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Parshas Vayera

The Traits of Avraham

Volume 26, No. 4

Sponsored by 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 And father and grandfather, Rabbi Elazar Tarshish a”h

David and Sarah Maslow and family in memory of his father Archie Maslow a”h (18 Cheshvan) and her father Samuel Holstein a”h (25 Cheshvan)

In Pirkei Avot (ch. 5), our Sages list “a humble spirit” as one of the traits of disciples of Avraham Avinu. R’ Shlomo ibn Gabirol z”l (Spain; approx. 1021-1058) writes about that trait: “The sign of a wise man is humility, while the sign of a fool is brazenness. Humility always leads to peace.”

The hallmark of a humble person is that he ignores insults and avoids dissension, as reflected in these sayings quoted by R’ ibn Gabirol:

  • The wise man said, “I hear myself attacked, and I do not respond.” “Why?” he was asked. “Because I don’t want to hear myself attacked even more.”

  • Silence answers the fool.

  • Every dispute is followed by regret, while humility is always followed by peace.

  • What can I brag about? That my sins are greater than my friends’ sins?!

  • If a person cannot rule his own temper, he certainly is not worthy of ruling other people.

  • One who cannot bear one insult will hear many insults.

  • One who needs help becoming humble should recognize that it will cause other people to stand up for him.

  • If one heard something he did not like and remained silent, he will avoid hearing something he really despises. (Mivchar Ha’penimim: Sha’ar Ha’anavah)

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“And he said, ‘My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please do not go away from Your servant’.” (18:3)

Rashi z”l writes: He asked G-d to wait for him while he ran to invite the travelers.

R’ Yerachmiel Fried shlita (Rosh Kollel in Dallas, Texas) quotes R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l (Yerushalayim; 1910-1995) as observing that halachah does not permit a person to interrupt shemoneh esrei in order to welcome a guest. We are able to learn a lofty principle from Avraham’s action--that welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechinah--only because Avraham Avinu lived before the Torah was given and therefore was not obligated to observe halachah. [Therefore, he could make judgments about which action seemed more important.] We, in contrast, do not have that latitude and our value system must be based on halachah.

R’ Auerbach adds: We say in the Pesach Haggadah, “If He had only brought us close to Har Sinai and not given us the Torah, dayenu / for that too we would have been obligated to thank Him.” What would have been the value of coming to Har Sinai and not receiving the Torah? The answer is that there was a great revelation at Har Sinai. We need to understand, however, that having a significant “spiritual experience” is not synonymous with receiving the Torah. (Ma’adanei Shlomo: Mo’adim p.126)

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“For I have loved him, because he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice . . .” (18:19)

After all that Avraham did--allowing himself to be thrown into a furnace, leaving his homeland, etc.--the attribute that Hashem loves most about Avraham is that he will instruct his children to keep the way of Hashem! This demonstrates, says R’ Aryeh Levin z”l (1885-1969; known as the “Tzaddik of Yerushalayim” and as the “Father of the Prisoners” for his role as chaplain of the Yerushalayim prison), that all of Avraham’s and our own tests and challenges are meaningful only if we successfully transmit our beliefs to the ensuing generations. (Quoted in Brito l’hodi’am p.96)

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“Avraham came forward and said, ‘Will You destroy the righteous along with the wicked?’” (18:23)

Our Sages say that Bnei Yisrael would have been at risk out-of-doors during the Plague of the Firstborn because: “Once the destructive angel is given permission to destroy, he does not distinguish between a tzaddik / righteous person and a rasha / wicked person”

R’ Shem Tov ben R’ Shem Tov z”l (Spain; approx. 1390-1440) writes that this cannot be understood literally, for surely no one dies without a justification! Rather, he writes, this may be understood in light of the following parable:

A man from the city of Teveryah was visiting the city of Tzippori when a king laid siege to the latter city and demanded a ransom. The visitor presented himself to the invading king and said, “I should be exempt, for I am a native of Teveryah, not of Tzippori. The king said, “It makes no difference, for Teveryah is my next destination.” So, too, explains R’ Shem Tov, when Chazal say that the destructive angel does not distinguish between a tzaddik and a rasha, they do not mean that a tzaddik who is entirely blameless can be harmed. Rather, they mean that he is innocent of the sin for which his community is being punished. However, he must deserve a punishment for some sin, or he could not be harmed. (Sefer Ha’emunot Part VII ch.6)

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“The child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned.” (21:8)

The Gemara (Pesachim 119b) comments on this verse: Hashem is destined to make a feast for the righteous on the day when He performs kindness for the descendants of Avraham.

