Don’t Despair!

Vayarek es chanichav yelidei beiso shemonah asar u’shelosh mei’os (14:14)

 Although depression and despair are words which are heard today all too frequently, Rav Tzaddok Hakohen writes in his work Divrei Sofrim (16) that these emotions have no place among the Jewish nation. The Gemara in Brachos (10a) teaches that even in a situation which seems completely lost, such as when a sharp sword is resting upon one’s neck ready to execute him, a Jew should not give up hope, for Hashem is merciful and all-powerful, and there is nothing beyond His capabilities.

As proof, Rav Tzaddok points out that the entire existence of the Jewish people came about after the elderly Avraham and Sarah had despaired of giving birth to a child who would inherit and continue their spiritual legacy. The possibility of the barren and aged Sarah conceiving a child was so remote that their response to the promise that they would indeed conceive at their advanced ages was to laugh in shock and disbelief.

Avraham and Sarah knew that Hashem doesn’t perform unnecessary miracles, and they assumed that if He wanted to bless them with children, He would have done so years earlier. What they didn’t understand was that this miracle was far from superfluous. In reality, Hashem specifically wanted their child to be born in this fashion for this very reason. He wanted the building of the Jewish nation to begin in a miraculous manner to teach the lesson that there is no place for despair in the heart of a Jew, as the very existence of our nation is itself testimony to the fact that no situation is beyond Hashem’s salvation.

As the father of the Jewish people, Avraham taught this lesson when his nephew Lot was captured in battle by the armies of four powerful kingdoms. Upon hearing about this, the hopelessly outnumbered Avraham armed himself and his 318 disciples and successfully went to battle to rescue Lot. Rashi explains that these 318 disciples were in reality only his single devoted servant Eliezer, whose name has a numerical value of 318.

As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the name Eliezer, the servant who assisted Avraham in rescuing Lot against all odds, alludes in several ways to the importance of trusting in Hashem even in the most difficult of times. The Torah records that Moshe named his second son Eliezer to commemorate the fact that Hashem saved him from the sword of Pharaoh. Even when Pharaoh’s sword was resting upon Moshe’s neck, prepared to execute him for killing an Egyptian taskmaster, Moshe trusted in Hashem’s infinite mercy and abilities as advised by the Gemara in Brachos, and he was saved when his neck miraculously turned into marble.

Additionally, Rav Tzaddok points out that the numerical value of Eliezer’s name — 318 — is one more than the value of the word “yei’ush” — despair — to hint to the ability to rise above and overcome feelings of resignation. The seemingly arbitrary number of soldiers used to describe the size of Avraham’s army was carefully selected to reflect his unwillingness to give in to natural feelings of despair. As the only monotheist in a world of idolaters, Avraham was undaunted by apparent restrictions and natural limitations, recognizing that the power of one’s trust in Hashem can allow him to succeed where others foresaw only failure.

 Q: A person who sees a large and impressive lake recites the blessing Oseh maaseh Bereishis — Who makes the work of Creation (Orach Chaim 228:1). However, this is only the case if the lake was created in that location at the time the world was formed, but not if it was subsequently formed through the actions of man (Mishnah Berurah 228:6). Does one who sees the Dead Sea recite this blessing, as the Torah seems to indicate that it was only created in the time of Avraham (Rashi 14:3), but the Gemara in Bava Basra (74b) seems to indicate that it was one of the seven lakes which were formed at the time of Creation to surround the Land of Israel?

Q: Who was the father of Avraham’s servant Eliezer (15:2)?


A: Harav Shmuel Wosner, shlita, rules that one should not recite a blessing upon seeing the Dead Sea because it wasn’t created at the time of Creation. Even though the Gemara indicates that it was, we must be concerned that perhaps it expanded or changed its location at the time of the destruction of Sedom, and the part that we are seeing may not have been part of the original lake. Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, is quoted as ruling that if one sees the entire Dead Sea simultaneously, it would then be permitted to say a blessing since he is certainly seeing the part that was originally created. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, questions this ruling, as if it is true that one should, in fact, recite the blessing when seeing the entire Dead Sea but not when seeing only a part of it, earlier legal authorities should have mentioned this distinction. He suggests that if, in fact, the majority of the Dead Sea was formed at the time of Creation, it would be permissible to recite a blessing even on the portion which was added subsequently, as the blessing is determined by the nature of the majority of the lake. The Nimukei Orach Chaim rules that one should not recite a blessing on the Dead Sea, because it represents punishment and it would be inappropriate to recite a blessing thanking Hashem for a form of Divine curse and retribution.

 A: The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel writes that Eliezer was the son of the wicked Nimrod.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email