Parshas Vayeira

This week’s Sedra contains one of the most perplexing portions of the Torah. Avraham Avinu, who preached against human sacrifice at a time when this was a widely accepted practiced, Avraham who had waited for so long for his son Yitzchak, was now being commanded by Hashem to offer him as a sacrifice.

Chazal explain that although Hashem commanded Avraham to bring Yitzchak as an offering he never actually asked him to sacrifice Yitzchak. Keeping this in mind, it is also possible to understand why Hashem made such a demand from Avraham. The meaning of the word ‘Nissayon’ is a ‘test’. However, to test someone it is necessary to challenge that person. In order to challenge Avraham, who was prepared to do anything for Hashem, Hashem had to ask Avraham to go against everything for which he stood. Hashem in effect demanded from Avraham to trust in Him purely for the sake of trusting Hashem.

Nonetheless this whole episode is complex, and requires much explanation.

The Midrash complicates matters even more by adding the following details. The Midrash explains that Yitzchak was completely aware of his father’s intent to slaughter him as a sacrifice, but was nevertheless prepared to comply if this was God’s will.   The Midrash also tells us, that while Avraham and Yitzchak where on their way to the Akeida, the Satan approached first Avraham Avinu and tried in various manners to dissuade him from offering Yitzchak. Failing there, he tried his luck on Yitzchak and here too at first, met the same fate as he had with Avraham. In another, final attempt, he managed to cause Yitzchak a bit of hesitation. One would think that the Satan’s argument to dissuade Yitzchak would be philosophical or ethical. To the contrary, he came with an argument that appears to be sophomoric.

The Satan first argued that it couldn’t possibly be God’s Will for him to be sacrificed. Yitzchak’s retort was that if Hashem so commanded his father, so be it. The Satan then argued: ‘if you were sacrificed and hence ceased to be, your enemy Yishmael would take everything which that is now yours for himself. Not only would he be the only heir to your father, but he would also grab even the toys that your mother made for you.’ The Midrash tells us that at the mention of Yishmael's taking the toys his mother made for him, Yitzchak began to hesitate.

What is going on? Our great Yitzchak Avinu is ready to give up his life for Hashem, but the mention of his childhood toys is making him hesitate?

Taking a closer look at the Midrash, we notice that the Satan emphasizes “that your mother made”. The Satan wasn’t worrying Yitzchak about mere toys, but rather inducing him to become concerned with his mother’s feelings, with his mother’s sentiments. Yitzchak reckoned more with his compassion for others than with anything else. His own life and possibly his eternity were at stake, yet he still had not the slightest hesitation to perform Hashem's will. However, the mere possibility of causing his mother emotional distress did make him hesitate, even if only briefly.

Our forefather Yitzchak put the needs of others before all else.


After Avrohom Avinu went through the whole trial of Akaidas-Yitzchok, the Passuk tells us that Avrohom called the summit of Mount Moriah,ה' יראה –God will see. This has to be a reference to an occurrence in the future, one which Avrohom does not specifically identify. Thus, the Meforshim discuss possibilities as to what Avrohom Avinu may have been referring. Targum Unklus, echoed by Rashi, seems to say that Avrohom was asking Hashem to look at this place and choose it as the Makom-HaMikdash.

If we explain Avrohom Avinu’s words as such, we are left with some questions: Why is it not then phrased as choosing, rather than seeing? Also, why did Avrohom see it necessary to daven to Hashem to make the Bais-HaMikdash in this spot?

The Medrash therefore suggests a different explanation for Avrohom Avinu’s choice of name. When Hashem asked Avrohom to bring Yitzchok as an offering, Avrohom Avinu had a valid claim against Hashem. He could have pointed out to Hashem that He promised him descendants from Yitzchak, and now was commanding him to offer Yitzchok as a sacrifice before Yitzchok had any children. However, Avrohom Avinu didn’t question Hashem at all, even with such a valid claim. The Medrash thus suggests that what Avrohom Avinu was trying to convey in prayer to Hashem was as follows: “Hashem, when You told me to sacrifice my son that would inherit my portion, I didn’t question You even thought it seemed as if You were contradicting Yourself. I conquered my natural attribute of mercy and forced myself to follow Your command. Likewise, when the descendants of Yitzchok sin, don’t question their actions in order to give them their fair punishment, rather force Yourself to act towards them with Mercy.”

