Volume 32, No. 3
8 Marcheshvan 5778
October 28, 2017
Harold and Gilla Saltzman
on the yahrzeit of his mother
(Rivka Rachel bas Yehuda Leib a”h)
In this week’s parashah, we read that Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to Avraham’s descendants. In Divrei Hayamim I (16:16-19–recited every day in the Hodu prayer), we read similarly, “That He covenanted with Avraham, and His oath to Yitzchak . . . saying, ‘To you [singular] I shall give the Land of Canaan, the lot of your [plural] heritage.’ When you were but few in number, hardly dwelling there.” R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) comments on these verses:
Eretz Yisrael is suitable for the Congregation of Yisrael as a whole, in all generations, forever and ever, yet it also is suitable for every individual Jew according to his nature, his needs, and his essence. This fit is precise, for it was measured out by Hashem, who gave His beloved Land to His holy people. This is why the verse begins in the singular–“To you [singular] I shall give the Land of Canaan”–and ends in the plural–“The lot of your [plural] heritage.”
Regarding the verse, “When you were but few in number, hardly dwelling there,” R’ Kook writes: The tie between Yisrael and its Holy Land is not like the natural tie that connects other nations to their lands. Generally, a connection between a nation and its land develops over time based on events that happen there and continued expansion and building as a result of population growth. This is not true in the case of the Divinely-ordained connection between the Congregation of Yisrael and the holiness of the Beloved Land. Even when we were few in number [i.e., Avraham and Sarah alone], there already was a special connection between our nation and its land. (Olat Re’iyah p.203)
“He [Avraham] said, ‘My Master, Hashem/Elokim! How shall I know that I am to inherit it?’” (15:8)
A Midrash records: When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, Uza, the guardian angel of Egypt, stood up before Hashem and said, “Master of the Universe! I have a claim against this nation that You are taking out of Egypt. Let their angel, Micha’el, come and litigate against me before You.”
Hashem said to Micha’el, “Come and litigate against him.”
Immediately, Uza began: “Master of the Universe! You decreed that this nation should be subjugated by my nation [Egypt] for 400 years, as it is written (15:13), ‘They will oppress them for four hundred years.’ However, Bnei Yisrael served the Egyptians for only 86 years, from the time Miriam was born. (The Midrash explains parenthetically that she was named “Miriam,” relating to “bitterness,” because, when she was born, the Egyptians began embittering the lives of Bnei Yisrael.) With Your permission,” said Uza, “I will return them to Egypt and subjugate them for another 324 years. Just as You are permanent, so Your decree should be permanent!”
When Micha’el heard Uza’s argument, he had no answer. Seeing this, Hashem said to Uza, “Why do you want to return Yisrael to Egypt? My children were obligated to serve your nation only because of a little statement that Avraham made. Specifically, when I said (verse 7), ‘I am Hashem Who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it,’ Avraham responded (verse 8), ‘How shall I know that I am to inherit it?’ However, I never told him that his descendants will be strangers in Egypt. I only told him (verse 13), ‘in a land not their own.’ It is well known that from the time Yitzchak was born 400 years before the Exodus, he was a stranger in a land that was not his.” (Midrash Va’yosha)
R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) writes: The explanation of this Midrash is that man’s way of thinking, and even the angels’ way of thinking, is not like G-d’s way of thinking. Man and angels might not have viewed Yitzchak as being a “stranger in a land not [his] own” when he lived in Eretz Canaan because nobody looked down on him the way people look down on a foreigner. However, Hashem measures everything very precisely, and by that standard, Yitzchak was a “foreigner” in Eretz Canaan.
Maharal adds: Drawing this fine line is appropriate. Just as Hashem decreed that Avraham’s descendants would be foreigners for 400 years because of a “little statement that Avraham made,” as the Midrash above states, so it was sufficient if, for many of the 400 years, Bnei Yisrael were treated like foreigners just a “little.” (Gevurot Hashem ch.47)
“When Avram was ninety-nine years old, Hashem appeared to Avram and said to him, ‘I am Kel Shakkai; walk before Me and be tamim.” (17:1)
R’ Avraham Halevi Fattal z”l (died 1981; father-in-law of R’ Ovadiah Yosef z”l) explains: Avraham Avinu’s greatest desire was to teach others to recognize Hashem. He did this by persuading people with rational arguments to believe that there is one G-d and that He is the Creator.
