The Torah Portion of Vayeira
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
"...in the plains of Mamre..." (Bereisheet 18:1)
The Sages say that Avraham asked Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre about Brit Mila (Circumcision). Aner said to him that circumcision was difficult for him because he was old. The Hebrew letters of the name Aner (Ayin, Nun, Reish) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase "Inui Nefesh Ra", which in English means that "Causing the soul to suffer is bad". Eshkol said to him, after you killed the four kings you have many enemies, and if so, it's possible that circumcision will instigate new hatred against you. The Hebrew letters of the name Eshkol (Aleph, Shin, Kaf, Lamed) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase "Avraham Sonim Kabirim Lecha", which in English means "Avraham, you have powerful enemies". And Mamre told him to circumcise. The Hebrew letters of the name Mamre (Mem, Mem, Reish, Aleph) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase, "Maheir Malei Rotzon Avicha ", which in English means, "Quickly fulfill the will of your Father". The Rebbe told to his students that in Yiddish, the letters of the name Mamre are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the phrase "Mimuz Malen Reb Avraham", which in English means "You must circumcize, Mr. Avraham".
"...Mamre..." (Bereisheet 18:1)
The letters of the name Mamre (Mem, Mem, Reish, Aleph) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the difficult events which had happened to Avraham Avinu. Mem stands for "Mitzrayim" (in English: Egypt), where Pharoah took Sarah. Another Mem stands for "Malachim" (in English: Kings); this refers to the war with the four kings. "Reish" stands for "Ra'av" (in English: famine), referring to the fact that there had been a famine in the Land of Israel. "Aleph" stands for "Aish (in English: fire); referring to the incident in which Avraham was cast into a burning furnace in Ur Kasdim. And this is what "Mamre" was hinting to Avraham, that after the Holy One Blessed Be He saved you from all of those difficult straits, it's appropriate that you should fulfill his will and circumcise yourself.
"...and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day." (Bereisheet 18:1)
The Sages say that Avraham sits next to the opening of Gehinom and doesn't allow anyone to enter that is circumcized, and that is what is hinted at in the verse by "sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day". The "heat of the day" is referring to Gehinom which burns like fire.
"...and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent..." (Bereisheet 18:2)
Why did he already start running from the entrance of the tent? The explanation is that according to the Halacha, someone who is going to do a Mitzvah needs to run, and someone who is returning from doing a Mitzvah needs to walk slowly. And if he returns from doing one Mitzvah and is going to do a different Mitzvah, if the two Mitzvot are of equal value, then the first half of the way he needs to walk slowly and afterwards he needs to hurry. But if the second Mitzvah is greater and more important, then he needs to hurry from the start. Therefore, since the Mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim (hospitality -- receiving guests) is greater and more important than receiving the face of the Shechina (the Divine Presence), he needed to run already as soon as he started going to do the Mitzvah, and that was "from the entrance of the tent".
"...please do not pass by from before your servant." (Bereisheet 18:3)
It is written "please", and this is a word indicating a request, because Avraham implored them and requested them to come to his house. From this we see what it means to love Chesed (in English: kindness) and to pursue Tzedakah (in English: charity or righteousness) and Chesed.
"Let a little bit water be brought, please..." (Bereisheet 18:4)
Why did he request only a little bit? The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that it's forbidden to be a Tzaddik (Righteous Man) at someone else's expense, and since he was requesting that the water be brought by a Shaliach (someone else who was acting as his agent), he only requested a little bit.
