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Posted on October 31, 2012 (5773) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Vayera

Washing the Workweek Away

Volume 27, No. 4

Sponsored by Mrs. Rochelle Dimont and family, on the yahrzeits of grandmother and great-grandmother, Chaya Sarah Tarshish a”h mother-in-law and grandmother, Chana Dimont a”h and father and grandfather, Rabbi Louis Tarshish Halevi a”h

David and Sarah Maslow and family in memory of his father Archie Maslow a”h (18 Marcheshvan) and her father Samuel Holstein a”h (25 Marcheshvan)

Marilyn & Morris Edeson on their 50th wedding anniversary and the marriage of Erin Cooper to David Steibel

The Vogel family in memory of father and grandfather Aharon Yehuda ben Yisroel a”h (Leon Vogel)

The Finkelstein family in gratitude to the community for the tefilot, Tehillim and tzedakah said and given as a merit for a refuah shelaimah for Sarah Simcha bat Rut

Halachic sources state that one should bathe before Shabbat. At a minimum, one should wash his face, hands and feet before Shabbat. (Shabbat 25b; Shulchan Aruch O.C. 260:1)

What is the significance of washing one’s face, hands and feet? R’ Itamar Schwartz shlita (Yerushalayim) explains:

Kabbalists write that the first mention of any object or concept in the Torah reveals the essence of that entity. The first mention in the Torah of washing feet is in our parashah, where Avraham instructs his visitors to wash their feet. Rashi z”l writes that Avraham thought they might be idolators who worshiped the ground; therefore, he wanted them to wash any avodah zarah off of their feet.

R’ Schwartz continues: The term avodah zarah literally means, “service which is foreign.” The Gemara (Bava Batra 110a) states, for example, that a person should perform “avodah zarah” before resorting to taking charity. As the Gemara itself clarifies, this does not mean that a person should perform idolatry, G-d forbid. Rather, he should perform work which is foreign to him, i.e., work outside of his profession or trade, before resorting to taking charity.

In that sense, all work is avodah zarah on Shabbat, since it has no place there. On Shabbat, a person should distance himself from all thought of his weekday occupation. This is the message of the instruction to wash our feet.

The first mention in the Torah of washing one’s face is in Parashat Mikeitz, where Yosef washes his face so his brothers would not see that he had cried. What is crying? It is a process of bring out one’s innermost emotions. Crying is cleansing; it washes hurt or sadness out of a person’s mind and leaves him feeling better. Thus, the message of washing one’s face before Shabbat is that we must cleanse our minds in preparation for the holy day. Otherwise, welcoming Shabbat would be like pouring expensive wine into a dirty cup. [Due to space limitations, the significance of washing one’s hands will be discussed in a future issue.] (B’lvavi Mishkan Evneh: Shabbat p.85)


“Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw – And behold! three men were standing over him.” (18:1-2)

Rashi z”l explains: Avraham was sitting at the opening of his tent searching for passers-by that he could welcome into his home. Hashem had made it a burning hot day in order that no travelers would be out and about to trouble Avraham, who was recovering from his circumcision three days earlier. But, when Hashem saw Avraham’s disappointment, He sent angels in the form of humans to visit Avraham. [Until here from Rashi]

This requires explanation, for shouldn’t Avraham have been happy that no one was out on such a hot day and, thus, no one needed hospitality?

R’ Kalman Winter z”l (rabbi of Southeast Hebrew Congregation-Knesset Yehoshua in Silver Spring, Maryland; passed away last week) explained: Avraham wished to emulate G-d. We are taught that G-d created the world as an act of kindness toward mankind [see Tehilim 89:3, “olam chessed yibaneh” / “the world will be built with kindness”]. Obviously, however, before mankind was created, there was no one who needed G-d’s kindness. Why then did He create mankind? We see that one of G-d’s attributes is that He creates opportunities for Himself to do chessed, and then He performs the chessed. Therefore, wanting to emulate G-d, Avraham, too, was not content when no opportunities for chessed existed. He wanted new opportunities for chessed to be created. (Heard from Rabbi Winter, 15 Marcheshvan 5758)


“For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice, in order that Hashem might then bring upon Avraham that which He had spoken of him.” (18:19)

R’ Meir ben Eliyahu z”l (great-nephew of the Vilna Gaon z”l; died 1842) asks: Is it possible that Avraham, who is called the beloved of G-d and who served Hashem because of his great love for Him, would command his children to guard G-d’s ways in order to receive reward?

