Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lech Lecha 5777

The Torah Portion of Lech Lecha 

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

"...Go for yourself..." (Bereisheet 12:1)

Rashi says, "for your pleasure and for your benefit".  It is told about the Tzaddik (Righteous Man) Ba'al HaMaor Ainayim that he was very involved in performing the Mitzvah of Pidyon Sh'vuyim (redeeming captives).  One time the Ba'al HaMaor Ainayim himself was a captive for a short time period, and it was revealed to him from Heaven that Hashem wanted him to experience for himself how it felt to be in captivity, so that he would know the greatness of the Mitzvah that he was involved in.  Also with regards to Avraham, Hashem told him "Go for yourself, for your pleasure", so that when you will feel the suffering entailed by those who are traveling and the pleasure that they feel when they find a place to stay, you will know the greatness of the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality -- receiving guests) that you perform.

"...Go for yourself from your land..." (Bereisheet 12:1)

The Gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew words "Lech Lecha" (in English: "Go fo yourself") is 100.  This is a hint to what Rashi says, "for your pleasure and for your benefit", since here you will not merit to have children and after 100 years there will be born to you a son.  [Translator's note: the son being hinted at is Yitzchak, who was born when Avraham was 100 years old.]

"...from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house..." (Bereisheet 12:1)

It appears that is should have said this in a different order - first of all "from your father's house" and afterwards "from your birthplace" and finally after that, "from your land" (since physically a person traveling to a different country first leaves his father's house, then travels away from the local area, and finally departs from the country).  But when a person leaves a place, first he forgets the country, and so it says first "from your land", after that the local area, and that is "from your birthplace", and after that his family, and that is "from your father's house" (so the order in which this phrase is written is referring not to the order in which Avraham would physically leave the place from which he originated, but rather the cognitive and emotional process of detachment from his past origins).

"...from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house..." (Bereisheet 12:1)

There is a hint here to that which is written in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot 3:1): "Look at three things and you will not come into the hands of a sin -- know from where you came, to where you are going, and before Whom you are to give a judgment and an accounting in the future." "From your land"-- this is referring to the dust of the earth, and this is "to where you are going".  "From your birthplace" -- this is referring to the origin of your birth, and this is "from where you came".   "And from your father's house" -- this is referring to our Father in Heaven, and  in the future you will give before Him a judgment and an accounting.

"And I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great..." (Bereisheet 12:2)

Rashi explains: "And I will make of you a great nation" is a reference to that which we say in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, "Elokei Avraham"; "I will bless you" is a reference to that which we say in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer,  "Elokei of Yitzchak"; "and I will make your name great" is a reference to that which we say in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, "V'Elokei Yaakov".  Why don't we say "V'elokei Yisrael" instead of "V'elokei Yaakov"?  This is because in the entire phrase, "...Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, V'elokei Yaakov..."  (in English: "G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak, and G-d of Yaakov") there are 26 letters, and 26 is the Gematria (Numerical Value) of the Name of Hashem.  And if we were to say "Yisrael" instead of "Yaakov" there would be 27 letters.  And behold, it's possible to say "Elokei Yisrael" instead of "V'elokei Yisrael", and leave off the letter "Vuv" (which is a prefix added onto a Hebrew word which means "and"), in which case there would be 26 letters but the rules of grammar would be violated.  And that is hinted at by what we read in the first verse of the  Haftorah: "Why do you say, Yaakov, and declare, Yisrael, my way is hidden from Hashem, and from Elokai my rule has been passed over?" (Yeshayahu 40:27).  That is to say, ""Why do you say, Yaakov, and declare, Yisrael" - if instead of saying Yaakov you will say Yisrael, "my way is hidden from Hashem" - because if we say Yisrael then the hint to Hashem's name will be hidden,  "and from Elokai my rule has been passed over" - if you remove the "Vuv" which is a prefix to Hebrew words indicating "and", then behold that's a violation of the rules of grammar.

