on Parashat HaShavua - the weekly Torah portion
Parashat Toldot: Faith of the Matriarchs - from Rav Kahane's Peirush HaMaccabee
GOD chose Abraham because of his behavior and his merits; He rejected his son Ishmael and chose Isaac, too, because of his merits; again, He rejected Esau and chose Jacob due to his behavior. So after three successive generations of tzaddikim, all the subsequent offspring of the Patriarchs could be considered spiritually fit. GOD could forge them all into a chosen, treasured, and exalted nation, who would be His emissary to the human race and a light unto all the nations, to teach them the correct ways which they should follow.
- This process of choice and rejection is realized to a good degree by the intervention of the Matriarchs, Sarah and Rebecca, who interpreted the behavior of Ishmael and Esau more correctly than Abraham and Isaac. -
In Parashat Toldot, Rebecca is referred to as "em" (hebr: mother): Isaac sent Jacob and he went…to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, Rebecca’s brother, the mother of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 28:5). Rashi comments there: I do not know what [the phrase “The mother of Jacob and Esau”] comes to teach. It seems to me that in general, GOD granted greater understanding to women than to men (see Niddah 45b). As the Talmud says: This [the episode of the Shunamite woman who told Elisha that he was a holy man of GOD] shows that women recognize His ways more than men do (Berakhot 10b). GOD gave the woman especially the discernment necessary to understand children.
Thus when Abraham was angry with Sarah for wanting to drive Hagar and Ishmael away, GOD said…Everything that Sarah tells you to do, listen to what she says, because your seed will be named through Isaac (Genesis 21:12) – because Sarah understood the child Ishmael better than Abraham did.
In the same way, too, Rebecca understood Esau better than Isaac did. This is because women do not let compassion overpower truth; as the Midrash says:
And the matter seemed very bad to Abraham (Genesis 21:11) – this is described as, He closes his eyes from seeing evil (Isaiah 33:15). – Genesis Rabbah 53:12.
In effect, Abraham closed his eyes, not wanting to see Ishmael’s evil nature, although Sarah did see. Jochebed similarly, when she gave birth to Moses, saw him, that he was good (verse 2), and took the trouble, more than Amram, to hide him among the reeds.
The mother instinctively recognizes the son because she raises him, she educates him, the child is in her trust, and when it comes to the child. The mother is the expert. And therefore, when talking about Rebecca, the Torah emphasizes that she was the mother of Jacob and Esau – that she understood both of them thoroughly. The holy language of the Torah expands the concept expressed by the word "em" (“mother”) to the extent that the word "emunah" (“faith”) comes from the root "em". For who is more faithful and loyal to a child, who is more willing to sacrifice their very life for the child’s sake, than a mother? And this is an additional reason that Rebecca is referred to there by the term “mother”: she faithfully clung to the truth, understood that Jacob had to be the spiritual heir – and for this, she was willing even to go against Isaac, to the extent of deceiving him, and telling her son Jacob, Let your curse be upon me, my son (Genesis 27:13). Because faith is symbolized by a mother, for no faithfulness can be greater than that of a mother towards those whom she loves.
Whose Hebron is it, anyway? – Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane on Parashat Chayei Sarah
“And Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver...” Rabbi Yehuda Bar Simon said: It is one of the three places where the nations of the world would not be able to deceive Israel by claiming: You are thieves (since it was acquired with money). The Cave of the Patriarchs, as it is written: 'And Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver...'; The Temple Mount, as it is written, 'So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold coins by weight'; Joseph's Tomb, as it is written, and he (Yaakov) bought the parcel of ground ... at the hand of the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem (Bereshit Rabbah, 89).
Three questions arise from the above Midrash:
1.)And on the rest of the Land of Israel the gentiles can say that we are robbers? 2.)What does it mean,”they will not be able”? We see that they are quite able and even successful in undermining our claim to those three places. Indeed, precisely those three places are where they concentrate their struggle! 3.)On the verse in Psalms (111), “The power of His works has He declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nation”, Rashi writes:” so that the nations will not be able to say you are robbers when you conquer the seven nations”. And so, we see that Rashi says that on all of Israel “they cannot say” that we are thieves!
The key to the answer of all the above questions is the following: It is not really important what the gentiles say – the problem is what the Jews will say! We will now see how this is the message our sages convey to us in the above sources.
