus will your offspring
be." Those who can see the beauty within the shadows even as they go
to their martyrdom are the true stars that shine, as Hashem had
promised Avraham. (Ohr Chadash Al Zion, Part VI, Ch. 2, p. 107b)
The beginning of our parashah finds Avraham sitting at the
entrance to his tent recuperating from his brit milah and being
visited by Hashem Himself. Suddenly, Avraham sees three "men" - they
actually were angels - approaching, and he takes leave of Hashem and
goes off to welcome and care for his guests. We learn from here, say
our Sages, that hachnassat orchim / taking care of guests takes
precedence over seeing the "face" of the Shechinah / the Divine
R' Yaakov Yosef z"l (1843-1902; Chief Rabbi of New York) writes:
We also learn from here that there is a mitzvah of doing kindness even
toward someone who is not in need. This stands in contrast to the
mitzvah of tzedakah, which is fulfilled only if the recipient is in
need. Avraham's guests were angels, and angels have no needs. Yet,
Avraham left the presence of the Shechinah to care for them. Will you
argue that Avraham did this only because he thought the guests were
human? This cannot be, for Hashem would not have caused Avraham to
err and to do unknowingly what he would not have done willingly had he
known that his guests were angels. (Avraham would not have stopped
speaking to Hashem to do something which was not a mitzvah, for
example, giving tzedakah to those who are not needy.) Rather, the
mitzvah of hachnassat orchim applies even if the guests do not need
hospitality. Why? Also, we are taught that Avraham excelled in the
mitzvah of hachnassat orchim. Why was he attached to this mitzvah in
Chazal teach that Avraham was the first person to call Hashem,
"Adon" / "Master." Avraham recognized that Hashem is our Master and
we are His servants. This is the reason for Chazal's teaching that no
reward for mitzvot is given in this World. We are all servants, and
we serve without pay. [We will, of course, be paid in Olam Haba / the
World-to-Come.] Hashem cares for us whether we are "rich" (in mitzvot)
or "poor" (in mitzvot). Avraham's hachnassat orchim emulated that of
Hashem, who cares for all of His "guests" without regard to their need
The midrash observes that the angels appeared to Avraham as men -
indeed, as idolators - but they appeared to Lot in their true form.
Lot would not have taken ordinary idolators into his home, but
Avraham's hachnassat orchim, like Hashem's, did not discriminate.
(L'vait Yaakov, Drush 27)
"Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre . . .' (18:1)
Rashi asks: Why did Hashem appear to Avraham on Mamre's property?
[Mamre was one of Avraham's three allies, as mentioned in last week's
parashah.] Because, says Rashi, it was Mamre who advised Avraham al
ha'milah -- literally, "regarding the circumcision."
Many commentaries ask: Since Hashem had already told Avraham to
circumcise himself, why did Avraham ask anyone's advice? R' Shem
Klingberg z"l (chassidic rebbe in Krakow; killed in the Holocaust in
1943) answers: Many mitzvot are preceded by berachot, some of which
take the form "al . . ." (for example, "al netilat yadayim") and other
which take the form "le . . ." (for example, "le-hadlik ner shel
Chanukah"). The Gemara (Pesachim 7b) discusses at length why some
berachot take one form and some take the other. One of the blessings
which the Gemara analyzes is the blessing on circumcision-- i.e.,
whether the blessing should be "al ha'milah" / "regarding the
circumcision" or "la'mul" / "to circumcise."
This is what Avraham asked advice about, says R' Klingberg, and
Mamre told him, "Al ha'milah."
