וַיֶּֽאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב – And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.
We are told in Avot: “Any love that is dependent on something–when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases…”(5:16).
The verse above (Genesis 25:8) indicates that Isaac had a “dependent” love for Esau, namely because “his game was in his mouth” whereas Rebecca had no “dependent” love as she “loved Jacob” with no preconditions.
How then to explain these diametrically opposed loves?
The simple explanation could be that Esau symbolized physicality which always embodies some kind of dependent “ulterior” love whereas Jacob symbolized spirituality, a phenomenon that can exist within a pure and unconditional state.
וְלִבְנֵי הַפִּילַגְשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לְאַבְרָהָם, נָתַן אַבְרָהָם מַתָּנֹת; וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם מֵעַל יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ, בְּעוֹדֶנּוּ חַי, קֵדְמָה, אֶל-אֶרֶץ קֶדֶם
An ancient Jewish tradition tells us that the gifts that Abraham bestowed upon the sons of the concubines were secret teachings and that the land of the East to which he sent them was India. In his book Bad Kodesh, the ‘Mitteler Rebbe’ of Lubavitch states that Land of the East is India and even points out that the Brahmins, the priestly caste of that country, are descendants of Abraham and are therefore named after him (Brahmin from Abraham). He notes that it was the Brahmins who first taught the faith in reincarnation in India and that this was a faith they had inherited from Abraham himself.
This tradition expresses a belief that there is a deep affinity between Jews and Hindus. The two have indeed gone separate ways, but they derive from the same holy source – the teachings of Avraham Avinu. Having had the privilege of spending three years in India as a Political Officer at the Embassy of Israel in New Delhi, I feel there is much truth to this intuition.
Today, the modern State of Israel has an extremely important relationship with the Republic of India. Just this week, President Reuven Rivlin undertook a 6-day State Visit to India, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherji, Head of Opposition Sonia Gandhi and by an outpouring of admiration and good will by the people of India. The warmth of the welcome which our President received in India attests to the enormous progress this relationship has made. If many years, the Indian Government was at times a little demure in the public profile of the strong relationship between our countries, today India is proud and open about being a staunch friend and partner of the Jewish State.
Our two countries cooperate in a whole range of fields, many of them of an existential nature to both countries: Defense, technological research and development, agriculture, water management and trade and investment. There are also strong people-to-people ties between the two countries with about 40,000 Israelis visiting India each year and a similar number of Indians visiting Israel. Despite the striking differences between the two countries, first and foremost, the difference in scale between a nation of 8 million and a nation of 1.2 billion people, we share important similar challenges. The two are democratic free societies surrounded by a sea of tyranny and religious extremism. When Israel looks east, the first democracy it sees is India and when India looks west, the first democracy it sees is Israel. Both countries, born less than a year apart, must be constantly vigilant against terrorism from hostile neighbors. Though we do not discuss the details publicly, India in Israel regularly assists each other in facing this threat.
The cooperation between India and Israel is constantly evolving and has many more fields to which to expand. But no less than the diplomatic cooperation is the civilizational even spiritual links between the Jewish civilization and the Indian civilization. Despite stark differences, primarily – the use of idols in hindu ritual, there are some striking similarities between the two traditions. The Hindu tradition of religious law, the manu smriti, closely mirrors the account of Noah’s ark, which we read in our shul’s a couple of weeks ago. Manu was warned by G-d of an impending deluge and saved humanity by building a boat for himself and his family. Brahmin males traditionally wear a sacred thread under their garments called yajnopavitam which seems to be a concept similar to our tzitzit. At around the same time that we light our Hanukah candles, the Hindus light Diwali candles, commemorating the candles lit upon the victorious homecoming of Rama, symbolizing Good prevailing over Evil. The laws of ritual purity practiced by the Brahmins of South India share much with our own practice of taharat mishpacha – in fact, in some ways they are more ‘machmir´ than we are.
At a Hindu-Jewish summit held in Israel in 2008, religious leaders from India and Israel read a Declaration upon which the leaders of the Rabbinate and the Hindu delegation had agreed. The nine-point Declaration includes, among other points, an affirmation of the common Hindu and Jewish belief in One Supreme Being both in its formless and manifest aspects; (b) expresses their common world view of the sanctity of human life; (c) recognizes that all religions are sacred for their people and therefore, no one should denigrate or interfere in the religious practice of others; (d) recognizes that the Swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol and was misappropriated by the Nazis. This declaration is of great importance in opening the way to closer relations between the two societies.
