Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 4
20 Marcheshvan 5761
November 18, 2000
Orach Chaim 334:12-14
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nazir 32
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Bava Metzia 34
The midrash relates that as Avraham, Yitzchak and two servants
traveled to the as yet unspecified site of the akeidah / the
binding of Yitzchak, Avraham saw a cloud hovering over a distant
mountain. Avraham recognized that this cloud was a sign from
from Hashem as to where Avraham should take his son to offer him
as a sacrifice. Avraham then asked Yitzchak, "What do you see?"
Yitzchak answered, "I see a beautiful mountain with a cloud
hovering over it."
Next Avraham asked the two servants what they saw. They
answered, "We see a barren wasteland."
To this Avraham responded (Bereishit 22:5), "Stay here by
yourselves with the chamor / donkey while I and the lad go until
koh / there." The midrash elaborates, "Stay here by yourselves
for you are like a chamor / donkey, whereas I and the lad will go
on in fulfilment of the verse, "Koh / thus [like stars] will your
R' Yitzchak Yaakov Reines z"l (1841-1915; Rosh Yeshiva in Lida
and founder of the Mizrachi) explains: Avraham wanted to know
whether his son Yitzchak could see the light that shines through
the darkness of exile and martyrdom. Yitzchak could see; he told
his father, "I see a beautiful mountain. True, there is a cloud
hovering over it, but the dark shadow of that cloud does not
detract from the beauty that I see."
In contrast, Avraham's servants couldn't share Yitzchak's world
view. All that they could see was a dark, barren wasteland.
Avraham therefore consigned them to the world of the chamor,
symbolic of the chomer / materialism which obscures from some
people's view a proper understanding of the world.
Avraham and Yitzchak, both of whom could see the beauty within
the shadows, left behind the materialistic servants and went
"until koh" - to the fulfilment of the verse, "Koh / thus will
your offspring be." Those who can see the beauty within the
shadows even as they go to their martyrdom are the true stars
that shine, as Hashem had promised Avraham. (Ohr Chadash Al
Zion, Part VI, Ch. 2, p. 107b)
"He was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of
the day." (18:1)
Why, of all the acts of kindness that Avraham did in his life,
does the Torah tell us only about the kindness that he did for
angels, who did not need his kindness? Also, why was Avraham
unhappy when he did not have guests? If no one needed his
kindness, he was excused from performing the mitzvah at that
R' Shlomo Heiman z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Baranovitch, Poland and
in Torah Voda'ath in Brooklyn; died 1944) explains that Avraham's
purpose in performing acts of kindness was two-fold. One purpose
was, of course, the kindness itself. The second purpose was to
teach others theimportance of doing kindness.
It is true that if no one needed his kindness, he was excused
from performing the mitzvah at that moment. However, he was
unhappy because he longed for opportunities to share his
teachings with the world. The Torah emphasizes Avraham's desire
to teach others to do kindness by telling us that he did kindness
for angels. As long as his guests looked like humans, people
would believe that Avraham was performing acts of kindness and
would learn from him.
R' Heiman added: Sometimes a person is tired and feels that he
will not learn anything if he attends a shiur / Torah lecture
that day. One should go anyway, because, like Avraham, a person
should be conscious of two benefits that can arise from his
mitzvot. When one attends a shiur, he may learn something, but
even if he doesn't, he sets an example for others. And, this
latter purpose is accomplished even if he is too tired to
understand the lecture.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 240)
"I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain
yourselves . . ." (18:5)
Rashi comments: We find a source in each part of Tanach for the
fact that bread sustains man. The source in the Torah is the
above verse. The source in Nevi'im / Prophets is the verse
(Shoftim 19:5), "Sustain your heart with bread." The source in
Ketuvim / Writings is the verse (Tehilim 104:15), "And bread will
sustain the heart of mankind."
R' Asher Kalman Braun z"l (a rosh yeshiva in the Ponovezh
Yeshiva in Lithuania) asks: Doesn't everyone know that bread
sustains man? He answers: The fact that man is sustained when he
eats bread is anecdotal evidence but it does not prove that bread
can sustain any person. The fact that it is written in Tanach,
however, is proof!
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Shai La'Torah p. 420)
"He took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared,
and placed these before them . . ." (18:8)
Rashi observes: But he did not bring bread, because the bread
that Sarah had prepared had become tamei / ritually impure,
whereas it was Avraham's custom to eat only food that was tahor /
pure (not the same as "kosher").
R' David Soloveitchik shlita (son of the "Brisker Rav") asks:
So what if it was Avraham's custom to eat only food that was
tahor! He believed that his guests (the angels) were idol
worshipers, so why couldn't he feed them bread that was tamei?