Avraham might have worried that the mitzvah of brit milah, which causes pain, would discourage potential converts. Therefore, he was commanded to be “tamim,” in the sense of “innocent,” i.e., not questioning G-d’s judgment.
R’ Fattal continues: This interpretation is alluded to in the midrash which explains that G-d used the Name that we pronounce as “Shakkai” (spelled “shin-dalet-yud”) as if to say, “I am the One who said ‘Dai!’ / ‘Enough!’ to Creation.” He meant: If I had not said “Enough!” the universe would have continued to expand forever. But that was not My desire. Similarly, I am not interested in the numbers of converts you assemble, but in their quality, which will be tested by their willingness to sacrifice part of themselves at My command. (Va’yomer Avraham)
“Those whose hope is in Hashem will have renewed strength, they will grow a wing like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary.” (Yeshayah 40:31–from the Haftarah)
R’ Yosef Yozel Horowitz z”l (1847-1919; the Alter of Novardok) writes: There are two ways that a person can work on improving his Middot / character traits–either he can start by making easy changes and gradually make harder and harder changes, or he can make a dramatic change in one step. Rambam z”l (1135-1204; Egypt) writes that the latter approach is the appropriate one; one who tends to one extreme in some area should adopt the opposite extreme until he rids himself of his bad habit and thereafter can adopt a middle-of-the-road approach.
In this light, writes the Alter, we can understand our verse: “Those whose hope is in Hashem” refers to those who know they cannot yet stand on their own against the Yetzer Ha’ra, so they hope for Hashem’s help. “They will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary”–first they will run, making dramatic changes; only later they will walk calmly. Such people will “grow a wing like eagles”–they will find that change is not as difficult as they thought.
Incremental change is more difficult than dramatic change, the Alter explains, because a person who plots out each step separately will inevitably rationalize why the next step is not necessary. One who simply takes the plunge won’t have the opportunity to make this mistake. (Madregat Ha’adam: Berur Ha’midot ch.9)
“Dorshei Hashem, zera Avraham ohavo” / “Seekers of Hashem, descendants of Avraham, His beloved, who delay departing from the Shabbat and hurry to enter [it].” (From the zemer Kol Mekadesh)
R’ Yitzchak Meltzen z”l (1854-1916; Lithuania and Eretz Yisrael) writes: When one follows in Avraham’s footsteps, doing everything with love of Hashem and with joy, he will depart from Shabbat later than the earliest possible time and will accept Shabbat earlier than the latest possible time. He will not treat Shabbat like an obligation to be observed against his will, bringing it in at the last possible moment and counting the minutes until he can recite havdalah. One who knows and believes that Shabbat is a gift from Hashem will want it to last as long as possible. (Siach Yitzchak)
Why is “Tosefet Shabbat” / “adding” to the Shabbat connected with Avraham Avinu in particular? R’ Chaim Tirer z”l (better known as R’ Chaim of Czernowitz; died 1817) explains: Avraham is the paradigm for a man of chessed / loving-kindness, whose nature is to do more than he is obligated to do. So, too, by adding to the hours of Shabbat, we express our desire to do more than we are required to do. (Sidduro Shel Shabbat I 4:11)
Before one’s Shabbat can end, it must begin. Why, then, did the song’s author write, “who delay departing from the Shabbat,” before, “and hurry to enter [it]”?
R’ Aharon Perlow z”l (1802-1873; Karliner rebbe) writes in the name of his father, R’ Asher z”l (1760–1826): The poet is referring to the first Shabbat that Bnei Yisrael observed. Never having tasted the sweetness of Shabbat, they did not hurry to begin Shabbat early. But, having experienced Shabbat once, they delayed departing from it. Then, the following week, they did hurry to enter it. (Beit Aharon: Likkutim)