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Questions and Answers on the Torah Readings and Haftarot of Rosh Hashanah

Questions and Answers on the Torah Readings and Haftarot of Rosh Hashanah


"וה' פקד את שרה כאשר אמר ויעש ה' לשרה כאשר דבר"
“And Hashem had remembered Sarah as He had said: and, Hashem did for Sarah as He had spoken.’” (Bereishit 21:1)

QUESTION: Since the pasuk starts, “VaHashem pakad” — “And Hashem remembered” — which puts the subject — “VaHashem” — ahead of the predicate — “pakad” — it should have concluded in the same style, “VaHashem asah” — “And Hashem did”?

ANSWER: Rashi explains that, “ka’asher amar” — “as He had said” — means “beheirayon — with pregnancy” — and “ka’asher dibeir” — “as He had spoken” — means “beleidah” — “with childbirth.”

The Gemara (Taanit 2a) says that while Hashem appointed agents over many things, there are three keys that are exclusively in the hands of Hashem: the key of rain, the key of childbirth, and the key of revival of the dead.

According to the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 51:2) when the Torah says, “VaHashem”And Hashem” — it means He together with his Beit Din — Heavenly Tribunal — and when it says just “Hashem” — it means He personally.

Consequently, when the Torah talks of pregnancy it says VaHashem”“And Hashem” — because this is something which He attends to together with His Heavenly Tribunal. However, when it talks of actual childbirth, it does not say “VaHashem” but only “Hashem” because there are no agents involved and only He has the key to it.

(חנוכת התורה ועי' תוס' נדה ט"ז ע"ב ד"ה מלאך)

"וימל אברהם את יצחק בנו"
Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak.” (21:4)

QUESTION: At a brit it is customary for all present to proclaim: “Just as he is entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, and into marriage, and into good deeds.”

Why do we associate these three things with thebrit?

ANSWER: Considering the young age of the child and his tenderness, the shedding of his blood is a very difficult experience. Nevertheless, the child is subjected to it and thereby he becomes a full-fledged member of K’lal Yisrael. The message of this pronouncement is that just as he has mesirat nefesh to fulfill his first mitzvah of the Torah, likewise, when it comes to Torah study, conducting his marriage according to Torah, and the performance of good deeds, he should not permit anything to hinder him and even be ready for mesirat nefesh.

* * *

Alternatively, this is a blessing to all those present at the child’s first simchah, that just as they are here today, they should live and be healthy to witness and participate in his introduction to Torah study, his wedding, and his performance of good deeds for many years.

"וימל אברהם את יצחק בנו בן שמנת ימים כאשר צוה אתו אלקים"
“Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak at the age of eight days as Hashem had commanded him.” (21:4)

QUESTION: What did Yitzchak merit for being the first one to be circumcised at the age of eight days?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Pesachim 4a) says that when the Torah says, “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised (Vayikra 12:3), the entire day is valid for circumcision. Except, that the zealous are early to perform mitzvot, as it is stated, “And Avraham rose early in the morning [for the Akeidah]” (Bereishit 22:3).

Therefore, it is customary to make a brit early in the morning, and undoubtedly, this is how Avraham too conducted himself. Thus, at the time of the brit, seven days and eight nights have already passed, which is a total of one hundred and eighty hours.

The first person to have his brit on the eighth day was the patriarch Yitzchak. In merit of Avraham making it early in the morning, Yitzchak lived one hundred and eighty years.

(נחל קדומים)

"ותאמר שרה צחק עשה לי אלקים כל השומע יצחק לי ותאמר מי מלל לאברהם היניקה בנים שרה כי ילדתי בן זקוניו"
“Sarah said, ‘G‑d made laughter for me. Everyone who will hear will be happy for me.’ And she said: ‘Who would have said to Avraham, that Sarah would nurse children?’ for I have borne a son in his old age” (21:6-7)

QUESTION: Anyone with common sense would understand that Hashem brought laughter to Sarah; why did she give such a lengthy explanation of the reason for her laughter?

ANSWER: When Yitzchak was born, the cynics said: 1) Since a lady of ninety can not give birth, either his real mother is Hagar not Sarah, or she brought home an abandoned child from the marketplace. 2) Even if Sarah is the mother, the father could not be Avraham since he is already 100 years old.

To counter the cynics’ viciousness, Hashem performed two miracles for Avraham and Sarah. One miracle was that the milk in the breasts of all the women dried up while Sarah’s breasts were flowing milk. Unable to nurse their children, they had no other choice but to bring her their children and beg her to nurse them. This convinced all that Sarah was indeed the mother who gave birth to Yitzchak (Yalkut Shimoni 93).

For the scoffers who claimed that Avraham was not the father, Hashem made a miracle that Yitzchak’s countenance was identical to Avraham’s and everyone reluctantly conceded that Avraham was indeed the father (ibid.).

In her lengthy proclamation Sarah was alluding to all this: For those who said she couldn’t be the mother, she said this is refuted by the fact that “Sarah nursed many children.” For those who claimed that Avraham was not the father, she said, “Proof to the contrary is, ‘for I have borne a son — lizekunov — in his old age.’ Now, on the pasuk, “and Sarah bore a son unto Avraham “lizekunov” — in his old age” (21:2), the Midrash (53:6) says that the word “lizekunov” is an abbreviation for “ziv ikenunin” — their facial features — were identical. She concluded, “Hence, there is adequate evidence that Avraham is indeed his father. For these two Divine miracles I can say that G‑d made laughter to me.”

(ילקוט הדרוש)

(For another explanation on “tzechok asah li Elokim see sermon “Vanishing or Flourishing.”)

