The Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parashah opens: “It is written (Tehilim 18:36), `You have given me the shield of Your salvation; and Your right hand has sustained me, and Your humility made me great.’ `You have given me the shield of Your salvation’–this refers to Avraham. `Your right hand has sustained me’–in the furnace, during the famine, and in Egypt. `Your humility made me great’–when did Hashem show humility to Avraham? When Avraham was sitting and the Shechinah was `standing,’ as it is written (in the first verse of our parashah), `Hashem appeared to him [Avraham] in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent . . .’.”
R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: If the only reason that Avraham was sitting was because he had recently undergone an operation (the berit milah), it would not have been worth the Torah’s while to report this fact. Rather, the midrash reasons, there must be a message in the verse. That message is alluded to in the cited verse from Tehilim, which teaches us three things about Hashem’s relationship with Avraham and the Jewish People.
- (1) Just as Hashem was Avraham’s shield (see Bereishit 15:1), so He is a shield for Avraham’s descendants.
(2) Hashem acts toward Avraham and his descendants with His “right hand”–a term usually interpreted by our Sages as an allusion to supernatural action.
(3) Even when a person is not capable of lifting himself to spiritual heights–as Avraham was not at this moment because of his physically weakened state–Hashem acts with humility and brings Himself closer to man. (Tiferet Zion)
“Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem.” (19:27)
Our Sages learn from this verse that one should have a makom kavuah / fixed place for prayer. Why is that important?
R’ Avraham Meir Rosen z”l (Warsaw; 19th century) explains: Proper prayer requires subjugating oneself entirely to G-d, something that is impossible if one prays haphazardly. By having a fixed place for prayer, one indicates that his prayer is not haphazard. (Be’ur Amarim Al Midrash Tanchuma)
“So it was when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain that G-d remembered Avraham; so He sent Lot from amidst the upheaval.” (19:29)
The Gemara (Berachot 54b) comments: “Even when Hashem is angry, he remembers the righteous. What did Hashem `remember’ about Avraham at this moment that caused Him to save Lot? He `remembered’ that Lot had kept quiet when Avraham had said in Egypt that Sarah was his sister.”
R’ Eliyahu de Vidas z”l (Tzefat and Chevron; 16th century) writes that this is one of Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Human nature is that a hurt inflicted by Person A on Person B erases the memory of a kindness that the same Person A once did for the same Person B. However, this is improper. Rather, we should emulate Hashem, Who does not erase our good deeds because of our sins [just as here, Lot was rewarded for his good deed even though he later left the ways of the righteous and settled in Sdom]. (Reishit Chochmah: Sha’ar Ha’anavah ch.1)
R’ Moshe Cordovero z”l (Remak; teacher of R’ de Vidas; 1522-1570) explains that the above attribute of Hashem derives from His kindness. If a sin could erase a mitzvah, that would imply that a sin and a mitzvah are equivalent. In fact, however, a mitzvah rises to a spiritual height which a sin can never reach. Hashem “restrains” sins, so-to-speak, so that they can never erase our merits. (Tomer Devorah, ch.1, middah 8)
“Now, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.” (20:7)
R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (early chassidic rebbe; 1772-1810) teaches: It is a sign of haughtiness when one believes that he can pray on his own behalf and that he will not benefit from having a tzaddik pray for him. Some such people even try to dissuade others from seeking the assistance of tzaddikim, much to their detriment. Avimelech was such a person, as his name indicates. “Avi” comes from the root which means “to want.” [See, for example, Shmot 10:27 and Devarim 2:30 and 10:10.] “Melech” means “king.” Avimelech wanted to be king. He did not wish to acknowledge that he needed Avraham’s prayers. In our verse, Hashem informed him of his error. (Likutei Moharan #10)
“The child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak `higamel’ / was weaned.” (21:8)
The midrash Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (ch.29) writes that this verse is the source of the custom to make a festive meal at a berit milah.
