Zayin Adar II 5779

Image result for moshe rabbeinu The 7th day of Adar is both the birthday and death day of Moshe Rabbeinu. On the calendar, this is a very complex day. Contemporarily, we think of the 7th of Adar as a day to recognize those members of the Chevra Kadisha who care for the deceased of the community. There is a custom to fast, and when the fast is over, they are to eat a seudas mitzvah, often accompanied by a siyum (keep those ideas in mind for now).  Rabbi Gavriel Zinner in his encyclopedic Nitei Gavriel lists a few interesting halachic/hashkafic considerations for Zayin Adar:

-Tachanun (everyone’s favorite): According to the Shulchan Aruch’s list of days when one cannot say Tachanun, Zayin Adar does not make the cut. Therefore, it would seem that Tachanun should be said. Furthermore, Rav Zinner quotes the Otzar HaChaim who states in the name of the Sanzer Rav, the Munkatcher Rav that it should be recited. Conversely, the minhag of the Belzer Chassidim and of the Budapest community was to recite Tachanun at Shacharis but to omit it at Mincha.

-Kiddush Levana: One is permitted to recite Kiddush Levana on Zayin Adar. The Sar Shalom of Belz, brought by the Otzar Yad HaChaim, quotes that there were those who are particular to not say Kiddush Levana until after Zayin Adar.

-Weddings: There are those who are careful to not make a wedding on Zayin Adar because of it’s status as a taanis Tzaddikim, due to it being the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu. However, there are many who do not particularly fastidious in regard to this minhag.

Ki Tisa 5779 – The Right Inspiration

Image result for golden calfKi Tisa contains the worst sin brought about by the collective Jewish people in the entire Torah, Cheit HaEigel (the sin of the golden calf). The nation, after just having left their tormentors in Egypt and stood at the base of Mt. Sinai and accepted the word of God, so quickly and forcefully veered directly away from the path that they had sworn to stay firmly upon. Moshe ascended Har Sinai and was to be gone for 40 days and nights, and as we know, due to an error in counting, the am was confused and afraid. They went to Aharon HaKohen, Moshe’s brother and confidant, and clamored for a new god “Because this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt–we do not know what happened to him.” Aharon was in a bind and actively tried to stall the people a few times. Yet, through all of his good intentions, the idol was created and brought down the entire nation.

When Aharon first heard the pleas of Bnai Yisrael, he instructed them to take out the gold earrings from the women and children and to bring them to him. Rashi explains that this was done to buy him time, as he knew that the women would not be keen on parting with their jewelry, and by the time they were convinced to do so, Moshe would have returned and this entire scenario would be rendered moot. Yet, the next pasuk after Aharon informs the people what to do states us that those assembled took out their own earrings right then and there. The text tells us that the people “unburdened themselves of their earrings,” almost as if they couldn’t wait to give of what they had for this foreign idol.

Even after this unfolded, Aharon again tried to buy time. The Torah continues that Aharon took this gold into a cloth and melted it down, while ultimately sculpting it into a calf. Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch explains that Aharon was not simply molding the gold into an eigel, but using an engraving tool, the slowest possible means of fashioning this item. This was meant to deter the masses in the hopes that Moshe would descend the mountain and all would go back to normal.

It’s evident to those reading the parsha and see the events that transpire that there is a tremendous impact to what being inspired can do. Bnai Yisrael awoke early the next day, and rather have a day of service dedicated to Hashem, they served the idol Aharon had made. Bnai Yisrael so desperately craved a connection with something, anything, yet their inspiration was so off base. The same nation that had emphatically declared “naaseh v’nishmah” had soon after plummeted into an unthinkable level of shame and impurity. But can you imagine if instead of the golden calf, the Jewish people at the time were inspired in a different way? If they were able to take those feelings and channel them into something positive and beneficial for the am? What would it have looked like? What would the ramifications have been both then and even today?

There are so many different examples of how individuals were inspired to make a small difference in one area, yet caused a massive ripple effect of good. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1960’s, while watching a community member who had suffered a heart attack die while waiting for an ambulance, a group of people decided to form their own volunteer ambulance corps. As such, today there are many Jewish communities across the globe where Hatzalah can be called at any hour of the day to assist those in need.

This is only one example, and there are plenty more. Just one moment of inspiration can spark a tremendous flame. We must always use that flame to illuminate, and never to destroy.