The Torah knew that when the gentile would rise up against the Jewish “thieves” and “occupiers”, certain Jews may doubt the justice of their cause due to all kind of guilt feelings. Perhaps the gentile is right that we stole his land? Perhaps he has an ethical argument? And so the sages come to tell us: Look, there are three places that even according to simple logic the gentile cannot open his mouth about, for they were purchased with money. And in any case, this justified claim makes no impression on them. On the contrary, it is precisely in these three places where they center their struggle against us! What does this teach us? That it isn't justice or ethics which motivates them, nor is it a dispute over property that can be resolved. Rather, it is a national-religious struggle!
Now the sages come and explain: Just as you know that in these three places their claims are not justified, by the same token you should not get excited about the rest of their claims on other parts of the land of Israel, since” the entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, He created it and gave it to whomever it was right in His eyes, of His own will He gave it to them and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us!” (The first Rashi in the Torah).
This now explains Rashi in the aforementioned Psalm, that “the nations of the world won't be able to say you are robbers”. Not that they “won't be able to say” it. On the contrary, they'll say it all the time. But the “won't be able to” is not directed to the gentile, but rather to the ears of the Jews!
Excerpt from the commentary on Chayei Sarah in “The writings of Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane. HY”D”
Ishmael and Isaac can't coexist - Rabbi Meir David Kahane on Parashat Vayeira
(Bereshit Rabbah, 53:11) “ At the moment that Isaac was born, all were happy. Ishmael said to them: 'Fools! I am the firstborn and I take a double portion.' From Sarah's response to Abraham, 'The son of this slave woman will not share the inheritance with my son', we derive [Ishmael's attitude].”
Clearly, Sarah demanded Ishmael's ouster for the two reasons noted above: first, so that Isaac would not learn from his ways, and second, because it would be impossible for Ishmael not to be filled with jealousy over the land, which he saw as also belonging to him, and he would surely fight Isaac to take it away from him. Tanchuma (Ibid.) concludes, “from here we learn that Avraham was inferior to Sarah in prophetic powers.” Likewise, foolish, groundless love spoils the normal order of things. As Bereshit Rabbah (Ibid.,12) teaches regarding Abraham's not wishing to send Ishmael away, “This belongs to 'shutting one's eyes to evil'(Isaiah 33:15)”. That is, Abraham, due to his inappropriate love, turned a blind eye to Ishmael's evil, and only Sarah saw it through her prophecy. Sarah was right in not taking the path of groundless love, and Abraham ultimately banished both Ishmael and the other concubines' sons. It is true that Ishmael continued to hate Isaac, as Shemot Rabbah 5:1, teaches,” We have always learned that Ishmael hates Isaac.” Even so, better that a brother who hates you be far away than live close by. Surely, the Ishmaelites have not forgotten and will not forget their claim to Eretz Israel.
We have learned (Sanhedrin 91a): “...Another time, the descendants of Ishmael and Ketura came with Israel for litigation before Alexander of Macedonia. They said to Israel, Eretz Israel is yours and ours, as it says, 'these are the chronicles of Ishmael, son of Abraham' (Gen. 25:12), and, 'these are the chronicles of Isaac, son of Abraham' (Ibid., v. 19). ...Gevia ben Pesisa asked them, 'from whence are you bringing proof?' They responded, 'from the Torah'. He then said, 'I, too, will bring proof only from the Torah, for it says, 'Abraham gave all that he owned to Isaac. To the concubines' sons...he gave gifts, [and he sent them off]'(Gen. 25:5-6). If a father gives his sons an inheritance during his lifetime, and he sends them away from one another, can any of them have claims against any other?”
(He could also have enlisted Gen. 17:19-21. See there.) Here we see that over a thousand years after Ishmael's death the Ishmaelites were still claiming the land. They ignore all the arguments we put forth, just as they ignore what the Talmud states (Sanhedrin 59b) regarding circumcision: “It is Abraham whom the Torah originally admonishes 'You must keep My covenant – you and your offspring throughout their generations' (Gen. 17:9)... What about obligating the Ishmaelites [in circumcision, since they are Abraham's seed]? It says, 'it is through Isaac that you will gain posterity' (Gen. 21:12).
Thus, the Torah states explicitly that only Isaac, and not Ishmael, will be called Abraham's seed. Yet, what do the Ishmaelites or any other nation with a claim to the Land care what we say? Since they are our blood enemies and will never accept the authority of Israel and G-d, they have no place in the Land...Besides all this, we know that in the footsteps of the Messianic era, Ishmael will rise up against Israel and try to annihilate them.
