Volume 6, Issue 4
INSIGHTS from the SEDRA
Insights from the Sedra is a project of the Scholar’s Kollel of Great Neck. It aims to provide several questions and answers about the Sedra, culled from various commentaries, including the following: Baal Haturim, Darash Moshe, Vedebarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, Torah Treasures by Dov Furer, Wellsprings of Torah by Alexander Friedman, and Kol Dodi by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Great Torah Lights by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman, Something To Say by Dov Wasserman, The Vilna Gaon, and Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin.
ויאמר אדני אם נט מצאתי חן בעיניך אל נא תעבר מעל עבדך
“And he said, “My lords, if I have found favor in your (singular) eyes, do not pass (singular) from before your (singular) servant.” (18:3)
The use of the singular three times in this verse is perplexing, in view of the fact that Avraham began expressing his words by addressing himself to all three men (My lords). Rashi explains that after originally calling out to the three men he issued his invitation to all of them by speaking directly only to the most important one of the three. But we might suggest another possible explanation for the change in the mode of speech.
As Rashi explains (v. 2), the three angels were charged with three specific, distinct, duties: One was to inform Avraham and Sarah that they would be having a child, another was to overturn Sodom and Amorah, and the third was to heal Avraham’s wound. Two of the three angels, then, had business to attend in Avraham’s house, and did not need personal invitations to come in. It was only the one angel who had come to destroy Sodom and Amorah who might have traveled on without stopping in, and it was to him alone that Avraham addressed his plea not to pass him by. (Brisker Rav)
ואל הבקר רץ אברהם ויקח בן בקר רך וטוב ויתן אל הנער…לעשות אתו
“And Avraham ran to the cattle, and he took a soft, fine calf and gave it to the boy…to prepare it.” (18:7)
Rashi explains that the “boy” who prepared the meat was Yishmael, and that Avraham gave him this job in order to train him in the mitzvah of attending to guests. Upon reflection, one can learn a tremendous lesson in the importance of training one’s children to do mitzvos. Not only was this the third day after Avraham’s circumcision, it was also the third day after Yishmael’s circumcision (for they were circumcised on the same day – Breishis 17:26). And although an angel came to heal Avraham’s wound, nowhere are we told that Yishmael was granted the same privilege. Thus, in spite of the boy’s great physical discomfort and pain, Avraham saw fit to set him to work, in order to teach him the importance of performing mitzvos even in the face of difficulty. (Brisker Rav)
ואת שתי בנתיך הנמצאת
“And your two daughters who are found…” (19:15)
Since the Torah already taught us that Lot had two daughters at home (19:8), why does the verse repeat the word שתי, two? Our verse refers to the daughters of Lot as הנמצאת, those who are found. In Tehillim (89:21) Hashem says of David HaMelech: מצאתי דוד עבדי, I have found David, My servant. The Talmud teaches that the use of the word found in connection to David HaMelech and the daughters of Lot indicates that it was here in Sodom that Hashem found David, for he descended from Lot’s daughter, the ancestress of Ruth, the great-grandmother of David. From the destruction of Sodom to the birth of Ruth, 710 years elapsed – exactly the numerical value of the apparently redundant word שתי.
ותהי נציב מלח
“She became a pillar of salt.” (19:26)
Rashi explains that she was given such a strange punishment because she committed a sin through salt. Therefore, her punishment was connected to salt. Like her neighbors in Sodom, she was totally against – hachnasat orchim – hospitality. When Lot invited the angels, he asked his wife to give them some salt in which to dip their bread. She angrily responded, “Even these bad customs you want to bring into this place?!”
QUESTION: Before reciting the grace after meals – Birkat Hamazon – we wash our fingers. This is known as mayim achronim. One of the reasons for this practice is melach Sedomit – Sodomite salt. The salt of Sodom is very strong and potentially dangerous. It can, G-d forbid, blind a person who has it on his fingers and touches his eyes. Why, throughout the entire world, even when one lives thousands of miles away from Sodom, does one wash his finger because of this salt?
ANSWER: Salt itself is not nourishing; it only adds taste to other foods. The people of Sodom were evil and refused to give food to nourish a guest. Moreover, they even refused to give salt, which has no nourishment value, to a stranger. “Sodomite salt” is a metaphor for the wicked philosophy the people of Sodom, who were totally “blind” to the needs of others and refused to practice hospitality.
A hungry person has sympathy for someone who is need. Often, once he is sated and satisfied, he becomes insensitive to the suffering of the needy, and like people of Sodom, he becomes blind to the needs of others. Our Sages want us to always have compassion for the needy. Therefore, they have instructed that upon completion of a meal, when we feel full and satisfied, we must cleanse ourselves, and make sure that the philosophy of Sodom (Sodomite salt) does not stick to us and, G-d forbid, blind us. We must be hospitable at all times and “see” the plight of the less fortunate. (V’ani Tefilati)
ותאמר שרה צחק עשה לי אלקים כל השומע יצחק לי
“Sarah said, ‘G-d made laughter for me. Everyone who will hear will be happy for me.’” (21:6)
QUESTION: How was Sarah so sure that whoever would hear of the birth of Yitzchak would be happy?
ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (53:7) writes about the name “Yitzchak” that the “י” stands for the Ten Commandments, which all the Jewish people would hear on Mount Sinai. The “צ” represents the fact that Sarah was 90 years old when he was born. The “ח”, which equals eight, is for his bris. He was the first Jewish child to have a bris on the eighth day. The “ק” represents the fact that Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzchak was born.
When the baby was born, Avraham gave him the name “Yitzchak”. When Sarah was asked by her neighbors the meaning of her son’s name, she replied “צחק עשה לי אלקים” – What the “צ” and the “ח” and the “ק” represent, Hashem already did for me. However, due to “כל השומע” – ‘Everyone who will hear’ – all the Jewish people who will be at Sinai and hear the Ten Commandments; therefore, “יצחק לי” – I have a child named ‘Yitzchak.’” (Drush Shmuel)
וישלח אברהם את ידו ויקח את המאכלת לשחט את בנו
“And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” (22:10)
QUESTION: This is the assigned Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashana. Possibly, it is because the shofar we blow on Rosh Hashana commemorates the horn of the ram which was brought as an offering in lieu of Yitzchak. Consequently, we ask Hashem to do good for the Jewish people in merit of our Patriarch Yitzchak. If this is so, why do we not lift a big knife to portray Yitzchak’s willingness to be an offering to Hashem?
ANSWER: With the knife, Avraham would have, G-d forbid, brought the life of Yitzchak to an end. Thanks to the ram, which suddenly appeared, Yitzchak’s life was spared. Thus, the shofar, expresses life, and the knife the opposite.
We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana and do not display a knife because we emphasize living as a Jew, and not, G-d forbid, dying as a Jew. The wicked prophet Bilam expressed the wish “Tamot nafshi mot yesharim” – “Let me die the death of the righteous” (Bamidbar 23:10). Contrary to Bilam’s philosophy, Torah requires that the 120 years allotted to the individual should be lived in accordance with Jewish tradition. (Vedebarta Bam)
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