Where in this verse is there an allusion to berit milah? Rabbeinu Tam z”l (France; 1100-1171) explains that the word “higamel” (literally, “he was weaned”) can be read: “heh, gimel” — 5+3, i.e., on the eighth day — “mal” — he was circumcised. (Tosafot to Shabbat 130a)
“Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man.” (22:12)
Presumably, once Avraham passed the test by demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak, there was no longer a need to continue the test. Accordingly, one would have expected the first and second parts of the verse to be reversed-“Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man; [therefore], do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.” As written, however, the verse seems to suggest that the proof of Avraham’s devotion to G-d was his taking Yitzchak down from the altar!
R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l explains: In this verse, the One Who Knows man’s secrets is testifying that Avraham was not motivated by any personal sense of relief when he took Yitzchak from the altar. Rather, in the same way that he put Yitzchak on the altar only to fulfill Hashem’s command, so he took Yitzchak down solely to fulfill Hashem’s command. Thus the verse says: From the fact that I see your motive in not stretching out your hand against the lad, now I know that you are truly G- d-fearing. (Tiferet Zion: Lech Lecha p.8)
“And Avraham called the name of that site, `Hashem Yireh,’ as it is said this day, `on the mountain Hashem will be seen’.” (22:14)
R’ Yerucham Levovitz z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva; died 1936) said in his eulogy for the Chafetz Chaim: The Bet Hamikdash which was constructed by King David [who prepared the materials] and King Shlomo [who oversaw the actual construction] was not built by them alone. Rather, it was already put up by the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. What is the essence of the Bet Hamikdash? It is the place where the Shechinah is revealed, where G-d’s holiness rests in this world. And, it was the Patriarchs who first brought G-d’s holiness down into this world, little-by-little, until G-d was sufficiently manifest in our world that it was appropriate to build a focal point for that revelation.
Conversely, the true destruction of the Bet Hamikdash was not the physical tearing down of the structure. Rather, when our ancestors committed sins that chased holiness away, the Shechinah gradually departed until the Temple building was merely an empty shell. [R’ Yerucham went on to explain that the same thing applies to the death of tzaddikim, i.e., we effectively chase them out of this world when we act as if we no longer need them.] (Da’at Torah, Vol.5b, p.259)
“A Statement Regarding the Holiness of Shabbat”
The following was published by R’ Yisrael Meir Hakohen z”l (the “Chafetz Chaim”) in the summer of 1929.
We have witnessed the great awakening which has taken place around the world to strengthen Shabbat observance. In all corners of the globe, people have gathered together for this holy undertaking and, in many countries, societies have been formed for this purpose. How our hearts rejoice to see the spirit of purity which was sent down from Above to awaken us regarding this great and holy matter, which encompasses within it both the entire Torah and everything we believe [because Shabbat testifies to our belief in Creation, which is the foundation of the Torah]! This gives us hope for the rebuilding of our faith, which is in ruins in our day, for our Sages have said, “If only Bnei Yisrael would keep two Shabbatot, they would be redeemed immediately.” Even the prophet Yirmiyah, who prophesied regarding the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash [i.e., he lived at a time when Bnei Yisrael were very sinful], foretold that princes and nobles would return to the throne of King David if Shabbat were observed (see Yirmiyah 17:24-25).
Certainly, if we will strengthen ourselves in these days regarding Shabbat observance, this will be a catalyst to bring the Redemption closer. The first step has already taken place amidst great publicity around the world; now, we must strengthen ourselves and use the remnants of our strength to give this movement additional impetus. Whomever will involve himself with this, and will strengthen his friends, will experience the fulfillment of the prophecy of Azaryahu (Divrei Hayamim II 15:3, 7), “Many days have passed by for Yisrael without a true G-d . . . but you be strong, and do not lose resolve, for there is reward for your actions.” (Kol Kitvei He’Chafetz Chaim Vol. I)
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