The Inherited Gift
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS VAYEIRA
17 Cheshvan, 5782; October 23, 2021
“The Inherited Gift”
The end of Parshas Vayeira talks about the test of Akeidas Yitzchak. In that story, Hashem sent Avraham two angels. The first angel told Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak (Parshas Vayeira, 22:12), whereas the second angel told Avraham that he would be rewarded with many offspring and with receiving the Land of Israel (Parshas Vayeira, 22:17).
One question is, “Why did Hashem have to send Avraham two angels in order to convey these messages to him when one angel could have sufficed to tell him all of this information?”
Additionally, when comparing the words of the fist angel to the words of the second angel, there is a striking difference. The first angel said, “You have not withheld your only son Mimeni (from me; Parshas Vayeira, 22:12). The second angel said, “You have not withheld your only son” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:16). The second angel did not say, “Mimeni” (from me). Why did the second angel omit the word “Mimeni?”
Furthermore, the second angel said, “Since you have done this thing, etc.” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:16). How could the second angel say that Avraham “Did this thing” if he did not slaughter Yitzchak? What was the thing that Avraham did?
Finally, the second angel said, “Your offspring will inherit the gates of its enemy” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:17). Why would Avraham’s descendants only inherit their enemy’s gates? Why would they not inherit their enemy’s land?
The Shvilei Pinchas begins addressing these questions by introducing a teaching from Reb Yonasan Eibeschutz (1690 Cracow, Poland-1764 Prague) in his Tiferes Yehonasan in Parshas Beha’alosecha.
Reb Yonasan Eibeschutz says that sometimes we find Eretz Yisrael referred to as a matanah (gift), and sometimes we find that Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a yerusha (inheritance). For example, in Parshas Eikev (11:17) it says, “And you will be swiftly banished from the good land that Hashem gives to you.” The word “gives” (Etein; the Hebrew word used in this verse) implies that Eretz Yisrael is a matanah.
Yet, another verse in Parshas Shoftim (16:20) says, “Righteousness righteousness you must pursue so that you will live and inherit the Land.” The word “inherit” (Viyarashta; the Hebrew word used in this verse) clearly states that Eretz Yisrael in a yerusha.
The Tiferes Yehonasan explains the difference between Eretz Yisrael as a yerusha as opposed to Eretz Yisrael as a matanah, based on the following Gemara.
In Meseches Gittin (chap. 5, “Hanizkin”, pg. 57a), Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav Asi that Yanai the king ruled over 600,000 cities. In each city lived 600,000 inhabitants, with exception of three cities in which 1,200,000 people lived.
Before proceeding with this Gemara, let us share a brief biographical sketch of Yannai the king. Yannai was Jewish. His great grandfather was Matisyahu Maccabee. Unfortunately, Yannai became a Sadducee, and yet he served not only as king but also as the Kohen Gadol. Yannai opposed the Chachamim and executed as many of them and their followers as he possibly could. He wound up murdering thousands of people.
Yannai’s wife, Shlomtziyon Hamalka, did not share her husband’s distaste for the Sages. In fact, her brother was the famed Shimon ben Shatach, who was a great Sage. She did everything she could to protect her brother and the Sages. Yannai reigned for twenty-seven years and died at the age of fifty-nine. Now let us return to our Gemara.
Ulah, who lived a long time after Yannai, said that he once visited one of the three cities that had contained 1,200,000 people in the days of Yannai. Ulah commented that that city was not even big enough to contain 600,000 stalks.
A certain Sadducee, who heard about Ulah’s testimony, approached Rebbi Chanina and said, “You [Sages] are a bunch of liars.” In other words, the Sadducee claimed that the Sages have always exaggerated and they never report accurate data.
Rebbi Chanina said to the Sadducee that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the earlier statement of the Sages, who said that those cities were packed with hundreds of thousands of people, and Ulah’s testimony that claimed that there was not even room in those places for 600,000 stalks.
