This week’s Parasha begins with a “Seudat Melachim”, and ends with ”Akeidat Yitzchak”. Are these two events connected, or are they simply independent of each other, bound together only by Avraham’s involvement? There are two approaches that I would like to bring to your attention regarding this question:
The first approach that I would like to suggest, in essence begins with Parshat Noach.
If we refer back to the Parasha of Noach, we see that the details of the flood dominate most of the sedra, yet the events of Migdal Bavel, are included in the conclusion to the Parasha. Once again we may ask, is this coincidental, or is there a particular theme that the Torah wishes to emphasize?
Rashi, when discussing the state of the world prior to its’ destruction, deduces from the relevant verses that although society was “anarchical”, what sealed its’ fate, was the way in which the people treated one another. Indeed, the comparison is made between the “generation of the flood” that was destroyed, and the “generation of Migdal Bavel” that was dispersed. In the former there was no mutual respect between man and his fellow, yet in the latter, the respect for man existed, but there was no belief in G-d.
It would seem, therefore, that these two events are bound together in the same Parasha, in order to juxtapose the two areas in which man must endeavor to refine himself. Yet we also learn by comparison, that one of these two areas is much more fundamental than the other. Weakness in the area of “Ben adam lechavero” can lead to the destruction of the world. Weakness in the area of “Ben adam leMakom” leads to educational punishment. Why should this be the case?
I believe that the answer to the question posed in Parshat Noach can in fact be found in this week’s parasha. However, before referring to Parshat Veyera, let us first refer to Sefer Hachinuch.
In discussing the possible rationale behind the precept of honoring ones father and mother, the author explains that: “At the root of the precept lies the thought that it is fitting for a man to acknowledge and treat with loving-kindness the person who treated him with goodness…. It is for a person to realize that his father and mother are the cause for him being in the world.”
One would have thought that the above reasoning suggested in the Chinuch would suffice, yet he goes on to explain that: “When he sets this quality firmly in his character, a person will rise from this to recognize the goodness of G-d, and he will realize that He brought him into the light of day, provided for his needs…”
It would appear that there are in fact two facets to honoring ones’ parents: One is “Ben adam lechavero”, the other is “Ben adam leMakom”. In reality, we can understand from the words of the Chinuch that it is through our Ben adam lechavero that we reach Hashem. If we invert this statement we are saying that without Ben adam lechavero we cannot reach Ben adam leMakom. If we cannot honor that which we see, if we cannot appreciate the tangible, then there is no way that we can reach a level of relationship with Hashem. If we cannot honor our parents who we see helping us, who we see feeding us, who we see clothing us, how can we honor Hashem? Everything that we receive from Hashem we receive “indirectly”, how can we possibly reach a level of appreciation of the intangible, when we do not honor the tangible?
This is the reason that the generation at the time of the flood had to be destroyed. Since they had no respect whatsoever for each other, seeing as respect for the rights of ones fellowman no longer existed, there was no longer any hope for the future, there was no base from which to build.
In contrast, the generation of Migdal Bavel, was indeed lacking in their relationship with Hashem, however, there was still hope. They spoke one language, there was an inherent mutual respect for one another. Therefore, even though they had much to improve on, the seeds for that improvement were sewn. The foundations from which to build in order to reach Hashem existed.
In effect we are saying that Ben adam lechavero is a prerequisite for Ben adam leMakom. Without the former the latter cannot exist.
I believe that this is the overall theme of Avraham Avinu. When discussing the founder of Judaism, when remembering the first self-made monotheist, we label our forefather as “Chesed LeAvraham”. It is only after we have acquired “Chesed le Avraham” that we can reach the level of “Emet leYaakov”.
Our parasha begins with “Hachnasat Orchim”, we are described an almost unbelievable scenario, in which a man of 99 years of age, three days after circumcision, is seen running after three travelers, simply to invite them into his tent. We then see Avraham debate with Hashem over the fate of cities that he seemingly knows nothing of, in defense of people that he has never met.
Incredibly, Rashi in explaining the word “Vayigash” (Bereishit 18/23), comments that Avraham approached Hashem regarding the issue of Sodom in three ways: “ In a harsh manner, in a reconciliatory manner and in prayer”. This reminds us of the approach that Yaakov made to Esau. That is to say, Avraham was determined in whatever way possible to save those people under threat of destruction.
The message of our parasha is so strong. It is only a person with the inherent chesed of Avraham who can reach the heights reached at the conclusion of the sedra. It is only a person who begins with the fundamentals of hachnasat orchim, who will be able to reach the levels of the Akeidah. The path of Avraham is a blue print for mankind as a whole. The world was ultimately created through chesed, in “emulating” Hashem, in order to reach Hashem, chesed is the obligatory starting point.
