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Vayeira Q & A

Vayeira Q & A


"'וירא אליו ה'"
“And G‑d -revealed Himself to him.” (18:1)

When the Rebbe RaSHaB (Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) was a little boy of about four or five years of age, he entered the room of his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe), and with tears in his eyes, asked his grandfather why Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham but not to us.

His grandfather answered him, “When a Jew who is a tzaddik decides at the age of 99 to circumcise himself, he deserves that Hashem should reveal Himself to him.”

(היום יום ט' חשון)

From this story we can learn two very important lessons:

1) Even a child who is only four or five years of age, and similarly any Jew, even if his spiritual level is such that he has not yet reached the level of chinuch (Torah instruction), should be educated to yearn for Divine revelation.

2) The Tzemach Tzedek’s answer teaches us that every Jew who resolves to become closer to Hashem and remove any “barriers” that may be existing, can merit that Hashem will reveal Himself to him as he did to our ancestor Avraham.

(לקוטי שיחות חט"ו)

"וירא אליו ה' באלני ממרא"
“G‑d revealed Himself to him in the plains of Mamrei.” (18:1)

QUESTION: Rashi comments, “Mamrei who advised Avraham concerning the brit.” If Hashem instructed Avraham to do the brit, why would he seek advice from Mamrei?

ANSWER: Indeed Avraham did not ask Mamrei whether he should listen to Hashem. He only asked him if he should circumcise himself publicly or privately. Avraham heeded his advice and did it publicly. The members of his household were greatly impressed with Avraham’s courage and emulated him (17:27).

(דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות)

"והוא ישב פתח האהל"
“While he was sitting at the entrance to the tent.” (18:1)

QUESTION: Rashi explains, "לראות אם יש עובר ושב ויכנסם בביתו" — “To see if there is a passerby and take him into his home.” Why does Rashi call a guest “over veshav” — “passerby” — and not the popular term “orei’ach” — “guest”?

ANSWER: Some people feel very uncomfortable as guests at others’ tables. Even when they are on the way to the houses of their hosts, they sometimes become shy and turn away.

Avraham was very great in the mitzvah of hospitality and wanted everyone to feel comfortable in his home. Therefore, he would sit at the entrance of the tent in order to spot the person who is “over veshav” — keeps passing “back and forth” — and is ashamed to come in.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר - אמרי מהרא"ז)

* * *

The term “over veshav” can also refer to someone who was “over” — “transgressed” (did an aveirah) and now “veshav” —is returning and doing teshuvah. Avraham’s home was especially open for all who became ba’alei teshuvah or wanted to do teshuvah and to come closer to Hashem.

"וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו"
“He lifted his eyes and saw, and behold three men [angels] were standing over him.” (18:2)

QUESTION: According to Midrash Rabbah (48:9) the three angels appeared as a desert merchant, a produce merchant, and a captain of a ship. Why did the angels appear in these three disguises?

ANSWER: The world is divided into three parts: water, desert, and inhabited land (see Pesachim 94a, Tosafot). Each part of the world has an angel in heaven appointed over it. Thus, the three disguised angels represented the entire creation. The one dressed as a desert merchant was for the deserts, the captain was for the oceans, and the produce merchant represented the inhabited section of the world.

On the passage "אלה תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם" — “These are the chronicles of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (2:4) — the Zohar (Bereishit 86b) says, “Read not ‘behibaram’ (בהבראם), but read ‘beAvraham’ (באברהם). This alludes to the fact that the entire world was created for the sake of Avraham. Therefore, the three angels, as representatives of the entire world, came to visit Avraham in whose merit the entire world was created.

(מעינה של תורה בשם זרע ברך)

"והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו"
“And behold three men [angels] were standing over him.” (18:2)

QUESTION: Avraham was sick and Hashem came to visit him. One of the three men was the angel Raphael, who came to heal Avraham (Rashi). Why didn’t Hashem, who is the healer of all flesh, dismiss Raphael and take over?

ANSWER: Often, when people visit the sick, they have a tendency to discuss the ailment and offer uncalled-for advice. Hashem is teaching us an important lesson in bikur cholim: When visiting a sick person, do not become his doctor. Let the attending physician use his expertise to heal the patient. Although, Hashem is the true healer and every doctor is His emissary, He permitted the assigned doctor, Raphael, to complete his mission and cure Avraham.

"והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו"
“And behold; three men were standing over him.” (18:2)

QUESTION: When two of them afterwards went to Lot, the pasuk says, “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening...Lot saw them and got up to greet them” (19:1).

In reference to Avraham why does the Torah call them “anashim” — “ordinary men”— while in reference to Lot it refers to them as “angels?”

ANSWER: Avraham was a tzaddik and very great in the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — hospitality. To him it made absolutely no difference who a guest was. Even if the guest was just an ordinary person, Avraham would take him into his home, treat him with the greatest respect, and give him the best of everything.

Lot was different. When a prominent person would come to town, Lot would take him into his home because it was an honor for him to have important people visiting. If a simple person would come to town and he would stand nothing to gain by taking him in, Lot would not bother with him at all. Therefore, when Lot saw that the visitors were angels and that it would add to his prestige to have such guests, only then did he invite them to his house.

(פרדס יוסף)

* * *

A story is told that once a great tzaddik who did not want to reveal his identity came to a city dressed unimpressively. When he asked for the opportunity to stay at the home of the head of the community, the person refused because he only catered to prominent guests and not ordinary folk.

Years later, when the tzaddik revealed his identity, again he came to the city and this time he rode in a chariot which was led by six horses. The entire town went out to meet the tzaddik and the head of the community told the tzaddik’s secretary that he would be delighted if the tzaddik would be his guest. The tzaddik instructed his secretary, “Please take the six horses and bring them to the home of the head of the community, and I will eat at the home where I ate a few years ago when I visited this city.”

The head of the community was very surprised and ran to the tzaddik to ask for an explanation. The tzaddik told him, “I am the same person who was here a few years ago and asked to stay at your home. I have not changed since then. The only difference is that last time I came alone and you were not impressed with me. Today when I came with six horses, you were impressed. Therefore, I sent what impresses you to be your guests for the weekend.”

"וירא וירץ לקראתם"
“And he saw, and he ran towards them.” (18:2)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that Avraham had to run because when the angels saw that he was sick, they began to go away. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, he ran after them. Since the people began to go away, the pasuk should have read "וירץ אחריהם" — “And he ran after them” — instead of, “And he ran towards them”?

ANSWER: When one leaves the presence of a prominent person, it is not proper to turn one’s back. Instead, even when leaving, one faces the person and walks backwards.

When the angels came to Avraham, they noticed that Hashem was also there. Realizing that Avraham was very sick, they decided to go away and not bother him. However, since it is improper to turn their backs to Hashem, they walked away backwards. Avraham, noticing this, ran towards them to bring them into his home.

(ר' שמשון מאסטראפאלי זצ"ל)

"ויאמר אד-ני אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל נא תעבר מעל עבדך"
“And he said, my L‑rd, if I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away from your servant.” (18:3)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 127a), Avraham was speaking to Hashem and asked Him to wait until he brought the guests into his home, for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — receiving guests and taking care of their needs — is greater than kaballat penei hashechinah — receiving Hashem. How did Avraham know that hachnasat orchim was greater?

ANSWER: When Avraham was ill after the brit, Hashem visited him. Cognizant of Avraham’s great yearning to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, He specifically made it extremely hot so that no one would be walking in the desert and Avraham would not have to occupy himself with any guests.

If both mitzvot are equal, it was not necessary for Hashem to make it very hot. Even if guests had come, Avraham would not have occupied himself with them, since he was already involved in the mitzvah of receiving Hashem. From Hashem’s effort to keep guest away during His visit, Avraham learned that receiving guests is a greater mitzvah than receiving Hashem.

(זכרון ישראל)

"ויקח בן בקר רך וטוב"
“And he took a calf, tender and good.” (18:7)

QUESTION: Rashi says that Avraham actually took “three bulls in order to feed the guests three leshonot bechardel — tongues in mustard.”

Wouldn’t one tongue have sufficed for the three of them?

ANSWER: Whenever Avraham had guests he would not only sustain them with physical food, but also encouraged them to live a meaningful and spiritually enriched life.