I believe that here in America too, Jewish and Hindu communities can be natural allies. In the American context, they share the profound dedication to family and to community, the concern for keeping their traditions alive and passing them on intact to the next generation and a sincere commitment to the welfare and the values of the Great American Republic. They are also two of the best integrated and most successful religious minorities in the country. In fact, Jews and Hindus are the two best educated and most wealthy religious minorities in America.
It is only natural for two such communities to cooperate, but such cooperation first requires dialogue and the establishment of fraternal relations. Many community rabbis have some relationship established with a Christian religious leader in their vicinity, but how many of them even know where the nearest hindu temple is? There is much benefit that could arise from forging such ties. Above all, I am sure it would a huge source of naches to our common ancestor Avraham Avinu.
Shimon Mercer-Wood arrived in New York from Jerusalem in March 2015 to take up the post of Spokesperson and Consul for Media Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008, after a brief episode in the Israeli corporate sector, and has served as Political Officer at the Embassy of Israel in New Delhi, Desk Officer at the Ministry Head Quarters and Press Officer at the Embassy of Israel in London. He holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics, which he completed after his three year compulsory military service and after spending a year studying at Ma’aleh Gilboa Yeshiva.
Sara Observed the Shabbos During the Week
In this week’s parashah it is said (Bereishis 24:67) vayivieha Yitzchak haohela Sara imo vayikach es Rivka vatehi lo liisha vayehaveha vayinacheim Yitzchak acharei imo, and Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sara his mother; he married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her, and thus was Yitzchak consoled after his mother. Rashi quotes the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:16) that states that the juxtaposition of the words vayivieha Yitzchak to the words haohela Sara imo teaches us that when Yitzchak married Rivka, he observed that she was similar to his mother in every manner. When Sara was alive the candle would remain lit from one Friday afternoon to the next, blessing was found in the dough, and the cloud was above the tent. When Sara died, these phenomena ceased, and when Yitzchak married Rivka, the miracles returned. The simple understanding of the idea that the candle remained lit from one Friday afternoon to the next is that a miracle occurred and the candle was never extinguished. Upon deeper reflection, however, there is a profound lesson to be gained from this phenomenon. Sara was of such stature that she did not allow the candle to become extinguished during the week. It is very easy for one to observe Shabbos, as when the sun sets on Friday, one is forbidden to engage in the thirty-nine primary acts of labor, and one is required to sanctify the day and delight in it. Yet, this is one level of observing and honoring the Shabbos. A higher level is when one conducts himself or herself throughout the week on the level of Shabbos. This means watching one’s speech, being meticulous regarding the honor of others, avoiding impure areas and thoughts, and constantly seeking ways to be prepared for Shabbos. The Zohar states that a Torah scholar is in the category of Shabbos. The explanation for this statement is that the Rambam (Hilchos Deios) writes that a Torah scholar is judged on a different plane than the average person. For one to truly be in the category of Shabbos, he must conduct himself the entire week on a higher plane. Rivka truly reflected these ideas, as she was raised in the house of wicked people, and she still persevered and remained righteous.
The Shabbos Connection
When one can traverse the darkness of the weekday and still enter into the Shabbos bathed in the light of Torah and mitzvos, one has certainly experienced Shabbos in the week. When the entire Jewish People will observe Shabbos, i.e. when we will recognize that we must conduct ourselves at all times on a higher plane than the rest of the world, we will instantly merit the Final Redemption with the arrival of Moshiach, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
This mystical Zemer was composed by Avraham Maimin, whose name with the addition of chazak, is formed by the acrostic. Avraham was a student of Rabbi Moshe Kordevero, a member of the Kabbalistic school of the Arizal, and he lived from 5282-5330 (1522-1570 C.E.)
רְחוֹבוֹת הַנָּהָר נַחֲלֵי אֱמוּנָה. מַיִם עֲמוּקִים יִדְלֵם אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה, like a broad flowing river, like faithful streams, deep waters drawn by the most understanding man. The Torah is likened to water, as water travels from on high downward. Thus, anyone can study Torah, even one without financial resources and lacking lineage. Nonetheless, one must humble himself to study Torah, like the water that descends to the lowest parts of the earth.
