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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYeira

17 MarCheshvan 5769

November 15, 2008

Vol.18 No.8

In This Issue:

Powerful Tefillot

by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky

Immediately after being informed of HaKadosh Baruch Hu's decision to annihilate Sedom, Avraham begins a plea for their survival. Avraham, very brazenly, tells Hashem, "Chalilah Lecha MeiAsot KaDavar HaZeh," "It would be sacrilege to You to do such a thing!" (BeReishit 18:25). Avraham then asks that if righteous people exist in Sedom, the whole city should be saved due to their merits. He begins the negotiation at fifty righteous people, then forty-five, and continues his effort to spare the city until Hashem agrees to spare the city if there would be just ten righteous individuals.

Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:2) writes that a city whose sins outweigh its merits will be destroyed immediately, and quotes the destruction of Sedom as his source for this ruling. The Lechem Mishneh asks that if Sedom is the source for Rambam's ruling, how then did Hashem agree to spare the city for a mere fifty righteous people? Surely if there were only fifty righteous individuals in the entire city, the total sum of the city's sins would outweigh the merits of the fifty individuals! The Lechem Mishneh answers that while Hashem could and would destroy an entire city if its sins outweigh its merits, there is a solution. Tefillah has the capacity to change and wipe out that Din. Avraham prayed on the people of Sedom's behalf. Even though the Din mandated that there be destruction, Avraham's Tefillah had the power to change and erase even HaKadosh Baruch Hu's Din.

While the words of the Lechem Mishneh are powerful and should impact our perception of the power of Tefillah, his Chidush (Halachik novelty) is not limited to prayers that relate to the physical wellbeing of individuals.

This idea is expressed in the spiritual realm as well. A person has the ability, through his Tefillot, to better his chances of succeeding as an Eved Hashem, God's servant. Not only is this true regarding one's own growth in Avodat Hashem, but it is also true regarding others' growth as well. Our Tefillot also have the ability to affect our fellow man's Avodat Hashem. The Gemara (Berachot 10a) records how there were some terrible people who caused Rav Meir much heartache. While he used to pray for their death, his wife, Bruriah, implored him to pray that they do Teshuvah. The Gemara states that Rav Meir followed her advice, prayed for them, and sure enough they did Teshuvah.

The Maharsha is bothered by a simple question. We know that "HaKol BeYedei Shamayim Chutz MiYirat Shamayim," "Everything is in Hashem's hands except fear of Heaven" (Berachot 33b and Megillah 25a). Yirat Shamayim is the one thing that is totally based on one's own actions and decisions (BeYedei Adam) and is not determined or impacted by Hashem (BeYedei Shamayim). If so, asks the Maharsha, how could it be of assistance to daven (pray) for others (which is presumably asking for a change BeYedei Shamayim) to do Teshuvah (which is up to man as it is directly related to Yirat Shamayim)?

Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that while it won't directly help to daven for someone else to do Teshuvah, we can pray to God that he puts them into situations where they have better chances of succeeding. We can daven that Hashem gives them the necessary resources to do Mitzvot and keeps them away from things that might lead them astray.

However, I heard a different answer in the name of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, the Rav of Jerusalem's Old City, who explains that the potential of Tefillah is so powerful and real that it is considered BeYedei Adam and not BeYedei Shamayim. Tefillah is too often said by rote, while we are somewhat skeptical of its true powers. However, says Rav Nebenzahl, Tefillah is a real force whose capacity is considered to be BeYedei Adam. One who davens for a fellow individual (and certainly for himself) is doing an action to effect change, not merely saying words that go to Shamayim and get sorted and filtered up there. Tefillah is a real force with the ability to affect change down here in this world. (Rav Moshe emphatically rejects this approach which was offered by the questioner, Rav Ephraim Greenblatt.)

We have seen that Tefillah has the ability to change the Din, even one of extreme proportions. It can also have a major impact on people's spiritual wellbeing. Hopefully, as we read of Avraham's intense pleading with Hashem, we too will realize the power of our Tefillot and thus cause all the change that we hope for in this world. The Pasuk states, "BeRov Am Hadrat Melech," "A multitude of people is a King's glory" (Mishlei 14:28). The Maor VeShemesh writes that through the "Rov Am" "" the many people who come together to daven "" "Hadrat Melech" "" the King above will retract (the meaning of "Hadrat" in Aramaic) his Gezeirot Raot (unpleasant decrees). Let us learn from Avraham and Bruriah to utilize our potent power of tefillah to break the barriers and land our teffilot onto the throne of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Laughter's Power

by Jesse Friedman

When Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, she based his name on the assumption that others would laugh along with her just as God made her laugh when telling her she would have a son. Rashi, citing the Midrash, states that there was much rejoicing on that day as many barren women conceived and many sick people were healed. Why does Sarah's miracle affect others and what is the significance of the laughter (as opposed to mere rejoicing)?

Rav Shach notes that we can learn about a man's potential for good from his potential for destruction. Just as one man can be terribly destructive, he can be equally constructive. Similarly, Sarah's laughter illustrates this lesson of positive potential from negative potential. The early subject of the Parashah flows from Sarah's mocking laugh at God's promise of a child (a year before Yitzchak's birth) despite her old age, to Avraham escorting his enigmatic guests to look at Sedom, then to God's questioning of Sarah's laugh through Avraham. The middle episode, of Avraham escorting his guests, seems to interrupt a logical progression of Sarah's mistake followed by rebuke. The interruption seems to link Sarah's laughter with Sedomite behaviors. But how is laughing at a seemingly impossible prophecy related to the sins of a thoroughly wicked city?

