18 Issue #3

Parashat Lech Lecha ‫פרשת לך־לך‬

8 Marcheshvan 5774

When to Say L’Chaim

Rabbi Michael Taubes
When Avraham Avinu returns home victorious from his battle with the four kings after rescuing Lot from their hands, he is greeted by Malki-Tzeddek, the king of Shaleim, who brings out bread and wine and subsequently blesses both Avraham and Hashem (Bereishit 14:18-20). Although at first glance this appears to be a very noble gesture, appropriate for one described by the Torah (Posuk 18) as a Kohein, the Gemara in Nedarim (32b) finds fault with Malki-Tzeddek actions because of the order in which he pronounced his blessings. As the Pesukim indicate, Malki-Tzeddek, identified in the Midrash cited by Rashi as Sheim, the son of Noach, first blessed Avraham and then blessed Hashem, thereby praising the servant before the Master, which is obviously out of order. The Gemara concludes that because of this, Hashem decided that MalkiTzeddek descendants would not all be Kohanim as he was. The Sdei Chemed (Asifas Dinim, Ma’areches Berachos 1:45) presents an interesting discussion among the Poskim based on this idea, which frequently has relevance when people get together at a Kiddush or a Simchah and wish each other a “L’Chaim” over a cup of wine or liquor. Is it appropriate for one to first say L’Chaim to a friend, blessing him, and then to make Beracha to Hashem and drink the wine or liquor, as seems to be the common practice? Or is it preferable for one to first make a Beracha, then drink something immediately (to avoid any interruption between the recitation of the Beracha and the consumption of the drink), and only then wish one’s friend a L’Chaim, so as not to repeat the error of Malki-Tzeddek by blessing Hashem only after blessing a fellow human being?

The Sdei Chemed cites opinions on both sides of the issue. Some hold that since the Gemara says that MalkiTzeddek was ultimately punished for failing to acknowledge Hashem before acknowledging Avraham, then we certainly ought to be careful to recite the proper Beracha to Hashem before wishing L’Chaim to any friend. Others, however, point to the Gemara in Berachos (19b) and other places which states that Kavod HaBeriyos, giving honor to or preserving the dignity of another person, can sometimes take precedence even over the concern for avoiding the violation of an Aveirah from the Torah. Certainly, then, it should not be a problem to honor a friend by wishing him a L’Chaim and then to make a Beracha and have one’s drink. The Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 175:55) quotes one authority who writes that he asked his Rebbe why he was careful to always make the Beracha and drink something before wishing the others at the table well and was told that it is improper to honor a person before honoring Hashem, presumably a reference to the aforementioned Gemara in Nedarim. But he adds that he disagrees with his Rebbe for two reasons. First, he mentions the Gemara in Berachos which places such a high value on the honor to be given to human beings. Then, he quotes a statement from the Maharshal in his Yam Shel Shlomo on Bava Kamma (Perek 8 Siman 64) concerning how one should respond after being wished good health upon sneezing. There is a long-standing practice to wish someone well (using one expression or another) upon hearing him sneeze; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his Gilyon HaShas on Berachos (53a s.v. Rashi), says that the source of this custom is found in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (Perek 52) where it is explained that originally one died by sneezing, as his breath left his body. Now that this is no longer true, one’s life and health should be toasted when he sneezes. The Maharshal writes that there is also a practice to recite a

‫ו ל‬ Posuk then to thank Hashem, but that this Posuk is to be recited by the person only after he acknowledges and thanks those who wish him good health. This ruling is accepted by the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 230:6); apparently, there is no problem blessing Hashem after blessing a fellow human being. Nevertheless, this authority concludes that he tries to follow his Rebbe’s practice of first saying a Beracha and drinking before praising any human being or wishing anyone well.
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Vol. 18 Issue #3 ‫ש עק‬ importance of chessed, kindness. On the most basic level, the protagonist of most of the sidra is Avraham, an individual whose life was a model of kindness and benevolence. Other examples of chessed arise throughout the narrative in different forms; some obvious and elemental, others residing just beneath the surface of the text.

The Kaf HaChaim continues by citing Poskim who reject the comparison to responding after one says “G-d bless you” or the like following a sneeze, because the Maharshal himself bases his opinion on the statement of the Gemara in Bava Kamma (92b) that when one prays for the well being of a friend when he is himself in need of such a blessing, he himself is answered first. Therefore, specifically in such a case it may be permissible to respond and bless one’s friend before blessing Hashem. Moreover, there may be a difference between responding to someone who has wished one well as opposed to initiating a blessing on one’s own before saying a Beracha. The Kaf HaChaim thus rules that honoring Hashem should take precedence and that therefore one should not say L’Chaim until after making a Beracha and taking a drink.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, in his Sefer Mikraei Kodesh on Yomim Noraim (Siman 7), discusses when to recite the “Yehi Ratzon” over the apples and other special foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah night, in relationship to the Beracha required for these foods. Citing a Gemara in Berachos (31a) which says that one should first praise Hashem before davening to Him, he rules that the Beracha (and a bite of the food) must precede the Yehi Ratzon. He then quotes an authority who says for the same reason that one must first make a Beracha and take a drink before saying L’Chaim to a friend. This seems to be the preferred view among the Poskim.

