Parshas Lech Lecha
Hashem announces to Avrohom that Sarah Imeinu will have a child he will be considered his only eternal child. Hashem explains that only this child (from Sara Imeinu) will eventually get Eretz Yisroel. Avrohom argues with Hashem and says: Hashem let it suffice that I have Yishmael and let him live on as my eternal heir (17: 15-18).this entire episode leaves us baffled with the question what is going on? Hashem tells Avraham seemingly the best news and instead of rejoicing Avraham seems to object.
Hashem doesn’t seem to answer Avraham’s question rather only reasserts His previous statement: Sarah will give birth to Yitzchok and he will be your prodigy. Hashem also adds that Yishmael as well will become a great nation; that Yishmael would be twelve tribes.
The Ohr-HaChaim in the beginning of the parsha comments that the Nevuah/ prophecy of Avrohom was different than that of all other Neviem/prophets. Usually Hashem would first show to the neviyim a vague Nevuah and only afterwards explain its specifics whereas Avrohom received his Nevuah in a regular clear cut way.
The Ohr-HaChaim suggests two possible answers. The first answer he gives is that Avrohom was indeed different from all other prophets. While all others started with knowledge of Hashem, His Torah, and His mitzvos, Avrohom didn’t. Avrohom worked on his very own to find and understand Hashem. Avrohom therefore recognized Hashem much clearer than all others. Hence, Avrohom merited having Devine revelation in verbal form, thus being more vivid.
Avrohom Aveinu’s adherence to Torah and Mitzvos was based on his understanding of Hashem and His Will. Avrohom’s every act was based on his own understanding of Hashems Will.
Avrohom had finally come to terms with the fact that Sarah Imeinu wasn't going to have children. He therefore understood that he would have to have a choild from a different union. Avrohom's willingness to have a relationship with Hagar was only in order to have a child. Avrohom was willing to live with Hagar for the sake of having Am-Yisroel. Hashem after all this tells Avrohom: no. Hashem tells Avrohom that Sarah will give birth to a son Yitzchok, and that through Yitzchok will his lineage stem. Avrohom Avinu is baffled, he is all of a sudden void of understanding, and he was possibly dubious to his union with Hagar.
Hashem doesn’t merely reassert that through Yitzchok will Avrohom descend, but he reassures him that Yishmael is of great importance as well, that he too will become a great nation. Perhaps Hashem telling Avrohom that Yishmael Will become twelve tribes, was for the same purpose. Hashem was telling Avrohom that his understanding that Yishmael would be the Twelve Tribes that would comprise Klal-Yisroel was because Yishmael as well would be twelve tribes.
Avrohom Avinu isn’t arguing with Hashem, rather he is expressing his desire to understand Hashem. Due to Avrohom’s meticulous care to Hashem’s will he is concerned lest he erred.
We live with the Torah as a given, but that doesn’t mean that we need not understand it to the utmost. Understanding and being concerned that we are adhering to Gods will, must always concern us.
This week’s Sedra tells us that Avrohom Avinu and Sarah travelled to Egypt because of a famine in Eretz-Yisroel. As they approached their destination, Avrohom, realized that Sarah’s exceptional beauty might lead the Egyptians to kill him simply in order to seize Sarah Imeinu and take her as a wife for the Egyptian king. Therefore, Avrohom asks her to say that she is his sister, thereby not only protecting him from a near certain death, but exalting him as her brother. Sarah does as instructed by Avrohom and sure enough, Paroh takes her as a wife. To prevent Paroh from committing a grave sin, and in order to return Sarah unharmed to Avrohom, Hashem severely punishes Paroh and his entire Court in a way that was obviously on account of their grave misconduct with Sarah. Paroh quickly returns Sarah to Avrohom and sends them on their way.
The Passuk tells us that Avrohom went up from Egypt—he and his wife and everything that he had. As this statement seems rather random, it leaves us wondering what the Torah is trying to emphasize. The Ramban explains that the Passuk is coming to tell us that Avrohom took with him even the presents and riches that were bestowed upon him for being Sarah’s brother, and that the Egyptians didn’t try to reclaim them on the grounds that they had been given to Avrohom on false pretences. The Ramban further comments that this was a miracle.
