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Why we need the angels to come back Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2023

In Parshat Vayera (Breisheet 18:1) we see that Avraham was living in Elonei Mamre (the Oaks of Mamre):

God appeared to him in Elonei Mamre and he was sitting at the door of the tent in the heat of the day.

Where is Elonei Mamre?

We have already encountered Elonei Mamre earlier in Avraham’s journeys in Parshat Lech Lecha (Breisheet 13:18):

Avram set up his tent, and he came and settled in Elonei Mamre, in Hevron...

Radak explains that Elonei Mamre is within the borders of Hevron.

Where would Elonei Mamre be located today?

Elonei Mamre is associated with Ramat El Halil, around 3 kilometers from Hevron, on the way to Jerusalem. The Jews call the spot Ohel Avraham, Avraham’s Tent.  In the Mishna (Maaser Sheni 5:2) it was called Eilat Avraham, “Eilat to the South” (not to be confused with the city of Eilat as we know it today in the south of Israel).

In Breisheet 18:2, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold three men were standing near him. He saw them and ran from the door of the tent to greet them and he bowed down to the earth.

Rashi explains that the men were actually angels and why three were needed:

One angel’s task was to foretell to Sara that she will give birth. One had the job to overturn Sdom. And one (Refael) was there to heal Avraham after his Brit Mila (circumcision).

Avraham prepares food for them and then they ask where Sarah is and inform Avraham that by next year Sarah will give birth to a son.

In verse 16, the “men” continue on their journey:

The men stood up from where they were, and they gazed upon Sdom. Avraham went with them to send them on their way.

Rashbam explains that two of the angels go to Sdom (Breisheet 19:1) “The two angels came to Sdom in the evening.” The third, most important angel remained with Avraham and spoke to him.

Where was this lookout place where they gazed upon Sdom?

Nebi Yakin is located next to the settlement, Maale Haver. It is also called Mitzpe Shloshet HaMalachim, (the lookout point of the three angels) since this is thought to be the spot where Avraham stood with the three angels and gazed upon Sdom.

From that vantage point, one can look to the south and see the settlement of Har Hevron. When looking east, one can see the northern and southern parts of Midbar Yehuda (the Judean desert).

You don’t actually see Sdom from that spot, but you see the direction of Sdom, the mountains of what eventually became Amon and Moav.

This is the spot where Avraham was told that Sdom would be destroyed and where Avraham tried to convince God not to destroy the cities. Once that it was clear that there weren’t even ten righteous people who merited the cities being saved, the conversation was over (Breisheet 18:33):

God departed when He finished speaking to Avraham, and Avraham returned to his place.

Sfrono explains that Avraham left the place where he had escorted the angels and spoke to God and he went back home (to Elonei Mamre) .

Last year, I had the honor of visiting Mitzpe Shloshet HaMalachim. It was amazing to be in that spot, looking over towards Sdom and understand where Avraham was standing when this story unfolded.

The more that we travel around Israel, the more we understand our deep roots in the Land and why it must never be taken for granted.

May the three angels come back to visit us during this difficult time in Israel- one to heal those who are sick and injured, one to remind us that we must continue to bring life and joy into the world and one to destroy evil and save the people who have been taken hostage.

No immigrant should be alone Print E-mail
Monday, 07 November 2022

At the beginning of Parsha Vayera, Avraham and Sara (who are 99 and 89 years old) make an effort to make their guests (who they don’t even know) feel welcome.

Rav David Stav points out that unfortunately, many Israelis are focused on their own families and close friends and don’t pay attention to the members of the community at large who may appreciate being hosted. In Israel there are many new Olim (immigrants) who don’t have any family or friends and would appreciate being hosted. They talk about how when they lived in the Diaspora, they invited Israelis who were visiting, and now that they are in Israel, nobody invites them!

When we made aliya 18 years ago, a native Israeli family noticed that we were new and invited us over for Shabbat meals on a regular basis as well as to all of their Smachot (happy occasions). We appreciated their warmth and we are still friends with them.

There is now an organization called Keep Olim which has a No Oleh Alone program to make sure that Olim are invited for meals for the holidays. The organizers decided that instead of waiting for native Israelis to invite them, they would make arrangements themselves.

Avraham and Sara were Olim as well, and they came to the Land of Israel to make a difference. They went out of their way to invite others even though nobody invited them.

Although hosting Olim may not be on the radar screen for many Israelis, there are those families, both native Israelis and immigrants who, like Avraham and Sara do make an effort to host.

Hopefully, when Jewish people all over the world read this parsha, they will be inspired by how gracious Avraham and Sara were and take the cue to invite newcomers into their homes.

Does Science Prove the Destruction of Sdom? Print E-mail
Monday, 18 October 2021

In Parshat Lech Lecha, when Lot’s shepherds began to argue with Avraham’s shepherds, Avraham said to Lot (Breisheet 13:9): “Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me, if you go to the left, I will go to the right, and if you go to the right, I will go to the left.”

Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire Jordan Plain which was abundantly watered; before God destroyed Sdom and Amora, it was like God’s garden, like the land of Egypt going towards Zoar. Lot chose for himself the entire Jordan Plain; Lot journeyed from the east and they separated from one another. Avraham lived in the land of C’naan and Lot lived in the cities of the Plain, setting up his tents as far as Sdom (Breisheet 13:10-12).

In Parshat Vayera, after Lot and his daughters are safely out of Sdom we read:

God caused to rain upon Sdom and Amora sulfur and fire- from God, from Heaven. He overturned these cities, and the entire plain, and all those who lived in the cities and all that grew upon the ground…Avraham stared at Sdom and Amora and the whole land of the plain, and he saw the heavy smoke rising from the earth like the smoke of a furnace (Breisheet 19:24-28).

In a recent article in Universe Today, Nancy Atkisnson explains that evidence of a cosmic airburst 3600 years ago destroyed a city near the Dead Sea. The blast was 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

After eleven seasons of excavations in an archeological dig combined with an online impact calculator, researchers estimate that a 50 meter wide space rock exploded about 4 kilometers above Earth sending a blinding flash and a wave of heat at 2000 degrees c. This would have burned everything including bodies, tools, weapons and pottery. A few seconds later, a shockwave leveled all of the buildings and walls.

As well, an airburst related influx of salt produced hyper-salinity in the soil making it impossible to grow anything in an area that was originally one of the most productive agricultural lands in the region.

Anyone who travels to the Dead Sea region today can still see the impact form the destruction of Sdom. Those familiar with the Torah are familiar with why and how it happened yet it is still amazing that archeologists and scientists now have a scientific idea of what transpired.

The Importance of Escorting Guests Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 November 2020

In Parshat Vayera, Avraham performs many acts of chesed, loving kindness. As soon as he sees three strangers (who are really angels) passing by, he rushes to greet them, feed them and make them feel comfortable.  One act of chesed that we may overlook is that when Avraham sends off his guests, he personally escorts them out. As we see in Breisheet 18:16 “The men set out from there and looked down toward Sdom, Avraham walking with them to see them off.”

The Rambam in Hilchot Evel (Laws of Mourning) 14:1 teaches:

The reward for escorting a stranger is greater than any reward. It is a practice introduced by our father Abraham, a way of kindness which was habitual with him. He served food and drink to wayfarers and escorted them. Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence, as it is written in Breisheet 18:2: "He saw three men … he ran to meet them." Escorting them is even greater than receiving them. The rabbis taught in the Talmud, Sotah 46b: "Anyone who does not escort his guests is almost guilty of bloodshed."

Local residents are compelled to provide escorts for wayfarers just as they are compelled to contribute to charity. The court used to provide agents to escort any person who would pass from one locality to another. Those who shirked this duty were regarded as if they shed blood [because of the dangerous roads]. Even if one accompanies another the distance of four cubits, he will be amply rewarded.

What is the reason for this extra layer of hospitality?

When guests see that the host is going out of his or her way to escort them, even after their visit is over, they are made to feel that the host was sincerely happy to have them over.

Radak explains that Avraham walked to see them off, to keep them company for a while, to accompany them. The Torah teaches good manners, that one should not dismiss a guest abruptly, but by walking with him indicates that one regrets the time had come to part from one another. The rabbis taught in the Talmud, Sotah 46b that the distance one should accompany a guest from one’s house is a mil (1.2  kilometers).

The Talmud, Sotah 46b explains the importance of the mitzvah of providing an escort:

A Braita stated: Rabbi Meir would say: We compel a person to escort his fellow from the city. For the reward for fulfilling the mitzvah of escort is without limit. As it is written (Shoftim 1:24) “And the watchers saw a man leaving the city, and they said to him, ‘show us now the approach to the city and we will deal kindly with you.’” And it is written: “And he showed them the approach to the city.” And what act of kindness did they do with him? They killed the entire population of that city by the sword, but that man and his family they sent away unharmed, as stated by the verse there.

The man who had shown them the way went and built another town. This town was Luz which was not destroyed by Sancheriv or Nevuchadnetzar.

The Braita concludes: If the C’naanite, who did not even speak with his mouth and did not even walk with his feet but merely pointed out the approach to the city caused salvation for himself and his descendants to the end of time, then one who performs the mitzvah to escort with his feet by actually walking the traveler, how much more so is he worthy of unlimited reward.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin z”l whose life story is documented in the book “A Tzadik in Our Time” was especially known for escorting people in the streets of Jerusalem.

May the time come soon when we can once again safely host and be hosted, giving us the opportunity to perform the  extra layer  of chesed to respectfully escort our guests at the end of their visit.

