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Parshas Lech Lecha

We know that Sarah did not have children for a long time. She gave Avraham her maidservant Hagar as a wife. Hagar conceived and the esteem that she had for Sarah diminished. The Torah tells us that Sarah afflicted her. This is explained to mean that she worked her hard (16:6 with Rashi). Lets not forget that Sarah Imeinu was

an incredibly righteous woman that we cannot begin to fathom. When the Torah describes her as afflicting Hagar, it certainly does not mean what we think it means. In some way, on Sarah’s very high level, she did not treat Hagar appropriately. But the Torah does describe her action as afflicting Hagar and she did indeed err in this as did Avraham for allowing her to do it. Hashem took note of Hagar’s afflicition and gave her a son, Yishmael, the father of the world of Islam, that would “repay” this deed, and would afflict the descendents of Avraham and Sarah (Ramban – what ruach hakodesh!).

How awesome! For such a minute affliction, and we did not commit that crime, yet many generations later, we are still suffering the consequences. (Daas Torah)

How careful do we need to behave in our dealings with others.

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Beyond the Angels

This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, begins with the first of the ten “challenges” through which Hashem tested Avraham’s loyalty. This challenge involved leaving his land, birth place and familiar environment and sojourn to an undisclosed destination.
The final “test” is found ten chapters later and involves Avraham sacrificing his son Yitzchak.
The commentators make an interesting observation, both the first and last of the challenges are introduced with the words “ Lech lecha”, what is the significance of this similarity?
An explanation offered is that the purpose of these tests and any challenges that a person may experience is not to reveal the testee’s loyalty – G-d knows the inner thoughts and motives of a person without the need for a test. Rather, a challenge in life is a Divinely offered opportunity to grow as a person and strengthen one’s relationship with Hashem.
Angels are discribed as being “static” creatures, they have no scope for spiritual growth, where as, humans are described as being “movers” because at any stage in life they are either climbing or falling. “Lech Lecha” means go, travel through the trials of life… and hopefully succeed.
Tests in life are not part of a Divine competition rather they are kindly provided opportunities to grow and thereby enjoy a richer and more fulfilling life.

R’ Ezer Pine
(Based on the sender “ mizmar ledovid”)

Consideration…

Last night (the night of the 7th of Cheshvan) in Israel we began to pray for rain.

Even though we officially started to mention the rain season in our daily prayers from Shemini Atzeres already, we waited two weeks before asking for rain.

The reason for this is, that during the Temple period when people would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it would take up to two weeks for those who lived the furthest away, to get home, so, in order to enable them to get home dry-footed, we delay the prayers for rain.

The obvious lesson to be learned is that of consideration. True, we are in need for rain, especially in Israel, and still, out of material consideration for our brethren, we put our own needs aside, understanding that we do not lose out from thinking of others.

Having put the days of awe behind us (physically, not spiritually) we all have to examine what we are taking with us – in what field are we going to improve.

Our Sages teach us at this point in time, just after the most holy of times, that consideration of others is very high on the list.

Numerous tales are told about our great Rabbanim and how they thought about other people.

Once a person came to Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach asking if it is permissible for him to use money that was deposited in his custody, if he knows for sure that he will be able to return the entire sum before the owner needs the money back. The answer was that he is not allowed to use money that was deposited.

When the person returned home, he was told that Reb Shlomo Zalman had called to say that he had arranged for a loan for this person. He understood that he was in need for the money, so he didn’t just leave him without a solution.

Another story is about Reb Yaacov Kaminetzky. if he would have to drive via a toll road late at night, he would ask the driver to go where there was a person sitting at the teller (as opposed to the automatic gate) since he is sitting there all night by himself and most people are go through the automatic one. He was considerate even of the toll collector.

R’ Adam Philip

Balloon Advertising

Shimon was opening a new shop. He had a great idea how to publicize his new shop. He would order coloured gas balloons that publicized the shop and the opening date and would tie them to the mirrors of the cars parked in the area of the new shop. But he was concerned. It is permitted to use other people’s cars without their permission or maybe it is a type of stealing.

It would seem that it depends on the type of people that park their cars there. If the balloons tied to their mirrors would be a bother, and they would just want to get rid of the balloons, then it would indeed be prohibited. However, if the car owners would be pleased to find the balloons attached to their cars as they could give them to their children or grandchildren, then we could assume that in return for this present of the balloon, the car owner would not mind that his mirror was used (of course care should be taken not to move the mirror). (U’Pri’o Matuk)

Breaking the Idols

The sages identify the beginning of the era of Torah with Avraham’s conversion of the idol worshipers of Charan into believers in God. The question arises why did the sages view this event as ushering in the era of Torah? After all, the Torah pre-existed Creation and was the blueprint for Creation. Adam and Noach learned Torah long before Avraham was born, and Shem and Ever even set up a yeshivah.

