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ובן שמונת ימים ימול לכם כל זכר לדורתכם

At the age of eight days, every male among you shall be circumcised throughout your generations. (17:12)

The following incident, which occurred about two hundred years ago with the saintly Chasam Sofer, gives us a glimpse into the extraordinary greatness of the man who is responsible for saving Hungarian Jewry from the tentacles of the Haskalah, Enlightenment. The Chasam Sofer was not only the leading posek, halachic arbiter, of his day, but also a holy and righteous Torah giant, who obviously was as comfortable in the Heavenly sphere as he was in the mundane world. The story is cited by Horav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, zl, who heard it from the son-in-law of the Rav of Kashua, a…

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ותקח שרי אשת אברם את הגר המצרית שפחתה... ותתן אתה לאברם... ותהר ותקל גברתה בעיניה. ותעניה שרי ותברח מפניה... ויאמר לה מלאך ד' שובי אל גברתך והתעני תחת ידיה

So Sarai, Avram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maidservant… and gave her to Avram… she conceived… her mistress was lowered in her esteem… and Sarai dealt harshly with her, so she fled from her… and an angel of Hashem said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her domination.” (16:3,4,6,9)

The narrative concerning Sarah Imeinu and Avraham Avinu regarding Hagar, followed by Sarah’s anger, Hagar’s running away, and the angel’s instruction that she return, even if it meant submitting to Sarah’s domination, is confounding. Clearly, the profundity escapes the superficial reading of the story. Sarah has been recognized in our sacred tradition as a woman who represents the epitome of all good and noble virtues. To think that all this goodness dissipated when Hagar conceived and gave birth to Yishmael, especially when it was Sarah’s idea that Avraham take her on as an additional wife, is unacceptable. Furthermore, if Sarah…

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ואברם כבד מאד במקנה בכסף ובזהב

Now Avram was very laden with livestock, silver and gold. (13:2)

The mere mention of the word Ruzhin conjures up images of wealth and royalty. Indeed, the saintly Ruzhiner Rebbe, zl, was a legend in his own time. Everything about him, from his clothes to his living quarters to his total demeanor was resplendent with wealth and monarchy. Nonetheless, he was regarded as one of the greatest tzaddikim, righteous leaders, of his time. The greatest gedolim, Torah giants, of his generation would travel for weeks just to spend a brief visit with him. They viewed him as a Heavenly agent, dispatched to this world on a Divine mission to reach out…

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לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך... ואעשך לגוי גדול

Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house… and I will make you a great nation. (12:1,2)

The Torah begins its introduction to the life of Avraham Avinu with Hashem’s command to him to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home. No other introduction describes the Patriarch, his qualities, ethical and spiritual character and achievements up until this time. Conversely, concerning Noach, the Torah writes about his righteousness and perfection, his family and the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of the society in which he lived. It is almost as if Avraham Avinu’s spiritual persona and his moral compass were of no consequence concerning his role in the formation of our beliefs and his rise to…

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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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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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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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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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אל תירא אברם אנכי מגן לך. שכרך הרבה מאד.

Fear not, Avram, I am a shield for you. Your reward shall be very great. (15:1)

The words, “Your reward shall be very great,” imply that not only is a reward waiting for Avraham Avinu, but the reward that had normally been stored away on his behalf was not diminished as a result of the miracles which were wrought for him. Why is this? Yaakov Avinu feared that his z’chusim, merits, would be diminished as a result of Hashem’s saving him from Eisav’s reach. Why should Avraham be different? Indeed, is this not what reward is all about? Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, quoted by Horav Boruch Dov Povarsky, Shlita, compares this world to an upscale restaurant…

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אם מחוט ועד שרוך נעל ואם אקח מכל אשר לך ולא תאמר אני העשרתי את אברם.

I will not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap of what is yours; you shall not say, “It is I who made Avram rich.” (14:23)

Avraham Avinu refused to accept any material gifts from the king of Sodom. He was not interested in the pagan patting himself on the back knowing that he had increased Avraham’s wealth. Yet, we do not find this same attitude when Pharaoh offered gifts. Avraham readily accepted them. Furthermore, when Avraham had an incident with Avimelech, in which the king sought to assuage his guilt, he, too, gave Avraham gifts, which the Patriarch also accepted. Why did he refuse the gifts from the Sodomite king, yet accept the gifts proffered by Pharaoh and Avimelech? Horav Baruch Dov Povarsky, Shlita, explains…

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