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Parshat Vayera

At a first glance one might think that the beginning of the parsha stands in contradiction to the end.

At the beginning of the parsha the Kadosh Baruch Hu reveals Himself to Avraham and while Hashem is speaking to him Avraham interrupts the Kadosh Baruch Hu when he sees three men standing near him, saying to Hashem, “If I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass from thy servant” and as Rashi says (in his second peirush), “He asked the Kadosh Baruch Hu to wait for him until he ran and welcomed the guests.” This means that Avraham is an independent thinker who is so sure of what he is doing that he tells the Kadosh Baruch Hu to wait!

Immediately thereafter we are told the story of Sdom. Hashem reveals to Avraham that He is going to destroy Sdom because “the cry of Sdom and Gomorrah is great and the sin is so very grave.” The Torah goes on to say that “Avraham approached – “vayigash” - and said, ‘Will you even annihilate the tzaddik with the rasha?’” Rashi explains the meaning of vayigash here by bringing down other instances and contexts of the word vayigash, “we have seen vayigash in reference to war… and vayigash in reference to persuasion by entreaty and vayigash in reference to prayer and Avraham combines all these; he comes to speak out strongly and to persuade by entreaty and to pray.”

It is quite shocking that Avraham prepares himself to also speak sternly with the Kadosh Baruch Hu, and why? For the sake of the wicked inhabitants of Sdom? This holds true from the style of what Avraham says: “It would be sacrilege for you to do this thing, to kill a tzaddik with a rasha… shall not the judge of the whole world act justly?”

If today an attorney would speak in such a manner before a court he would immediately be charged with contempt of court, but Avraham has no compunction about speaking that way. Avraham conducts negotiations with Hashem until he realizes that the people of Sdom have no merits.

In both of these cases Avraham is revealed to us as “the greatest of men,” who stands on his opinions through deep clarity and original independent thought.

Already from a very young age Avraham began to investigate and examine the meaning of life and the way Hashem runs the world. At the tender age of three Avraham began to seek out his creator and was not afraid of thinking contrary to the rest of the world. This is “Avram the Ivri” (Ivri as in “M’eveir” - the other side), with the world on one side and him on the other.

This characteristic of Avraham’s must be assimilated within the Jewish people, which is limited in terms of numbers – “It was not because you were more numerous than all the nations that Hashem embraced you and chose you…” (Dvarim 7:7), and this nation stands opposite the whole world with other opinions and different customs, and if we do not know how to stand up for our inner – Divine -  truth, we will be swallowed up among the nations (even internally, among our own people, we must stand up for our opinions, after we have clarified the various schools of thought and decided that ours is truly the path of the Torah, as the Rama says, (OH 1.1), that a person should and not be embarrassed if someone ridicules his Avodat Hashem.

In contrast, in parshat ha’akeida we seemingly meet a different Avraham. Thereafter he is willing and wishes to sacrifice Yitzchak without a second thought or an appeal against Hashem’s command. Avraham is commanded to slaughter his son, to whom he was zocheh after great anticipation and regarding whom the Kadosh Baruch Hu had promised him, “I shall establish my covenant through Yitzchak…” Avraham could have asked how that promise would be fulfilled, and why the Hashem had given him Yitzchak just for him to be sacrificed later. Was the Kadosh Baruch Hu “toying” with men’s emotions?

Furthermore, if the whole purpose of Avodat Hashem is to reveal the sanctity in earthly life, as intimated in Avraham’s request of the Kadosh Baruch Hu, “please do not pass by thy servant,” and as the Gemara says in Masechet Shabbat (127), “Rav Yehuda said in Rav’s name that welcoming guests is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechina,” this means that man must not separate himself from the company of men and doing chesed for them and seclude himself with only himself and his closeness with Hashem. Now here the Kadosh Baruch Hu tells him to kill his son, and it is as if Hashem is telling him that there is no value to life in its earthly presence.

Indeed, there are “wise men” (mainly in their own eyes) who claim that Avraham did not pass this test but rather failed it, since the Kadosh Baruch Hu actually wanted Avraham to object to the command regarding the akeida and not to agree to carry it out, as evinced when Hashem says to him, “lay not thy hand upon the lad.” Those are foolish statements typical of people whose whole spiritual world equals the minuteness of human intelligence, and all the decisions regarding what is ethical and what is not are based on a human outlook, which is partial and varies in keeping with the mandates of modern and post-modern vogue.
Regarding them it is fitting to quote the words of Rav Kook (on another matter), “…how lowly are the dwarves, who have bleary eyes that creep around the lowest row of stones on a citadel tower and make note of its height, which they can reach only as high as their small outstretched hand, and their confused gaze. When they are told that a beautiful and glorious star can be seen from the top of the tower, they immediately decide how low that lovely star is.”