Chanukah 5779 – Part V: Where the Chashmonaim Right?

IMG_0779.JPGAs Yaakov Avinu lay on his deathbed in Parshas Vayechi, he doles out final brachos to his children. When it comes to his son Yehuda, part of the blessing states that the “the scepter shall not depart from Yehuda.” Ramban explains that this means that when there will ultimately be a king that rules over the Jewish people, that king will be from the tribe of Yehuda. However, the Chashmonaim were not from the tribe of Yehuda, but actually from the tribe of Levi. Their rule over the Jewish people deviated from the bracha given to Yehuda. Were the Chashmonaim right to take over the leadership?

Nachmanides maintains that, even though their victory was a tremendous feat, that the Chashmonaim themselves were very pious individuals, and they caused the Torah to not be forgotten by the greater Jewish population, as they assumed the monarchy, they were in violation of the mandate of Yaakov Avinu. Ramban continues that despite their tzidkus, the Chashmonaim were punished for taking over the kingdom. This is evidenced by four of Matisyahu’s sons being killed by their enemies as they each served as king. Furthermore, the Gemara (Bava Basra 3b) teaches us that anyone who posits that they descend from the Hasmonean dynasty is a slave. King Herod was a “Hasmonean” as he was a non-Jewish slave of the Chashmonaim, and eventually killed the remaining members of the family and usurped the throne.

All of this occurred, according to Ramban, because the “scepter” departed from Yehuda.

Rabbi Menachem Genack in Birkas Yitzchak, points out that Rambam states differently. In fact, Maimonides makes no criticism of the Chashmonaim at all. In Hilchos Chanukah, Rambam seems to infer that since a primary responsibility of the Kohanim was upkeep of the Beis HaMikdash, that only through their taking over the kingship could this kedushah have been maintained.

Chanukah 5779 Part IV – A Time for Teshuvah, Revisited

IMG_8447.JPGWe have discussed previously that Chanukah is a holiday with many different themes and one such overtone is that of teshuvah. Rabbi Elimelech Biderman explains that this notion is alluded to in the Al HaNissim recited on Chanukah. We discuss the miracles of the battle, how the puny army Chashmonaim was triumphant against the stronger, larger Greek army. The text of Al Hanissim states that “You gave the mighty into the hands of the weak; the many into the hands of the few. The impure fell into the hands of the pure, the wicked fell into the hands of the righteous, and sinners fell into the hands of those who study Torah.” The first part, extolling the virtues of the Yevanim falling to the Jews, despite outnumbering them, is understandable. Rav Biderman quotes Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in explaining that the next few phrases need more elucidation. Why is it considered to be an overt miracle that the impure fell to the pure, the wicked fell to the righteous, and that the sinners fell to those who are preoccupied with Torah study? Can it be that out of the ordinary that tzaddikim reign supreme in war?

Rav Levi Yitzchak answers that not only did the Chashmonaim win the war, but the aftermath of the fighting sparked a tremendous wave of teshuvah among the Jewish people. When the Jews saw the valiant Greek militia suffer defeat from a group of Torah scholars, they did not take this lightly. They began to repent for their shortcomings. It showcased to them that just as one is loyal to God, that He will be loyal to them. Thus, the message in the words of Al HaNissim is that the impure became pure, the wicked became righteous, and the sinners became engrossed in limud haTorah!

 

Chanukah 5779 Part III – Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin

When one thinks about the words “mehadrin” or “mehadrin min hamehadrin” they may immediately think of a hashgacha on food or a restaurant. What they will or won’t eat. Yet, this term traces back to the Gemara in reference to those who light the Chanukah candles.

Shabbat (21b) teaches that there are three distinct levels when it comes to the minimum amount of candles/oils that must be lit for one to fulfill the mitzvah: 1) One light for a person and their entire household; 2) One light for each night for each member of their household (The Mehadrin view); and 3) One light for each member of the household. Beit Shammai records that on the first night, each menorah would have eight lights and light would be diminished from the menorah until the final night. Beit Hillel records, and what is ultimately ruled as the Halacha, that each night we begin with one light, and increase the lights in our chanukiot through the final day of Chanukah. This final presentation is that of the Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin.

