In Parsha Vayera, Avraham Avinu prayed for the people of Sodom, despite the fact that the Sodomites were polar opposites of him. Avraham Avinu was the Man of Chesed. The people of Sodom institutionalized “anti-chessed behavior.” Avraham Avinu was renowned for his hospitality and practice of welcoming guests. Many Medrashim describe how they abused guests in Sodom. We know the fate of Sodom.
But we learn out a practical halacha from the Torah’s narrative about Sodom. There is a principle called “Kofin al midas Sodom” – there are certain situations where Beis Din has the ability to force a person to do a chessed if non-performance of such a kindness would fall into the category of “Sodomite attributes.” What is a classic example? “Zeh ne’heneh v’zeh lo chossar.” (This person benefits and the other person suffers no loss.) Someone who refuses to let another person use his item, even though it will not cost him anything, is practicing Sodomite behavior. Beis Din is allowed to step in and force the owner of the item to bestow the favor to his neighbor.
For example, if Reuven is driving up Park Heights Ave and Shimon wants a ride in the same direction that Reuven is travelling, and it will cause no extra wear and tear or extra time or gas consumption on Reuven’s part, refusing to take Shimon would be midas Sodom.
The Rambam wrote an interesting letter to one of his disciples on this subject. The Rambam wrote a sefer called Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed). It was a controversial sefer, and certain people viewed some of its ideas as heretical and condemned its author. Incredibly, they called the Rambam an Apikorus for what he wrote in the Moreh Nevuchim (and for some of what he wrote in other places as well).
A student of the Rambam took up his Rebbe’s honor and fought against these people. The Rambam wrote a letter to him and told him to leave these critics alone. He argued, “This is an example of Kofin al midas Sodom.” He said “What they say does not hurt me. It does not cost me anything. They want to do it, and they get pleasure from doing it.” He said, “Let them go ahead, let them abuse me, let them call me a heretic. It makes no difference to me.”
This is an incredible application of Kofin Al Midas Sodom.
Prayer Has the Power to Nullify Heavenly Decrees
“Hashem appeared to Avimelech in a dream at night and told him, ‘Behold you are going to die for having taken the woman you took, for she is a married woman.'” (Bereshis 20:3)
Thinking that Sora was the sister rather than the wife of Avraham, Avimelech took Sora into his house. Hashem came to Avimelech in a dream and told him that he was deserving of death for this matter. The Almighty then added, “And now return this woman to her husband for he is a prophet and he will pray for you that you might live. And if you do not return (her) know that you will die…” (Bereshis 20:7)
The words “Behold you will die” spoken by the Ribono shel Olam in pasuk 3 are the equivalent of “YOU ARE A DEAD MAN!” If the Ribono shel Olam pronounces someone a dead man, is that not a Divine Decree? After a Divine Decree, should it not be a done deal? And yet, Hashem then instructs in pasuk 7, “Return this woman to her husband and he will pray for you so that you may live.”
We see from this latter pasuk, that even if a person has a death sentence upon himself, prayer can nullify the death sentence. It does not always work. It does not always happen. But that is what this pasuk is saying: Behold you will die. You are a dead man. Nevertheless, he will pray for you. Prayer helps.
The same thing occurs in two other places in Tanach.
Yeshaya the prophet comes to Chezkiyahu, King of Yehuda, and tells him prophetically “You will die. You will not live.” (Yeshaya 38:1) The very next pasuk says, “And Chezkiyahu turned his face to the wall and he prayed to Hashem.” (ibid. 38:2) Guess what? Chezkiyahu lived for fifteen more years. What happened to the prophetic decree? The decree was prior to his prayer.
The primary example of this is Hashem’s decree to Moshe: “You shall not cross this Jordan (River)” (Devorim 3:27). The Almighty decreed that Moshe Rabbeinu would not enter Eretz Yisrael. And yet the pasuk says, “And I prayed (Vo’Eschanan) to Hashem at that time saying…” (Devorim 3:24). Chazal say that Moshe davened the gematria (numeric value) of the word Vo’Eschanan, in other words, 515 times, after which Hashem told him, “Do not speak to me any more about this matter” (Devorim 3:26) because if you pray even one more time, I will need to let you enter the Land of Israel. What does that mean? He is the Ribono shel Olam! How can Moshe force His Hand? We see here again, that the Ribono shel Olam created an institution in this world called prayer. Prayer has a power—even to nullify a decree from Heaven.
Splitting of Wood Foreshadows Splitting of Reed Sea – Measure for Measure
The pasuk says “And Avraham got up early in the morning, he saddled his donkey, he took his two lads with him, and his son Yitzchak, AND HE SPLIT WOOD FOR THE OLAH OFFERING…” (Bereshis 22:3). He is on the way to the Akeida, during which he expects to offer Yitzchak as a korban. Offerings are burnt on a mizbayach. Wood is needed for the fire. In order to prepare the wood, he split the wood before beginning his journey (Va’Yevaka atzei Olah).