The obvious question on the Medrash is: what is the comparison between Avrohom blindly following Hashem and trusting that what Hashem does must somehow make sense, and Hashem blindly forgiving us when He knows that we don’t deserve it?

A bit earlier, the Medrash explains that in truth there was no contradiction between Hashem’s promise to Avrohom that his lineage was to stem from Yitzchok and His command to bring Yitzchak as a sacrifice. The Medrash explains that Hashem merely asked Avrohom to place Yitzchok as a Karbon (sacrifice), and not to actually slaughter Yitzchok as a sacrifice. Thus, Reb Chaim Brisker says that this was Avrohom Avinu’s great feat—he trusted in Hashem and didn’t require an explanation. Avrohom knew that he didn’t comprehend the situation, but he nevertheless understood that it somehow made sense.

My great-grandfather, Reb Menachem Krakowksi, suggests a further insight on the aforementioned explanation of Reb Chaim. Perhaps Avrohom Avinu was saying that he was only able to see the incident of Akeidas Yitzchok from one perspective—one that didn’t make sense and warranted questioning. Yet he trusted in Hashem and didn’t question. So too, at the moment in time when Yitzchok’s descendants sin and it would seem that their actions could be viewed only from the perspective of sin, Avrohom asks Hashem not to see it that way. He asks Hashem to focus on the fact that in the future they may do Teshuva, and to therefore have pity on them!

Avrohom Avinu did what he could to ensure that Hashem should have mercy on us no matter what we do. What is left up to us is to take advantage of this immense mercy and do Teshuva.


Our Sedra relates the episode of the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Akeida. By way of introduction to this momentous event, the Torah tells us וה' ניסה את אברהם – that Hashem tested Avrohom. There are traditionally two main schools of thought as to the meaning of Nisyonos – “tests from Hashem”. The first says simply that they are meant to prove one’s level of Avodas Hashem. The second school of thought maintains that these ‘tests’ are meant to force the subject of the test to rise to a higher level – the level required in order to pass the test. In either case, the objective is not so much to see whether the person being tested will pass or fail – Hashem knows the innermost self of everyone and has no need to ‘test’ – but to provide the subject of the test with the opportunity to actualize potential into reality. Regardless of how we view Nisyonos, however, once someone has “passed” a Nisayon it is rather clear that indeed a certain level of Avodas Hashem has been achieved. Although Chazal tell us that Avrohom Avinu was tested ten times by Hashem this is the only time that Hashem prefaces a test by saying that it’s a test. Chazal also tell us that this was the final “test” that Hashem gave Avrohom.

The above points clearly to this final trial as being a far greater test than any of the others Hashem gave to Avrohom Avinu – both because it’s prefaced as being a test and because it is the last. The last test must presumably be the greatest test whether it’s to prove a new higher level or whether it’s to advance Avrohom to a higher level (see HaEmek Davar).

What was it about this Nisayon that made it the greatest – why does this Nisayon complete Avrohom Avinu’s Avodos Hashem?

From a historical perspective Avrohom Avinu, completely surrounded by a world of idolatry, came to the realization on his own that there was certainly A Creator to the world, and that this Creator could not be only a Prime Mover, but had to be an Omnipotent, Omnipresent G-d. This realization came to Avrohom Avinu using his own intellect and power of deduction.

Avrohom Avinu’s first Nisyonos were all based on his intellect. Avrohom Avinu was willing to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than bow to an idol as it was obvious to him that Avoda Zara was wrong. Avrohom was willing to set out to a new land in order to be able to have a fresh start in Avodas Hashem. Avrohom Avinu was able to abandon the land of Eretz Yisroel because of famine and to travel to Egypt. In all these situations, Avrohom used common sense and his own intellectual powers to understand how he was to best serve Hashem.