"ותאמר מי מלל לאברהם היניקה בנים שרה"
“And she said: ‘Who would have said to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children?’ ” (21:7)

QUESTION: Rashi explains: “On the day of the feast all the princesses brought their children with them and Sarah nursed them.”

Why did Sarah violate the halachah which forbids a Jewish woman to nurse non-Jewish children, even with payment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah, 154:2)?

ANSWER: The reason for this halachah is that through nursing the children we are helping to raise children for idolatry. In the case of Sarah, her capacity to nurse children at this age was a great miracle. All those who witnessed it praised the G‑d that Sarah and Avraham propagated. Eventually, all the children whom Sarah nursed became attached to her and converted to the Jewish religion when they grew up.

(ילקוט שמעוני משלי תתקמ"ז - פרדס יוסף)

"ותרא שרה את בן הגר המצרית אשר ילדה לאברהם מצחק ותאמר לאברהם גרש האמה הזאת ואת בנה כי לא יירש בן האמה הזאת עם בני עם יצחק"
“Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had born to Avraham, mocking, so she said to Avraham, ‘Drive out this slavewoman with her son for the son of the slavewoman shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.’” (21:9-10)

QUESTION: What was he mocking about, and what right does Sarah have to deny Yishmael his share of inheritance?

ANSWER: The scoffers of the generation were saying, “since Avraham and Sarah were married many years and were childless, Sarah became pregnant from Avimelech (the king of the Philistines) and not from Avraham. Sarah, of course, denied this vehemently and told everyone that she had become pregnant through Avraham, and Yitzchak is indeed their son.

When she heard Yishmael “metzacheik” — “mocking” — her claim that “Asher yaldah le’Avraham” — “She gave birth to Yitzchak through Avraham” — she immediately told Avraham to drive him out of the house because when the day of inheritance would arrive, he would not let Yitzchak inherit together with him. “He claims that Yitzchak is not your child,” she said, “and thus he is your only child and he is the sole rightful heir to all your possessions.”

(דמשק אליעזר)

"ותאמר לאברהם גרש האמה הזאת ואת בנה"
“She said to Avraham, ‘Drive away this maidservant together with her son.’ ” (21:10)

QUESTION: Hagar did nothing wrong; why did Sarah want her expelled also?

ANSWER: Sarah was a very great prophetess. In fact, her power of prophecy was even greater than Avraham’s (Rashi, 21:12). She knew that when it would come the time for Yishmael to marry, his mother would make all the decisions for him. As the Torah relates, “And his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt”(21:21).

Sarah felt that Yishmael was behaving badly because Hagar was not training him properly and not teaching him moral values. Therefore, wanting to force Hagar to take an interest in her child, she told Avraham to also expel the mother. Hopefully, she would learn her lesson and raise her son correctly.

(שער בת רבים)

* * *

A wise man once said, “Parents should be more concerned about the values they leave with their children than the valuables they leave with their children.

"ויקרא מלאך אלקים מן השמים...ויאמר לה מה לך הגר"
“G‑d’s angel called Hagar from heaven and said to her ‘What troubles you, Hagar?’ ” (21:17)

QUESTION: Wouldn’t anyone seeing a child crying for water in a desert understand why the mother was crying?

ANSWER: This episode could be explained as a metaphor: There are many parents who consider Jewish education for their children a luxury. Therefore, when they have what they consider an abundance of funds, they will go through the expense of tuition and send their children to a yeshivah. Otherwise, when experiencing the slightest financial hardship, one of the first changes they will make in their lifestyle is, unfortunately, to send the children to public school.

This, of course, is erroneous. Jewish education is an utmost necessity, and parents should give one to their children even if they have to deny themselves amenities. Jewish education has priority over vacations, cars, piano lessons or the like. If necessary, parents should even deny themselves staples in order to provide their children a Torah education.

The Torah tells us “The water of the skin bottle was finished and she cast off the child beneath one of the shrubs.” Observing this attitude, the angel exclaimed to her “mah lach Hagar” — “what is with you Hagar?” What kind of mother are you, Hagar! Just because you ran out of water — your finances are dwindling — don’t “throw away” your son. Don’t make your children’s needs your first austerity measure. “Arise, lift up the youth” the angel said to her — regardless of a parents’ financial situation, children should always be the first priority in life. Their material and spiritual needs have precedence and transcend over everything else.

(עיטורי תורה)

(See sermon “What is With You Hagar?” page 67 for another explanation.)

"ויאמר אברהם אנכי אשבע"
“And Avraham said, ‘I will swear.’ ” (21:24)

QUESTION: The word “ishavei’ah” means “I will swear.” Why the superfluous word “anochi — “I”?

ANSWER: Avraham’s mission in life was to make the world aware of Hashem’s existence. The first of the Ten Commandments, the one in which Hashem declares His Supremacy, starts with the word “Anochi” — “I.”

During his negotiations with Avimelech, Avraham said, “I am ready to swear and will do so in the name of Anochi — the one and only G‑d.”

* * *

Avimelech responded to Avraham’s rebuke, “vegam anochi lo shamati bilti hayom” — “I did not hear about it until this day either.” Here, too, the word “anochi” is extra? In light of the above, it can be explained that Avimelech was saying that the concept of “Anochi” intrigued him. With amazement he said to Avraham, “I must confess that until this day I never heard of the philosophy of ‘Anochi. Thank you for enhancing my knowledge.”