Waiting to Say Kaddish
Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser relates: I had received a plea to travel to Croatia and Bosnia and spend Shabbos with a group of people who had an urgent thirst for spirituality. They not only had not had a rabbi since the 1940s, but they had just gone through a horrifying war. Realizing the urgency of the request and what it would mean to people living through such troubled times, I could not refuse. And so I was booked on a connecting flight Thursday evening leaving New York’s JFK Airport for Vienna and continuing on to Bosnia with my final destination – Sarajevo. The flight Thursday evening was delayed for one hour in the airport and one hour on the runway. My connecting flight in Vienna was scheduled to leave within 45 minutes of my arrival. I asked the flight personnel what they thought my chances were of my making the connecting flight. They assured me that there would be no problem. However, even with their assurance, I cannot say that I was not concerned. Sure enough, moments after the flight landed in Vienna Friday morning, as I rushed to the connecting flight, I was informed that the flight had just left. I raced to the transfer desk and was told that it would be impossible to make a connection that would arrive in time for Shabbos. In fact, there would be no flights connecting to Sarajevo until possibly Sunday evening. I could not believe it! I had traveled to Europe, blocked out my entire schedule in order to spend Shabbos with these people, and now I was faced with the possibility that the trip might have been in vain! I explained to the airline supervisor how important it was that I get to Sarajevo in time for Shabbos. I was almost in tears and I begged for understanding. When the supervisor realized the urgency of this mission she told me to wait a moment and went into a back office. Moments later she emerged, smiling. “We have arranged for a jet to fly you to your destination.” Airline personnel soon arrived to escort me to the plane. To my surprise, I was the only passenger in a small plane. The far-reaching hand of Divine Providence moved swiftly that Friday afternoon and, miraculously, I arrived in time for Shabbos. I was told that usually fifteen to twenty people show up for the Friday night services. However, some additional preparations were made due to the fact that word had spread about the special guest the community would be hosting that Shabbos. The beautiful shul that once stood so proudly in the center of town had been destroyed – it had actually been systematically bombed in sections. Today, the only indication that a shul once stood there is a plaque on a brick wall of a parking lot. The group was to meet in the synagogue which is currently housed in the community center… An elderly woman approached me and asked if I would say the Kaddish for her husband. She explained that her husband had died during the war and throughout these difficult years she had never found someone to say Kaddish for his soul. She said that tonight would be his yahrtzeit (the anniversary date of a person’s passing). I told her at once that it would be my privilege to say Kaddish for her husband. Following the prayers, we all assembled in a large room where I recited the Kiddush for everyone. I personally poured a little bit of wine from the cup for each person. The spirit in the room that evening was contagious. We sang, we learned, we ate, and we discussed various topics of Torah, continuing late into the night. One of the middle-aged men came to me with his cup of wine and asked me whether he had to drink it, or if he could save it for a future happy occasion (since kosher wine was difficult to obtain). I told him he could drink some of it and save the rest. I returned to my room early in the morning exhausted, yet exhilarated from one of the most special Friday nights that I had ever experienced. The next day we studied and davened together throughout the day. The same elderly woman approached me, and fully repeated her request that I say Kaddish for her husband. She then came to me once again before the afternoon service – I assured her that I would recite the Kaddish. We said farewell to the Shabbos with a Torah class that lasted from 4:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. After the class, I continued to answer personal questions from various individuals. Then I noticed the elderly woman waiting to speak to me. She said to me, “Because you redeemed my husband’s soul after all these years, I would like to redeem the Kaddish that you said.” She told me her name was Leah and she presented me with what looked like a round object wrapped in silver foil. She explained that the coin was over 100 years old and was the last possession that she had of her husband’s. She wanted me to have it. I politely refused by saying that it is important for her to have a memento. She then said, “Up until now the coin was my memento, but from this day onwards, I no longer need the coin – for I have the Kaddish.” The next morning at 8:00 a.m. I was preparing to leave for the airport to fly into Sarajevo. Before I left, I wanted to say goodbye to the elderly woman who had asked me to say Kaddish. I got her telephone number from the community center and when I dialed her number a young person answered. When I asked to speak with Leah, the young person said, “I am so sorry. Leah passed on early this morning.” I then learned that her husband had not died in the recent civil strife, but during World War II. For one reason or another, she had been unable to find anyone to say Kaddish for him. She willed herself to stay alive for another 50 years until she could perform this final duty.
