Sponsored by Berwin and Ettie Cohen to thank Hashem for a positive settlement in a litigation, and that the District Court Judge acknowledged our team’s right to observe Yom Kippur and Sukkos. 

Parshah Halacha – Parshat Lech Lecha

Mercy, Bashfulness and Kindness: Essential Jewish traits

For a print version of this article click here
Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
The Torah portion of Lech Lecha discusses much of the story of the life of our first patriarch Avraham Avinu. Among the many unique traits that Avraham possessed was his outstanding kindness. He was the paradigm of Chesed. The Sefer HaBahir (an early Kabbalistic book[1]) writes[2] that G-d’s attribute of Kindness proclaimed to G-d, “As long as Avraham is in this world I am not needed for doing my job (of advocating for Divine kindness) since Avraham is standing and serving in my stead.”
The Kindness of Avraham
Avraham expressed his kindness to his fellow-man throughout his life as we see from the Torah’s account of his many good deeds.
·        Teaching Torah
Avraham would teach men to believe in G-d while Sarah would teach women, as the verse says, “And the souls they had acquired in Charan.”[3]
The Zohar says[4] that Avraham had a miraculous tree that would indicate to him as to the spiritual status of his guests. If a guest believed in the one G-d, the tree would provide shade for him (or her). If, however, the guest was a pagan, the leaves of the tree would ascend upwards, refusing to provide shade for that individual. Seeing this, Avraham would speak to the person and convince him to believe in the one G-d. In addition, there was a spring of water underneath this tree which would well up if the guest was ritually impure. Avraham would thus know he had to make sure to have his guest purified by immersion in a mikvah. This is why the verse in the next portion says that Avraham told the three visiting angels to “rest underneath the tree.”[5] He wanted the tree to let him know if these guests believed in G-d or not.
·        Rescuing the Captives
When Avraham heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he put himself in danger and went to battle against the army of the four kings to save his nephew.[6]
The Zohar says[7] that first Avraham took a lot of money with which to redeem Lot from captivity. He also said to himself that if the kings would refuse his ransom money, he would join Lot in captivity and keep him company. But when he left his house, he sensed the presence of the Shechinah and many troops of angels around him, and so he realized that he would have Divine assistance in battle. He therefore waged war immediately.
·        Apportioning Fairly
Although Avraham refused to keep the spoils of the war for himself, he insisted that his soldiers receive their portion. This included his confederates, Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, who had guarded his possessions while he was at war.[8]
According to the Midrash,[9] Avraham was the first person to establish that soldiers who remained behind to protect the camp should share the spoils of war equally with those who fought. King David followed this rule and enacted it as the official policy of the Jewish people as recorded in Samuel I, 30:22-25.
·        Praying for the Wicked
Avraham pleaded with G-d to save the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah despite their wickedness.[10] According to the Midrash,[11] Avraham approached G-d and debated with Him in a warlike manner (למלחמה). He did this knowing that such speech can be considered disrespectful and could even result in his being punished.[12] In fact, the Midrash points out that[13] Job was punished for speaking to G-d in a similar manner.[14]
·        Praying for Everyone
Avraham prayed for the healing of Avimelech, king of the Philistines, even though he had kidnapped and assaulted Sarah.[15] Avimelech had not asked Avraham to pray for him,[16] but Avraham did so because he felt sorry for Avimelech and his household who had been stricken with an illness that caused all of the offices of their body to be clogged. As a result of this prayer Avimelech’s wife, who had been barren, was blessed with a child.[17]
The Midrash says[18] that Avraham would pray on behalf of barren women who would then conceive and for sick people who would then recover. Sometimes he would visit the sick and pray for them, and sometimes the sick people would come to see him. Avraham had a precious stone hanging from his neck. When they would look at it, they would be healed.[19] The commentaries suggest[20] that this means that all those who were spiritually ill (in terms of their negative beliefs) would be healed (from those mistaken beliefs) by looking at Avraham and being affected by his holiness. In fact, when sailors at sea would pray to G-d and invoke Avraham’s name (e.g., “May the G-d of Avraham answer us”), their ships would be saved from the storms.[21]
·        Hosting Guests
Avraham and Sarah were always hosting guests. The Midrash says[22] that originally Avraham chose to live near the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah so that he could take in all the wayfarers whom those cities refused to host. (Sodom and Gemorrah were notorious for their lack of hospitality.[23]) He would offer the guests all sorts of delicacies and then persuade them to thank G-d.[24]