Ramban’s explanation leaves us with another question. We know that Hashem doesn’t randomly make miracles for people. Furthermore, if the Torah felt it necessary to tells us of this miracle there must be an important lesson for us to learn from it. So, why did Hashem make this miracle, and what lesson is there for us to learn from it?
Perhaps we should more closely analyze the whole story of Avrohom Avinu’s journey down to Egypt, as it may shed some light on the importance of this “miracle”.
Hashem told Avrohom Avinu at the beginning of the Sedra to leave from the place in which he was comfortably settled and to go to the land that He was to show him. Avrohom obeyed, showing his deep trust in Hashem. This very same Avrohom, who so deeply trusted in Hashem and who was dwelling in the very same land to which Hashem had told him to move, was confronted by famine. Avrohom had two options: either he could have stayed in the land in which Hashem told him to live with the blind faith that Hashem would provide for him, or he could have moved on in search of food. Avrohom chose the latter. Perhaps this would seem a breach in his faith and trust in Hashem. Surprisingly, it doesn’t stop there. Avrohom went down to Egypt in search of food and as he approached, seemed to once again take matters into his own hands. Instead of trusting that Hashem would protect both him and Sarah, he instructed Sarah to lie so as to protect himself and to stay alive.
Maybe the lesson being taught to us by the Torah’s telling us of this special Nes (miracle) that occurred to Avrohom Avinu is as follows: the Torah is telling us that Avrohom had no lack of faith but rather allowed life to be a channel for the expression of Hashem’s Will. Avrohom understood that the obvious thing to do in a case of famine was to search for food. Avrohom Avinu took it a step further and interpreted it to mean that Hashem wanted him to move on. Avrohom also understood that if Hashem wanted him to wander into a land that was so immoral that they would kill him in order for their king to have Sarah as a wife, it was then incumbent upon him to comply with Hashem’s design while at the same time come up with a plan to defeat Egyptian designs.
Part of what at first glance might appear as a selfish act of self preservation on Avrohom’s part at the expense of his wife is actually, upon reflection, a true act of courage and selflessness. Had Avrohom entered Egypt as Sarah’s husband, he would have ensured his own death without being able to protect Sarah. By appearing to be her brother, he was actually increasing the probability that, should Sarah indeed be kidnapped, he would still be there to rescue her. That all of that was being done by someone who fully trusted in Hashem, meant that he understood that Hashem for some reason wanted him to undergo these trials, that he was meant to act on his own, to initiate and plan – all in trusting in Hashem and in following His Will.
Avrohom Avinu understood something crucial, and that is that Torah isn’t here to constrain us but rather to illuminate for us the best way to live life when there is nothing else to show us the correct path.
In this week’s Sedra we are told that Sarah Imeinu, when she saw that she was unable to bear children, decided to give her maid-servant Hagar to Avrohom, so that they could have children through her. For a wife to voluntarily give her maid as a wife to her husband is without doubt one of the highest forms of self-sacrifice. However virtuous and selfless, Sarah’s deed nevertheless ended on a sour note.
Hagar, seeing that she conceived, became haughty, viewing herself as superior because she and not her mistress would bear Avrohom Avinu’s child. Sarah Imeinu in turn challenged Avrohom Avinu to do something about Hagar’s new reprehensible behavior. Avrohom Avinu’s response was to tell Sarah that she was in charge and that she could do with Hagar as she wished. Sarah Imeinu thereupon proceeded to impose various arduous burdens on Hagar, leading the latter ultimately to run away from Avrohom and Sarah.
The Ramban, in his commentary on these events, is of the opinion that what Sarah Imeinu did by imposing upon Hagar those hard labors was wrong and inappropriate. Ramban further adds that Avrohom Avinu allowing Sarah to act in such a way was also wrong. Ramban explains that Avrohom and Sarah were consequently punished through Yishmael’s being – as the Passuk describes it, a Pereh Adam – a wild man who would torment the offspring of Avrohom and Sarah for generations.
