Rabbi Yehuda Lapian
Former Rosh Kollel in Greater Washington
Parshat Vayeira opens with a description of Avraham’s chessed (act of loving kindness) towards the three malachim (angels); moves on to Avraham’s efforts to convince HaKadosh Baruch Hu to refrain from destroying Sedom; and concludes with theAkeidah. In this article, we shall examine the way Avraham successfully manages to integrate his relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu and his human relationships.
In the introduction to Sefer Ein Yaakov, the author cites a fascinating Midrash in which each Tana cites the one pasuk he would choose if asked to select a single pasuk from the Torah:
“Ben Zoma says, ‘we find a comprehensive pasuk: “Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our God, Hashem is One.”’ Ben Nanas says, ‘we find a more comprehensive pasuk: “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”’ Ben Pazi says, ‘we find a more comprehensive pasuk: “The one sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep you shall offer in the afternoon.”’ Rav Ploni stood on his feet and said, ‘The halachah is like Ben Pazi.’”
Needless to say, this Midrash is puzzling. After all, the first pasuk pertains to our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu and our acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Meanwhile, the second pasuk teaches us that we must treat our fellow men as we would treat ourselves. But the third pasuk discusses the korban tamid. Why is that pasuk considered to be unique in any way, and how can the last Tana declare that the third view is the most correct?
The korban tamid is offered twice daily, on every day of the year. This type of regularity symbolizes our eternal bond with the Master of the World. According to one opinion in the Mishnah in Brachot, the tefilot (prayer services) correspond to the temidim. In other words, shacharit corresponds to the morning tamid, and minchah corresponds to the afternoon tamid. Moreover, both prayer and the korban tamid constitute the strongest possible bond with the Creator.
Two sheep each and every day is quite costly. (That totals 708 sheep annually.) However, astonishingly, there were no appeals to raise the necessary funds. Instead, the money came from the machatzit hashekel (the half shekel), which was collected each year. In Parshat Ki Tisa, we read about the machatzit hashekel. The Torah states:
“The rich shall not increase, and the poor shall not decrease.” (Shmot 30:15)
Do not think that your wealth means that you have a closer bond with Hashem than a poor man does, and the converse does not hold true either. Everyone is equal in Hashem’s eyes.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu uses the machatzit hashekel to teach us an important lesson which is the basis for interpersonal relationships: Just as everyone is equal in My eyes, so too everyone should be equal in your eyes.
Thus, the korban tamid imparts a double message: A strong bond with Hashem is not sufficient, if one does not treat others properly.
We can now see why the third pasuk is the most appropriate. The first pasuk (Shma Yisrael) focuses on the bein adam l’Makom(between man and Hashem) relationship, and the second pasuk deals with bein adam l’chaveiro (interpersonal) relationships. Yet, the third pasuk incorporates both of these fundamental values.
From the time of Creation, HaKadosh Baruch Hu begins to search for a person who can bequeath this important message to humanity. First, Adam HaRishon fails in terms of bein adam l’Makom, when he eats from the eitz hadaat. Later, Noach – a “tzadik tamim” (“perfectly righteous man”), who “found favor in the eyes of Hashem” – fails in terms of bein adam l’chaveiro: Instead of preventing the flood by rebuking his contemporaries, Noach is silent.
And then along comes Avraham. Not only does he achieve greatness by recognizing his Creator and by converting those around him, but he does not neglect the interpersonal aspect as well.
Each one of the Avot has an emblematic midah (trait): Yaakov – emet (truth); Yitzchak – gevurah (fortitude); and Avraham -chessed (loving kindness). This week’s parsha shows us why Avraham merits the crown of chessed, and we can also now understand why Am Yisrael begins with Avraham. He was the first person to grasp that Hashem wants us to integrate bein adam l’Makom and bein adam l’chaveiro.
In Parshat Breishit, the Torah states:
“These are the products of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (Breishit 2:4)
Rashi cites the Midrash which notes that the word b’hibaram (“when they were created”) is an anagram of “b’Avraham” (“for Avraham”). In other words, HaKadosh Baruch Hu created the world for Avraham.
Yet, how can this be? After all, Avraham is born a full 1,948 years after Creation. However, the Midrash’s point is that HaKadosh Baruch Hu created the world for the sake of a person such as Avraham. That is, the world was created for the type of person who would be able to combine a strong relationship with Hashem and proper conduct towards his fellow men.
May we be privileged to serve Hashem with joy and tranquility, and may love and friendship reign among all of Klal Yisrael.