Shabbos in Halacha
Wringing and Laundering
כיבוס – Laundering
Laundering (with water) is done in three steps; performing any one of the steps violates the melacha:
- שרויה: Soaking
- שפשוף: Scrubbing
- סחיטה: Wringing
- Soaking [or Wetting]
It is forbidden mideoraisa (by Torah Prohibition) to soak or to saturate a stained fabric in water (or other cleaning agents). Pouring water on a stain is also forbidden.
This prohibition applies only to absorbent materials (i.e. wool, cotton, linen), for which such materials the rule is שרייתו זהו כיבוסו: Soaking is [by itself, a form of] laundering. Leather, plastic and other non-absorbent materials are exempt from this particular prohibition, for materials that are not truly absorbent cannot be substantially cleaned by merely soaking in water.
Accordingly, one is prohibited from pouring water on a soiled linen tablecloth, however, one is permitted to do so on a plastic tablecloth. If the plastic tablecloth has a trimming made of absorbent fiber one must avoid wetting the trim.
In this week’s parsha, Avraham sends out Eliezer to find a shidduch for his son Yitzchak. Beforehand, Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he’ll find a girl from the land where Avraham was born, and not from Eretz Kna’an which was where they were residing at the time. Why? What was so terrible about the people of Kna’an?
The Drashos HaRan explains that the reason Avraham wanted to distance himself from the people of Kna’an was because the people of Kna’an had bad middos. Imbued in their nature were negative character traits which Avraham didn’t want to be incorporated into the gene pool of Klal Yisrael. As a result, Avraham made Eliezer swear to go back to his homeland to find a wife for Yitzchak.
However, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. We know that Avraham fled his original homeland because the inhabitants there were worshipers of Avoda Zara. When he came to Kna’an, he became a massive mekareiv. All the people would flock to hear him; he was truly “Vayikra besheim Hashem!” In contrast, the Medrash tells us that the people of Avraham’s birthplace sought to kill Avraham for his “heretical” teachings.
These were the type of people who Avraham wanted for his son as a shidduch? These people are better than those who believe in Hashem, yet have bad middos? It can be compared to a father who looks for a shidduch for his son and two prospects emerge. One is a really nice guy, yet he happens to be Buddhist, and the other is a little rude but is a yid and shomer mitzvos. Of course a father would go with the latter! The former isn’t even a considerable option. So how could Avraham request such a thing from Eliezer? Even though the people of Kna’an had bad middos, they should still have been better prospects than the people of Avraham’s birthplace, for the people of Kna’an did seem to genuinely believe in Hashem.
Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l answers this question based on a Rashi in Chagigah. (I heard a similar vort a few years ago in the name of the Tiferes Yisrael in Parshas Toldos when Rivka says “Lamah zeh anochee”). Many people tend to think that emunah comes solely from an “intellectual” knowledge of Hashem. They believe that the greater a person’s mind, the greater level he can acquire in his belief. However, in Jewish consciousness, we believe there is a simpler level to our emunah which isn’t necessarily connected to the power of one’s intellect. In fact, Rav Elchonon Wasserman says (in the very first ma’imer found in the Kovetz Maimarim) that we see throughout history people who had tremendous minds, yet were absolute kofrim of Hashem. The pshat, he says, is that the reason people tend not to believe is based on the individual’s negius. Because a person WANTS to believe in something which contradicts Hashem, he’ll end up denying Hashem’s existence; for his personal desires and Hashem’s ratzon can’t coexist.
Rav Sheinberg zt”l says that the exact opposite was the essence of Avraham Avinu. Rashi in Chagiga 3a says that Avraham’s greatest asset wasn’t that he was smarter than everyone else. Rather, Avraham gave over his entire heart to Hashem. All of his negius, all of his inclinations, he channeled towards Hashem. All of his desires were just to do the ratzon Hashem. He never let his negius get in the way of his relationship with Hashem. He gave over his heart and pointed his desires towards Hashem. As a result, he alone was able to see clearly through the fogginess of the world and successfully attain truth.
