GENESIS 18:1-22:24


Yitzchak Rabin's life was dedicated to the physical rebuilding, defending and preserving of the State of Israel. His murder is a great Jewish tragedy, a stain on Israel's peaceful democratic image. Many exercised their right and duty to strongly, but respectfully, disagree with his approach; but, per Rav Ovadia Yosef, those who called him names, e.g. "traitor", "murderer", "evil", who accused him of selfish motives, who arrogantly and illegally blocked roads, afflicting their fellow Jews, and who tried to sabatoge the Jewish portion of Israel's census, benefitting only the Palestinians thereby-- all share responsibility for creating an atmosphere conducive to murder and anarchy-- cf. Lebanon and Northern Ireland; but the government's callous disregard for their legitimate hopes and fears added much fuel to the fire.

Rabbi Dr. Elchonon Blumenthal of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim died about the same time as Rabin; he too was dedicated to Israel and the Jewish people all his life. His concern was perpetuation of the Torah, of true Jewish tradition, while integrating it with every aspect of modern national life-- his son is a career officer in Tzahal. Blumenthal represented the best of the old Ashkenazic German tradition, which preceded Hirsch, who was a pupil of Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (Orach Laner, ancestor of Dvar's head, Rav Baruch Horowitz); Ettlinger's pupil, Rav Esriel Hildesheimer, is depicted in The Rebbe ($20 from TOP); like Rav David Hartman, he tried to blend the best of modern scholarship with the best of Torah scholarship; he saved German Jewry from total assimilation via his modern Rabbinical Seminary, which ordained MK Yosef Burg. However, unlike Rav Hartman, he viewed secular studies as only a handmaiden to Torah, not of independent value per se.

Finally, we remourn the vicious act of arson at the Jewish 1/4 Shlomo Carlebach Center, just before his yahrtzeit last year; by a miracle, the sefer Torah wasn't damaged, tho the ark was destroyed. If you want to help open a new Shlomo Center in the Rova, contact Dr. Ritchie at 643-6771.

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The Right, The Left, and Death

Moshe Kohn strongly condemned Rabin's policies and attitudes, after briefly condemning his assassination (JP 10/25/96)-- is there "a time to mourn and a time to condemn?" Are they separate times? Ardent Jerusalem Torah scholar Dr. Dvora Weisman was quite upset by a recent memorial evening for Rabbi Meir Kahana at the NCSY Falk Israel Center, advertised in Torah Tidbits; Debby considers him a racist and hate-monger. Do you agree with her position? Can we, as Kohn above, mourn his murder, tho we strongly condemn his attitudes and actions? Strong left wingers and right wingers usually share personality traits-- cf. right wing religious leader Benny Alon, his secular humanist leftish brother, and their harmonious brother Motti Alon; cf. right wing Pinchas Peli, z"l, his left wing brother Rav Avigdor Hachoen, and their Moshav Rabbi brother Menachem Hacohen -- see A. below.


Avrahamic Rav Mordecai Gafni's contagious upbeat joy and enthusiasm in his in-depth exploration of God's Torah, himself, the world, and the human condition draws hundreds to his Sunday night Milah lectures on psychological insights from Parshat Hashavua (8:30PM, at the Ezrat Yisroel Synagogue, Hildeshimer 17; it's repeated Monday in Hebrew); they, in many ways, resemble Rav J. Soloveichik z"l's Saturday night talks in Boston. HaRav Gafni, educator Aviva Kayam, and moderator Ruth Bronznick lead an Emunah Seminar, Morals & Morality-- A Value System, Tuesday, 11/5/96, 8 PM, at Yeshurun, 44 King George-- a great Open Orthodox shul with no rabbi! Call Isralight, 627-4890, for their latest schedule, from Wed. 11/6.



Rav Gafni equated extremism and non-dialectical thinking with idolatry this week, following Rav J. Soloveichik; in a sense, everything and every valid idea deserves to be worshipped-- ultimately all comes from God and is but a contraction of His Infinite Essence. But God creates a world where everything has its dialectic, its related, but opposite, side. We may not unduly stress or absolutize anything, but must seek balance and harmony between all elements of God's Universe and ourselves-- a time for this and a time for that (King Solomon, who might not be allowed to teach in traditional yeshivot, despite his depth and brilliance, as he wouldn't be a good model husband; but he was popularized by Pete Seeger, whose standards may be more liberal; see Ascent to Harmony, Munk).

Rav Gafni portrayed a psychological profile of the extremist personality. He/she starts with unlimited faith that his prime value is good, and then decides that you can't have too much of a good value-- the more the better! To do this, he cannot acknowledge any competing value-- the fanatical Peace Now person can't recognize that there's a time for war, that evil cannot always be condoned, that truth must sometimes prevail over peace; the gung-ho Kahanist can't recognize the basic humanity, the Divine Image, in the Palestinean, that sometimes truth must be compromised or sacrificed for peace. The true extremist tends to ignore the consequences of his actions, e.g. opening a harmless tunnel before reaching an accord on Chevron. Compromise, giving weight to other values, is anathma for such folks. Their "reward" is that they wake up feeling good, pure and clear, avoiding the painful process of thinking thru and weighing issues, in the struggle for truth and harmony. But, if you dig down a bit, you'll find., underneath their exterior facade of ardent certainty and conviction, deep inner ambivalance and uncertainty. When a fanatical anti-religious Jew tried to put his trip on Reb Levi Yitzchak, the latter didn't argue with him, but merely asked, in a gentle voice: "But maybe it is all true?"-- his nonplussed interlocutor quietly broke down. Extremism usually breeds equally extremist reactions-- the banker's son becomes the hippy and the hippy's son the banker. Michael Lerner's son volunteered for Tzahal.

Even a mitzva can itself become an object of idolatry. Lot leaves Avraham's basic morality and offers his daughters to the wild men of S'dom, who wish to abuse his guests, to use as they please-- his fanatical pursuit of the mitzva of hospitality was the one way in which he could delude himself and others into believing that he was still following Avraham's pure path. So the Germans scrupulously kept their idolatrous mitzva of law and order amidst their murder and debauchery. There's no honest way to avoid competing truths, but only God, Who makes harmony among His astral bodies, can, via His Guidebook, the Torah, teach us how to reconcile the opposites within and around ourselves. There is constant conflict between truth and peace, yet Esther wants her words to be "words of truth AND peace"-- to be canonized. The extremists "never, never" must, at least, be tempered by Gilbert & Sullivan's "... well, hardly ever". In Kohelet, Shlomo tries each extreme and its opposite, until he equates God-awareness with the need to blend all aspects of Man-- "kol ha-adam", to create "the complete man".

HERETICAL RELATIVISTS (to get this in, we're postponing The Japanese and the Jews): Rabbi Shaul Feinberg of H.U.C. criticized my labelling Reform, Conservative and most academic teachers of the Torah as "heretical", according to traditional Jewish standards, insofar as they deny the Divine dictation of the Torah, leave alone the Oral Law. Their position undermines the raison d'etre of the State of Israel and the Jewish People-- if we don't have a unique Divine Mandate to be His Israeli "Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation", to be "A Holy People in our Land", our dream of thousands of years, if we don't recognize the universal and global implications of our mission, to bring all mankind back to themselves and Eden from Zion, then the whole Jewish and Zionist "trip" just isn't worth so much dedication, devotion and sacrifice. So the public should know who represents truly traditional Judaism, and who, regardless of how learned, rejects it.