The Medrash says that Hashem proclaimed, “I will split for his descendants the Reed Sea in the merit of his having split the wood, as it is written “Va’Yevaka atzei Olah” (Bereshis 22:3) and it is written “Va’Yebaku haMayim” (Shemos 14:21). The Torah uses the same root word by Krias Yam Suf to indicate splitting that it uses by Avraham’s splitting wood for the Akeida. In the merit of Avraham’s chopping the wood, the waters at Yaf Suf split!
If the Medrash would say that in the merit of the Akeidas Yitzchak the Yam split, I could understand that. The Akeida involved superhuman mesiras nefesh for Avraham to sacrifice his own son. But how does splitting the wood merit such a miracle? Avraham needed to cut the wood because he needed fire wood! What was so special about that action that merited the great miracle of Krias Yam Suf?
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873-1960; Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim) interpreted the Medrash as follows: The Gemara says that it is easier to carry fifty pounds of gold than fifty pounds of feathers. Why is that? Is it not the same fifty pounds whether it is feathers or gold? The answer is that an ingot of gold is dense and compact and easy to carry. However, fifty pounds of feathers is very bulky, and is far clumsier to transport.
Now if you were Avraham Avinu and you needed to sacrifice your son, and you knew that you needed firewood, so you needed to take some with you in case you would not find firewood on site, what should you do? Does it make sense to take one compact log, or to cut up the log before leaving home and shlep all the fragments of twigs and wood that came out of the chopping activity? Obviously, it is much easier to take the hunk of wood and chop it when you get to your destination! Avraham travelled for three days carrying this clumsy sack of wood! Very inefficient!
Why did he do it that way? The answer is that when he arrived at the site of the Akeida and he put Yitzchak on the Mizbayach, he wanted to complete the job ASAP. He did not want to torment Yitzchak any more than necessary. If Yitzchak is lying there on the Mizbayach and then his father needs to begin chopping wood, Yitzchak may panic, or at the very least there will be inui ha’din (psychological trauma as a result of delayed implementation of judgement). Avraham Avinu did not want to prolong the agony of his son. He had the sensitivity and foresight to chop the wood before he left home so that when he arrived, everything would be ready.
Rav Tzvi Pesach cites a Medrash that when the Sea was split, they were supposed to step into the sea and then a little water would part. Then they would go further and more would part. With each step forward, more water would part. However, in the meantime, they would be surrounded by intimidating walls of water. The Ribono shel Olam said, “Avraham Avinu had the sensitivity to do the Akeida in a fashion that his act of chopping would not cause undue stress. So too, Va’Yibaku HaMayim, as soon as they entered the water, the entire sea split open, and they could immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel. This was the midah k’neged midah. The sensitivity of Avraham by the Akeida to not inflict any more anguish than necessary was replicated by the Almighty when He split the sea in a way which diminished the anguish of Bnei Yisrael.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayeira is provided below:
- # 029 – Mila and the “Yellow” Baby
- # 071 – Last Will & Testament of R. Yehuda Hachasid.
- # 120 – After Milchigs: How Long a Wait?
- # 167 – The Bris Milah Seudah
- # 213 – Is lying ever Permitted?
- # 257 – Makom Kavuah and Other Davening Issues
- # 303 – Milk and Eggs in Halacha
- # 347 – Women and the Laws of Tznius
- # 391 – The Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim
- # 435 – Declining a Kibud
- # 479 – Mitzvah of Inviting Guests
- # 523 – Walking by a Person Who Is Davening
- # 567 – Asking and Giving Mechila
- # 611 – Shalom Aleichem on Friday Night
- # 655 – The Bris Milah Seudah – Fleishigs or Milchig?
- # 699 – Zichrona L’vracha, Sh’lita and Neru – For Whom?
- # 743 – Chazoras Hashatz – More Important Than You Think
- #787 – Tefilah—Guaranteeing Success
- # 831 – Hagomel for Elective Surgery
- # 875 – Visiting the Sick – Are 2 Better Than 1? and Other Issues
- # 919 – Bas Mitzvah Celebrations – Kosher or Not?
- # 962 – Hard Cheese: Hot Dog After Pizza — Is There A Problem?
- #1006 – “I’m Mochel You” — Do You Really Have To Mean It?”
- #1050 – Saying No to a Rosh Yeshiva? Saying No to your host?
- #1093 – Tefilah B’Tzibbur: Must You Start Shmoneh Esrai Exactly With the Tzibbur?
- #1136 –I have a Toothache / Headache / Cold – Do I Still Have To Daven?
- #1179 – Walking Your Guest to the Door, To the Car – Do You Do That?
- #1223 – Davening at Netz or Davening with a Minyan: Which is Better?
- #1267 – Inviting Your Next Door Neighbor for Shabbos: Is that called Hachnosas Orchim?
- #1311 – I Had Eggplant Parmesan for Lunch Friday: Can I Have Fleishig for the Shabbos Seuda?
- #1355 – Doing Mitzvos First Time – Bar Mitzva & Tephillin; Women & Candles: Shehechiyanu?
- #1399 – Speaking Lashon Horah for the Sake of Shalom – Can it be Mutar?
- #1443 – Oops! I Started Shachris Shmoneh Esrai With Ki Shem Hashem – Now What?
- #1487 – Are You Acting Like a Person Who Lived in Sodom?
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