(דבש השדה בשם ר' שלמה קארלינער זצ"ל)

"והוכח אברהם את אבימלך על אדות באר המים אשר גזלו עבדי אבימלך ויאמר אבימלך לא ידעתי מי עשה את הדבר הזה וגם אתה לא הגדת לי וגם אנכי לא שמעתי בלתי היום"
“Avraham reproved Avimelech about the well stolen by his servants; Avimelech said, ‘I do not know who did this thing; furthermore, you have never told me, and moreover, I myself heard nothing of it except for today.’ ” (21:25, 26)

QUESTION: Why did Avimelech give Avraham three excuses?

ANSWER: Avimelech really gave Avraham only one excuse: namely, that he knew nothing about the alleged incident. In addition, the Torah is relating the entire dialogue which took place during the visit.

When Avimelech went to visit Avraham, he took General Fichol with him. During their conversation, Avraham complained to Avimelech about the stolen well. Avimelech apologized and said, “I do not know who did this thing.” Then Avimelech turned to Fichol and said to him, “vegam atah lo higadeta li” — “Why didn’t you tell me that your soldiers did such a terrible thing to Avraham?” Fichol replied, “vegam anochi lo shamati bilti hayom” — “I, too, did not hear about this till we came here today.” (Thus, Fichol was insinuating that Avraham had made up a story.)


* * *

To prove that he was the rightful owner of the well, Avraham said to Avimelech, “Take these seven lambs from my hand. It will be my proof that I dug this well.”

How would this prove who was really the owner of the well?

Avraham said to Avimelech, “The proof will come from my animals’ refusal to eat things which do not belong to their master. When the animals are my possession, the well water will rise and they will drink. Afterwards, when you take them and they become your possession, the well water will not rise, and they will refuse to drink.”

This is exactly what happened, and everyone was convinced that Avraham was indeed the rightful owner of the well.

(ידי משה על מדרש רבה)

"ויטע אשל בבאר שבע"
“He planted an ‘eishel’ in Beer-Sheba.” (21:33)

QUESTION: What is an “eishel”?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Sotah 10a) Rav says it means an orchard, and Avraham served its fruits to wayfarers. Shmuel says that it was an inn, in which Avraham provided lodging for wayfarers. Some say that the word“eishel” (אשל) is an acrostic of the words “achilah” (אכילה) — “eating” — “shetiyah” (שתיה) — “drinking” — and “levayah” (לויה) — “escorting” — the three basic services a host should provide his guests (see ibid. Rashi). Through his magnanimous hospitality Avraham managed to persuade people to proclaim the Name of Hashem as G‑d of the universe.

The reason he emphasized these three acts is because he wanted to rectify the iniquities of his predecessors. Adam sinned by eating the forbidden fruit (Bereishit 3:7). After the deluge, Noach debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became intoxicated and he uncovered himself within his tent (Bereishit 9:20-21). The Sodomites were notorious for their wickedness towards wayfarers. Visitors were unwelcome and treated cruelly.

(קול אליהו)

ויהי אחר הדברים האלה והאלקים נסה את אברהם"
“After these events, G‑d tested Avraham.” (22:1)

QUESTION: The Akeidah — the binding of Yitzchak — follows the account of the peace treaty between Avraham and Avimelech. What is the connection between the two episodes?

ANSWER: Hashem was displeased with Avraham for making a commitment to Avimelech that his descendants would not harm the Philistines. The land of the Philistines is not an actual part of the Holy Land, but it is a part of the territory that Hashem promised to Avraham. In the days of Yehoshua it was included together with the land on which lots were cast and distributed among the tribes (Joshua 13). The Divine command was to rid this territory of all inhabitants and put it totally under control of the Jewish people.

The word “nisah” — “tested” — also means “emotionally provoked and pained” (see Bamidbar 14:22). Hashem said to Avraham, “You were proud of the son I gave you, and concerned about his safety. Thus, you made a covenant with the Philistines to assure his well-being. I command you to sacrifice your son, and let us see what your treaty accomplished!” (This gives an insight into the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s opposition to giving away any Jewish land.)


"והאלקים נסה את אברהם"
“And G‑d tested Avraham.” (22:1)

QUESTION: In Hebrew the common term for test is “bechinah.” Why doesn’t it say “Veha’Elokim bachan et Avraham”?

ANSWER: The word “neis” in Hebrew does not only mean a test, but also a banner; as the Psalmist says, “Natatah lirei’echa neis lehitnoseis” — “You gave those who fear you a banner to raise themselves” (Psalms 60:6). A banner is usually raised high to show its beauty. Similarly, when Hashem tests an individual, the purpose is to lift him into a higher sphere. When the individual passes the test, he is spiritually elevated and exalted.

Hence, the verse can be rendered: “And G‑dexalted Avraham.” Through the trial, his hidden potential powers of faith were extracted and brought to fruition.

(מדרש בראשית רבה נ"ה א')

"והאלקים נסה את אברהם"
“And G‑d tested Avraham.” (22:1)

QUESTION: The Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak on the altar, would not have been possible without Yitzchak’s cooperation. Why do we only refer to it as a test of Avraham, without mentioning Yitzchak?

ANSWER: Avraham was asked to bring up his son as an offering. Of course, Yitzchak’s consent was needed, but immediately Yitzchak’s life would come to an end. Avraham, who would personally perform the act of slaughtering his son, would have to live on not letting the fact that he personally slaughtered his son affect his faith in Hashem.

This is the most difficult part of the test, which only Avraham would experience.

* * *

Alternatively, the Akeidah was indeed a trial for Yitzchak who was being bound for a burnt-sacrifice which would have put to an end his life and all his aspirations. But it was a greater trial of Avraham’s dedication, devotion and love for Hashem. The son was the test and the “proof in the pudding” of all this. Did Avraham inspire his own son to follow in his footsteps and be ready to give his life for Hashem? The chinuch — education — and its success would be evident in Yitzchak’s willingness. Our children are the best evidence and reflection of what we inculcated in them.

