Illuminations #95, Tishrei 5777, Parshat Lech Lecha

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Illuminations #95, Tishrei 5777, Parshat Lech Lecha

Torah Gems

The Medrash relates a remarkable story about Avram and his conviction of faith in Hashem. Avram’s father Terach maintained a store which sold many different kinds of idols to his customers. One day while Terach was away he asked his son Avram to look after his store. While Terach was away, Avram took an ax and chopped up all the idols in the store except for one. He scattered the pieces all around the room, and placed the ax in the hand of the one idol which he left untouched. When Terach returned he was aghast. Avram explained, “Well, you see, this idol holding the ax got up and started destroying the other idols, and before I knew it he had finished the gruesome work and threw the pieces all around the room.” Terach’s frustration turned to fury. Terach was convinced that Avram had actually destroyed all his idols.  He brought his son Avram to Nimrod, the mighty leader, to present his case. Nimrod gave Avram an ultimatum, “Either you accept our idols, or you will be thrown into the furnace of Kasdim. Avram refused to accept the idols and he was thrown into the furnace. Miraculously, he was removed from the furnace unscathed. 

Curiously, the Torah does not mention this extraordinary story about Avram explicitly. Instead, we are introduced to Avram later in his life with the seemingly less impressive story about leaving his homeland. Certainly, our story demonstrates a far greater sacrifice than all his others tests, for before the miracle at UKasdim, he actually thought he was going to die. Avram had never before experienced a miracle from Hashem. All the other tests he faced were afterward, when he was already a veteran,’ so to speak. If so, why doesn’t the Torah tell us the story of Ur Kasdim?

A basic understanding of human nature can resolve this issue. Everyone can relate to the idea that a person would be willing to sacrifice his life for his beliefs. If something appeals to one’s power of reason, rigid judgement would demand that life itself is only worthwhile to further that idea. That is essentially what Avram displayed, the willingness to sacrifice his life for his exalted beliefs. However, more notable is the accomplishment of a person who realizes that Hashem is above human reason. Even if Hashem would demand something against human understanding, nevertheless, he submits himself to Hashem’s will. 

Therefore, the original miracle at UKasdim was not as much an accomplishment as the other recorded incidents in Avram’s life. The Torah wishes to express the supreme heights that Avram attained in his service to Hashem. He was not simply acting on his own logic, rather he understood that Hashem works on a plane unfathomable and incomprehensible to man. Only with this realization can one fully complete his mission in this world.

Parsha Pearls

The Torah describes the famous conversation between Hashem and Avram. Hashem told Avram (Breishit 15, 5), “Look now toward heaven and count the stars, if you can, so shall your seed be.” The plain meaning can be understood that Hashem was promising Avram that his offspring would eventually multiply to equal the number of stars.

However, this statement of Hashem seems problematic because it was said during the day! Later in the Parsha we are told (15, 12), “And the sun set.…” Obviously the encounter described earlier took place before the sun had set. How could Avram have been expected to count the stars if he couldn’t even see them? Light of the sun eclipses the light of millions of stars!

Rabbi Nisan Alpert suggests that Hashem was not, in fact, comparing the Jewish people to the stars. Rather He was comparing them to the sun. Rabbi Alpert explains that historically the Jews have been actually the smallest of the nations and not the largest. Yet they are endowed with spiritual qualities so great that they act as teachers and guides for all humanity. In this way the Jewish nation is likened to the sun: the spirit of Torah outshines the millions of all the other nations.

Glimpses of Greatness

Onday, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger was asked to serve at the brit milah of an infant. Arriving at the parents’ home, he learned that the father of the infant was dying and that according to a custom instituted in that city, a brit in such a case would be deferred until after the death of the father so that the infant might be given the father’s name. Rabbi Kluger, however, quickly called together a minyan and had the brit performed at once. To the amazement of every one, the child’s father recovered and the entire city was astir at the miracle that had come to pass. 

Rabbi Kluger explained that he had based his action on his interpretation of the statement by Rashi in the Torah. When Avraham was visited by the three angels, Rashi explains that one angel healed Avraham from his bris and went on to rescue Lot from Sodom. Was there a lack of angels in heaven, he had asked himself, that the same angel who had the mission to heal Avraham had to be sent also to rescue Lot? The only explanation he could find was that Lot’s merits had not been great enough to warrant the appointment of a special angel to rescue him, and so the angel who healed Avraham performed this additional task “on the way.” 

“It occurred to me,” Rabbi Kluger said, “that the infant’s father was being judged in heaven and that his merits had not been found great enough to have the Prophet Eliyahu come down to earth just for the purpose of bringing him healing. But since Eliyahu is in attendance at all britot, I had it performed hastily, so that Eliyahu might come down immediately and bring healing to the sick father ‘on the way.’”


Halacha Weekly

Q. Is one required to give a Kohen precedence in every matter or only in matters of Holiness?

A. The Torah says in Vayikra (21:8), “You shall sanctify him (v’kidashto) because the bread of your G-d he brings he will be holy for you.” It says in Gittin (59b)“V‘kidashto for every matter of holiness: to open proceedings, to bless first, to take his portion first.” Furthermore, in Yevamot (88b) we learn that in the case of a kohen who marries one who is disqualified and does not divorce her, Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) is empowered to inflict physical punishment until he divorces her.  As it says: v’kidashto (you shall sanctify him) even against his will.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav (of the Baal HaTanya(201-3) says that “in every matter of kedusha” means in every important matter to give the kohen precedence, even in matters that are not concerned with holiness. But Pri Megadim (Mishbatzot Zahav100-35) says it is specified that you shall sanctify him, i.e. specifically in a matter of Holiness. Sefer Maznayim Lemishpat(Rav Zalman Sorotzkin Z”L)(15-6) says there is no obligation to give precedence to a kohen if there will be a monetary loss involved.



This week’s Illuminations is sponsored

in loving memory of R’ Moshe Esral, ז”ל
By Mr. & Mrs. Terry Tenenbaum