Avraham, father of all converts Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 November 2019

God delayed the destruction of Sdom until Avraham had an opportunity to intercede on behalf of the city. God’s reason for involving Avraham is outlined in Parhsat Vayera, Breisheet 18:17-18:

And God said, “Shall I conceal from Avraham that thing which I intend to do; seeing that Avraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of God, doing tzedaka (righteousness) and mishpat (justice); in order that God might then bring upon Avraham that which He has spoken of him.

Rambam (Maimonides) in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3 teaches: Avraham was forty years old when he recognized God. He then began to spread the word about Monotheism to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim. He wanted to destroy all of the idols ensuring that the people would no longer have any other gods to pray to. The king of Ur Kasdim tried to kill him, yet Avraham escaped to Charan. There, he alerted the world that there is one God and he gathered followers from different cities and kingdoms until they arrived in the Land of C’naan, where he called out in the name of God. His followers would ask him questions and he would set them on the path of truth until there were thousands and then tens of thousands of followers who became known as the “house of Avraham.”

In Sheilot u’Tshuvot (Questions and Answers) 293 of the Rambam, Ovadia Ger Tzedek, a sincere convert, not biologically a descendent of Avraham asks if he can say the following parts of prayer :“Elokeinu v’Elokei Avoteinu”, “Our God and the God of our fathers” and “Shehinchalta l’Avoteinu”, “You have given (the Land of Israel) to our forefathers as a heritage.”

Rambam answers that since Avraham was the one who taught “his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of God, doing tzedaka (righteousness) and mishpat (justice)”, everyone who converts to Judaism until the end of time as well as whoever recognizes that HaShem, our God is One is a student of Avraham and they are all considered to be the future members of his household. Just as Avraham brought the people of his generation to the right path through his teachings, so too he will also bring in all of the future converts.

Rambam concludes that Avraham is the father of his descendants who follow in his path as well as the father of all of those who convert to Judaism. Therefore, converts should not change the words of the Amida (Silent Devotion), and they should recite Elokeinu v’Elokei Avoteinu”, “Our God and the God of our fathers” since Avraham is their “father” and in Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) converts should recite “Shehinchalta l’Avoteinu”, “You have given (the Land of Israel) to our forefathers as a heritage” since Avraham was given the Land of Israel as it says (Breisheet 13:17) “Arise, walk about the Land through its length and breadth! For to you will I give it.”

May the rabbis today learn from the Rambam the importance of having respect for those who sincerely convert to Judaism.

Why did Sarah laugh? Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 October 2018

Dedicated by Stan and Marc Futterman on the first yahrzeit of Stephanie Futterman

In Parshat Lech Lecha, God changed Avram’s name to Avraham, promised him and his descendents the Land of Israel and commanded him to perform the mitzvah of Brit Milah (the covenant of circumcision). God then changed Sarai’s name to Sarah.

In Breisheet 17:16, we read about Sarah’s blessing which was promised to Avraham: “I will bless her and I will also give you a son through her. I will bless her, and she will become the mother of nations, kings of peoples will descend from her.”

At that point (sentence 17), “Avraham fell on his face and laughed. He said in his heart: ‘Can a hundred year old man have children? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old give birth?’”

Avraham then tried to convince God that Yishmael could be the heir. God explained that Sarah will indeed have a son named Yitzchak, the covenant will be through him and Sarah will give birth in exactly a year. Avraham then followed God’s instructions and proceeded to circumcise all of the men in his household.

In Parshat Vayera, three men came to visit Avraham. One of the men told him (Breisheet 18:10) “I will return next year, and Sarah, your wife will have a son.” Sarah heard this from the door of her tent.

In sentence 12 we read: “Sarah laughed to herself saying, ‘Now that I am worn out, shall I have the pleasure, my master being an old man.’”

God asks Avraham why Sarah laughed. This seems like a really strange question considering that Avraham himself laughed when he was given the same news the first time and God was not surprised when Avraham laughed. In fact, God even said that the child should be named Yitzchak, laughter!

Ramban explains that Sarah probably was unaware that the “men” were not regular men, rather angels sent with a prophecy from God. Since Sarah was in her tent, she most likely didn’t even see them. Avraham was so busy circumcising himself and his household that he did not have time to reveal to Sarah what God had originally told him, “Indeed, your wife, Sarah will bear you a son” so how could Sarah possibly have known that the man was serious when he said that she would give birth the following year?

When God is asked Avraham why Sarah laughed, he was actually saying, “Why was Sarah surprised? How did you not reveal the prophecy to her?”

We learn from here that even if you are in a rush to do a mitzvah, as Avraham was, sometimes you have to take a step back and realize that there is some news that just can’t wait! 

