Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, finally became pregnant after many years of being barren. With regard to her pregnancy, the Torah states that the children were struggling within her womb. She therefore prayed to God and said: “If so, why am I thus?” (Genesis 25:22), or in Hebrew – “Eem ken, lamah zeh anochee?” Hashem answers Rebecca in the following verse in the Torah and states: “Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.” Although this verse has been explained by many, the Or Hachayyim believes that there is still no truly satisfactory answer. God responded to her fear that she would miscarry by explaining to her that there was nothing medically wrong in her womb but that she was carrying two instead of merely one fetus. Normally, when a mother expects twins, the two fetuses get along inside the womb. In Rebecca’s case, they did not. Hence, she experienced the feeling of being crushed. She did not merely carry twins, but each one was destined to become a nation with very different characteristics from one another. Not only would each one be a king in his own right, but these respective nations would endure for thousands of years. All of this would not contribute to her feeling of being crushed were it not for the fact that these twins did not conform to the usual patterns of twins. When God explained that “they will be totally separate already while still inside of you,” this meant that they would not only be separate inside of Rebecca, but their being separate would continue AFTER they were born. The Or Hachayyim continues to explain that an additional factor preventing the two peoples from dwelling together in harmony: each one will derive its strength from the defeat of the other. He cites a similar concept in a statement from Megillah 6 that the city of Tzor attained its true prominence only through the fall of Jerusalem. Seeing that each nation therefore anxiously awaits the downfall of the other, there is no hope that they will live together in brotherly harmony.
Prior to the Torah recording the birth of Jacob and Esau, it tells us that Rebecca “completed the days of her pregnancy” (25:24). Why would the Torah find it necessary to tell us this? Torat Moshe comments that in Berachot 5, it states that whereas in this case the nine-month pregnancy was completed, in the case of Tamar and her twins, it was not. Tamar’s twins were born after a pregnancy of six months and 3 days (Genesis 38:27). We need to understand why Rebecca who suffered such discomfort had to complete nine months of her pregnancy, whereas Tamar was spared almost one-third of her pregnancy. The Midrash tells us that if Rebecca had not exclaimed why am I alive, an exclamation of exasperation, she would have become the mother of all 12 tribes. The numerical value of the word ‘zeh’ in her exclamation is the basis for the interpretation. Also, in Rebecca’s case, the word for twins, ‘teomim’, is spelled defectively without the aleph, since one of her children would be wicked. In the case of Tamar, both of her sons were righteous. There, the word for twins is spelled normally. By allowing Rebecca to complete her pregnancy, each child became complete. Esau was COMPLETELY hairy, unlike humans, whereas Jacob was COMPLETELY devoid of any impurities which Esau was full of. Esau, being the firstborn, exited the womb together with the blood – depicting his future lifestyle. Jacob, on the other hand, was unhurried, and content to wait until Esau had left the womb.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
The most difficult of the ten tests that were presented to Avraham by G’d was the Akeidah (the binding of Yitzchak). He was told by G’d to take his beloved son Yitzchak and bring him up as a “burnt offering.” Although G’d had previously promised Avraham that Yitzchak would be the future Patriarch, he did not question G’d’s command. He submitted to G’d’s Will without hesitation because his sole objective in life was only to do the Will of G’d. When G’d saw that Avraham was willing to slaughter his son he was told to withdraw his hand and not bring any degree of harm upon Yitzchak. A ram appeared to be used in the place of Yitzchak as sacrifice. As it states, “…Behold, a ram! –afterwards caught in the thicket by its horns.” Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky explains: It is because of Avraham’s unparalleled spiritual achievement at the Akeidah that the Jewish people are able to withstand the intense level of prosecution by satan that is in effect on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. The Gemara in Tractate Rosh Hashanah tells us that when the ram’s horn (shoar) is sounded, satan is silenced. The merit of the Akeidah dispels every level of prosecution that is brought against the Jewish people until the end of time.
