Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Lech Lecha



V’hayah ki yiru osach haMitzrim v’amru ishto zos v’hargu osi v’osach y’chayu imri na achosi at l’maan yitav li ba’avureich v’chaysa nafshi biglaleich (12:12-13)

Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avrohom and Sorah decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avrohom became aware of Sorah’s beauty and began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so. Commenting on Avrohom’s concern, the Medrash Pliah cryptically comments that we may derive from here that it is permitted to slaughter an animal on Shabbos to feed a sick person. What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated topics?

In his commentary on Yoma (85a), the Ran questions why it is permitted to slaughter an animal so that a sick person may have kosher food to eat when it is also possible to feed him readily available non-kosher meat? Although it is certainly preferable to eat kosher food, why should it be permissible to perform a more severe sin of desecrating Shabbos when it is possible to transgress the lesser sin of eating non-kosher food?

The Ran answers that although slaughtering an animal on Shabbos is indeed more severe, it need be performed only one time. On the other hand, the prohibition against eating non-kosher food, while not as great a sin, will be transgressed repeatedly with each k’zayis (olive-sized portion) that is consumed. Although each individual bite is less severe than desecrating Shabbos, the cumulative effect of all of them is actually greater. For this reason, it is preferable to perform a one-time sin, no matter how great, of slaughtering an animal in order to save the sick person’s life.

Commenting on our verse, the Daas Z’keinim question if Avrohom was sure that the Egyptians wouldn’t transgress the prohibition against having relations with a married woman, why wasn’t he equally confident that they would observe the commandment forbidding murder? In light of the explanation of the Ran, the Chanukas HaTorah and Rav Yosef Engel explain that Avrohom feared that the Egyptians would desire to have relations with his beautiful wife. Although they would prefer not to violate any of the seven Noahide commandments, given their lust for Sorah they would choose to do so in the manner which would minimize the extent of their sins.

Given the choice between committing the one-time heinous sin of murdering Avrohom in order to render Sorah a single and permissible woman or repeatedly transgressing the lesser sin of adultery each time they would have relations, Avrohom understood that they would clearly choose the former, and hence he feared for his life. Recognizing the underlying logic behind Avrohom’s fear, the Medrash was able to apply this reasoning to the case of the sick patient on Shabbos and to conclude – just as the Ran did – that it is permissible to slaughter an animal once on Shabbos so that he may be saved from repeatedly eating forbidden food.

Vatikach Sarai eishes Avram es Hagar hamitzris shifchasa mikeitz eser shanim lasheves Avram b’eretz Canaan vatiten osa l’Avram isha lo l’isha (16:3)

After ten years of not bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that perhaps she would merit giving birth if she allowed Avrohom to marry her maidservant Hagar. Rashi writes that after Sorah spoke to Hagar to persuade her to agree to this plan, Hagar was convinced and willing to go along with it. Rashi previously commented (16:1) that Hagar was none other than the daughter of Pharaoh. When she heard of the miraculous punishments which Hashem meted out in Egypt for the sake of Sorah (12:17), she decided to attach herself to this family in any way possible.

Although this surely required tremendous personal sacrifice on Hagar’s part, she nobly preferred to be a maidservant to such holy people rather than a prestigious woman in Egypt. If Hagar had already given up everything she knew and enjoyed in life to become even minimally attached to this holy family, why was it necessary for Sorah to convince Hagar to agree to marry the righteous Avrohom?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers with a beautiful insight into human nature. At the end of Dovid HaMelech’s life, he gave his final instructions to his son Shlomo, who would succeed him as king. He commanded Shlomo (Melochim 1 2:8-9) to remember the vicious curses which Shimi ben Geira had heaped upon him. However, because Dovid had sworn to Shimi that he wouldn’t kill him for his actions, he advised Shlomo to use his wisdom to find a means to avenge his disgrace and execute Shimi.

Shlomo dutifully called Shimi and commanded him to build a house in Jerusalem, informing him that he must remain within the city limits, for on the day that he departs he will be killed (2:36-37). Shimi agreed to the terms, built a house in Jerusalem, and indeed refrained from exiting the city for three years. At that time, two of his slaves escaped, and he pursued them out of the city to bring them back. Upon hearing of this, Shlomo had Shimi summoned and decreed that because he had violated the conditions of their agreement, he was to be killed.

Although in hindsight this represented a brilliant method of reconciling Dovid’s desire to have Shimi punished with his promise not to directly kill Shimi for his act of rebellion, how did Shlomo know that his plan would succeed, as we find that Shimi managed to abide by the condition for three years before an unexpected episode caused him to stumble? Why did Shimi, who was a wise man who understood the consequences of leaving Jerusalem and managed to refrain from doing so for three years, suddenly commit such a foolish mistake, one for which he paid dearly with his life?

The Alshich HaKadosh explains that Shlomo, in his great wisdom, understood human nature profoundly. A person’s natural inclination is to crave freedom and to resist any restraint placed upon it. Although Shimi’s “jail” didn’t resemble the typical cell, in that he was free to enjoy everything offered by the greatest city on earth, he was nevertheless artificially confined. Shlomo recognized that sooner or later, Shimi’s need to feel free and unrestrained would win out and he would violate the terms of their arrangement. When this eventually occurred, Shlomo was ready and waiting to execute Shimi in a dignified manner, just as his father had requested.

Similarly, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz suggests that Hagar demonstrated tremendous dedication and commitment to her ideals in willingly leaving behind the splendor of her father’s palace in Egypt. She was willing to give up everything to take a menial job serving the family of the holy Avrohom in undignified ways. Nevertheless, she knew deep down that at any time, she was free to change her mind and return to her homeland. Although a marriage to Avrohom would offer her the unique opportunity of being married to the man who introduced the knowledge of Hashem to the world and to bear a child with him, it would also require a commitment on her part to voluntarily renounce her independence and autonomy, and it was for this reason that Sorah needed to convince Hagar to overcome her internal resistance and take the leap.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (12:5) that in addition to Lot, when setting out for the land of Canaan Avrohom and Sorah also took the people whom they had converted during their time in Charan. Why don’t we find any mention of Avrohom and Sorah continuing to make converts after they left Charan? (Bereishis Rabbah 39:16, Mishmeres Ariel)

2)     When approaching Egypt, Avrohom asked Sorah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians won’t kill him in order to marry her (12:12-13). Of what assistance would this plan have been, as it would have served to spare Avrohom’s life, but it would have resulted in the married Sorah engaging in forbidden relations? (HaK’sav V’HaKabbalah, Taima D’Kra, Mishmeres Ariel)

3)     Who was the father of Avrohom’s servant Eliezer (15:2)? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 14:14)

4)     Why didn’t Avrohom make a festive meal to celebrate the circumcision of himself, his son Yishmael, and his servants (17:23-24) as he did on the day of Yitzchok’s circumcision (21:8)? (Chavatzeles HaSharon pg. 184)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.