Is Lot's wife still standing near the Dead Sea Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 November 2017
When the cities of Sdom and Amora were about to be destroyed, Lot and his family were commanded (Breisheet 19:17) "Escape for your life; Do not look behind you and do not stay on the plain, run for the mountains lest you be consumed."

Rashbam brings three reasons for why they were told not to look backwards:
So that they would not have mercy on their daughters and sons in law who refused to leave with them, so that they would not be held up along the way and so that they would not see the angels destroying the city.

When God poured sulphur and fire on the cities, Lot's wife did not follow the commandment not to look back as it says in Breisheet 19:26 "But his wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt."

Why did she look back after already being warned not to?

According to Pirkei De Rebbi Eliezer, she had mercy on her two married daughters who lived in Sdom and she wanted to check to see if they were following the rest if the family out of the city.

Near the Dead Sea, a huge rock was found which is identified as Lot's wife. In the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:8 the halacha was codified: When you see Lot's wife one should recite the blessing: "Dayan HaEmet" (Bless God who is the true judge) and in memory of Lot one should recite "Zocher Tzadikim" (Remember the Righteous).

Today, I was driving along the Dead Sea and saw a sign that said "Lot's wife." The sign points to a rock formation that looks like a woman. The chances that this rock is actually Lot's wife are very slim considering that the rock is much bigger than an actual person. Also, over thousands of years the shape of the rock would have probably changed. However, we know that she was turned into a pillar of salt in that vicinity, we just don't know exactly where. The sign reminds us that the story took place in that area and the Dead Sea was formed by the destruction of Sdom  and  Amora and that is why to this day nothing will grow there.
Walking in the Path of God Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 October 2015

In memory of our friend and neighbor Mr. Richard Lakin who was murdered while riding the 78 bus in Jerusalem

In Breisheet 18:18-19 we read: “Avraham is indeed to become a great and mighty nation and through him shall be blessed all of the nations of the world. For I have given him special attention because he commands his children and his household after him and they will preserve the way of God, doing righteousness and justice (tzedaka umishpat) so that God will bring upon Avraham all that which He has spoken of him.”

The way of God is the way of righteousness and justice. Avraham and his descendents are commanded to emulate God by doing righteousness and justice.

Avraham was a role model in the area of Kvod HaBriyot, respect for all of God’s creations. Avraham welcomed strangers into his home, sought to save the people of Sdom even though they were corrupt and was distressed when Yishmael had to be sent away.

In Yirmiyahu 9:22-23 we see the importance of righteousness and justice: “Thus says the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who does kindness, justice and righteousness in the land: for in these things I delight says the Lord.”

According to Radak, to know God is to imitate His ways by dealing with others with kindness, justice and righteousness.

Righteousness and justice are also found in Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746) wrote a famous book of musar called Derech HaShem, The Way of God. He chose that title because “it speaks of God’s ways as revealed by His prophets and taught in His Torah. These are the ways in which God directs both ourselves and everything else He created.”

This past Tuesday we received the horrible news that our neighbor, Mr. Richard Lakin passed away. Mr. Lakin had been in critical condition for two weeks after being shot and stabbed by two terrorists on our local 78 bus. Mr. Lakin was a man who walked in God’s path. He lived on the main floor of our apartment building in the Talpiot/Arnona section of Jerusalem. I saw him when entering or leaving the building almost every day. He always had a kind word to say. I even ran into him outside of our building on the afternoon before the 78 bus was attacked by two terrorists. He was a humble person that would never hurt anyone.

A few years ago Mr. Lakin gave me a copy of the book that he wrote: Teaching as an Act of Love. It was interesting to learn more about this man who I always saw around but didn’t know much about. In his book, one can see what a wonderful principal he was in a Connecticut elementary school before making Aliya in the 1980s. He was careful to teach every child in the way that they would learn best. In one story, a student who couldn’t handle the new math curriculum was totally lost so Mr. Lakin pulled old math books out of the closet and taught the student the more traditional methods which were easier to grasp. When students were asked to bring gifts to exchange with their friends, Mr. Lakin didn’t embarrass the poor student who brought a live chicken to school but rather accepted the gift graciously and took the chicken home with him. Just like Avraham, Mr. Lakin was a role model who cared about every human being.

At the end of his introduction, the Ramchal writes: “And now, fellow seekers of God, go on your way. May God be with you, giving you eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders of His Torah.”

 Using the Torah as our guidebook, we must follow the path that God outlines for us and bring more kindness, justice and righteousness to the world.


We Don’t Sacrifice Our Children Print E-mail
Thursday, 06 November 2014

At the end of Parshat Vayera we read the story of Akedat Yitzchak. God commands Avraham (Breisheet 22:2) “Please take your son, your only one, who you love-Yitzchak- and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.”

