Parshas Lech Lecha
Better A Second Time Around
Volume 21, No. 3
13 Cheshvan 5767
November 4, 2006
the Edeson and Stern families,
on the anniversary of Jacob S. Edeson’s bar-mitzvah
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Beitzah 8
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shabbat 2
In this parashah we read of our Patriarch Avraham and Matriarch Sarah’s journey to Eretz Yisrael. The chassidic rebbe R’ Zvi Elimelech Shapira z”l (the Bnei Yissaschar; died 1841) writes in his work Igra D’Pirka (section 108): “I heard in the name of a certain tzaddik that the merit of living in Eretz Yisrael is even greater if one was there and then left. The second time, one `tastes’ the holiness even more than the first time. How do we know this? From Avraham, whose primary spiritual accomplishments were attained after he descended to Egypt and then returned to Eretz Yisrael.”
R’ Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel z”l (Hungarian rosh yeshiva; killed in the Holocaust) adds in the name of the Sefer Chareidim (16th century): Even Avraham’s journey to Eretz Yisrael described at the beginning of our parashah was not his first. Rather, Avraham had toured the Land five years earlier and then returned to his home. [Ed. note: At the beginning of the parashah, Avraham is 75 years old. However, at the time of the Brit Bein Ha’betarim / prophetic vision and covenant described near the end of the parashah, Avraham was apparently 70, since that event occurred 430 years before the Exodus. This can be explained if we assume that the events occurred in reverse order, with the Brit Bein Ha’betarim having taken place on Avraham’s previous visit. (See Ramban to Shmot 12:40).] The midrash thus attributes to Avraham the verses (Tehilim 55:7-8), “Would that I had a wing like a dove! I would fly off and find rest! Behold, I would wander afar; I would dwell in the wilderness.” This alludes to our Sages’ statement that it is preferable to dwell in a wilderness in Eretz Yisrael than in a castle outside the Land. Before Avraham had visited Eretz Yisrael, he felt no such longing; only after he visited there and experienced its spiritual glory did he have such feelings. (Eim Habanim Semeichah p.205)
“If so much as a string or a shoelace; or if I shall take from anything of yours! So you shall not say, `It is I who made Avram rich’.” (14:23)
Our Sages say that in the merit of this statement by Avraham, his descendants merited to receive a commandment that involves strings, i.e., the mitzvah of tzitzit. R’ Chaim Cohen z”l (died 1656; see also below) writes that, in particular, the long string that is wrapped around the other strings represents Avraham. He then elaborates on other connections between Avraham and the mitzvah of tzitzit:
(1) Wearing tzitzit (in particular, R’ Cohen writes elsewhere, wearing the talit over one’s head) is an aid to attaining Yir’at Shamayim / fear of Heaven. Avraham’s own Yirat Shamayim is noted in the Torah, in the verse (Bereishit 22:12), “Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man.”
(2) The midrash records that Avraham was shown four “things” in a prophetic vision: Torah, the Bet Hamikdash, Gehinom, and subjugation among the nations. Hashem told him, “If your descendants would guard the first two, they would be protected from the latter two. However,” Hashem said, “the reality is that the Bet Hamikdash will eventually be destroyed. Which would you prefer that your descendants experience– Gehinom or subjugation among the nations?”
Avraham chose subjugation among the nations. This is alluded to in the verse (Devarim 32:30), “For how could one pursue a thousand, and two cause a myriad to flee, if not that their rock had sold them out, and Hashem had delivered them?” [Our “rock” (here, Avraham) “sold us out,” and Hashem delivered on the sale.]
Another midrash records that Avraham stands at the gate of Gehinom and prevents anyone who wore tzitzit from entering there. In the same way, R’ Cohen states, Avraham will someday rescue from subjugation to the nations anyone who wore tzitzit.
How do we know this? We read in Tehilim (8:1), “For the conductor: On the eighth, a psalm to David.” Our Sages say that this alludes to the eight nations that subjugated the Jewish People: Babylonians, Chaldeans, Persians, Medians, Greeks, Romans, and Ishmaelites. But our Sages usually speak of four subjugating nations, not eight! Why are four nations only hinted at but not mentioned expressly?
When Avraham was shown a prophecy regarding the future subjugation of his descendants, Hashem told him (in our parashah, 15:9), “Take to Me three heifers, three goats, three rams, turtledove, and young dove.” The four species that Avraham was told to take allude to the four kingdoms. How is this related to the mitzvah of tzitzit? R’ Cohen explains: Avraham took a total of twelve creatures–three each of heifers, rams, turtledoves and young doves. [Ed. note: It is not clear why R’ Cohen does not count the goats.] Eight animals are spelled out in the verse–three each of heifers and rams, plus one turtledove and one young dove. Four additional birds are concealed by the verse. Avraham was shown eight animals representing the eight oppressors, and four more concealed animals alluding to the fact that four of the oppressors are considered secondary.
This 12-8-4 breakdown parallels the structure of the tzitzit, which halachah dictates should be as long as twelve thumb-widths are wide. Of this length, one third (four thumb-widths) is taken-up by the knots and windings, while the other two-thirds (eight thumb- widths) is exposed. This hints that tzitzit can save a person from subjugation to the nations.