Pirkei Avot (5:19) says that the disciples of Avraham were exemplified with three attributes that Avraham inculcated in them: a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul.

Now, the word “bechardel” (בחרדל) — “in mustard” — can be arranged as two words to imply three different meanings. Thus, the words of Rashi “three leshonot bechardel” — can be explained as an allegory. Namely, Avraham shared with the guests three “tongues” i.e., versions/explanations of messages conveyed by the word “bechardel.”

1) “Bechar dal” (בְחַר דַל) — “choose the impoverished.” That is, have a good eye towards the poor. Use your intuition and resources to “see” — i.e., alleviate — their plight.

2) “Chareid lev” (חַרֵד-לֵב) — “a [G‑d-] fearing heart.” This leads to a humble spirit.

3) “Chadal rav (חַדַל-רַב) — “avoid [the pursuit of] having much.” Be modest and assuming. Don’t be greedy and over-ambitious. Be satisfied with your blessings.

"ויאמר שוב אשוב אליך כעת חיה והנה בן לשרה אשתך"
“And he [the angel] said, ‘I shall return according to this time of life and your wife Sarah will have a son.’” (18:10)

QUESTION: When and where did the angel return?

ANSWER: At the Akeidah, Avraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son Yitzchak. At that moment an angel called to him saying, “Stop, do not do anything.” This was the same angel who 37 years earlier had told him that he would bring a living child into the world. Now he came to give Yitzchak an extension of life.

With the words “ka’eit chayah” — lit. “at the time of life” — the angel hinted to Avraham that he would reappear at the time when Yitzchak would be in need of life.

(פרדס הגדול לרש"י)

"ושרה שמעת פתח האהל והוא אחריו"
“Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.” (18:10)

QUESTION: Who was behind what?

ANSWER: It is customary for a guest to bless his host before leaving. Usually, the blessing is connected to something he observes during his stay. For example, if the family is, G‑d forbid, childless, he blesses them with a child. If there is sickness, he wishes good health, etc.

For many years Avraham and Sarah ran a hospitality center. People from all walks of life enjoyed their benevolence. In their younger years the most common berachah given to them was to be blessed with a child. Avraham and Sarah would always reply “Amen.”

As they aged, people would no longer wish them children. It would have been considered a mockery for someone to wish an elderly couple a child. Suddenly, at the age of 99, Avraham was blessed that he would have a child. Normally, Avraham should have responded, “Obviously you are not aware of my age — otherwise you would not have mentioned such a ridiculous thought.” Instead, when the man gave his blessing, the Torah relates, “vehu acharav” — “And he was after him.” Avraham followed him by saying “Amein.”

Sarah was in the tent and was amazed at her husband and began to laugh at his strange behavior. She wondered how he could expect her to bear a child at the age of 90.

(ספר אוהל מועד סי' קל"ו)

"ותצחק שרה...ואדוני זקן...למה זה צחקה שרה לאמר האף אמנם אלד ואני זקנתי"
“Sarah laughed within herself saying, ‘after I am old can I give birth? My master is old’....G‑d said to Avraham: ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying: Can I give birth? I am old?’” (18:12-13)

QUESTION: Why did Sarah have doubts?

ANSWER: Hashem appears in different forms. At Keriat Yam Suf — the splitting of the sea — He appeared as a powerful warrior. At the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, He appeared in the form of a merciful sage (Yalkut Shimoni 246).

According to the Arizal, the different forms of revelation depend on the mission to be accomplished. Keriat Yam Suf defied the laws of nature: Water, which normally flows continuously, stood as a pillar. To emphasize that Hashem governs nature and is not controlled by it, He appeared as a powerful warrior who conquers and controls. The giving of the Torah was not an act contrary to nature and, therefore, he appeared as a merciful sage.

The visitor came to Avraham to inform him that Sarah would give birth to a child. Sarah was a great prophetess and would very often experience Divine revelations. At that time she had a vision in which Hashem appeared as a saintly Torah scholar. For her to give birth now was against the laws of nature. Consequently, she laughed because“Adoni zakein” — “My Master is old.” (Hashem is in the form of an old sage.) She thought, “If He had wanted me to give birth against the laws of nature, I would have seen Him as a warrior.”