Sarah died in Tishrei, 2085 (Sept. 1677 b.c.e.) when she was 127 years old. She died in Chevron. The Akeidah was the cause of Sarah’s death. Sarah died immediately after the Akeidah; incidentally, it is by this fact the Akeidah is dated. This is what happened: Satan saw that he could get nowhere in his efforts to persuade Avraham and Yitzchak, since neither of them would pay attention to his words. He therefore disguised himself as an old man riding on a camel (Sifetei Cohen), and went to Sarah, who was waiting in Beer-sheva. He said to her, “Don’t you realize what has happened to you? Your husband took your precious son, built an altar, bound his hands and feet, and offered him as a human sacrifice. Yitzchak screamed and pleaded for mercy, but he had no pity.” Upon hearing this, Sarah cried out in a bitter voice, banging her head on the wall, so great was her misery. She wandered through the hill country toward Chevron, asking everyone she encountered if he had seen them. She sent her servants to the academy of Shem and ‘Ever and to other places, to see if they could find them. When Sarah arrived in Chevron, she sought out the three giants who lived there, Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai, and asked them if they had seen an old man together with three younger men. They replied, “We saw an old man and a younger man on one of the mountains. The young man was bound head and foot, and the old man had a knife in his hands. A cloud then covered the mountain and we could see no more.” Sarah was beside herself with grief. Suddenly ha-satan appeared again, in a different disguise. He asked why she was weeping so bitterly, and she told him what had happened. He said, “Don’t you believe that old man (referring to his previous disguise). He’s a known liar. I just saw Yitzchak alive and well.” When Sarah heard these words, she was so elated that she went into shock and died. (Rashi; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer; Sefer HaYasher).
The Torah repeats, “[These were] the years of Sarah’s life.” These words appear to be redundant. The Torah is teaching us that Sarah was not meant to live longer than this. One should not think that she died only because of her shock at hearing ha-satan’s words. Actually, she had been destined to live this number of years and no more. G-d allows a tzaddik to live out his allotted time; He does not take away even a single day.The direct cause of her death, however, was the shock. (Yafeh Toar)
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
In the middle of this week’s Torah reading, the Torah seems to make a detour into the backwaters of Canaanite political history. For an entire chapter of 25 verses the Torah describes a war between the four kings and the five kings. Ostensibly, these events have little to do with the story of Avraham and the genesis of the Jewish People.
However, in the book “A Historical Backwater” by Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz (in the name of the Maharal of Prague as heard from Rabbi C.Z Senter), the four kings and the five kings represent two inimical world-views. The four kings represent a world-view where everything in creation is subsumed under the ‘forces of nature.’ This view holds that there is nothing else in this world except this world. Four always denotes ‘this-worldliness’. There are four points of the compass. We speak of the ‘four winds’. The world is composed of four ‘elements’: earth, wind, fire, and water. The letter dalet which has the numerical value of four consists of two lines at right angles to each other, suggesting the four points of the compass. You can look a this world as being no more than what can be contained within this world — within the four directions, the four winds, and the four elements. Or you can look deeper and higher and see that this world is focused on an Existence beyond this world. This is the world-view represented by the five kings.
Five in Hebrew is represented by the letter heh. If you look at the letter heh you will see that it is composed of the letter dalet (the letter which stands for four and all it signifies) plus the letter yud. Yud is a unique letter. It is the only letter that doesn’t touch the line on which you write. It is no more than the smallest of dots floating above the line. The letter heh is a pictogram of this world focused and revolving around that which is above this world — the dalet (the “four” of this world) with the yud at its axis.
Avraham fought on behalf of the five kings against the four kings. Avraham was the first person to look at this world and see that there was an Existence beyond that which is contained in this world. If there was a ‘manor’, there had to be a ‘Lord of the manor.’ After Avram fought the war against the four kings, G-d added a letter to his name. Not surprisingly, that letter was the letter heh. For Avraham represents all that the heh represents, that this world revolves around a Higher Existence. It was also after the war against the four kings that G-d made a covenant with Avraham, the covenant of Brit Mila. Brit Mila represents the sublimation of the physical to the metaphysical. It signifies that the human body is only complete when we dedicate it to its Maker.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
At the outset of the parshah, the Torah tells us the following statement: “Noah fathered three sons” (Genesis 6:10). Why did the Torah have to state that Noah had three sons? We were already told this information in 5:32! The mention of ‘three’ sons seems quite superfluous in view of the fact that the Torah tells us the names of each of the three sons. And why did Noach’s name have to be repeated since it is evident that he is the subject of the verse? And finally, the word ‘banim’ or sons seems strange. All the Torah had to write was “Noach fathered Shem, Cham, and Japheth.” Why did the Torah add the word ‘et’ – and, in front of each of the names?
The Or Hachayyim explains as follows: The Torah considered Noah’s good deeds as his principal descendants, and this was on account that Noah had found favor in the eyes of God. This is why our verse is necessary. Had the Torah failed to repeat the information contained in 5:32, we would not have considered his three sons as a positive accomplishment on Noach’s part. The Torah does not report anything positive or negative about these sons. We would have thought these three sons as unfit either on account of their own poor characters or because Noah had not fathered them in order to fulfill God’s commandment. The Torah therefore lists the birth of these three sons immediately after the lists of Noah’s good deeds so as to include them in that list.
