One is obligated to say – “When will my actions reach the actions of the Avot, Avraham, Yitzkhak and Yaakov“
One of the essential halachot a sofer (scribe) has to constantly be aware of when writing a Sefer Torah is to sanctify the name of Hashem before writing it. In fact, according to the Shulkhan Arukh, if the sofer forgets to sanctify even one name of Hashem, the whole sefer Torah is pasul, invalid. In our parsha , the word “Adonai”, usually one of the names of Hashem, is a point of dispute amongst Chazal as to whether it is a reference to Hashem and therefore holy, or it is not a reference to Hashem and therefore mundane and need not be sanctified when writing it in a sefer Torah.
The dispute is in reference to the verse:
“And Hashem appeared to Avraham . . . He looked up, and saw three men standing over against him. On seeing them, he hurried from his tent door to meet them. Bowing low, he said, “Adonai, if I have deserved your favor, do not go past your servant without a visit.”’
Rashi offers two explanations for the word Adonai in the verse:
- And he said, “My lords, if only I have, etc.”: To the chief one he said this, and he called them all lords, and to the chief one he said, “Please do not pass by,” because if he would not pass by, his companions would stay with him. According to this version, it (the word Adonai)is mundane, (i.e., it does not refer to God).
- Another explanation: It (the word Adonai) is holy, and he was telling the Holy One, blessed be He, to wait for him until he would run and bring in the wayfarers.
Based on the second explanation, which is also accepted as halakha regarding the laws of sanctifying the name of Hashem when writing a sefer Torah, Chazal derived the famous instruction:
“Greater is hospitality to wayfarers, than receiving the Divine Presence (Pnei Ha’Shekhina).”
– for although Hashem had appeared to Avraham, he took leave of the Divine Presence to attend to his guests.
At first glance this seems to be a strange statement. What could be more important than man experiencing the pinnacle of his human existence in unison with the presence of the Shekhina? It is not a common occurrence to merit Divine revelation; surely attending to guests could be delayed momentarily to appreciate the moment of closeness to the Shekhina?
The answer is, though, that from our Avot we have come to learn from Sefer Bereishit the meaning of “Derekh Eretz kadma le’Torah.” The obligation to be a decent human being, to behave in moral way, to be a “mensche”, precedes the Torah.
The Netziv, in his introduction to Sefer Bereishit, explains why Sefer Bereishit is also known as “Sefer Ha’Yashar”, the Book of the “Just”, as it describes in it the life of the Avot who were not only “Tzadikim” but also “Yesharim”. “Tzadikim”, explains the Netziv, is a reference to the spiritual, religious elements in man, whereas “Yesharim” is a reference to the moral and good behavior of man towards his fellow man. Indeed, says the Netziv, the Torah says about Hashem: “Tzadik ve”yashar Hu” – He is both Righteous and Just. Hashem’s attributes embrace both elements together, and, in the words of the Netziv, “He (Hashem) cannot stand a Tzaddik that is not also Yashar”, not a moral man in relation towards his world and his fellow human beings. The Avot were exemplary in this area and were always concerned for the welfare of their fellow human beings and their society even though they were not exactly on par with them neither spiritually nor morally.
Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen from Lublin explains that the whole of Sefer Bereishit is the embodiment of the statement of Chazal “Derekh Eretz kadma le’Torah” as it precedes Sefer Shmot, the Chumash of the giving of the Torah, and one cannot come to Matan Torah before one has followed the path of the Avot, the path of Derekh Eretz.
The Torah states in last week’s Parsha that Avraham was ninety-nine years old when Hashem gave him the mitzva of Brit Milah. Asks Rav Hirsch, why is it important to know how old Avraham was at the time? Rav Hirsch answers that if the Torah would not point out that he was already ninety nine before he was given this “benchmark” mitzvah of Judaism, we would erroneously be led to believe that Avraham became the man of stature whom he was as a result of him doing Brit Milah at a young age – his fulfillment of mitzvoth is what made him who he was. However, that is not true. Avraham lived an exemplary long life before he was given his first Mitzvah. “The full realization of the values of humanity was realized by Avraham prior to receiving this Mitzvah. First be a human being before you aspire to be a Jew.”
The above mentioned idea, although well known to all of us, is necessary to repeat over and over again, for as simple as it is to understand, it is often as difficult to live by. It’s generally much easier to be stringent on mitzvoth bein adam la’Makom than bein adam le’chaveiro. Often it is easier to daven or say Tehilim than to be a good friend or neighbor. I remember how recently, when our colleague, the late Uri Berman z”l was ill, we received e-mails and magnets from the Midrasha asking us in the name of Uri to do acts of chesed for his merit for a Refua Sheleima. Not so easy, and for many of us not so natural, to seek out those to whom we can be kind and help. Often it seems easier to learn torah or give a shiur than to be a sensitive person, teacher or co-worker.
It is difficult to conclude writing about Avraham Avinu without contemplating the current events going on here in Yerushalayim. Yesterday there were, in Yerushalayim and in Gush Etzion, two terrorist car driving attacks on Israelis causing the death of two people and the injury of others. Over the last few weeks there have been other tragic events including the attempted killing of Rav Yehuda Glick, Rav Ari Shames’ brother in-law. The attacks of Bnei Yishmael, also the descendants of Avraham Avinu, on Bnei Yitzchak and Ya’akov. It is bewildering to read in the Israeli newspapers about these terrorist attacks and then to turn over the page and see that two family members of prominent Hamas leaders received medical treatment in Israeli hospitals over the last couple of weeks. The people of chesed versus the people of bloodshed. Echoes in our ears the words of Sarah Imeinu in this week’s Parsha who, after seeing Yishmael “mitzachek” – Rashi: “Another explanation: An expression of murder”, says to Avraham Avinu: “Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.”
May we all appreciate, cherish and hopefully internalize our heritage of being the children of Avraham Avinu, the man of Chesed and yosher. And may our acts of chesed be merits for the speedy recovery of Yehuda Yehoshua ben Ita Breine amongst all the other wounded in these recent attacks, and amongst all the sick of Am Yisrael.
Tanna de’vei Eliyahu 25.
.Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 271;2.
Bavli, Shabbat, 127a.
According to the Netziv it is even a Mitzvah, see Ha’amek Davar on this verse.
Rav Hirsch, Commentary to Breishit 17;1.
“I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know, but to remind them of what they already know and is very evident to them, for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know, and concerning which they entertain no doubts. But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent”. Mesilat Yesharim, introduction.