We do not differentiate between the pleasant mitzvah of putting on Tefillin and the less enjoyable mitzvah of wiping out the memory of the Amalek.  Both are equally dear to us.  We refrain from eating pork not because it is loathsome to us but because thus we have been commanded by Hashem.


HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim.


  1. A Pair of Torah Portions about Avraham
  2. Avraham Who Loves Mankind
  3. Avraham Knows, Believes in and Loves Hashem
  4. Love of Mankind That Stems From Love of G-d
  5. Avraham’s Will Indicates G-d’s Will
  6. The Binding of Yitzchak (Akeidah): A Divine Command Versus Human Morality


  1. A Pair of Torah Portions on Avraham

There are two Torah portions about Avraham: the first gives the general principles and the second goes into detail.  The first Torah portion, Lech Lecha, discusses Avraham’s basic character as a person chosen by Hashem to serve as the core of the “mighty Nation.”[148]  This, the second portion, elaborates on examples where these characteristics were displayed.


  1. Avraham Who Loves Mankind

Avraham is depicted as a man of immense kindness.  He risked his life to save Lot, he hosted unknown guests and even tried to save Sedom from destruction.  This is in contrast with Noach, who on being told by G-d that He was about to destroy the whole world, did not utter a single word of protest.[149]  Even the episode of Sarah and Avimelech can be construed as an act of kindness on Avraham’s part.  When Sarah was abducted by Pharaoh, Avraham asked her to pose as his sister so that they would treat him well and through her efforts his life would be spared.[150]  This time, however, this justification for the deception is absent, and Avraham simply announced that Sarah was his sister.  This change by the Torah is obviously done to teach us something.  Avraham’s love for Sarah was in a sense fraternal, a pure and idealistic love that involved no feelings of jealousy or possessiveness which are so often present in a husband-wife relationship.  Avraham Avinu had no selfish and petty reasons for keeping her for himself.  She was thus theoretically free to go and become the wife of Avimelech is she so chose.  This is obviously a legal and moral impossibility and Sarah did not entertain an even inkling of such a thought but it was possible from Avraham’s point of view.[151]  Kindness stems from the ability to see the Divine light and content that exists in every creation and thus Avraham, who saw the G-dly illumination in all creatures, loved them all.


  1. Avraham Knows, Believes in and Loves Hashem

The accounts of Avraham given in the Torah depict him as a man of supreme kindness.  The Rambam, in the wake of our Sages,[152] highlights his intellectual quality as a personality who “knows his Creator.”[153]  But the Torah also describes him as a prime believer: “And he (Avram) believed in Hashem and He (G-d) considered this as righteousness.”[154]  Recognition and belief are related concepts, both define states of connection and association.  To truly know something means to have integrated it into one’s personality.  Faith is also a means of knowing things.  Faith encompasses intellectual perception and extends beyond it.  The difference between them is that intellectual knowledge is always doubtful while faith is definite and certain.  Science is doubtful and is in fact in continual flux because of the changes in our knowledge.  This naturally is also the case in medicine.  When we violate the Shabbat because doctors say it is a life threatening situation, it is not because we accept their opinion as certain, but because according to Halachah even a doubtful danger is reason enough to violate Torah laws.[155]  Logical postulations and proofs are also dubious.  Quite possibly counter arguments will be presented in the future which will completely refute views that are presently axiomatic.  The very foundation of the scientific method is the fact that our knowledge is doubtful and tentative.  Anything based on human knowledge is doubtful.


Faith, however, is entirely different.  It is definite and certain.  It harmoniously permeates the soul with calm tranquility.  This undoubting conviction can be compared to a similar state of surety experienced in prophecy as described by the Rambam.  It is obvious that if Avraham Avinu had felt even the slightest shadow of a doubt, concerning the authenticity of the Akeidah prophecy, he would not have been willing to sacrifice his son.  He therefore must have been absolutely certain.  It is true that at the initial stages of prophetic revelation things might be a bit hazy, as they were with Shmuel, when he did not realize that he was receiving a Divine call and thought at first that he was being called by Eli.[156]  Furthermore, regular prophecy is only clear about general principles but is incapable of giving clear and specific halachic directives.  It is like seeing a mountain through a midst where the general outline can be seen but details of what is on the mountain are blurred.  Thus a person who purports to have received prophetically, detailed laws from G-d is put to death because he is an imposter.  The only exception is Moshe’s halachic prophecy which is so powerful that it can delve into the finest details.  This was achieved by Moshe Rabbenu as a prophet without having to resort to the legal derivations and analyses performed by Torah scholars.[157]  To conclude, full Emunah – faith in and cleaving to Hashem – is something that is absolutely certain without a shadow of a doubt.


