In This Issue:
Rabbi Joel Grossman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
In this week's Parshah, Hashem tells Avraham (15:5), "Look up to the sky and count the stars - can you count them? So shall your children be."
What are we supposed to do when we are asked to do the impossible? Most people simply shrug their shoulders and ignore the command. The Midrash to Kohelet relates a story of a king who summoned two people, one who was intelligent and one who was foolish. He made them fast for a day and then he brought them into a room and put a loaf of bread on top of a high beam. He told them, "If you can take a bite from this loaf, I will shower you with tremendous wealth. If you can't, then here you will starve to death." The foolish person gave up immediately and crawled into the corner and died. The smart person took off his belt and his shirt and looked for any small pieces of rope he could find. He tied it all together and swung it at the bread until he could knock down the loaf and take a bite, and he was then showered with all of the promised wealth. When we have to do the impossible, we shouldn't just give up; rather, we should put in our best
effort. This concept is evident in our Pesukim. Rabbi Yissachar Frand quotes Rav Meir Shapiro who asks what a person would do if he were told to count the stars. He answers, most people would look toward the heavens and see the large amount of stars and respond by saying that this task was impossible and they would not even bother to attempt it. That is not what Avraham did. When Hashem told him to "look up to the sky and count the stars," that is exactly what he did. He started counting, since that was Hashem's command, even though it appeared to be impossible.
A story is told about a student in a Yeshiva who was not blessed with a wonderful memory. When he would learn in the Beit Midrash, he would get up to ask someone for the translation of a word. By the time he would return to his seat, he would have forgotten it. He was persistent though, as he knew that his learning Torah was Hashem's will. He would get up and ask again and again until he would master the word, then the phrase, and finally the entire concept which he was studying. Many of the other students wondered what would happen to him in the future, since learning Torah was such a difficult task for him. Many years later, one of the other students met him and saw that he had a Yoreh Deah in his hand. He asked him what he was doing with a Yoreh Deah? He responded that he was learning for Smichah. The other student was surprised, even shocked, that this student, who had had such difficulties remembering simple words of the Gemara, could
eventually get Smichah. This student was like Avraham, his ancestor, who would not view any task as impossible and would never give up. Eventually, this person did get Smichah and taught Torah to the next generation. This perseverance is what Hashem promises to Avraham, "So shall your generations be."
The Chatam Sofer (Sukkah 36a) comments on the Mishnah which states, "An Ethiopian Etrog (that is black) is Kosher, but if an Etrog is compared to an Ethiopian Etrog (i.e., it is black, but not from Ethiopia), it is invalid." He notes homiletically, that a black Etrog is analogous to a righteous person whose actions stand out, just as a black Etrog would stand out. However, it is insufficient for a person to simply wish to be compared to such an Etrog. When he strives for others to compare him with a Tzaddik, he does not have the proper intentions that the Tzaddik has, to do everything LeSheim Shamayim.
May we learn the message from Avraham Avinu to not look at anything in life as impossible and to do the commandments of Hashem for the pure purpose that it is the will of our Creator. Hopefully, we, too, will be blessed with, "So shall your children be."
The Chinuch notes that the origin of the mitzvah of Brit Milah appears in Sefer Breishit (17:10). The Pasuk states, "This is the covenant that you should guard, between me, you, and your offspring, to circumcise all males".
He further notes another Pasuk located in Vayikra (12:3) that teach us our obligation to perform Milah. The Minchat Chinuch states that we can learn from this that Bnei Keturah are not obligated to perform Priyah, pulling back the foreskin flesh. How is this be deduced? The Mitzvah of Milah was commanded to all descendants of Abraham. The Rambam explains that Priyah is a Halacha LiMoshe MiSinai. Hence, the obligation does not apply to Bnei Keturah.
Milah is, generally speaking, performed even on Shabbat. The Torah Temimah states that an Androgonit is Chayav in Milah since the Pasuk states Kol Zachar, thereby including any male. However, the milah of an Androgonit is never performed on Shabbat. Regarding the consequence for failing to perform circumcision, the Hebrew word Kol is omitted. Thus an Adrogonit does not transgress the Issur Karet, but only a Lav. His Milah is not done on Shabbat since he does not face the consequence of Karet for failing to fulfill the Mitzva of Milah.
These insights display the perfection of the Torah, in which not one letter let alone word is extra. From one three letter word, Kol, we derive two halachot, and are so convinced of the Drashot, we allow a potential Issur Karet and a Chiyuv Sekilah on this basis.
