These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 120, After Milchigs: How Long a Wait? Good Shabbos!
A Man’s Level is Determined by His Wife’s Level
At the beginning of the parsha, during the description of the dialogue between the Angels and Avraham, we find the verse, “And they said to him ‘Where is Sarah your wife?'” [Bereishis 18:9] If one looks in a Chumash, he will notice that the 4 letter word “eilav” – “to him” has 3 dots on top of it.
Rash”i quotes a famous Chazal that when there are more dotted letters in a word than undotted letters, one should (homiletically) expound only those letters that have dots on top of them. In this case, the reading would be “And they said to him, where are you (ayo)? Meaning they turned to Sarah and asked where Avraham was.
Rash”i interprets that they actually asked two questions. They asked Sarah where Avrahom was (i.e. – how he was doing) and they asked Avraham where Sarah was (i.e. – how she was doing). Rash”i says that this teaches us Derech Eretz [proper behavior, manners] – that a guest should inquire about the welfare of both the host and hostess.
The Chernobyl Rebbe expresses a different interpretation of this Chazal: They did ask, “Where is Avraham?” but they did not ask this to Sarah. The dialog was strictly between Avraham and the Angels. First they asked Avraham “Where are you?” and then they asked, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”
What does it mean that they said to Abraham “Where are you?” – He was standing right there! Says the Chernobyl Rebbe, they asked him “where are you holding in your life?” The way in which one asks a man where he is holding in his life is by inquiring “where is (Sarah) your wife holding?”
A man’s level is determined by his wife’s level. If one’s wife is on a high level, we know that the husband is similarly on a high level; if however she is not on a high level, we also know where he is.
The type of wife that a person has largely determines the way that the person acts, his standard of living and his goals in life. If the wife wants the finer things in life, a better lifestyle, a husband to bring home a salary to support all those things; if the wife wants a lifestyle that requires 60 or 65 hours a week of work, then we know where the husband is holding.
On the other hand if the wife is one who suffices with little, if she is happy with whatever her husband can bring home in 40 hours a week, his life will be different. If her attitude is “I will have a little less, but you will learn a little more, you will occupy yourself in communal affairs a little more” then we know where her husband is holding.
“And they said, ‘Where are you holding, Abraham?’ How are we going to know where you are holding? ‘Where is Sarah your wife holding?'”
Rav Elchonon’s Unpopular Dvar Torah
Towards the end of the parsha we find the incident where Avraham Avinu [our father] went down to Gerar. Avraham was afraid that Avimelech would want to take Sara for his own wife, perhaps even killing Avraham in the process. As a result, Avraham identified Sarah as his sister; Avimelech took her, almost came to the point of sinning with another man’s wife, until finally G-d identified Sarah to Avimelech as Avraham’s wife.
Avimelech says to Avraham, “What have you seen that you did this thing?” [Bereishis 20:10] “You almost got me into terrible trouble. I thought she was your sister. It turns out that she is your wife. Why did you do this? Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”
Abraham responds, “Only because I said there is no Fear of G-d in this place and I feared that they would kill me because of my wife.” [20:11]
The following insight of the Malbim was said over by Rav Elchanan Wasserman to a group of Rabbis in Germany in the 1930s:
The Malbim emphasizes Avraham’s use of the word Only (Rak) in the sentence “Only… there is no Fear of G-d in this place.”
Abraham told the people, “Gerar is a wonderful place. It is a place of culture and refinement. It is a place of fine upstanding citizens. But that is not going to help. Why? Because if there is no Fear of G-d, and if the only authority is the laws of man, then laws can change. The only law that will always have force is Divine Law.
In a society that yesterday said that something is murder and today calls it euthanasia; in a society that 20 years ago called it killing babies but today, — for sex selection — kills those same fetuses, there is no hope. There is no hope for such a society. Unless there is Fear of G-d, unless there is a Divine Law – an Absolute Truth that is unchanging – no one has guarantees. There are no safeguards. Anything can happen.
That is what Avraham Avinu told the King of Gerar. “You are fine and cultured. However, if lust will grab you or some other motive – economic, sociological, whatever it is – nothing will stand in the way of you achieving and fulfilling your desires. Because there is no Fear of G-d in this place.
Rav Elchonon said over this Malbim about what can happen in Germany in the decade immediately prior to the rise of Nazi power.
The other Rabbis scoffed at him and said “Not here. Never Again! Germany is a country of laws, moral standing, technologically advanced, not the Middle Ages. Not here.”
Yes, Germany was a country of laws. In 1933, one of the first laws that the Nazis passed was a law against cruelty to animals. Gypsies should not be allowed to perform with dancing bears. Why? Because it was not right for the German people to stand idly by when innocent animals were taken advantage of and perhaps not cared for properly. Those were the “laws” of Germany. A mere five years later there were different “laws” in Germany.