Avraham is described by the prophets as a man who loves G-d, “the seed of Avraham who loved Me.”[158]  Love and knowledge are interrelated.  On occasion, despite repeated explanations, a person finds certain matters simply unintelligible.  Then as he becomes emotionally connected to the issue, it clears up.  Love leads to understanding.  The reverse is also true – that recognition can lead to love as is said of Adam: “And Adam knew his wife Chava and she conceived and gave birth to Kayin.”[159]  It is clear that it is not referring to a superficial acquaintanceship but to a deep rooted understanding of each other which then led to intimate knowledge.


  1. Love of Mankind That Stems From Love of G-d

Avraham who knows, believes in and loves Hashem also loves all mankind, but it originates in his love of G-d.  He did not discover Hashem by seeing the goodness and beauty of creation.  The reverse is true, because he believed in G-d, he saw the various degrees of Divine sparks that appear at the different levels of creation.  Everything started from an appreciation of the Creator.


Some people think that close scrutiny of nature can bring a person to faith in Hashem.  They are so convinced of this that they study physics, biology, etc… even at the expense of Torah study.  Observation of nature, before one recognizes Hashem, can lead to paganism and nature worship but not to faith in G-d.  How can the observer be sure that spiritual experience he has is really a manifestation of the Creator, maybe he is simply overwhelmed by some limited aesthetic sensation or is in fact worshipping and deifying nature?


It is true that G-d also manifests Himself in nature and a spiritual experience can be felt through the splendor (Hebrew – Hadar) and beauty of the world as stated in the verse, “Prostrate yourself before Hashem in the splendor of holiness.”[160]  The Gemara[161] cautions, however, that although an aesthetic experience can create an attachment to Hashem, this is not the regular and halachically normative way.  The truly proper method to recognize G-d is via the Torah and Mitzvot.  Once one has achieved faith through Jewish ideals and the Torah, he is able to perceive the Divine illumination in the whole of creation.  He who already believes can be further stimulated to a deeper and stronger faith on seeing the Divine light that is manifested in the whole of nature.[162]  Avraham’s all-embracing love for all of humanity emanated from his overpowering love of G-d, and on account of it he was able to discern the Divine sparks that existed even in the depths of the depravity and wickedness of Sedom.  If the people of Sedom to be judged solely on human standards, they would inevitably be sentenced to total destruction because they were corrupting the whole of humankind.


Avraham’s love for man, however, was not human, it resulted from his ability to see the Divine light everywhere even in the murkiest depths to which man could sink.  Avraham thus sought some redeeming feature to save them, since they too were created in the image of G-d.


  1. Avraham’s Will Indicates G-d’s Will

Avraham’s discussion with Hashem over the inhabitants of Sedom was not a prayer or petition – it was a debate.  He argued with Him saying it is inconceivable and sacrilegious that the judge of the entire universe should perform such an unjust act.[163]  This debate in reality was a reflection of the deliberations on the fate of Sedom that were taking place in the Heavenly court.[164]  Different Divine attributes, so to speak, were hammering out the issue and Avraham was like a radio receiver with a large antenna and received the heavenly broadcast.  He then acted as the mouth piece for the quality of kindness.  Because of his close affinity to, his love of and his faith in  G-d, G-d revealed His own will through him, so that Avraham was in fact expressing Hashem’s own inner will.


This is the reason that the righteous are able to decree and Hashem fulfills their desire[165] or, even a more extreme case, that G-d decrees and the righteous is able to cancel it.[166]  All this does not mean, G-d forbid, that G-d wants one thing, while the righteous wants another and that Hashem changes His mind.  No, there can be no inner change in the essence of G-d or of His will.  Simply, the righteous person’s will is one aspect of G-d’s will and he expresses vocally this particular point.


