The Haftorah discusses the interaction of Elisha with the wife of Ovadiah and then with the אשה השונמית. The Avudraham and the Levush explain the reason why this Haftorah was chosen for Parshas Vayera is because the second story is about אשה השונמית who had no children and was promised by Elisha that she would have a child. This is מענין הפרשה of Yitzchaks birth which says כעת חיה ולשרה בן and Rashi there explains this is the same expression Elisha uses when promising the אשה השונמית a child. It’s noteworthy that both stories, Sarah and אשה השונמית being promised a child, came about in the context of Hachnosas Orchim. The reason could be as it says in Tehilim 89 עולם חסד יבנה, that the world was created with Chessed and the world is meant to embody the Midas HaChessed of the Ribono Shel Oilam. Therefore, through Chessed, even someone that בדרך הטבע is being held back from having children could merit to have a child and build a world.
There is a difference in Minhagim as to how far the Haftorah goes in the Navi. The Sefardim stop in the middle with the אשה השונמית telling her husband “Shalom” without telling him what she is going for and she heads to Elisha after her son, who was promised to her by him, dies. However the Ashkenazim continue reading the rest of the story which involves Elisha bringing her son back to life. It could be the reason the Ashkenazim continue reading is because not only does the beginning of the Haftorah have to do with the beginning of the Parshah but the end as well. There are Midrashim that indicate Yitzchak actually died at the Akeida, as יצחק is קץ חי, meaning his first life ended and he experienced a rebirth as applied by the Lashon Chazal אפרו צבור על גבי המזבח. So to in the end of the Haftorah, her son dies only to be brought back to life by Elisha. So the Haftorah is about birth and rebirth just like in the Parshah.
The Gemara says in Brachos 32b says אמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא: אם ראה אדם שהתפלל ולא נענה יחזור ויתפלל שנאמר קוה אל ה' חזק ויאמץ לבך וקוה אל ה. A person should continue to hope even if his wish wasn’t fulfilled. But an even greater nisayon is when your wish was fulfilled and then your hope is crushed by being taken back. This is what happened by Yitzchak and the son of אשה השונמית that after waiting for so long and hoping and finally having their dreams fulfilled only to be taken back when each of them die. It’s a lesson of how much bitachon a person needs to have that even when his Tefilos were answered but then what he achieved was subsequently taken away, it’s still not too late to get it back.
Reb Aryeh Levine once asked this question regarding why it is that the Sephardim stop at ותאמר שלום as opposed to the Ashkenazim. His wife responded that the Sephardim have a higher level of אמונת חכמים and therefore since she was going to the Navi, it was clear that everything would turn out fine as opposed to Ashkenazim who need to see till the end to know how it’ll all turn out.
Establish one’s Identity and then Influence others
The Parshah begins with Avraham Avinu on the third day of recovery from his Bris. One might have thought that Avraham Avinu at such a time would be aloof, uninvolved, and uninterested in the world around him. We even emphasize that a bris is an אות בבשרכם that separates us from the rest of the world. And yet that is not the case as we see that he is busy trying to invite people, even Arabs into his home and engage with outsiders.
It’s interesting that in Parshas Lech Lecha, immediately after Avraham Avinu is commanded to do the Mitzvah of Milah, Hashem changes his name to אברהם which is אב המון הגוים. It would seem that the Milah is a sign in a person’s body that represents being different and now specifically in that context he is being told about אב המון הגוים. However it doesn’t just mean that in spite of the fact that he will be different, nevertheless he will be able to impact the world. Rather it would seem that the message is that in order to be able to impact the world, one must first establish his own unique identity and individuality and only then will he be safe to impact and influence others and doesn’t need to worry about them influencing him and getting caught up in the general culture. Therefore only after Avraham Avinu established his own identity with the Bris Milah was he then told אב המון הגוים.
This idea is expressed in Aleinu. The first Paragraph describes how we as Jews are different and separate from the Goyim. We say שלא עשנו כגויי הארצות ולא שמנו כמשפחות האדמה that we are not like the nations of the land who are משתחוים להבל וריק. Rather we are כורעים ומשתחוים ומודים לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא. But the second Paragraph describes our involvement and engaging with the rest of the world as it says לתקן עולם במלכות שקי וכל בני בשר יקראו בשמך להפנות אליך כל רשעי ארץ. So the idea is really a person must develop his own identity, his sense of individuality, that he is different in order to not be influenced by outside influences and only then can he engage with the world and his surroundings.