Yitzchak’s readiness and concern that he be a proper karban olah — burnt offering — showed that Avraham passed with flying colors the test of being a true Jewish father Avraham indeed inspired his son to follow in his footsteps to be dedicated to Hashem to the extent of actual mesirat nefesh — self sacrifice.

"והעלהו שם לעולה"
“And bring him up as a burnt-offering” (22:2)

QUESTION: How could Avraham offer a burnt-offering if he wasn’t a Kohen?

ANSWER: After Avraham was forced to slay the troops of the four kings (Bereishit ch. 14), he was afraid that Hashem would punish him for shedding blood. Therefore, King David says “Hashem has sworn and will not relent: You shall be a Kohen forever” (Psalms 110:4). In fact, according to the Yalkut Shimoni (Shir Hashirim, 988) he succeeded Shem, Noach’s son, as Kohen GadolHigh Priest.

An ordinary Kohen is qualified to make a burnt-offering. Why did Hashem make Avraham a Kohen Gadol?

According to halachah, a Kohen may not offer sacrifices when he is in the onain state of mourning for a relative (the period between death and burial). An exception to this is Kohen Gadol. Moreover, if an ordinary Kohen became an onain while he was in the middle of bringing a sacrifice, he must stop immediately, lest the offering become pasul — disqualified — (Rambam, Bi’at Hamikdash 2:6).

Consequently, had Avraham been merely an ordinary Kohen, the moment he would slaughter Yitzchak he would become an onain and be forbidden to continue with bringing him as a burnt-offering. Hence, Hashem appointed him a Kohen Gadol, and as such he could continue performing the offering service even if he were in the state of aninut.

(לקט יוסף, יוסף ב"ר אלכסנדר, מלמד בגאלהויזן אופפענבאך תע"ו, ערך אברהם, אות י"ט)

"וישכם אברהם בבקר ויחבש את חמרו"
“So Avraham woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey.” (22:3)

QUESTION: When Bilaam went to curse the Jewish people, the Torah states that “Bilaam arose in the morning and saddled his she-donkey” (22:21).Rashi comments that when Bilaam personally saddled his she-donkey, Hashem said to him, “Wicked one, Avraham already preceded you, as it is stated, ‘Avraham woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey.’ ”

How does Avraham’s saddling his donkey affect Bilaam’s?

ANSWER: Avraham interpreted Hashem’s request to bring up his son as an offering to mean that he should literally slaughter him. Consequently, he woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey in order to speedily fulfill Hashem’s will, although simultaneously the continuity of the Jewish people would cease. After binding Yitzchak on the altar, he stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son, but suddenly an angel from heaven stopped him and explained that Hashem never told him to slaughter his son, but only to bring him up and prepare him for a burnt-offering (see Rashi, Bereishit 22:2).

Permeated with evil intentions, Bilaam wanted to curse the Jewish people, and thus end their existence. Upon noticing the alacrity with which Bilaam approached to destroy the Jewish people, Hashem said to him, “You wicked fool! Had I wanted to destroy the Jewish people I could have done it years ago through my faithful servant Avraham. If I did not do it then through him, I will surely not permit a wicked person like you to destroy them.”

(ר' מנחם מענדל זצ"ל מקוצק)

"הנה האש והעצים ואיה השה לעלה ויאמר אברהם אלקים יראה לו השה לעלה בני"
“ ‘Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?’ Avraham answered, ‘Hashem will provide for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.’ ” (22:7)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that Avraham was telling Yitzchak, “Either Hashem will provide a lamb, and if not, you will be the offering.” Since it was Avraham’s intention to bring up Yitzchak as the offering, why didn’t he say it openly in response to his question, “Where is the lamb?”

ANSWER: A karban olah — burnt offering — is considered kadeshei kadashim — holiness of the most highest order. The unauthorized use of sacred property is a violation of Torah law and is known as me’ilah — treachery. This is so stringent that it is even forbidden to place a knife on the animal to be carried to the Beit Hamikdash (Pesachim 66a).

Yitzchak indeed had a very good inkling that he was going to be offered as the burnt-offering, and he was very happy about it. However, when his father took the wood and put it on him, he was puzzled. In amazement he asked his father, “Since here is the wood and the fire, obviously we are going to bring up an offering. Up until now, I perceived that I would be the offering. If so, I am sacred property and it is forbidden for you to use me for your benefit. Now that you gave me the wood to carry, I can deduce that the offering will not be me, but some lamb. If so, where is the lamb?”

Avraham told him that unauthorized use of sacred property is only forbidden after it has been designated to be used for holiness. He explained, “In our case, I have not yet designated you, since it is possible that when we arrive Hashem will provide a lamb. If this does not happen, I will then designate you as the burnt-offering. Thus, in the meantime you are not yet sacred property, and I may ask you to carry the wood.”

(ילקוט הדרוש על בראשית בשם ישועות יעקב)

"וישלח אברהם את ידו ויקח את המאכלת לשחט את בנו"
“And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” (22:10)

QUESTION: A reason why this is read on Rosh Hashanah is because the shofar we blow on Rosh Hashanah commemorates the horn of the ram which was brought as an offering in lieu of Yitzchak. Consequently, we ask Hashem to remember the Akeidah and do good for the Jewish people in merit of our Patriarch Yitzchak (Shulchan Aruch Harav 584:9). If this is so, why do we not display a knife to portray Yitzchak’s willingness to be an offering to Hashem?