Laughing is more than just a noise from your mouth; it is a representative of your feelings. Laughing at a command shows complete cynicism and a lack of belief in the one issuing the command. By laughing, Sarah essentially questioned God's presence and abilities for a brief moment. The repercussions from such a denial are enormous. When one believes God is before him, it is almost impossible to sin. Conversely, denying God's existence opens the doors to sinful behavior.

Sarah's second laughter, after giving birth to Yitzchak, represents a Tikkun (correction) of her first mistaken laugh. Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:1) states that ultimate repentance occurs when one is faced with the same opportunity to sin and does not repeat the sin. Sarah at first laughed sinfully when she heard she would give birth, and then laughed for positive purposes when she gave birth. Since laughter is visible to everyone, Sarah's first laughter spread her negative feelings about God to everyone else. But the second time, she showed her complete repentance and trust in God's absolute authority to everyone else. Thus, others were able to share her joy and be healed from their ailments and woes. It is one thing to rejoice; it is something else to laugh and show it to others. May we all realize the repercussions of our actions, as Sarah did.

Chesed's Value

by Chanan Schnaidman

During his recuperation from his self-performed Berit Milah, Avraham wanted to perform acts of kindness without divine help. To help him, Hashem dispatched angels disguised as nomadic wayfarers to assist Avraham in fulfilling his desire to do Chesed. This made Avraham extremely happy, and once he saw them, he quickly ran toward them to greet them, as the Pasuk states, "VaYisa Einav VaYar VeHenei Shelosha Anashim Nitzavim Alav VaYar VaYarotz LiKratam MiPetach HaOhel VaYishtachu Artzah," "He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! Three men were standing over him, he perceived, so he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground" (BeReishit 18:2).

However, the three angels had additional missions aside from providing the righteous man with opportunities to perform acts of Chesed. Rashi explains that first angel came to announce to Sarah that she would have a son, the second came to heal Avraham, and the third came to destroy Sedom. The Midrash states that one angel cannot perform two designated mission; therefore, Hashem sent three angels to perform three different tasks. This explains why two of the Angels were at Avraham's house; one had to tell Sarah about her son, and one had to heal Avraham, but why didn't the third angel travel straight to Sedom in the first place? Why is it necessary for him to go to Avraham's house?

Since Hashem wanted the angel to understand his role in destroying Sedom, He sent the angel to Avraham. Hashem told the angel that Sedom is a place that lacks kindness and must be destroyed. For the angel to understand what true kindness is, he had to be in a place that contains true kindness, like Avraham's household. By going to Avraham's house, the angel is able to experience what real kindness was and understand why Sedom was destroyed.

We know that our actions have more meaning when we have a better understanding of the significance of the actions. When asked to do an assignment, such as those that involve Chesed, it is important to understand the value of the assignment we are performing. May we all be Zocheh to undertake many acts of Chesed like Avraham, and when doing so, we should comprehend the meaning behind the actions.

Mankind's Potential

by Akiva Tolchin

There are many opinions offered regarding Malachim, angels, and their true nature. The traditional opinion explains that Malachim are messengers sent from Hashem to perform a specific mission. It is a common belief that they cannot execute more than one mission at a time, and, therefore, carry out only their precise task. In this light, we can try to understand the story in this week's Parashah of Avraham and his three guests. After a particularly painful circumcision, Avraham spots three men walking towards his tent. He invites them in and offers them complete hospitality, regardless of his weakened state of health. Rashi tells us that each of these three men were actually Malachim, each of whom served a different purpose. The first came to heal Avraham, the second came to inform Sarah that she would have a child, and the third came on his way to destroy the city of Sedom. A very obvious question arises. Why did this third Malach come to Avraham's tent at all? After all, its sole purpose was to demolish Sedom, and coming to Avraham was completely unrelated to its mission!

According to some Rishonim, before Adam was created, Hashem was confronted with two groups of Malachim debating the nature of humankind after their creation. One group argued that the human race possesses many qualities such as kindness and righteousness that will enhance the world. The other pleaded that humans would be dishonest and incapable of living peacefully together. When Sedom developed into the cruel immoral city that it was, it served as a support for the latter group of Malachim. As a result, Hashem decided that he had to present a counter attack. By bringing the third Malach to Avraham he proved that humans could also be pure and scholarly. Only after this encounter could the Malach destroy the evil city of Sedom. Now he saw that Sedom was not a model for mankind, as the true model is Avraham, the Malach could destroy the city.

The Seforno offers a second answer. Expounding on the phrase "VaYifnu MiSham HaAnashim," "And the men turned from there" (BeReishit 18:22), he explains that the Torah is differentiating between Avraham's "house of kindness" and the city of Sedom. The potential to be as great as Avraham justifies the ruling to destroy Sedom, because Sedom was the antithesis of Avraham's Chesed. The Seforno further states that the third Malach was needed to validate the court case of Sedom. The minimum number of judges is three, and this encounter sealed the fate of that city. We can take this idea one step further. The Parashah states "VeHu Yosheiv Petach HaOhel," "And he sat at the opening of the tent" (18:1). Avraham wished to stand in honor of the Shechinah of Hashem. Hashem, however, told him to sit, demonstrating that when a Jewish court sits in judgment, Hashem, present at each court case, will be the only standing before the assembly. This concept of a symbolic court case occurring at this occasion fully explains the need for the last Malach. This can surely explain why Avraham became so agitated when Hashem told him of the plan to destroy Sedom. He felt completely responsible for the decree, so he interceded on behalf of their city. Somehow he knew that he must have inadvertently sealed their fate. Whether we accept the first answer or the second, both have crystallized the true message behind Avraham's encounter with his three guests. It is now understandable why the third Malach could not go straight to destroy Sedom. Evidently Avraham's Chesed justified Hashem's creation of man, and we must appreciate that Hashem will never punish a whole community unless there has been a processed decree.

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