Avraham would have been willing to sacrifice his son Yitzchak if that was what God was asking for. Child sacrifice was commonly done during that time period so although Avraham did not want to sacrifice the son that he waited one hundred years to finally receive, he would have done it if necessary.

However, that is not what God wanted.

Rashi points out that God did not say to Avraham, “slaughter him!” because God did not wish him to be killed, but, only to be brought up the mountain to be made into an Olah (sacrifice). Once he brought him up God said to him, “Bring him down.”

We learn from here that Judaism is a religion of life. Even if other nations are sending their children off to die in the name of their religion, it is not something that we do.

You may ask why we even need to discuss this topic as we are no longer living in the days of child sacrifice.

The answer is that unfortunately child sacrifice is still taking place. During Operation Protective Edge children served as human shields. Throughout the world we hear about young children who are being sent out in explosive belts to carry out suicide bombings. Teenagers are sent by their parents to throw stones at Israeli soldiers, Israeli cars and the light rail train knowing that there is a chance that they may get killed in clashes with the soldiers.

Last week, a 32 year old Islamic Jihad terrorist who was a resident of Jerusalem tried to assassinate Rabbi Yehuda Glick. Fatah’s youth movement in Jordan’s Facebook page posted: “With great pride Fatah salutes its heroic martyr of Jerusalem”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself said the man who shot Yehuda Glick would go to heaven as a martyr.

This terrorist was 32 years old. Yitzchak’s age at the time of the Akeda was 37 (as he was born when Sarah was ninety and she passed away at 127 about the same time as the Akeda). The Akeda reminds us that our children are our children no matter how old they are and contrary to what Fatah and Abbas have to say, it is unacceptable for them to martyr themselves at any age.

And where did the Akeda take place?

Avraham was specifically told to bring Yitzchak up to Har HaMoriah, the Temple Mount which from that moment became the Jewish nation’s holiest site.


Selfishness Brought the Destruction of Sdom Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 October 2013

In Parshat Vayera we read about God’s destruction of the city of Sdom.


What was so terrible about Sdom that it had to be utterly destroyed and still remains a wasteland today?


According to the prophet Yechezkel (Yechezkel 16:49): “Behold this was the sin of Sdom, your sister: She and her daughters had pride, fullness of bread and peaceful serenity, but she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”


The Midrash Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer states: “They issued a proclamation in Sdom saying: Everyone who strengthens the hand of the poor and needy with a loaf of bread shall be burnt by fire. Plotit, a daughter of Lot was married to one of the great men of Sdom. She saw a very poor man in the street and she felt bad for him. What did she do? Every day when she went out to draw water she put in her pitcher all kinds of provisions from her house and she sustained the poor man. The men of Sdom said: How does this poor man live? When they ascertained the facts they brought Plotit forth to be burnt by fire. She cried out: Sovereign of all worlds! Maintain my right and my cause at the hands of the men of Sdom! And her cry ascended before the throne of glory. In that hour God said: I will go down and see whether they have in fact done what she is crying about. If it turns out to be true then I will overthrow the city.”


Nechama Leibowitz points out: “Their wickedness was the law of the land and whoever violated the law and performed a good deed prompted by his own instincts of pity was condemned to be burnt at the stake. There was no remedy for such a society but total destruction.”


We must learn a lesson from what happened to the selfish people in Sdom and make every effort to make laws that protect the poor and the needy to ensure that nobody in the Land of Israel goes hungry.

Say Little and Do Much Print E-mail
Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sponsored in Honor of Dov Ber’s Bar Mitzvah by Sharona, Josh, Moshe and Yehuda Halickman 

In Parshat Vayera, Avraham, who is recovering from a Brit Milah (circumcision at the age of 99) is happy to welcome three unexpected guests to entertain.


When the guests arrive, Avraham gives them water to wash their feet. He then tells them that he is going to bring some bread for them to eat before they continue on their way.


Rambam points out that even though Avraham only said that he would bring them bread, he rushes in order to put together a whole meal. Avraham exemplified the words mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:15, “Say little and do much.”


Avraham hurries to Sarah’s tent and says (Breisheet 18:6) “Hurry! Take three measures of the finest flour (kemach solet); knead it and make cake-rolls (oogot).”


According to Radak, they needed three measures of the finest flour (a large amount) so that each one of the guests would get his own “challah”. The flour that they used is known to bake quickly so that the guests wouldn’t have to wait too long for the bread to be ready.


Chizkuni believes that the bread that was served was actually matzah. When you bake matzah, you don’t have to wait for the dough to rise so it is made much quicker than regular bread. The visitors were in a hurry (since they were really angels and they had an import mission to attend to) and Avraham didn’t want to keep them waiting too long.


Avraham then went to get a tender, choice calf. Rashi comments that there were three calves so that each of the guests could eat an entire calf’s tongue (a delicacy for kings and princes). Chizkuni adds that it was quicker to cook the tongue than to try to prepare the entire calf.


