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לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך

Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house. (12:1)

Rashi adds L’hanaasecha u’l’tovascha, “for your pleasure and your good.” Hashem telling Avraham to pick himself up, leave his home and family, and uproot himself and his wife to a destination that has yet to be “determined” is far from pleasureful and good. The pleasure is serving Hashem; the good is following Hashem’s command. One would be hard-pressed to find anything positive about leaving, unless, of course, one is leaving a miserable place, which was the case in Avraham Avinu’s circumstances. Imrei Shamai cites an incident that occurred concerning Horav Nochum, zl, m’Tchernobel which may be extrapolated to explain how…

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וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ד' וילך אתו לוט

So Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. (12:4)

Lot was Avraham Avinu’s nephew, whom the Patriarch took in and supported following the untimely death of his brother, Haran, at the hands of Nimrod. Nimrod had his followers throw Avraham into a fiery furnace. He challenged Haran to choose between Nimrod and Avraham. Haran wanted to “hedge” his bets, first waiting to see what would happen to Avraham before he made his choice. If Avraham would emerge from the furnace unscathed, then Haran would support him. If Avraham would suffer a tragic death, then Haran was not interested in adding to the toll. He would then support Nimrod. When…

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וישא לוט את עיניו וירא את כל ככר הירדן... ויסע לוט מקדם

So Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire plain of Jordan… and Lot journeyed from the east. (13:10,11)

Rashi (quoting the Midrash) explains that Lot was not simply distancing himself from Avraham Avinu in a geographical sense, but was actually distancing himself m’Kadmono shel Olam, the Ancient One of the world (kedem can also be understood as “before” i.e., ancient one), Hashem Yisborach. Lot separated himself from Avraham and everything he represented, saying, “I want neither Avraham nor his G-d.” Chazal attribute this declaration to Lot. It is a strong statement, especially since Lot did not have a history of harboring any negativity towards his uncle, Avraham, or Avraham’s G-d, Hashem. On the contrary, we see Lot prepared…

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ואנשי סדם רעים וחטאים לד' מאד

Now, the people of Sodom were wicked and sinful toward Hashem. (13:13)

Every once in a while, I like to veer from the recurrent themes of our commentary and digress with an exposition that has an esoteric Chassidic slant to it, especially if it presents the message of the pasuk in a totally new and positive light. The seudas Melaveh Malkah, meal bidding farewell to the Shabbos Queen, holds great significance in Jewish tradition. While it is true that it seems to have taken on a greater celebratory life in Chassidic circles, it does not mean that it has any less significance in other Orthodox circles. After spending an entire day immersed…

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אלה תולדות נח. נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו

These are the generations of Noach – Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. (6:9)

Noach is the first person to be called a tzaddik, righteous man. Chazal (Avodah Zarah 25נ) say that Sefer HaYashar (Sefer Bereishis) is the sefer, book, dedicated to the lives of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The Talmud (Taanis 15a) contends that ohr, light, is reference to the tzaddik, while simchah, joy, refers to the yashar, straight, upright person. Rashi explains that yashar is a more exalted level than tzaddik. Ohr zarua latzaddik, u’l’yishrei lev simchah, “Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, gladness” (Tehillim 97:11). Joy is greater than light. Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, explains…

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ויולד נח שלשה בנים את שם את חם ואת יפת

Noach had begotten three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yafes. (6:10)

Rav Daniel Yoffe, zl, was a distinguished layman who lived in Berlin (circa 1760). He contributed to the support of Torah and its disseminators. Despite his total devotion to Orthodoxy, he suffered greatly from the indignity and shame brought on him by his son-in-law, David Friedlander. Originally from Konigsberg, his son-in-law had moved to Berlin and established the Jewish Free School so that Jewish children could be schooled in secular Jewish studies as well as traditional studies. His lack of faith in the continuity of the Jewish nation, coupled with an ever-increasing attraction to Christianity and the lifestyle it inspired,…

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והקמתי את בריתי אתך

But I will establish My covenant with you. (6:18)

Rashi explains that the covenant/promise Hashem made with/to Noach was two-fold: the food supply in the Ark would not spoil; the reshaim, evil people of the generation, would do him no harm. He would safely live on the ark. The Brisker Rav, zl, makes an interesting observation. Noach was about to enclose himself on a traveling ark with representatives of every species of animal, wild beast and fowl. One would think that this would be considered a frightening experience. These were not domesticated pets. They were vicious wild animals. Noach did not seem to be afraid. Hashem had given him…

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וירא חם אבי כנען את ערות אביו ויגד לשני אחיו בחוץ

And Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers outside. (9:22)

“The apple does not fall far from the tree” is a well-known maxim. Let us attempt to cultivate a picture of Cham and Canaan, his son, to better understand the flawed character manifest by Cham, which was transmitted to his son, Canaan. Canaan, whose moral degeneracy ultimately exceeded even that of his father and mentor. The Canaanite nation was a most despicable people, having sunk to such an abyss that the land/Eretz Yisrael which they had inhabited could no longer tolerate their residence. Mitzrayim, Egypt, was a cousin and paralleled Canaan in moral bankruptcy. Two apples from the Cham tree….

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ויאמר ברוך ד' אלקי שם

And he said, “Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shem. (9:26)

Noach did not directly bless Shem; rather, he said that the G-d/Hashem of Shem be blessed and glorified. By saying this, Noach intimated the mission of Shem/ his descendants, of whom the standard bearer is Klal Yisrael. Their primary goal is to serve Hashem and glorify His Name in the world. Thus, when people bless Hashem, we, His children, are – by extension – blessed. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, points out that Hashem is the universal G-d. He is everyone’s G-d. (Indeed, when the accursed Nazi held his gun to the head of the Telzer Rav and asked, “Jew, where…

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הבה נבנה לנו עיר ומגדל וראשו בשמים ונעשה לנו שם

“Come, let us build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” (11:4)

Researchers say that those who participate in extreme sports do it because they want to have a life-altering experience. They are individuals who are anything but irresponsible risk takers, but rather, highly trained men and women with a deep knowledge of themselves, who simply want to experience an activity that is life-enhancing and life-changing. For them, it is an exhilarating experience that makes them come alive, transcending everyday ways of being and glimpsing their own potential. They view dealing with death as an affirmation of life that gives it greater meaning. There are those who seek to carve out a…

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