Vayeira 5773 – Gilayon #772
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said to abraham his father, "father!"
And he said, "here i am, my son."
And he said, "here is
the fire and the wood
But where is the sheep for the offering?"
And they build
the shrines of Baal which are in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, where they offered
up their sons and daughters to Molech – when I had
never commanded, or even thought [of commanding], that they should do such an
abominable thing. (Yirmiyahu 32:35}
had never commanded, or even though [of commanding]" – , "I had never
commanded" – this is in reference to Mesha, King of Moab, as is
written "And he took his firstborn son who was to have reigned after him,
and offered him up for an offering"; "and never spoke"–
this is in reference to Yiftach; "or even thought [of commanding]"
– this is in reference to Yitzchak son of Avraham.
And he said
here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep
for the offering". And Avraham said: The Lord
will show us the sheep for the offering, my son." The ancients already
clarified why the akeida [the binding] is attributed to Avraham and not
to Yitzchak. It seems that the following interpretation may be offered.
Actually both Avraham and Yitzchak knew that the Holy One had no intention of slaughtering him. Avraham, whose defining
quality was that of loving kindness went secure in the
knowledge that both would return, as is written, "and we will worship and
we will return to you". Despite this, they went with the intent of
self-sacrifice as if actual slaughter was intended. And this is the meaning of "They
saw the place from afar" meaning: 'The place' hints that he
foresaw that Yaakov –of whom it is written "he came upon a certain place"
would descend from him, even so he distanced the thought because he
was going with full heart, as mentioned above. And that which Yitzchak said "Here
is the fire and the wood" this means to say that after your preparations
and your intent were done so perfectly as suits your nature, "Where is the
sheep for the offering?" – meaning, where is the sheep which should also
have been prepared?
(Rabbi Elimelech of
Lizhensk: Sefer Noam Elimelech – Parashat
questions which the Bible asks its readers, and they return with each reading.
The questions remain in their place, but the answers occasionally change. In
our parasha, Sarah reacts with laughter to the news – or the wish – that she
will give birth to a son:
Sarah laughed inwardly, saying, "After beign
shriveled, shall I have pleasure, and my husband is old?"
A fierce confrontation
develops between Sarah and the angel or God [depending on the various
the Lord said to Abraham, "Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, 'Shall I
really give birth, old as I am?' 14 Is anything beyond the Lord? In due
time I shall return to you, at thisvery season, and
Sarah shall have a son. And Sarah dissembled, saying, "I did not laugh,"
for she was afraid. And He said, "Yes, you did laugh".
received is that God, who uncovers our deepest secrets, discovered her laughter
and considered it flawed. But in the preceding chapter, Abraham reacts similarly,
and God does not criticize his laughter:
Abraham flung himself on his face and he laughed, saying to himself, "To a
hundred-year-old a child will be born, will ninety-year-old Sarah give birth?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "Would
that Ishmael might live in Your favor!" 19 And
God said, "Yet Sarah your wife is to bear you a son and you shall call his
name Isaac and I will establish My covenant with him as
an everlasting covenant, for his seed after him".
God could have
said to Abraham: "Why did you laugh?! Is anything beyond Me?! Abraham spoke his words inwardly, just as Sara laughed
inwardly, why the different reaction?
commentators who drew a sharp contrast between Sarah's laughter and that of
Abraham. Abraham rejoiced, writes Rashi, whereas Sarah ridiculed. This
difference explains why the reaction to Abraham's laughter is positive, whereas
the reaction to Sarah is negative. Others explain that Abraham pointed out that
both he and Sarah both were too old to bear children; Sarah ridicules the
absurd suggestion, blaming Abraham's old age, not mentioning her own. This is
an ethical flaw which demands a different response.
I study the
passages, and discern a different picture. Abraham laughs and speaks inwardly.
Laughter is open, bursting forth, free. The words in his heart explain to
himself his laughter, giving meaning to the emotion. Sarah laughs inwardly
saying – her laughter is a hidden laughter, concealed, unaccompanied by words.
The narrator attaches words to her laughter and explains them. Reacting to her
laughter, God carries on two conversations. One, with Abraham, is a theological
discussion; "Why is Sarah laughing? Is anything beyond the Lord?"