This is also the pshat why Avraham told Eliezer to take a bride for his son from the land which he had come as opposed to Kna’an. Avraham understood that in order for the Jewish people to have nitzchiyus, we would have to give over our hearts to Hashem. We need to at least have the ability and the potentiality to point our desires to Hashem’s will. The people of Kna’an weren’t like that. They lacked this ability. They were irresolute. We see this from the fact that only 70 people ended up leaving Kna’an with Yaakov Avinu. What happened to everyone Avraham was mekareiv? The answer is that although they understood Hashem’s existence and were periodically inspired, they never fully gave themselves over to Hashem. Avraham saw this bad middah in them, and therefore made Eliezer swear to take a wife from his homeland. In his homeland, although the people witnessed open miracles, like Avraham surviving a fiery furnace, they were still able to fully “believe” in their own opposing beliefs. The only way this would be possible is if they were fully able to give themselves over to a certain ideal. Although they pointed themselves in the wrong direction, they possessed the ability to ignore their natural preferences and create a new personal preference of total self-nullification before something else. Avraham needed this middah for his children; he needed a woman who was able to give over her entire self for Hashem, because only with that middah can a nation last.
The Ran continues to explain that Middos are hereditary and have been passed on from our forefathers. As a result, we have this middah of Rivkah Imeinu. We have the ability to truly give over ourselves for something. The only question is what we choose to give over ourselves to. For people who aren’t Jewish, it may be sports, jobs, girlfriends, liberal ideas etc… But for Jews it has to be different. Hashem chose us to be different. He chose us to give over ourselves to Him and find meaning and purpose in His service. It’s our avodah and up to us to remove our personal negius and wholeheartedly make the choice to truly do what Hashem wants from us.
I remember once talking to a non-religious acquaintance I had met through a Kiruv organization. We spoke about the Haskalah movement and if there could exist any Judaic truth in the belief system of the Reform. After a long discussion, I remember telling him that I wasn’t against the idea of reforming, but it needs to be the right reform. Instead of taking people with little connection to Judaism and alienating them further from their heritage under the banner of Reform Judaism, why not focus a reform to bring the person closer to his roots? Why not a change in the opposite direction? Even though it may not be admitted, a strong basis for Reform was to grant the individual more “freedom” within the stricter structure of Orthodox belief and practice. In essence, they wanted to be able to choose which specific direction to point their life in. The people who followed were those who hadn’t fully given themselves over to Hashem, so when an idea arose giving them the potential ability to choose something else, they jumped in on a moment’s notice. I told him that I’m not against reform, but instead of trying to reform something kadosh to fit our desires, why not try to reform our desires to fit something kadosh? Instead of changing a religion, why not first work on changing yourself? This is the avodah of a lifetime, but it’s something we have the power to do. It’s in our genes. We inherited it all the way back from Rivkah. It just requires the desire to do it. It requires of us to make the conscious choice that instead of giving oneself over to finite and limited ambitions, one will strive for something greater. Each of us has to consciously say, “I will be an eved Hashem.”
In this week’s weekly Torah portion, we find the passage of our forefather Avraham when he was visited by three angels immediately following his circumcision. The Torah relates how Avraham (painfully) ran out to greet them, then brought them into his house, washed their feet and gave them a lavish meal to eat. The question many are bothered by, is why does the Torah feel the need to go into such great detail towards the way Avraham treated his guests? Nothing is extra in the Torah, and therefore, what’s the purpose of telling us all of these small little things that Avraham did? They were things which probably took thirty seconds and they happened 4,000 years ago! Why do they carry such significance that the Torah chose to write them, and how are they relevant to us today?
The answer, I believe is based on two different pieces of Talmud which deal with Chesed (kindness). On the one hand, the Talmud in tractate Sotah teaches the obligation on each individual to act with kindness from the verse of “acharei Hashem teileichoo”, or “after Hashem you shall go.” Obviously it can’t mean to literally go after Hashem, for Hashem isn’t physical and therefore cannot be physically followed. Rather, says the Talmud, the verse is teaching us to follow after the ways of Hashem. Just as He clothes the naked, so too should you cloth the naked, just as He is kind, so too you should be kind etc… On the other hand, the Talmud in tractate Shabbos explains that it the obligation for kindness comes from a different verse, that of “ze keili v’anvaihoo”, or “this is my God, and I shall glorify Him..” How does a person glorify Hashem? Says the Talmud, that emulating His ways is the highest form of glorification. Therefore, just as he is Kind, so too you shall be kind…
There’s a question which seemingly results from these two paragraphs in the Talmud. There’s a foundational idea about our Torah that there isn’t one extra word in our Torah, and therefore two different verses wouldn’t come to teach the same thing. If this is true, what’s the explanation of the two Talmudic passages? There are two different verses teaching us the obligation for chesed?!