ANSWER: With the knife, Avraham would have, G‑d forbid, ended Yitzchak’s life. Thanks to the ram, which suddenly appeared, Yitzchak’s life was spared. Thus, the shofar expresses life, and the knife the opposite.

We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah instead of displaying a knife because we emphasize living as a Jew, and not, G‑d forbid, dying as a Jew.

The wicked prophet Bilaam expressed the wish “Tamot nafshi mot yesharim” — “Let me die the death of the righteous” (Bamidbar 23:10). Contrary to Bilaam’s philosophy, Torah requires that the 120 years allotted to the individual should be lived in accordance with Jewish tradition.

"וישלח אברהם את ידו ויקח את המאכלת לשחט את בנו"
“And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” (22:10)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 56:8) says, “He stretched forth his hand to take the knife while the tears streamed from his eyes — yet, even so, his heart rejoiced to obey the will of his Creator.”

Avraham’s crying seems to cast a doubt on his sincerity and eagerness to fulfill Hashem’s will. Wouldn’t it have been better if he had not even shed one tear?

ANSWER: Many wonder how it is possible for a father to bring his beloved and only child as an offering to Hashem. Ignorantly, they conclude that he had lost all his paternal instincts and that therefore he was not exhibiting any particular greatness.

To dispel this error, the Midrash tells us that when he stretched forth his hand to take the knife, tears streamed from his eyes. He was a genuine loving and compassionate father. Nevertheless, he did not permit his fatherly instincts and love for his child to prevent him in any way from fulfilling the command of Hashem.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"ויקרא אליו מלאך ה'.... ויאמר אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ואל תעש לו מאומה"
“An angel of G‑d called to him...And he said: ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.’ ” (22:11-12)

QUESTION: The order to bring Yitzchak as a burnt-offering came directly from Hashem (22:2). Why did the stop-order come from an angel and not from Hashem?

ANSWER: A Jew should never harm another Jew without a direct command from Hashem. To help another Jew, however, one needs no Divine command. Therefore, to let Yitzchak live, the instruction of an angel sufficed.

(דבש השדה)

"ויאמר אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ואל תעש לו מאומה כי עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלקים אתה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך ממני"
“And he said: ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him; for now I know that you are a G‑d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ ” (22:12)

QUESTION: The word “mimeni” — “from me” — seems superfluous. Why doesn’t it simply say: “you have not withheld your son, your only son”? In fact, further on (22:16), the word “mimeni” is not employed.

ANSWER: For every mitzvah a Jew fulfills, an angel is created in heaven (Pirkei Avot 4:11). When one performs a mitzvah, but does not do it so properly, or without all the details, the angel created is incomplete. Thanks to Avraham’s passing the test of the Akeidah with flying colors, a perfect angel was born. It was this angel who appeared and instructed him “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.”

Avraham was reluctant to listen to the angel because he was uncertain as to whether he had fulfilled Hashem’s wish since Yitzchak was still alive. The angel assured Avraham: “I know that you are a G‑d-fearing man and that you were wholeheartedly prepared to offer your son to Hashem. I know this “mimeni” — “from me” — from the fact that I was created a completely strong and healthy angel.”

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שאפירא מלובלין)

"וישא אברהם את עיניו וירא והנה איל אחר נאחז בסבך בקרניו"
“And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw, behold a ram afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns.” (22:13)

QUESTION: What does the word “achar” — “afterwards” — allude to? It seems to be superfluous since the pasuk could merely have said “Behold a ram caught in the thicket.” (See Rashi.)

ANSWER: On the sixth day of creation animals were created. Afterwards man (Adam) was created. On Erev Shabbat, bein hashemashot — immediately before nightfall — the ram which Avraham used for the Akeidah was created (Pirkei Avot 5:6).

Thus, this ram was created after all animals. The Torah is hinting this by saying, “Va’yar vehinei ayil” — “Avraham saw a ram” — which was “achar” — “after” (created after all other animals). He realized that there was something unique about the ram and used it, therefore, as an offering in lieu of his son.


* * *

Alternatively: Avraham named the place of the Akeidah, “Hashem Yireh” — “G‑d will see” (in future tense). According to the Midrash Rabbah (56:10), Avraham saw that a time would come when the Jewish people would succumb to sin. Hence, he prayed that at that time Hashem would see how he suppressed the natural and inherent mercy a father has for a child, in order to fulfill the wish of Hashem. Similarly, when the children of Yitzchak would be in trouble, He would remember the Akeidah in their favor and be filled with compassion for them.

The Torah is relating that in addition to Avraham’s seeing a ram in the thicket which he sacrificed in lieu of his son, he also saw that “achar” — “afterwards” — the Jewish people will become “ne’achaz — “entangled” — with a different animal — that is “basevach” (בסבך) — “in a thicket.”

Now, if we analyze the word “sevach” (סבך) — “thicket” — we find that in the Hebrew alef-beit, the letter following "ס" is "ע" the letter following "ב" is "ג" and the letter following "כ" is "ל". Thus, the word “eigel” (עגל) is hidden in the word “sevach” — thicket. Avraham foresaw the entanglement of the Jewish people with the eigel and therefore prayed that Hashem spare them.

(מיוסד על פתגמין קדישין בשם מהר"ש זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי ועי' כלי יקר)

"והנה איל אחר נאחז בסבך בקרניו"
“Behold [Avraham saw] a ram caught in the thicket by its horns.” (22:13)

QUESTION: Why was the ram caught up in the thicket?

ANSWER: Avraham’s passing the test of the Akeidah brought great merit to the Jewish people. Satan feared lest this happen and therefore attempted to hinder Avraham from going (see Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeira 22).