Such a discussion could have also been held following Abraham's laughter, and
it indeed took place: Abraham said "Would that Ishmael might live in Your favor" and God answers "But Sarah your wife
will bear you a son". The content is identical, but here, at a certain distance, the discussion is more abstract and deals with God's
with Sarah is different. Sarah – who, it seems, overheard the conversation with
Abraham – denies, out of fear, her laughter, and God says to her: "No, you
laughed." This is the conversation. How to understand it? One possibility
is to explain the talk with Sarah also against a theological background. Sara recoils
from God's question to Abraham – Is anything beyond . . . – and she says: "I
did not laugh, I do not think there is anything beyond
the Lord". She rejects any element of absurdity in late birth. God reacts
to this – You laughed and Abraham laughed, and it's really funny, but there is
nothing God cannot do, including things funny and absurd.
possibility is to explain the conversation with Sarah on a human-existential
level. Sarah laughed inwardly, trying to hide the laughter because "it's
not nice." It's embarrassing to laugh at another's words, be it man, angel
or God. Now she attempts to continue covering up her laughter by denying that
she ever laughed. His reaction – "You laughed." This can be read in
an insulted and angry tone – you laughed and insulted me. But it can be read
with different music: "You laughed – and it's O.K. I like honest reactions
to my words, if they're funny, then people can laugh, if they're sad, people
can cry, and if they are infuriating, people can be angry. I loved Abraham's
reaction because he laughed at me aloud, and that is pleasant and delightful
and freeing. Sarah, get out of your tent, from the inner tent you constructed
in which you hide your feelings. Live yourself, react,
laugh, cry, speak. It's the best way – we can speak and we can be."
Meir is an educator, facilitator for Bet Midrash
study groups. Holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy.
His book "Shenayim Yachdav:- Pilosophia Datit-Chilonit"
["Two Together: Religious-Secular Philosophy] was published a few
months ago by Magnes Press.
God was seen by him"
This is intellectual perception,
in no way physical vision.
(Guide for the Perplexed, Book I, Chap. 4)
lifted up his eyes and saw: here, three men…" – The responsibility
of protection and escort is more important than concern for physical needs and
reception of the Holy Presence
for escort is greater than everything and it is a law enacted
by our father Avraham and the way of hessed which practiced;
he would feed passers-by and give them drink, and accompany them. Greater is
the bringing in of passers-by than reception of the Shekhina, for it is written
"And he saw, here, three men" and his escorting them more
than he received them. Said our Sages: Whoever does not
escort is as one who sheds blood.
(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, "Laws of Mourning"
hands did not shed this blood" – Did it really occur
to anyone that the elders of the Bet Din are murderers?! But [the meaning of
this is that] we did not see him, and we sent him off without food and without
escort. And the priests say "Atone for your people
(Rashi, Devarim 21:7, based on a
The Akeida of Yitzhak: The Humane View
place him upon the altar": Avraham's eyes are fastened upon
Yitzhak's eyes, and Yitzhak's eyes upon the highest of Heavens, and
tears dropped from Avraham's eyes, his stature covered with tears. He said to
him: My son, since you have already begun to shed a fourth of your blood, your
creator will provide another offering in your stead. At that moment, his mouth
opened in sobbing and great moaning, and his eyes looked about for the Shechina and
he raised his voice and said, "I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence
will come my help? My help is from the Lord creator…" The
ministering angels stood in ranks in the firmament, saying one to the other:
See how the only one slaughters and the only one is slaughtered! They said: Who
will sing before You "This is my Lord – I
honor him"? What will become of the vow "So will
be your seed"? Immediately: "Do not stretch out
your hand against the lad."
(Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit, Chap. 22:101)
The Thin Line between Idolatry
and Service of God
deep addiction to idolatry, which was, for primitive man, the
be-all and end-all, even to the point of triumph over parental
compassion, making cruelty towards sons and daughters a permanent feature
of worshipping the Moloch, is a misty consequence of the
recognition hidden in man's heart, that the divine is the dearest of all
matters, and everything beloved pleasant thing is nothing compared to
(Igrot haR"iyah, R' Kook, Vol. II, p.
intention of this command had been that he slaughter his son and burn him up,
it would have said ve'ha'aleihu sham olah [and
offer him up their as a burnt offering] as Yiftah had spoken ve'ha'alitihu olah [and
I shall offer it up as a burnt offering] (Judges 11:38), for it was his intention to slaughter whatever left the
entrance to his home… these [Yiftah and Mesha King
of Moav] are the only two instances of the expression offering up
a burnt offering that we find referring to human beings. In both cases
the verb alah [raise up] is connected with its object without
a prepositional prefix…in the case of animal sacrifices, we often find the
verb alah connected with the letter lamed appearing
as a prepositional prefix (e.g., habakar le'olah – cattle
for a burnt offering, etc.) This is because there is no mistaking the fact that
an animal is only brought up on the altar in order for it to be burned.
However, it is possible that a human being is brought up to a high place for
some other purpose, as we shall explain. Thus, the phrase ve'ha'aleihu sham le'olah may
be understood in two different ways:
first is that he actually slaughter his son
to make of him a burnt offering. The second, that he bring him
up the mountain for the sake of the burnt offering that Abraham will make
there. That is to say, Abraham will take his son Isaac with him so that he can
attend the sacrifice and learn how to perform offerings honoring God. That is
what the letter lamed is used for in connection with
sacrifices, as in and he sanctified Yishai and his sons and
called them to sacrifice [la'zevah] (I Samuel 16:5)… so too here, the word le'olah –
for the sake of the burnt offering that you will make there in Isaac's presence
in order to teach him about how it is done.
blessed Lord did not command him to sacrifice his son, God forbid, since such a
sacrifice would be a great abomination in the Lord's eyes, for He is
compassionate and merciful and hates acts of cruelty, as the Torah
states: You shall not act thus toward the Lord your God, for they
performed for their gods every abhorrent act that the Lord detests; they even
offer up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods (Devarim 12:31), and as the prophet cried out: and they built high
places…to burn up their sons and their daughters in fire, which I
did not command and which did not enter my mind(Jeremiah 7:31). The Sage said: which I did not command –
to Abraham. However, in His wisdom He saw fit to hide the intention of the
command in ambiguous language in order to impose a great trial upon Abraham.
