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Parshas Vayera: Under The Tree

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The great scholar and ethicist, Rav Yisroel Lipkin of Salant zt”l, was once in the home of an assimilated Jew in Vienna. The man’s daughter was an accomplished pianist.

While they were conversing the daughter entered and joined the conversation. She asked Rav Salanter, “We are always recounting and speaking about miracles that transpired centuries ago. If G-d is so omnipotent why doesn’t He perform such miracles today?”

Rav Salanter diverted the question and the conversation continued. Sometime later the man began to brag about the many awards his daughter had received and the many symphonies and recitals she had been part of.

After the man finished listing his daughter’s accomplishments, Rav Salanter nonchalantly replied, “I don’t believe you!” The man was stunned. Rav Salanter continued, “I am sure she knows how to play the piano but I do not believe that she is really all that good. In fact, I doubt she really has much talent at all. If she really has any talent let her play and prove herself.”

The young woman was indignant. “I should play for you to prove myself? Listen here Rabbi, many of the greatest musicians in the world agree that my playing is exemplary. The diplomas and award hanging here on the wall attest to that. After they have given their approval, I surely do not need to prove myself to a rabbi who has an amateurish appreciation of music at best.”

Rav Salanter turned to the woman and replied, “Listen to what you just said. You have proven yourself to the greatest musical aficionados and so you feel no need to prove yourself to a lone skeptic. G-d revealed Himself to our forefathers and established for them the basic tenets of our faith. Do you honestly expect Him to come ‘play the piano’ for one skeptic in Vienna?”

 

Avraham Avinu was a celebrity in his time. Despite the travails and challenges he consistently encountered, he became a wealthy person, and was incredibly influential in attracting myriads to his monotheistic preaching.

After his saga with Avimelech, Avraham settled in the land of the Philistines for a lengthy period of time. The Torah relates[1], “He planted an ‘Eshel[2] in Be’er Sheva, and there he proclaimed the Name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe.”

Why does the Torah bother to talk about Avraham’s planting? Furthermore, what does his planting have to do with his proclaiming about G-d?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l explained that Avraham taught the masses about G-d through his planting! He would call attention to the miracles of nature and use that to prove the existence of G-d. The flowering and growth of the tree, the withering and falling of its leaves in autumn, the rebirth of its buds and leaves in the spring, the miraculous growth of a fruit tree from dirt and sunlight, the process of osmosis and photosynthesis, etc. Organic life, revealed through the most basic processes of nature, is the greatest testament to an Almighty Creator. Avraham’s greatness was that he did not only perceive G-d in the supernatural and miraculous, but he was able to perceive G-d in the mundane processes of nature.

“In our obtuse society, man cannot see the infinite, the Creator, nor can he sense Providence. He thinks that all there is on earth is the little that physics, chemistry, and biology have described, and this knowledge is enough to understand the universe… The problem of modern man lies not in his quest for knowledge, but rather in his hubris. He carries an air of arrogance, considering himself an all-capable superhuman, not being able to admit that he knows little and understands less.”[3]

Earlier, the Torah describes Avraham’s encounter with the three angels. On the third day after his circumcision, Avraham sat at the doorway of his tent exposed to the intense desert heat, searching and pining for visitors with whom he could perform acts of kindness. Suddenly, he saw three figures in the distance. Forgetting his pain, Avraham bolted towards them and implored them to stop at his tent. Assuming they were idolatrous nomads he asked them to first wash their feet, before sitting down to a delectable meal.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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