Avraham then brought them the food and they ate.


We can learn from Avraham the importance of fulfilling the mitzvah of welcoming guests even when we don’t have a lot of time to prepare for them. Avraham quickly did what needed to be done in order for the guests to have a good meal before continuing on their way.


The Dead Sea- A Wonder of the World? Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 November 2011


Today is the last day to vote for the Dead Sea to be considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.


Is the Dead Sea as we know it today really in its ideal state?


When Lot first went to live in the area where the Dead Sea is located today, it looked very different. We read in Breisheet 13:10-11: “Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire Jordan Plain, that it was abundantly watered; before God destroyed Sdom and Amora it was like God’s garden, like the land of Egypt going towards Zoar. Lot chose for himself the entire Jordan Plain; Lot journeyed from the east and they separated one from another.”


In Parshat Vayera we see that once Lot, his wife and his daughters were out of Sdom safely in the neighboring town of Zoar, God was ready to destroy Sdom and Amora. In Breisheet 19:24-26 we read: “God caused it to rain upon Sdom and Amora- sulfer and fire- from God from heaven. He overturned these cities, and the entire plain, and all those who lived in the cities and all that grew upon the ground. His wife looked behind him; and she became a pillar of salt.”


Radak explains that after the cities were destroyed nothing else was able to grow there. He adds that not only did Lot’s wife turn to salt, everyone in the cities turned into salt or sulfur. Even though the pasuk doesn’t specify salt being poured down, we see in Devarim 29:22 : “and that the whole land is brimstone and salt and burning, that it is not sown nor bears nor does any grass grow on it like the overthrown Sdom and Amora”. We learn from here that salt was used as well.


In Yechezkel 47:8-9, the prophecy talks about the waters being healed and that fish will live there. Rashi and Mitzudat David say that this is an allusion to the waters of Sdom.


In other words, although the Dead Sea is unique and may be a wonder of the world as well as a place where people from all over the world come to be exposed to the healing salt and mud, ideally, the region should be restored to how it was when Lot first saw it, not as a wasteland but rather as God’s garden.

The Differences between the Visit to Pharaoh and the Visit to Avimelech Print E-mail
Friday, 22 October 2010

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The Differences between the Visit to Pharaoh and the Visit to Avimelech


In Parshat Lech Lecha we read about Avram and Sarai going down to Egypt because of a famine. In Breisheet12:11-13 we read: “As he came near and he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, ‘Behold, now I realize that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you that they will say: This is his wife. They will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, so that it will go well with me for your sake, and my life shall be spared because of you.”


How is it possible that Avram was married to Sarai for so many years and he is only realizing now how beautiful she is?


Rashi brings a few different answers:

  1. Until now he had not been aware of her beauty due to modesty.
  2. Tanchuma points out that when they passed by a river he saw how beautiful her reflection was.
  3. Usually when someone is traveling they become unattractive, but she has remained with her beauty.
  4. The time has come for me to be concerned over your beauty. I have known for a long time that you are beautiful. Now we are coming amongst repulsive people and they are not accustomed to seeing a beautiful woman.

In that incident, Sarai was taken to Pharaoh’s house. Avram was treated well, he acquired sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves and camels. Pharaoh and his household received severe plagues. Pharaoh realized that Sarai is married to Avram and asked why he said that Sarai was his sister and why he allowed him to take Sarai as a wife. Avram doesn’t have a chance to respond, we just see that Pharaoh says “Here is your wife, take her and go”.


In Parshat Vayera, Breisheet 20:1,although there is no famine, Avraham and Sarah travel to Grar (the land of the Plishtim).


In 20:2 we read: “Avraham said to Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister’. Avimelech the king of Grar sent messengers and took Sarah”.


This pasuk sounds a little strange as it doesn’t seem like Avraham is talking to Sarah. Rashi quoting Breisheet Raba brings in the idea that Avraham was talking “al” about his wife and not “el” to his wife. He did not get her consent but rather said that she was his sister against her will, since she had already been taken to Pharaoh’s house because of this.


Sarah was lucky the first time where God sent Pharaoh a plague which caused him to not be able to have relations with her. Should she rely on a miracle again this time?


God spoke to Avimelech in a dream and told him that he will die because he took a married woman. Therefore Avimelech didn’t touch her. Saved again!


Avimelech asked Avraham in the morning why he did such a thing (according to Rashi the people of Grar received a plague as well).


This time, Avraham had a chance to explain that he was afraid that there was no fear of God there and that they would kill him in order to take his wife.


He also added that he wasn’t lying as it says in 20:12 “In any case, she is my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother and she became my wife.”


Avimelech gave Avraham sheep, cattle, slaves and he returned Sarah. He then said “Behold my land is before you. Live wherever you see fit.” Avimelech also gave Sarah 1000 pieces of silver to uphold her dignity and give people the message that he did not have relations with her.


