Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lech Lecha, Breishis 17:21, Zechus Avos

The concept of Zechus Avos, the inherited merit of pious ancestors, permeates our mesorah. In this parsha, Hashem tells Avraham (17:21) Ve'es brisi akim es Yitzchak," I will establish my covenant with Yitzchak. In the previous passuk, Hashem says "gam le'Yishma'el shmaticha," and I have heard your entreaties for Yishmael, and I will make him into a great nation.
In Pirkei Avos 2:2, it says "Kol ha'ameilim im hatzibur...," all those that lead the community should do their work for the name of heaven, "shezechus avosam mesa'ayasan," for the merit of their fathers will assist them.
When Avshalom's rebellion against his father ended in his death, David Hamelech cried for him, saying "My son!" eight times. In Sotah 10b, Chazal tell us that each repetition elevated Avshalom's neshama from one of the seven levels of Gehinom, and the eighth repetition brought him into Olam Haba.
In Tefillah, we begin davening by saying Le'olam, in which we say that although we are unworthy, but we are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and it is in their merit that we are able to approach God.
The first thing we do in Shmoneh Esrei is invoke Zechus Avos-- "Elokei Avoseinu" and "vezocheir chasdei avos."
And see Yoma 87a-- "how lucky are the righteous...not only do they earn reward for themselves, but they also earn reward (zochim) for their children and their children's children, unto the end of all time."
Shemos Rabba 44:1-- Klal Yisrael is like a Gefen, a grape vine, that only stands because it is supported by the strength of the wood of the previous years, the Avos.
Brachos 27b-- when Raban Gamliel was involuntarily deposed, there was concern that whoever was chosen to replace him would be harmed by Raban Gamliel's anger. Reb Akiva was not chosen, because he lacked zechus avos and was therefore vulnerable. Reb Elazar ben Azariah was chosen, because as a descendant of Ezra and other great tzadikim, his Zechus Avos would protect and assist him.
Shabbas 129b (regarding risky medical procedures), and Kiddushin 76b (only men with Zechus Avos were allowed to fight in the Jewish Army), one who has Zechus Avos is protected from dangers that would be fatal to others.
And, most fundamentally, in the 13 Middos-- Notzeir Chesed Le'alafim, as the Gemara in Sotah 11a explains. Chesed that is generated by being a faithful servant of Hashem creates zechusim that benefit thousands of generations.

How strange and disheartening it is, then to read the Gemara in Shabbas 55a: where Shmuel says "Tama Zechus Avos." The merit of the Forefathers is ended, depleted, the account is empty, there's nothing left there for us. The Gemara then discusses when it was that we emptied the account of the last penny. Maybe it was the time of the destruction of the first temple, maybe earlier. But everyone seems to agree that after the time of Chizkiahu, the account was closed.

And then, you turn to Sanhedrin 104b, and you encounter an even more fundamental problem-- "Bra Mezakeh Abba, Abba Lo Mezakeh Bra": a son's merit benefits his father; a father's merits do not benefit his son. The Gemara continues: lo Avraham matzil es Yishma'el, velo Yitzchak matzil es Eisav. Avraham's great righteousness cannot save Yishmael, and Yitzchak's great righteousness cannot save Eisav. Although the merits of a righteous son do benefit his father, a son never benefits from his father's tzidkus. Well, if so, who cares about the Gemara in Shabbas that Tama Zechus Avos? Zechus Avos never would have helped anyway-- Abba lo mezakeh bra! And what do we do with all the examples above that emphasize the power and importance of Zechus Avos, the grace shown to a son because of the tzidkus of his father, and especially, vegam le'Yishmael shematicha? And how do we understand "le'alafim" in the 13 middos? That it's only le'alafim if it sits, unused, in the account, but if one generation uses a lot of it, there's nothing left for their descendants? This makes sense in yarshening financial assets. Does it sound right for the special grace of the Ribono shel Olam that a parent earns for his descendants?

In any case, without Zechus Avos, we would feel naked and helpless. Who can say they deserve God's grace, who can say that they deserve even a hearing-- we, ephemeral, duplicitous, selfish, and weak? We can only rely on the bountiful spring of Zechus Avos, the zechus of those that Hashem described with love and called His trustworthy servants. Without that, what hope do we have?

(To be continued.)


  1. I have been holding back from writing Dvar Torah's and posting then as People find it annoying but when I got this one in my head I had to. I ask for Mechila in Advance.
    וַיָּבֹא הָאִישׁ הַבַּיְתָה וַיְפַתַּח הַגְּמַלִּים וַיִּתֵּן תֶּבֶן וּמִסְפּוֹא לַגְּמַלִּים וּמַיִם לִרְחֹץ רַגְלָיו וְרַגְלֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ.
    Rashi on this Posuk says that He loosened their muzzles, for he had sealed their mouths, so they (the camels) should not graze in other people's fields. The Ramban among many others asks a question on this Pshat. The Gemara says that the donkey of Reb Pinchas Ben Yair would not eat from non Tithed (not taken Masser from) crops, so why is it that for Avraham Camels we are concerned? To answer Let me begin with a story that happened in an office to illustrate a point. There was a person who worked in a frum office and brought his own milk and every day. The milk would mysteriously go missing at the end of every day. He tried many different preventative measures including writing "Lo Signov" on the milk all of this accomplished nothing, as everyday his milk was still missing. Then one day he had a bright Idea. He poured the milk in a container that was Chalav Stam and low and behold the milk was there at the end of the day untouched. Now we have the answer to the original question a Donkey will not eat un-tithed food yet when it comes to Dishonesty it might not be so stringent.

  2. Parshas Chayah Sarah

    ותשא רבקה את-עיניה, ותרא את-יצחק; ותפל, מעל הגמל
    What did Rivkah see that caused her to fall off her camel?
    To start Avraham was Misakin Shachris, Yitzchak Mincha, and Yackov Marriv. That would mean at this Point only Shachris existed. Now we understand why Rivkah fell off the Camel she saw her Chosson going to Shachris at 4 in the Afternoon.

    ותמת שרה, בקרית ארבע הוא חברון--בארץ כנען; ויבא, אברהם, לספד לשרה, ולבכתה
    What does it mean לספד לשרה who else would he say a eulogy for?
    The answer is sometimes at funerals you hear the Eulogy and you know the person .Therefore you know it has been more than over-embellished. Here the torah was saying no he was talking about his wife and not an over-embellishment.

    ויען לבן ובתואל ויאמרו, מיהוה יצא הדבר; לא נוכל דבר אליך, רע או-טוב
    Why is a Rasha like Lavan all of the sudden so religious announcing מיהוה יצא הדבר?
    The answer is simple now that the Shidduch is closing it is time to pay the Shadchan now Lavan says no Eliezer it is not you who did it but מיהוה יצא הדבר so you get no pay.

  3. Where are my weekly sha'ashuim????
    I hope this is not a response to economic turbulence or other non-positive occurance. Whatever it is causing the atrophy of this blog, hatzlacha and bracha in returning to your appointed rounds.

    Remember the famous should-have-been-statement of Chazal: HaChosh BePortfolio'o Ya'askok BaTorah.