Saturday, 12 November 2016

P V'a'yeira: Hagar's Eyes Open

Originally published 11/5/09, 4:18 pm.

This question has bothered students of Torah for many generations:
How could Avraham Avinu, the epitome of Hessed, fail to provide adequate water for his son and estranged wife?

The commentaries address this using several approaches. Some maintain that that Avraham was generous to Hagar after all.
Let's look at the text and see.

It says that Hagar's Canteen ran out of water. And she gave up - so to speak - and fell into melancholy.
After Yishma'el's prayer, it states that Hashem opened Hagar's eyes - and behold, there was a well!

Well!  Perhaps all was well all along. Maybe Avraham had given them sufficient water to make it to a well, but when Hagar ran out of water, her emotions overtook her and she suppressed her own ability to see the well in front of her. In response to her prayer, Hashem removed Hagar's self-imposed blinders and she could see the well all ended well!
All along,  Avraham had well-planned the rationing of the water, anticipating that Hagar would reach that well. But Hagar was not emotionally well enough to see well.


Vayeira Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed

Guest Post:
Cantor Richard Wolberg
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Noson Weisz.
* * * * *

In the conversation between God and Abraham where God informs Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged God's justice and demanded Divine mercy with a ferocity that leaves the reader astonished at his sheer audacity. Abraham then proceeds to demand mercy in terms that are almost as insistent, declaring, "Behold now, I desired to speak to my Lord although I am but dust and ashes. What if the fifty righteous people should lack five? Would You destroy the entire city because of the five?" [Gen. 18: 27-28]
How does such a ringing challenge emerge from the mouth of a person who regards himself as no more than a pile of dust and ashes?
To appreciate the utter impossibility of this conversation, remember that we are not Abraham. For us, God exists only in the abstract: He is a being we have never personally met and in whose existence we only vaguely believe. But to Abraham, God was a Being he knew and spoke to. Imagine that the Almighty Himself came to inform you about His decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorra on account of the great evil that He discovered there. Would you presume to challenge His judgment, and with such force?
The point here is that God came to inform him about His decision to destroy Sodom. If the proposed destruction was none of his business, God didn't have to tell him about it in advance. So the fact that God told Abraham, then that was Abraham's cue to respond.

Whereas your or I might have said to God: "Great! Destroy those evil people. Who needs them? All they are is trouble." Abraham was on a much higher level, so he asked for God's mercy, indicating a tremendous sensitivity to all of God's creatures. In His great wisdom, however, the Almighty did what needed to be done.

Parsha: Vayeira, "Aqeida, and Masorah - Rabbis Soloveichik and Rosenfeld"

I serve as a rotating Shabbat Chaplain for CareOne nursing center in Teaneck. I've become friendly with one of the residents whose daughter and son-in-law visit her nearly every Friday Night.

It so happens that this son-in-law is none other than Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld! We have chatted many times. I was quite pleased to see his d'var torah in our local Jewish Paper "The Jewish Standard". Given Rabbi Rosenfeld's background, both the content of the d'var torah and its appearance here on this blog is a bit unconventional.

Enjoy R' Rosenfeld's d'var torah anyway! I'm confident you will.


Parsha: Vayeira, "Is Seeing What's Already There a Miracle?"

I Witnessed A Small Miracle
Mark, Your friend was just under a lot of stress and likely "misplaces things" typical of someone with ADD/ADHD. When objects like wallets re-emerge from what I call "small object purgatory" (despite looking in that place before, sometimes compulsively looking again & again in that same place) as in your friend's experience, it is likely stress and his subconscious intervening so he literally can't see/find it. He had a subconscious hidden agenda for not seeing it, such as not wanting to spend the money, etc. This used to happen to me when I really did not want to date someone anymore, I'd misplace my wallet or my car keys just before going out, then they would appear right where I "knew" I'd left them. Your friend may have hit the nail on the head about it falling off the chair. (F.Lee Billy's comment on Emotional Times, September 27, 2010.)

Does this explain "Vayiphtach Elokim et eineha, vateira b'eir mayyim"? (Vayeira 21:19) If the well had always existed in that spot, then the miracle was noticing it.

Is it possible that Avraham knew the well was there? Could depression have clouded Hagar's vision until, via prayer, Elokim lifted it?

Could this unexpected appearance of the well be the "miracle" of simply seeing what was already there? 