There is an obvious lesson to be learned here, namely that if one person aggravates another, it is not the latter’s job in turn to torment the tormentor. Avrohom and Sarah were the world’s kindest people, the greatest baalei chesed. Avrohom is traditionally described as Ish Chesed. Despite this, or perhaps because they were otherwise on such a high level, Avrohom and Sarah were punished regarding Hagar – Sarah Imeinu as the perpetrator of cruelty and Avrohom Avinu as a willing accomplice, as a facilitator of sorts. This brings us to yet another important lesson: when someone allows wrongdoing to occur, that person becomes an accomplice and is consequently viewed as equally guilty as the actual perpetrator.
There is, however, yet another very suttle lesson to be learned. Sarah Imeinu acted in a most honorable way: she allowed for her maid-servant to effect become a concubine of a sort; she gave up her husband to some extent to her maid-servant for the sake of Hashem – in order to allow Avrohom offspring to become the chosen nation. Avrohom Avinu was willing to be an accomplice in this virtuous act by accepting his wife’s suggestion that he live with her maid-servant as a wife also for purely spiritual reasons – very much the same reasons as those of Sarah Imeinu. However virtuous and however praiseworthy their acts, neither of them was prepared to deal with the situation they created.
It was clearly wrong and inappropriate for Hagar to act disrespectfully towards Sarah Imeinu, who was not only her mistress, but was the most forgiving, the kindest, most compassionate mistress imaginable. Sarah Imeinu was a mistress who, for lofty reasons willingly gave her maid servant equality and, in an incredibly self-effacing gesture made Hagar in a way her husband’s wife. Hagar was truly in the wrong. The lesson here, however, is that when we contribute to the creation of a bad situation we can’t simply walk away from it and wash our hands of it. We must rather either stick it out or figure out a way to manage and tame it.
Chazal tell us that Hashem punishes in a fitting manner; perhaps Yishmael was indeed a fitting punishment. Yishmael has afflicted – and continues to plague – Am-Yisroel in the most horrific way. Throughout the generations Yishmael has troubled and harassed us in so many different ways. Yishmael is an unrelenting force of evil that is constantly battling Am-Yisroel. Perhaps this constant suffering is meant to teach us that if we walk away from situations that we create those situations will come back to haunt us.
We live in times where it is a la mode to walk away from situations we create. Someone once spoke of our society as a “no-fault” society, in which no one is ever guilty or even responsible for his actions. The school dropout rate is higher than ever and, perhaps even worse is the soaring divorce rate in our communities. There are unfortunately plenty of situations that may warrant such drastic solutions. In many more instances, however, the underlying reason is that we simply wish to rid ourselves of complex and complicated situations by trying to walk away from them. And if a situation is unpleasant and not easy to deal with we are all too ready to view it is ample reason for an escape.
Maybe if we begin to come to terms with life’s complexities - then maybe, just maybe we will be Zoche to see the end of Tzaros Bnei Yishmael.
May Hashem help us to not ignore or attempt to escape life’s obstacles and complexities; May He rather grant us all the strength and fortitude necessary to battle and solve them.
This week's Sedra opens with Hashem commanding Avrohom Avinu to leave Choron (the land of his birth) and to go to Eretz-Yisroel (Canaan). Rather than merely telling Avrohom Avinu to go to Eretz-Yisroel, Hashem tells Avrohom to go "to the land that I will show you. Rashi explains this oddity as Hashem using the element of suspense/curiosity in order to endear Eretz-Yisroel to Avrohom Avinu. Rashi backs this explanation with a list of other Pessukim where Hashem uses the element of suspense similarly (see Rashi).
While Rashi certainly explains why Hashem didn't simply tell Avrohom Avinu to which land to go it, his answer leaves us with an even stronger question: Why is Hashem playing mind games with Avrohom Avinu? Pedagogically, or psychologically, the element of surprise or of curiosity is at times used to endear or entice someone regarding something, but such a technique tends to be associated with somewhat childish mind games.
My Rebbe HoRav Yisroel Belsky Shlita has explained instances in which the Torah seems to attribute various emotions to Hashem as indicating that these emotions aren't merely petty human sentiments but are rather deep and important elements of life. Perhaps there is a similar idea here. While making someone curious may be useful when dealing with children, and while building up suspense may be a good tool to cause someone to be interested in something, it isn't just a mind game, but rather something far more meaningful.