"Let a little bit of water be brought, please...And Avraham ran to the cattle" (Bereisheet 18:4-7)
The Sages say that regarding what Avraham did for the angels directly by himself and not by means of a Shaliach (someone else who was acting as his agent), also Hashem paid for it (by giving something similar) to his descendants afterwards in the desert directly by himself and not be means of a Shaliach -- and that was the Mannah and the Quails. And what that Avraham gave by means of a Shaliach, Hashem gave to the children of Israel by means of a Shaliach -- and that was the water which was by means of Moshe who hit the rock in Chorev. And there are those that ask, behold, wasn't Avraham 99 years old and certainly this wasn't the only time that he gave food and drink to guests? And if so, why is it only because of this occasion of receiving guests that his descendants merited this, since all his days he occupied himself with the Mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim (receiving guests)? And the explanation is that to give food and drink to the people of Israel in the desert is beyond the ways of nature, and therefore only the merit of Avraham at the time of his old age and in the days of his sickness on the third day after his circumcision, when he not only gave them food, but ran after them and exerted himself to fulfill all their needs in the best way possible (which was going beyond the ways of nature), only this merit was what stood by the children of Israel in the desert so that they could also receive their food in a way that was beyond the ways of nature. (Based on Be'er Yosef)
"Let a little bit of water be brought, please...And Avraham ran to the cattle" (Bereisheet 18:4-7)
The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) would explain the lesson that we need to learn from this, that the smallest act has an effect for generations on one's descendants afterwards. And we see this from the story of the Hachnassat Orchim (receiving guests) of Avraham Avinu o"h. Because he brought the water by means of a Shaliach (an agent acting on his behalf), therefore the children of Israel needed to receive water by means of a Shaliach, and because of this it came about that Moshe hit the rock at the end of 40 years, and from that it was decreed that he would not enter the Land of Israel. And if Moshe had entered the Land of Israel, it is brought by the Sages that the Bait HaMikdash (Temple) would not have been destroyed and we would not have been exiled from the Land of Israel.
"...Shall I hide from Avraham that which I am doing...For I have known him, because he commands his children and his household after him" (Bereisheet 18:17-19)
Hashem revealed to Avraham that he wanted to overthrow Sodom, and we need to understand the connection between Hashem's need to notify Avraham about the destruction of Sodom and Hashem's knowledge that Avraham "commands his children". Those who explain the Torah say that this can be understood by means of a parable. When an old man enters a store to buy himself a garment, he tries on a lot of clothes until he finds a garment that fits him. In contrast, a father of a large family doesn't check the size of the clothes, but rather takes everything that looks suitable because in any event he won't lose out. If a garment doesn't fit one of his bigger children it will fit one of his smaller children. Similarly, when the Holy One Blessed Be He wanted to overthrow Sodom, he wanted Avraham to pray for them. And even though the prayers would not be effective for the men of Sodom, who were very evil, and those people would be removed from the world, in any event the prayers of Avraham Avinu would not be wasted. They would be a merit for his children and for the generations after him, and that is the explanation of "he commands his children and his household after him".
"For I have known him..." (Bereisheet 18:19)
Avraham passed many tests, and despite all that, the Holy One Blessed Be He said "For I have known him...", meaning that "I love him because he educates his son in accord with the way of the Torah". From here we see a proof that this is worth more than all the tests that Avraham Avinu passed. (from HaRav Sh. Taplinski ztsvk"l)
"And I am dust and ashes" (Bereisheet 18:27)
Dust has a certain amount of importance in terms of the future, because plants can be grown on it. Ashes have a certain amount of importance in terms of the past, because (prior to being burnt) they used to be a utensil, vessel, tool or some other useful object. Avraham said about himself, that he doesn't have any importance, not from the point of view of the past and not from the point of view of the future. And therefore, Avraham merited that the generations to come after him would have the Mitvah of the Dust of the Sotah (suspected adulteress), which has the purpose of clarifying about the past, and the Mitzvah of the Ashes of the Parah (cow), which is used to purify people in the future.
A Story about Rav Shlomo Kluger related to this week's Torah Portion
It is told that when the Rav Shlomo Kluger was appointed to be the Rav of the city of Brod, they honored him with being the Sandak at a Brit Mila, and he saw that they were waiting and he didn't know why. He asked them, for whom are we still waiting? They told him that the father of the young baby who is being circumcised is dangerously ill and is going to die, and therefore we are waiting so that we can call the boy by the name of his father after he dies. Rav Shlomo Kluger commanded them to perform the Brit immediately and not to wait, and behold, immediately after that the father was healed entirely, and the people were wondering about this miracle. And Rav Shlomo Kluger said to them that this wasn't a wondrous event, but that it was something which he derived from the Torah Portion of Vayeira. In this week's Torah Portion, three angels came and amongst those three angels, there was one angel that came both to heal Avraham and also to save Lot, since healing and saving are one thing. And the question is, are there angels lacking in Heaven so that there shouldn't be two angels coming, one to heal Avraham and one to save Lot? But the explanation is, that Lot didn't have sufficient merits so that a special angel would come to save him, but since an angel already came in order to heal Avraham he was also able to save Lot. Also here the same concept applies . The father of the young baby who was being circumcised didn't have enough merits so that a special angel would come to heal him, but since the angel of the Brit was already coming for the purpose of the Brit, I prayed that the angel of the Brit would also heal the father as well.