The Midrash relates that Noach foresaw that his sons would anger God, and as a result he decided there was no point siring children during the first five hundred years of his life. At that point, God commanded Noah to marry and to have children. He had children in order to keep alive the human species. Another reason for Noah’s tardiness in marrying and having children according to several midrashim, is that God commanded Noah to build the ark when he was 480 years old. The deluge would not occur for another 120 years. In those days, children were not held accountable for their sins until they were one hundred years old. Noah wanted to insure that when the deluge came his children deserved to be saved because they had not reached the age when God held them responsible for their deeds. Hence, he waited until he was 500 years old before he sired any children. Accordingly, Noah’s oldest child would be just under 100 years old at the beginning of the deluge.
The reason why Noah’s name is mentioned once more is a) to demonstrate again that he brought a new-found rest or satisfaction to life on earth (menuchah), and b) to remind us that were it not for their father, these sons would not have been saved. Surely, there were many youngsters below the age of one hundred at the time the deluge started and none of those were spared.
The three times ‘et’ – and – which appeared at first glance superfluous; refer to the wives of Noah’s sons who were also saved only on account of Noah. If the sons of Noah per se did not warrant saving, why did God consider it necessary to repeat the report of the three sons that were born to Noah prior to the deluge? Rabbi Chayyim ben Attar cites Sanhedrin 69 where the Talmud proves that the list of Noah’s sons presented by the Torah is not according to their seniority but is based on the sons’ relative intelligence. Shem is mentioned first as he was the most intelligent. If this were not so, he could not have been described as one hundred years old when he sired Arpachshad two years after the deluge (11:10). If the Torah had not mentioned the extra word ‘banim’ – or ‘sons’, we would have concluded that the list of their names was according to the order of their births.
At the end of the parshah, we read about our forefather Abraham’s father, Terach. The Torah states: “Terach took his son Abram” (11:31). Although Terach set out in the direction of Canaan, his motivation was only to get away from Ur Kasdim. He who goes to the Land of Israel only to get away from another place, does not usually succeed in his goal. He who moves to Israel for reasons of spiritual values to be found there is more likely to succeed. The last 65 years of Terach’s life he remained spiritually stationary. Once he had reached Charan, he was content to stay there. When Abraham’s journey to Canaan is reported, it says only where he aimed for (‘vayatzu lalechet artzah kenaan’) – they departed in order to head for the land of Canaan. The contrast in the method in which the Torah reports the two journeys is to draw our attention to the importance of the objective governing one’s quest.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
Reading the story of the dispersion and the Tower of Babel at the beginning of chapter 11, it is hard to see where the people went wrong. In the words of Targum Yonatan, they spoke one language, one kind of speech and had the same mindset. Their “achdut” (communal unity) should be a model for all! The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a) has a few suggestions as to what the “dor hapalaga” had in mind when building their tower. The first suggestion, that they were trying to make a hole in the sky to create a constant flow of water, is quickly rejected. But then the Talmud explains that there were three groups. The first wanted to live in the heavens, the second wanted to worship idols on top of the tower and the third wanted to wage war. The latter group may have wanted to use their position as a command center from which they could fight off attackers, or, according to a different opinion, as a means to reach heaven to fight G-d. None of these explanations are evident from the text. The only indication the text gives us is that they were looking for collective glory, to avoid becoming dispersed (11:4).
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, of the Tanach Study Center (tanach.org), uses his “Migdal Bavel vort” as a primary base for teaching about Judaism’s mission in the world. They wanted to “make a name for ourselves,” (11:4) while Abraham went out of his way to “call in the name of G-d.” (12:8, 13:4. 21:33) They placed themselves at the center of their universe, while Abraham put G-d at the center of his universe.
Rabbi Avi Billet comments:” It is possible that they were building a tower to be prepared in case of a future flood. It is possible that they wanted to make a one building city in which everyone would live together. It is possible that they wanted to create a standard under which everyone would live, and a society in which everyone would be doing the exact same thing. To their credit, they all participated in the effort. To their credit, they seemed to share the same ideals. To their credit, they knew that when you want to live a certain lifestyle, you need to work hard to achieve that goal. And yet they were worthy of punishment, a punishment in which their unified language changed and they could no longer understand each other. Rabbeinu Bachya says their unity caused G-d to merely disperse them instead of destroy them as He destroyed the generation of the flood. But, he says, they sinned with their speech, in the sentiments they expressed about building a city and making themselves a name, and so they were punished with their speech. Perhaps their greatest sin was not in their admirable unity, but in their insistence that everyone be the same today. We live in a world of many colors and stripes, in which there is room for differences of opinion. People are free to choose how they want to live their lives, and must be flexible in “allowing” others to be free to make their own choices. We have to remember that it is never about us. When we make it about “us” and “our way of life” instead of “for G-d and the Torah” (and some people have a difficulty discerning between the two), we are as guilty as the generation of the dispersion, who were spread across the globe because of their misguided principles.”