Yet, if one were to look inside the Halachic literature on how to conduct the lighting of the chanukiah, the Shulchan Aruch does not list the first two opinions as viable options as part of the protocol. The Halacha, as recorded by Rav Yosef Karo, is that one must light in the way explained as the view of the Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin. Even one who is extremely destitute must get the money to procure acceptable accoutrements for lighting the Chanukah licht.

This idea is perplexing. There are many mitzvos we are commanded to keep that have added ways in which they can be embellished. The idea of hiddur mitzvah, to beautify the mitzvah that we are about to do, is a wonderful way to provide a deeper connection and meaning to the commandment. But nowhere else do we find this extra level of hiddur as part and parcel to the performance of the mitzvah itself. Rabbi Aharon Ziegler explains in The Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik that, such as finding an esrog, the idea of an item or act being mehudar is left to the discretion of the financial ability of the one doing the act or securing the item for use. We do not find any sort of mandatory stringency in regard to any other mitzvah. What is the meaning behind this forced acceptance of hiddur mitzvah?

The answer, one cited by both Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Avraham Schorr, is that this extra hiddur in regard to ner Chanukah is because of the very nature of how the holiday itself unfolded. When the Beis HaMikdash was sacked by the Greek oppressors, the Jews who entered the carnage found many jugs of oil strewn about. Yet, in their scrupulousness to get the menorah lit, they would not settle for lighting with oil that was contaminated by the Yevanim. Miraculously, as we know, there was one jug of oil that still maintained the seal of the Kohen Gadol, not made impure by the Greeks in their siege. Therefore, it is precisely because of the zeal of the Chashmonaim and their stringent quest to only light the menorah with pure oil that we light our own menorahs with that same approach in mind. Because the Jews would only use the purest oil that they could find, an embellishment on the avodah itself, we also continue that trend in our homes every Chanukah.

Chanukah Part II – Bringing the Shechina Down

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There is a concept in Judaism that the Divine Presence does not descend lower than 10 tefachim. This derives from the Gemara (Sukkah 5a) which explains that during Matan Torah, the Aron HaKodesh was 10 tefachim in height. The Shechina was above the Aron HaKodesh, above the 10 tefach minimum. However, when it comes to Chanukah we find a unique law: our candles/oils in our chanukiah are to be between 3 and 10 tefachim from the ground (Shabbos 21a).

This seems to fly in the face of the previous point. If God’s Presence will only descend within 10 tefachim from the ground, why do we light our menorahs below that height? We know that Hashem is everywhere and discerns all, but, fire hazards aside, wouldn’t it make more sense to bring our flames closer to the Shechina?

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson explains that Chanukah is of a different nature. He continues that kindling the lights is an act of kindling our souls, bringing them closer to the Ribono Shel Olam. Despite the previously stated idea of the Shechina not dipping below the 10 tefach threshold, God’s Presence descends in order to light the souls of those who need assistance.

There are times when one feels as if they are so low, so far removed from any semblance of holiness or relationship with Hashem. The Kedusha, this fire, is usally too high for this individual to grasp, but on Chanukah, the Shechina comes down to us. This is only referring to one who does not live a life of punctilious mitzvah obersvance, but to those who find themselves stuck in a spiritual rut as well.

To those who exert the energy to take part in the mitzvah of Chanukah candles, the Shechina will come down to them, and aid them getting closer and closer to the Almighty.

Chanukah 5779 Part I – The Forbidden Triumvirate

unnamed.jpgAs the Torah begins in Parshas Bereishis, the second verse tells us that there was a great darkness that encompassed the vast, nascent world. The Midrash explains to us that this darkness is represented by Galus Yavan, as the Greeks sought to darken the eyes of the Jewish people through the restrictive laws they imposed upon them. In particular, the Jews were prohibited from blessing the new month, keeping Shabbos, or performing bris milah.

These three mitzvos are indeed unique, yet all of our mitzvot are. What is special about this particular collection of mitzvos that the Yevanim sought to erase from Jewish life entirely?

First, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh is the first that the newly-freed-from-Egypt Jewish people were given. At first glance, that may not make sense in itself. Out of all of the mitzvos in the torah, this is first one. Do we consider this to even be a major commandment? If you were woken up in the middle of the night and were told to name the most important mitzvos we have been given, I’d expect to hear probably one of the Aseres Hadibros. Anochi Hashem Elokecha, Not to have other Gods, Shabbos, honoring your parents, any one of the “Thou Shalt Nots.” While close in proximity, just a few parshios away from the Ten Commandments, that’s really the closest that “Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem” gets to our top ten, so to speak. Sforno explains that this mitzvah provides structure for the Jewish people, something that sets the tone for their existence as a free people. When one is a slave, their time was not their own. Each month had an agenda that was created by their taskmasters. When this would no longer be the case, God instructed the leaders of Klal Yisrael to set boundaries in order to provide them with a structure of time that will set them up for success. 

The second of the forbidden three mitzvos under Greek rule was Shabbos observance. One could easily describe Shabbos as the most important day of the week. Its splendor stems from when the Almighty Himself rested after taking stock of all that He had created during the sheishes yemei Bereishis. The very notion that God rested seems a bit peculiar. The Master of the Universe was fatigued? Not exactly. Just as He rested, we rest. Shabbos itself appears much earlier than the notion of marking Rosh Chodesh in the Torah. Our liturgy extols the unique nature of Shabbos. We recite in Lecha Dodi that this day is the source of all blessing, and later in the Amidah for Maariv that Hashem blessed this day more so than any other, sanctified it more than any other of the zmanim. We honor Shabbos and keep it holy, concepts that trace back to the Torah and that help us become closer with the Ribono Shel Olam. Sometimes the day of rest seems like anything but that. We find menucha in the tefillot and through out Shabbat meals. They say more than the Jews have kept the Shabbos, the Shabbos has kept the Jews. Knowing what we do about the central role of the seventh day to the Jewish experience, we would be a wandering people without it.

Bris Milah was the covenant that Hashem made with Avraham Avinu, and noted as a symbol between God and Bnai Yisrael throughout Tanach. The act itself is a removal of a barrier that hinders our connection to God. Rabbi Nosson Scherman notes in Artscroll’s book on Bris Milah that the term “orlah” is found in Scripture refers to some sort of roadblock in the way of holiness. Some think of orlah as it manifests in reference prohibiting the fruit from a tree within the first three years of its blooming. Additionally, the Torah (Vayikra 19:23) comments that one who is obstinate to doing teshuva is exhibiting “orlas halev”, an orlah on their heart. Without removing this barrier, their is a tremendous lack of kedusha, even on one who is very young.

By penalizing Klal Yisrael for kiddush hachodesh, the Jewish people were not able to consecrate their time to the Almighty. Without the ability to keep Shabbos, the Jewish people would not be privy to the blessings during the rest of the week. By ‘assur-ing” bris milah, the Greeks sought to maintain the physical, yet spiritual barrier between Hashem and His people.

Veyetzei 5779 – The Eye of Beauty

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In Parshas Veyetzei, Yaakov Avinu is on the run from his home and his twin brother who seeks to kill him. After “swindling” Esav out of the special bracha from their father, Yitzchak, their mother, Rivka, quickly tells her younger son to head for the hills. He winds up at a well blocked by a boulder surrounded by shepherds. Suddenly, he lays eyes on Rachel, and is immediately taken with her. Eventually, Rachel’s father, Lavan, the very uncle that Rivka sent Yaakov to live with, works out an arrangement with his nephew to marry his daughter on condition that he spend seven years working for him.

That was the plan.

After seven long years, Yaakov wakes up the morning after his wedding and discovers that it was not his beloved Rachel with him in their tent, but her older sister, Leah. The response he is met with from his father-in-law is that in their area, the younger daughter does not marry before the elder one. Another seven years of labor are in store for Yaakov in order for him to marry Rachel, and he begins fulfilling the terms of this agreement.

But before these events occur, the Torah informs us of Lavan and his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. In describing them, we learn that Leah has tender eyes, while Rachel has both beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.

Rashi explains that the reason that Leah’s eyes were tender (rakot) was due to the immense tears she cried over her apparent lot in life as being destined to marry Esav. Brother Lavan had two daughters and sister Rivka had two sons,  therefore it was only natural that they would marry each other.

But Leah did not want that.

Leah was a righteous woman. The thought of marrying a man whose deeds were vile the likes of Esav was an anathema to her. The river of tears she wept and the copious amounts of tefillos so that she could be saved from this fate were enough to do just that. Therefore, explains Rashi, this is why her eyes were tender.