In order to answer this question, we must first understand Avraham’s unique role in the transmission of knowledge of Hashem. Raavad (to Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3) asks why Avraham alone of all the righteous people of his generation and the preceding ten generations is credited with influencing the masses. Surely the others also protested against idolatry and rebuked their wayward contemporaries. He answers that while the other tzaddikim admonished

their contemporaries, they were not able to break the idols because the idol worshipers hid them. Only Avraham was able to find the idols.

Raavad’s words are difficult to understand. Was Avraham Avinu, then, only a better detective than the other tzaddikim, and thus able to ferret out the hidden idols? Moreover, what does Raavad mean that they hid their idols? Nimrod and his cohorts publicly worshiped idols and idol manufacturers, like Avraham’s father, carried on a brisk, open trade.

To understand Raavad we need a deeper understanding of ancient idolatry. Rambam explains that the original idol worship was a well intentioned mistake. Just as one honors the king by honoring his emissaries, so did the generation of Enosh worship various natural phenomena, which God had invested with certain powers, as a means of honoring the Creator of those phenomenon. Their mistake lay in failing to recognize that showing respect to the king’s emissary is only a form of honoring the king when he is absent. But when he is present, it is tantamount to rebellion. Since Hashem is always present, the worship of His creations is always a diminution of Him.

With the sin of Adam, the relative terms good and evil, replaced the absolutes of truth and falsehood. The various shades of good and evil became a confusing admixture. The Torah, by contrast, distinguishes absolutely between pure and impure, light and darkness, life and death.

The idol worshipers of Avraham’s generation did not hide their idolatry physically, but spiritually. They masked it as righteousness and honor to God. They created ideologies to cloak their sins in light and virtue. Prior to Avraham no one was able to expose the sham, to delineate the light and darkness. This failure prevented them from exercising any lasting influence on those they admonished. They could not break the idols. Only Avraham saw the light and darkness in their true perspective and conveyed this to the masses. He exposed evil for what it was and thereby transformed the idol worshipers into believers in God. Avraham’s life work, then, was the beginning of the era of Torah, the delineation of light and darkness.
(Rabbi Zev Leff)

Arise From The Depths

This week’s Miller’s Musings is sponsored:

יחיאל בן אלעזר לעילוי נשמת

Miller’s Musings – Parshas Noach

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There are those that point to religion as being the root of all evil and conflict in the world, when in truth it has less to do with religion and more to do with the pursuit of power. The downfall of the generation before the flood was due to their obsession with material gain leading to violence, robbery and a general state of anarchy. The destruction began with the waters pouring forth from “the springs of the great depths”. Rashi tells us that this was a case of Middoh Keneged Middoh, the punishment paralleling the sin that it resulted from. Just as the people sinned ‘greatly’ so the flood began in the ‘great’ depths. The question posed by Reb Yeruchom Levovitz is what the exact parallel was? The greatness of the depths was qualitative, whereas the greatness of their sinning was surely in quantity, the vast amount of wrongs they had committed?

As is often the case, the answer lies in understanding that the question is based on a false assumption, in this case that a multitude of sins only produces a quantitative increase, when actually this is not the case. Reb Yeruchom explains that the difference between a person transgressing once and multiple times, is not just the additional transgressions, it also changes the very nature of that sin. When a person falls once, the wrongdoing has a certain particular negative quality to it, but as a person falls prey to his Yetzer Horah and repeats this failing, the nature of the sin changes and becomes more than just the sum of its repeated misdeeds. The very fact that the offense has been perpetrated a number of times changes the kind of sin that it is, giving it a new status as a ‘sin committed many times’, rather than a one-off lapse in standards. The terrible qualitative damage caused by the buildup of sin after sin of this immoral generation, was punished by the waters that sprung forth from the greatest depths.

In essence none of us like to sin. We would all prefer to live our lives in a way that would bring pride to ourselves, our families and of course Hashem. But when we slip up we sometimes lose focus and lose faith in ourselves. We feel that it makes no difference if we sin a bit more once we have already started doing that which is wrong. This is a tragic mistake however, because each additional lapse of our character does not just add on to our tally of sins, it creates a new and more potent version of those sins and damages our true essence in ways that are much more than the cumulative sum of those transgressions. Never let yourself slide down in this way due to an apathy created by feelings of failure. Rather move on from your mistakes, embrace the possibility of redemption and strive higher to a new beginning far away from the calamity that could otherwise have awaited us.

*May the holiness of Shabbos light up our path to greatness*

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Parshas Noach

Noach was a tzaddik, a righteous person. He, and his family, were the only ones saved from the flood. However, after the flood, when he exited the ark, he debased himself. What did he do wrong? He planted a vineyard. What was wrong with that? The planting was justified! It was necessary! The proof to this is that Hashem commanded him to bring twigs of grapevine into the ark! What then did Noach do wrong?