That is, since Abraham knew the Lord and His ways and loved the Lord fiercely,
and because of this he wanted to imitate Him in His ways of kindness,
forgivingness, and mercifulness, since he knew that these ways were beloved of
the Lord, but at the same time he despised the abominations of his father's
house, since they would attribute all kinds of wicked and cruel deeds to them,
and now he was suddenly commanded – as he understood it – to slaughter his son,
how could he not be shocked to hear this from the mouth of the merciful Father!
His heart would not allow him to perform such an act of cruelty, an act
contrary to nature and reason, without questioning the Lord's ways. However,
our father Abraham did not only love the Lord very much – he also greatly
feared the Lord. One who has fixed this quality in his heart will not set his
thoughts free to investigate with his mind and understanding things which are
mysteries to him. Rather, he drapes the veil of modesty upon his soul, and will
not think about them, even if they contradict his own judgment…These things are
deep and broad and this is not the place to deal with them at length. Rather,
just to say that the purpose of the trial was to actualize the fear of the Lord
that dwelled in his soul in its potentiality. Abraham, in his greatness, stood
this test and perfected that virtue, as Scripture testifies; Now I know that you are one who fears
(Rabbi Y. Sh. Reggio Bereishit 22, 2)
The way of
Avraham, which is the way of the Lord, is the "golden mean".
How should one regulate oneself with these temperaments
so that one is directed by them? One should do, change one and change one's
actions which one does according to the intermediate temperaments and always go
back over them, until such actions are easy for one to do and will not be
troublesome for one, and until such temperaments are fixed in one's soul. This
way is known as the way of the Lord, for the reasons that the Creator has been
called by them and that they are the intermediate characteristics which we are
obligated to adopt. This is what Abraham taught his sons, as it is
written, For I know him, that he will
command his children, et cetera. One who goes in this way will bring upon
himself good and blessings, as it is written, …that the Lord may
bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him.
(RaMBaM, Hilkhot Deot 1:7, Immanuel O'Levy
you kill a nation, though it be innocent?
kill me, then you must kill Avraham the Tzaddik,
because he sinned and caused me to sin.
"The Judge of All the Earth – Will He Not
Do What Is Just?"
of the chataf-patach beneath the
letter heh [ha–shofet = the judge] makes the sentence a rhetorical
question: Is it possible that one who is a judge, will
not provide true justice?!
is a world that you desire, then
there can be no justice. If it is justice that you
desire, there can be no world. You want to hold the rope at both
ends, you want a world and you want justice. Unless
you are willing to concede a bit, the world will not be able to exist.
became a pillar of salt" –
or the Earth?
behind him" – Said Rabbi Yizhak: She sinned using salt; on the night that the messengers came to
said to them: Give me salt, for we have guests. Her intention was that the townfolk should be aware of them, therefore "she
became a pillar of salt".
(Bereishit Rabba, Parasha
"She [it] became
a pillar of salt" – Wrote the sage, Rabbi Avraham Ibn
Ezra: "It became" – the earth. Our
sages said: "She became" – his wife.
(Rabbi Behaye, Bereishit
she became a pillar of salt" – She sinned using salt, as Rashi
explained. Therefore, when she disobeyed the messengers' command, she was
stricken along with
Another explanation: "Now his wife gazed behind him and all the
earth became a pillar of salt" for [it is written] "By
brimstone and salt, is all its land burnt… like the overturning of
Our Rabbis taught: If one sees
the place of the crossing of the Reed Sea, or the fords of the Jordan, or the
fords of the streams of Arnon, or hail stones in the descent of Beth Horon, or
the stone which Og king of Bahsan wanted to throw at Israel, or the stone on
which Moshe sat when Joshua fought with AMalek, or [the pillar of salt of] Lot's
wife, or the wall of Jericho which sank into the ground, for all of these he
should give thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty.
It is known that
stingy, even refusing to give salt to the guests. Our Sages gave this
explanation, and therefore the Tanna placed the event of Lot's wife who had
become a pillar of salt because of stinginess in juxtaposition to the stone on
which our teacher Moshe sat, for this represents generosity and thus triumphed
over the stinginess, and after that [the Mishna] mentioned the wall of Jericho
for it was chronologically the last.
Yehoyada, Berachot 54a)
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