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Parshas Lech Lecha

The chessed of Avraham

Volume 27, No. 3

Sponsored by Harold and Gilla Saltzman on the yahrtzeit of his mother Rebecca Saltzman (Rivka Rachel bas Yehuda Leib a”h)

Near the beginning of our parashah, Hashem promises Avraham (12:2), “I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” Rashi z”l quotes the Gemara (Pesachim 117b), which states: The phrase, “I will make of you a great nation,” alludes to that which we say in shemoneh esrei, “Elokei Avraham”; “I will bless you” alludes to the phrase, “Elokei Yitzchak”; “I will . . . make your name great” alludes to, “Elokei Yaakov.” One might think, the Gemara continues, that we should conclude the berachah by mentioning again the names of all the Patriarchs. The Torah therefore states, “You shall be a blessing”--meaning, with you (Avraham) they shall conclude the blessing and not with the other Patriarchs [i.e., “Baruch Atah Hashem, Magen Avraham”]. [Until here from Rashi]

Why, in fact, do we conclude by mentioning Avraham alone? R’ Aryeh Finkel shlita (rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Modi’in Ilit, Israel) explains: Each of the Patriarchs perfected a different trait. Avraham epitomized the trait of chessed / kindness, and it was through his acts of kindness that he spread knowledge of the One G-d. For example, our Sages say that after he fed guests, he taught them to thank G-d for their food. While each of the traits that the Patriarchs exemplified is important to learn from, the most important is Avraham’s, because Avraham’s chessed teaches us about the chessed of G-d, Who sustains the whole world.

R’ Finkel continues: There is one day of the week which is particularly suited to reflecting on Hashem’s chessed, and that is Shabbat, as we say in Tehilim 92, the psalm for Shabbat, “To speak of Your kindness in the morning.” (Yavo Shiloh p.354)

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“Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house . . .’ So Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him . . .” (12:1, 4)

The Gemara (Pesachim 116a) instructs that, when telling the story of the Exodus at the Pesach Seder, we should “begin with genut / disgrace and end with shevach / praise.” This is why, before describing the miracles of the Exodus, we relate: “In the beginning, our ancestors were idol worshipers.” After this, we mention that our forefather Avraham was the son of Terach.

R’ Yosef Gikatilla z”l (Spain; 1248-1310) writes: This mention serves two purposes. First, Terach was a rasha, yet his son became Avraham Avinu. This highlights one of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism--that man has free will. If, in the future, the nations of the world complain that Hashem chose Avraham’s descendants over any other nation, Hashem will say, “Avraham exercised his free will and chose Me. You, too, could have done that.”

Second, if the nations complain when Hashem shows favor to Avraham’s descendants even when the latter seem not to be deserving, Hashem can tell them: “I have a debt to pay to My servant Avraham because of the choice that he made.” (Haggadah Shel Pesach Tzofnat Paneach)

The Midrash Rabbah states: The phrase, “Lech lecha,” appears twice--once here and once in the verse (22:2), “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love--Yitzchak--and lech lecha / go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering.” The midrash continues: I would not know which of them is more beloved to Hashem, but, since it says, “to the land of Moriah,” I know that the akeidah is more beloved to Hashem. [Until here from the midrash]

R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva) writes: Is it not obvious that the akeidah was a greater test? Presumably, each test was more challenging than the ones that preceded it, and the akeidah was the last test! In any event, how do the words “to the land of Moriah” answer the question?

He explains: Hashem tests each person on his own level at a given point in time, and, what is a difficult test for one person, may be insignificant for another. Indeed, the Arizal writes that the “small” challenges that later generations face carry more weight in Heaven than some of the great challenges faced by earlier generations. Thus, the midrash is asking: Which was a greater challenge for Avraham--leaving home when he was on a relatively lower spiritual level, or offering his son as a sacrifice more than 60 years later, after he had already attained a higher level? To this the midrash answers: The fact that Hashem sent Avraham some distance to the site of the akeidah, thus giving him time to reflect on what he was about to do, makes his sacrifice that much more difficult and impressive. (Keren L’David)

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“He said to Avram, ‘Know with certainty that your offspring will be aliens in a land not their own . . . for four hundred years’.” (15:13)

Our Sages teach that our ancestors were not in Egypt for 400 years; rather, they were there for only 210 years. How then was the promise that Avraham’s descendants would be aliens for 400 years fulfilled? One answer given is that the 400 years began with the birth of Yitzchak, who himself lived as an alien among the Canaanites and Plishtim (Philistines).