Similarly we see at the end of the Parshah immediately after Avraham Avinu comes back from the Akeidah, the Pasuk says וישב אברהם אל נעריו ויקמו וילכו יחדו. In spite of the fact that he just experienced the most life altering experience and reached the highest levels of dveikus with the Ribono Shel Oilam, he still doesn’t abandon those נערים and he comes back and they walk side by side away from the Akeida.
Afterwards, the Pasuk says ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויגד לאברהם לאמר הנה ילדה מלכה גם הוא בנים לנחור אחיך along with other children being born to his family members. Rashi explains that all these Psukim are only said for the Pasuk that says Rivka was born because Avraham said to himself now is the time to find a Shidduch for his son Yitzchak.
Perhaps another explanation is that Avraham Avinu just reached levels in Aovdas Hashem that are unimaginable. He just finished with the Akeida and one might have thought that now he is disconnected because the Akeida was really a statement of cutting off all family ties for the sake of Avodas Hashem, it was the willingness to sever even the closest of family ties for the sake of Avodas Hashem. Nevertheless he didn’t lose his humanity at all and he didn’t lose his feeling of family and therefore he was told that his sister in law had a baby. So the message being taught with these Psukim ויגד לאברהם that Avraham was told his sister in law had a baby that no matter what levels a person may reach, still take interest in family and friends. Don’t be completely disconnected because of one’s personal growth, rather engage with others and take interest in them.
Path to Greatness through Suffering
Hashem says to Avraham המכסה אני מאברהם אשר אני עשה, that he reveals to him that he is about to destroy Sedom. And Avraham Avinu responds השפט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט and goes on into a long discussion with Hashem with Tefilah and trying to see if there are 50, 40, etc. Tzadikim left in Sedom. Clearly, Avraham Avinu is not willing to accept this Gzeira on the people of Sedom.
However its’s interesting that By the ברית בין הבתרים, Hashem tells Avraham Avinu that his descendants will be גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם ועבדום וענו אתם ארבע מאות שנה- that they will be aliens in a strange land, they will be enslave and torture by them or 400 years and Avraham doesn’t dissent or comment at all. How could it be that for the people of Sedom who were רעים וחטאים לה' מאוד, he objects and for his own people about whom Hashem didn’t say they did anything wrong he doesn’t question this Gzeira that they will be גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם ועבדום וענו אתם ארבע מאות שנה.
We can say that Avraham Avinu recognized that the path to greatness is through suffering as the Gemara in Brachos 5a says שלש מתנות טובות נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל, וכולן לא נתנן אלא על - ידי יסורין אלו הן: תורה וארץ ישראל והעולם הבא. Therefore Avraham Avinu fully understood the pain that Klal Yisrael would have to endure. However when it came to Sedom, nothing was going to come about with them anyways and therefore Avraham Avinu felt bad and therefore he objected to their destruction.
Ideology of Sedom
Before the destruction of Sedom, Hashem says to Avraham Avinu זעקת סדום ועמרה כי רבה וחטאתם כי כבדה מאד and the Pasuk earlier describes the people of Sedom as רעים וחטאים לה' מאוד. However, the Psukim don’t explicitly say what the sin and רשעות of the people of Sedom was and why they deserved to be destroyed.
In Yechezkel (16:49), the Pasuk says the עון of Sedom was ויד עני ואביון לא החזיקה. It seems that out of all the sins and רשעות that the people of Sedom were doing, the one being highlighted by the Navi is that they didn’t take care of the poor. Now if the people of Sedom were guilty of doing much worse things such as גילוי עריות and שפיכת דמים, then why is the fact that they didn’t take care of the poor the sin being highlighted in the Pasuk in Yechezkel? Furthermore, a few Psukim later in Yechezkel, the Pasuk says ושבתי את שביתהן את שבית סדום ובנותיה- “And I shall return their captivity and the captivity of Sodom and her daughter”. What is this all about that Hashem will rebuild and restore Sedom?
The Mishna in Avos (5:10) says האומר שלי שלי ושלך שלך זו מידת בינונית ויש אומרים זו מידת סדום. The question is how could it be that such a Middah of שלי שלי ושלך שלך for some is just a מידה בינונית as if to say it’s regular and average and yet for others it’s מידת סדום. How could one Midah be viewed with such opposite extremes?