The talmudic term for such heretical non-believers is "min" or "apikoros"; allegedly liberal and modernistic Maimonides devotes a tractate, Hilchot Mamrim, in his Code of Jewish Law, Mishna Torah, The Book of Judges, to the laws of those who rebel against religious authority-- The Sanhedrin, the Oral Law, and his/her parents. The basic belief in God, Giver of the Torah and Creator of the Universe is found in his Laws of Y'sodei Hatorah, while the king or government's political authority is set forth in the Laws of Kings and Their Wars. He deals with heretics in his Laws of Tshuva (3:6f -- see extracts below), showing that tshuva can even restore one's lost world to come; those who doubt basic religious principles are not heretics, only those who deny and defy them; others, e.g. Albo, Raavad and Meiri, posit fewer basic beliefs than Rambam, who was more concerned with what one thought and believed, than with what one did (Rav Norman Lamm).

"The following have no portion in the world to come, but are cut off and perish, and, for their great wickedness and sinfulness, are condemned for ever and ever. Heretics and Epicureans; those who deny the Torah, the resurrection of the dead or the coming of the Redeemer; apostates; those who cause a multitude to sin, and those who secede from the ways of the community; any one who commits transgressions like Jehoikim, in high handed fashion and openly; informers; those who terrorise a community, not for a religious purpose; murderers and slanderers, and one who obliterates the physical mark of his Jewish origin.

"All wicked persons, transgressors, apostates and the like, who come back penitent, whether openly or secretly, are accepted, as it is said, "Return, ye backsliding children" (Jer. 3:22). Even if one is still a backslider-- since he only returns in secret and not openly-- he is accepted if he repents"-- YF: thus we usually can't know in what state one died, even a Spinoza or Hitler, l'havdil squared; does anyone know of a book recording famous folks' last moments?

While acknowledging the correctness of the term "heretic" as applied to many modern Bible scholars, from a traditional Jewish perspective, Feinberg is concerned lest religious zealots attempt to harm these modern heretics, following talmudic and medieval advice to even let them die! Therefore it behooves me to periodically add the following remarks:

1) tho one is correctly labelled a heretic, it is forbidden to harm or hate him in any way-- modern man, tho technically knowledgeable, is a captive of the tzeitgeist, the captivating spirit of our age; he's like a Jewish child captured by pagans, tho later informed of his faith (M.T. Mamrim 3:3); he's also never directly experienced God's miracles with Israel (Chazan Ish).

2) While one can and should condemn bad actions and doctrines, and try to save others from being harmed by them, he/she can never judge another human being in totality, a function reserved for God-- only He has full knowledge of each person and the ability to weigh all the positive and negative inputs to his/her behavior. A single merit may outweigh many iniquities or v.v. Thus no Orthodox Jew may assume that God likes him better than a reform or secular Jew or a non-Jew, tho he must condemn their (and his own!) deviations from God's Torah. I have no way of knowing who has a higher place in heaven-- The Vilna Gaon or Yonatan Netanyahu, Herzl or the Chofetz Chayim (see Rambam, M.T. Tshuva 3:1-2).

3) One must recognize and appreciate the great contributions of everyone, Jew and non-Jew, religious and non-religious, to keeping our planet going; so, while properly pointing out the heretical stance of many modern teachers of Judaism, we must also appreciate whatever they accomplish to keep Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people alive, especially if they serve in Tzahal and raise children to be useful citizens.

The final program in the dedication of the magnificant new campus of the Shalom Hartman Institute featured an interfaith dialogue between Swedish Lutheran bishop Krister Stendahl, dean emeritus of the Harvard Divinity School, Moslem Muhammad Hourani, who teaches at David Yellin Teachers' College (he taught my son Arabic at Hartman H.S.), and Orthodox Rav Dr. Dovid Hartman, founder and director of the Institute, who teaches Jewish philosphy at H.U. . Hartman and Stendahl co-direct the Institute's Osher Center for Religious Pluralism; Hourani is on its advisory committee. Stendahl noted that each must let the other define his own position in such dialogue, and that we must judge other religions by their best spokesmen-- we all have some contemptible characters in our religious establishments.

Rav Hartman denounced any form of triumphalism, a sense of superiority over other peoples or faith communities; he claims that we Jews originated this concept, later turned against us by Christians, Moslems., Nazis, etc.; he cites the prophet's claim: "Only you have I known from all the nations of the earth-- therefore I'll visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2), implying that only Israel carries the truth of God, Who therefore holds them to a much stricter standard (YF: the rabbis urged one to believe that non-Jews had wisdom, but not that they had Torah, Divine Revelation). Hartman also denounced the notion of "vindication thru victory" (e.g. the song at the Red Sea?), later used against the Jews by the triumphant church, after 1000 years of Jewish exile, and by the Moslems-- so some midrashim claim that our troubles with the arabs stem from Sara's abuse of Hagar. He attributed religious attitudes of superiority to other faiths to a "theology of scarcity", a wrong assumption that we can't be truly great or goldly unless others are less so, that there just isn't enough Divine beneficence to go around. He urged us to do "historic tshuva" by being the leaders in disowning these divisive concepts.

I asked Rav Hartman if, in rejecting Amos' statement, he denies his prophecy-- he, in reply, quoted his advisor on Biblical Speculation, Dr. Moshe Greenberg, heretical by the traditional Jewish standards above, as most self-styled "scientific" scholars in the JPS & H.U. Bible Departments; but he encourages both Torah study and halachic practice, and generally looks to the Bible as a source of morality and inspiration, tho not "The Word of God"-- some H.U. Bible professors try to reduce the Bible to an uninspiring collection of irrelevant ancient political and military messages. MG claimed that the prophets were advocating the truth and triumph of Jewish monotheism only over pagan idolatry, not referring to monastic sister faiths, which guide their flocks towards God, spirituality and morality, just as the Torah tradition guides the Jews (cf. Meiri). But Hartman ignores the innate fatal defects in our alleged sister faiths, e.g. Islam's distortion of God's own Word, especially re the akada, and mainstream Christianity's Deification of a most questionable character (see Rambam's letter to the Jews of Marseilles); also, the unique Jewish Biblical mission is clearly eternal; thus it is legitimate and correct to insist that all mankind will eventually adopt the Torah and its 7 Laws of Noach, and forsake their false faiths, which meanwhile do bring them somewhat closer to Torah truths and ideals.

I suspect that Hartman's ardent passion for peace and good-will overcame his usual ardent passion for truth here; so Rebbe Yishmael prayed that God's mercy overcome His truthful judgmental aspect. So God omitted Sara's possibly hurtful words, when addressing Avraham; following Him, we might at least refrain from mentioning Biblical and rabbinic statements about Israel's choice and superiority in spiritual realms to non-Jews. If and when we achieve it, they'll feel it; meanwhile, we're in no position to brag. Also, we can violate almost any Torah prohibition to save life-- perhaps Hartman is justified in distorting these basic truths to make interfaith peace, which may ultimately save lives.

