Illuminations #47, Cheshvan 5776, Parshat Noach

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Illuminations #47, Cheshvan 5776, Parshat Noach

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 he asked 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 strew 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 is a far greater sacrifice than all his others tests, for before the miracle at Ur Kasdim, 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 Ur Kasdim 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. And only with this realization can one fully complete his mission on 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 will 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, historically the Jews were 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

One day Rabbi Shlomo Kluger was asked to serve at the brit milah of an infant. Arriving at the parent’s 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 everyone 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 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 Corner

Q. Are we allowed to buy kosher fish from a supermarket and let them clean it for us?
A. Normally supermarkets sell fish that are kosher and non-kosher, and the knife they use to cut and clean the non-kosher fish they also use for kosher fish. One could rationalize using the same knife for a kosher fish by saying that everything is cold and therefore it would not be a problem to use their knife and cutting board to clean and cut kosher fish. However, we know that fish have fatty oils on their flesh and when you share a knife for other fish, these fatty oils could pass on to the kosher fish. Therefore, it is advisable to have a separate knife and board for cutting and cleaning kosher fish.
If one purchased fish and used the supermarket’s fish knife and board, then one should take off a layer from those parts of the fish that were touched, cut and sliced by the knife used at the supermarket. Then one could use the rest of the fish.



In Memory of Pneena Sageev, ע”ה 

mother of Channah S. Broyde, שתח”י

whose yartzeit is 8 Marcheshvan