In the Sefer HaAkeida in מאמר כ, he deals with this question about the sin of Sedom and he writes that the people of Sedom only killed and did גילוי עריות in order to enforce their ban on Hachnosas Orchim. Meaning their שיטה was really against Tzedaka and in order to enforce that שיטה, they implored very harsh measures. The people of סדום had this Middah of שלי שלי ושלך שלך, but it wasn’t by them as a Midah rather it was by them as a principle-דת ונימוס. Therefore even in a situation of זה נהנה וזה לא חסר, they would still refuse to help someone out because it was a principle by them not to give money to the poor and not to help anyone out. So the lack of Chessed wasn’t just passively out of being stingy but they were proactive about it because it was a שיטה, a דרך החיים. Therefore not only did they not do Tzedaka but they didn’t even let others engage in Hachnosas Orchim or any other Chessed.
With this it could be understood how the Midah of שלי שלי ושלך שלך could both be a מידה בינונת and יש אומרים זו מידת סדום because it depends where the emphasis is and what establishes what is mine. If what establishes what is mine is because שלי שלי and then as a result שלך שלך, then it is just a מידה בינונית because he is just trying to keep and protect what is his. But if the emphasis is on the שלך שלך, that your friend should only have what he has and nothing from anyone else, and then as a result what’s mine is mine, then that is מידת סדום because what bothers him is not that he will lose but what bothers him is that his friend will benefit. (על דרך צחות, that’s the meaning of ויש אומרים, that if a person is נוהג as שלי שלי ושלך שלך for himself because he is just interested in what’s good for himself, that’s מידה בינונית. But if its יש אומרים, that he is telling others to be נוהג like this, then it’s clear he is doing it not for his own benefit but purely as the principle and then it’s מידת סדום.)
But why was it that the people of Sedom had this שיטה of שלי שלי ושלך שלך, that a person was not allowed to help anyone else out, that they outlawed giving charity to poor and doing chessed? The Rav suggested the following. The Pasuk in Yechezkel ושבתי את שביתהן את שבית סדום ובנותיה indicates that לעתיד לבא, the cities of Sedom will be rebuilt. Furthermore, the medrash says א"ר יצחק מצאתי דוד עבדי (תהלים פט,כא) היכן מצאתיו, בסדום עכ"ל. What is the meaning that Dovid HaMelech was found in Sedom and that the cities of Sedom will be rebuilt in the future?
Sedom believed that no one had any business interfering with divine providence. They believed that everything in a person’s life, whether he was rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, tall or short, was directly affected by divine intervention and any situation a person found himself in was tailor made for him. Therefore, why should a person give Tzedaka or do chessed and help a person out. If a person is poor, then it must be Hashem wants him to be poor and it’s not my business to interfere on his behalf and he has to accomplish and act with the cards that he was dealt. They felt that each person needed to reach self-actualization of their own potential and that no one was to help another reach that potential. Therefore, they had שלי שלי ושלך שלך because by providing for someone what they lacked was interfering with divine providence.
The Medrash says that in Sedom, they would cut off a tall persons legs and put him in a short bed and they would put a short person in a long bed and they would stretch out his legs. Why would they do such a thing? They were trying to show how ludicrous it is to intervene with Gods creations that some people are meant to be tall and some people are meant to be short, now does it make any sense that the tall people should be short and the short people should be tall? Of course not. So to it doesn’t make sense to make the poor people rich and the rich people poor. This was an illustration of how correct their שיטה was and they were mocking that which a Baal Chessed is intervening with Gods creations by giving money to the poor.
The antithesis of this Midah is the Mitzvah of Milah which is described with התהלך לפני והיה תמים which preceded the destruction of Sedom. The idea of Milah is that we are to go beyond what nature has designed for us. A person was created not to remain as he was created, but to fix and correct himself as the Chinuch says by the Mitzvah of Milah ורצה להיות ההשלמה ע"י האדם ולא ברא שלם מבטן לרמוז אליו כי כאשר תשלום צורת גופו על ידו כן בידו להשלים צורת נפשו בהכשר פעולתו. The Mekor for this is from the Medrash Tanchuma in Parshas Tazria in which טורנוסרופוס asks Reb Akiva that if Hashem dislikes an ערל so much, why wasn’t a person created without it to which Reb Akiva responded because Hashem want’s our involvement to perfect ourselves. This concept is really by all Mitzvos that their purpose is to perfect the imperfections that we as people are born with and to perfect the entire בריאה. This conversation between טורנוסרופוס and Reb Akiva is also in Bava Basra 10a by Tzedakah that he asked Reb Akiva, if Hashem loves poor people so much, then why doesn’t he give them money, to which Reb Akiva responded in order to give us, other people, the opportunity to provide for the poor and be מתקן the בריאה. This is why immediately after Avraham Avinu performs the Mitzvah of Bris Milah, he is busy with chessed and the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim because it is how we as Jews are able to perfect the imperfections in the world.