The answer I think is as follows (it’s also found in the book “leket sichos mussar” by Rabbi Yitzchak Issac Sher of Blessed memory): Really, there are two different aspects inside the trait of Kindness. The first verse tells us the obligation to be kind and to walk in the ways of Hashem and our forefathers. The second verse, however, teaches us something different. It’s not referring the obligation to act in a kind manner; rather it relates a separate obligation to feel the kindness in our hearts. In other words, it’s an obligation to feel that through the acts of kindness that we do to one another, we are emulating Hashem. We have to feel that we are copying exactly His methods and course of action. In this way, like a son who copies his father, we get closer to Him.
I think this is the explanation to our first question. Why does the Torah go into such detail about the way Avraham treated his guests? Because the Torah obligates us not just to do chesed, but rather to also feel that the chesed is a direct emulation of Hashem’s chesed. And what type of Chesed is that? It’s a chesed to always focus on the little thing. Really, it’s true; the act of washing a visitor’s foot is such a small action which happened so long ago! Why do we need to know about it? Because that’s what chesed is. It’s not just to do the big things. In order to really feel the chesed, we have to care about the small things.
As we’ve said before, the word Torah comes from the root of hora’ah, which means “to guide”. It serves as a guidebook for us to derive the most out of this world. When the Torah talks in depth of the kindness of Avraham, it’s guiding us towards the essence of what chesed is. And chesed isn’t just saving a friend from drowning. Rather it’s finding someone who’s down and cheering them up. It’s saying I love you to a loved one even when you’re just doing it because you know it’ll make them happy. And above all, it’s showing that you care.
Avraham and Eradication of Evil
This week’s parashah contains a theme that appears to run throughout the entire parashah. The Torah commences this week with the incident where Avraham has just been circumcised and despite his pain, he invites three strangers to partake in a sumptuous meal. Avraham himself waits on his guests and he is then informed that he and his wife Sarah will be having a child. The guests, who are angels in disguise, then depart to destroy the city of Sodom and its surroundings.
Praying for the wicked people of Sodom
HaShem informs Avraham of the tragic state of affairs in Sodom, and Avraham prays to HaShem to spare the cities in the merit of the righteous. HaShem informs Avraham that there are no righteous people in all the cities and Avraham desists from praying further. The angels then enter Sodom where they are greeted by Lot who invites them into his house. The residents of Sodom are not pleased with this act of hospitality and they attempt to harm the visitors. HaShem causes the citizens of Sodom to become blind and the angels then proceed to escort Lot and his remaining family out of the city. HaShem then destroys Sodom and its environs and Lot escapes with his two daughters. Lot and his daughters then engage in an illicit relationship, and the union bears the two forerunners of the Ammonite and Moabite nations. The Torah then records how Avraham settles in the Philistine city of Gerar and the king of Gerar, Avimelech, abducts Sarah. HaShem then punishes Avimelech and his household by restraining their orifices.
Yishmael is banished and Avraham and Yitzchak are tested by Hashem. The Torah then relates how Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak and subsequent to Yitzchak’s birth, Sarah demands that Avraham banish Yishmael and his mother because of Yishmael’s evil ways. Following this incident we learn how Avraham makes a treaty with Avimelech, and then the Torah relates the spellbinding incident where HaShem instructs Avraham to offer his cherished son Yitzchak as a sacrifice. HaShem then sends an angel to repeal this commandment and Avraham slaughters a ram in Yitzchak’s stead.
The negation of evil
The theme that we see running through this parashah is what is referred to as bittul hara, negation of evil. Circumcision is essentially a negation of the Evil Inclination and the materialism represented within. Sodom was the epitome of evil, and Avraham apparently desired, in the words of the Gemara (Brachos 10a), yitamu chataim vilo chotim, let the sins cease but not the sinners. Lot acted in a self-defeating manner, bringing shame upon himself and his future generations. Similarly, Avimelech encountered Avraham and Sarah, righteous people, and HaShem punished him harshly. Yishmael was banished from the home of the righteous, and Avraham and Yitzchak were tested in an unprecedented manner. This test, in a sense, was the expiation of any doubt in their minds that they could have possibly had regarding HaShem’s Oneness and His dominion over the entire world.