Rebbi Chanina explained to the Sadducee that there is a pasuk in Yirmiya (3:19) which refers to Eretz Yisrael as “Eretz Tzvi” (Deer Land). The reason why Eretz Yisrael is referred to as “Deer Land” is because a deer’s skin cannot technically hold its flesh. After a deer is killed and skinned, its skin shrinks. Only when its skin is on its body does it stretch to cover its flesh.
Therefore, just as deer skin stretches to cover itself only when it is on the deer, similarly, only when Jews inhabit Eretz Yisrael does it stretch to accommodate its population. However, when Jews no longer live in Eretz Yisrael, the land shrinks.
Therefore, when Yannai was king and thousands upon thousands of Jews lived in those cities, the Land expanded to contain them all. However, after the Jews had evacuated those cities, those very same cities could not even hold 600,000 stalks.
From this Gemara it turns out that Eretz Yisrael has its fixed borders. Yet, when throngs of Jews choose to live in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem broadens her borders to house those multitudes of people. Herein lies an explanation as to the difference between Eretz Yisrael being called a yerusha as opposed to being called a matanah.
When we are talking about the natural borders of Eretz Yisrael as they are delineated in the Torah, Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a yerusha that we inherited from the Avos.
However, when we are talking about Hashem magically expanding her borders to contain large numbers of Jews, Eretz Yisrael is referred to as a matanah.
The Tiferes Yehonasan continues to say that this will explain what Moshe promised Yisro if he (Yisro) would journey with them to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe said to Yisro, “If you go with us, then it will be that the same good which Hashem will do to us, He will do to you” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 10:32).
Rashi (ibid) cites the Sifri which asks, “What was the good that Hashem did for him (Yisro)?” The answer is that when the Jews first divided Eretz Yisrael to be apportioned to the various Shevatim (Tribes), the most fertile part of Yericho was 500 cubits by 500 cubits. They refrained from apportioning Yericho because they said that whichever Tribe gets to have the Beis Hamikdash built on its territory, the city of Yericho will be given to that Sheivet as a prize.
However, with time, things shifted, and they decided to give Yericho to Yisro’s descendants; to Yonadav ben Reichav. After all it says, “And the children of the Keinite – Moshe’s father-in-law – went up out of the city of Palm Trees” (Sefer Shoftim, 1:16). Yericho was called the city of “Palm Trees” on account of the many palm trees which grew there (Radak ibid).
Now, Yisro’s descendants turned out to be extremely numerous. They were like their own autonomous nation living within Eretz Yisrael. How could so many people fit into a place that was just 500 cubits by 500 cubits? Such a measurement is more like the size of an auditorium, not the size of a city.
The Tiferes Yehonasan says that Moshe Rabbenu already circumvented this question because in the verse right beforehand Moshe said, “We are journeying to the place of which Hashem has said, ‘I will give it to you’, go with us and we will treat you well for Hashem has spoken of good for Israel” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 10:29).
By emphasizing the word “give” (the word in the pasuk is “Etain”), Moshe was saying that Hashem will give you Yericho as a gift (matanah) which will magically expand to meet the needs of your descendants.
Now we are going to see that the expansion of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on one thing. That one thing is the study of and adherence to Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Law).
The Tiferes Yehonasan points out that Hashem gave us a Torah Shebichtav (Written Law) which contains the 613 mitzvos. The Torah tells us that we may not add to Torah Shebichtav, nor may we subtract from it (Parshas Re’eh, 13:1).
On the other hand, Hashem gave us a Torah Sheba’al Peh. With respect to the Oral Law, Hashem empowered the Chachamim (Sages) to expound on every single crown drawn on top of certain letters in a Sefer Torah, and bring forth piles and piles of laws (Parshas Shoftim, 17:11; Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 29b, Rebbi Akiva).