Hartman places little priority, or even value, in our acquisition and control of holy places, e.g. Chevron and Har Habayit; he's much more concerned that we be a truly holy inspiring nation here, that Torah shine thru daily life, that no one jabs anyone else, be it on a crowded Tel Aviv bus, or on the sports field, that the poor be well dressed, housed and fed, rather than spending huge sums on territorial takeover and settlements. So we fast the day after Rosh Hashana, mourning another Amirian zealot's murder of a another realistic peacenik, the righteous puppet governor of Israel, Gedalia ben Achikam-- this caused our final exile; the rabbis also criticized Gedalia's refusal to accept relevant slander (lashon hara), ignoring warnings of attempts to kill him; so Rabin should have worn a bullet-proof vest and the GSS should have closed off the dark parking lot. The net effect of Rabin's murder may have been an even greater thrust toward peace at any price, led by Shimon Peres, and further alienation of the people of Israel from the Torah of Israel, abused to justify the murder, thus delaying the Meshiach. Over 80 world leaders at the funeral, advocates of civilization and order, protested against all anarchy and murder; a similar threat hangs over all of them. All strongly supported the peace process (see the outstanding JP of 11/7/95)

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Avram ("father of Aram", a local religious leader and innovator) has just been renamed Avraham, "father of a multitude (of nations-- Rashi)", or "the mighty one of a multitude" (Ibn Ezra, 7:5); as such, he lays the foundation for a Jewish role model nation in the Holy Land-- to eventually bring all mankind back to their innermost selves and God. He's fulfilled 2 sacrificial prerequisites for his mission-- 1) to leave Babylonian civilization, the N.Y., London, and Paris of its day, for primitive Canaan, the Holy Land. Israel's the land of Divine intimacy-- God "dwells" in Jerusalem (Ps. 135:21; would interfaith activists dispute this?), tho His offices, His "glory" in Nature, are everywhere (Is. 6:3). 2) to enter the painful convenant of circumcision, to build an Israel without discos, cheap TV and movies, and vulgarity--- to counter the crimes of passion of Adam, Eve, and the flood generation. Oct. 27, anniversary of the Flood (per Arye Kaplan), is an apt day to protest pornography on Israel's profane TV. These 2 physical acts engender a much deeper relationship with Hashem, the transcendant, yet personal and relational, aspect of God. Noach only reached His seemingly impersonal universal aspect-- "Elokim" (= 86), Lord of Nature ("Hateva", = 86); tho a "good Vermont farmer", he's not Israeli. Avraham also extends Noach's experience of Elokim-- he begins to observe God's special laws for Jews, halacha, besides Noach's 7 Laws; they parallel His laws of nature; thus the Jew also calls God "OUR Lord"

Yet, these 2 necessary conditions aren't sufficient-- to truly experience Hashem, the God of kindness, one must develop Divine kindness and love within oneself; old and sick, Avraham's still eager to serve all. He seeks out those in need, rather than just responding to those he encounters. He thus rectifies the crimes of aggression and exploitation of Cain and the Tower generation too. He and his followers see God's Kindness and universal concern (chesed) within the laws of both nature and Torah (Hirsch, per A. Pink); we close our peak Yom Kippur experience, climax of our gradual, but intense, annual period of return to God, with "Hashem Hu Haelokim"-- Infinite God (of transcendance), He's (also) the Lord of (Nature and its laws-- Avraham's insight); HEAR, O' ISRAEL, GOD'S OUR LORD, GOD'S ONE. To find God beyond Nature, one must her own nature, yet not leave it-- on the contrary, he must improve and perfect the world, not complacently accept its defects. A Jew truly in touch with God is a restless idealist activist, not just a pious meditator or holy academic; Moshe and Dovid are first good shepherds, who develop Divinity within; only then can they become great religious leaders.

Later, David proclaims-- God, Hashem, Your Kindness (chesed) is in the heavens... How precious is your kindness, Lord, Elokim... in your light, we see light-- Ps. 36:6,8,10. In the Heavens, God's world works perfectly, as intended; on earth, wicked humans with free will can and do wreck nature (e.g. Hamas); even there, however, one steeped in God's Torah can see the eternal light at the end of the path (Hirsch, who tried to make Torah meaningful, that it remain viable-- he tried to end practices which he deemed unsavory, extraneous to Judaism, e.g. tashlich, kaparot, beating the arava and Kol Nidre-- see Tradition In An Age of Reform, by Noah Rosenbloom).

Augustine abandoned his earlier belief in free will, stressing man's lack of both self-control and responsibility, and the sordid essence of the body and sex, all stemming from Adam and Eve's original sin. Those who opposed him, e.g. Pelagius and Julian, based on earlier Christianity, closer to Judaism, were continually persecuted (see Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, E. Pagels-- her search for for the "real Christianity", simpler and purer, suggests that early Christianity was composed of many radically different and contradictory traditions, including the alleged New Testament itself).

Creation ends with God's invitation to man to complete His work, to be His partner-- "...which the Lord created TO DO (Gen. 2:3)". Circumcision, the completion or perfection of the male procreative organ, is a physical indelible expression of this concept. Man's sexual life, basis of all creativity, mustn't blindly yield to natural impulse; it's to be linked to Divinity, eternal depth, and holiness (vs. monasticism and promiscuity, Aquinas and Hefner). Avraham and his descendants must teach this by example. Every spiritual entity in the soul corresponds to a part of the body (Sefer Hachinuch). Commandments performed by and on the body connect it to its soul. Ritual circumcision expresses the unique spiritual choice of the Jews-- AND YOU SHALL BE TO ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION (Ex. 19:6). Female bodies, differing also in soul and personality, have different commandments and emphases.

God then told Avraham that Sarai will henceforth be known as Sara (17:15); she'll bear him a son to be named Yitzchak, his true seed, his continuation, the first male circumcised at 8 days (unless one of Avraham's servants was circumcized at that age-- see 17:27). Per Hirsch, Avraham first became an ideal "son of Noach", universal man, in harmony with the Lord of nature. Only at 99 did circumcision add Jewish Divine transcendance to his perfect normal human development. Jews who assimilate may recapture normal life processes, lost in our warped persecuted pious communiities of yore, and sanctify them upon their return to Torah* ("The way of the earth precedes Torah by 26 generations"-- Lev. Raba 9:3, T.D.E.R. 1; "If one's wisdom exceeds his good deeds, it won't endure"-- Avot 3:11). Hirsch's view is difficult-- Avram's already received unique Jewish covenants, e.g. migration to Israel, from 75 on. Perhaps they're but a prelude and prerequisite to his eventual unique Jewish identity (Zionism precedes conscious national return to Torah-- our hope of 2000 years is to be first a free nation, then a holy one). Alternatively, the land indeed may be promised to all his descendants, including Yishmael; however, Yitzchak's heirs, the Jewish people, are to lead it, set up its laws and values, per the messages of God and Avraham. The Arabs will fully accept the authority of Israel when Israel fully accepts the authority of God's Torah, transforming itself.

