We learn in this week’s parshah about the wickedness and demise of the residents of Sedom. Further, we learn from medrashim that the residents of Sedom did not show much hospitality. Similarly, the mishnah in Avos 5:10 says that there are four different types of middos that people live by. The first is one who says, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.” The mishnah says that this is an intermediate middah; others say that this is middas Sedom. Rashi, in Kesubos 103a, says that the people in Sedom would not allow anyone to benefit from their possessions even if it would be of no loss to them.
Many trees upstate were damaged by the hurricane that swept through the East Coast at the end of last summer, and I was involved in finding the safest equipment to clean up the mess. I love trees and found the chore of cutting them down very difficult, especially knowing that the stately 60 year old trees would be impossible to replace. Even though we planted new trees, I don't know whether I will be there to enjoy these new saplings when they are 60 years old.
The new Jewish year is still young. The new Parshas HaShavua cycle is but a few weeks old. It is indeed time for new beginnings.
And Hashem said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Bereishis 12:1 With these words begins one of the ten great tests of Avraham. The Ramban explains that these were trials by fire, designed to bring Avraham’s greatness to the surface, taking it from the potential to the actual. They helped form him into the singular tzaddik he became.
The call to Abraham, with which Parshat Lech Lecha begins, seems to come from nowhere: “Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, and go to a land that I will show you.”
In this week’s parshah Hashem commands Avraham Avinu to perform the mitzvah of bris milah. The pasuk tells us that Avraham was 99 when he performed the bris milah on himself. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (29) and Tosafos, in Rosh Hashanah 11a, say that Avraham’s bris was performed on Yom Kippur. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer adds that Shem, Noach’s son, performed the bris on Avraham. There are several explanations as to why Avraham had Shem perform his milah.
In this pasuk, Hashem appears to Noach, telling him the world has turned to evil and He will now destroy all of life. Noach, his family, and the animals that remained pure will be the core of a new world. The reason for this destruction is stealing – “since the land is filled with robbery.”
Is there such a thing as an objective basis of morality? For some time, in secular circles, the idea has seemed absurd. Morality is what we choose it to be. We are free to do what we like so long as we don’t harm others. Moral judgments are not truths but choices. There is no way of getting from “is” to “ought,” from description to prescription, from facts to values, from science to ethics. This was the received wisdom in philosophy for a century after Nietzsche had argued for the abandonment of morality – which he saw as the product of Judaism – in favor of the “will to power.”
Toward the end of this week’s parshah Rashi quotes a Medrash that relates the familiar episode of when Avraham Avinu was thrown into a furnace. Rashi recounts that Avraham’s father, Terach, had reported to Nimrod that his son had broken all of his idols. Avraham was then thrown into a fire and was saved. The wording of the Medrash, however, is that Avraham had gone into the fire by himself (kesheyarad Avraham letoch kivshan ha’eish – when Avraham went into the fire, and in another place it says that Nimrod decreed that he should leireid lekivshan ha’eish – go down into the fire).
“Isn’t it ironic that kids whose parents fail to set and enforce limits feel unloved and angry? Although they tend to test and protest, we have learned over and over again that limits are what kids really want. Invariably, when we talk with out-of-control teenagers or adults who were juvenile delinquents and lucky enough to survive, we ask them, ‘If you could go back to when you were a child, what would you change?’ Most of them say something like, ‘I wish my parents had reeled me in when I was a kid. Why didn’t they make me behave?’
With the campaigns for the presidency of the United States in full swing people are beginning to imagine the inaugural address that will be delivered this coming January 20. Especially this year, when the candidates offer such different visions for America, rhetoric enthusiasts are expecting whoever wins to deliver an inspiring speech designed to provide a strategy and game plan for the country to move forward.
Adom HaRishon was given one mitzvah: not to eat from the Eitz HaDas. When he transgressed it, Hashem gave him the opportunity to do teshuvah. Not only did Adom not repent, he played the blame game – “It was that woman that You gave to me. You gave her to me as a helpmate and she turned out to be my ruination.”
In this week’s parshah the Torah commands us in the first mitzvah: pru u’revu – be fruitful and multiply. We rule in accordance with Beis Hillel that one fulfills this mitzvah when he has fathered one boy and one girl.
It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:
Each year, amid the ebullient joy manifest during the holiday of Sukkot, we read the megillah of Kohelet. With its realistic perspective on the world, Kohelet provides us with the means to not only properly calibrate our joy, but to accurately understand the role of joy and happiness in the world.
The Gemara in Megillah 31a says that on the last day of Sukkos the Torah reading is the parshah of Vezos Haberachah and the maftir is Vaya’amod Shlomo (Melachim 1:8). The Rishonim are bothered by the following question: the Mishnah in Megillah says that Moshe Rabbeinu instituted what portion of the Torah should be read on each of the Yamim Tovim. Each portion relates to that particular Yom Tov. What then is the connection between Vezos Haberachah and the last day of Sukkos?
Sukkos! What an exciting Yom Tov! So many different mitzvos, each with their own color and flavor. Dwelling in the sukkah, taking the 4 species, dancing at the simchas beis hashuava and on Simchas Torah … Nevertheless, there is one theme which runs through all these aspects. “Vesamachta bechagecha atah uvincha, uvitecha, ve'avdecha, va'amasecha, vehaLevi, vehager, vehayasom. veha'almanah asher bish'areycha - You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow from your settlements” (Devorim 16:14).
Yom Kippur was but a few days ago and we were all feeling the closest to Hashem that we feel all year. And now it’s time to build the sukkah. But before we move on with the holiday cycle we need to see what we can do to retain at least some of those special feelings of Yom Kippur. This week’s haftorah guides us on just such a path.
“When I proclaim the name of Hashem, give greatness to our G-d (32:3). When we hear a berachah, it is proper to exclaim "Baruch Hu u’Baruch Shemo" (“He is blessed and His name is blessed”) when Hashem's name is pronounced. But much more is intended. The mention of that most important word (in any language) should evoke the greatest reverence and love and devotion. How much should we exert ourselves in this function?