Now, the Chachamim have guidelines for expounding upon the Torah, such as the thirteen rules which are listed in the Bereisa of Rebbi Yishmael (Preface to Safra, which is also found in our Siddurim right before Pesukei D’zimra, Shacharis). Yet, within those parameters, the Chachamim were given permission to make safeguards, issue decrees, and make fences around the Torah.
When the Chachamim exercise those rights, we could apply to them the verse that says, “Make the Torah great and glorious” (Yeshaya, 42:21). In other words, the Chachamim make the Torah bigger and greater.
It turns out that Torah Shebichtav is set. Nobody is allowed to make additions to it. However, Torah Sheba’al Peh is expansive, and constantly growing.
Therefore, in the merit of Torah Shebichtav which is set, we receive Eretz Yisrael as a yerusha with set borders. However, in the merit of Torah Sheba’al Peh which expands, we receive Eretz Yisrael as a matanah whose borders will expand as well.
At this point, the Shvilei Pinchas ties all of this back into our parsha which discusses Akeidas Yitzchak.
There were two mitzvos being fulfilled at Akeidas Yitzchak: 1) placing Yitzchak upon the altar, and 2) offering a ram as a sacrifice to God in substitution for Yitzchak.
When Yitzchak was placed upon the altar, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah right out of Torah Shebichtav, because Hashem told him explicitly to place Yitzchak upon the altar. That command became a pasuk in Torah Shebichtav (Parshas Vayeira, 22:2). Therefore, by placing Yitzchak upon the altar, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah d’Oraisa.
However, when he offered a ram as a sacrifice to God, Avraham fulfilled a mitzvah right out of Torah Sheba’al Peh. This is because Hashem never told Avraham to offer up a ram. Rather, what happened was that Avraham was told by the first angel not to slaughter Yitzchak. Then, suddenly, Avraham noticed that a ram had gotten caught in the thicket by its horns (Parshas Vayeira, 22:13).
Avraham said to himself that if a ram suddenly appeared right after being told not to slaughter Yitzchak, it must be that the will of God is to offer this ram as a sacrifice to God instead of Yitzchak. That was Avraham’s interpretation.
Once Avraham “paskined” (decided) that it was a mitzvah to offer up the ram, it became a mitzvah right out of Torah Sheba’al Peh. Meaning, this was a mitzvah m’diRabanan. Avraham was the Sage of his generation. Therefore, once he decided that this was a mitzvah, it became a mitzvah, but it became a Rabbinic mitzvah. By slaughtering the ram, Avraham fulfilled his own mitzvah m’diRabanan.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that we can now understand why Hashem sent Avraham specifically two angels. It is because Avraham fulfilled two mitzvos; one from Torah Shebichtav, and the other from Torah Sheba’al Peh.
Now, every time a person fulfills a mitzvah, he creates an angel (Pirkei Avos, chap. 4, “Ben Zoma”, Mishna 13, Rebbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov).
Therefore, when Avraham placed Yitzchak on top of the altar and fulfilled a mitzvah from Torah Shebichtav, he created an angel. It was that very angel who told Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak. That angel told Avraham that he had already fulfilled everything that Hashem had commanded him to do. Therefore, there was no need to slaughter Yitzchak, and it would even be forbidden to do so.
The angel even proved to Avraham that he (Avraham) had already completely fulfilled everything that Hashem had commanded him to do. The proof was that although every mitzvah creates an angel, the constitution of the created angel depends upon how the mitzvah was done. For example, if the mitzvah was done half-baked, the angel comes out half-baked. In other words, if a person leaves out details in his mitzvah performance, the angel created from that mitzvah would be missing limbs.
This explains why the first angel said to Avraham, “You have not withheld your only son Mimeni (from me).” This angel told Avraham that Hashem already credited Avraham with not withholding his son from Him. What was the proof that Avraham had done everything that he was told to do by Hashem? The answer is, “Mimeni!” In other words, the first angel said to Avraham, “Look at me. Am I missing any limbs? No. Therefore, Mimeni (from me) you can see that you did not leave anything out concerning what Hashem told you to do.”
