By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 14, 2003
This week’s Parsha chronicles the period in Avraham’s life
from age 99 to 137, when he experiences his greatest challenges and teaches
his greatest lessons. It is also a narrative that darts between earth and
heaven, providing us glimpses of both human events and Hashem’s plans.
At times, a particular word or phrase is repeated in a Torah portion, serving
as a motif. In “VAYERA” one such phrase, found four times, is MIN HA’SHAMAYIM,
from the heavens:
1. And Hashem had rained upon Sedom and upon Amora sulphur and fire, from
Hashem, from the heavens (MIN HA’SHAMAYIM) (Bereishit 19:24).
This emphasizes, say Sforno and Malbim, that this event is not the result of
natural conditions, but of direct Divine intervention. But then again, as
Hirsch points out, every “natural” event is a consequence of Hashem’s
When Yishmael is on the brink of death:
2. And G-d heard the voice of the lad, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar
from the heavens (MIN HA’SHAMAYIM) and said to her, “What is with you, Hagar?
Do not fear, for G-d has heard the voice of the lad, there where he is”
During the Akeidah:
3. And an angel of Hashem called to him from the heavens (MIN HA’SHAMAYIM) and
said, “Avraham! Avraham!” And he said, “Here am I” (22:11).
4. And an angel of Hashem called to Avraham a second time from the heavens
(MIN HA’SHAMAYIM) (22:15).
Hashem is “comfortable” calling to Avraham, says the Midrash (Yalkut I 428),
in the same way that it is not beneath a king’s dignity to speak to his host.
The prevalence of MIN HA’SHAMAYIM creates an atmosphere bridging heaven and
earth. More poignantly, “from the heavens” emanate punishment as well as
solace, and relief from danger as well as future blessing.
Rashi takes note of this polarity in his comments to the first verse. His
sources are Tanchuma Vayera 10, Tanchuma Buber Beshalach on Shemot 16:4 and
Yalkut I 258. The book of Iyov (36:31) says about the heavens:
For by them He judges the peoples, He gives food in abundance.
On this, the Midrash says:
With these very heavens He judges the nations of the world. Know that, when
the generation of the flood sinned, He judged them with the [heavens], as it
says, “Upon the wicked He rains snares, [fire and sulphur and a horrible
tempest]” (Tehillim 11:6). . . . When the people of Sedom sinned, He judged
them with the heavens, as it says, “And Hashem had rained upon Sedom…”. Also,
when Sisera sinned, He judged him with the heavens, as it says, “From heaven
they fought . . .” (Shofetim 5:20): with the heavens He judges the nations. He
gives food in abundance: from them He provides nourishment for Israel. To what
is the matter compared? To a baker who was standing by the oven. His enemy
entered and he shoveled out some coals and spilled them on his head. Then his
friend entered and he removed warm bread and gave him. Both the coals and the
bread came from the oven. So, the Holy One Blessed be He brings down fire from
the heavens upon the Sedomites and burns them, and from the heavens He brings
down manna for Israel, as it says, “Behold I rain down for you bread from the
heavens for you” (Shemot 16:4).
MIN HA’SHAMAYIM as the expression of Hashem’s multifaceted relationship with
mankind is seen elsewhere. On the one hand, there is Divine retribution, as
during the battle against the five Emorite kings:
And it was, as they fled from before Israel while they were on the descent of
Bet-Choron, that Hashem cast down upon them great stones from the heavens (MIN
HA’SHAMAYIM), as far as Azekah, and they died . . . (Yehoshua 10:11).
By Eliyahu’s command, fire came down “from the heavens” twice to destroy the
emissaries of the wicked King Achaziah (Melachim II 1:9-14). Another fire
descends “from the heavens” and destroys Iyov’s cattle (Iyov 1:16).
In contrast, a Divine fire “from the heavens” is a sign that David’s
sacrifices are accepted (Divrei HaYamim I 21:26). Hashem listens “from the
heavens” to our prayers (Devarim 26:15; Divrei HaYamim II 6:21-39, 7:14), and
the word of Hashem is likened to the blessed rain and snow “from the heavens”
(Yeshayahu 55:10). At Revelation itself:
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel: ‘You
yourselves have seen that from the heavens (MIN HA’SHAMAYIM) have I spoken
with you’” (Shemot 20:19).
SHAMAYIM, say our Sages (Chagigah 12a, Rashi on Bereishit 1:8), is a compound
of ESH (fire) and MAYIM (water); it is where opposites coexist. Those entities
which, from an earthly perspective, are perceived as antipodal, originate from
Hashem. This does not, in any way, stand in opposition to Hashem’s Absolute
Oneness. Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim I:53) explains the allegory of fire:
it melts some things, makes others hard, cooks and burns, bleaches and
blackens. . . . However, he who knows the nature of fire, knows that it
performs all these actions by virtue of one active quality, namely, heat.
Similarly, we might intuit that the many actions of Hashem, including those
that are diametrically opposite each other, all proceed from the One G-d.
This is evident from the motif MIN HA’SHAMAYIM in “VAYERA.” Hashem destroys
Sedom and answers Yishmael’s prayer MIN HA’SHAMAYIM. And at the moment of
Avraham’s greatest act of faith, the Akeidah, Hashem’s angel twice calls to
Avraham MIN HA’SHAMAYIM.
It is Avraham’s mission to teach the world about the Oneness of G-d. The
events of Avraham’s own life, in which Hashem reaches out to man from the
heavens, are echoed in the blessing we recite every day:
“Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who forms light and
creates darkness, makes peace and creates all.”
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The Midrash relates that this week's parshah contains the second command
of “lech lecha (22:2)” given to Avraham Avinu. The first “lech lecha” in
last week’s parshah commanded him to go to Eretz Yisrael and the second
one in this week’s parshah commands him to go to sacrifice his son
Yitzchak. The Midrash raises the question which “lech lecha” is greater.
It answers that since the verse says, “el Eretz haMoriyah - to the land of
Moriah,” the second “lech lecha” is greater.
This Midrash may, perhaps, be understood as follows. Avraham Avinu was
commanded to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home. He was
to go to Eretz Yisrael where the negative influence of chutz la’Aretz
would no longer exist, where his birthplace and his father’s home would no
longer play a part in his life. He was commanded to run away from the
negative, “lech lecha me’artzecha - go away from your land.” His greater
mission, however, was to do good, to advance forward towards nobler,
positive goals. Hence, “lech lecha el - go to” is the greater command.
Many people heed the call of “lech lecha,” and exert great effort that
involves considerable expense and personal sacrifice to make aliyah to
Eretz Yisrael. They will certainly be rewarded profusely for this great
mitzvah. One must realize, however, that aliyah does not end at Ben Gurion
Airport; that is only where it begins. Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is an
ongoing “lech lecha el,” going up to higher and higher levels of Torah
learning and mitzvah observance, holiness and spirituality, and higher and
higher levels of character development. This “lech lecha el” is not only
for ourselves, but also to bring our children with us to reach even higher
levels than we are capable of reaching. The pure and holy environment of
Eretz HaKodesh and the enlightening atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael make this
May those who have not yet been able to fulfill the call of the first
“lech lecha” merit to do so, and may those fortunate to have already made
the first “lech lecha” merit to continually fulfill the second “lech lecha”
in an unending quest for perfection in Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Zev Leff
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320