Avrohom Avinu used logic and reason to preach Retzon Hashem. Chazal tell us that Avrohom preached against the practice of human sacrifice, calling it immoral, unethical, and contrary to reason. He said such acts were an abomination to Hashem.

Hashem had told Avrohom Avinu – in this week’s Sedra – that it would be through Yitzchok that his descendents would come.

Yet Hashem now comes and challenges all the logic that Avrohom used to come to an understanding of Hashem, and even seemingly to contradict what He had said to him. Avrohom had already publically in the name of Hashem lashed out against the very practice he was now being asked to perform. Hashem had promised Avrohom Avinu that Yitzchok would be his heir. He now appeared to be negating and contradicting that promise.

This test was in a class of its own. Whereas all previous Nisyonos required Avrohom Avinu to use his own intuitive intellect to decipher what it was that was Retzon Hashem, here Avrohom Avinu had to defy all logic and reason purely for the sake of his absolute recognition of Hashem and his firm belief in Him.

This is a powerful lesson for us as well. While for the most part in life we must seek out Hashem intellectually, emotionally, and logically we must realize that ultimately it is the Divine Word, not our own instincts or logic, that defines what right reason is.


This week's Sedra begins on the third day of Avrohom Avinu's recovery from Bris Mila. The Torah tells us that Avrohom Avinu was sitting at the doorway of his tent כחם היום ‘during the heat of the day’. Rashi explains that Avrohom Avinu was sitting at his doorway in order to see if there were any passersby to invite in for a bit of respite. Rashi explains that this day wasn't just an ordinary hot day. Rashi says that Hashem took the sun out of its protective layer so as to make the day a particularly hot one. Rashi explains that this made it impossible for anyone to survive outside. This was in order to prevent guests from visiting Avrohom Avinu so as to allow him to recover.

It seems from Rashi that Hashem made it extra hot during Avrohom Avinu's recovery period precisely so that he would not have to host wayfarers. There is an obvious question here: if it was too hot for people to travel wasn't it just as hot for Avrohom Avinu? Would this not severely slow Avrohom Avinu’s healing?

Chazal tells us (Megila and in other places) that there are really only two Mitzvos for whose sake we are Mevatel Talmud Torah (that take precedence over Torah study): Hachnosas Calah (assistance with regard to a wedding) and for Hotzaos Hamais (aiding in burial). It would seem then that one should not set aside Torah (be mevatel Torah) for the sake of bringing in guests (Hachnosas Orchim). If this is so, why was Avrohom Avinu busying himself with Hachnosas Orchim instead of learning Torah? Since Hashem was then in the midst of speaking with Avrohom Avinu, does this not mean that Avrohom was actually actively involved in Talmud Torah? If so, how could he be permitted to engage in another Mitzva?

Chazal explain that if a Mitzva that comes our way is a Mitzva Overes (a ‘passing’ mitzvah – meaning that if one would continue to learn rather than do the ‘passing’ mitzvah when it came, one would miss doing the ‘passing’ mitzvah) it is permissible to be mevatel Talmud Torah in order to fulfill that Mitzva Overes. Similarly Chazal Tell us that if there is no one else present who can perform the Mitzva (Ee Efshar al yedai Acher), one should then be mevatel Torah in order to do it.

The mitzva of saving a life always takes precedence over any other Mitzva including Talmud Torah.

Chazal tell us that in the world to come (the world following Bias Hamoshiach) Hashem will take the sun out of its "Nartika";(There are those who say that this means taking it out of the ozone layer, but we are not sure as to the meaning of ‘Nartika’). Tzadikim will be healed by the sun without the "Nartika" and Reshaim will be burned by it.

Hence here, Hashem’s removal, so to speak, of a natural layer of protection from the sun not only did not harm Avrohom Avinu but actually contributed to his healing. The same unfiltered sunlight that helped Avrohom Avinu, created for others a dangerously hot day.