The Land of Israel's inspiration is universal-- even non-Jews may have to come here to truly experience God and fully accomplish their mission as Sons of Noach-- AND MY HOUSE WILL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER TO ALL PEOPLES (Is. 1:18). SUCH SHALL BE THE GUILT OF EGYPT AND OF ALL NATIONS WHO DON'T COME UP TO CELEBRATE SUKKOT (Zech. 14:19). Anyone who's humble, of moderate temperment, and kind and generous is indeed a spiritual descendant of Avraham, tho not Jewish, and v.v. (Avot 5:22; cf. Makuya).


VAYERA opens-- GOD APPEARED TO HIM IN THE PLAINS OF MAMRE WHILE HE SAT AT THE TENT ENTRANCE IN THE HOTTEST PART OF THE DAY. HE LIFTED UP HIS EYES AND SAW AND BEHOLD-- 3 MEN WERE STANDING NEAR HIM. HE SAW AND RAN TO GREET THEM... AND BOWED DOWN TO THE GROUND. HE SAID: "MY LORD (either God or their leader), IF, PLEASE, I'VE FOUND FAVOR IN YOUR EYES, PLEASE DON'T PASS BY YOUR SERVANT. LET A LITTLE WATER BE TAKEN AND WASH YOUR (the 3 men's) FEET..." (Gen. 18:1-4). Use of the pronoun, "to HIM" (rather than "to Avraham"), implies continuation of the previous episode-- his circumcision at 99; God appeared to visit and heal him on the painful 3rd day after circumcision (B. M. 86b). God says nothing here-- His very presence relieves Avraham's discomfort.

Getting to know You: This may be a higher revelation, beyond words, of God's preceding covenant. Hassidut teaches that the highest songs have no words, only a niggun (tune), which both embodies and conveys the Divine Presence. Notions buried deep within the personality are often expressible and accessible only via music (see PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY, Langer, and THE HAUNTING MELODY, Reik). Rabbenu Bachye b. Asher finds each week's leitmotif in Proverbs. Vayera's verse is: LIFE IS IN THE LIGHT OF THE KING'S FACE (cf. a baby's smile), AND HIS FAVOR IS LIKE A CLOUD OF SPRING RAIN (16:15). He compares God's silent appearance to Avraham to His descent, after completion of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34ff). God displays His good will and pleasant countenance whenever man does a great mitzvah. TO HIM may indicate that God was now revealed in the deepest essence of Avraham's being, not just in his external intellect, his self-awareness, his "name". A sign of a "good date" or relationship is the ability to comfortably, but silently, "groove" together, sharing each other's soul essence, the white space between the Torah's letters, dream communicsation rather than content communication; so folks often feel uncomfortable visiting ill friends, beyond hope, as they don't know what to say, how to cover the painful existential pain under a torrent of words-- but, as God, their silent presence itself can communicate their love and concern (Rav Gafni; cf. Job's buddies). Rambam (Guide) claims that this whole episode, as all Biblical revelations of angels, was a dream! Ramban strongly objects!

God's Manifest Presence** also appears when prophets are commanded, and when He protects His righteous servants (cf. Num. 14:10). For thousands of years, Jews prayed daily: MAY OUR EYES SEE WHEN YOU RETURN TO ZION WITH MERCY; A SOURCE OF BLESSINGS ARE YOU, GOD, WHO RESTORES HIS PRESENCE TO ZION-- the pleasant healing countenance of the King of kings of kings should render the tired and downtrodden Jewish people again vibrant and healthy; they'll then serve the entire world as a model of joy and vitality. God's intervening alive Presence gives meaning, order, and hope for oneself and the universe. Bleak existential despair flows from a secular worldview of life-- a stream of fleeting accidents (cf. USSR).

** the rabbinic feminine name of God, Sh'chinah, denoting His Presence, does not appear in the Bible, tho God is described as "shochan", dwelling in the tabernacle, etc. (Ex. 25:8, 34:16, Num. 5:3, 1K6:13, Ezek. 43:9, Zech. 2:14, Deut. 33:15

The Opter rebbe, A.J. Heschel's ancestor, renders 18:1: "To him (Avraham), God appeared only in the tents of Mamre-- a renowned man of great spirit (see Gen. Rab. 48); but Avraham felt himself to be only at the `entrance' to the tent. Really great men don't feel worthy of Divine Revelation; those who claim to know why God punished someone resemble false prophets; they and their parties should be rejected by the observant public.

"He sat at the tent entrance..."-- Avraham sought out travelers, despite his post-operative condition. LIFTING HIS EYES denotes searching for something with zeal, here for guests; so Lot's lifted eyes crave S'dom's decadent opulence (13:10). Avraham leaves God's presence, asking Him to wait, to greet the 3 men and offer them hospitality (Genesis Raba, stressing the primacy of kindness); this reading of 18:3 assumes he's addressing God, Whose Presence was confined to the tent (the Presence remained while he hosted them). Yet 18:4 is clearly directed to the visitors with no transition.

This suggests that one should interrupt his prayer if he sees a thirsty person, Jew or non-Jew, nearby and no one else will give him a drink; per rabbinic tradition, Avraham's hospice linked his idolatrous guests to the Ultimate Provider of their food (cf. Salvation Army, Jeff & Meir); one should provide Shabbat hospitality and entertainment to the uninitiated, rather than yelling at them not to go to movies or restaurants on Shabbat. Perhaps one should only interrupt his personal experience of Divinity when he'll enhance another's (cf. Moshe's descent from Sinai to the Golden Calf Disco); but kindness itself brings God's Presence to man. The repeated phrase AND HE SAW may mean that he kept examining the disguised angels; he was uncertain of their identity until they predict Sara's impending motherhood, of which only he was hitherto aware. He invites them to wash their feet before eating-- he feared they were covered with the dust of idolatry (B.M. 86b). Per Rashbam, God appeared to him VIA these 3 angels-- thus he never left God's presence! His ability to run to his guests shows the quick effects of Divine healing.

GLATT-TREIFE CHESED: Avraham served his guests fine bread, meat, and milk, as they RECLINED UNDER THE TREE (he exposed them to Torah, A TREE OF LIFE-- Prov. 3:18). He may have served the milk before the meat, which is permitted in Jewish Law; Malbim suggests that "THE CALF WHICH HE MADE" (18:8) refers to a calf created magically via Sefer Hay'tzirah, not subject to laws of meat and milk! The simplest explanation, even assuming Avraham literally kept Torah laws, is that his zeal for kindness made him feed the idolators what THEY were used to, only prohibited to HIM. Someone who observes "glatt-chesed" might indeed keep 3 sets of dishes-- meat, milk and trefe-- to treat his non-Jewish guests well. But some say mitzvos are good for all mankind, tho not obligatory; Noach recognized "clean" animals; would Avraham serve non-Jews something bad for them, tho they don't know the difference?