Excerpts from The Jewish Idea, English edition, pp. 633-636
A little add-on: In the era of redemption, Ishmael will rise up and become strong while still hating Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. They will provoke kings and nations, while the world is sinking into a chaos of wars and tragedies. We have already quoted Pesikta Rabbati (Kumi Ori, 36): “R. Yitzchak said, 'the year the Messianic king is revealed...Persia will provoke Arabia, Arabia will go to Edom to take counsel from them, and then Persia will go back and destroy the whole world...Israel will be in a tumultous panic, asking 'where shall we go? What shall we do?' [Pesikta Rabbati, written more than 1000 years ago, is quite chilling, if one thinks about the Iranian nuclear program and the strategic alliance between Saudi Arabia and the USA, isn't it? Tzipora] Excerpt from The Jewish Idea, English edition, p. 906
Abraham and Jewish greatness - Rabbi Meir David Kahane on Lech Lecha
Abraham's knowing his Maker began with his understanding as a small boy that idols are meaningless. Terach (his father) made and sold them, and the boy certainly saw how they were made and understood that something man made cannot cannot possibly be man's master. Our sages said (Bereshit Rabbah, 38:13). “R. Chiya, grandson of R. Ada of Jaffa, said: Terach was an idol worshiper. One time he went out and left Abraham to sell idols for him. When a customer came in to make a purchase, Abraham would ask how old he was, and he would reply that he was fifty or sixty. Abraham would then say, woe to the sixty-year old who wishes to worship something one day old. The customer would be embarrassed and leave. One time a woman came, carrying a plate of fine flour, and said, take this and place it before the idols. Abraham took a staff and broke all the idols, placing the staff in the hands of the largest idol. When his father returned, he asked Abraham who had done this, and Abraham responded: I cannot lie to you. A woman came with a plate of fine flour and told me to place it before the idols. I did so and they all began arguing over which one would eat first. Then that large one took the staff and smashed the others. Terach then said: Why are you mocking me? Do they have minds? Abraham responded, can your ears not hear what your mouth is saying? Terach took him and handed him over to Nimrod. Nimrod said to him, let us worship fire, and Abraham replied , let us worship water which douses fire. Nimrod said, then let us worship water, and Abraham replied, if so , then let us worship the clouds which hold the water. Nimrod said, let us worship the clouds. Abraham replied, let us worship the wind which disperses the clouds. Nimrod said, let us worship the wind. Abraham replied, let us worship man, who is not moved by the wind. Nimrod said, this is all just talk. I only bow down to fire. Now I shall throw you into it, and let the G-d that you bow down to come and save you.”
Thus, once Abraham's belief was complete, he proceeded to risk his life for the Oneness of G-d, treating idolatry with contempt. First, he did so with his father's idols, and then he went out and chastised the public. Abraham completed his spiritual development by not retreating or denying his faith, instead sanctifying the name Heaven (see Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, Ch. 26, where it says that before he was thrown into the fiery furnace,he also sat in prison:” His second trial was his being imprisoned for ten years, three in Cutha and seven in Kardu.”) This is how Abraham grew to greatness. G-d searched for someone fit to inaugurate the era of Torah, someone from whom the Chosen People could emerge and become G-d's anointed emissary to disseminate the true Jewish idea throughout the world. Such a person had to be unique, someone who would find the truth himself and be ready to risk his life for it without and prophecy or revelation by G-d until after he had passed his test. The Jewish people were conceived through the self-sacrifice of their founder, our forefather Abraham, and only through such self-sacrifice, the climax of accepting the yoke of Heaven, was it possible to anoint the messenger nation of G-d. The Jews are unique because they possess the truth and are, moreover, obligated to preserve in their self-sacrifice on its behalf, even if standing alone like Abraham, the first Jew.
