For the week ending 8 November 2014 / 15 Heshvan 5775

Parshat Vayera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Three days after performing brit mila on himself, Avraham is visited by G-d. When three angels appear in human form, Avraham rushes to show them hospitality by bringing them into his tent, despite this being the most painful time after the operation. Sarah laughs when she hears from them that she will bear a son next year. G-d reveals to Avraham that He will destroy Sodom, and Avraham pleads for Sodom to be spared. G-d agrees that if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom He will not destroy it. Avraham "bargains" G-d down to ten righteous people. However, not even ten can be found. Lot, his wife and two daughters are rescued just before sulfur and fire rain down on Sodom and her sister cities. Lots wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lots daughters fear that as a result of the destruction there will be no husbands for them. They decide to get their father drunk and through him to perpetuate the human race. From the elder daughter, Moav is born, and from the younger, Ammon. Avraham moves to Gerar where Avimelech abducts Sarah. After G-d appears to Avimelech in a dream, he releases Sarah and appeases Avraham. As promised, a son, Yitzchak, is born to Sarah and Avraham. On the eighth day after the birth, Avraham circumcises him as commanded. Avraham makes a feast the day Yitzchak is weaned. Sarah tells Avraham to banish Hagar and Hagar's son Yishmael because she sees in him signs of degeneracy. Avraham is distressed at the prospect of banishing his son, but G-d tells him to listen to whatever Sarah tells him to do. After nearly dying of thirst in the desert, Yishmael is rescued by an angel and G-d promises that he will be the progenitor of a mighty nation. Avimelech enters into an alliance with Avraham when he sees that G-d is with him. In a tenth and final test, G-d instructs Avraham to take Yitzchak, who is now 37, and to offer him as a sacrifice. Avraham does this in spite of ostensibly aborting Jewish nationhood and contradicting his life-long preaching against human sacrifice. At the last moment, G-d sends an angel to stop Avraham. Because of Avrahams unquestioning obedience, G-d promises him that even if the Jewish People sin, they will never be completely dominated by their foes. The parsha ends with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.


A Genius At Hiding His Genius

“Avraham returned to his young men; they rose up and went together to Be'er Sheva.” (22:19)

Humility is the only virtue that can be possessed only subconsciously. Once a person is aware of his humility, it turns immediately into the worst kind of conceit.

The mark of the truly great is how totally unaware of how great they are.

In the town of Radin, there was a fellow in his fifties who never quite managed to get married. Yom Kippur was a very lonely time for him. In Europe, the Kol Nidrei service would finish well before nine o’clock and people would return to their homes. On Shabbat and Yom Tov he had lno ack of meal invitations, but on Kol Nidrei evening there was no meal to which he could be invited. For this poor fellow it was the loneliest night of the year.

One year on Kol Nidre evening he was sitting in the shul long after everyone had gone home. He leaned forward, his forehead on his arm, and started to gently weep. After a few moments, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and found himself looking into the eyes of the Chafetz Chaim. The Chafetz Chaim asked him if he could sit down. He said yes. The Chafetz Chaim proceeded to talk to this fellow about every subject under the sun: his family, the weather — anything to lighten this fellow’s spirits. No subject seemed too trivial for the Chafetz Chaim to speak about.

They spoke for a very long time indeed. In fact they spoke the whole night long. About this. About that. The entire night.

It was clear to the Chafetz Chaim that his avoda (Divine service) this Yom Kippur was not to be immersed in prayer and teshuva, but to shoot the breeze with a simple fellow who was in need of warmth and friendship.

The truly great never make other people feel that they are less — because they honestly believe about themselves that they are no more than the others.

Rabbi Dov Schwartzman, zatzal, who passed away but a few years ago, was one of the greatest geniuses of his generation. Rabbi Moshe Shapiro eulogized him at his funeral, saying that there was no one who was ever like “Reb Dov”, nor would there be anyone again.

And yet for all his greatness, he never let anyone feel less than him. I had the privilege to be close to him, and even though he was so far above me I never felt for a second that he looked down on me. Quite the opposite! He made me and everyone he met feel they were his equals. As Rabbi Shapiro said, he was a genius at hiding his genius.

In this week's Torah portion, it says that Avraham "went together with his young men." In a previous usage of this term, Rashi tells us that Avraham and Yitzchak "went together," meaning that when Yitzchak realized that he was to be the sacrifice, they nevertheless went as of one mind — Yitzchak as willingly as Avraham.

“Avraham returned to his young men; they rose up and went together to Be'er Sheva.”

Given that these "young men" were the lowly Yishmael and Eliezer, how can we understand that they went of one mind? Did they too reach the sublime level of Avraham and Yitzchak on the way to the Akeida?

When Avraham and Yitzchak returned, they had succeeded in the greatest challenge and accomplished the most exalted mission; nevertheless, Yishmael and Eliezer had not an inkling of the lofty levels that had achieved.

Most people after such an experience would return very full of themselves and unable to relate to the ordinary and the mundane. Such was the greatness of Avraham and Yitzchak that they concealed it, to the extent that they all went “together” — Yishmael and Eliezer felt no different to them.

True greatness conceals itself.

  • Sources: Based on Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch as heard from Rabbi Shmuel Nosson Conick, and a story heard about the Chafetz Chaim from Rabbi Mordechai Perlman

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