The eleventh of Mar-Cheshvan has for centuries been famed for the yahrzeit of Rachel Imeinu. Yet for the last six years we have also had to remember another more recent yahrzeit – the yahrzeit of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin (Zichro Livracha).
On that terrible night in 1995, a Jew in the name of “religion”, for the sake of “the Land of Israel”, decided that he had the right to take the life of a fellow human being, simply because their views differed. Alarmingly, and with much distress, we must be aware that the lessons of that most tragic event have not been learnt, there are still many who will not accept the severity of what happened in Israel on that fateful night, apologetics and rationale, instead of real self-analysis. I say these words as a “settler” who rarely agreed with the Government policy of the time, I say these words as a believing Jew: Where Ben adam lechaveiro does not exist there can be no Ben adam leMakom. It is absurd to think that an act of such hatred could be done in the name of the Jewish religion, in the name of “Chesed le Avraham”!!
Rachel Imeinu was ready to give up her life for Eretz Yisrael, she knew that both sisters could not remain married to Yaakov once he returned to his Homeland, for as the Ramban points out, Yaakov kept the Commandments in Eretz Yisrael, and could not remain married to both sisters once he returned home. By agreeing to return to Eretz Yisrael, in reality, Rachel signed her own death warrant. She was the second wife of Yaakov, and if one of the sisters had to be left in chutz laaretz, it would ultimately be her. Yet she did not hesitate for a moment, she told Yaakov to return home whatever the cost. Rachel showed her love of Eretz Yisrael, by showing her own commitment to the Land, by being prepared to give up her life, not the life of another.
It is Rachel who comforts the people on their way to exile, it is her form of messirut nefesh that sets the example for us to follow, and follow it we will. We must learn the lessons before it is too late.
The second approach connecting the beginning and end of our Parasha is suggested by Rav Zevin:
“The sedra begins with a ‘feast of Angels’ and ends with ‘The binding of Yitzchak’. The common denominator of these two events is “The intent to perform”.
Just as prayer without concentration is compared to a body without a soul, so too every commandment or good deed that we perform, requires intent, and desire. We should approach each precept with enthusiasm and with an absolute will to fulfill. We must try in every way possible to avoid becoming routine in our service of Hashem. In fact, one cannot serve Hashem in a routine fashion. It is in reality a contradictory statement. One must be consistent but not routine.
The theme of intent is very clearly emphasized by the first and last episodes of this week’s parasha.
Avraham was an incredible host, what is described at the beginning of our sedra seems to have been an every day occurrence in the Abrahamic colony. Yet, in our particular case, all that Avraham actually did was in truth, “pointless”. He was aiming to assist human beings who were tired and hungry from their travels, but in actual fact he was providing services to angels who had absolutely no need for them.
There was therefore no real act performed here, there were no real guests, and therefore, there was no real Hachnasat Orchim.
Similarly, in the Akedah, Avraham had all the intent to perform, but in the end he was not required to do so.”
Rav Zevin understands from these two passages, and their juxtaposition, that the Torah is coming to tell us how important our intent is, even if what we intended does not actually take place. Chovot Halevavot at the end of Shaar Habitachon also makes a similar comment. He states that we have real control over our intent, but we cannot guarantee that our intent will materialize. That is not to say that the act itself is of no importance, but it is to say that the intent is of paramount importance.
It may also be possible to extend the theme suggested by Rav Zevin in the following manner. The acts of the beginning and end of the parasha are real acts, and not just intentions, because an act is not necessarily defined by the result but by the intention when doing that act.
Our actions define us. They are as much, if not more, for our own sakes as they are for the sake of the recipient. Therefore, even though the angels did not really need the hospitality that they received, that is not to say that Avraham did not give that hospitality. Avraham intended to give and he gave, that is what defined Avraham. At the Akeidah, Avraham intended to fulfill the words of G-d, and that is what he did. He is defined by the intention and the act, and the result has relatively little to do with it.
In summary we have here three vital lessons that are fundamental to our lives in this world:
1: The fact that Ben adam lechavero is a prerequisite to Ben adam leMakom.
2: The fact that the intention behind our actions is of absolute importance, not to say that the action is of no importance, but to understand that the action without the intent is not comparable to the action with the intent, and that when the intent is absolute even if the action was ultimately not performed it takes very little away from the act in itself.
3: Our actions themselves are defined by the intent behind them, so that even if the physical result was not the desired one, yet the intention was correct, then that is what defines our act.