It would seem that Avrohom Avinu made a regular practice of seeking passersby during the heat of the day. It was for him a normal, natural activity, and he did not let his weakened state interfere with this. During these hours his involvement with this Mitzva was both a Mitzva Overes and lifesaving (Pikuach Nefesh). It was a Mitzva Overes because wayfarers needed relief from the extreme heat during that portion of the day. Since there were so few people around, Avrohom Avinu was in all likelihood the only one who could provide food and shelter. Hence, Avrohom Avinu was indeed supposed to be Mevatel Torah to be Machnes Orchim. Furthermore, since being without water in a desert environment in the heat of the day is definitely Pikuach Nefesh, Avrohom Avinu actions were both Machnes Orchim and lifesaving.

Perhaps this is the reason that the Passuk tells us ‘Kechom HaYom’ (like the heat of the day in other words like the heat of every day) and not Bechom HaYom (in the heat of the day – the heat of this specific day) because it is making a reference to the fact that Avrohom Avinu did this regularly.

Avrohom Avinu busied himself with Chessed when it was absolutely necessary and when it was appropriate; he involved himself in it even if it was most inconvenient – in the heat of the day. Avrohom Avinu did this regularly.

As Torah abiding Jews we are required to do Chessed. This does not mean only when it is convenient. It may be even at the most difficult of times or with the most unpleasant people. Chesed is a must!


This week's Haftorah is of an interesting nature. Most of the works of the Prophets deal with national historical events, rebuke given by Neviim, or prophesies of what will happen to Klal-Yisroel in the future. The portion chosen for this week's Haftorah tells two tales of miracles Elisha performed for individuals. The reason this particular portion was chosen to be accompany this week’s Sedra is a single similarity it contains to an episode in our Sedra. In the Sedra Hashem sends Malachim to Avrohom Avinu to announce to Avrohom that Sarah Imeinu will give birth to a son. In the Haftorah Elisha Hanavi promises the Shunamis woman that she will have a child. While there is indeed a clear parallel between the Parsha and the Haftorah, we are nevertheless left pondering what to make of the similarity.

Rashi takes note in our Sedra of the story of Elisha and the Shunamis woman. Rashi comments that the malachim told Avrohom Avinu that they would come back to him in a year's time and that Sarah Imeinu would by then have given birth to a son. Rashi states that Elisha didn't use the same formula but rather just said to the Shunamis that at this time next year she would have had a child. Elisha did not promise that he would be in the picture. Rashi explains that since Elisha was human he could not provide a guarantee that he himself would be around in a year's time. Hence, according to Rashi’s interpretation, we have the perplexing situation in which on the one hand Elisha could guarantee the Shunamis that she would give birth within a year, and yet on the other hand he could nonetheless not guarantee his own presence? It seems ironic that Elisha can make promises and have prophesy, and yet cannot predict his own projected existence.

Before the Haftorah starts off with the story of the Shunamis woman it mentions another seemingly unrelated anecdote. The Navi tells us of the wife of one of the late Neviim (the Meforshim say Ovadia's widow). The Navi tells us that she didn't have money to pay back a loan and that the lender in question was going to take the widow's sons away instead of payment. Elisha, upon hearing this, set out and performed an amazing miracle in order to save them from such doom. Why must we read this segment of the Navi, and what does this story have to do with the Parsha?

It is clear that Elisha was able to predict the future and that he was able to perform miracles. Nonetheless, Elisha didn't reserve a place for himself within his prophesies or predictions.

Rashi tells us explicitly that all humans no matter what are limited – yet we see that Elisha was a miracle worker.

It would seem that Chazal are trying to bring out a certain point through contrasting these two short stories. Chazal are conveying the idea that what allowed Elisha the ability to prophesy was the tremendous caring he had for others – to such an extent that he himself remained absent from the entire equation.

While man is human, and therefore limited, man can nonetheless accomplish the unlimited. That, however, can only be done if the focus of man isn't restricted by being focused on himself. If we would all zoom out a bit from our own selves and zoom in on the needs of others we could truly make miracles happen.