One angel announces that Sara will bear a son in a year, knowing that she could hear them from the tent. God already told Avraham, who didn't pass it on to Sara (17:21; the angel adds here only that he &/or God will reappear with Yitzchak's birth-- 18:10,14; but we don't read that that happens-- 21:1-7). One may not repeat Divine communications to others unless authorized by "lamor", "to say"; only God's covenant with Avraham here, not His prediction of Yitzchak's birth, contains "lamor" (Hirsch). So Midrashim suggest that Yehoshua couldn't tell Moshe what God revealed to him during a trial takeover of Moshe's function. Perhaps Avraham didn't feel up to communicating something so extraordinary to Sara, while caught up in the zeal and pain of circumcision at 99. Sara laughs at the news, being so old, with such an old husband. God complains to Avraham, implying she lacked faith; God doesn't mention her skepticism at his virility, that he not be upset with her! This is a rabbinic model for choosing peace by concealing truth, when the two frequently conflict (cf. today). But God doesn't lie outright here.

Avraham, who also laughed when he was informed of Yitzchak's birth, wasn't reprimanded-- he REJOICED at the predicted miraculous birth (17:17), whereas Sara laughed as a sceptic (Rashi); perhaps he acted wrong too, but God assumed he'd self-correct (Midrash Hagadol); maybe he was called to task for not truly inspiring Sara with faith. These views imply he was greater than Sara, as does his reproving her (cf. Miryam and Moshe). But Rashi, who had only daughters, says that Sara was higher (21:12).

*Per Rambam (Y'sodei Hatorah), a prophet must fully develop himself as a normal human being before obtaining transcendental prophecy. Perhaps Sara wasn't as high as Avraham WHILE BARREN, but surpassed him after bearing Yitzchak. Sara denied laughing when Avraham reproved her, due to fear of God and embarassment.

FROM NIGHT OF WATCHING, RAV Z. KANOTOPSKY: God reveals His plan to destroy S'dom to Avraham, who's to lead mankind back to God via righteousness and justice. God accepts his plea to FORGIVE the evil region if it has 50 righteous people (10, a community, for each of its 5 cities). He says God MUST do justice in this world to prevent disgrace to His name-- cf. M.T. Isurei Biah 12:10. God then agrees at least NOT TO DESTROY THEM, if each minyan lacks 1, so 5 x 9, 45, will be found. A society, tho evil, which tolerates a good "counterculture" in its midst, still has a chance. If the righteous individuals can't quite form an alternative community, lacking a tenth man, they may still save society from destruction; but it will be punished, not forgiven. 40 and 30 righteous suggest a situation where the majority, if not all, of the 5 communities, have such righteous alternative societies. God then "waits to see", so to speak, whose influence will prevail in the region, not acting-- I WON'T DO...(18:29). If only a minority of the communities have holy minyanim (10 or 20 righteous), God will, as above, punish, but not destroy-- overall imminant ideological revolution is then ruled out.

If there are less than 10 righteous, they'll be destroyed too-- thus Avraham's original complaint, that the righteous will be destroyed with the wicked, remains unanswered, as GOD WENT AWAY (18:33). Perhaps the righteous should leave a place where they have little impact and chance of success, and where they themselves are subject to bad majority influence (cf. N.Z. olim). Rav Yehuda Henkin concludes that one synagogue might change the most seemingly hopeless community, if allowed to freely function, e.g. Hirsch's modern shul in Frankfort, Rav Riskin's in Lincoln Center, Yakar.

Avraham's pupil, Lot, rabbi emeritus and judge of S'dom, was also hospitable to the angels, but his family didn't join in; his entire congregation showed up, incensed by his hospitality (there were NO righteous people in S'dom); they even tried to sexually abuse the disguised angels (AIDS vs. aid). After they were struck blind, Mr. & Mrs. Lot and their daughters were rescued by the angels, as God devastated S'dom Plain; Lot's wife, a former pillar of society, looked back, unwilling to abandon her opulant decadence, and became a pillar of salt. For modern U.S. attempts to preserve outmoded "high" society, see Stephen Birmingham's engrossing The Right People. Sorry Lot's 2 daughters, whom he offered to the Sodomites in lieu of his guests, later slept with their drunken father (cf. Noach); the elder thus produced the nation of Moav from little Moav (lit. "from dad", from whom would come Ruth, David and the Messiah), and the younger Amnon, from her son Ben Ami (lit. "son of nmy people"; as a reward, or consequence, of her not mentioning her incestuous act in Ben Ami's name, the Jews were not allowed to even afflict Amnon, unlike Moav, on their way to Israel-- Nazir 23a on Deut. 2:9,19)

After this tragedy, Avraham moved south to Philistine country; maybe he couldn't bear proximity to a mini-holocaust, perhaps feeling responsible. So Dr. Norman Frimer tries to justify Noach's loss of words and paralysis, when confronted by mass destruction of all his friends and neighbors. He may have even gone beserk, hearing their drowning screams; he finally drowns his memories and sorrows in drink (cf. Lot), while God orders an immediate new start in rebuilding the world (cf. 1948). The Philistine king, Avimelech, tried to take Sara, prior to God's miraculous intervention. Avraham justifies concealment of his marriage to avoid being killed by the Philistines-- SURELY, THERE'S NO GOD-AWARENESS IN THIS PLACE AND THEY'LL KILL ME DUE TO MY WIFE (20:11). Any nation, howbeit sophisticated, becomes morally corrupt w/o God awareness (cf. Germany). Both God and Avraham bother to discuss civilized Avimelech's behavior with him; he's not beyond redemption; neither wastes time with degenerate Pharoh. This incident, Avram's aliya to the Land of the Covenant, and his missionary altars all contradict N. Sarna's unbelievable words: "The Bible does not explicitly represent the Patriarchs as religious innovators", their religion lacked "any national-territorial framework"!-- E. J. 13:182.

Sara bore Yitzchak as predicted; Avraham made a great party when he was weaned (at 2 or 3, Yitzchak could begin to learn with dad). Why not replicate this Biblical institution today?-- the odd kabbalistic haircut party for 3 year hassidim may be a later paltry substitute. Sara saw Hagar's son Yishmael mocking Yitzchak and being a bad influence; God acquiesed to her demand that Avraham expel them. Nevertheless, He intervened to save Yishmael from death, when Hagar got lost in the desert and ran out of water (would Israel's right condemn Him?). Avimelech then joined Avraham in a peace treaty (cf. PLO); tho he stole Avraham's well, he recognized Avraham's connection to God. Avraham plants an "eshel" (literally "tree"), a religious hospice, in Beersheva (21:33)-- see "H". God then gives him his greatest test-- the proposed sacrifice of Yitzchak, transformed into an eternal sacrifice of the Jewish spirit:


THEY ARRIVED AT THE PLACE ABOUT WHICH THE LORD HAD SPOKEN. AVRAHAM BUILT THE ALTAR THERE, ARRANGED THE WOOD, BOUND HIS SON YITZCHAK, AND PLACED HIM ON THE ALTAR ATOP THE WOOD. AVRAHAM PUT FORTH HIS HAND AND TOOK THE DEVOURING KNIFE TO SLAUGHTER HIS SON-- AN ANGEL OF GOD CALLED HIM FROM HEAVEN AND SAID: "AVRAHAM! AVRAHAM!". HE SAID: "I'M THUNDERSTRUCK!". HE SAID: "DON'T SEND FORTH YOUR HAND TO THE LAD AND DON'T (EVEN) DO ANYTHING TO HIM, FOR I NOW INTIMATELY KNOW YOU HAVE AWE OF THE LORD AND HAVEN'T WITHHELD YOUR SON, YOUR UNIQUE ONE, FROM ME". AVRAHAM EAGERLY LOOKED ABOUT AND SAW-- BEHOLD A RAM, AFTER (ACHAR) IT WAS CAUGHT IN THE THICKET BY ITS HORNS (shofars, blown to remember Yitzchak's sacrifice-- R.H. 16a). We can also read HE SAW AN "ACHAR" RAM, usually translated "another ram"-- but there was no prior ram! A ram with wide horizontal horns, like handlebars, easily caught in brush, is called an "achar" in ancient semitic languages-- it's a common semitic word for ram; so Tzvi Wallach translates: "HE SAW AN ACHAR RAM". AVRAHAM WENT, TOOK THE RAM AND RAISED IT AS A BURNT OFFERING IN PLACE OF HIS SON. AVRAHAM CALLED THE NAME OF THAT PLACE "GOD WILL SEE", AS IT'S SAID TO THIS DAY: "ON GOD'S MOUNTAIN HE'LL BE SEEN". Man's hidden potential spiritual heights become revealed in Israel, especially in Jerusalem; so God told Avraham to go to Israel-- WHERE I'LL DISPLAY YOU (to mankind and yourself)-- 12:1.

God then promises Avraham blessings for this great sacrificial act-- he and his progeny will be a source of blessings to humanity; his dream was to bring humanity back to blessed Eden; his yearning and striving to "make" souls (12:5) led God to select him to do so on a grand historic scale. Avraham returned, together with his lad, to Beersheva. "AFTER THESE THINGS", he heard about many kids, born to his idolatrous brother Nachor-- the world barely notices great Jewish physical and spiritual sacrifice; it's more interested in the birth of potential political and military leaders (Rav J. Soloveichik). The Holocaust quickly yields headlines to the Dodgers or the latest Hollywood romance. An airline hostess greets all to Boston, home of the Braves and Bruins, rather than that of Rav Soloveichik, the Rebbe, Children's Hospital, and MIT. We close with Rivka's birth, heralding the next stage in the long road back to Eden. We conclude that surrender to God surpasses all imaginable human limits, and that Avraham never doubted his prophetic vision, that God really wanted him to sacrifice Yitzchak (Guide 3:24).

D. OUTREACH VS. INTERNAL CONQUEST: The essence of Avraham's soul and relationship to God, per kabbala, is Chesed-- constant interaction with everything and everyone outside of myself (Rav J. Soloveichik); he has several mates and travels everywhere, calling in the Name of God. His son Yitzchak embodies the opposite trait-- Gevurah (power), withdrawing from the external world to build magnificent internal structures of depth, discipline and soul-power; he doesn't leave greater Israel and has but one woman, deeply loved; he too develops himself as a model man, but only for those who choose to notice; he proclaims God's name to the public only when He appears to him as the God of Avraham (26:25). Yaakov synthesizes dad and granddad in Tiferes-Emes, glory and living truth. He first relates to his grandfather's enthusiastic outreach (28:13), as he embarks on his own developmental journey, only later appreciating his father's quiet depth (31:53), as he returns to Israel, saved from Lavan by the skin of his teeth, with God's help.


In THE RAV SPEAKS, Rav J. Soloveichik asks: "If Avraham wants his two lads to come along to sacrifice Yitzchak, why have them wait with the donkey, when he approaches Moriah? If not, why bring them?". His answer-- the two lads, Eliezer and Yishmael, represent the non-observant Jew and the non-Jew. Avraham understands he needs both in his long symbolic journey to Mt. Moriah. He tells them to wait with the "chamor" (literally "donkey"), symbol of the world of "chomer" (physicality); they're to preserve and develop this realm, while Jews work at becoming a model "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6), "sacrificing Yitzchak"-- you can't have one w/o the other. Then-- WE'LL RETURN TO YOU; Moriah's holiness won't lead to abandoning universal mankind and the physical world, but to returning to them, to awaken their latent Divinity. So today the State of Israel, beginning world redemption, only arose via the predominantly secular Zionist movement; its greatest helper was the U.S.A., itself built on Torah ideals, as the Pilgrims understood them.


Per Kierkegard, Avraham sacrificed Yitzchak in his heart, existentially, every step of the way. Rav Soloveichik adds that he must indeed sacrifice Yitzchak, but not in one moment's grand gesture; instead Yitzchak is to LIVE a sacrificial life, to bring his spirit closer and closer to God (cf. Avot 6:6-- acquiring the crown of Torah necessitates minimalization, not elimination, of business and pleasure). Rav Moshe Cordovero sees all creation as reaching its maximum potential when absorbed into a higher form, in which the Living God is less concealed, which it helps create; thus sunlight, water, earth and minerals produce living grass; the grass' destiny is to be eaten by the higher cow; the cow in turn is elevated IF eaten by a still higher HOLY HUMAN, who's developed his unique Divine Potential. Thus THE LORD OF NATURE is that aspect of Divinity Who commands Avraham to sacrifice, to draw near to Him, Yitzchak-- man too should merge with that above him, THE LORD. However, it is GOD, the intimate, yet transcendant, aspect of Divinity who tells Avraham not to do it; the essence of man is NOT his physical body, but his Divine Image soul-- it has to be sacrificed and merged with non-physical God, via a lifetime of search and discipline-- the "binding" of Yitzchak. Indeed God only commanded Avraham to "bring Yitzchak up" to the mountain, not to slay him! (Gen. Raba 56). Only God's clear command justifies taking life, but a mere angel can contravene it to save a life (Mendel of Kosov-- cf. Rabin's murder).

Divine "testing" manifests, in this world, a potential great force in Avraham, as a model for the rest of humanity. When God says NOW I KNOW (that you have God awareness-- 22:12), He refers to intimate experience of Avraham's soul, not just informative knowledge-- cf. ADAM KNEW HIS WIFE, CHAVA... (Gen. 4:1; cf. Amos 3:2). AFTER THESE THINGS (22:1) suggests that the Akedah's connected to previous events, e.g. the banishment of Yishmael. Avraham's not called OUR TEACHER, as Moshe, but OUR FATHER, kindly patient founder of the Jewish people. Explusion of Yishmael and the Akeda are the hardest of Avraham's 10 developmental tests-- to act against his natural trait of love and kindness; he's to expel one son, so the other can properly develop; he's then to kill Yitzchak, for whom Yishmael was exiled!


Some see opposition to child sacrifice, common in those days, as God's main lesson here. Indeed some say Avram's own father, Terach, turned him in to Nimrod for destroying and ridiculing his idols (Gen. Raba 38:13; see Ramban, 11:28); God may have aroused a similar inclination in Avraham in order to cathartically rid him and his descendants of this impulse forever. Wellfisch (Isaac and Oedipus) attempts to find parallels to the Freudian teachings of father-son conflict and its successful resolution (Yitzchak became the object of Sara's maternal instincts, previously devoted to Avraham; so Rav Kanatopsky explains the new mother's need to return to her husband after 7 days of bonding with her new son-- see our Tazria study)-- but the text speaks only of Avraham's love for Yitzchak.

