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Parshat Vayeira (5768)

This week's portion begins with three angels coming to visit Abraham as he is recovering from his painful circumcision at the age of ninety nine (!).

The reason there were three is that one came to heal him and to save his nephew Lot from Sodom, the second came to inform his wife Sarah that she would give birth to a son (Yitzchak) and the third came to destroy Sodom and the evil cities surrounding it.

At first glance this is not clear. Why did the destroying angel come to visit him?

The angels that healed Abraham and announced the birth of his son and successor were important to Judaism so it's understandable why they are mentioned in the Torah. But why was third angel sent to Abraham? Why didn't he go straight to Sodom?

Even more, it's not too clear why the frightening story of Sodom and Amora, and even more so the sordid story of Lot and his two daughters that comes afterwards, are in the Torah! Torah means 'Teaching' and these negative stories seem to have no beneficial message to the Jewish people what-so-ever.

To understand this here is a story. (see Shmuot and Sipurim 1:64, and Sipurim Nora'im; pg 142, Tzemach Tzedik).

Some three hundred years ago in the Ukraine, a holy genius Jew by the name of Yisroel Baal Shem began preaching a refreshing sort of Judaism.

He taught that each and every Jew is holy and each and every creation, interaction and detail in the world contains messages of inspiration which can be unlocked only by the proper faith, understanding and joy.

And in every generation there is a 'Moses' whose function is to teach and provide this faith, understanding and joy even if it entails doing miracles.

An example is the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Menachem Mendel nicknamed the "Tzemach Tzedek". Like Moses; his only interest was to relieve Jews of their difficulties and fill their minds and hearts with Torah and faith.

He, like all the Chabad Rebbes before and after him, was fluent in all aspects of the Torah and matters of the world and people flocked to him from far and wide with questions and difficulties.

But one of the greatest of difficulties was the 'Aguna'; estranged wives.

According to the Torah, a woman once married can never remarry unless she has either has proof of divorce or of her husband's death and Agunas have neither. With families to provide and with no source of income such women were doomed to a life of poverty and loneliness and were desperate for salvation.

At first the Tzemach Tzedek did not take such cases but later he changed his mind when his wife fell ill and on the verge of death said to him. "I'm sick from the suffering you cause to agunas by refusing to see them."

The Rebbe changed his mind, his wife's illness disappeared and agunas began flooding in.

One of them appeared at his door accompanied by her brother begging and crying that he release her from her plight. Her husband had left her several years ago with a small child and no means of support and hadn't been heard from since.

The Rebbe thought for a moment, looked at her sadly and answered, 'I'm sorry, I'm neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. How can I possibly know where your husband is?'

She was broken but her brother, realizing that the case was closed, decided to at least try his luck, "Rebbe, can you at least give a blessing? I want to go to Israel and my sister will be alone. Can you give us your blessing?"

"Israel?" answered the Rebbe, "If so, my opinion is that you should take your sister with you, perhaps you will find her husband on the way." And he blessed them with a successful trip.

In a few weeks he, his sister and her small son began the arduous land journey. But after they left they realized that in addition to the many difficulties of travel they had another major problem; her son was not mentioned in her passport and in major port cities like Odessa where her brother planned to embark by ship this presented a major obstacle.

The only solution was to send her and her child to the smaller city of Yaas where she would certainly be able to board a ship while he would go to Odessa as he planned. He even convinced himself that this was the best way! Once in Israel he would prepare lodging for them both and would meet her at the port and everything would be fine.

But she would have no part of it. She began to weep and plead that he not leave her alone until he reluctantly agreed to forfeit his plans and his ticket, take the longer journey and travel together with her to the smaller port ofYaas.

As they journeyed he remembered the words of the Tzemach Tzedek and at every town or lodging they passed through or stopped at he asked if perhaps anyone had seen a man answering to his sister's husband's description or name …. but with no results.

After several more days as they finally neared the city of Yaas night fell, he was very tired and somehow, without noticing, as they were going his wagon bumped into a government mail coach that was parked, for some reason, on the road.

At first he considered getting out and seeing if any damage had been done but before he could move a huge, coarse-looking fellow jumped from the coach screaming and cursing like a madman. So he sped off.

"I think that's my husband" his sister said, but he just thought the fatigue was making her imagine things. He knew her husband and that definitely was not him.

After a just a few moments they were in the inn where they felt relatively safe and when they saw that the innkeeper was Jewish they asked him about the fellow in the mail coach; why he was parked in the road in the middle of the night and if it could be that he was the man they were looking for.

"Ahh, him?" said the innkeeper. "He's a real hard case. He used to be a Jew but he got baptized and now he's just like an animal. He hangs around here a lot and I have no idea why he was in the road. But I can tell you one thing; if, G-d forbid, he is your sister's husband he'll never give a 'Get' (bill of divorce). No way! Unless you pay him a million dollars! He's a real animal!"

Suddenly the door burst open and the coachman appeared, cursing and yelling as before. But in the light of the room suddenly he recognized his wife and saw that she recognized him, and he became strangely placid.

He looked sheepishly at the floor and offered to accompany them to a Rabbi who lived nearby and give her a divorce - without any remuneration.

They left the inn and several hours later, after the divorce, they returned. But the innkeeper was curious. He called the coachman aside and asked for an explanation; what caused him to suddenly be so cooperative and give a 'get' ….. and for free!

The coachman explained.

"You know that abandoned house about five minutes from your inn? You know; the one that everyone avoids because they say it's haunted by evil spirits? Well, every day I pass by that place tens of times and could care less. What have demons got to do with me?

"But tonight as I passed it a tremendous fear fell over me. I tried to forget it, to tell myself it was superstition, to think of something else but it didn't work. The fear doubled and redoubled. My hair stood on end and I was certain that I was about to die. I never in my life experienced anything even vaguely like it. I was paralyzed with fear.

"But then suddenly a wagon banged into my coach and the fear disappeared like a dream.

"I jumped out of the coach and began cursing to show that I was still the boss as though nothing happened but when I entered the inn and saw my wife, I understood that it wasn't so simple. That fear I had was so I would give her the divorce."

Then he took a wad of rubles from his pocket, approached the boy, who after all was his son, gave it to him and disappeared into the night.

The next day the woman her son and brother traveled to Yaas and from there to Israel where she married and began a new life.

This answers our question.

When Sodom was destroyed and Lot escaped with his daughters they thought the world had been destroyed and if they didn't have children mankind would cease to exist.

In other words, they felt the entire world depended on them.

And from this came Moav (18:37) from whom descended Ruth the progenitor of King David who was the forerunner of Moshiach who will teach each and every human being this very lesson; that the entire world depends on each and every one of us.

Even more; Moshiach will reveal that every instant of time and every occurrence in history, even the most tragic, was really a holy and necessary step in redemption.

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote; that before he was three years old he already had woven in his imagination how Moshiach would come and make sense of the thousands of years of senseless Jewish and human suffering.

That is the reason the destroying angel came to Abraham. Because Abraham, as G-d's representative to His creations, was the father of ALL mankind (see Rashi 18:17) and, although they were evil gentiles, their suffering was his concern.

Similarly, Moshiach will be concerned with and will benefit the entire world. He will see to it that all mankind will come to worship only the creator and, as in our story, that all difficulties and tragedies will transform into blessings to bring us to realize and see....

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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