Hashem said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘va’ani zakanti’ — that she saw Me as an old man? There is nothing impossible or beyond Me. Be assured Sarah will have a son next year.”

(יערות דבש)

ויען אברהם ויאמר הנה נא הואלתי לדבר אל א-דני ואנכי עפר ואפר"
“And Avraham answered and said: ‘Behold now, I have taken upon myself to speak to my L‑rd; although I am but dust and ashes.’” (18:27)

QUESTION: Are not all men but dust and ashes and yet speak to Hashem through prayer on a regular basis?

ANSWER: Hashem was considering the destruction of the people of Sodom, due to their corruptness, and Avraham prayed that they be spared. In his prayer he argued, “I am only one of Your creatures, made of dust and ashes, yet my mercy has made me pray on behalf of other human beings. How much more so should You, King of the universe and Creator of all people, have compassion and permit them to survive!”

(ר' בונים מפשיסכא זצ"ל)

"ויאמר...אולי ימצאון שם עשרה"
“And he said...suppose ten [tzaddikim] are found there?” [Would that prevent You from going through with Your plans of destruction?] (18:32)

QUESTION: Sodom was not far away from where Avraham lived. How is it possible that he should not know the tzaddikim of Sodom?

ANSWER: The inhabitants of Sodom were extremely wicked. Kindness and righteousness were against the law of the land. People who welcomed strangers or gave charity to the poor were immediately tortured to death. A tzaddik dwelling in Sodom and remaining alive had to be extremely discreet. Therefore, Avraham was saying to Hashem, “Possibly there are some hidden tzaddikim unknown to me. You, however, are certainly aware of them — please spare the city in their merit.”

(שער בת רבים - שושנת אברהם)

"ויאמרו האחד בא לגור וישפט שפוט"
“And they said ‘This one man came to sojourn, and he set himself up as a judge!’” (19:9)

QUESTION: They appointed him themselves as their judge (Rashi 19:1). Why then were they complaining?

ANSWER: There was a law in Sodom against having any guests. Lot was appointed as judge to rule in the event that someone violated the laws of Sodom. Sitting in the judicial seat, he began to also judge the laws and decide if they were proper.

Lot ruled that the law of not accepting guests was improper. The people’s complaint was that he was not given authority to decide if the existing laws of the city were proper or not. The double expression “vayishpot shafot” means “he judged the judicial decisions,” which were already decided and enacted.

(כלי יקר)

"ויהי כמצחק בעיני חתניו"
“He seemed like one who jests in the eyes of his sons-in-law.” (19:14)

QUESTION: His sons-in-law had indeed heard of how Hashem flooded the world and destroyed the Dor Haflagah — The Generation of Dispersal — so why didn’t they believe that Sodom would be destroyed?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 60a), once permission is given to an angel to destroy, he does not differentiate between the righteous and the wicked. However, this applies only when an angel does the destroying, not when Hashem himself does it: He, indeed, distinguishes between the good and the wicked.

When the angels came to Lot, they told him to take his children out of the city immediately because, “We are going to destroy this place (19:13). Since we cannot distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, if you want your family to remain alive you must take them out of the city.” Lot came to his sons-in-law and said to them, “Leave the city, 'כי משחית ה' את העיר' — ‘Because Hashem is going to destroy the city’ ” (19:14).

Upon hearing this, the sons-in-law laughed, because if Hashem was going to do it Himself, they could remain in Sodom and not be destroyed if He wanted them to survive. If He did not want them to remain alive, it would have been foolish to run, since it is impossible to run away from Hashem.

(ילקוט הדרוש בשם ברית שלום)

"ותבט אשתו מאחריו ותהי נציב מלח"
“And his wife looked behind him and she became a pillar of salt.” (19:26)

QUESTION: Rashi comments, “mei’acharav shel Lot” — “[She turned and looked] behind Lot.” Why not simply say that she turned back and looked behind herself?