This is also the explanation why a curse pronounced by a Torah scholar, even if undeserved, is fulfilled.[167]  The curse is really a Divine protest against a particular state of affairs and even though not all the conditions for its implementation apply, the protest stands.  For example, when King David excavated the foundation of the Temple, the waters of the depth surged up and wanted to flood the world.  King David thought of inscribing the Divine Name on a shard and casting it into the depths to quell the waters.  There was, however, a halachic doubt: did the saving of the world justify the erasing of the Divine Name that would inevitably result from casting the shard into the depths?  King David asked if anyone knew the answer, but no one replied.  Only when King David threatened that anyone who knew the Halachah but did not speak up would be strangled, did Achitopel respond and say that it was permitted.  Despite the fact that Achitopel revealed the answer in the end, King David’s curse[168] clung to him and he died by strangulation.[169]  This occurred because in essence Achitophel was a negative personality even though he did not act criminally on this occasion.


Avraham is a true righteous person whose will is a faithful reflection of the Divine will.


  1. The Binding of Yitzchak (Akeidah): A Divine Command Versus Human Morality

The Divine command to sacrifice Yitzchak shattered the moral foundations of Avraham’s life.  He who had fought uncompromisingly against idolatry and human sacrifice, he who epitomized the loftiest morality and kindness was about to murder his own son!  He was thus going to violate the most basic and logically obvious moral dictate that existed, “You shall not murder.”


There are three crimes that are so heinous that according to the Halachah one must be willing to die rather than to transgress them.  They are idolatry, immorality and murder.  The abovementioned Halachah, regarding idolatry and severe immorality as derived from Torah verses.  It was logically obvious.  Even when threatened that unless you murder you will be killed, murder is forbidden.  Who says that your blood is redder (= more important) than his![170]


And yet Avraham was on his way to murder his son!  Avraham’s “hypocritical” betrayal of the very ideals that he had preached to the world would destroy all his educational achievements.  Past, present and future are about to be obliterated at one blow!  These are the morbid thoughts that the evil inclination flashed through Avraham’s mind to dissuade him from performing G-d’s will.[171]


The Akeidah constitutes the dissolution of man-made morality and its replacement with a Divine command.  Avraham had to forgo even his highest and loftiest ideals, thoughts and aspirations and substitute them with one single ideal, G-d’s will.  This is most a dramatic demonstration of the fact that we do not observe G-d’s mitzvot because they are intelligible and pleasant but because they are the word of Hashem.  We do not differentiate between the pleasant mitzvah of putting on Tefillin and the less enjoyable mitzvah of wiping out the memory of the Amalek.  Both are equally dear to us.  We refrain from eating pork not because it is loathsome to us but because thus we have been commanded by Hashem.[172]  We must obviously try to elevate ourselves to the level that we feel delight in performing the mitzvot and repugnance at the very thought of a sin.  Furthermore, it is self-evident that enjoying prayer, disgust at eating pig and repugnance at the very thought of murder and similar emotions are proper and worthy feelings.  Man advances and senses what is right and wrong.  We must understand, however, that morality is not determined according to what man knows, feels or understands but it is based purely on the Divine word.  The Akeidah came to uproot an ethical system which emanated from man, and to build in its place a firmly based Divine system of morality.


Naturally, Yitzchak was not sacrificed in the end.  The Akeidah concludes with the verse, “Do not harm the boy.  Do not do anything to him.”[173]  It could not finish any other way since murder is prohibited.  What has been achieved is that the precept “You shall not murder” has been converted from a humanly based imperative that can vary and change according to human emotions and understanding to an eternal, immutable and Divine command.  Once this understanding is firmly rooted, man is called to raise himself and to feel the pleasure and delight in performing G-d’s absolute will.


Haftarah for Parashat Vayera

For or Against the King?

[Ashkenazim/Yemenite Jews: Melachim 2 4:1-37

Sefardim: Melachim 2 4:1-23]


It clear from one of the verses of our Haftarah that the prophet Elisha had an excellent relationship with Yehoram, King of Israel, even though the king was totally wicked.  It is told that the great woman of Shunam hurried to serve the prophet and to provide him with “a little upper room with a wall” in which she placed “a bed, table, chair and lamp” (Melachim 2 4:10).  Out of respect and gratitude, he asked her: “What is to be done for you?  Should I speak to the king or the commander of the army for you?” (13).  Here we see that the prophet had carte blanche to visit the Prime Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, since he suggested that he could act on the woman’s behalf before them.


At face value, this fact is extremely surprising because we know, to our distress, that King Yehoram was a cruel and corrupt man.  “And he (Yehoram) did evil in the eyes of Hashem…he held fast to the sins of Yerovam ben Nevat who caused Israel to sin.  He did not depart from them” (Melachim 2 3:2-3).  It is impossible to find a more damning comparison than to Yerovam.