The Shabbos connection
In the prayer of kegavna that is recited by Nusach Sefard on Friday night, we recite the words kad ayil Shabbsa ihi isyachadas viisparashas misitra achara vichol dinin misabrin minah, when the Shabbos arrives, she unified herself in Oneness and divests herself of the Other Side, [any trace of evil] all harsh judgments are removed from her. Thus, the purpose of creation is that the Jewish People divest itself of all evil and harsh judgments. It is incumbent upon us to recognize that every moment of our lives is a test to choose between good and evil, and when we are victorious, we merit the holiness and exaltedness of Shabbos. HaShem should allow us to be victorious in this world and to merit a portion in the World to Come, when it will be a day that will be completely a Shabbos and a rest day for eternal life.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
This mystical Zemer was composed by Avraham Maimin, whose name with the addition of chazak, is formed by the acrostic. Avraham was a student of Rabbi Moshe Kordevero, a member of the Kabbalistic school of the Arizal, and he lived from 5282-5330 (1522-1570 C.E.)
מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא וְהִיא נֶעֱלָמָה. רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יְ-הֹ-ו-ָה, from the Invisible One it derives, but it is hidden – the source of wisdom is awe of HaShem. Whenever one wishes to describe HaShem’s Wisdom, which is His Holy Torah, one is left without words. The reason for this is because Torah is beyond human understanding. Indeed, the Gemara (Megillah 6b) states יגעתי ומצאתי תאמן, if one says, “I have toiled and I have found,” i.e. I have achieved success in my studies, believe him. The Sfas Emes writes that the Gemara likens Torah study to one who finds a lost object. One can toil in his search for the lost object, but when he finds it, it is like a gift handed to him. Similarly, one can toil in this world in Torah study, but success in one’s studies is a gift from HaShem.
Rav Aharon Kotler’s Father the Fur Merchant
HaGaon Rav Aharon Kotler told over a story about his father’s mesirus nefesh for Torah. His father was a fur merchant in Lita. At a certain period, his business dwindled, and it reached a point where his family was lacking food to sustain themselves.
Every day after Shacharis, his father would learn for two hours, and was mapkid on this learning period his entire life. One day, a wealthy merchant knocked on the door of the Kotler family, and informed them that he would like to buy a sizable amount of furs. However, it was the set learning time of Rav Kotler. His wife knocked on the door of his room, once, twice, and three times, and urged her husband to utilize this opportunity for his business.
Rav Kotler answered from behind the door, “Go tell him that if he’s willing to wait until I finish my learning, good! If not – he should go in peace. A person’s mezonos is set from Rosh HaShanah until Rosh HaShanah. If it was decreed that I will sell the merchandise, I’ll find a buyer!”
Rav Aharon concluded his story, “My father’s wondrous mesiras nefesh for Torah instilled in us the emunah peshutah, “When you learn Torah, you never lose out!’ All of my mesiras nefesh for Torah – I acquired from him!” (Tuvcha Yabiyu) (www.Revach.net)
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Dovid Koppleman tells the story of Rabbi Abish, the Rav of Frankfurt who was known for his extraordinary humility. In addition, he would often raise funds for the needy families of his city. Once he heard that a wealthy man was on business in town and went to the man’s hotel suite to ask him for a donation. The tycoon was arrogant and assumed that the Rav was a poor shnorrer, and after a few moments drove him out of his room. A few minutes later the man went to leave his suite and looked for his silver cane. Noticing it was gone, he immediately suspected that Reb Abish took it during his brief visit.
Quickly, the man bolted toward the lobby of the hotel where he accosted Reb Abish. “Thief,” the man shouted while pushing the Rav, “give me back my cane!” Reb Abish calmly pleaded. “I did not steal your cane. Please do not accuse me! Please believe me. I did not steal your cane!”
The man was adamant in his arrogance and began to beat the Rav while onlookers recoiled in horror. Reb Abish, despite the pain, remained steadfast in his humble demeanor. “Please believe me. I did not steal your cane!” Finally, the man realized he was getting nowhere and left Reb Abish in disgust.
That Saturday was Shabbos Shuva. The entire community, including the wealthy visitor, packed Frankfurt’s main synagogue for the traditional Shabbos Shuva Speech. Horror gripped the visitor as a familiar looking figure rose to the podium and mesmerized the vast audience with an eloquent oration. It was the very shnorrer he had accosted in the hotel! As soon as the speech ended, the man pushed his way toward the podium and in a tearful voice tried to attract the Rabbi’s attention. He was about to plead forgiveness for his terrible behavior when Reb Abish noticed the man.
In all sincerity Reb Abish began to softly plead with him. “I beg of you! Please do not hit me. I truly did not steal your cane.” (www.Torah.org)