"..and you will be a blessing."  (Bereisheet 12:2)

Rashi says "with you they conclude", meaning that the first blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer ends with the words "Magen Avraham" (in English: "Shield of Avraham"), that is, we end the blessing with the name of Avraham and not with the name of Yitzchak or Yaakov.  And it is possible to explain this in another way, as follows: Avraham is the quality of Chesed (in English: kindness), as it is said "kindness to Avraham" (Micah 7:20).  Yitzchak is Avodah (in English: service), for we see that he offered himself as a sacrifice.  Yaakov is Torah as it is written about him "sitting in tents" (Bereisheet 25:27).  And behold, it is written that "Tzion will be redeemed through justice and her penitent through Tzedakah (in English: charity)" (Yeshayah 1:27), meaning that before the coming of Mashiach there will be a lot of Chesed (kindness).  And that is the explanation of Rashi's words "with you they conclude", the exile will be concluded with Avraham, that is, with the quality of Chesed (Kindness).

"And Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him..."  (Bereisheet 12:4)

Avraham went because of the command of Hashem and not for his own enjoyment and benefit.

"...and the souls that they made in Charan..."  (Bereisheet 12:5)

It is told in the Midrash, that one time Avraham Avinu hosted a guest who was an elderly 90 year old man.  After the man finished eating and drinking, Avraham told him to cast off his idol worship, and he spoke with him for 6 hours in order to convince him and bring him close to Hashem.  In the end the man took out his idol from his pocket and kissed it.  Avraham said to him, "I gave you food and drink and spoke to you for 6 hours on this topic, and you still stuck to your opinion (to continue worshipping idols)",  and he sent him away from his house.  When the man left, the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Avraham, "I kept him alive for 90 years, because maybe he would do Teshuva (repent), and you, after only 6 hours, gave up on him".  Immediately, Avraham went to look for the man, and begged him not to go now during the night when there are dangers on the road and dangerous animals, saying "Come back to me and I will give you a place to stay the night".  And that is what the man did, and the next day Avraham again spoke to his heart for many hours until the man repented.  From here we learn that one should never give up on any student, and even though he doesn't succeed in the beginning, he should  return and try again and with the help of Hashem he will succeed, and he will see blessing and Nachat (satisfaction) from every single student.

"And it occurred, as he was about to come to Mitzrayim, he said to his wife Sarai, 'Behold, now have I known that you are a woman of fair appearance'."  (Bereisheet 12:11)

The Ramban writes that Avraham Avinu inadvertently sinned a great sin when he brought his wife to the possibility of stumbling in a sin when he was afraid that they would kill him, and he should have trusted in Hashem to save him and his wife and everything that he had, for Elokim has the power to help and to save.  Furthermore, his leaving the Land of Israel because of the famine, after he had previously been commanded to enter it, was also a transgression in which he sinned.  For also in a famine, Elokim can save one from death.  And because of this event, it was decreed upon his descendents exile in the land of Mitzrayim at the hand of Pharoah.  In the place of judgment, there is the evil and the sin (see Kohelet 3:16). Maran HaGaon Rav Eleazar Menachem Man Shach ztz"l asks, from where does the Ramban know this, since we don't find it written in the Gemara or Midrash?  And he explains that it is is written, "The secret of Hashem is to those who fear Him" (Tehillim 25:14).  The Holy One Blessed Be He reveals secrets to those who fear Him.

"And he proceeded on his journeys..." (Bereisheet 13:3)

Rashi says that on his return, he repaid his debts.  When he went to Mitzrayim, he borrowed from the lodging places that he rested at, because he didn't have money.  And upon returning, since he had become wealthy, he repaid his debts.  And there is an additional explanation, that the non-Jews asked him provocative questions: "You who are so attached to Hashem and rely upon Him, how is it that you are a poor person and Hashem doesn't help you?"  And he answered them, "You will yet see that there will come a time that I will be very rich".  And that is the explanation that on his return he repaid his debts, that is to say, that he was required to give them an answer to their questions, and he showed them that Hashem helped him.

"On his return he repaid his debts."  (Rashi on Bereisheet 13:3)

When a man learns something the first time, he has questions and doesn't understand.  But when he returns (i.e., reviews), it becomes more clear to him, and that is what is hinted about "on his return..."  When one reviews  another time, he repays his debts -- he finds an answer to his questions.