Our Avos (forefathers) and many of our Manhigim (leaders) started off as shepherds. Rav Belsky explains (based on a Maharsha) that being a shepherd somehow allowed our Avos to become who they were. Rabbi Belsky explains that their being alone in the wilderness only with flock allowed them the time to reflect on the world. This ability to reflect on the world gave them tremendous depth and understanding in almost everything. Since our Avos comprehended life and the world as best as humanly possible they were able to see Hashem and appreciate His world.
Thinking and reflecting is the key to real understanding and to appreciation of everything in life. When one ponders one begins to realize what the world is and to appreciate it.
If Hashem had told Avrohom Avinu simply where to go Avrohom Avinu would have followed Hashem's command just the same, but it would have left him with less to wonder and think about. When, however, Hashem didn't disclose to Avrohom Avinu his final destination, it left Avrohom Avinu with more to wonder about. This allowed him to reflect more on the idea that he was traveling to whatever destination Hashem would show him. Avrohom Avinu wasn't merely going to a specific place; He was going where Hashem would direct him to go. Hashem allowed Avrohom Avinu to appreciate where he was going on a deeper and more meaningful level.
Life is full of suspense. There are always so many things that seem like unknowns to us. All too often, however, all too often, not only do we not appreciate these unknowns but they bother us and we even scorn them. We must realize that these "unknowns" are our opportunity to think and to reflect; they are our tools to appreciating life. We must utilize the unknowns to add a deeper and more meaningful facet to our lives. They are our opportunity to see and recognize Hashem.
This week's Haftorah is a Nevuah of Yishayahu. The Levush explains the reason we read this Haftorah for Parshas Lech-Lecha is because one of the Pesukim is explained by Chazal as being a reference to Avrohom Avinu's war against the Kings (41; 2). The war between Avrohom Avinu and the kings is definitely one of the more dramatic episodes in this week's Sedra, but it seems a bit odd that we should read a Haftorah just because Avrohom Avinu's war is vaguely alluded to.
If this Haftorah was chosen because there is a vague hint at Avrohom Avinu's war then Chazal must have felt that there is an extremely important lesson for us in the war Avrohom-Avinu waged.
The Torah tells us about a war between two alliances of kings. Somehow, Avrohom Avinu's nephew, Lot, became involved in the war and was captured. The Torah tells us that a messenger came and informed Avrohom that his nephew had been captured. The next thing we know is that Avrohom took whatever people he had and went to wage war in order to free his nephew. Avrohom Avinu, against all odds, was successful and won the war. Hashem didn't tell Avrohom to go to war, but Avrohom Avinu understood that going to war to save his nephew was a must. Avrohom Avinu did what was right and Hashem protected him.
The overall theme of Yishayahu’s Nevua seems to be that of giving encouragement to a despairing Nation. Hashem seems to be saying to Am-Yisroel that so long as we realize that our strength comes from Hashem we will be able to be strong against all those who come up against us. There isn't one particular message in this Nevua of Yishayahu. The Nevua seems to be communicating a message that we shouldn't be afraid of doing what's right because Hashem will protect and give us strength.
It is in this context that the Passuk alludes to Avrohom Avinu's war because the Nevua is communicating a lesson that is illustrated by Avrohom Avinu and his battles. Avrohom Avinu could have been frightened by going to fight to save his nephew; Avrohom Avinu could have rationalized, saying “it isn't a mitzvah; Hashem never commanded me explicitly to do so”. He didn't. Avrohom Avinu understood that to save his nephew was the right thing to do and he immediately set out to do so without hesitation. Avrohom did what was right without explicitly being commanded to do so, and Hashem saved him and helped in a miraculous way.
The Parsha has many important lessons, but the lesson of doing what is right just because it's right tops them all. We cannot always wait for a detailed command from Hashem, but we have the tools to decipher right from wrong. If we do our part and do what's right no matter how hard it is – then Hashem will certainly do His part and give strength and protection.