He explains: Hashem created the world in order to bestow goodness on mankind. Thus, by receiving reward, one does G-d’s Will; indeed, he deserves additional reward for giving G-d pleasure by receiving reward. Thus, the verse means that Avraham would teach his children and students to follow in G-d’s ways in order to bring pleasure to G-d by deserving reward. (Nachalat Avot p.10)


“Avimelech summoned Avraham and said to him, ‘What have you done to us?’ . . . Avimelech said to Avraham, ‘What did you see that you did such a thing?'” (20:9-10)

R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l (Yerushalayim; 1910-1995) observed: Avimelech summons Avraham and speaks to him angrily. Then, the Torah again uses the introductory phrase, “Avimelech said,” but this time Avimelech speaks more rationally. What happened in between? Only that Avraham was silent; he did not respond to Avimelech’s anger. This demonstrates, concluded R’ Auerbach, that silence is the most effective response to anger. (Minchat Avot p.37)


“On the third day, Avraham raised his eyes and perceived the place from afar.” (22:4)

R’ Shimon Schwab z”l (1908-1995) writes: Rambam z”l, based on a midrash, states that the place where Akeidat Yitzchak took place was the place from which Hashem took the earth to form Adam. That is the same place, as well, where the Bet Hamikdash later stood. The idea reflected in bringing a korban at that exact place, R’ Schwab explains, is that man thereby goes back to his own origin and vows to begin anew. (Rav Schwab on Ezra & Nechemiah p.32)


“And the two of them [Avraham and Yitzchak] went together.” (22:6)

The Zohar comments: They were intertwined–Avraham had gevurah / strength, Yitzchak’s trait. Yitzchak had chessed / kindness, Avraham’s trait.

R’ Chaim Friedlander z”l (1923-1986; mashgiach ruchani in the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak) explains: At the Akeidah, Avraham and Yitzchak each became complete. Avraham, whose mode of service was chessed, used gevurah to overcome his natural reluctance to sacrifice his son. Yitzchak, on the other hand, whose mode of service was gevurah, attained the pinnacle of love of Hashem when he allowed himself to be offered as a sacrifice–love being related to chessed. It is as a result of this accomplishment of Yitzchak that the Jewish People inherited the ability to sacrifice themselves for G-d’s Name. (Derech L’Chaim Al Derech Hashem p.243)


“Now I know that you are a God-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.” (22:12)

R’ Elchonon Wasserman z”l Hy”d (1874-1941; rosh yeshiva in Baranovitch, Poland; killed in the Holocaust) asks: Why is it a big deal that Avraham was willing to sacrifice his son? Throughout the generations, Jews have sacrificed their children for the sake of Heaven and, unlike Avraham, they did so without being told in a prophecy to do so!

He answers: Simply giving up one’s life is not such a challenge, for one is exchanging this temporary world for life in the eternal world, where no soul can even approach the souls of those who were martyred for the sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Imagine, however, that by sacrificing his life, one would lose his portion in the World-to-Come. That would be a challenge!

By sacrificing Yitzchak, Avraham stood to lose something that he valued even more than the World-to-Come: his entire legacy. Avraham had devoted his life to spreading G-d’s Name, but if he would have died childless, his life’s work would have died with him. That is the reason the akeidah was considered such a difficult test for him. (Kovetz Ma’amarim)

R’ Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson z”l (1880-1950; Lubavitcher Rebbe) asks: Why are there Jews who would willingly give their lives rather than deny G-d, but are unable to withstand smaller tests and habitually succumb to sinful temptations?

He explains: Everyone understands that one who denies G-d has distanced himself from the Divine. And, it is an innate trait of a Jew that he does not wish to distance himself. In contrast, people do not sense that every sin distances them from the Divine. Thus, they are not reluctant to sin. (Ma’amar Bati Le’gani ch.3)


Letters from Our Sages

This letter was written by R’ Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z”l (the “Netziv”; 1816-1893), rabbi of Volozhin, Russia and rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva there, as well as the author of many Torah works. In this letter, he responds to someone who had critiqued one of his works. (Another letter by the Netziv on the same subject appeared in Hamaayan for Parashat Bemidbar 5772.)

May he blossom and flower and shine like the morning light, his honor, the great rabbi, wise and knowledgeable, the son of great people, Avraham Abril Shapiro, may Hashem be with him, and may he fight the battle of Torah with strength.

Your letter reached me in a timely way and [was received] with pleasure when I saw your wide-ranging knowledge that encompasses much depth, and that you devote your attention to my works, with which Hashem, Who graces even the unworthy, has graced me.

The spiritual pleasure that comes from this [attention] is that which our Sages spoke of several times (see Yevamot 97a), [i.e.,] that even in the grave, where there is no satisfaction from imagined honor, one feels enjoyment and pleasure when his words are quoted to others — how much more so, when a person is still alive.

Regarding the comments and challenges which your honor, may your light shine, raises–they give me pleasure, clearing the path of stones and lighting the way toward clarifying the matter. I have already written about this in the introductions to my works. G-d forbid that I would set up defenses for my words, and I have no complaints against someone who shows me my errors. . . (Igrot Ha’Netziv Mi’Volozhin p.43)

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 start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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