R' Soloveitchik answers: It would appear that a host who feeds
his guests does not fulfill the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim /
hosting guests unless he eats with them. It is told that R'
Chaim Ozer Grodzenski z"l (Vilna; died 1941) was ill one year and
did not eat in the sukkah. One day, a visitor came, and R' Chaim
Ozer invited him to stay for lunch. Much to the visitor's
surprise, R' Chaim Ozer then donned a heavy coat and went down to
the sukkah. He explained, "Although one who is suffering is
exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, he is not exempt from the
mitzvah of hachnassat orchim." It is possible that R' Chaim
Ozer's meaning was in consonance with the foregoing halachah.
The original question is not fully answered, however, for it
would appear that even one whose custom is to eat only food that
is tahor may eat non-tahor food when he is hosting guests (see
Rema, Yoreh Deah 112:15, and Shach, para. 26). Why then did
Avraham not serve the non-tahor bread and eat with his guests?
R' Soloveitchik answers: Rambam (Maimonides) writes (at the
end of Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot), "Even though one is permitted
to eat food in an impure state and drink liquids in an impure
state, the early pious ones used to eat even non-holy foods in a
state of purity. ["Holy foods" means sacrifices and terumah.
"Non-holy foods" means everything else.] These people were
called 'perushim' / 'those who restrain themselves.' We are
taught that 'perishut' / 'restraint' leads to purification of the
body from evil deeds, and purification of the body leads to
holiness of the soul and distancing oneself from bad beliefs."
Mishlei (19:2) says, "Also, for the soul to be without
knowledge is not good." R' Soloveitchik's grandfather, R' Chaim
z"l, explained this verse in light of a letter that Rambam wrote
to a correspondent saying that the question that the
correspondent asked in his letter smacked of heresy and was not
becoming of the one who asked it. Therefore, Rambam surmised,
the questioner must have inadvertently eaten something non-
kosher, which led him to ask such a question. This is the
meaning of the verse -- even if one has eaten something unfit
"bli da'at" / "without knowledge," it is "nefesh lo tov" / "not
goodfor the soul."
In short, R' David Soloveitchik concludes, Avraham was
halachically permitted to eat non-tahor bread with his guests.
However, Avraham's life's work was to rid the world of heretical
beliefs, and he would not put that work at risk by eating
something not tahor.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Shai La'Torah p. 421)
R' Mordechai Meltzer (Kletzki) z"l
R' Mordechai Kletzki was born in Vilna in 1797, one year before
the death of the Vilna Gaon. R' Mordechai married the daughter
of R' Laib Gordon, who was in the malt business and was thus
known as "Meltzer," and this name eventually stuck to R'
Mordechai as well. Supported by his father-in-law, R' Mordechai
devoted himself to studying and teaching, first in the yeshiva of
R' David Strashun and later as head of Reb Maile's yeshiva. (Reb
Maile was a wealthy businessman who established and supported the
institution that bore his name. That yeshiva still exists in
Yerushalayim under the name "Yeshivat Ramailles.")
In 1852, R' Mordechai was appointed rabbi of Kalvarie,
Lithuania, and he remained there until 1864. In that year, at
age 67, he was appointed rabbi of Lida. As a rabbi, he was known
for being uncompromising in his principles, even if those who
disagreed with him were the most powerful members of his flock.
It was R' Mordechai's policy not to write haskamot / letters of
approbation for new Torah works unless he felt that the work was
truly groundbreaking or important. Thus, when R' Yisrael Meir
Hakohen sought R' Mordechai's haskamah for his work on the laws
of lashon hara entitled Chafetz Chaim, R' Mordechai refused.
The author of the Chafetz Chaim left disappointed, and he soon
met one of the judges of R' Mordechai's bet din / rabbinical
court in the street. The latter inquired what had brought the
visitor to Lida and the "Chafetz Chaim" told him. "Yes, he is a
difficult man," the judge said of the rabbi, and began speaking
lashon hara about R' Mordechai, but the Chafetz Chaim interrupted
and argued the one must judge R' Mordechai in a positive light.
The judge was awestruck, and he ran to tell R' Mordechai about
this young author who insisted on judging R' Mordechai in a
positive light despite his own disappointment. "If so," said R'
Mordechai, "he must have written his work [on the laws of slander
and gossip] with pure intentions," and he hurried to recall the
author and wrote a glowing haskamah for his work.
R' Mordechai passed away in 1883 and was buried in Lida.
Dr. and Mrs. David Maslow in memory of their fathers
Archie Maslow a"h (18 Marcheshvan)
and Samuel Holstein a"h (25 Marcheshvan)
Mrs. Rochelle Dimont and family in memory of
mother-in-law and grandmother, Chana Dimont a"h
father and grandfather, Rabbi Louis Tarshish
and grandmother and great-grandmother, Chaya Sarah Tarshish a"h
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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