Toward the beginning of the sidra, the story of Avraham’s journey from Charan unfolds. With him leave his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, and a group of followers. The pasuk (Bereishit 12:5) refers to these last people as:

"‫”הנפש אשר עשו בחרן‬
These words are literally translated: “the people whom they [Avraham and Sarai] had made in Charan.” Rashi explains that these were people whom Avraham had converted to the belief in a single god. Rabbi Chaim Henoch, one of the early Rebbes of the Alexander Chassidim asks: What ended up happening to these people? This is the only reference to any such people- we don’t see Yitzchak having a group of religious followers. What happened to them? He answers that, after Avraham died, his followers reverted to polytheism and idolatry. These people were drawn to Avraham because of his kind character. They were attracted to his benevolence, and they thus were also influenced by his religious beliefs. This attitude and behavior pattern was not present in Yitzchak as it had been in Avraham. Avraham’s followers, therefore, were not drawn to him and left the monotheist fold.

The Right Kind of Kiruv

Yisrael Friedenberg
One recurring theme in this week’s sidra is the

We see this trait in Avraham countless times, be they in Lech Lecha or elsewhere. Another exemplary exhibition of chessed is in next week’s sidra, Vayera. The closing scene in Lech Lecha contains Avraham’s circumcision. The narrative of the next sidra begins on the third day after the circumcision, the day known to be the most painful of the days of healing. It is brutally hot, and Avraham is sitting by his tent. He sees in the distance three men, and he immediately runs to invite them for a rest and a meal. This is truly amazing for someone who was, undoubtedly, not in the greatest shape for running around, given his age and recent surgical procedure. We may certainly assume that he could have sent someone else out to invite them in. He did, after all, have many servants to attend to him. But regardless of these things, Avraham excitedly runs out to greet the men and bring them in. And

Page 3 ‫ש עק ו ל‬ his kind actions do not stop here- once they have come back he vowed not to even derive benefit from these spoils. with him he begins hurrying about to prepare a large meal To explain this, the Yalkut Shimoni brings a for them. parable. A country was once plagued with bandits. After Although these things may be unsurprising due to seeing the issue, the king decided to send his son to kill our knowledge of Avraham’s typical kind behavior, we them. Apart from this, he commanded his son not to take cannot help but be amazed by his endless commitment to the bandits’ loot. When the prince returned without having helping others. This was, in fact, the reason that Hashem taken the loot, the king rewarded him with his treasury chose Avraham to be the father of His chosen nation. This is instead. As long as the prince partook in the spoils it would appear that the king executed the bandits for the money, stated explicitly in the pasuk (Bereishit 18:19): however if he does not, the king receives the credit for ‫ ”כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו‬promoting justice within his dominion.

Vol. 18 Issue #3

"‫אחריו ושמרו דרך ה' לעשות צדקה ומשפט‬

“For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice.” The very reason that Avraham was chosen was because of his commitment to strength of character, to righteousness and justice. Seforno explains this pasuk by saying: “…Avraham will command his sons when they see his acts of kindness, done even for the wicked, and his justice, done even for those who will not repay him, and they will thus be sure to be righteous and just.” This theme is clearly present in the contemporary Kiruv movement. The stories of people who became religious because of meeting a kind Jew are innumerable. And this is the reason that we are the Chosen Nation. The onus is on us to carry the torch of Avraham’s legacy of righteousness, of justice, and of kindness, and to truly be a light unto the nations.

With this knowledge, it becomes simpler to understand why Avraham refused the spoils of war. By abstaining from taking them he made a tremendous Kiddush H’. Im yirtze Hashem we can all follow Avraham Avinu’s example, by not being conceited. When the opportunity comes to take credit for any of the berachot we were bestowed with, we should remember who gave them to us. As when Avraham had the opportunity of which a braggart dreams of, he declined to spread his name, Hashem spread it for him. As Hillel says in Avos 1:3 if one spreads his name he will lose it; however, the other way is true as well. If one is an anav like Avraham, Hashem will build up his name. In addition, may it be that in the merit of this anava that Hashem should forgive us, and bring the mashiach bimhayra beyameinu.