ANSWER: In Chumash Bamidbar we learn of a dispute which took place between Korach and Moshe. Rashi asks, “Since Korach was intelligent, why did he commit such a foolish act?” Rashi explains that “His eye deceived him.” Korach saw that the prophet Shmuel would be his descendant. Therefore, he was confident that he could do whatever he wanted, and in the merit of his great descendant, he would be saved (16:7).

Here too, Rashi is explaining why Lot’s wife acted so foolishly and ignored instructions not to look behind. The reason is that she “looked” and relied on “acharav shel Lot” — the great people of the future who would be descendants of Lot. (“Acharav” can mean “after him” as well as “behind him.”)

She knew that one of Lot’s daughters would be the ancestor of Eglon the king of Moab and his daughter Ruth. Consequently, King David and Mashiach would be his descendants. Lot’s wife figured that because her husband would have such great children, she could do whatever she wanted and be saved in their merit.

(ר' שמשון מאסטראפאלי זצ"ל)

"ותהי נציב מלח"
“She became a pillar of salt.” (19:26)

Rashi explains that she was given such a strange punishment because she committed a sin through salt. Therefore, her punishment was connected to salt.

Like her neighbors in Sodom, she was totally against hachnasat orchim — hospitality. When Lot invited the Angels, he asked his wife to give them some salt in which to dip their bread (for Hamotzi). She angrily responded, “Even these bad customs you want to bring into this place?!”

QUESTION: Before reciting the Birkat Hamazon Grace after Meals — we wash our fingers. This is known as mayim acharonim. One of the reasons for this is melach Sedomit — Sodomite salt. The salt of Sodom is very strong and potentially dangerous. It can, G‑d forbid, blind a person who has it on his fingers and touches his eyes.

Why, throughout the entire world, even when one lives thousands of miles away from Sodom, does one wash his fingers because of the Sodomite salt? (See Shulchan Aruch Harav 181:1:8.)

ANSWER: Salt itself is not nourishing; it only adds taste to other foods. The people of Sodom were evil and refused to give food to nourish a guest. Moreover, they even refused to give salt, which has no nourishment value, to a stranger.

“Sodomite salt” is a metaphor for the wicked philosophy of the people of Sodom, who were totally “blind” to the needs of others and refused to practice hospitality.

A hungry person has sympathy for someone who is in need. When sated and satisfied, he may become insensitive to the suffering of the needy and, like the people of Sodom, he may become blind to the needs of others.

Our sages want us to always have compassion for the needy. Therefore, they instructed, that upon the completion of our meal, when we are full and satisfied, we must cleanse ourselves, and make sure that the philosophy of Sodom (Sodomite salt) does not stick to us and, G‑d forbid, blind us. We must be hospitable at all times and “see” the plight of the less fortunate.

(ואני תפלתי)

"ותשקין את אביהן יין בלילה הוא"
“They intoxicated their father with wine that night.” (19:33)

QUESTION: The word “hu” (הוא)— “that [night]” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: Amalek is the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, and Hashem refuses to forgive him. In Shemot 17:16 it is written, "כי יד על כס י-ה מלחמה לה' בעמלק" — “G‑d swore by His throne that he will always wage war against Amalek.” The word "כס" which means a chair (or throne) is written here without an "א". Usually, the Name of Hashem is written with four letters — "י-ה-ו-ה". In this pasuk Hashem is referred to by only two of the four letters. Rashi explains that Hashem swore that neither His Name nor His throne will be complete till Amalek is wiped out entirely.

The first night when Lot was intoxicated, his older daughter became pregnant with Moab. Moab was the grandfather of Ruth. She is credited for bringing to this world King David, from whom will eventually come Mashiach. One of the first things Mashiach will do is to annihilate the people of Amalek and their memory.

At that time, the missing "א" and "ו-ה" will return to Hashem’s Throne and Name, giving them their full glory. The extra word “her” (הוא) in the pasuk alludes to the missing three letters that started their return through the events of that night.

(מלא העומר)

"ויהי כאשר התעו אתי אלקים מבית אבי"
“And it came to pass when G‑d caused me to wander from my father’s house.” (20:13)

QUESTION: Rashi, in his commentary writes, "אונקלוס תרגם מה שתרגם" — “Onkelos explains as he explains.” What special quality did Rashi see in Onkelos’s explanation?