"And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock..."  (Bereisheet 13:7)

In the beginning the word used to refer to their arguing was "Reev"   (in English: "quarreling"), which is a masculine word, and afterwards the word used was "M'reeva" (in English: "strife"), which is a feminine word.  For the way of quarreling is that it begins with a small matter, like a male which doesn't give birth, and afterwards it is like a female, which does give birth, for the quarreling and divisiveness spread out.  And this is a Mussar (Ethical) teaching, that one should not start a quarrel at all, because it is impossible to know what it will give birth to afterwards. 

"And the fugitive came..."  (Bereisheet 14:13)

Rashi says that this is Og, who escaped from the Flood, and his intention was that Avraham would be killed in the war and that he would marry Sarah.  And in the Torah Portion of Chukat it's written that Moshe made war against Og and he was afraid of Og's merits (for having told Avraham about Lot's captivity -- even though his intentions were not good).  All the moreso when a Jew does  Mitvot and he has good intentions, certainly he receives a great merit.

Avraham risked his life to save Lot

The reason is that they were very similar in appearance, and in order prevent people from saying that Avraham was in captivity, he risked his life to rescue Lot so that there wouldn't be a Chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem's name).  Also, there are those that say that Avraham knew that from Lot would come out Amon and Moav, and from those nations would come out Ruth and Naama and all of the kings of the house of David, and because of that he risked his life for him.

"...I have lifted up my hand..that (I will not take) from a thread even to a shoe lace..." (Bereisheet 14:22-23)

Avraham did not want to take from the King of Sodom any payment or compensation, and it has been asked, why from Pharoah he did take gifts?  And the explanation is that he wanted to hint to the King of Sodom that in the war (of the four kings versus the five kings) there was not any act based on the strength and power of his hand, but rather everything was by miraculous means from Hashem may He be blessed, and therefore he isn't entitled to any payment of a reward. 

"...from a thread even to a shoe lace..."  (Bereisheet 14:23)

Avraham didn't want to benefit from the King of Sodom at all.  The Sages say that in the merit of "a thread", he merited Tzitzit (the fringes on the Tallit prayer shawl) and in the merit of "a shoe lace" he merited Tefillin (in English: phylacteries).  The Chatam Sofer says that it is written in the Halacha that one needs to put on the right shoe first, but when it comes to tying, one ties the shoe on the left foot before the right.  The reason for this is that shoes need to be tied, and the tying of the shoe hints at the Tefillin which we tie on the left and not the right.  And this is hinted at by what Avraham said "even to a shoe lace", which hints at the Tefillin, for also the tying of the shoe needs to be similar to the tying of Tefillin which is on the left.

"And he took him outside ... 'Gaze, now, toward the Heavens, and count the stars..' And He said to him  'So shall your offspring be."  (Bereisheet 15:5)

He hinted to him that just as the stars, although they appear very small, in truth they are larger in size by several orders of magnitude than the size of the earth; similarly Israel, even though in comparison to the other nations they appear small, in truth they are very great and important.

"And the angel of Hashem said to her, 'Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to suffer under her hand'."  (Bereisheet 16:9)

Why does the verse add "under her hand"?  Behold, it is sufficient for the verse to say "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to suffer".   But rather, the intention of what the angel said to her, is that if it is decreed upon  a person to undergo suffering, nothing can help him and no matter where he flees to he will still undergo the suffering.  And that is why the angel said to Hagar, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to suffer under her hand".  It is worthwhile and preferable for you to suffer under the hand of Sarah rather than suffering someplace else.

"On that very day was Avraham circumcised, and Yishmael his son."  (Bereisheet 17:26)

Rashi wrote that "on that very day" means that on the day when 99 years were filled for Avraham and 13 years were filled for Yishmael, they were circumcised.  The Ramban explains that "on that very day" that he was commanded in this Mitzvah, he and all those who were born in his house, 318 men and all those purchased of his money, were circumcised.  And the verse comes to tell us the great level of Avraham's fear of Hashem, and the level of all the members of his household, for all of them were alacritous to fulfill Mitzvot without delay.

The Torah Portion of Lech Lecha has 126 verses. One positive commandment.Haftora: "Lama Tomar Ya'akov" (Yeshayahu 40).

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

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