This is very different from Pharaoh who basically threw them out! Avraham then prayed for Avimelech to be healed.


When we compare and contrast the two stories we see that Avraham had a better relationship with Avimelech than with Pharaoh as with Avimelech he was given a chance to clear up the misunderstandings. Avimelech didn’t have a problem with Avraham living in his land and Avraham was happy to pray on behalf of Avimelech and the people of Grar.

Don’t Just Check Out the Real Estate, Check Out the Community! Print E-mail
Friday, 06 November 2009

In Parshat Vayera we read about God’s destruction of the cities of Sdom and Amora and how God saved Lot (Avraham’s nephew) and his family.


How did Lot end up in Sdom in the first place?


In last week’s Parsha, Lech Lecha, Lot’s shepherds and Avram’s shepherds weren’t getting along so Avram told Lot that he would rather not fight and he gave him the choice to choose the part of Israel that he would like to live in: Breisheet 13:9-11 “If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right then I will go left. So Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire plain of the Jordan that it was well watered everywhere (before God destroyed Sdom and Amora) like the garden of God, like the land of Egypt, going toward Zoar. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan…”


According to Ramban, the whole land of the Plain was adequately irrigated from the Jordan by working with the foot, just as was done in the garden of God as it says in Breisheet 2:10: “and a river went out of Eden to water the garden” and as is the way of the land of Egypt, concerning which is stated in Devarim 11:10: “And you watered it with your foot”. We see from here that the land of the Plain was as adequately irrigated as the Garden of Eden, the most perfect place on earth. Egypt is mentioned as well since it is a place known for pasture.


Everything sounds great about Lot’s choice until we read on a few psukim to sentence 13: “Now the people of Sdom were wicked and sinful toward God, exceedingly”.


As a result of the sinful behavior of the people of Sdom, God destroyed Sdom in Parshat Vayera. That area transformed from a “Garden of Eden” to become the desolate and inhospitable Dead Sea region of today.


When Lot split from Avraham and went to Sdom, he only checked out how beautiful the land was, but he did not check out who the inhabitants were. In the end, Avraham had to rescue Lot and his family, before the entire cities were destroyed.


We can learn from Lot’s mistake that it is not enough to check out the real estate before we look for a new place to live, we must be diligent in checking out who is living in the community.

The Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim- Inviting Guests Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 November 2008

In Breisheet 18:5-8, Avraham saw three people heading in the direction of his tent and he ran to welcome them into his home (even though he wasn’t well after undergoing a brit milah at age 99). Avraham then told them that he would bring them a morsel of bread. Off he hurried to Sarah’s tent and told her to hurry up and make “oogot” (according to the Alshich she quickly made them matzot- “oogot matzot”). Then he ran again, this time to the cattle, took a tender and good calf and asked the young man (according to Rashi, his son Yishmael) to quickly prepare it.
According to Daat Zekeinim, Avraham quickly brought back the cream and milk for the men to eat right away (since that required little preparation) and then he brought the full meal which consisted of calves meat.
Radak explains that the reason that this whole story is recounted is to teach us how excited and quick Avraham was to observe the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, inviting guests. Not only did he invite them in, he gave them the best of everything that he had: fine flour and a tender and good calf.
Avraham also wanted to get his family involved in observing the mitzvah as well. He therefore asked Sarah to bake the “oogot” and he asked Yishmael to cook the meat. Ramban points out that we especially see Avraham’s generosity in the fact that he and his family prepared everything on their own, even though it says in Breisheet 14:14 that he had 318 servants.
If Avraham took this mitzvah so seriously when he was not even well, then certainly so should we. Anyone was has been away from home or alone knows what a great feeling it is to be welcomed into somebody’s home. Let’s take this opportunity on Parshat Vayera to look around our communities and invite people who otherwise would be alone. Although it takes a lot of work and preparation, it is certainly easier than having a brit milah at age 99!

The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim- Visiting the Sick Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 October 2007

At the end of Parshat Lech-Lecha, Avraham had a brit milah (was circumcised) at age 99. In the beginning of Parshat Vayera, Avraham was still recovering.

Parshat Vayera begins with the words (Breisheet 18:1) “God appeared to him in Elonei Mamrei”.

Rashi explains that God appeared to Avraham in order to perform the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim.  Rabbi Chama Bar Chanina said: It was the third day since his Brit Milah and God came to inquire about his welfare (Bava Metzia 86b).

The Gemara in Sotah 14a states: Rabbi Chama Bar Chanina said: What is the meaning of (Devarim 13:5) “Vehalachta Bidrachav”, “Hashem your God, you shall follow”? Is it possible for a human being to follow the Divine Presence? The Mitzvah is to follow the attributes of God. Just as God clothes the naked, you too must clothe the naked…Just as God visited the sick, you too should visit the sick…Just as God comforted mourners, you too should comfort mourners…Just as God buried the dead, you too should bury the dead.