"I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain
yourselves . . ." (18:5)
We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 1): "Let your home be wide open, and
let the poor be members of your household." What does it mean to make
the poor members of your household? R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel z"l (early
20th century Chief Rabbi of Antwerp and Tel Aviv) explains:
Some people invite the poor into their homes and feed them
gourmet meals. Others invite the poor and feed them the same
"everyday" food that the members of the household are eating. Which
is preferable? The quoted Mishnah is teaching us: Feed the poor the
same food you feed members of your household. Why? Because one who
goes "all out" for the poor will be unable to sustain his level of
giving. Pretty soon, he will begin to cut back and his giving will
gradually dwindle down to nothing. Then he will resent the poor and
expel them from his home.
Not so one who feeds the poor the same food that his family is
eating. He will no more cease feeding the poor than he will cease
feeding his own household.
(Hegyonot El Ami)
"So Hashem said, `Because the outcry of Sdom and Amorrah has
become great, and because their sin has been very grave'."
Our Sages state that although the people of Sdom committed many
sins, their fate was sealed because they were cruel to the poor. Why?
R' Simcha Mordechai Ziskind Broide z"l (rosh yeshiva of the Chevron
Yeshiva in Yerushalayim; died 2000) explains: We see from here that
failing to observe a mitzvah that common sense requires is far worse
than even a grave sin such as adultery or murder. A person's failure
to follow the dictates of common sense shows that his very core is
rotten. Kohelet says (7:29), "G-d has made man yashar /
straightforward, but they sought many intrigues." Such rottenness
cannot be tolerated.
(Ha'yashar Ve'ha'tov p. 11)
"Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had
stood before Hashem." (19:27)
The Gemara (Berachot 6b) states that if a person establishes a
makom kavua / fixed place for praying, then it is said about him,
"What a chassid! What a humble person! He is a disciple of Avraham
our father." What does having a makom kavua for prayer have to do
R' Aharon Lopiansky shlita (rosh yeshiva at the Yeshiva of
Greater Washington) explains: Many of the items found in the Bet
Hamikdash did not have fixed places. For example, the menorah had a
position relative to the Holy Ark, specifically, southeast of the Ark,
but it did not have an absolute place in the Temple. In contrast, the
mizbeach / altar had an absolute place, and if it was not in that
place, the obligation of performing the Temple service was not
fulfilled. Why? Because, says Rambam, the place of the altar is the
place from which man himself was created.
Why do we pray? We are used to thinking that if we need
something, we pray for it. One day a person concentrates best on the
blessing in Shemoneh Esrei that addresses health, and another day on
the blessing that addresses sustenance, all depending on what he needs
that day. But this is not the ideal prayer, R' Lopianksy writes
(citing both Maharal and R' Chaim of Volozhin). Rather, one who
stands in prayer should feel that he has nothing, that he is praying
for his very existence. One who prays thus is connected to the makom
kavua of the altar, the place from which man was created. And one who
prays thus humbles himself, for he places himself completely in
Hashem's hands. That is the connection between having a makom kavua
for prayer, and humility.
(Yeshurun Vol. III, p. 507)
"She [Sarah] said, `Who is the One Who said to Abraham,
"Sarah would nurse children?" For I have borne a son in his
old age!'" (21:7)
Our Sages relate that the 90-year old Sarah miraculously returned
to a youthful condition and nursed many children. Why was this
miracle necessary? Indeed, would not the miracle have been even
greater if Sarah had given birth while still appearing to be an
R' Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the Biala Rebbe) explains: The
Torah demands that we always serve Hashem with the enthusiasm of
youth. From where do we obtain such a trait? This trait is passed
down by mothers. Hashem returned Sarah to youthfulness to allude to
the importance of this aspect of motherhood. This is what is meant by
the fact that Rosh Chodesh / the New Moon is a special holiday for
women. Rosh Chodesh represents renewal, a characteristic of women.
(This also, says R' Rabinowitz, is the reason why women are so often
concerned with retaining their youthful looks. Subconsciously, this
trait comes from a woman's knowledge that the spirit of youthfulness
is part of her unique contribution to her family's Divine service.)
(Mevaser Tov: B'zchut Nashim Tzidkaniyot p. 239)
Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz
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