Vayomer Avraham el ne’arav sh’vu lachem poh im ha’chamor v’ani v’ha’naar neilchah ad koh (Bereishis 22:5)
In 1908, Harav Yehudah Leib Zirelson, zt”l, was appointed Rabbi of the town of Kishinev, the capital of present-day Moldova. Harav Yissocher Frand relates that although he was a pious and learned Torah scholar, his community was far removed from the major Torah centers of his time, and he was therefore unfamiliar with many of the leading Rabbis and religious developments of that generation.
Rav Zirelson used to correspond with Harav Moshe Nachum Yerushalmski, zt”l, who was the Rabbi of Keltz in Poland. In 1912, Rav Zirelson wrote to him that he heard that a number of Rabbis were planning to start an organization called Agudas Yisroel, and that one of the leaders of the group would be the Gerrer Rebbe, Harav Avraham Mordechai Alter, zy”a, who became known as the Imrei Emes.
Rav Zirelson was approached to support and participate in the nascent organization, but he had a dilemma: He had never heard of the Gerrer Rebbe! He therefore turned to Rav Yerushalmski to ask if he was familiar with him and if he could be relied upon, which shows just how out-of-touch his community was with the broader Jewish world.
Rav Yerushalmski responded that the Imrei Emes was a renowned tzaddik with thousands of followers and tremendous siyatta diShmaya (Divine assistance), and he could certainly be trusted to lead the budding organization effectively. To illustrate his claim, Rav Yerushalmski related that the Gerrer Rebbe’s uncle lived in his town, and the Rebbe periodically came to visit him. Whenever he did so, he would pay a courtesy visit to the Rav of the town, Rav Yerushalmski.
During one of their meetings, Rav Yerushalmski presented a question that he had on the weekly Torah portion. The Torah (Bereishis 37:2) refers to Yosef as a naar — youth — even though he was 17 at the time. Rashi explains that this was done to allude to Yosef’s immature behavior, such as adjusting his hair and adorning his eyes so that he would look more handsome. However, the Torah also refers to Yitzchak as a naar, even though he was 37 at the time of the Akeidah (Rashi 25:20). Given that Yitzchak acted his age, why is he described as a naar?
The Imrei Emes responded that Yitzchak is not called a naar by the Torah, but rather by his father, Avraham, because in a parent’s eyes, a child always remains a child, no matter how young or old he may be. Yosef, on the other hand, is described as a naar by the Torah, and therefore Rashi interprets it as a reference to his juvenile conduct.
After the visit concluded, Rav Yerushalmski accompanied the Gerrer Rebbe out of his building. On their way, a 100-year-old widow who also lived in the building came over to request a blessing from the Rebbe. She then called her 80-year-old son to come out, and she asked the Rebbe to also give a blessing “to my little one.”
Rav Yerushalmski interpreted the fact that the Imrei Emes’s insight to answer his question was immediately validated in front of his own eyes as a Heavenly indication that the answer was correct, and he used this incident to buttress his recommendation that Rav Zirelson should join Agudas Yisrael and support the Gerrer Rebbe’s leadership.
Q: Avraham invited his guests (18:5) to join him: “v’saadu libchem — and sustain yourselves.” Rashi explains that he said “libchem” instead of “levavchem” to hint to the fact that angels only have one inclination, the yetzer tov. Why did he speak to them as if they were angels when at that point they hadn’t yet revealed their true identities?
Q: Rashi writes (19:31) that Lot’s daughters assumed that the entire world had been destroyed, leaving no man except their father, Lot. How could they think that nobody was left alive when they had fled to the city of Tzo’ar, whose inhabitants were spared as per Lot’s request to the angel (19:18–23)?
A: Rabbeinu Bachya derives from this difficulty that even though they appeared to him in the guise of human travelers, Avraham already recognized the true identity of his guests and intuited by this point in their interactions that they were in fact angels, who possess only a yetzer tov. The Maharal suggests that an integral component of Avraham’s hospitality was treating his guests with such respect that he spoke to all of them in a manner which indicated that he viewed them as being on the spiritual level of angels.
A: The Tosfos Rid explains that after the destruction of Sedom and its surroundings, those who survived were scared to leave their homes. Even though the daughters of Lot fled to Tzo’ar, when they surveyed the scene and saw nobody traveling outside, they feared that the residents of Tzo’ar as well as the entire world had been killed except for them and their father, Lot. Alternatively, the Paneiach Raza suggests that their concern wasn’t that they were the only remaining people in the world, as they were certainly aware that the town of Tzo’ar, and presumably other cities as well, had escaped the destruction. Rather, their fear was that they would be viewed as wicked Sedomites and none of the survivors would be interested in marrying them. The Chida prefers the first explanation, arguing that they wouldn’t have engaged in such unconscionable behavior due to a mere doubt about their marriage chances.
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 oalport@Hamodia.com.