(Mekor Chaim 11:4)
From the Haftarah . . .
“Why do you say, O Yaakov, and declare, O Yisrael, `My way is hidden from Hashem, and my cause has been passed over by my G-d?’ Could you not have known even if you had not heard, that the eternal G-d is Hashem, Creator of the ends of the earth, Who neither wearies nor tires, Whose discernment is beyond investigation? He gives strength to the weary, and for the powerless, He gives abundant might.” (Yishayahu 40:27-29)
R’ Don Yitchak Abarbanel z”l (finance minister to Ferdinand and Isabella ym”s; exiled from Spain in 1492; died in Italy in 1508) writes that these verses respond to two explanations, both of them blasphemous, that are offered for our suffering in the long exile. Some say that Hashem is too lofty and is not aware of the day-to-day details of life “down here.” Others say that He knows, but that He chooses not to get involved. In reference to both claims, the prophet says: “Why do you say, O Yaakov, and declare, O Yisrael, `My way is hidden from Hashem, and my cause has been passed over by my G-d’?”
The prophet then elaborates on both arguments. In response to the first blasphemy, he says: Of course Hashem knows what is happening to us. Since he is the “Creator of the ends of the earth,” He obviously is capable of knowing what is happening at the ends of the earth. (The verse says, “Could you not have known even if you had not heard,” i.e., if you did not have a tradition about this fact, you could have figured it out on your own.) And, don’t say that maybe He once knew, but now He is old. He is Hashem “Who neither wearies nor tires, Whose discernment is beyond investigation.”
With regard to the second blasphemy, the prophet demonstrates that Hashem is actively involved in our lives. “He gives strength to the weary, and for the powerless, He gives abundant might.”
(Peirush al Sefer Yishayahu)
“Who aroused [Avraham] from the east, who would proclaim tzeddek / righteousness at every footstep?” (Yishayahu 41:2)
The Gemara (Shabbat 156b) says that tzeddek was in the west, but Avraham relocated it to the east. R’ Yehoshua Horowitz z”l (Dzikover Rebbe; died 1913) explains: We are taught that the world stands on three pillars–Torah, avodah (prayer), and chessed. Some claim, writes R’ Horowitz, that performing acts of chessed and tzedakah is reserved for those who are not capable of learning Torah or praying properly. But this is wrong, as the world stands on all three pillars.
This is what is meant by tzeddek having been in the west. On the verse, “It was morning, and it was erev / evening . . . ,” the midrash says that “evening” refers to those who are not righteous. And the word “erev” is related to the word “ma’arav” / “west” (because the sun is in the west in the evening). Avraham moved tzeddek from the west to the east, i.e., he made chessed the domain of the righteous as well.
(Ateret Yeshuah: Likkutim No.39)
This week we present another excerpt from Ma’agal Tov, the diary of R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai z”l (“Chida”; 1724- 1806), describing the author’s travels as a “Shelucha D’rabbanan” (“Shadar” or “meshulach”) on behalf of the Jewish community of Chevron. The first few entries describe Chida’s difficult journey across the Sinai Desert to Egypt and then by boat to Italy. The entry presented here is the first that describes a visit to a European city and is dated Rosh Chodesh Elul 5513 . Note that some of the poetic language and Biblical references are lost in translation.
Friday: We entered Livorno [Italy]-may the cities of Zion be rebuilt. [Ed. note: Upon seeing a well-established city in Europe, Chida was inspired to pray for the rebuilding of the cities of Eretz Yisrael.] G-d granted us favor and kindness [in the eyes of the community leaders]. I handed over the letter from the trustees in Eretz Yisrael [i.e., a letter attesting to the purpose of Chida’s mission] to one of them who, being unable to read it, gave it to the wise one. [Ed. note: Elsewhere, Chida refers to the difficulty Europeans had reading the hand-writing common among the Sephardim of Eretz Yisrael.] [At this point, Chida writes in vague terms that some of the community members had some complaint against a prior Shadar from Chevron.] Now they are of the noblest in the land and free from all sin; on the contrary, they exerted their charitableness in this matter with all their might. The Lord gave me favor in the eyes of the gvir / wealthy man, that outstanding man of virtue, Signor Michael Pereira de Leon [a physician who helped publish some of Chida’s works when Chida settled in Livorno many years later] and he made every effort to suppress the report [regarding the prior Shadar] and the matter did not become known. For if, Heaven forbid, [it became known], great harm would be done to the mission and make mischief for generations. And the said gvir, Signor Michael, together with the gvir, Signor Shlomo Aguib, may G-d preserve them, worked wondrously to help and make effective the matter of the mission. . . .
But one friend, on whom I was relying, was suffering from an illness of the eye and could not attend [the community council meeting]. I was distressed because he was one of the leaders of the congregation. After we left the council in peace, I said in my heart: “I shall visit this gvir to inform him of the satisfactory outcome of the matter.” But behold, he complained that the council had not acted correctly in giving such a large sum. . . .
And while in the city of Livorno, I prostrated myself at the tomb of our master, R’ Chaim Cohen z”l, author of Tur Bareket and other works.
The editors hope these brief ‘snippets’ will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics (‘lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah’), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship – only $18 – has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.