If so, why when Avraham suddenly noticed the ram, did he immediately take it and offer it as a burnt-offering in lieu of his son and not fear that this was part of Satan’s efforts to stop him from properly passing the Akeidah test?

Often many people experience difficulty and procrastinate when it comes to doing a mitzvah. On the other hand, doing an aveirah, thanks to Satan’s assistance and encouragement, goes easy.

Had the ram been readily available and easily accessible, Avraham would have suspected that it was another effort of Satan. Realizing the difficulty in getting to the ram and the tedious labor involved in releasing it from the thicket, he was convinced that it was not another Satanic trick, but heavenly sent to save Yitzchak’s life.

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שפירא מלובלין)

"נאחז בסבך בקרניו"
“Caught in the thicket by its horns.” (22:13)

QUESTION: Why does it say “karnav” — “horns” — in the plural?

ANSWER: The “horn” was a message to Avraham of Hashem’s unlimited love for the Jewish people. Throughout the year Jews are caught up in sin’s clutches and led astray by their troubles. Nevertheless, on Rosh Hashanah, when they hear the sound of the shofar (which is made of the ram’s horn), they repent and attain forgiveness. Thus, through the shofar they will be redeemed from the clutches of their evil inclination.

In addition, Avraham was told that there would be a period in history when the Jews would be entangled in Galut — exile. Ultimately, they will be redeemed by Mashiach, whose coming will be heralded by the blast of the shofar which Hashem will sound (Zechariah 9:14).

Since the horn is an allusion to two purposes of the shofar, thus it says, “bekarnov” — “its horns” in the plural.

(מדרש רבה נ"ו,ט, ובפי' עץ יוסף, ועי' כלי יקר)

"ויקרא אברהם שם המקום ההוא ה' יראה אשר יאמר היום בהר ה' יראה"
“And Avraham called the name of that site, ‘Hashem Yireh,’ as it is said this day, ‘On the mount where Hashem shall reveal Himself.” (22:14)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis “hayom” — “this day”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 45a) says that whenever you come across a mountain or an elevation, be assured that idol worship took place upon it. Though the mountain itself does not become a forbidden entity and one may plant on it, etc., there is an opinion however, that it may not be used for Divine purposes, such as making an altar with its stones. Tosafot states that the Jerusalem Talmud asks, “If so, how was it permissible to build the Beit Hamikdash upon Mount Moriah?” The answer given is that it was done by specific instruction of a prophet. The same question can also be asked in regard to the Akeidah. How was Avraham permitted to build an altar on the mountain to bring an offering for Hashem?

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 100) says that when Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the place, he actually saw a valley, so he said to Hashem, “It is not befitting for You to dwell in a valley but on a beautiful elevated plateau.” Hashem accepted his remark and miraculously in the place of the valley there became a mountain.

Hence, before Avraham was given ownership of Eretz Yisrael, the nations who dwelt there worshipped idols on the mountains and made them forbidden for use for Divine purposes. However, since it is not befitting for a king to dwell in a valley, they did not worship idols in them, and they did not become forbidden. Consequently, Avraham was permitted to build an altar on Mount Moriah since the place was originally a valley and became a mountain for the first time on that day.

Therefore, to remove any question that may be asked about Avraham using a mountain for Divine purposes he said, “As it is said this day,” to emphasize that only that day did this place where Hashem will reveal himself become a mountain, and up to that day it was a valley.

(שו"ת חתם סופר יו"ד סי' רל"ג בשם רבו ר' נתן ז"ל אדלר)

"בהר ה' יראה"
“On the mountain Hashem is seen.” (22:14)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) says that unlike Avraham in connection with whom the Torah describes it as a mountain (22:14) and unlike Yitzchak with whom the Torah calls it a field (24:63), Yaakov called it a home. What is the significance of these three titles for a place of worship?

ANSWER: The majority of people are not mountain climbers, even those who are, do it rarely. Going out to the fields (vacationing in the country) is done more frequently and by a larger number of people. Living in a home is something all people do and at all times. Yaakov emphasized that the shul should resemble a home — a place visited by all people and at all times.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

* * *

The less one carries the easier it is to climb a mountain. When going out to the fields (on vacations) people take along baggage and dwell in cottages. However the furnishings do not compare to the comforts of one’s personal home. Yaakov emphasized that the place of worship be treated like a home — elegantly furnished and beautified to the highest degree.

"וישב אברהם אל נעריו ויקמו וילכו יחדו אל באר שבע"
“Avraham returned to his attendants, and they rose and went together to Beer-Sheva. (22:19)

QUESTION: The word yachdav — together — is superfluous.

ANSWER: Avraham was given the most difficult test possible, and passed in with flying colors. For this he had justifiable reason to be proud. The attendants on the other hand, had no knowledge of what had taken place after they remained alone with the donkey.

The word yachdav — together — indicates the greatness of Avraham. Even after having attained awesome spiritual heights, he returned to his attendants and went with them together — unaffected by pride or conceit.

(ר' שמשון רפאל ז"ל הירש)

"ופלגשו ושמה ראומה ותלד גם הוא...ואת מעכה"
“And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore children... and Maacah.” (22:24)

QUESTION: The Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah is the Akeidah and concludes with this pasuk. What does it have to do with Rosh Hashanah?

ANSWER: On Rosh Hashanah we resolve to repent and improve our ways and beseech Al-mighty G‑d to grant us a good year. The words ואת מעכה are an acronym for "וידוי אחר תשובה מגעת עד כסא הכבוד" — the verbal confession after the experience of Teshuvah reaches His throne of Glory.