In the Zechut of our extra precautions observed in regard to Milah, may we be Zoche to soon see the arrival of the Mashiach.
In Sefer Bereishit, there are four people who resist the negative influence of their environment. These four people are Noach, Avraham, Lot, and Rachel. Noach, Avraham, and Rachel each received great reward for his/her persistent refusal to allow the spiritual morass of the surrounding society to impact his/her Avodat Hashem. However, Lot's reward is conspicuously absent. We don't hear so much about his being rewarded for what he did.
Parshat Lech Lecha recounts Lot's decision to move to Sedom, a terrible city which, according to Chazal (Avot 5:13), lived by the mantra, "What's mine is mine, and what's your's is your's." In fact, Sedom was so bad that Hashem completely obliterated it. Lot nevertheless fulfilled the Mitzvah of inviting guests into his home. This Mitzvah was one of the worst "crimes" one could commit in Sedom. Lot merits surviving the destruction of the city, but was this sufficient reward for his Mitzvah?
My friend and I decided to look into the respective merits Avraham, Noach, and Rachel. We discovered one common thing between them- all gave birth to great Tzadikim. Ten generations from Noach was Avraham. Avraham's grandson was Yaakov. Rachel gave birth to two of the twelve tribes. With this insight, we arrived at an answer. Lot indeed received reward similar to Avraham, Noach, and Rachel. Lot's grandson was Moav, ancestor of Rut HaMoaviyah. The line of David HaMelech, a direct descendent of Rut, ultimately leads to Mashiach. Because Lot did the Mitzvah of inviting guests despite the terrible environment of Sedom, Mashiach ultimately comes from his line.
A Mitzvah, no matter how small it may seem, can have profound effect. We should learn from Lot to overcome the negative influences of the environment and remain steadfast servants of Hashem.
In this week's Parsha, Sarah gives her husband, Avraham, her maidservant as a wife. At this point in time, Avraham is eighty-six years old and Sarah is seventy-six years old. Sarah has given up hope that she will conceive a child for Avraham, so she gives him her maidservant, Hagar, to bear a child for him. Within a year, Hagar conceives a child; the Pasuk then describes how Sarah became "lighter" in Hagar's eyes. Rashi explains that Hagar's respect for Sarah had lessened after Hagar, a non-righteous person, had conceived within a year, so how much less righteous must Sarah have been when she had not conceived at all. Sarah then utters a perplexing statement to Avraham: "Let Hashem judge between me and you." While the statement is confusing (a topic for further discussion), we can understand from Sara's attitude that she is angry at Avraham. This is bewildering concept: Sarah gives Avraham a second wife to conceive a child for him, yet when
Hagar gives birth, Sarah is annoyed! Was it not Sarah, herself, who gave Hagar to Avraham in the first place?
Nechama Leibowitz proposes a satisfying answer, using the Rambam to understand Sarah's character. Ramban explains the words "Vayishma L'kol Sarai," (Bereishit 16:2) to mean that Avraham listened to the voice of Sarah in taking Hagar for a wife. He waited for Sarah to give him permission to marry Hagar. Furthermore, in the next Pasuk, it says that Avraham took Hagar as a wife. While Avraham could have taken Hagar as a concubine, Sarah wanted Hagar to have the status of a wife to Avraham. These examples show Sarah's righteous character and respect for her husband.
Nechama Leibowitz continues by saying that Sarah's bringing a rival into her house to grant the gift of a child to her husband was a great sacrifice on Sarah's part. By overcoming feelings of jealousy, Sarah reached a high point in her relationship with Avraham. As soon as Hagar conceived, however, Hagar sought to demoralize Sarah. It was only after her rival, Hagar's taunting, that Sarah was unable to maintain her elation and lost her cool.
It is possible that Sarah didn't anticipate the consequences from her decision. She may not have realized that Hagar would jeer at her. Sarah's anger was understandable and may even have been justifiable, yet Ramban and Radak argue this was no excuse for Sarah to send Hagar away with her child, as she does in next week's Parasha. Her anger needed to manifest itself in a less harsh way than severely disrupting another woman's life. We can learn two things from Sarah's reaction to Hagar: to anticipate our reactions and emotions to any scenario or challenge what we encounter in our lives, and to manage our anger in a more productive way than pure retribution against the individual that hurt you. (Editor's note: for a justification of Sarah's actions, see Rav Elchanan Samet's essay to Parashat Lech Lecha in the first volume of his Iyunim B'parashot Hashavua).
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