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Posted on October 17, 2007 (5768) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Lech Lecha

The Moral of the Story

Volume 22, No. 3
9 Marcheshvan 5768
October 20, 2007

Sponsored by
the Vogel family
on the yahrzeit of father and grandfather
Aharon Shimon ben Shemayah a”h (Arthur Kalkstein)

The Edeson and Stern families,
on the anniversary of Jacob S. Edeson’s bar-mitzvah

Today’s Learning:
Sanhedrin 7:2-3
O.C. 32:9-11
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Ketubot 49
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ta’anit 10

R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (“Rambam” / “Maimonides”; 1135-1204) writes: Here are items that are from the secrets of the Torah, about which many people have already erred, and it is appropriate to explain them. I refer to the stories told in the Torah, which some people think there is no purpose in mentioning; for example, how the nations are the offspring of Noach, and what are their names and their lands. The same is true of the names of the kings of Se’ir. As you know, Rambam writes, our Sages say that the wicked King Menashe (one of the later kings of Yehuda during the First Temple period) used to occupy his time attacking the utility of these stories.

Know, continues Rambam, that every story related in the Torah serves some indispensable purpose. One story may demonstrate the truth of a particular hashkafah / outlook on life which is one of the foundations of the Torah. Another story may be told to correct man’s behavior. I will now tell you the purpose of each story, Rambam writes, following the order in which they are found in the Torah. [Here Rambam gives several examples that we omit because they do not relate to our parashah.]

The Torah tells the story of the war of the Nine Kings [i.e., the Four Kings versus the Five Kings] to teach us the great miracle that was performed for Avraham. Avraham won the war with a band of men that not only was small, it also lacked a king to unify its members. The Torah also tells us how he went to the defense of his relative (Lot) because they held similar religious beliefs. (Moreh Nevochim Part III, Chapter 50) [Commentaries on the Moreh Nevochim note that Rambam apparently did not consider the mere familial ties between Avraham and Lot enough of a reason for Avraham to endanger his own life. It was only because Lot shared Avraham’s beliefs that Avraham felt an attachment to him. (R’ Yosef Kapach z”l)]

“Lot journeyed from kedem / the east . . .” (13:11)

Rashi comments: He journeyed away from the Kadmon / The One Who Preceded everything.

R’ Yosef Leib Bloch z”l (Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe; died 1929) writes: Lot’s story demonstrates that it is not enough to know that there is a Creator and that He is actively involved with His world. The Sages teach that Lot was accustomed to seeing angels in Avraham’s house. Nevertheless, he readily chose to leave Avraham and to live among the evildoers of Sdom. How did this happen? It happened because a person who does not actively work on character refinement will forever remain enslaved to his human nature, which sees the wealth of Sdom but not its evil. (Shiurei Da’at, Vol. I, p. 92)

“She called the Name of Hashem Who spoke to her, `You are the G-d of Vision,’ for she said, `Even here I saw after having seen’.” (16:13)

R’ Chaim of Volozhin z”l (founder of the Volozhin yeshiva, the model on which present-day yeshivot are based; died 1821) explains: The gemara (Mo’ed Kattan 25a) says that a certain sage was worthy of being a prophet, but one cannot become a prophet outside of Eretz Yisrael. If so, the gemara asks, how did the prophet Yechezkel receive prophecy outside of Eretz Yisrael? The gemara explains that if someone previously experienced prophecy in the Holy Land, his prophecy can continue outside of the Land.

Similarly, says R’ Chaim, Hagar was now outside of Eretz Yisrael (see Targum Onkelos and the beginning of Tractate Gittin). In our verse, she recognized that she saw an angel now only because she was used to seeing angels in Avraham’s house. (Quoted in Be’urei Rabbenu Chaim Mi’Volozhin)


This week we continue to discuss the “Hetter Mechirah” / the sale of the land to a gentile for the duration of the shemittah year. In particular, we focus on one aspect of the controversy surrounding the sale that relates somewhat to our parashah.

It is widely held that, so long as the majority of the Jewish People lives outside of Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah d’oraita / Torah-ordained commandment of shemittah does not apply. Rather, in our era, shemittah is only a mitzvah d’rabbanan / a rabbinically ordained commandment. Those who support the validity of the Hetter Mechirah argue, in part, that there are halachic precedents that demonstrate that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael takes precedence over prohibitions that are “only” d’rabbanan. For example, while we are prohibited from asking a gentile to do melachah / labor for us on Shabbat, one may, under certain circumstances, ask a non-Jew to draw up a contract on Shabbat for the purchase of gentile-owned real estate in Eretz Yisrael. The reason this is permitted is that one fulfills the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael thereby, and the Sages did not decree that one refrain from instructing a gentile to work on Shabbat in that case (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 306:11). Similarly, the proponents of the Hetter Mechirah argue, the “yishuv” / settlement in Eretz Yisrael would not be viable if its members were required to observe the shemittah. Therefore, in order to preserve the yishuv, it is better to render the rabbinically ordained mitzvah of shemittah not applicable by selling the Land to a gentile. (See Shabbat Ha’aretz p.54)