Silveno Areti, in ABRAHAM AND THE CONTEMPORARY MIND, accepts the traditional view-- the Akada demonstrates and inaugurates commitment, willingness, and readiness to sacrifice everything for love of God, traits the Jewish people had to possess through the ages. 1/3 of Yitzchak was indeed sacrified in the Holocaust, the Nazi opposite of love of God. This greatest of all loves, all other loves being but sub-divisions, will finally prevail over Amalak's greatest of all hates. "The Jewish people must also invite all other peoples... to nourish the greater love required to undo the existing evil" (p. 164, cf. Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:17). Avraham, who first had to reject his own father, to relate to His Father in Heaven, is spiritual father of modern man, torn between dualism of body and soul, physicality and spirituality.

Avraham, unlike Spinoza and Einstein, indeed recognizes the division between spirit and matter, between that aspect of Divinity called Eternal God and that called The Lord of Nature; he also realizes the need to join them (cf. problematic kabbalistic views of mitzvos joining The Holy One, Blessed be He, and His imminant presence)-- Avraham teaches us to sanctify life, not replace it, thru Torah. Thus God stresses physical circumcision as a NECESSARY PRECONDITION for spiritual circumcision of the heart, lips, and tongue (Jer. 6:10, 9:10, Ex. 6:30). Avraham fights the doctrine of Paul, who has only contempt for the flesh; Paul rejects Avraham's circumcision, while claiming to be his descendant (Romans 11:1, 2:25; but Yaakov Emden claims that Paul, a good guy, only opposed circumcision for his non-Jewish Noahide disciples-- printed after Sefer Hashimush)!


Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) ends The Liberty of Prophesying (p. 606, 1657) with a story which he found in the Jews' books!" When Abraham sat at his tent door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers, he espied an old man stopping and leaning on his staffe, weary with age and travelle, coming toward him, who was 100 years of age; he received him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, caused him to sit down; but, observing that the old man eat and pray not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, asked him why he did not worship the God of heaven. The old man told him that he worshiped the fire only, and acknowledged no other god; at which answer Abraham grew so zealously angry, that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night and an unguarded condition. When the old man was gone, God called to him and asked him where the stranger was; he replied, "I thrust him away because he did not worship Thee"; God answered him, "I have suffered him these 100 years, although he dishonored Me, and coulst thou not endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble?" Upon this, saith the story, Abraham fetcht him back again, and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction. Go thou and do likewise, and thy charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham.

In the Latin dedication to the Senate of Hamburg of a Rabbinical work, The Rod of Judah, Shevet Yehuda, the translator, George Genz (Amsterdam, 1651), gives the story substantially as found above; the parable was credited to "a most noble author, Sadus". It was afterward found in the Bostan or Flower Garden of Saadi, the Persian 12th century poet! Henry Home heard it from Ben Franklin, who added it to Genesis in his Bible. Edward Everett explored the history of "The Parable of Persecution" in #8 of his Mt. Vernon papers.

Avraham's tent had entrances from several directions, to accomodate all sorts of people (see Mid. Raba 48:9, Avot D'R. Natan 7:1, re Job-- cf. the Bostoner Rebbe and Rebbetzin's home in Brookline, Rav and Rebbetzin Sheinberger's in the Rova, the Machlis' in Maalot Dafna). Must every Jew do likewise? Yose b. Yochanan of Jerusalem indeed said one's house should be open for relief (see Hirsch; some translate "wide open"), that the poor be members of your household-- a hospice. But his Co-Chief Rabbi, Yose b. Yoezer of Tzreda, urged folks to make their home a study center (Avot 1:5). Perhaps they reflect 2 basic personality types, chesed and g'vura, discussed above in "D". One occupied with one mitzva realm needn't feel guilty for not doing another. Each should do those good deeds, in which she naturally thrives (see Avot 2:1).

Yet, even Rambam, who stressed study, views enjoying holidays with one's family, w/o inviting the homeless, as an abomination to God. R. Bachye praises hospitality in Kad Hakemach (Encyclopedia of Torah Thoughts, trans. by Chavel). Avraham, emulating God Himself, tries to feed and care for all; he teaches mankind charity and monotheism. He who plants the tree of hospitality shares in the tree of Eden in the hereafter, enjoying its fruits in this world (see 21:33). Avraham, Sara and the Shunamite woman merit outstanding children, due to their superb hospitality (see "J"). God treats man as he treats his own guests and the poor (B.M. 86b, Is. 58:7, Job 31:19-20); hospitality affects one's afterlife (Is. 58:9-11, Yev. 102b). Even if motivated by self-interest, it's amply rewarded; so Jews mustn't hate an Egyptian, whose ancestors hosted them (Deut. 23:8). Ammon and Moav are rejected for lacking hospitality (Deut. 23:5). It can save one from Divine punishment (San. 103b). Peer V'Kavod (31a) claims hospitality overweighs a stingy wife's quarrelsome reactions and hearing a guest's evil gossip, both of which drive away the Shechina. God chose an angel to heal Avraham, that His own visit be that to a friend, not a "professional call" (The Amshinover, Ohel Yitzchak, P. 6). Most authorities exclude social entertaining from the great mitzva of hospitality, which applies only to those in true need.

The Apter Rebbe chose to lodge with a sinful, but nice, man rather than an arrogant pietist-- God only lodges by the former! (Esser Orot p. 118). So character of political candidates may be more important than their piety. "Religious" candidates, whose focus is religious compulsion and denouncing others, damage their alleged cause.


Genesis Raba 48:3, expounding Job 31:13, connects Gods revelation to Avraham, His chosen, with Avraham's concern for the souls of his slaves, manifest in their circumcision (so we must expose non-Jews to the 7 Laws of Noach and pleasantly welcome them to our Wall and schools). Indeed God's aim in creation and preservation of the universe may be Avraham's hospitality and monotheistic missionary work (ibid 8). All good things that have happened to Israel are due to his hospitality to the 3 idolators (ibid 10). Angels have no temptations, nor do humans in the Messianic era (ibid 11).

J. THE HAFTARA is 2K4:1-37

It portrays Elisha's miraculous salvation of deceased prophet Ovadia's family (see Rashi and Radak), just as their creditor's about to enslave his sons; Ovadia went into debt to Jehu, son of his boss, wicked Achav, to keep God's 100 hidden prophets alive, rather than use Achav's tainted money (Targum Yonaton). Only such a powerful vicious creditor can and would enslave Jewish children for their father's debts. We end with Elisha blessing his good Shunamite hostess with a child; he revives the lad from a coma or death-- per Zohar (Gen. 7b, Ex. 44a, 45a), it's Habakkuk, embraced by both his mother and Elisha; even a prophet may need a good mother figure!-- Rambam's died at his birth; his father despised both (Shalshelet Hakabala-- does this explain M.T. Isurei Biah 12:10?).