But regarding לעתיד לבא the Pasuk in Yirmiyah (31:33) says ולא ילמדו עוד איש את רעהו ואיש את אחיו לאמרו דעו את ה' כי כולם ידעו אותי למקטנם ועד גדולם. In end of days, it’ll be a time where it will be the מידה of סדום that every person will be able to reach their full potential on their own and that’s why ושבתי את שביתהן את שבית סדום ובנותיה.
מה אנוש כי תזכרנו
In the beginning of the Parshah, the Medrash Tanchuma says the following:
אמר ר' אחא בא וראה כח שנתן הקדוש ברוך הוא באברהם, שביום אחד מל עצמו וילידי ביתו וישמעאל בנו, והיה הדם מטפטף, ראה כמה היו ילידי ביתו, שכתיב וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו שמנה עשר ושלש מאות (בראשית יד יד). ואם ילידי ביתו כל כך היו, מקנת כספו על אחת כמה וכמה, וכולם מל אותם ביום אחד, שנאמר בעצם היום הזה נמול אברהם וישמעאל בנו וכל אנשי ביתו וגו' נמולו אתו (שם /בראשית/ יז כו כז), ונטל אברהם את כל הערלות שמל, ועשה אותם גבעה בתוך ביתו, והיה נהר של דם יוצא מתוך ביתו, וקרא הקדוש ברוך הוא את המלאכים ואמר להם באו ונבקר את החולה, אמרו לפניו רבונו של עולם מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו (תהלים ח ה), ואתה הולך במקום הטנופת במקום של דם ושל שקץ, אמר להם כך אמרתם חייכם ערב עלי ריח של אותו דם ממור ולבונה, אם אין אתם הולכים הרי אני הולך לעצמי.
Avraham Avinu had his Bris Milah along with all other members of his household and Avraham made a pile of the orlahs and there was a stream of blood flowing from his house. Hashem called to the Melachim and asked them to come be מבקר חולה to which they responded מה אנוש כי תזכרנו וכו' and why would you go to such a dirty and disgusting place, to which Hashem responded that this smell of blood is more sweet than מור ולבנה.
We find a few times that the Malachim object to מעשה בראשית and מתן תורה with the statement מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו. But now by Avraham Avinu, he was doing something good and impressive so why here are the Malachim sayingמה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו. What did they find negative about the Bris Milah? The concept of a Bris is that friends understand that they are friends now and everything seems good but things can go bad and that friendship might be lost but that connection can be locked in with a Bris that even when times aren’t so good, there is still a connection. So the Melachim were saying to Hakadosh Boruch Hu that if people are so unreliable to the point where a covenant is needed in order to keep them connected, then they are not even worth dealing with so why bother with them. This is what they were saying to Hashem when they said מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו.
Shmuel in Beitzah 15b explaining where we know the concept of עירוב תבשילין and he says דאמר קרא זכור את יום השבת לקדשו - זכרהו מאחר שבא להשכיחו. Because there is something else coming to challenge Shabbos, meaning Yom Tov, and there is a risk of being forgotten because there is so much Yom Tov involvement when it falls out on Erev Shabbos, therefore there needs to be a reminder. So the potential and risk of forgetting is גופא the reason why an עירוב תבשילין is needed in order to be reminded of Shabbos and if not for the potential forgetting, there would be no need for a זכרהו.
So also here, it’s true that man is forgetful and unreliable, but that is what qualifies his ongoing attempt to remember what needs to be remembered which is expressed by the Bris Milah because what qualifies the זכרהו is the אחר שבא להשכיחו. The אחר is all the challenges that humans face, and that qualifies our ongoing attempt to remember in face of all the challenges-מאחר שבא להשכיחו.