(תולדות לוי יצחק ח"ג ע' 843)

Alternatively: Rosh Hashanah is the day of the coronation of Hashem as King. The word מעכה is an acronym for מלך על כל הארץ — King over the whole earth.

(ספר השיחות תש"נ ח"א ע' 115)


"ובחדש השביעי באחד לחדש מקרא קדש ... יום תרועה יהיה לכם."
“In the seventh month, on the first of the month, you shall have a holy assemble; it shall be to you a day of shofar blasts.” (Bamidbar 29:1)

QUESTION: Our Sages (Rosh Hashanah 29b) note that the wording here is “yom teruah — “a day of shofar blasts” — while in Parshat Acharei Mot (Vayikra 23:24) it says “Shabbaton zichron teruah” — “a remembrance of shofar blasts”. From this they derive that the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah only when it falls on a weekday, but not on Shabbat.

Why is the mitzvah of sounding the shofar not cited the first time that Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in the Torah?

ANSWER: From the festival of Pesach one can determine on which day of the week all the festivals of that year will take place. This rule is known as "א"ת, ב"ש, ג"ר, ד"ק" (see Orach Chaim 428:3).

"א" — the day of the week when the first day of Pesach falls will be "ת" — the same day as Tisha B’Av.

"ב" — the second day of Pesach will be "ש" — the same day of the week as Shavuot.

"ג" — the third day of Pesach will be "ר" — the same day of the week as Rosh Hashanah.

"ד" — the fourth day of Pesach will be "ק" — the day of Kriat haTorahSimchat Torah — when we complete and start anew the reading of the Torah.

According to the Gemara (Shabbat 87b) the Jews left Egypt on Thursday. Consequently, since the first Pesach was celebrated on Thursday, the following Rosh Hashanah was on a Shabbat. Therefore, at the first mention of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah does not mention the actual sounding of the shofar but only “zichron teruah” — “a remembrance of shofar blasts.”

(תורה תמימה)

* * *

A difficulty that may be raised with the explanation is that the rule of knowing from Pesach on what day of the week a given holiday will fall, applies only nowadays when the new month is established al pi hacheshbon — according to a pre-calculated calendar. Accordingly, one month is complete (thirty days) and the following month is incomplete (twenty-nine days), and everything is known in advance. However, when the new month was derived based on the testimony of witness who saw the moon’s appearance, this rule would not be applicable since there can be a few successive full or incomplete months.

An answer to this difficulty may be the following: Rabbeinu Bachya (Shemot 12:2) writes in the name of Rabbeinu Channaneil that throughout the forty years the Jews sojourned in the wilderness, the new month was in fact established according to a pre-calculated system and not by testimony of witness. The reason is; Hashem covered the Jewish camp in clouds during the day and a pillar of fire during the night (Shemot 13:21), which made it impossible for them to see the sun during the day or the moon during the night.

Thus, the first Rosh Hashanah the Jews celebrated was indeed on Shabbat and they did not blow the shofar.

(הדרש והעיון)

יום תרועה יהיה לכם"
“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month it shall be to you a day of shofar blasts.”

QUESTION: The sounding of the Shofar is called “tekiat shofar,” so why doesn’t it say “yom tekiah yihiyeh lachem”?

ANSWER: It could be said that the word “teru’ah” is associated with the word “rei’ut” — “friendship.” Hashem is thus telling the Jewish people, “Should you want to be victorious in the day of judgment and inscribed for a good year, the prerequisite is “yom teru’ah” — on this day be especially friendly among yourselves. In that merit you will be blessed with all the best materially and spiritually.”

(בית אהרן – קרלין)


"ותתפלל חנה על השם"
“And Chanah prayed to Hashem.”

QUESTION: It should have said el Hashem.” “Al Hashem” literally means “above” or “on Hashem”?

ANSWER: For many years Chanah together with her husband Elkanah were making a yearly pilgrimage to Shilo and offering sacrifices to Hashem. Chanah would utilize this opportunity to pray to Hashem for a child. For many years Elkanah, seeing her pain and suffering, would usually comfort her saying, “Do not despair, Hashem will surely hear your prayers and bless you with a child.”

This year, Chanah heard something from her husband which she never heard before. When she wept and would not eat, he said to her, “Chanah, why do you weep and why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

Upon hearing this she was in a state of shock. She perceived that Elkanah had given up hope on her having a child. This grieved her immensely and aroused the very core of her neshamah. Suddenly, she realized that she was all alone in her requests for a child and that it was her task to penetrate the highest spheres of the heaven.

Her prayers this time were derived from the innermost core of her heart and soul, and they reached much higher than usual. Up to now, she would attain the level of praying “el Hashem” — “to the Holy Tetragramaton” — which denotes His attribute of mercy. Now, however, her prayers reached “al Hashem” — above and higher than the level of Hashem. They reached the Essence of His Holiness, and upon penetrating the highest possible level of G‑dliness, she was blessed with a child.

(הרב יוסף דוב הלוי ז"ל סאלאווייטשיק, ועי' תורה אור דף ע"ט)

ויחשבה עלי לשכרה"
Eli thought she was drunk.” (I Samuel 1:13)

QUESTION: Chanah would come annually to the MishkanTabernacle — in Shilo to pray to Hashem for a child. Eli the Kohen Gadol undoubtedly knew her as a righteous woman who yearned bitterly for a child. Why did he suddenly suspect her of intoxication?

ANSWER: On the twelve stones of the choshen mishpat — breastplate — worn by the Kohen Gadol were engraved the names of the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and also the words “shivtei yeshurun” (שבטי ישורון)(Yoma 73b). On each stone were six letters, including the name of the tribe, and thus there were seventy-two letters in total. In the Choshen Mishpat was the Urim and the Tumim which consisted of two inscriptions of the Divine Name (see Shemot 28:30, Rashi, Ramban).

