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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5758) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz

Volume XII, Number
15 Cheshvan 5758
November 15, 1997

Sponsored by:

Rabbi and Mrs. Sam Vogel
on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Aharon Shimon ben Shemaryah a”h Arthur Kalkstein) and
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisrael a”h (Leon Vogel)

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


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: Of what value is a blessing which is extracted by financial duress? R’ Yitzchak Or Zarua z’l (13th century) explains that Avraham did not actually ask his guests for money. Rather he argued, “Think about 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, although you would have paid a small fortune had I requested it.”

Upon realizing that G-d indeed looks out for each person’s needs, Avraham’s guests would willingly thank G-d for their food. (Quoted in Otzrot Hatorah Vol. I. p.54)

(Parashat Derachim II)

An Astonishing Midrash

“Avraham ate as much as 74 people.”

The Vilna Gaon explains as follows: The Torah says (Shmot 24:9- 11), “Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders ascended [Har Sinai]. They gazed at G-d, and they ate and drank.” In these verses, appreciating the Shechinah is called “eating,” and the verses refer to 74 people (Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the 70 elders).

Avraham’s appreciation of G-d was greater than that of these 74 people combined. He “ate” more than they did.

(Binat Nevonim)

R’ Avraham Mordechai Alter z’l (the Gerrer Rebbe) explains this midrash in light of the mishnah (Avot 5:3) which states: There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham. Because these generations angered G-d, Avraham received the reward due all of them.

If you count, says R’ Alter, you will find that 74 people are named in the Torah from those generations.

(Imrei Emet)

What Was Avraham’s Test?

“And it happened after these things that G-d tested Avraham . . .” (22:1)

Most commentaries agree that the akeidah/binding of Yitzchak on the altar was the culmination of the ten times that Hashem tested Avraham However, the commentaries offer different explanations as to what precisely was the nature of this test. Two of these views are presented here:

R’ Menachem Mendel Krochmal z’l (17th cent.) explains that Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak was not his main achievement; after all, who would not obey a command which he himself heard from G-d? Rather, Avraham’s greatness was in not questioning the apparent contradictions in G-d’s messages to him. He might have said: “Yesterday You told me (21:12), ‘For through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours,’ and now You tell me to sacrifice him?” Instead, he said nothing.

This would explain why the akeidah is thought of as a test for Avraham, more so than for Yitzchak. Just as it would not have been difficult for Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak (since Avraham heard G- d=FEs direct command), it would not have been difficult for Yitzchak to submit to being killed (for Yitzchak had no doubt that G-d had spoken to Avraham). The real test was how Avraham would react to the contradictory prophecies. (This was not a test for Yitzchak because Yitzchak never received contradictory prophecies.)

(Pi Tzaddik, Drush 41)

R’ Elchanan Wasserman z’l (20th cent.) also observes that anyone who had heard the command from G-d would readily have sacrificed his son. Indeed, millions of Jews throughout history have sacrificed their children and themselves without hearing G-d’s voice. [Ed. Note: R’ Wasserman himself was killed in the Holocaust.]

He explains that it is “easy” to make a sacrifice if you know that the future holds something much better than the present. For a martyr, that future is the World-to-Come. However, Avraham did not value the World-to-Come above all else. When Hashem had informed Avraham that he was guaranteed a place in the World-to- Come (Bereishit 15:1, as interpreted by Chazal), Avraham replied, “Of what value is it, if I am left childless?” Why? Avraham’s mission in life was to spread knowledge of G-d in this world, and the success of that mission required that Avraham leave behind a child. If he didn’t, his teachings would quickly be forgotten, and his whole life’s work would have been wasted.

(Kovetz Ma’amarim)

“As it is for this reason that you have passed your servant’s way” (18:4)

On the above verse, part of Avraham’s attempt to persuade the three angels to eat in his house, the midrash says: Avraham told them, “You were destined from the time of creation to visit me.” R’ A.Y. Yellin z’l (19th-20th cent.) explains this as follows:

The gemara (Shabbat 88b) records that when Moshe ascended to receive the Torah, the angels argued that the Torah should remain in the heavens. Moshe defeated them with several arguments: First, he argued, the Torah says, “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” Were you, the angels, slaves in Egypt?

Also, he argued, the Torah prohibits eating milk and meat together, yet you, the angels, ate milk and meat together at Avraham’s house!

Rashi (Shmot 20:2) writes: When Bnei Yisrael built the golden calf and Hashem was about to destroy them, Moshe argued, “The Ten Commandments are in singular form; they were given only to me. Thus the Jews have not sinned.” With this argument, Moshe appeased Hashem.

This raises a problem, however, writes R’ Yellin, for it defeats Moshe’s first argument to the angels. After all, Moshe also was not a slave in Egypt, so why was the Torah given to him? For this reason, Moshe’s other argument was necessary; the angels could not receive the Torah for they ate milk and meat together at Avraham’s house.

The gemara (Shabbat 88a) teaches that the world was created only so that Bnei Yisrael could receive the Torah. And, as explained above, the Jews received the Torah only because the angels ate milk and meat together at Avraham=FEs house. This is why Avraham said to the angels, “You were destined from the time of creation to visit me.”

(Chidud Ve’pilpul)

R’ Menachem ben Saruk z’l
born approx. 920 – died approx. 980

R’ Menachem was a poet and grammarian. He was born in Tortosa, Spain and was brought to Cordova by R’ Yitzchak ibn Shaprut. R’ Menachem later became the private secretary to R’ Chisdai ibn Shaprut, foreign minister of the Spanish caliphs.

At R’ Chisdai’s request, R’ Menachem compiled Machberet, a dictionary of the Hebrew language. R’ Menachem wrote his work in Hebrew, thus departing from the accepted practice of writing in Arabic. He also abandoned the practice of deriving the meanings of Hebrew words from phonetically similar words in Arabic and Aramaic; by doing so he stirred much criticism.

One of R’ Menachem’s foremost opponents was R’ Donash ben Labrat, who wrote an extensive criticism of the Machberet. R’ Menachem did not answer. He did, however, criticize R’ Donash’s introduction of Arabic forms and meters into Hebrew poetry. R’ Menachem’s students wrote a treatise to defend their teacher, as did the Tosafist, Rabbenu Tam, two centuries later.

The Machberet was particularly popular in northern Europe, where Arabic was not spoken. For example, it is quoted approximately 200 times in Rashi’s Bible commentary. (Source: The Artscroll Rishonim p.51)

Copyright © 1997 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.

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