In this light, R’ Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z”l (1905-1994; Klausenberger Rebbe) suggests a novel interpretation of our verse. Earlier in the parashah (13:17), we read that Hashem said to Avram (Avraham), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth! For to you I will give it.” The Aramaic translation Targum Yonatan explains that this walking was a kinyan chazakah / an act of legal acquisition by which Avraham acquired the Land (see also Bava Batra 100a).

Accordingly, Eretz Yisrael already belonged to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and it was the Canaanites and the Plishtim who were the true aliens in the Land. Even so, Avraham later (23:4) refers to himself as an “alien” in the Land. Thus, our verse can be read, “Know with certainty that your offspring will [live as if they are] aliens in a land not their own,” i.e., not belonging to the people who will exercise control over it. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Halichot Chaim p.217)

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“This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you--every male among you shall be circumcised.” (17:10)

R’ Avraham Elkanah Kahana-Shapira z”l (1914-2007; rosh yeshiva of Merkaz Harav and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel) writes: Many have asked: Since Avraham Avinu kept the whole Torah before it was given, why did he not circumcise himself before he was commanded to do so?

He explains: The essence of the mitzvah of circumcision is not the surgical procedure; it is the forming of a covenant with G-d. Hence it is called, “Brit milah.” And, it takes two to form a covenant. That is not something that Avraham could have done on his own, even if he had performed the act of circumcision. (Imrei Shefer)

Another answer:

R’ Zvi Pesach Frank z”l (1873-1960; Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim) quotes Rabbeinu Tam z”l (France; 1100-1171), who explains: Our Sages teach that one who performs a good deed which is obligatory is more commendable than one who performs the identical deed voluntarily. [One reason given for this is that the former person must contend with the yetzer hara, while the latter faces a smaller or no challenge.] Accordingly, since a brit milah can be performed only once in a person’s lifetime, Avraham preferred to wait until it was obligatory.

Based on this, R’ Frank continues, we can answer a halachic question that arises frequently, i.e., whether a boy who will be bar mitzvah in the first half of a month should wait until after his bar mitzvah to recite kiddush levanah. Since that is a mitzvah that can be performed only once each month, it would seem to be preferable to wait until it is obligatory. (Pninei Rabbeinu Zvi Pesach Al Ha’Torah)

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Letters from Our Sages

This letter was written by R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor z”l (1817-1896), rabbi of Kovno, Lithuania--considered by many to be the leading Lithuanian halachic authority of his era. In view of R’ Spektor's statement in the letter that he was away from home without needed sefarim, it is noteworthy that the original letter is full of citations to halachic sources (which have been omitted here to enhance readability.)

B"H, Thursday, 12 Tamuz 5646 [1886]

Much peace and salvation to his honor, the friend of Hashem and of the house of Israel, and my dear friend, the well-known rabbi, gaon and tzaddik, glory of Israel and its holy one, etc., our rabbi and teacher Azriel Hildesheimer shlita [z”l], av bet din of Berlin, peace and all good things, selah!

After inquiring regarding your welfare with much love . . .

In the matter of your request that I tell you my opinion regarding those who refuse to circumcise themselves--whether to distance them and not call them for aliyot to the Torah, not to count them for a minyan, and [even] for their bar mitzvahs--according to halachah, a person who is a mumar l’arelut / an apostate vis-á-vis circumcision is not considered a mumar / apostate vis-á-vis the whole Torah. The Shulchan Aruch states that even a person who sinned is counted for a minyan so long as he has not been shunned by a bet din. Therefore, according to halachah, he should be counted for a minyan and everything else. And we should not distance him, for then he might distance himself more and leave the fold. Although these people already distance themselves from the tzibbur / congregation, we must worry that they will become enemies of our people and faith, G-d forbid, as our eyes have seen in these times due to our sins.

Therefore, in my opinion, they should not be distanced entirely. In that way, maybe they will return little-by-little until they have returned entirely, with G-d’s help. . .

I have more to say, but because I am very weak and my eyesight also is weak, may we be spared, I have no strength to write. And, I am presently residing outside of my city on doctor’s orders and I don’t have the necessary sefarim; therefore, I have written briefly. Regarding the main point, your honor should do as his pure eyes see fit.

May Hashem come to our assistance and enlighten our eyes with His holy Torah to teach us the proper way . . . (Igrot R’ Yitzchak Elchanan, Vol. I, no.61)


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