Excerpts from: The Jewish Idea, English Edition, Vol. 2, pp 648 - 651
Parashat Noach - excerpts from the writings of Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane
Parashat Noach raises the following question: Why did G-d wipe out all of the beasts, birds, and crawling things in the flood? If man sinned, why should the animals suffer? Rashi explains:”The entire creation is for man, and when man is wiped out, who needs all these?” That is, the purpose of the creation is not simply to exist, but rather to actualize the destiny of the Creation. The moment there is no purpose (which is the case after G-d wiped out man, for whom the world was created), then the animals must perish since there is no longer a reason for their existence. Here, too, the moment the deeds of man prove that there is no longer a possibility for him to fulfill his destiny, his existence is no longer necessary, and he perishes. But we are still left wondering: All that creation, just for annihilation? All those generations before the flood (a span of 1654 years) were for nothing? The answer is no. Harsh though this verses may be, a verse appears at the very end of Bereshit which turns everything around: “But Noach found grace in the eyes of G-d”. And while this lonely verse may appear to be only a small comfort to a world gone astray, the truth is that this one verse is everything. Even if we are speaking about one individual – he is the one who counts. Noach is the justification for the world's continued existence. G-d created the world for the sake of those who will eventually fulfill the world's destiny, and He is not deterred by the possibility that there may be just a very few out there who may be willing. What really counts is that small ray of light that sometimes is not paid much attention to, but illuminates the world with the light of the world's true destiny.
For 120 years, Noah fulfilled G-d's commandment and built the ark, all the while warning the people in his generation about the impending flood. When the people would pass by his house and ask what he was doing, he would reply,” The Almighty said that He is bringing a flood upon the world”. The people reacted with vicious mockery. (Bereishit Raba 30:7) The question that can be asked is the following: For 120 years Noach warned of the flood. And what came out of it? At first glance absolutely nothing! In the end, the flood wiped out the entire world, except for whom? Except for Noach and his family. Not even one person was convinced to do “teshuva”. Not even one! Noach's “life endeavor” of 120 years was a waste of time. Or was it? The story of Noach provides us with a concrete illustration as to what the true role of the chastising prophet is. Certainly the major goal of the warnings and admonishment are to direct the people onto the proper path, in the hope that they will do “teshuva” immediately. But in contrast as to what one might think, if the prophet does not succeed in bringing the people to “:teshuva”, this does not necessarily mean that he failed! A deeper look will reveal that the rebuke in itself has value. If we look at the prophets of Israel, we will notice an amazing fact: Generally speaking, they were a dismal failure. It seemed as if they influenced no one. The people were not interested in hearing them, and did not change their evil ways. Does this mean that there was no value in the warnings of the prophets? Of course not. After all, the words of the prophets are inscribed forever in our holy Tanach. The answer to this question van be found in G-d's answer to Ezekiel when He appoints him as a prophet (chapter 2) “ And He said to me, Son of man, I sent thee to the children of Israel...that have rebelled against me...and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord G-d. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will refuse to hear, (for they are a rebellious house), so that they shall know that there has been a prophet amongst them”. And afterwards (3:7): ”But the house of Israel will not hearken to you...” Can this be? If G-d knows that they will not listen, why send Ezekiel out and put him through such humiliation and abuse? And so a new concept is learned here. The saying of truth has value, even if it has no apparent influence at that particular moment. What is the value? “So that they shall know that there has been a prophet amongst them”. Even if immediate results are not seen, the value of the warnings are that they manifest the bringing in of G-d's word into the world. The prophet who expresses G-d's truth in giving expression to G-d's actual presence in this world. It is showing us that the world is not “hefker” (chaos). There is justice in the world. By so doing, the prophet in essence sanctifies G-d's name.
(From “The writings of Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane“ HY"D - end of commentary on Parashat Bereshit and commentary on Parashat Noach)
Rabbi Meir David Kahane on Parashat Bereshit - Adam and Israel
Excerpts from "The Jewish Idea" of Rabbi Meir Kahane, Hy"d
"G-d chose Israel to exemplify the perfect human being who would uphold a world of perfection, of total goodness, as G-d wished His world to be at the start of Creation. (...) Yevamot 61a states that Israel are called "Adam" , but the nations are not. The reason is that Israel were given the mission originally given to Adam, to crown G-d King over himself and over the entire world, thereby sanctifying the world with goodness through G-d's attributes, ways and values. This was the intent of Him Whose word brought the world into being - to create a world that was entirely good, as was stated after He created it: " G-d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Here, "very good" means "entirely good". After Adam sinned and G-d saw that it was impossible to achieve by natural processes a state in which all of mankind would be good, He decided to create a single emissary, one nation which would be anointed as G-d's Messiah on earth, a light unto the nations to teach them G-d's ways. This Messiah, this chosen people, was Israel. Israel were called "Adam" because it was they who were to continue the mission of Adam, who was created for this purpose yet failed. Thus, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:3 states, "The world was created only for Israel's sake", i.e. only for the sake of the mission given to Israel."
The Jewish Idea, chapter 21, pp 640, 641, English edition