Parshas Vayeira

כי ידעתיו    יח:יט           The Ramban explains this expression to be referring to the personal care and concern of hashgachas Hashem for those who are great tzaddikim. Generally speaking, explains the Ramban, Hashem’s hashgacha in the lower realm of this world pertains only to the major categories of life in the world (in other words, preservation of entire species –ed. elaboration-), but even [individual] people are subject to happenstance until the time comes for them to be accounted for (meaning, after they die –ed. elaboration-). But the great tzaddikim, says the Ramban, are never without Hashem’s knowledge and awareness of everything that goes on with them, and Hashem’s guardianship over them is constant and unwavering.

This statement of the Ramban here seems puzzling in that it seems to be in direct contradiction to what the Ramban himself writes in the end of parshas Bo that every single thing that happens to a person throughout his life is a direct result of schar v’onesh – that Hashem is constantly directing every detail of every individual’s life. Furthermore, Chazal tell us that a person never even so much as stubs his toe unless it was first declared in Shamayim that it would happen. So, how are we to understand the words of the Ramban here that seem to imply that, other than great tzaddikim, people are subject to happenstance?

The Gra writes that every single occurrence in the world – throughout its entire history – is hinted at somewhere in the Torah. Obviously, then, each and every single occurrence takes place through direct hashgachas Hashem. The Gra writes further that an example of the way hashgacha works is like when a person travels from one place to the next. It certainly appears that it is the person who is walking, but, the truth is, that it is Hashem who is moving him from place to place. The forces that exist in nature, elaborates the Gra, are simply Hashem’s tools to bring about what His hashgacha determines should be. Not only with people is this the case, but even with all living things. This is the hashgacha that corresponds to the name Elokim, the hashgacha that works through the forces that exist in nature; as opposed to the hashgacha of the Sheim Havayah which is manifest through open miracles.

With this statement of the Gra, we can understand that what the Ramban is referring to here is how we perceive the hashgacha. When it comes to great tzaddikim, the fact that everything that happens with them is directly from hashgachas Hashem is evident. When it comes to regular people, though, and the details of life within the world, although it is certainly hashgachas Hashem that is making everything happen, it is not readily apparent as such. Since it is operating through the tools of the forces that exist within nature, it carries an appearance of being subject to happenstance; whereas, when it comes to the great tzaddikim, the hashgacha is clearly apparent.

(From the notes of Reb Daniel Fast)


שבו לכם פה עם החמור   כב:ה               When Avraham avinu saw the cloud over the mountain, he told his two attendants to wait there with the donkey, while he and Yitzchak would proceed alone. The simple explanation of this is as the baalei mussar explain it: when Avraham realized that his attendants could not see the cloud, he told them, “If that’s the case, then your place is with the donkey.” In other words, if you’re not with us then you’re with the donkeys. There is no middle ground. The anan kashur al ha’har was not just a cloud. It’s not that Avraham and Yitzchak had strong enough binoculars to see it and the attendants didn’t. The anan kashur al ha’har was an expression of giluy Shechina, a revelation of the Divine Presence. If the attendants could not see it, that meant that they were not part of what Avraham and Yitzchak were part of. If you are not here, then you are there.

From the words im ha’chamor (with the donkey), Chazal learn out: am ha’domeh la’chamor, a people that is similar to a donkey. The derivation is that kiddushin does not take effect vis a vis an eved kenaani. The Beis Ha’Levi asks: why here? Couldn’t this halachah have been indicated somewhere else in the Torah? What is the reason that it was incorporated specifically into the narrative of akeidas Yitzchak?

The Beis Ha’Levi answers as follows: this expression is there to underscore the greatness of Avraham avinu. Avraham was working with the understanding that he was going to actually schecht his son Yitzchak. As such, the hope and dream of forging a Klal Yisrael could have been evaporating right before his eyes. Psychologically, Avraham could have mitigated that apparent catastrophe and console himself with the thought, “Well, at least I have another son, Yishmael.” But, no. Rashi explains that the two attendants were Eliezer and Yishmael. Shvu lachem poh im ha’chamor, Avraham said to both of them. Both of you – Yishmael included – are nothing more than an am ha’domeh la’chamor. Precisely now, Avraham was going out of his way, as it were, to emphasize and underscore the fact that he is fully cognizant that Yishmael could never and will never be his scion and heir. That Yishmael has absolutely no connection to the destiny of forging a Klal Yisrael. And that despite the fact that that makes it seem that now there will be no Klal Yisrael, I am nevertheless going through with this. Hashem commanded me to do this, and it is not up to me to second guess it. What will be, will be.