When a question was brought before the Kohen Gadol, he would meditate on His Holy Name of the Urim. This would cause the letters on the stones of the breastplate to light up or protrude. These letters spelled the answer to the question. However, since they were not in any special order, again the Kohen Gadol would have to meditate on the Holy Name of the Tumim and, thus, he would be given Ruach Hakodesh — Divine inspiration — a level of prophecy lower than the one called “nevuah,” to arrange the letters properly and convey the correct answer.

When Eli observed that only her lips moved but her voice could not be heard, he inquired through the choshen mishpat about her, and became extremely suspicious when he saw “shikorah” (ש,כ,ר,ה) — “intoxicated” — begin to light up on the breastplate. Chanah told him that obviously he lacked the Ruach Hakodesh which is given to the Kohen to interpret and decipher the message (see Berachot 31b). The letters which lit up should have been read to spell the word “kesheirah” (כשרה), which means a good respectable Jewish woman. She explained, “No, my master, I am a deeply grieved woman, I have drunk no wine or strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before Hashem” (I Samuel 1:15).

(קול אליהו - עי' רמב"ן שמות כ"ח ל')

* * *

A drunkard is oblivious to his surroundings and fully involved with himself. Similarly, Eli, observing Chanah’s being so immersed in prayer for a child, suspected her of intoxication — not from wine but from the very act and style of her prayer. His contention was that when a Jew prays there is no room for personal requests. The awareness of being in Hashem’s presence should be so intense that it precludes anything else. When Eli saw Chanah praying for a child, he mistakenly concluded that she had forgotten Hashem’s presence.

“Not so” was Chanah’s reply. Her longing for a child was not a personal desire, but a wish to fulfill a greater mission in life. This is evident in the vow she made that if Hashem would bless her, the child would be given over for a life of total service of Hashem. Chanah wasn’t asking Hashem to fulfill her personal request in order to satisfy her maternal desires to have a child to cuddle and to reach personal accomplishment. She was praying to Hashem to have a child whom she could “give to Him all the days of his life.”

So, too, is it with us on Rosh Hashanah. Although our petitions are personal in focus, the true essence of our prayer is to unite with Hashem and to use all the blessings He bestows upon us as a way to enhance our service of Him.

(לקוטי שיחות חי"ט)

"מרחוק ה' נראה לי"
“G‑d appeared to me from a distance.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

QUESTION: The Ba’al Haturim writes on the pasuk, “Kenega nirah li babayit” — “Something like a plague has appeared to me in the home” (Vayikra 14:35), that there are two pesukim containing the words “nirah li” — “appeared to me” — the pasuk in Vayikra and the one in Jeremiah.

What is the connection between these two pesukim?

ANSWER: Though the plague affecting the house seems superficially very distressing, in reality it contained good tidings. Through breaking the walls of their houses, the Jewish owners found treasures that were hidden there by the Amorites during the forty years the Jews were in the desert (Rashi, ibid.).

The link between the two pesukim is that when the human eye of the Jew sees that “kenega nirah li babayit” — “Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house” — he should perceive that in reality “Meirachok Hashem nirah li” — G‑d is appearing to me from the distance, and in His merciful way, bestowing His blessings upon the Jew.

(שו"ת תירוש ויצהר סי' נ"ז)

"רחל מבכה על בניה... מנעי קולך מבכי... ושבו בנים לגבולם"
Rachel weeps for her children... restrain you voice from weeping... your children will return to their border.” (31:14-16)

QUESTION: Rashi quotes a Midrash that the patriarchs went to appease Hashem concerning the sin of Menasheh, who placed an image in the Temple, but He was not appeased. Rachel entered and said to Him, “Did I not bring my rival (Leah) into my house? Yaakov worked for my father only for me. When the wedding night arrived he brought my sister and it was not enough that I kept silent but I gave her my password. You too, if Your children have brought your rival into Your house, keep Your silence for them.” Hashem said to her, “You have defended them well. There is reward for your deed.”

Why is Rachel’s act more compelling than the unparalleled heroism and supreme dedication the patriarchs exhibited for Hashem?

ANSWER: Indeed, what Avraham and Yitzchok did at the Akeidah is awe-inspiring. Yaakov’s bout with Eisav and Lavan for the sake of his Torah observance was heroic. Rachel’s act, however, was one of compassion towards an unfortunate sister. She signaled Leah to precede her in marriage to Yaakov though it might have meant her loss of the opportunity to marry him.

Hashem appreciates those who do for His sake, but He cherishes even more those who go out of their way and give of themselves for a fellow Jew though it may hurt.

(הרב יוסף דוב הלוי ז"ל סאלאווייטשיק – מבאסטאן – בספר על התשובה)

"רחל מבכה על בניה מאנה להנחם על בניה כי איננו"
“Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled for they are gone.”

QUESTION: “Mevakeh” means to make others cry; shouldn’t it have said Rachel “bocheh”? Since it says “banehah” — her children — in plural, instead of ki einenuhe is not there — shouldn’t it have said ki einamthey are not there?

ANSWER: Rachel observed that when the Jews were exiled they were despondent and lost all hope of being redeemed. Therefore she cried hoping that her crying would arouse them to cry and to do teshuvah and be redeemed.

Rachel refused to be comforted because she perceived ki einenu — the hope for His redemption had dissipated from her children and was no longer with them. Finally, Hashem assured her that He personally will awaken in them a spirit of teshuvah, and they will return to their borders.


Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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