As a result of her pleading, Leah merited to marry Yaakov. The fact that this happened doesn’t mean that they had a perfect marriage or that she was even happy. If one were to read the psukim of this parsha: “And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now my husband will love me.’ And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Since the Lord has heard that I am hated, He gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons’; therefore, He named him Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing. 

Does this sound like the ideal relationship that a wife would desire from her husband? Is this the idyllic, storybook marriage that Leah could’ve hoped and dreamed for? Most likely not. Nevertheless, a union such as this meant more to her than one with her wicked brother-in-law. Even throughout this ordeal, we know that Leah is ultimately blessed to birth 7 of her husband’s children; Six of the Tribes of Israel and Yaakov’s only daughter, Dena.

Onkelos’ translation of how the text describes Leah’s eyes deviates slightly from that of Rashi, but provides monumental meaning to the verse. Onkelos renders Leah’s eyes not as tender, but beautiful. Leah’s eyes were beautiful, while Rachel’s face was beautiful. While this may seem as a mere comment about the way that each of the women looked, there is a deeper meaning behind Leah’s eyes. The eyes of Leah became “beautiful” because of the tears she cried. It was the demaos and the prayers that came from Leah that made her eyes exceedingly beautiful. It was the immense pain that the thought of being married to a person like Esav that elicited such a response from our holy matriarch.

Vayera 5779 – A Threefold Perspective on Chesed

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At the beginning of Parshas Vayera, we open on Avraham Avinu recuperating from his Bris Milah. Avraham is perched in his tent looking for any and all visitors that he can graciously welcome into his abode. In an act of care for his precious, devoted servant, Avraham, Hashem made this day incredibly hot. Rashi notes that the sun had been “unsheathed” and unleashed a brutal heat that would deter any traveler from journeying too far. Yet, what made Avraham uncomfortable was not the temperature nor was it the pain from his circumcision; he was downtrodden because there were no guests to usher into his home. God’s very act of kindness toward Avraham was in fact causing him more pain than the other factors. It was then that Hashem sent three angels Avraham’s way.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this episode, yet I would like to focus on three in particular.

First, Rabbi Avraham Schorr writes in HaLekach Vehalibuv (Breishis page צא) that Avraham’s actions were poignant because it was he who would be the role model for the generations to come in regard to this commandment. It’s not enough to do the mitzvah, explains Rav Schorr, but one must work at getting those around them involved and inspired to as well. Avraham informed Sarah to make the bread and the “youth” around him (Rashi explains that this was Yishmael) to involve them in this mitzvah. This can be done both directly and indirectly. This entire event occurred at the time when Sdom and Amorah were burgeoning cities, filled to the brim with sinners who deplored hachnasas orchim. Look later on in the Parsha when the angels visit the home of Lot in Sdom, and he doesn’t let them wash their feet for fear that the townspeople will learn of his guests. (Nevertheless, the townspeople showed up in force immediately anyway). Avraham teaches us that even if there is no one else around you to help in your mission, one must still strive for this goal.

Second, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe and more widely known as the author of the Nesivos Shalom, notes with distinction at Avraham’s behavior upon seeing the wandering guests (angels) in the distance. The text doesn’t merely state that Avraham went to the men and convinced them to come to his tent. The psukim state on three different occasions that Avraham acted with great haste in order to greet the angels, to tell Sarah to prepare bread, and to go and choose the finest of the calves to prepare for them. (וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙, וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה, and וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם). Such zrizus (alacrity) to prepare for his guests, all without any pain medication or sedatives from his holy medical procedure.

