Parshas Chaye Sarah 5758 - '97
Outline Vol. 2 #4
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Avraham and Haran, Continued
Two weeks ago, we discussed Mesiras Nefesh and Kiddush Hashem (martyrdom
and Sanctification of Hashem's name.) Avraham had been willing to give his
life rather than serve idols; a miracle occurred and he was not singed by
the flames. His brother, Haran, did likewise but was burned to death. We
had mentioned the unusual explanation of the Kli Chemda -- that Avraham did
not perform the mitzvah, but Haran did!
Although Rashi had stated that the intention of the martyr-to-be should
be to die, not that a miracle occur, we quoted Maharil Diskin that the intention
does not detract from fulfillment of the mitzvah.
The Other Side
There is another side of the picture. Menachos 29b relates how Moshe Rabbenu
was shown the brutal slaughter of Rebbe Akiva. Moshe protested: "This is
the Torah and its reward?" Of course there are explanations and mystical
answers, but such apparent injustice brings sorrow and raises theological
In Brochos, the story is told of Rebbe Akiva's attitude. He accepted his
fate blissfully, saying, "All my life I wondered -- how would I fulfill the
verse -- `Love Hashem with all your heart, soul and might?' "
Yet, when Moshe questioned, Hashem did not answer -- "Rebbe Akiva waited
for this his entire life!" The fact that Rebbe Akiva had been willing to
martyr himself would hardly satisfy Moshe's painful inquiry.
On the other hand, the occurrence of a miracle may produce a great effect.
Perhaps the Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of Hashem's name) is brought about
through a miracle, more than through actual martyrdom?
Kiddush Hashem: Martyrdom or Miracle?
The Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem is found in Vayikra (Leviticus 22:32): "Do
not profane My Holy Name; I will be sanctified in the midst of Bnei Yisrael;
I am Hashem Who sanctifies you."
Our question (miracle vs. martyrdom) appears to be the subject of controversy.
Ramban explains the verse: "According to the Rabbis, this is a mitzvah --
that we sanctify the Name by dying for the commandments, rather than transgress
them..." Seforno, on the other hand, says that the Sanctification of Hashem's
Name refers to the performance of miracles!
If we return to Rashi, however, we can find a solution. Rashi had stated
that the intention of the martyr-to-be should be to die, not that a miracle
occur. If he intends a miracle to occur, it will not... Rashi refers to both
the action of the Jew, and the reaction from Hashem.
The source of our Rashi is the Sifra. See the Malbim's commentary to Sifra:
Malbim: Types of Kiddush Hashem
There are two types of Kiddush Hashem: Outstanding conduct or miraculous
The verse should have said -- "You will sanctify," instead of the passive
-- "I will be sanctified..." It must be referring to something that occurs,
not something you must do. The Sanctification in the verse is the performance
of miracles; but it will only occur if the Jews are willing to lift themselves
above their own nature, by handing themselves over to destruction in order
to Sanctify the Name. Then, nature itself will be subdued, and the Name will
be sanctified through His miraculous phenomena...
The Sifra then brings the story of Channia, Mishael and Azarya (from Daniel)
for whom a miracle occurred; and Papus and Lulaynus (Taanis 18) for whom
a miracle did not occur, even though their martyrdom was most exemplary (they
died in order to spare tragedy for their brothers).
Summary: Martyrdom, Kiddush Hashem, Miracles
Consequently, it follows: 1. The "mitzva" (i.e. commandment) in the verse,
is to be willing to die, if need be, to preserve the Torah. 2. "The Kiddush
Hashem" in the verse is the occurance of miraculous salvation (which is dependent
on worthy conduct, but may or may not occur). 3. There is another aspect
of Kiddush Hashem, which is not stated in the verse. It is brought about
when the Jews act in a dignified, righteous manner, setting an example for
Thus, both Avraham and Haran performed the mitzva to be willing to give
one's life. Because a miracle occurred for Avraham, the Kiddush Hashem was
brought about. Since Haran's intentions were not so pure, he did not merit
to cause the Kiddush Hashem (brought about through miracle).
This has completely reversed the comments of Kli Chemda (who held that
Haran performed the mitzva, but not Avraham). However, the author of Kli
Chemda defends his thinking aptly.
Kli Chemda: The Effect of the Miracle
In 14:10, Rashi explains that people did not believe the miracle that
had occurred to Avraham. After another miracle occurred on his behalf --
this time for the King of S'dom -- they believed. Kli Chemda explains: They
had not believed until now, due to the fact that Avraham lived, but his own
brother, Haran, died. They thought that Avraham was some kind of magician,
who could save himself alone, but didn't care for his own brother! Once they
saw the King of S'dom saved on account of Avraham -- they were convinced
of Avraham's greatness. It became clear that Avraham had been spared from
heaven for some great purpose...
We must keep in mind the appearance of our actions -- the effect that
will be produced. Only after the King of S'dom was miraculously saved --
did the miracle of Avraham's salvation have a positive effect.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi
Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis,