Rabbi Meir Yechiel Katz
Former Shaliach (Melbourne, 1999)
Currently Ra’m at Yeshivat Nachalat Yisrael at Migdal Ha’emek
A STRANGE REQUEST
In our Parasha Avraham makes a surprising request from his wife, Sarah – “Behold I know that you are a woman of great beauty in appearance… and they will kill me and you they will keep alive. Please say that you are my sister in order that it may be well with me for your sake….” (Bereishit 12 verses 11-13).
It appears that Avraham “saved his skin” by creating a situation that his wife will be forced to suffer under the hand of Pharoah in Egypt. Is this the behavior that is compatible with the personality of Avraham who is willing to sacrifice himself for another, and certainly for his wife?
We will try to answer this question based on to the teachings of the Gaon Reb Meir Yechiel Halshtock, the Admor (Rebbe) of Ostrovtze z”l. However, in so far as this amazing Rabbi left nearly no remnant nor name as a result of the terrible Holocaust, I will first shortly tell about his image and character.
THE REBBE-ADMOR OF OSTROVTZE
The Admor who passed away less that one hundred years ago (1928) was a special phenomenon among Chassidism. He did not come from a dynasty of Admorim, nor did he labor to draw Chassidim after him. First and foremost, he was the Rabbi of Ostrovtze, a large industrial city in Poland. However, his greatness and saintliness drew in the masses to follow him. At a certain stage, he was even considered to be one of the Giants of the Generation. The Admor was graced with extraordinary genius and diligence, which allowed him to have a complete command of all areas of the Torah.
In his novellae on Torah and the Talmud (Or Torah and Meir Eyney Chachomim) that were written by his pupils (he himself did not want this to happen, for hidden reasons that remained with him) we see genius, pilpul and breathtakingly wide knowledge in all of the Torah. His abstinence and saintliness were well known; he fasted for forty years until he needed a fur coat to keep warm, even in summer. He refused to reveal to anyone the reason for these fasts, even to the great leaders of the generation who turned to him about this matter. However, he one time let slip a short utterance and said: “If people could see what I see is going to happen here, they would not be capable of putting anything into their mouth.”
As we noted before, he died before the terrible Shoah in which his own family; his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, were almost totally annihilated. It is important to note that he was a great lover of Eretz Yisrael and supported its building and its builders. Although I don’t have any “blood connection” to the Admor and am not numbered among his descendants, I merited being named in his memory and hence my knowledge of his stature and Torah teaching.
NON -USE OF THE MIRACLE FOR SECURING MERITS
In the book “Or Torah” the Admor explains extensively that even though one can pray to Hashem for a miracle, it is not proper to do so, as that will detract from one’s merits. This idea appears clearly in the story of Reb Chaninah ben Dosah (Tractate Taanit 25A) and his wife who suffered from dire poverty. Therefore, they asked for wealth and were answered by receiving a golden leg from Heaven. They then saw that recieving that gift in this world will detract from their share in World to Come. Therefore they requested to ‘return’ the gift to Hashem.
Now, we can understand Avraham’s words to Sarah: Avraham was promised from Hashem promises of security and success. Therefore, Avraham believed that Hashem would make a miracle for him and deliver him immediately from Pharoah and the Egyptians. However, if he would be saved in a fashion that is not natural, then Sarah’s and his merits would be diminished. Therefore, Avraham said to Sarah: “Please say that you are my sister,” and thus, in a natural way, our lives will be saved from danger, and we will not need a miracle.”
However, that still leaves the worry and fear that the Egyptians would harm Sarah spiritually, by going against the will of Hashem or to transgress a Mitzvah. But that is a spiritual need and not a physical need, and therefore, there would be no need to diminish from their merits to by worthy of being protected from that danger. This idea is also hinted at in Avraham’s words: “My soul (nafshi – my spiritual part) will live because of you.” The merits will remain intact.
CONCERN FOR THE COMING GENERATIONS
However, on this explanation we have to ask – why was Avraham so worried about his reward in The World to Come? He was known as “Avraham, My beloved, the servant of Hashem” who serves Him not for the sake of being rewarded.
The answer to this is simple. Avraham did not worry about his Olam Habah and its rewards, but he did worry about the merits of the generations coming after him. The Holy Fathers in all their deeds looked at and worried about us, their children throughout the generations. Thus, they always did everything in their power to do only what benefits us. Therefore, Avraham and Sarah made a mutual decision and agreed to carry out this strategy and thus to be served by natural means so as to preserve the merits for the generations to come – ” Lord, may the merits of the Avos protect us.”