Points to Ponder – VaYeira 5774
“And he was standing on top of them under the tree, and they ate (18:8) – Rashi reminds us of the miracle that the Malachim went through in order to appear as if they were eating. Why was it so important to highlight these Nissim? Rav Shaul Yisraeli ztl (Siach Shaul) answers utilizing a famous Midrash (Berashis Rabba 45:4) which highlights the difference between wheat kernels and thorns. There is a way to grow thorns and a way to grow wheat. When you leave things to grow naturally on a field, you wind up with weeds and thorns. Wheat only grows if you put time and effort into field. The same was true about Avraham’s home. It too, could not be left to chance or nature to let things grow right – the desired efforts would only result after effort which would come through hard work as well as intervention by Hashem similar to a miracle. Thus, Hashem surrounded him with them to remind Avraham not to give up.
What if there were 50 Tzaddikim in the city? (18:24) – One gets the impression that Avraham’s efforts were in vain. He bargained with Hashem from 50 Tzaddikim down to 10 and still lost. Why record the episode with such detail? The Dubno Maggid explains that Avraham DID get a major benefit from his experience – that Hashem WOULD spare a whole city as long as there are tzaddikim in its midst. While it did not save the Sodomites, it did serve as inspiration to Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim where a majority were not deserving of Geulah. Moshe promised them that the Geulah can come in the merit of the few. Rav Avraham HaKohein Pam ztl. points out that we too, should take mission and consolation from this episode. On the one hand we can be consoled that even with the ever accelerating rate of intermarriage and assimilation, Hashem will not totally forsake us. On the other hand, we have the responsibility to uphold the world and do our part to make sure there are always enough Tzaddikim to cover the gaps.
And Avraham got up early and went to the place where he had previously stood before Hashem (19:27) – Chazal teach us the importance of having a set place for davening (Berachos 6b). Yet why is this so critical? Rav Dov Weinberger (Shemen HaTov vol. 4) explained that it is similar to the challenge of “Mi Yaaleh B’Har Hashem U’Mi Yakum b’Mikom Kodsho” – that it is easier to rise to a lofty place in life but it is tough to make sure that one maintains the level s/he ascends. That was the greatness of Avraham. Even though Sodom sat smoldering in front of him – testimony that his attempt to save the city failed - he still did not give up on Hashem. We all have the tough days. We need to remember consistency even – or perhaps ESPECIALLY – in those times.
The story of the daughters of Lot -- The Midrash notes that Hashem said that he found Dovid HaMelech in Sodom. Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht ztl. used to explain that the success of a Melech is his ability to understand and lead his people. If he and his lineage is too perfect, he will not understand the people and will be unable to lead and appropriately govern them.
“What were you thinking that led you to do this thing”(20:9) – Avimelech accuses Avraham of attempting to entrap him. Yet to this ridiculous charge Avraham says nothing. Later, he speaks up. Rav Nissan Alpert ztl. notes that to the first charge of Avraham actually plotting something – he chooses silence as the charges are so removed from reality. He DOES choose to correct Avimelech when the mornarch tries to absolve himself by noting that Avraham DID something. To this Avraham responds that he didn’t DO anything. He merely spoke and stated the truth. The ones responsible for the DOING were the Philistines and their king.
Get rid of this maidservant and her child (21:9-12) - Rav Aharon Kotler ztl. notes that the difference of opinion here between Avraham and Sarah was deep indeed – but surrounded matters of education. Sarah saw that although Yishmael was on a high Madreiga, he was a threat to the religious level of her child. She therefore felt that he needed to be removed from Yitzchak’s presence lest Yishmael permanently ruin Yitzchak. Avraham disagreed. He felt that bringing Yishmael as far up as he could was critical for Yishmael and the proper course for him in life. Rav Aharon adds that even with this explanation – it is still a drop in the bucket of the proper way one is supposed to look at the Avos and Imahos.
Akaidas Yitzchak – It killed Sarah but Avraham grew from the experience. How could that be? Rav Chaim Shmuellevitz ztl (Chochmas Chaim) explains that Avraham was warned up to the experience. Hashem gave him a chance to handle the shock by introducing the Akaida – Bincha, Yichidcha etc. Sarah just got the news quickly and the shock killed her. He adds that Avairos work the same way – if faced with the gravity of the sin, we would be so shocked and know not to do it. However, when we approach Avairos bit by bit, we come to run the risk of violating them.
Haftorah: “What do you have in the house? “(Melachim II:4:2) – The word for you (Lach) is spelled as “Lachi.” Why? The Rif commentary cited in the Abarbanel explains that the woman was the wife of Ovadiah who used to borrow money with interest in order to feed the Bnei HaNeviim. As noble as his charity act was, Hashem cannot bring beracha on a utensil that was used to do an Avaira – like borrowing with interest. Beracha can only fall on something that was legitimately hers (and not her husband’s.) There are many who think they will see Beracha from stolen monies. The ends never justify the means.