Parsha: Vayeira, Lot's Lot

Rabbi Y Seplowitz: 
«Lot was a man of contradictions.  He moved to Sodom to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.”  (“I can’t tolerate Abram or his G-d!” — Rashi’s commentary on Genesis, 13:11)

Yet, he adhered to many of the practices he had learned in his uncle’s home.  Abraham placed great emphasis on the Mitzvah of entertaining guests.  Although hospitality was actually outlawed in Sodom, Lot risked his life by inviting strangers to his home.  He served them Matzah, since it was Passover.  (He had learned from his uncle, who was, of course, a prophet, that there would some day be such a holiday  at that time of year.

Lot chose to live among the Sodomites; he was attracted by the material wealth the city had to offer.  The fact that it was a hotbed of evil and immorality didn’t faze him.  In fact, he seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyleof his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem vs. San Francisco, Lot chose ‘Frisco!»
“The Most Powerful Force on Earth”
To further our understanding re: Lot - a thought once popped into my head about Lot's Middah k'neged Middah. Lot had proposed that Anshei S'dom could do what they want with his 2 daughters. And it turns around, that's what happened to Lot himself, he wound up having relations with them shortly after having been mafkir them.

The Torah text is subtle, yet upon reflection, the juxtaposition of these texts does suggest a literary connection.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Parsha: Vayeira, "Tiqqun Soferim"

 "Avraham is still standing in front of Hashem" (Vayeria 18:22)
Take a look at the Rashi on that passuq.

Due to Tiqqun Soferim it got switched around, even though the opposite is the case. This was not, however,  literally done by some "editor" who changed the text. EG see Iqqar siftei Hachamim 1.(Any such idea of an editorial change could be deemed a perfect mis-understanding.)

IIRC R Dr. MS Feldblum explained that tiqqun sof'rim is an idiomatic expression simply meaning "euphemism". This is only a slightly different interpretation than the Iqqar Siftei Hachamim's. The sentiment is similar. It's not an editorial change to the text, but rather a LINGUISTIC change to say one thing but mean another.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Parsha: Lech Lecha, "Leaving Israel"

In  Mishna Torah: Hilchot Melachim: 5:9, the Rambam writes that:

"Even though it was a famine and one is permitted to leave Israel [nevertheless] "einah middat hassidut" ... [It is not the mark of a pious character]
And because of that Machalon and Kilyon - 2 "gedolei hador" [great ones of their generation] ..left and were liable to destruction by "the Maqom".

1. If it's Halachically permitted to leave the land of Israel, then who cares about "Middat Hassidut"?

2 If all Jews are on the same level of obligation and liability, then how does being a "Gadol Hador" change someone's level?

3. If even the Rambam concedes that Machalon and Kilyon's leaving Eretz Yisrael was Halachically permitted, then why did he say they were punished? 

4. In Lech L'cha, Avraham Avinu left the Holy Land under similar circumstances - and he seemed to be rewarded and not punished! How does this Rambam address that case?

For further sources

  • Torah Temimah on Lech L'cha 12:10 quoting Bava Qama 60b
  • Note 13 quoting Bava Batra 91a

Shalom, RRW

Lech Lecha: The Involvement of Self

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Lech Lecha and the topic is the self. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Parsha: Lech Lecha, Galut Mitzrayim - 400 Years or 210 Years?‏

Here is a simple approach to what appears to be a big s'teerah between the 400 years in Mitzrayim as per Torah Shebichtav, vs. the 210 years as per TSBP.
[Note: I'm not addressing the case of 430 years, but one can extrapolate an answer from this approach]

Rashi [Lech Lecha 15:13] suggests that the 400 years in a "Land not theirs" commences with the birth of Yitzchak, and that the actual descent to Mitzrayim actually comes 190 years later.

Extrapolating from Rashi here is my approach:

There are "2 dinnim" re: Egypt

1. The physical Land of Egypt
2. The extended Empire of Egypt.

Modern Archaeologists consider the Ancient Land of Canaan during that era as under the influence [Suzerainty] of the Egyptian Empire, perhaps similar to Poland used to be when it was under the Soviet Sphere of influence.

So, in a sense, during those first 190 years, the Avot were not in the physical Land of Egypt, yet the galut of the Empire of Egypt indeed did start earlier on - because Canaan was under the Social and Political Influence of Egypt, and by extension they were in a "Spiritual Galus Mitzrayim."

And so both figures work.
210 years in Physical Egypt
400 years as subject to Egyptian Social Mores.

Kol Tuv,