We would expect that the great prophet, who was responsible for the spiritual purity of the Nation of Israel, would diametrically oppose the King, and not have positive relationship with him – even for the purpose of helping others.  We would expect Elisha to sever all contact with him and devote himself to the pure needs of the entire Nation.


But this is not so, and we should pay close attention to the prophet Elisha, a man  obedient to the national government, even though he was a great zealot following the example of his teacher, the prophet Eliyahu.  When Yehoram, King of Israel, went to war together with Yehoshafat, King of Yehudah, against a shared enemy, he turned to Elisha in a moment of despair.  Elisha showed no mercy or love toward the king, admonishing him instead: “What do I have to do with you?  Go to the prophets of your father and the prophet of your mother…If it were not for the presence of Yehoshafat, King of Yehudah, I would not look towards you nor see you” (ibid. 3 13:14), since Yehoshafat was a righteous king.  The prophet Elisha did not fear rebuking the king of Israel with great forcefulness.


Furthermore, the prophet knew that the king saw him as a dangerous enemy who should be killed – he had already sent an assassin from the secret police to eliminate him: “But Elisha sat in his house and the elders sat with him, and the king sent a man from before him; but before the messenger came to Elisha, he said to the elders: ‘Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent someone to remove my head.  Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and push him at the door.  Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?'” (ibid. 6:32).  Yehoram learned this tactic from his father, the corrupt King Achav, who sent special agents throughout all of Israel and the surrounding states in order to find the prophet Eliyahu and kill him.


Knowing all of this, how can we understand what united Elisha and Yehoram, who were so vastly different from one another?  The answer is simple: shared, infinite love for the Nation of Israel.  Even if the king of Israel was an evil man, he still remained the king of Israel, and carried the incredible responsibility of saving the Nation.  And while it is not the ideal situation, it is certainly preferable for the Nation to be ruled by the sinful government of Yehoram than to fall into the hand of the enemy and to suffer the decree of exile.


The prophet was therefore always ready to help the king for the benefit of the Nation of Israel, and the king, despite his ambivalence, could not refrain from expressing his gratitude to some extent.


When Yehoram was about to make a severe strategic error, the prophet Elisha warned him: “Beware that you not pass such a place, for Aram is hidden there” (ibid. verse 9). With this piece of advice Elisha saved the army of Israel, who went on to be victorious.  Elisha followed precisely the path of his teacher, Eliyahu, who did not hold back even the harshest rebuke when it was justified (Melachim 1 18:17-18), but also honored this same king of Israel when he displayed self-sacrifice to protect his Nation and the Land.  “And the hand of Hashem was upon Eliyahu, so he girded his loins and ran before Achav until the approach of Yizre’el” (ibid. verse 46).  Running from Mt. Carmel to Yizre’el valley!  Is it possible to display greater honor for the king?


Achav was internally conflicted.  On the one hand, he was influenced by his evil, non-Jewish wife, Izevel, daughter of the King of Sidon.  On the other hand, he was influenced by the prophet Eliyahu.  If the prophet were to abandon him, he would have fallen completely under the dominion of his wife – to the great detriment of the Nation of Israel.  The influence of the prophet indeed secretly bore fruit.  At the moment of truth, the king turned to him for advice and called him “my father” (Melachim 2 6:21).  Furthermore, during the national tragedy, Ahav was truly torn apart because of his pain; he ripped his garment, and while he was walking on the wall, “and the people looked, and he had sackcloth within on his flesh” (ibid. verse 30).


The heretic, the sinner, the anti-religious one was, somewhere within, a secretly repentant man, who wore sackcloth of mourning on his flesh.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

Vayeitzei – HaRav Dov Begon

Jacob’s remarkable dream is the dream of the Jewish People which has accompanied us throughout all the generations, even in the most dark and difficult periods of our bitter and gloomy exile. In times of destruction, pogroms and the Holocaust, as well as today, Jews never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream and Hashem is still very much with us.

Vayeitzei – Rabbi Chanan Morrison

The rivalry between Rachel and Leah, the conflict between the beautiful present and the visionary future, also found expression in the monarchy of Israel. The temporary reign of Saul, a descendant of Rachel, struggled with the eternal dynasty of David, a descendant of Leah.

Israel and Islam – HaRav Eliezer Melamed

It is prohibited to teach Torah and mitzvot to Muslims, since they do not believe in the truth of the Torah, and there is concern that they will use what they learn for bad purposes and against Israel, as they used all the verses of rebuke in the Torah to increase hatred of Israel.