ANSWER: Onkelos writes as follows: "והוה כד טעו עממיא בתר עובדי ידיהון יתי קריב ה' לדחלתה" — “And while all the nations were blindly following the idols they made, Hashem brought me close to fear him.”

Thus, according to Onkelos, Avraham is saying, "ויהי כאשר התעו" — “While the nations of the world were wandering blindly after their idols” — "אותי אלקים מבית אבי" — “The A-mighty took me out of the house of my father [and brought me close to fear him].”

Onkelos was once an outstanding personality in the Roman empire and a member of the family of אדרנוס (Caesar). He became convinced of the beauty of Judaism and converted (Avodah Zara 11a). Rashi’s comment, “Onkelos explains as he explains,” could mean that he believes that Onkelos used his interpretation of the pasuk as a way to personally thank Hashem for opening his eyes to Judaism and leading him to forsake his family.

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שאפירא מלובלין)

"ותאמר שרה צחק עשה לי אלקים כל השומע יצחק לי"
“Sarah said, ‘G‑d made laughter for me. Everyone who will hear will be happy for me.’” (21:6)

QUESTION: How was Sarah so sure that whoever would hear of the birth of Yitzchak would be happy?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (53:7) writes about the name “Yitzchak” that the "י" stands for the ten commandments, which all the Jewish people would hear on Mount Sinai. The "צ" represents the fact that Sarah was 90 years old when he was born. The "ח", which equals eight, is for his brit. He was the first Jewish child to have a brit on the eighth day. The "ק" represents the fact that Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzchak was born.

When the baby was born, Avraham gave him the name “Yitzchak.” When Sarah was asked by her neighbors the meaning of her son’s name, she replied “'צחק עשה לי אלקים' — What theצ' and the 'ח' and the 'ק' represent, Hashem already did for me. However, due to 'כל השומע' — ‘Everyone who will hear’ — all the Jewish people who will be at Sinai and hear the ten commandments — therefore, 'יצחק לי' — I have a child named ‘Yitzchak.’ ”

(דרוש שמואל)

"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 worshipped. 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)

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

QUESTION: Hagar did nothing wrong: Why did Sarah want her chased away too?

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 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 doing bad things because Hagar was not training him properly and not teaching him right from wrong. Therefore, wanting to force Hagar to take an interest in her child, she told Avraham to also chase away the mother. Hopefully, she would learn her lesson and raise her son correctly.

(שער בת רבים)

"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: The reason for Hagar’s crying was indeed obvious to the angel, and he was not asking her why she was crying. On the contrary, he was telling her that she was not fulfilling her maternal obligation to her child!

The words of the angel, “Mah lach Hagar” (literally, “What is with you, Hagar”) can be translated to mean, “Hagar, what kind of mother are you? When your child is dying of thirst, the lack of water in the desert does not excuse you from turning over every stone and searching! Sitting in the near distance and crying will not help the situation: A sincere parent does everything for the sake of her child, including what may seem to strangers as the impossible!”

Immediately afterwards we read, “And Hashem opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (21:19). According to Soforno, this was not a miracle; the well was there all the time. She had taken it for granted that there would not be any water in the dessert and had therefore made no effort to search.

(הרב דוב ארי' ז"ל בערזאן)

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

QUESTION: Since the word “ishavei’ah” means “I will swear,” the word “anochi — “I” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: Avraham’s mission in life was to make the world aware of the existence of Hashem. 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 swear in the name of Anochi — the one and only G‑d.”

* * *

Avimelech responded to Avraham’s rebuke, "וגם אנכי לא שמעתי בלתי היום" — “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 with him General Fichol. 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, "וגם אתה לא הגדת לי" — “Why didn’t you tell me that your soldiers did such a terrible thing to Avraham?” Fichol replied, "וגם אנכי לא שמעתי בלתי היום" — “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 in my possession, the well water will rise and they will drink. Afterwards, when you will take them and they will 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)

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

QUESTION: What is the connection between the Akeidah — the binding of Yitzchak — and the peace treaty with Avimelech?

ANSWER: Hashem was very upset with Avraham for making a commitment to Avimelech that his descendants would not harm the Philistines. The land of the Philistines 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 Shemot 17:7). 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 usual term for test is “Bechinah” (בחינה). Why doesn’t it say, "והאלקים בחן את אברהם"?