There is another explanation of Rashi that, at first glance, may seem to suggest a flaw in Avraham avinu’s unshakeable and unquestioning devotion to ratzon Hashem. On the words neilchah ad koh (we will go until that spot), Rashi brings that Avraham was intimating, “What is going to happen with the promise of koh yihiyeh zarecha (so will be your offspring).” It sounds like a statement of wonderment and even a challenge of sorts. However, the Sefas Emes explains that what it really means is that Avraham avinu was expressing the fact that “we only have until we get to that spot over there to fulfill the vision and goal of koh yihiyeh zarecha”. Before this point in time, Avraham was under the impression that we have until the end of the elef ha’shishi (6,000 years) to accomplish the tikun olam. That the vision of “koh yihiyeh zarecha” – the destiny of Klal Yisrael to bring the world to the state of accomplishing the goal for which it was created – has plenty of time to come to fruition. Now, though – said Avraham – that Yitzchak will soon no longer be here, I see that we actually have very little time. That entire tikun has to be accomplished from now until we complete there what we are going to do!

This explanation of the Sefas Emes fits well with the Beis Ha’Levi. Paranthetically, the Beis Ha’Levi wrote in a letter to someone that he felt that one of the two best divrei Torah in the entire sefer Beis Ha’Levi al Ha’Torah is the one he said on am ha’domeh la’chamor in parshas Vayeira.

Interestingly enough, though, not all are in agreement as to the identity of the two attendants. As we just saw, Rashi and the Beis Ha’Levi go with the Medrash that they were Eliezer and Yishmael. The Ritva, though, in Maseches Kiddushin (daf 68) insists that Yishmael was not with them because Yishmael was called Avraham’s son, not his naar (lad, attendant). So who was the second attendant? Says the Ritva, it was some random non-Jew. And this, says the Ritva, is how we know that kiddushin does not take effect vis a vis a non-Jew either. Both an eved and a non-Jew were in this picture, says the Ritva, and that is how we know (from the extrapolation of am ha’domeh la’chamor) that regarding both kiddushin takes no effect.

In a similar vein, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav in Orach Chaim 186) says that Rashi’s statement that the two attendants were Eliezer and Yishmael is very difficult to understand. After all, says the Pri Megadim, Yishmael was not born from a Kenaani woman, he had yichus to and was a son of Avraham. There is no reason, continues the Pri Megadim, that the two attendants could not be two servants; Avraham had a lot of servants! The Pri Megadim ends of with a tzarich iyun on Rashi, and says that even according to Rashi’s pshat that the second attendant was Yishmael, the expression of shvu lachem poh im ha’chamor was directed only to Eliezer and was said in the plural as an expression of respect. That last statement is intriguing – that Avraham should on the one hand be expressing his words with deep respect and, on the other hand, be saying that “you are an am ha’domeh la’chamor”.

Parenthetically, Reb Chaim (Soloveitchik) says not like the Ritva. In reference to the Gemara in Yevamos (61-62) that says that non-Jews do have yichus to their fathers whereas avadim do not, Reb Chaim explains that this is learned out from am ha’domeh la’chamor, and that was only going on avadim.

(Audio recording)


Vignettes            One year I was quite ill on Yom Kippur, and I had to sleep during each chazaras ha’shatz. Suffice it to say, I didn’t experience the sense of inspiration that I was used to getting from Yom Kippur. After Yom Kippur was over, Rav Twersky saw me in the hall, and he asked me, “How was your Yom Kippur?” “So, so,” I responded, “I was stuck in my bedroom for so much of the day because of my illness so it definitely was not like previous years.” To that, Rav Twersky responded, “You are an eved Hashem! You did exactly what Hashem wanted you to be doing!” (Rabbi Pinny Marcus)

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