By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Vayera
15 Cheshvan 5765 - October 29-30, 2004
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
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 intercession.
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” (21:17).
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
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
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
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.”
The Rambam describes how Avraham came to recognize God through the beauty
and symmetry of nature. My rebbi, Harav Tzvi Dov Kanatopsky zt"l noted
that a careful reading of the Rambam reveals that Avraham employed three
distinct methods of disseminating the doctrine of God's existence.
As a young man, Avraham arduously searched for the Almighty. When he was
convinced of God's existence, he wanted to share his hard earned discovery
with his contemporaries who had been led astray by idolatrous images and
figures. He engaged them in debate, declared that their lifestyle was
founded on errors and became an iconoclast, orchestrating the destruction
of his father's idols. So intellectually overpowering was Avraham that the
reigning potentate, Nimrod, attempted to kill him. In Ur Kasdim, he didn't
build altars or produce disciples. The first stage, fraught with danger
and tension, ends with a fugitive Avraham escaping to Charan.
In Charan, Avraham became an itinerant preacher and lecturer, wandering
from place to place and traversing a significant portion of the civilized
world. He built altars either as a locus for prayer or as a forum to
articulate his ideas.
The third most illustrious stage took place in Eretz Canaan. There he
planted an Eishel which epitomized Avraham as the quintessence of Chesed.
Here he became the teacher par excellence who is an exemplar of Chesed
while simultaneously dialoguing with his contemporaries, sensitive to each
individual. The Rambam describes how Avraham wined and dined his sought
after guests. These characteristic acts of Chesed deeply effected the
hearts and minds of listeners, generating thousands of adherents and
devotees. This third methodology was eminently successful.
In his sojourns, Avraham had metamorphosed from a young iconoclast, to an
itinerant preacher and finally in Eretz Yisrael to a model of Chesed.
Avraham had embarked on a journey of self discovery. His odyssey reached
its climax when the 'Brit of Chesed' became his overriding guideline.
Therefore the Torah only briefly and cryptically alludes to the first two
stages of his career; the ultimate stage, a life of Chesed, was only
realized in the land that Hashem had promised him.
Eretz Yisrael is truly a country whose quintessence is Chesed and whose
guiding spirit is the Eishel planted by Avraham that spread its roots far
and wide. May we exemplify these ideals of Chesed and thereby continue to
enhance the inner beauty of Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Avishai David
*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.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254