R’ Yaakov David Willowsky z”l (1845-1913; rabbi in Poland, Chicago and Tzefat; know as “Ridvaz”) was one of the primary opponents of the Hetter Mechirah when the issue was most widely debated, i.e., prior to the shemittah of 5670 / 1909-10. In response to the argument in the prior paragraph, he asserted that it makes no sense to sell Eretz Yisrael in order to preserve the yishuv because, the kedushah / holiness of the Land is nullified and there remains no reason to preserve the yishuv. Once the Land is sold to a non-Jew, the agricultural mitzvot no longer apply

Not so, responded R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; rabbi of Yafo; later the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael). While it is true that Eretz Yisrael has added kedushah because of the agricultural mitzvot that apply there and nowhere else, Eretz Yisrael also has inherent kedushah that is independent of the mitzvot. Indeed, our Sages say that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to all other commandments combined. This would be illogical if the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael existed only to facilitate the performance of other mitzvot. (Both the views of Ridvaz and R’ Kook are found in the latter’s Shabbat Ha’aretz p.61 and Mishpat Kohen No. 63)

R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) explains similarly that when a Jewish farmer sells his land in Eretz Yisrael to a gentile, his act affects only his personal property rights. However, there exists another form of “ownership” of the land, and that is the eternal bond between the Jewish People as a whole and Eretz Yisrael. That ownership is not, and cannot be, severed by a private transaction. (Shiurei Harav Al Masechet Challah p.136)

On the other hand, the view of Ridvaz appears to be supported by R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (elder teacher in the mussar movement in the last decades of the 20th century; died 2005), who asks: Why is no berachah recited on the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael? He answers that, notwithstanding the many statements of our Sages about the importance of settling Eretz Yisrael, that mitzvah is not an end in and of itself. Rather, it is merely preparatory to performing other mitzvot. Regarding when Hashem placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, we read (Bereishit 2:15), “Hashem Elokim took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it.” The classical Aramaic translation, Targum Yonatan, interprets: “To toil in Torah and guard the mitzvot.” Eretz Yisrael, R’ Wolbe writes, is on a lower level than Gan Eden. Therefore, we can be sure that the purpose of being on the Land also is: “To toil in Torah and guard the mitzvot.” (Ha’mitzvot Ha’shekulot p.52)

Finally, it should be noted that based on the justification for the Hetter Mechirah contained in the first paragraph of this article, some contemporary poskim question whether even the authorities who supported the Hetter Mechirah in the shemittah year of 5670 / 1909-10 would continue to support it today. Now, they argue, the yishuv would be viable even if shemittah were observed. Other poskim do support the Hetter Mechirah even today.


Letters from Our Sages

The following are excerpts from a letter written by R’ Tzaddok Hakohen z”l (1823-1900; Rebbe of Lublin; considered to be one of the greatest scholars and thinkers of the chassidic movement) to a doctor in Manchester, England named Asher, described as a childhood friend of the author. The letter is dated a week after Pesach in 1864 and is printed in Sifrei R’ Tzaddok.

Your letter reached me on the 11th of the month [of Nissan], the day on which the prince of the tribe of Asher brought his offering [at the time of the dedication of the Mishkan]. This is surely an omen that you are following in the ways of your ancestors. [As noted above, the recipient’s name was Asher. R’ Tzaddok goes on to write that he had heard incorrectly that his friend had settled in America, where most people had thrown off the Torah. He was happy to read that his friend was actually in England, where the Jewish community “was more loyal to the ways of Moshe Rabbeinu”. R’ Tzaddok continues:]

Perhaps you remember the days of old, when I was twelve years old – it is engraved in my memory that I wrote the year [5595 / 1835] in my letter [to you] as the gematria of the phrase, “Shaiv ba’aretz” / “Settle in the land.” As the Gemara (Bava Batra 12b) says, “Now that there are no prophets, prophecy was given to children.” I was hinting to you then that you should not wander to the ends of the earth . . . It also hinted to that which you were destined to ask me 29 years later. [Ed. note: Although it is nowhere stated, Asher apparently asked R’ Tzaddok’s advice about settling in Eretz Yisrael.]

In truth, based on your station in life, there is no question. It is obvious to any thinking person that leaving England, which is rich in silver and gold, but poor in Torah and mitzvot, is an absolute obligation upon every loyal Jew, a believer the son of believers, who fears Hashem and loves Torah and mitzvot . . .

And even if you will tell me that it is not an obligation, nevertheless, no one denies that living in Eretz Yisrael is a great thing even nowadays . . .

Go and succeed, and I pray to the Blessed Hashem that He will direct your heart and the hearts of your family members to fulfill this matter as soon as possible. . . [Ed. note: R’ Tzaddok himself attempted to leave Lublin to settle in Eretz Yisrael, but his chassidim dissuaded him.]

Copyright © 2007 by Shlomo Katz and

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