ANSWER: The word “neis” in Hebrew means not only a test, but also a banner; as the Psalmist says, "נתת ליראיך נס להתנוסס" — “You gave those who fear you a banner to raise themselves” (Psalms 60:6). A banner is something which is 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‑d exalted 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: What constitutes the greatness of Avraham? Throughout history Jews were martyred for the sake of Hashem!

ANSWER: After years of childlessness, Avraham’s unequivocal reply to the challenging divine test was “Hineini,” — “Here I am,” I am ready. As father and son ascend the mountain, we read, "ויאמר יצחק אל אברהם אביו ויאמר אבי ויאמר הנני בני" — “And Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ ”

We can well imagine how engrossed Avraham was in his thoughts and meditations and how unwilling he was to be interrupted. Nevertheless, when his son called him, he abandoned his lofty activities and responded immediately, “Hineni B’ni” — “Here I am my son.” The devoted first Jewish father and teacher realized that his child was his first priority.

Many may have died “al kiddush Hashem — sanctifying Hashem’s name — but unfortunately not many have had time for their children. Avraham passed his test with flying colors.

Our challenge is to always be attuned to hear the call of our children and respond immediately “Hineni!”

"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 the rest of his life without 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.

"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: This is the assigned Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. One reason is that 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 do good for the Jewish people in the merit of our Patriarch Yitzchak.

If this is so, why do we not lift a big knife to portray Yitzchak’s willingness to be an offering to Hashem?

ANSWER: With the knife, Avraham would have, G‑d forbid, brought the life of Yitzchak to an end. 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 and do not display a knife because we emphasize living as a Jew, and not, G‑d forbid, dying as a Jew.

The wicked prophet Bilam expressed the wish “Tamot nafshi mot yesharim” — “Let me die the death of the righteous” (Bamidbar 23:10). Contrary to Bilam’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, only child as an offering to Hashem and conclude that he had lost his paternal instincts and therefore did not exhibit greatness.

To refute this argument, the Midrash tells us that when Avraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife, tears streamed from his eyes. He was a genuine father who loved his child dearly and who was filled with compassion for him. 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 rather than from Hashem?

ANSWER: A Jew should never harm another Jew without a direct command from Hashem. To help another Jew, however, one needs no 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. Would it not have been sufficient to say: “you have not withheld your son, your only son”? In fact, further on (22:16), the word “mimeni” is not used.

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 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, because 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 should 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 should 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 “svach” (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, in the word “sevach” — thicket — is hidden the word “eigel” (עגל). 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 מאסטראפאלי זצ"ל ועי' כלי יקר)

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

QUESTION: Why were both horns caught in the thicket?

ANSWER: The “horn” was an indication 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 they sound the shofar (which is made of the ram’s horn), and attain His 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 there are two situations in which the Jews are caught (sin and galut), and through the horns of Rosh Hashanah and Mashiach they will be relieved of both, the pasuk says, “bekarnov” — “its horns” — in the plural.

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

"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 beseech A-mighty G‑d to grant us a good year and resolve to repent and improve our ways. 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)

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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Gavriel CANADA October 19, 2013

Abraham sick? Would it be reasonable to assume that Abraham (and the other men)were not necessarily "sick" but were in pain from being circumcised
so much later in life than eight days old. Also, where in scripture does it refer to Raphael being in attendance--I believe that Adonai appeared in human form and spoke to Avraham. Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal October 18, 2013

The Three Angels The three angels were Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael came to bring the tidings to Sarah; Raphael, to heal Abraham; and Gabriel, to overturn Sodom. Now why did Gabriel need to tag along on this visit to Abraham if his job does not start until later? I have seen two explanations.

G-d saw that Abraham treasured the opportunity to host guests, so he gave him three guests, which is all the more pleasurable than one or two. Alternatively, I have seen the suggestion that the third guest was there to hint to Abraham that they had another duty still: to destroy Sodom. Reply

Anonymous October 18, 2013

Why did Gabriel go along with them to visit Avraham? I think that he has nothing to do with Avraham. Reply

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