Rav Reuvain Bulka remembers learning in Cheder [school] in Germany after “Kristall Nacht.” A child came into Cheder and told the Rebbe that his house was on fire. The Rebbe ran and called the fire department, pleading with them to extinguish the fire. The fire department responded, “We are sorry we can’t put out the fire in your house. It is the law.” The law was changed. Fires in Jewish homes could not be put out.
“Only there is no Fear of G-d in his place.” If there is no Divine Law then laws mean nothing. The Germans, with all their culture and with all their manners and with all their propriety can worry about bears but not worry about humans.
Rav Hutner’s “Mitzvah L’Farsem” [Mitzvah To Publicize] Story
When Rav Hutner was learning in Slabodka he remembers that Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan went from Slabodka, Lithuania to Berlin to be with Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman. He came back to Slabodka for an Ellul [the month before Rosh Hashana] and the Alter from Slabodka asked for his impressions of the German people.
Among other things, Rav Kaplan told them that the Germans were a kind people. They had a polite way of speaking. If someone asks directions from a German, he doesn’t just give orders (go two blocks and take a right); after he finishes the instructions, he will politely ask “nicht wahr?” (Is this not so?) This showed refinement. He would not say anything definitive; he would always end the sentence with a tentative, ‘nicht wahr?’
At that point an argument broke out between the students of the Yeshiva. Was it right to praise the Germans? There were those who argued that it is wrong to praise them. We don’t learn manners from other communities. [Their spoken customs might be only skin deep. We need to look into our own sources for ethics that penetrate.] There was one student who persisted and argued that if one sees something nice in another culture, that should be learned and accepted and even praised. “Nicht wahr?” is a sign of politeness and thoughtfulness. It showed modesty and was admirable – why not learn it from the Germans?
Fifty years later, Rav Hutner was saying a shiur in the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. A Jew walked in and said, “Do you remember me? I was that student in Slabodka that complemented the custom of the Germans and insisted that their way of speaking showed how gentle and fine a people they were.”
Rav Hutner indicated that he did remember this student and he stuck out his hand to greet him. The Jew stuck out his hand and there was a hook in place of a hand. He lost his hand in the concentration camp.
He told Rav Hutner, “When the German cut off my hand in the concentration camp, do you know what he said?” The German said, “It hurts – nicht wahr? – Is it not so?”
“You, Rav Hutner were right, and I was wrong.”
When there is no Fear of G-d, when there is no Divine Authority, when there are no absolute laws, then there are no guarantees. It is not up to us to decide “Never Again”. We can not guarantee that it will be “Never Again”. Only the Ribbono shel Olam can determine whether it will be “Never Again”.
Personalities & Sources:
Chernobyl Rebbe — (1730-1798) Rav Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl; disciple of the Baal Shem Tov; author of Ma’or Einyaim.
Rav Elchanan Bunim Wasserman — (1875-1941); Rosh Yeshiva in Baranowicze, Poland. Pillar of Agudas Yisroel in Europe together with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski and the Chafetz Hayim; Holocaust martyr.
Malbim — Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel (1809-1879); Rabbi in Germany, Romania, and Russia; one of the preeminent Bible commentaries of modern times.
Reb Reuvain Bulka — Rabbi of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Ottowa, Canada; author and lecturer.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner –[1907-1980) Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta R. Chaim Berlin, Brooklyn; author of Pachad Yitzchak.
Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman— (1843-1921) — Rabbi, biblical and talmudic scholar. Born is Slovakia, studied in Hungarian yeshivot; rector of Hildesheimer Seminary in Berlin.
Alter from Slabodka — Rav Nassan Tzvi Finkel (1849-1927); spiritual head of Slabodka Yeshiva; one of leaders of Lithuanian Mussar movement.
Derech Eretz — literally ‘the way of the land’, manners, behavior
Cheder — (One) room (schoolhouse); elementary school
Riobbono shel Olam — Master of the World
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#120 The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: After Milchigs: How Long a Wait? The other halachic portions for Parsha Vayera from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape #029 – Mila and the “Yellow” Baby
- Tape # 071 – Last Will and Testament of Rabbeinu Yehuda Hachasid
- Tape # 167 – The Bris Milah Seudah
- Tape # 213 – Is Lying Ever Permitted?
- Tape # 257 – Makov Kavuah and Other Davening Issues
- Tape # 303 – Milk and Eggs in Halacha
- Tape # 347 – Women and the Laws of Tznius
- Tape # 391 – The Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim
- Tape # 435 – Declining a Kibbud
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through Project Genesis On-Line Bookstore: http://books.torah.org/