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Parshas Vayera

Cheshvan, 5768 -- Oct. '07

Ha'aros Vol. 7 #1

Doing for the 'Other'

After being informed of the decree to destroy S'dom, Avraham pleads that the people of S'dom should be spared on account of the righteous people there. His prayer is accepted, but ten righteous people are not found, and the cities of S'dom and Amorah are destroyed. In the merit of Avraham, however, his nephew Lot is spared. (19:29)

Later, the Torah tells the story of the Akeida. Avraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Yitzchak on the altar. He was informed that the sacrifice was unnecessary, since Avraham had shown that he would not withhold anything from Hashem.

How can we understand this parsha? Avraham argues with Hashem to save the wicked people of S'dom, but his own son he binds to the altar. On the one hand, we are shocked: he is prepared to do so much for the evil-doers, and such harm to his beloved son -- on the other hand, in each case he offered, but did not succeed. In spite of Avraham's intercession, S'dom was destroyed, Yitzchak was not sacrificed.

What lessons are there in these mysterious episodes? By nature, we are prepared to destroy our enemies, and shower our kindred with kindness. Avraham, though, struggles with nature. He is prepared to plead for the wicked; he is prepared to bind his kindred on the altar.

Still, S'dom cannot escape its due; Yitzchak is freed from his binding. S'dom was given the full brunt of justice; Yitzchak -- the great blessings. Avraham doesn't seem to change anything.

Perhaps it is not so. Avraham's actions are subtle, hidden from the eyes of the world. Perhaps the symbolic actions performed by Avraham have a subtle effect behind the scenes.

Balancing Act

Avraham sought to calm the force of the divine anger. The verses state, (18:33-34) "Hashem left, as He finished speaking with Avraham, and Avraham returned to his place... The two angels came to S'dom..." Rashi explains: when the judge leaves, the defending advocate leaves, but the executor remains active. Indeed, Avraham was the effective advocate. On the way to S'dom, the angels delayed; "perhaps Avraham would be able to intercede on the side of mercy." (Rashi, 19:1) Ramban suggests that saving Lot was not part of the original plan. (18:2) It must have been deemed necessary due to Avraham's intercession.

Avraham was successful in tempering and balancing the divine anger with mercy.

With his son Yitzchak as well, Avraham sought balance. His great love for his son was tempered. According to the Kabbalah, the binding was a turning point in Yitzchak's life. (See Ohr Hachaim) From now on, he would have the strength and fortitude to lead the generations.

We say in our davening: "Just as Avraham subdued his love for his son in order to perform Your Will, so may Your Mercy subdue Your Anger towards us..." What does Avraham's subduing his love for his son have to do with Hashem subduing His anger? It's the balancing effect. In return for balancing discipline with love for his son, Avraham is able to convince Hashem to temper strict justice with mercy.

Concepts and Mussar from Kelm -- translated from the original "Chochma Ummusar."
Rav Simcha Zissel Ziev
Tenth Letter, Part Two -- Student's Summary (Continued)

In this summary of the Alter's remarkable ideas, a picture of great sensitivity and rigorous integrity emerges. Leaders must accept public responsibility reluctantly, realizing the enormous consequences of their leadership. This attitude contrasts sharply with those who rush into community work without preparation, although the Alter adds that situations of immediate necessity may be different.

Fifth point. There are two prerequisites for working with people: Ability and readiness. As far as ability goes, he must train himself fully with the necessary subject matter. If he has the ability, he can take care of himself and others as well, without being overburdened. Regarding 'readiness', he must train himself to deal with people. He must be inspired with fear of heaven (because the risk of misleading people is great). The Rabbis stated in Pirke Avos: "All those who work with the public should do so for the sake of heaven."

A Sixth Point. It must be prohibited as a strict halacha to give instructions to others without having incorporated the teachings oneself.

Seventh point. One who desires wisdom as a priceless bounty, and sees the vast work lying ahead, will naturally flee from working with the multitude. How can he forsake his concern for repairing his own shortcomings? The exceptions will be at times of necessity... even then, however, he may commence only after he has fulfilled the conditions mentioned above.

Eighth point. Working for the public good is dangerous; so much so, that it is not enough that one flees from such responsibility. One must pray and fast repeatedly that he be granted mercy from heaven and be protected from being overburdened by the public.

This is due to the immense fear of Heaven, felt by even the greatest sages, such as the talmudic masters, prophets and in the generation of Moshe. All were concerned with the burden of the congregation, until it was said: "Place upon them the needs of the congregation, and they will fall by themselves."

Ninth point. The first and foremost condition for dealing with community concerns is to be as far as possible from self-interest. All the strenuous work must be entirely to increase truth and glorify it, without seeking any tangible benefit.

The Love of Self

Tenth point. We have learned that ulterior motivation is the beginning of the great fall, whether the self-interest be in terms of money, honor, or anything else. It is impossible for one who loves himself, to avoid stumbling into the trap of flattery, to avoid twisting true premises into a myriad of falsehoods. Besides destroying himself, he will do great damage to the multitude.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Bais Medrash Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim Kiryas Radin
Ramapo, New York 10977
845 362-5156

Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and

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