Where in this verse do our Sages see an allusion to future events? R’ Shalom Mantzura z”l (Yemen; 1800-1884) explains: After the verse informs us, “The child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a great feast,” the addition of, “on the day Yitzchak was weaned,” seems superfluous. [The name “Yitzchak” derives from the root meaning “to laugh.”] Therefore, our Sages see in it an allusion to the day about which it is written (Tehilim 126:1-2), “Shir ha’maalot. When Hashem will return the captivity of Zion . . . Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song.”

R’ Mantzura continues: Why do our Sages use the expression, “the descendants of Avraham” [instead of another term such as “Bnei Yisrael”]? He explains: Avraham was the paradigm of chessed / kindness. Our Sages wish to emphasize that the chessed that Hashem will perform for us in the future will be a complete chessed, not like the Exodus, which was executed by Hashem’s “Yad Chazakah” / “strong hand,” an expression of justice rather than kindness. (Ha’pedut V’ha’yeshuah p.44)

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“When all the vessels were full she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel." He said to her, "There is not another vessel," and the oil stopped.” (from the haftarah--Melachim II 4:6)

R’ Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson z”l (Lubavitcher Rebbe; died 1950) writes: This may be taken as a metaphor, teaching that, as long as there is a receptacle below, the flow will continue from above. He explains:

We read (Devarim 4:24), “For Hashem, your Elokim--He is a consuming fire . . .” Like fire, the nature of spirituality is to rise, i.e., to avoid being found in our lower, physical world. But, our mission is to cause spirituality to defy its nature and to settle in this world. Our souls are receptacles into which spirituality can flow and within which it can be contained, but only if we actively work towards that goal. Hence, as long as there is a receptacle below, the flow will continue from above.

However, R’ Schneerson writes, unlike physical receptacles which have no independent significance, our souls are actually from a very high spiritual source. Our challenge arises from the fact that the inherent spirituality of our souls is not evident until it is awakened by an infusion of spirituality from the outside. (Ma’amarim Melukatim I p.13)

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Letters from Our Sages

This letter was written by R’ Yitzchak bar Sheshet Perfet z”l (“Rivash”; Spain and Algiers; 1326-1408). The letter, which appears in She’eilot U’teshuvot Ha’Rivash (No.38), discusses a halachah that arises from the verse in our parashah (Bereishit 21:12), “Through Yitzchak you will have offspring.”

You asked whether it is improper to say [in the Rosh Hashanah mussaf amidah]: “The binding of Yitzchak You shall remember today for the offspring of Yaakov,” for our Sages have already said [Nedarim 31a--commenting on the above verse], “‘Through Yitzchak,’ but not all [of the descendants] of Yitzchak.”

Answer: The widespread text which is fluent in the mouths of all people and in all of the siddurim is, “The binding of Yitzchak You shall remember today for his offspring.” Anyone who changes the established text of a berachah is mistaken. One who adds the words, “for the offspring of Yaakov,” is not demonstrating wisdom, for the Gemara [cited above] teaches and Rambam rules: “If one vows to derive no benefit from the offspring of Avraham, he still is permitted to derive benefit from the offspring of [Avraham’s biological son] Yishmael and the offspring of [Avraham’s biological grandson] Esav,” for it is written, “Through Yitzchak you will have offspring,” [but Yishmael is not called Avraham’s offspring, and even some descendants of Yitzchak are not called Avraham’s offspring]. Furthermore, Yitzchak told Yaakov [Bereishit 28:4], “May He grant you [and not Esav] the blessing of Avraham.” [Therefore, it is unnecessary to single out “the offspring of Yaakov.] Regarding that which you told me that your grandfather R’ Amram told Shlomo the chazzan to erase the incorrect version from his book--he acted as befits a wise man such a he.

{A marginal comment in the 1607 printing of She’eilot U’teshuvot Ha’Rivash by someone named Shmuel asks: Even so, why don’t we word our berachot clearly [and mention Yaakov] so we won’t need this complicated pilpul to clarify the meaning? Possibly this is an example of our Sages’ teaching [Berachot 50a], “From the way a person recites berachot we can tell whether he is a Torah scholar.” Also, if we would mention Yaakov, it would show dishonor to Yitzchak by implying that his merit alone is insufficient.}


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