Only the first angel, who instructed Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak, had to add the word Mimeni in order to prove to him (Avraham) that no slaughtering should take place. The second angel; however, who did not tell Avraham not to slaughter Yitzchak, had no need of adding the word Mimeni because the second angel had nothing to prove to Avraham.
The Shvilei Pinchas continues to say that now we can understand what the second angel meant when he said, “Since you did this thing.” If Avraham did not sacrifice Yitzchak, what did he do? The answer is that Avraham did a second mitzvah which was offering the ram as a sacrifice to God. That mitzvah created the second angel. Therefore, that very second angel, who was created at that moment by Avraham’s second Rabbinic mitzva of offering up the ram, told Avraham that he did a mitzvah by offering up the ram.
This is why it was specifically the second angel who informed Avraham about his reward of numerous offspring and receiving Eretz Yisrael. It is because the second angel was created by Avraham’s second mitzvah which was from Torah Sheba’al Peh. Since Avraham expanded the Torah in that realm of Ba’al Peh, the second angel told him that he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky and as many offspring as the sand on the seashore.
When this prophecy will be fulfilled, there will be a lot of Jews; as many as the stars and as many as the sand. One might ask, “How are we going to fit all those people into tiny Eretz Yisrael?” To that the second angel said that Avraham would receive Eretz Yisrael as a matanah. As such, its borders would expand to accommodate as many Jews as there would be.
This is why the second angel said that Avraham’s offspring would inherit the gates of their enemies. Of course, Avraham’s descendants would receive the Land of Eretz Yisrael. However, the second angel emphasized the gates as if to say that once the entrances, or shall I say, flood gates of Eretz Yisrael would open for his offspring, there is no telling where it would end. The Land would continue to grow in accordance with the needs of the nation. Therefore, the word gates was a way of conveying that the entrances to the Land would be opened wide for them to keep expanding as much as they would need to.
But again, all of this information about Avraham’s reward was told to him by the second angel, not by the first one. This is because it was the second angel who was created by Avraham’s fulfillment of a mitzvah from Torah Sheba’al Peh which he (Avraham) expanded upon. Therefore, it was specifically that second angel who would inform Avraham of an Eretz Yisrael that would expand as well.
This also explains why the second angel said, “Since you listened to my voice” (Parshas Vayeira, 22:18). A voice is different than a word. Words are explicit, very much like Torah Shebichtav. However, you can hear in a person’s voice whether he is scared, anxious, or excited. The voice is very much like Torah Sheba’al Peh which is left to interpretation by the person listening.
In fact, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Toldos, 64:4; Rebbi Yonasan in the name of Rebbi Yochanan) says that when God said that Avraham, “Listened to My voice” (Parshas Toldos, 26:5), it meant that Avraham even fulfilled mitzvos mid’Rabanan such as Eiruvei Chatzeyros (a communally owned deposit of food to permit carrying in a courtyard, community, or town on Shabbos).
Therefore, if “My voice” in Parshas Toldos refers to mitzvos from Torah Sheba’al Peh, so does “My voice” in this week’s parsha refer to a mitzvah from Torah Sheba’al Peh.
Practically speaking, let us try to devote even more time to the study of Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh, and let us try to fulfill both aspects of the Written and Oral Law, so that we hold on to the fixed borders of Eretz Yisrael and live to see the expansion of Eretz Yisrael with all of our brothers and sisters living within her broadened borders.
So, may we all be blessed with the willingness and strength to offer up our talents on the altar of God, dedicating ourselves to fulfilling the Ratzon Hashem which incorporates both Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh, and thus merit to witness the ingathering of our exiled ones, when we will altogether live comfortably in large dwelling places, without there being any issues of over crowdedness, because it will be given to us by God as a Divine gift, just as Yericho was given to the B’nei Yisro.