Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Vayeira 5771: How do we speak?

Question
Parshas hashavuah Question: In this weeks parsha we have Avraham pleading with G-d not to destroy Sodom?
and the cities around it and also G-d ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. What similarity is there in the two speeches and what can we learn from it?

This weeks parsha is Vayeira Bereishis (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

Answer
What is the commonality between these two speeches? Lets look at how they go:
Avraham starts at 50 righteous people, then slowly decreases until he reaches ten. He goes from the easiest to justifyto the hardest. After all, in a group of cities if there are fifty righteous people it is easy to justify- if there are only 10 it is much harder to justify. It is the minimum number for a community- thus the amount for a minyan, but at the same time one could argue it does not make sense to save a few cities if between them they can only offer up a bare minimum for a community of righteous people!

G-d starts of telling Avraham that he must sacrifice his son and progresses to the specific son of Yitzchak. Now, Avraham lived in an era where the sacrifice of a child as a form of worship was known, if not common. However, there were limits- the son of the king, due to inherit the mantle of royalty, would not be sacrificed; the child who was to inherit and head up the family was not sacrificed; it was those that came afterwards that wereconsecrated to idols. In a similar vein we see later in history during the medieval period that in royal families where there children beyond the necessary heir- carreers in the military or priesthood were the norm so they would not be there to compete with the heir. But here the item that does nto make sense is the one that is being pushed- the heir, the one to continue the nation, the one destined to to lead the Jewish people is to be sacrificed. Again we see the progression from the understandable to the finality which seems to not make sense and which cannot be justified.

So we see this common idea in both speeches- but we also see that in both cases the people do not go straiight to the final idea, but progress down to it. There is a progression and a chance for the unexpected, the strange to be able to become more familiar and more acceptable.

This idea has both positive and negative implications- on the positive side we can learn that when we seek tot each, to bring people into, or improve, their Jewish observance, we should do it slowly. Let them progress at a speed where they can assimilate an idea, adjust to it and thus move from what makes the most sense and is easiest to them, to that which may not make sense and is thus harder for them to implement. On the negative side you have the often repeated idea that as peopel desacend into sin they generally do the “lighter” actions first. As they become acclimatised to that, they progress downwards going deeper and deeper into sin until they are performing actions that previously they would have found unthinkable but now they are comfortable with. For this reason chazal warn us against associating with sinners or even doing things that are allowed if they would lead us into this negative spiral. Just because something is allowed, does not mean it is desirable- and the yetzer hara utilises our own weaknesses and feeling of comfortable with acts , forbidden or marginal, to eventually make those acts which are completely forbidden seem desireable-after all.

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October 20, 2010 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. 18. And Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him. יח. וְאַבְרָהָם הָיוֹ יִהְיֶה לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וְעָצוּם וְנִבְרְכוּ בוֹ כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ:”

    I think in the Akieda it says the same words… So I think that H’ wanted to bless Abraham for NOT trying to save Yis’haq, but he also wanted to bless Abraham for trying to save Sedom. I don’t see a connection, but I think there is one.

    Comment by Gavriel | October 20, 2010 | Reply

    • I’m afraid you are on comepltely the wrong track here! There is a connection in the manner of the speech rather than in the direct words.

      Comment by marc | October 20, 2010 | Reply

  2. If you would have asked for a difference, I would I have gotten the answer quickly 🙂

    I’m trying to make a responsa to questions people have asked me in the past. Be’ezrat Hashem I will do a She’elat/Teshuva a day, and soon I will ask a Posek for the all the final P’sikas (Bli Neder)!

    Got any questions?

    Comment by Gavriel | October 20, 2010 | Reply

    • Sigh- you still don’t get it- the speeches are diffewrent- the connection is in the manner of the speech, the way in which the information is put across.

      As for questions- nope, I have my own Rabbi and do not go to others for pasken as you should move between Rabbis but have one whose rulings you follow!

      Comment by marc | October 20, 2010 | Reply

  3. I don’t totally agree with that… I mean, sometimes I like to hear different opinions on matters… Pirke Abbot (1:6) “Aseh Lekha Rav” because one of the Rishonim, and Rav Hayim Palagi explain it to mean “become a Rav” or “make yourself a Rabbi”… Doesn’t mean you have to have one.

    I can have many Rabbanim! I follow the Hida, Ben Ish Hai, Maran, Rambam, Rosh, Kaf HaHayim, Habif etc… I don’t have to just follow one!

    Shabbatch Shalom. Please read for me a Kapital of Tehillim, I am not feeling well.

    ->->-> גבריאל בן שילה <-<-<-

    http://www.dailytehillim.com/Default.aspx?Perek=123

    Hashem YeBarekh Otekha!

    |

    Comment by Gavriel | October 20, 2010 | Reply

    • Gabi- there is a general ruling that one asks ONE authority for answers and does not go from rabbi to Rabbi hoping to get a different answer. Yes, we study many poskim and meforshim- but for halachic rulings asked of a posek you ask ONE posek and should only go to someone else if they are unable to give you an answer.

      And “aseh lechah Rav” has many lessons to teach- that each of us should strive for the knowledge to be ourselves is one, the other is that we should have a teacher and follow that teacher, not seeking out answers from different sources until we find one that we like!

      Comment by marc | October 21, 2010 | Reply

  4. I agree with you on everything…except for the part where you said “until we find one that we like!” That’s not what I’m doing, I’m very open-minded, so I like to see all opinions… it’s not I’m just going to use the one i like.

    Shabbatch Shalom!

    Comment by Gavriel | October 21, 2010 | Reply

  5. You state ” For this reason chazal warn us against associating with sinners or even doing things that are allowed if they would lead us into this negative spiral. Just because something is allowed, does not mean it is desirable”

    Are you referring to in person, or would the same apply to our exchanges with others on the internet where we are annonymous?

    Comment by Flo | November 8, 2010 | Reply

    • It applies at all times- though it overlaps with other issues. Some examples: Where does the responsibility to counter missionaries intersect with the need to dissasociate from sinners? It is essential that people counter missionaries but that means deliberately interacting with these people.

      Similarly for those spreading anti-Semitic distortions of the Talmud or holocaust denial. Cleraly such people are reshaim and sinners and we should not associate with them- but tat the same time a certain level of interaction is needed to prevent the creation of hatred of Jews and Judaism

      Comment by marc | November 24, 2010 | Reply

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