Noach should have planted something else first, not a grapevine that even though it has lofty usages, can also be abused, as indeed happened with Noach – he drank the wine and became drunk.

We see a remarkable insight into human behaviour – that which a person does first can show us where he is holding. Through that act that he chose to perform first we can gain an insight as to whether the person is indeed holy or not. (Daas Torah based on Rashi)

Who Gets The Hospital Bill?

Reuven drank a little too much and collapsed on the pavement. Some of the passers-by tried to wake him up but to no avail. They tried different things but there was no response. They weren’t sure whether the lack of response was due to his excessive alcohol consumption or maybe something more severe such as alcohol poisoning. They decided to play it safe and phoned the ambulance to take him to hospital for investigation.

The next day he woke up and discovered that some kind-hearted people had brought him to hospital. He was a foreign resident and therefore was presented with a hefty bill. He responded that he did not ask to be taken to hospital. He was just brought there. Those kind-hearted people should pay the charges.

Who should pay?

The custom is that if a person becomes ill and cannot help himself, his relatives (or others) expend money on medical procedures to help him and he (or his estate if he dies) is obligated to repay that money, even if there was no instructions from the ill person to get medical assistance. Therefore in this case too, where the person was lying on the pavement like a stone, with no salvation, it is clear that he would want others to help him. Therefore he is obligated to pay for the hospital fees. (R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein based on Tshevas HaRosh)

The Path to Torah

The prophet Yeshayahu (54 9) refers to the Flood as mei Noach-

the waters of Noach-thereby implying that Noach bears at least partial responsibility for the Flood. Sforno suggests that Noach’s failure lay in failing to teach his generation to know Hashem and to walk in His ways. Had he taught them to know Hashem, they would surely have repented.

We can explain this Sforno as follows. The Midrash comments on the phrase, “the path (derech eretz) to the Tree of Life,” that derech eretz is middos, proper character traits. Middos are the paths that lead to the Tree of Life, the Torah. Hence, “Derech eretz precedes Torah.” First one refines his middos, and only then can the Torah dwell within him. The Torah cannot reside in one who does not possess good middos “where there is no derech eretz there is no Torah” (see Rabbeinu Yonah to Pirkei Avos 3:22). Even though only Torah can bring one’s middos to ultimate perfection, where there is no foundation of proper middos, the acquisition of Torah is impossible.

Rabbeinu Yonah’s categorical negation of the possibility of Torah residing in one who lacks good middos can be understood that even in this world the Torah will not remain with him. This idea can be illustrated with the following anecdote. Rambam had a dispute with a philosopher whether instinct or training is the decisive factor in animal behavior. To prove the efficacy of training, the philosopher taught cats to stand erect, balance trays and serve as waiters. He dressed them for the part and conducted a banquet with the cats as the waiters. Rambam countered his proof by releasing some mice at the banquet. The cats, forgetting all their training, let the trays and dishes crash to the ground as they rushed about on all fours in pursuit of the mice.

Human beings also have their baser instincts and desires that, without training, drag them onto all fours. A human being is distinct from the animals, however, by virtue of his ability to perfect his middos so that they control his baser instincts. One who has not worked on perfecting his middos will,

like the trained cat, be able to put on a show of Torah discipline for a time, but only so long as no “mice” are released in his path.

Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that middos were not enumerated in the Torah among the mitzvos because they are the very foundation of all mitzvos and the Torah itself. It is in his ability to emulate the perfect character traits attributed to Hashem that man is in the image of God. One who lacks proper character is therefore deficient in the very essence of humanity.

The sins of immorality and robbery of the generation of the Flood were merely symptoms of the underlying disease of deficient character development. Noach attacked the symptom, but failed to cure the disease. He did not teach them to know Hashem through contemplation of His middos and to walk in His ways by correcting and developing their own character traits. Hence he was unsuccessful. His rebuke may occasionally have suppressed the symptoms, but they soon reappeared, since the underlying cause had not been treated. Without changing their underlying character, no true repentance was possible.
(Rabbi Zev Leff)

Parshas Bereishis

Everything in the Torah is written precisely. The Torah starts with the letter “beis” (ב) and ends with the letter “lamed” (ל). Have you ever wondered why?

(This may seem complicated but it really is not)
The name of Hashem is spelled yud (י), hey (ה), vav (ו) and then another hey (ה). If you add the beis or

the lamed to any one of the letters of His name a complete word is created (בי, בו, בה, לי, לו, לה). This is not true for any other letter in the alphabet. You could not make a complete word with it and all three letters of Hashem’s name.

Very interesting but what is the significance of this? This hints to us that the whole world and everything inside it is dependent on Hashem (Kli Yakar – at the end of Devarim). Hashem created the world and continues to sustain the world every second. There is no existence independent of Him. We are totally and absolutely dependent on G-d for everything.