"And Hashem remembered Sarah..." (Bereisheet 21:1)
Rashi says that someone who prays for his friend, and he needs the same thing (for which he is praying on behalf of his friend), the one who is praying is answered first (i.e., his needs are fulfilled before his friend's needs are fulfilled). It is told that someone came to complain before a particular Tzaddik (Righteous Man), that his friend had opened a store next to his own store and was selling the same type of merchandise. The Tzaddik answered him, pray that customers will come to your friend and in any event, you too will be blessed because of your prayer.
"On the third day...And he said, here are the fire and the wood, and where is the sheep for the offering?" (Bereisheet 22:4-7)
One time while the Gaon HaRav Avramski ztzk"l was speaking in learning with his student the Gaon HaRav M.M. Schezingler ztz"l, he said to him, you should know that if you are asking a question of someone and it is your will to receive his answer, you need to consider carefully if there isn't someone present in the place whose presence is likely to prevent him from answering. And I learned this matter from Yitzchak Avinu. For it presents a difficulty that Yitzchak asked "where is the sheep for the offering?" on the third day and not the first day. But the truth is that Yitzchak already wanted to ask Avraham that on the first day, but he thought in his heart that the presence of the young men, Eliezer and Yishmael, might disturb Avraham from answering. And therefore on the third day after Avraham told the young men "Stay here by yourselves with the donkey" (Bereisheet 22:4) and Avraham and Yitzchak were walking by themselves, only then did Yitzchak ask Avraham his father "here are the fire and the wood, and where is the sheep for the offering?" (from Mishmar HaLevi Al HaTorah)
"And an angel of Hashem called to him from the Heavens..." (Bereisheet 22:11)
The Meforshim (those who write commentaries on the Torah) ask, why was the command about the Akeida (the binding of Yitzchak), given directly by the Holy One Blessed Be He, as it is written: "...please take your son..." (Bereisheet 22:2), but to remove Yitzchak from the sacrificial altar it was sufficient for this to be a commandment given indirectly, by means of an angel serving as a messenger? And the explanation is, that to slaughter a Jew, only the Holy One Blessed Be He can command that, but to save a Jew, also an angel is able do it.
"...in the thicket by its horns..." (Bereisheet 22:13)
Rashi says that it (the ram) was running towards Avraham and the Satan entangled it and confused it among the trees in order to hold it back. And the Gaon HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach ztzvk"l asked, what was in the mind of the Satan? Isn't it obvious that if Avraham goes to bind his son at the Akeida, and throws himself into the burning furnace, Kal V'Chomer (in English: "all the moreso") some small thing like this won't hold him back (from doing a Mitzvah)? And Rav Shach's answer is that by the Satan, there are no calculations and no logical reasoning such as Kal V'Chomer ("all the moreso"). He tries all the possibilities to prevent a Mitzvah, whether it's a small thing or a big thing. And he added that, with regards to the snake (in the Garden of Eden) who is the Satan, it's written "...and you will bruise his heel" (Bereisheet 3:15), that he will cause a person to stumble also in a small matter.
The Reward for a Mitzvah
The Sages say that there is no reward for a Mitzvah in this world. The Gr"a says, regarding the reward for the Mitzvah itself there is no reward in this world, but for the Tircha (in English: "bother") that a person puts in at the time that he performs the Mitzvah, he does receive a reward also in this world. Avraham Avinu went to the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak) for three days. The first two days are the Tircha ("bother") associated with that Mitzvah, but the third day was the day of the Mitzvah itself, and the reward for that is only in the World to Come. And this is what is hinted at by the verse (Hoshea 6:2): "He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up, and we will live before Him." The fact that we are surviving is because of the Tircha ("bother") of the Mitzvah of the Akeida on the first two days, but the reward from the third day of the Akeida will only be in the future to come.
The Torah Portion of Vayeira has 147 verses. Haftora: "Va'isha Achat Min'shei V'nei HaN'vi'im" (Melachim 2 4).We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772