We, however, know that it was davka in this test that Avraham achieves his highest level of dveikut (devotion) and connection with the Kadosh Baruch Hu, and through this will be zocheh to be the forefather of the Jewish people who will have a spiritual effect on all the nations of the world. That is why we constantly daven to Hashem to remember the akeida, which is the expression of the characteristic of internal dveikut inside us.

A closer look at parshat ha’akeida also reveals that here, too, the Kadosh Baruch Hu wants Avraham to be active and not a rag doll that lacks character. Hashem commands, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yiztchak… and bring him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall designate to you.” This means that the Kadosh Baruch Hu does not reveal to Avraham on which mountain he is to sacrifice Yiztchak, but rather Avraham must seek the place that is suitable and holy for performing the sacrifice. Avraham searches for three days and seems to be waiting for a Divine declaration that he has arrived at the mountain. However, “On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” This means that the Kadosh Baruch Hu does not tell him anything, but rather he himself succeeds in seeing the place.

Chazal tell us that during those three days the Satan appeared to Avraham in the form of an old man and asked him, “Where are you going?” “To pray,” he replied. “If someone is going to pray,” continued the Satan, “why the fire and the knife and the branches on his shoulder?” “In case we tarry there a day or two and we slaughter [an animal] and bake and eat,” replied Avraham. “No, old man,” countered the Satan, “I was there when the Kadosh Baruch Hu told you to take your son, and will an old man like you go and lose the son that was given him when he was 100 years old?”

Then the Satan took the form of a boy and tried to undermine Yiztchak’s confidence concerning the commandment of the akeida, and then since he saw that they did not accept his words he turned himself into a mighty river. Then, since by the time they had reached half way across the river the water was up to Avraham’s neck, Avraham called out to Hashem, “If I or Yiztchak drown, who will fulfill your command, regarding whom shall we commune with your name?” Hashem replied, “Your life that is beside you shall be united with my name in the world.” (Midrash Tanhuma).

The three forms in which the Satan appeared are the various forms of arguments against the akeida. The old, level-headed man argues using logic and rationality, the boy, who has his whole life ahead of him argues that the akeida will prevent him from fulfilling his purpose, and nature too (the river) objects to the act, but throughout, Avraham, through clear reasoning and thought reaches the conclusion that this Divine matter is more supreme and there are situations in which one must give ones life for kedushat Hashem.

Those who peer at life through external human eyes claim that there is nothing more valuable than life itself, but we, who look at life from a divine perspective know that it is true that the sanctity of life is a supreme value, but the true definition of life involves cleaving to Hashem and is a life that fills the divine neshama within us, which is truly the essence of life.

Avraham thought about all this during those three days and reached the unequivocal conclusion, so he does not need an external statement from the Kadosh Baruch Hu to tell him that he has reached the mountain, but rather from within himself he sees the mountain with complete certainty.

This process does not quench Avraham’s desire. On the contrary, it increases his desire toward the source of that desire, the will of Hashem. When man knows that although he has strength and a personal opinion and a will of his own, but that all these are expressions of divine strengths, and man’s will is the tiniest of reflections of Hashem’s will, then he truly magnifies and raises his will because he connects with the supreme and divine foundation of that will. This is the meaning of Hashem’s words to Avraham, “Now I know that you fear Hashem.” Ahavat Hashem is the dveikut and the connection, but without the teaching that instructs man regarding the correct proportions, that love does not operate properly. We therefore learn that all of Avraham’s strength to stand up for his opinion and to argue with the Kadosh Baruch Hu is not derived from obstinacy and arrogance, but rather from clarifying the divine strengths within him.

This is proved in the matter of Sdom, where the Kadosh Baruch Hu says, “Shall I conceal from Avraham that which I am about to do? Since Avraham will surely become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” This means that the Kadosh Baruch Hu Himself wants Avraham to argue in favor of the people of Sdom, because after all, Avraham’s role and that of Am Yisrael is a world-encompassing role and applies to all mankind, all based on the fear of Hashem that Avraham expresses at the akeida.

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