The Midrash says that Avraham’s home was also a place where he taught Torah to his disciples. These disciples formed a court (called a Sanhedrin) that would judge fairly.[25] Some say that Avraham hosted the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever in his home.[26]
An Everlasting Inheritance
The Talmud says[27] that there are three traits that are natural for all Jewish people. These are bashfulness (the opposite of brazenness), mercy and loving-kindness.[28] This is derived from the following verses:
·        After the Sinai revelation, Moshe said to the Jewish people,[29] “G-d has come in order… that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin.” This means that ever since the revelation at Sinai, the Jewish people have a natural sense of shame in the presence of G-d.
·        Moshe said to the Jewish people,[30] “And G-d will grant you mercy.” By this he meant that G-d has implanted the trait of mercy in every Jew.
·        We read in next week’s Torah portion that G-d informed Avraham of his plan to destroy the city of Sodom and its environs. In that context G-d said,[31] “For I have known him (Avraham) because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of G-d to perform righteousness and justice.” “Keeping the way of G-d” refers to doing acts of kindness, which is what G-d does on a constant basis.[32]
If a Jew lacks (all of[33]) these traits, his Jewish lineage is to be questioned. For this reason, when the Gibeonite tribe insisted on a revenge killing[34] and thus showed that they had none of these traits,[35] King David decreed that they no longer be allowed to marry into the general Jewish population.[36]
The commentaries say[37] that we inherit these traits from our forefathers. We inherit the quality of loving-kindness from our patriarch Avraham who was involved in helping so many people in so many ways as explained above. We inherit the trait of bashfulness (which is associated with fear of Heaven) from our patriarch Yitzchak who exemplified the attribute of fear of Heaven, as the verse says,[38] “And Yaakov swore by the fear of his father Yitzchak.” And we inherit the quality of mercy from Yaakov who said to his children,[39] “And may the Almighty G-d grant you compassion.”
Choosing a Path
If a person is unsure of what the correct thing to do is according to the Torah (sometimes the Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] can convince a person that a sin is actually a mitzvah!), one should choose the path that involves the three above-mentioned basic qualities of the Jew – bashfulness, mercy and kindness.[40]
Choosing a Rabbi
Similarly, when selecting a rabbi and/or a spiritual mentor for oneself, as the Mishnah says, “Make a rabbi for yourself,”[41] one should pick a rabbi and mentor who clearly exhibits these traits –he is bashful (afraid to sin), merciful and kind. In addition, it is essential that he (and all of us) exhibit these traits and not simply have them inside oneself.[42]
May we merit to reveal all of our innate positive traits!
[1] This book is attributed to the Tanna (Mishnaic sage) known as Rabbi Nechunia ben HaKaneh
[2] Siman 191 quoted in HaYom Yom, 26th of Cheshvan
[3] Gen. 12:5
[4] Parshat VaYeira, 102b
[5] Gen. 18:4
[6] Ibid 14:14
[7] Parshat VaYeira 112b
[8] See Gen. 14:24 with Rashi
[9] Bereishit Rabbah, 43:9, quoted in Rashi on the above verse
[10] See Gen. 18:23 – 33
[11] Bereishit Rabbah, 49:8
[12] Ohr Yechezkel by Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, vol. 4 (Middot), pg. 146
[13] Bereishit Rabbah 49:9
[14] Job 9:22. See Etz Yosef on the Midrash who points to Bava Batra 15b as to how Job was punished.
[15] Gen. 20:17
[16] See Tosefta, Bava Kamma, 9:11
[17] Pesikta Rabbah 42, quoted in Torah Sheleimah on the verse.
[18] Bereishit Rabbah 39:11
[19] Bava Batra 16b.
[20] Ben Yehoyadah on Bava batra ibid
[21] Similarly, see Avodah Zara 18a and b that the prayer “May the G-d of Meir save us” can be efficacious.
[22] Agadat Bereishit 25 cited by Yishai Chasidah in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities.
[23] See Sanhedrin 109a
[24] Bereshit Rabbah 54:6
[25] Ibid and commentaries
[26] Eshed HaNechalim on Ibid
[27] Yevamot 79a
[28] This is the order of these traits as listed in the Rambam, Laws of Issurei Biah 19:17. In the Talmud, however, the order is mercy, bashfulness and loving-kindness. See Torat Menacham 5747 vol. 2 pg. 731 – 732 where this difference of order is explained.
[29] Exodus 20:17
[30] Deut. 13:18
[31] Gen. 18:19
[32] See Sotah 14a
[33] See Bait Shmuel on Even Ha’Ezer, 2:5
[34] As explained in Shmuel II, 21:1 – 14
[35] As the Rambam writes (Issurei Biah 19:17), “For they acted extremely brazenly and would not be appeased. They did not show mercy to the sons of [King] Saul, nor did they show kindness to the Jews to forgive the descendants of their king, while the Jews had shown them kindness and allowed them to live.”
[36] Yevamot ibid and Rambam ibid
[37] Maharal in Chidushei Agadot on Yevamot ibid
[38] Gen. 31:53
[39] Ibid 43:14
[40] Torat Menachem ibid, pg. 634
[41] Avot 1:6 and 16
[42] Torat Menachem, pg. 695
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Add Your Comment