Circumcision and Destruction

Yitzi Lindenbaum
The Spoils of Humility

Tsahi Halyo
Generally, when a nation wages war, the winners take the spoils of war from the losers as a sort of prize or compensation for their losses or victory. In fact, the Torah in Parshat Matot clearly demarcates the rules for the claiming of the fortunes of war for the Jewish army. This brings to light an interesting question in this week’s Parsha: Why didn’t Avraham partake of the spoils of war? It was his right after all- he miraculously defeated the four kings, but nonetheless when the king of S’dom offered the spoils of war (what the four kings looted from the five kings) to Avraham, he declined- and swore with G-d’s name that he wouldn’t take anything. The Gemara in Chulin explains that

There are three mass circumcisions in Tanach: the first is in Parashat Lech Lecha, when Avraham circumcises himself and all the males of his household; the second is that of the men of Sh’chem in Parashat Vayishlach, when Shimon and Levi trick them into circumcising themselves so that they can be easily killed; the third is in Yehoshua 5, when Hashem commands Yehoshua to circumcise all of Bnei Yisrael in advance of their conquer of Yericho. As careful students of Tanach, the first question we must ask is, of course, what do all three of these circumcisions have in common? Seemingly, the most prominent common thread between these three events is that they all take place right before the destruction of a city: Avraham’s circumcision occurs shortly before the

Vol. 18 Issue #3 ‫ש עק ו ל‬ destruction of S’dom, Sh’chem’s before its own The answer is that the motif is being employed here destruction, and Yehoshua’s before the destruction of ironically. Shimon and Levi thought that they could “jump Yericho. the gun” on Bnei Yisrael’s possession of Eretz C’naan and conquer Sh’chem through trickery and without instruction At first glance, this is nothing but confusing. What from God. They thought that they could invoke the could the beautiful mitzvah of brit milah have to do with covenant of their great-grandfather with God by making mass destruction? However, upon a systematic analysis of their own mass circumcision and destruction. Of course, the motif, it starts to make a lot of sense. this failed miserably. Neither component symbolized by the juxtaposition of circumcision and destruction was present: First we must analyze the two milot that were this destruction was not ordained by God, so it could not be actually commanded by God: those of Avraham and an expression of God’s discretion in meting out land; and, Yehoshua. The original brit milah, that of Avraham’s while the people of Sh’chem were not particularly household, was the physical covenant that solidified God’s righteous, they did not deserve the massacre delivered by famous promises to Avraham that He would be the God of Shimon and Levi, so it could not be an expression of the his offspring and give them Eretz C’naan (see Bereishit 17:7 land’s standards for the righteousness of its inhabitants. -11). The next God-endorsed mass circumcision takes place just as Yehoshua and Bnei Yisrael are about to fulfill that Instead, the city of Sh’chem is destined to be a prophecy by conquering the first Canaanite city: Yericho. source of trouble and infighting in Jewish history. Sh’chem, The mass circumcisions serve as “bookends” for the story of far from symbolizing the positive tearing of the brit milah, the Abrahamic promise through Tanach. would be the place where the negative tearing of the melucha, hundreds of years later, begins to take place when What, then, is the function of the destructions of the people challenge Rechavam ben Shlomo (I Kings 12). the cities? For one, both clearly divine destructions assert and accentuate God’s ability, right, and willingness to May we be zocheh to witness not the terrible strife decide who may live, where, and when. Therefore, it is of Sh’chem, but to reenter Eretz Yisrael b’geula sh’leima and most appropriate that when the symbol of God’s promise to witness proof of God’s discretion in giving out the land, as grant an entire region to His chosen nation is brought to the milah was meant to represent throughout Tanach. fore, the divine destruction of a city comes along.
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The repeated juxtaposition of mass circumcision and mass destruction also serves to highlight another theme: the role of the wickedness of the nations inhabiting Canaanite lands as the reason for their expulsion, in contradistinction to Bnei Yisrael’s righteousness in keeping their brit with God which, in turn, serves as a condition for their continued inhabitance of Eretz C’naan. The destruction of those not worthy immediately after the symbol of the brit accentuates that Bnei Yisrael merited taking possession of the land by entering into a covenant with God, and therefore deserve it more than the wicked victims of the destruction deserve. If Bnei Yisrael nullify the covenant and worship other Gods, they too can be destroyed and expelled from the land, much like the Sodomites and the people of Yericho. We now must consider the oddest example of a mass circumcision. Not ordered by God, the circumcision of the males of Sh’chem is seen as a terrible travesty and is the subject of Yaakov Avinu’s repeated scolding. How does this story fit into the larger theme of mass circumcision followed by destruction?

!‫שבת שלום‬

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Rosh Yeshiva: Rabbi Michael Taubes Rabbinic Advisor: Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson Editors in Chief: Philip Meyer and Ori Putterman Executive Editor: Yehuda Tager Associate Editors: Asher Finkelstein and Yisrael Friedenberg Distribution Coordinator: Ezra Teichman

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