Finally, Rav Schorr continues with an idea from Skulener Rebbe. The first Pasuk of the Parsha states that “Vehu yoshev pesach haohel kechom hayom” that Avraham was sitting in his tent in the heat of the day. We already are aware of the unseasonably warm weather, but the Skulener Rebbe goes in a different direction with this information. He explains that the heat mentioned here refers not to the temperature on the plains of Mamre where Avraham was situated, but the fire that burned inside him to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim as he sat at his tent gazing out into the distance for any passersby. He was entirely consumed with seeing who he could help on their journey.
As my mother’s fifth yahrtzeit falls this Motzei Shabbos, these three messages from our Parsha resonate with me tremendously. Each one of them reminds me of her. For my sister and I, my parents were (and still are) tremendous role models in chesed for us and those who know them. She didn’t only take these tasks on herself, but actively sought to get others engaged. When I was in elementary school, one of her crowning achievements was her role in creating “Schechter Shabbat,” where families would be hosted by other families. Their children were often times in classes or rode the bus together, yet their families may not have always known one another. This Shabbat dinner sticks in my mind, in addition to countless others magnificently hosted by my parents. What also is stuck in my mind is the manner in which these actions were done in our home. My mother and father did these things without great fanfare, sometimes at the very last minute. And even more so, the desire that my mother had to do and to act even when she physically wasn’t able to do so. She would instruct my sister and I or other to do her bidding for her. No one would’ve faulted her for taking a few moments to herself while convalescing from one of her many trips to the Cleveland Clinic. But that was never the case with her.
The tent of Sheila was molded after the tent of Avraham Avinu. Avraham leaves giant shoes for Klal Yisrael to fill when it comes to chesed: the action itself, the manner in which it’s done, and the desire for opportunities to implement it. The Balk home was graced with a tremendous role model of championing chesed. We miss her every day.

Lech Lecha 5779 – I Told You So

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Everyone loves to feel validated. When someone recognizes that something we do or say is accurate, it gives us a certain sense of pride. Depending on who the person agreeing with our point of view, their haskama can indeed carry weight. When a student offers a novel idea on the material they are studying and the teacher responds by agreeing or bolstering their argument with additional sources or facts, it can mean the world to them. Often times, this feeling of validation is even greater when one thinks your idea is incorrect or chooses to not listen to your advice, and ultimately, your detractor is met with disappointment. The “I told you so!” moment is one that is even sweeter. You were right, they were wrong. They should’ve listened to you, they didn’t, and now they’re paying the price. Too bad for them. Furthermore, one need not even say anything and still relish the moment that an individual who makes poor choices yields unfortunate fruits. It serves them right! Why would anyone make such a stupid decision? They got what they deserved. Yet, we learn from the protagonist of Parshas Lech Lecha that this is not the manner in which to behave when someone close to you meets with disappointment.

We read in the Parsha of Avram being tasked by God to follow His command to an unknown land. Avram obliges, and brings with him his wife (Sarai), his nephew (Lot), and the followers that he and his wife had amassed. Ultimately, Sarai ends up being taken captive as they head to Egypt due to a famine, and as she is eventually freed, she and Avram end up leaving the country with great wealth. They return to their land and there’s a disagreement with the herdsmen of Lot and Avram’s livestock over where the animals in their care should graze. Avram tells Lot to choose a direction in which to lead his flock, and he would go the opposite way. This was done not out of anger, but to prevent further strife between the two. Lot chooses to head toward the plains of Jordan until Sdom. We know from the psukim that Sdom was a city comprised of evil, sinful individuals. Nevertheless, this is where Lot decided to settle. Rashi explains that Lot knew of the evil that ran rampant in the city, yet hung out his shingle there anyway. The story takes an unfortunate turn when Lot is captured by the Sodomites, along with his possessions.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that we can learn a tremendous lesson from Avram in the wake of Lot’s captivity. Upon hearing that his nephew had been taken captive, the nephew that sojourned with him great distances and was a member of his own household following the death of Lot’s father, Avram decides to act. The pasuk states that Avram heard that his brother had been taken, and he armed over three hundred of those close to him in order to retrieve Lot. This is a seminal moment. The Rav notes (Abraham’s Journey p.130) that Avram could have heard this news and reacted in a much different fashion.

“A normal reaction on his part would have been to say, ‘It serves him right; I warned him not to cast his lot with the Sodomites.’ Lot had rejected Avraham and his demanding God, preferring a pleasure-seeking society to Abraham’s covenantal fellowship. Yet, Avraham did not react this way. Lit is referred to here as Avraham’s brother. A Jew must feel a duty to save his brother even if his brother has departed from the righteous path.”

It would have been so easy for Avram to have sat back and cursed his beloved nephew for deciding to settle in a land full of evildoers. It may have even made him feel good about himself. However, when his loved one was faced with tremendous adversity, it was not enough for Avram to merely feel bad for Lot. He rescued him, and brought him back to safety.

Avram, later known as Avraham, was known for his penchant for chessed. This episode with Lot was a small example of just that.