Parshas Lech Lecha 5759 - '98

Outline Vol. 3, # 3

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

In Memory of Rav Chaim Schmelczer, Rosh Hayeshiva of Telz--Chicago

whose extraordinary wisdom and kindness remain a guiding light

Niftar Motzoai Shabbos, 28 Tishrei

The Offerings of Nimrod

Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra stated that Nimrod was the first to trap animals and offer them as sacrifices to Hashem. Ramban disputed this explanation. The sages had a tradition that Nimrod was an evil dictator, who tried to force Avraham to deny his faith. How could Ibn Ezra defend such a person by relating that he offered sacrifices to Hashem?

"Siach Sarfei Kodesh" offered an answer in the name of the Chidushei Harim (Rav Yitzchak Meir of Ger). Once a king had a specially trusted officer. The officer wanted to present a gift to the king, but was hard-pressed to find something that would please the wealthy monarch.

He decided to give a cake. In preparing the cake, the officer dedicated himself to the baking and preparation. If the cake wouldnít be unique in regard to its ingredients, at least it would be unique in regard to the dedication and devotion involved in its making.

When the gift was presented to the king, the monarch, who understood the love and commitment that went into the cake, was deeply honored. The other officers, seeing the pleasure in the kingís eyes, decided that they would also give cakes to the king. Their intention was to lessen the esteem which the king had for his beloved officer.

With this analogy, we can understand Ibn Ezraís words. Noach and Avraham brought sacrifices; Nimrodís sacrifices were designed to lessen the respect which these great men had gained.


The Chidushei Harim concluded that one should contemplate this matter deeply. Indeed, there are many implications here.

What does Hashem want with the meat, blood, flour and wine of the sacrifices? It is similar to giving a cake to the king. With all his wealth and pomp, the king has no use for another cake. The loyalty and affection that go into the cake are, however, perceived by the king. The giving is its own reward.

It is possible, though, to give for purely external reasons. The sacrifices of Nimrod were a ploy.

The Brothersí Competition

Kayin (Cain) brought a sacrifice from poor-grade vegetables. Hevel (Abel) also brought an offering; his came from choice flock. Bitterly disappointed that his sacrifice was not accepted, as was his brotherís, Kayin killed Hevel.

The Alter of Kelm asked, "Why didnít the merit of the mitzva afford some protection to Hevel? How can it be, that he died because of the mitzva he performed? Rather, the verses indicate that the concept of the offering was solely Kayinís. Hevel merely saw what his brother had done, and took the idea for himself. Since it did not originate with his own intention, with his own heart, it was not a mitzva at all." (Introduction to Daas Chochma Umusar)

From the traditional explanations, the words of the Alter seem amazing. However, a glance at the Targumim (ancient Aramaic paraphrasing) of Yonason Ben Uziel and Yerushalmi reveals another side to the brothersí quarrel.

The Targumim relate that Kayin approached Hevel to discuss his depression. He felt that there was no justice in the world; if not, why was his offering not accepted, while Hevelís was? Hevel responded that there certainly was justice in the world. Kayinís sacrifice was not accepted because it was inferior; Hevelís own offering was, however, superior.

Hevel refused to empathize with Hevelís plight; instead, he spoke with pride and presumption. According to the Alter, this dialogue reveals that Hevelís intentions were not proper from the start. His offering was an attempt to take his brotherís idea, and show his own superiority.

The rivalry of the brothers shows a basic insecurity. An ideally solid person would not seek a show of superiority, nor be overly upset if he is overshadowed by another.

Internal Inspiration

Rav Yerucham Levovitz, based on the Mishnah in Pirke Avos, explained the characteristic called "levad" -- aloneness. A personís state of being should not be dependent on others, but he should find qualities within himself. Thus the Mishnah explains that the mighty one is one who controls himself, rather than having to defeat another person. The wealthy person is one who rejoices in his lot; the wise one is he who learns from everyone; the honored one is he who honors others. Thus might, wealth, wisdom and honor can be found within oneís self, at all times and places. Pity the one who needs external honor -- when no one honors him, what will he do with himself? (Daas Torah, Bereishis and Devarim)

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 3 # 2

"Tal Umatar" and The Two Calendars

Although we have seen the uniqueness of the Jewish calendar, there are laws which rely on the civil calendar, as well. The request for rain -- Ďtal umatarí -- is first mentioned in Eretz Yisrael on the seventh day of the Hebrew month, Cheshvan. Beyond the immediate environs of the Holy Land, however, it is recited 60 days following the fall equinox (Tekufas Tishrei). Since the civil calendar is fixed by the sun, rather than the moon, 60 days after the fall equinox can be easily calculated by the civil calendar.

The Julian Calendar was established by Julius Ceasar upon consultation with mathematicians. It provided a reasonably accurate solar calendar, based upon a 365 1/4 day year, by adding an extra day every four years. Over the course of time, however, the calendar equinoxes began to advance against the actual date. By the 1500ís, the equinox occurred ten days late.

The Gregorian Calendar

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a revision, called the New Style or Gregorian Calendar. Although it is the system most of the world is familiar with today, it was not quickly accepted by many nations and sects. The British Empire did not accept it until 1752, China 1912, and Russia 1918, for example.

Recognizing that the actual solar year is less than 365 1/4 days, the new calendar was established with the purpose of reducing the discrepancy between the actual year and the calendar year. It accomplished this by diminishing the number of leap years. In the Gregorian Calendar, years divisible by four are leap years (such as 1988, 1992 and 1996) unless the year is divisible by 100 (such as 1800 or 1900). However, multiples of 400 are leap years -- so 2000 will be a leap year.

By reducing the Julian Calendar by three days every 400 years, the New Style Calendar comes to within three hours of accuracy during the 400 year period.

Dr. Arthur Spier was the director of the Talmud Torah Realschule in Germany until the Nazis closed it. Due to his perseverance, the school remained open until Ď40, well past Kristallnacht. When teaching mathematics, he made it a habit to explain details of the Jewish calendar to his students. Later, in New York, he published "The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar." (The third edition was published by Feldheim posthumously in Ď86.)

Regarding the equinoxes and request for rain, Dr. Spier points out that people often are in error (p. 20). Next week, we will investigate the times for the request of "tal umatar."