The Talmud (Ket. 75a) concludes that a woman's harsh voice is a physical defect; only a female voice is sweet-- man is created from earth, which produces no resonant sound when pounded, whereas woman's created from his bone, which does! (Nida 31b, per Rashi); cf. "She opens her mouth with wisdom and a teaching of kindness is on her tongue (Prov. 31; cf. shrews)". The prohibition of men listening to women singing (O.H. 75:3, E.H. 21:1) is derived from Shmuel's statement (Talmud Ber. 24a): "Kol b'isha (a woman's voice) erva (is provocative-- based on S. of S. above)***. The Practical Torah, by Rav Michael Taubes ($20 from TOP), presents halachic issues connected to the weekly Torah reading. Kol b'isha is in Vayera:

The 3 angels asked Avraham: "Where's Sara your wife?" The talmud concludes (B.M. 87a) that they also asked her where he was, teaching us good manners-- to ask a man about his wife's welfare, and a woman about her husband's (Rashi, following Gen. Raba 48:17); Mizrachi asks how one may so (unnecessarily) speak to a woman, if her voice (in reply) is sexually enticing! He concludes that only the angels, with no sexual urge, could so speak to Sara--- but not human beings-- so he assumes Rashi's alleged statement is a misquote! But Maharal, in Gur Aryeh, claims that only a man's listening to a woman's voice to derive sensual pleasure is forbidden; but simply to hear her speak was never forbidden. So rules Chaye Adam 4:6. So Maharsha (B.M. 87a) notes that great men freely spoke to women, e.g. Eli to Chana, Elisha to the Shunamite.

FEMINISM AND FLIRTING: Yet amora Rav Yehuda refused to convey Rav Nachman's greetings to Nachman's wife, Yalta!-- Kid. 70a. Maharal claims that one should avoid any needless conversation with another's wife, as here. Inquiring about her welfare, however, is good manners. A simnpler answer (YF): Rav Yehuda, picqued here by Rav Nachman's summoning him to court, was just trying to refute whatever he said; he also may not have wanted to start up with Yalta, no typical balabatisha rebbetzin-- upon hearing Ulla's anti-feminist Torah in her house, she smashed 400 bottles of wine and compared him to vermin and rags (Ber. 51b). Raavad, quoted by Rashba on Ber. 24a, as Maharsha, claims intimate greetings were involved in Kid. 70a, possibly leading to inappropriate closeness--

YF: a fortiori, decent Jewish married women don't have "platonic" friendships with other men, go for walks with them, etc.-- cf. Avot 1:5: "don't overdo chit-chat with THE woman-- the rabbis said this even vis-a-vis one's wife (THE woman), a fortiori vis-a-vis your friend's (don't steal and divert that affection and friendship which belongs to him); so the sages said: `Anyone who engages in excessive chit-chat with the woman brings evil upon himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehenom'" (cf. Ned. 20a, ADRN 7:3, D.E. 1). Hirsch comments: A man who truly respects his wife will value her views and counsel, and not overburden their conversation with frivolous chatter; such bantering with other women can loosen the bounds of morality and lead to sin.

TAUBES notes that some extreme authorities indeed forbid men to listen even to the speaking voice of a woman-- did anyone actually live this way? Many authorities freely permit useful serious conversation, but ban singing together or men listening to women singing, based in part on Sota 48a. Bet Yosef (O.H. 75) explores whether the whole prohibition of hearing a woman's voice (only singing) applies only while engaged in prayer, as implied in Ber. 24a-- he so rules in S.A. O.H. 3. Magan Avraham (ibid 6) notes the general prohibition of hearing the voice of a woman, whom he's forbidden to marry (e.g. another's wife; his aunt too?!!!-- E.H. 21:1), but Bet Shmuel (ibid 4), et al, relate this too only to her singing voice. The Perisha (on Tur, 2) claims a woman's speaking voice is not sexually stimulating (not true!; cf. obscene telephone services). Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer I, O.H. 6, based on San. 45a) permits listening to female vocalists on tape or radio, if there's no visual connection. Others disagree. Rav Moshe Feinstein (I.M. O.H. I:26) allows hearing a girl below 11 sing, if need be.

Yet Torah is equated with the affirmation of life, joy and creativity, not its suppression. None of the above should bring a ban upon women singing, God forbid-- just make sure men aren't listening! Who says only men may sing at the old Western Herodian retaining wall of the Temple? As at beaches, there should be ladies' days there too. Must women painfully refrain from Shabbat zemiros, from joining congregational song? What about their oneg shabbat? This may turn them off to Torah and truly traditional Judaism, e.g. Rachel Cowan. Thus some great authorities focus on the real effect of a woman's voice in a given situation, whether singing or talking, rather than imposing rigid arbitrary bans. Sredei Aish (2:8) approved of mixed singing of zemiros for Bnei Akiva, a non-sensual activity, engendering beautiful Torah families; he cites a view in Sdei Chemed, which limits any prohibition to hearing a woman singing LOVE SONGS! This seems to be the view to adopt, for--

The best halachic approach to any issue is that which best aids and abets a modest, attractive, and life-affirming religious community; a man praying may not be distracted by a seductive woman's voice, whether talking or singing, including his wife's; if not praying, he should avoid such, other than his wife's, even on tape. But a women singing holy songs, lullabies, etc., may even elevate a savage male soul. Those with stricter views may lose a lot-- both spiritually and in family happiness; in any event, they may not stifle a female soul. Rav J. Soloveichik's neighbor used to sing as she tended her garden; when she heard about "kol b'isha erva", she asked the sage if he'd like her to stop. He replied that her singing was beautiful and urged her to continue. When a simple, but pious, senior citizen asked him if he could listen to women singing opera on records, the Rov said he was on no level to worry about such matters!!!

***Shmuel is cited for extra-strict sexual morality in Kidd. 81b too; there he forbids being alone (yichud) even with his sister, mother-in-law or an animal, to prevent sexual laxity! R. Meir, talmudic feminist Brurya's husband, asked to be protected from yichud with his own daughter**** and Rav Tarfon from his daughter-in-law! Such severity was not generally accepted thruout the ages-- it's just too difficult; so Rav Yaakov Emden boasts in his diary, Megillat Sefer ($20 from TOP), how he didn't succumb to sexual temptation with his cousin, who was nursing him back to health (in yichud), tho Emden was inclined to permit common law marriage today (Shelot Yavetz II:15); the talmud records that a talmudic disciple, who scoffed at such over-concern, offended thru his mother-in-law, shortly thereafter; we indeed have many recorded cases of brother-sister and father-daughter incest today, with terrible consequences. Yet even Shmuel forbade ONLY prurient, lascivious, or lewd physical contact between men and women, not displays of general affection (Kid. 81b-82a); Tosefot and the Carlebach crowd rely on this subjective standard, which would presumably also apply to Shmuel's ruling on kol isha-- see Sdei Chemed above.

**** Bruria scolded and mocked his pupil, R. Yose Hagalili, who used 2 extra words in asking her directions (Eruvin 53a); she yielded to a mock didactive seduction by one of R. Meir's pupils (arranged by him), and hung herself; R. Meir fled to Asia in embarrassment (Rashi, A.Z. 18b). When did he adopt the strict view above?

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