By performing these mitzvoth we are emulating God.

Rambam states that it is a mitzvat aseh, positive commandment to visit the sick. Based on the Gemara in Nedarim 39-40, Rambam explains that one who visits the sick actually removes one sixtieth of their pain and on the contrary, whoever does not visit the sick is considered to be spilling blood.

In Jerusalem I have seen many wonderful acts of Bikur Cholim. When my baby, Yehuda was one month old, he was sick with bronchilitis and had to be hospitalized for a few days. On Saturday night, a group of Yeshiva high school students visited the hospital, instruments in hand and sang songs for the children. At only one month old, I could already see what a difference these students made and I truly believe that they helped speed up his recovery.

Last month, a Bat-Mitzvah girl from New York, Zahava Kunstler decided to celebrate her Bat –Mizvah with Torat Reva Yerushalayim. Zahava and her friends went to the Nursing Home- Yerushalayim Shel Zahav in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem and made Sukkah decorations with the residents. A month later, the residents are still talking about what a wonderful time they had. At that moment Zahava and her friends were emulating God.

Wherever we are in the world, let’s all take upon ourselves this important mitzvah of Bikur Cholim.

The True Inheritor of the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 November 2006

Sarah miraculously gave birth to Yitzchak when she was ninety years old as God had previously promised Avraham. Yitzchak was the first baby to enter the covenant of the Jewish people when he had his Brit Milah at eight days old. When Yitzchak was weaned at approximately age two, Avraham made a big party.

On the day of the party the pasuk states (Breisheet 21:9) "Sarah saw that the son of Hagar, the Egyptian that she had born to Avraham (Yishmael), was mocking". The pasuk does not elaborate on what this mocking was.

The next pasuk (21:10) continues "Sarah said to Avraham: Drive out this slave-woman and her son (Yishmael), for the son of this slave-woman will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak".

Since Sarah mentioned the inheritance, we are led to believe that Yishmael may have said something about how he rather than Yitzchak will be the true inheritor.

According to Sforno, Yishmael went around gossiping that it was Avimelech (King of Gerar), not Avraham who was Yitzchak's father. Yishmael probably heard these rumors from Hagar who was trying to invalidate Yitzchak's inheritance. Therefore Sarah said "Drive out the slave women and her son.for he will not inherit."

In psukim 11-13 we read: "The thing was very wrong in the eyes of Avraham on account of his son. God said to Avraham, .Do not consider this wrong in your eyes on account of the boy and the slave-woman. Regarding all that Sarah tells you listen to her, for in Yitzchak shall your seed be called. The son of the slave-woman I will also make into a nation, for he is of your seed'."

According to Radak, Avraham who had helped so many people get on the right path felt bad that he couldn't help his own son Yishmael and had to send him away. God told Avraham to listen to Sarah. According to Rashi, Sarah actually had more prophecy than Avraham.

According to Chizkuni, Breisheet 17:20, The true inheritor of the land of Israel could only be the son of both Avraham and Sarah (Yitzchak) and not the son of Avraham and Hagar (Yishmael). Yishmael would become a nation as well, but the land of Israel will eternally belong to the descendents of Yitzchak, the Jewish people.

Why Go To Grar? Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

In Breisheet 20:1 we read: "Avraham journeyed toward the Negev and dwelt (vayeshev) between Kadesh and Shur and he sojourned (vayagar) in Grar."

Grar was the land of the Plishtim (Philistines), in the vicinity of where the Gaza strip is today.

Why did Avraham travel to Grar?

At first glance, one may think that he went because of a famine. After all, in Parshat Lech Lecha Avraham went down to Egypt because of a famine in the Land of Israel. In Parshat Toldot, Breisheet 26:11, Yitzchak goes to Avimelech, King of the Plishtim in Grar because of a famine. However, our case is different. When we take a closer look at Breisheet 20:1, we see that there is no mention of a famine. Furthermore, in Parshat Toldot, Breisheet 26:11, we can infer that there was only one famine in the days of Avraham and that was the famine when Avraham went down to Egypt.

According to Radak, the reason why Avraham went to sojourn in Gerar was so that he could acquire and hold on to the entire land of Israel. He was staking his claim. As God promised Avraham in Breisheet 13:16: "Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to you."

Radak adds that the land of the Plishtim is considered part of the land of Israel. This can be found in Breisheet 15:21.

In the Book of Yehoshua 13:3 we find that the land of the Plishtim is included in the inheritance of the tribe of Yehudah.

We can learn from Avraham the importance of traveling throughout the Land of Israel. Traveling in Isreal shows that we care about the land and that we want to inherit it.