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
When reading the opening passage of this parshah, one may become aware that it is very similar to a specific passage in Isaiah 1:2. The Sifri contrasts the use of the word ‘ha-zanah’ by Moses in connection with the word ‘aretz’ – earth -, as reflecting Moses’ closeness to heaven. Isaiah, on the other hand, uses ‘shemiyah’ for hearing in connection with heaven, and ‘ha-azanah’ in connection with earth. This is supposed to reflect Isaiah’s relative closeness to earth.
There are, however, according to Torat Moshe, other differences between Moses and Isaiah, which deserve our attention. Isaiah uses the term ‘dabber’ for both heaven and earth, whereas Moses employs the term ‘dabber’ only when he addresses heaven, whereas he uses the verb ‘amar’. Also, when referring to the heavens, Moses invites ‘ha-azinu’ – listen first, whereas he presumes that the earth will listen only after his speech has already been made (‘imrey phi’), or at least begun. Moses illustrates that a tzaddik can command heavenly beings, seeing that the latter do not enjoy freedom of choice. Even a tzaddik, however, cannot COMMAND a fellow human being, unless that human being is agreeable. A tzaddik even can use harsh language, i.e. ‘dibbur’ when addressing heavenly creatures. When he addresses earthly creatures – such as human beings – he cannot dictate, and there is hence the word ‘amirah’ – which is to say but in a soft language and tone. All of the above, Torat Moshe explains, was applicable to a person of the caliber of Moses. Isaiah, a lesser mortal Although a major prophet did not presume to address heavenly beings in so peremptory a matter. He would communicate only the word of God, not his own. Hence – ‘ki Hashem dibber’ in Isaiah 1:2, where he commanded heaven and earth only to listen to the word of God. If the Midrash Hagadol relates that heaven and earth arrested their orbiting when addressed by Moses, just as they had stopped orbiting at the time of the revelation at Mount Sinai, the meaning may be this: At Mount Sinai, the giving of the 10 commandments and the immediate direct guidance of God was so evident, that anything based merely on natural law, such as the motion of galaxies, ceased. Also, this served as a warning to Israel that should they fail to accept the Torah, the motion of the galaxies would become meaningless since God would destroy nature; having creating it only for the sake of the Jewish people accepting his covenant. When Moses calls on heaven and earth as witnesses to his warning to the Jewish people to remain loyal to their God and their Torah, he reenacts the events of the time of the revelation at Sinai in order to bring home his point. An additional reason for calling up the heavens and the earth as witnesses is that according to Torah law, the witnesses must be the first to execute any punishment decreed by the Court, based on their testimony (Deut. 17:7). It will be heaven and earth, which by withholding their bounty will execute judgment on the Jewish people, should they fail to heed Moses’ warnings.
If we compare this weeks parsha, Haazinu, to parashat Netzavim (which we read before Rosh Hashanah), it seems to be very similar upon first glance. It begins with the idea of God taking Israel under His wings, and Israel repaying this kindness by worshipping idols. This -of course- is followed by God punishing Israel for forsaking Him. Both parshas end with an instruction to do good deeds, in order to ensure only reward from God. The obvious question which arises is why is Haazinu different? What does it add to Netzavim? Also, how is it special in relation to all the different types of tochacha -rebuke- we have already seen in Deuteronomy?
Just by looking at the verses, it is obvious that there is a difference in the poetic style of the parsha. It is a shira, a song, which according to the Netziv, is the only part of the Torah which was written before it was taught. But the Ramban finds a deeper meaning to the verses, explaining the parsha as both an account of Israel’s history, and a prophecy of their future. He explains the following verse: “and Moses came and spoke all the words of this song…” – to include everything that will happen to Israel in the future. Ramban demonstrates how each section of the shira refers to a different part of Israel’s history. It starts with God taking care of us in the desert, conquering the other nations. Israel then forgot how it was who had helped them, and God proceeded to turn to avoda zara -idol worship.
Ramban discusses certain things which were predicted to happen in the future – i.e.: that God would disperse Israel to the four corners of the earth. He points out that the end of the shira states that God will take revenge on their enemies. He stresses that the accuracy of certain predictions is proof that this promise of revenge (or rather a promise of final redemption- which is how he understands revenge) will also one day be fulfilled.
Nachshoni compares this logic to that of Rabbi Akiva, who looked upon the remnants of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, and still was able to rejoice because he understood that just as the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple had come true, so too would the prophecy of the geulah- redemption.
These commentators clearly see Haazinu as representative of something more than a harsh rebuke. They realize that Haazinu is a story of Israel’s history and future. They see in it the ultimate comfort of the promise of redemption.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim