This week we begin with a shout out and wishes of mazel tov to our good friends and neighbors, Terri and Andrew Herenstein who will be celebrating the bar mitzvah of their youngest, Elijah this coming shabbis. The Oisvorfer has been friends with Terri for over 35 years and with Andrew a few years less. We have had the pleasure of watching Elijah through every stage of his young life, many times in our own house where he used to hang. A special mazel tov to both sets of grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Don Kirschner of Chicago and Mr. and Mrs. Ira Herenstein of Woodmere (though they seem to be here more than there). Mazel tov to both extended families and may Elijah continue to provide only nachas. The Oisvorfer and eishes chayil look forward to sharing this simcha with you.
Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
Three’s a crowd:
Welcome to parshas Lech Lecho where among many other storylines, we’ll meet Hogor the Egyptian princess, whose story has fascinated and inspired many medroshim, some of them, possibly true. She is of course the mother of Yishmoel and elter buba (original grandmother) to millions of Arabs all over the word. She was a princess? Avrohom was married to an Egyptian? Soon, we’ll address that ober ershtens a shtikel chazoro. Previously in the heylige Toirah, towards the very end of parshas Bereishis, the RBSO was already disgusted with His creations and expressed regret, mamish, for having created man. He wasn’t too happy with the snake either. Last week: Man’s behavior continued to spiral downward, too chazerish, and the RBSO taka destroyed the world. Only Noiach, his kids and the selected animals, those that maintained sexual purity, including vilde chayis, were to survive. And while the Oisvorfer always liked Noiach, one rabbi that he sat with at sholoish seudois stated that Noiach was one of his least favorite characters in the heylige Toirah. He thought that Noiach could have done more to save his generation and maybe less drinking from the vineyard he planted. The Oisvorfer disagrees: Noiach followed instructions which were to save himself, his family and those creatures as directed. Shoin: not the first or last time the Oisvorfer will disagree with a rabbi, if you chap.
Many generations and unique characters have come and gone since the RBSO decided to create Man. Says the heylige Mishna “Ovois (5:3)”: there are ten generations from Odom to Noiach and ten generations from Noiach to Avrohom. Mistama you never paid attention but the respective genealogies are listed at the ends of Parshas Bereishis and Noiach and it won’t kill you to check them out. With the exception of Noiach, it appears that they were mostly all bad. In the last two Toirah readings we met the original Adam’s family (Odom, Chava, and their givaldige kinderlach) and got to know the Noiachs. We won’t hear from or about them until next year this time, though we will avada encounter a few more snakes as we move along, both literal and figurative.
And here we are in Parshas Lech Lecho. It’s time to meet Avrohom (Avrom at the time) Oveenu, our forefather and Patriarch number one who takes center stage this week; we’ll be covering his life in the next three parshiois. Many consider Avrohom to be the first Yid. Was he, ver veyst? Was he the first of the Chosen people, and did the Chosen nation start with him? Given that Avrohom (and all the forefathers) lived well before yitzyas Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) and the giving of the heylige Toirah on Har Sinai—two defining events in our glorious Jewish history, mamish- how can he really be considered Jewish? Was he the first Yid before there were Jewish people, what’s pshat here? Or did his bris, later in the parsha, at the tender age of 99, which he seemingly performed on himself, qualify him as Yid #1?
Nu, let’s try to answer that ober ershtens a few highlights from this week’s action packed and amazing parsha which includes the famous encounter between Avrohom and Paroy- more on that below; a shtikel dispute between shepherds (Avrom and his nephew Loit’s); Loit’s big move to Sedoim (Sodom), a topic for next week; the first world war featuring four kings against five (the four won); Loit’s captivity and rescue; Soroh’s infertility, her plan to have a family through her maidservant Hogor; the birth of Yishmoel, father of all the Arabs and more. Also this week, the RBSO enters into the highly symbolic Bris Bain HaB’sarim (the Covenant Between the Parts) with Avrom, promising that his children will inherit the land of Israel, but not before being exiled into a lengthy servitude, and the RBSO’s instructions that Avrohom himself have a bris (he’s 99 years old at this time). As an aside Avrohom gives himself the bris and makes sure that all males in his family, including Yishmoel are circumcised. And of course the famous name changes of both Avrom and Sorai to Avrohom and Soroh.
Note: Although their names are still Avrom and Sorai throughout most of the parsha , the Oisvorfer (and many of the commentators) will refer to them by their more familiar names, Avrohom and Soroh, names the RBSO gave them at the end of the parsha.
We meet Avrohom who is already 75 years old. Where he was until 75 and what was he doing all these years, ver veyst and the heylige Toirah is silent mamish. Not so the medrish which is replete with amazing tales, some might even be emes. He is told by the RBSO to leave his land, birthplace and father’s home and go to “the Land which I will show you”. As a reward, the RBSO promised that a great nation will descend from him and that he will be a blessing for all (his descendants and the entire world). What He seemingly did not tell him was that he would be facing a series of nisyoinois (challenges) including having his wife taken into the master boudoir by the king, being asked to sacrifice his favorite son (not yet born) and others. Avrohom passed each of the tests and has carried the moniker of Ovenu (our forefather) ever since.
The encounter with king Paroy of Mitzrayim who had eyes for Avrohom’s beautiful wife Soro, and the RBSO’s response to Paroy’s move, have in previous years been more than adequately covered by the Oisvorfer in givaldige detail – check out the archives at www.oisvorverruv.com –we won’t touch that subject. Touching is what Paroy tried to do with disastrous results. According to some, he was stricken with syphilis, according to others, it was leprosy. Some say Paroy was hit with a case of syphilis on his privates. Whatever the case, seemingly nothing went down or up, if you chap, medical attention he did need on his infected areas and Soro was seemingly unharmed and not defiled. Soro was saved and returned to Avrohom as pure as she had left him. While being held at the king’s palace, Avrom somehow acquired all sorts of riches including animals, gold silver, slaves and more. Though Soro was returned, Avrohom, excellent businessman that he was, kept the booty, an issue many rabbis have questioned ever since.
Depending on which medrish you read and wish to believe, Soro, upon capture, was either intended to be enslaved or to become one of Paroy’s wives. Which was it, ver veyst. Ober the RBSO came through at the last moment and just as Paroy the chazir tried to make a hard move on Soro, he went soft, if you chap and says Rashi who knew everything azoy: Paroy could not perform. The RBSO afflicted Paroy and his court with severe plagues in order to prevent him from cohabiting with Soro (Bereishis 12:17/Arachin 16). She was released unmolested. Veyter.
Efsher you recall learning that Avrom and Soro were married for a number of years and were nebech childless and mistama you also recall that both he and Soro were upset over their inability to sire a child. Let’s meet Hogor, who as mentioned above, after coming to work as Soro’s maid, became Avrohom’s second wife, and the mother of Yishmoel (Ishmael). And today, as a result of that union, the Arab and Bedouin tribes claim to be descendants of Yishmoel, the son of Avrohom and Hogor. Followers of Mohammed also trace their roots back to Hogor and attribute special powers to her. Shoin, we’re all cousins, mamish; is it a wonder we don’t get along? Do you talk to all your first cousins? Any?
Who was Hogor and where did she come from and how did she end up in Soro’s house? And why was she somehow selected by the RBSO to play such a major role in Avrohom’s destiny? Was she still a maidservant after marrying Avrohom? Wasn’t she entitled to an upgrade at this point? Taka all excellent kashas and this week, we’ll spend some good time and a few paragraphs trying to sort out the various medroshim that pontificate on her story. Nu, it depends on who you ask or which Medrish talks to you but there are at least a few good ones. Lommer lernin.
Interestingly enough the heylige Toirah is silent mamish about her background, maybe it’s not important, ober leave it up to the medrish to plug a few holes. Says the medrish azoy: Hogor was the daughter of King Paroy of Mitzrayim, he of chapping Soro fame. Seemingly, she met Soro in the king’s palace after Avrom told epes a shtikel lie about Soro being his sister and not his wife and Soro was taken. Is this emes? Avrohom Oveenu, our forefather, was married to an Egyptian princess? Who knew?
Avada you recall learning that Avrohom, suddenly struck with Soro’s unusual beauty, was worried that the Mitzrim would chap her, kill him and to save his own life, concocted a story that in the end put her in harm’s way while he was safe and also became fabulously wealthy. Nice!! Ober how and why would the shiksa princess Hogor leave the kings palace to become Soro’s maid? Was the second wife position to a nice young man of 75 or more, an upgrade to being a princess?? Ober says the medrish mamish so gishmak azoy: When Hogor saw the miracle that the RBSO performed for the sake of Soro which saved her from her own father during that gantze ugly myseh, she said: “it is better to be a slave in Soro’s house than a princess in my own.” And so it was that Hogor started off as Soro’s maid and when Soro remained childless over the years, it was she, Soro, who persuaded her husband Avrohom to take Hogor as his second wife. Avrom, good husband that he was, agreed and the rest is history.
Ober says another Medrish farkert (opposite) and that before leaving (being escorted) out of Mitzrayim at Paroy’s request, and maybe as a going away present, Paroy himself presented his own daughter Hogor, to Soro as a maidservant. And says Rashi and who knew better, azoy: Paroy reasoned “it is better that she be a maidservant in the home of Avrohom than a princess in my palace.” Givaldig: same quote surrounded by different stories. In any event, Hogor willingly went with Avrom. Doesn’t every princess wish to become a maidservant? And if this is taka what happened, this decision could be the key as to why she was selected by the RBSO to eventually become Avrohom’s wife, twice. Twice?? Nu, we’ll have to wait until next week for the rest of the story. For now, let’s stay focused on her first marriage.
Back to Soro for a moment. Acknowledging that the RBSO had prevented her from having children, she pleads with Avrom to take her maidservant, Hogor, so that she, Soro, will have a family through Hogor. Which nice Jewish husband wouldn’t accommodate his wife by chapping a shiksa princess as a second wife? Of course he agreed and as expected, Avrohom gets her pregnant, immediately. Says Rashi it happened with the biya rishoina (first intimate encounter), b’loishoin sagi nohor. Is that what happened or did Soro force the issue? Was Avrom asking for a second wife? In fact, a careful read of the pisukim would indicate that Avrohom was rather reluctant to take Hogor, or at least, did not ask for her. Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 16:3) azoy: “Va’tee’kach Soro ay’shes Av’ram es Hogor ha’Mitz’ris..…va’tee’tayn oh’so l’Av’ram eeh’shah lo l’eeh’shah.” And Soro, Avrohom’s wife, took Hogor the Egyptian her handmaid…and gave her to Avrom her husband to be his wife. It appears that Soro was pressing the issue, though Avrohom did the pressing later on, if you chap. Based on this reading it does appear that Soro took her first and then gave her to her husband. Efsher you’re wondering what difference it makes and after all, certainly a man, back then, could have as many wives as he wanted.
Ober let’s get real: women get jealous quickly and no sooner had Hogor become pregnant, that Soro seemingly had ‘giver’s remorse’: changed her mind. Once Hogor became pregnant, the relationship between her and her master Soro quickly soured and the heylige Toirah tells us that Soro sensed a growing arrogance in Hogor. Soro reminded Hogor that she, Soro, was still the boss and Hogor but her maid, but was that emes? Wasn’t Hogor already married to Avrohom and wasn’t her status upgraded? Can a wife also be a maid? Avada not bazman hazeh (in our times). Seemingly, they had harsh words and Hogor ran away into the wilderness. There, a malach (angel) sent by the RBSO appeared to her and ordered her to return to Soro and to treat her with the respect due her. He told her that in turn she ‘would merit giving birth to a son whose voice the RBSO would hear (Yishma-El), who would be strong, fierce, a man of the wilds and respected among her people. Soro demanded that Avrohom choose between the two of them!
Says Rashi: Soro was also upset with her husband. She complained that he didn’t daven (for a child) on her behalf. She was upset that when he, Avrohom, davened to the RBSO for a child to inherit his spiritual legacy, he prayed only that he should merit offspring but didn’t include her in his petitions. Ober asks the heylige Gemorah (Yevamois 64b) azoy: given that Soro was physically incapable of conceiving a child, it is difficult to understand her complaint. She was? Seemingly, according to one pshat, Soro was born without a uterus -no womb in her body at all – which rendered conceiving at odds mamish with childbearing and that being the case, why was she so upset with her husband’s davening? And how could davening on her behalf have been at all useful or helpful if she was missing vital equipment? How the medrish knew that Soro was born without a uterus, ver veyst!
Efsher you’re wondering why the RBSO designed it so that Soro, Rivka and Rochel were all barren for a good period of time while the shiksa princess became pregnant instantly, are you? Avada the heylige Gemorah has an answer and tells us (Yevamois (64a) azoy: the infertility of the Avos and Imahos was due to the RBSO’s desire for their intense prayers. Because Soro was so connected, she chapped what the RBSO wanted and wasn’t fazed by the apparent obstacle presented by her lack of a womb. Instead she was upset that her husband didn’t; have her in mind or mention her in his prayers. Does praying always help? Ver veyst, but it zicher can’t hurt.
Ober did Soro treat Hogor correctly? Not according to all and as you can imagine, there are different views but one thing is zicher: Soro’s behavior towards Hogor was epes a shtikel unusual and maybe not in accordance with the way we would expect one of our foremothers to behave, especially towards a former princess. Asks the medrish: how is it possible that Soro, who became our first matriarch of the Yiddin could mistreat her servant in such a manner, especially since it was her idea that Avrom take Hogor as an additional wife? Avada there are answers, let’s learn a few of them. Says Rashi azoy: it was all Hogor’s fault and that her behavior towards her boss (Soro) was unacceptable, Hogor had crossed the line and deserved the harsh treatment. Rashi illuminates: Hogor went around brazenly boasting to the local women: “Since so many years have passed without Soro having children, she cannot be as righteous as she seems. But I conceived immediately!” Hogor not only mocked Soro, her mockery had a devastating sting to it. Guilty!
Says Nechama Leibowitz (Studies Bereishis, 1974): if those are the facts, then perhaps Soro’s bitterness is natural and her reactions understandable. “After selflessly offering Hogor to her husband, she sees herself triumphed over by her handmaid. Who would condemn Soro for this behavior?” Guilty!
And said the Radak (R’ Dovid Kimchi) azoy: when Avrohom told Soro behold your maidservant is in your hand, he was in effect telling her that he, Avrom, has no right to treat Hogor unkindly. But you, Soro, she is your servant, and if she mistreated you, then you may do what you feel is right. Guilty!
Ober said both the Abarbanel and the Sforno azoy: Soro’s intent when dealing harshly with Hogor was not at all malicious, but was intended rather to force Hogor to cease her insulting behavior. This strategy, unfortunately, was not very effective, since instead of acknowledging Soro’s superior position, Hogor chose to flee. Neutral!
Ober said Rabbi Aryeh Levine the Tzaddik, (righteous man) of Jerusalem azoy: it is totally incongruous for a pious woman such as Soro to persecute another human being because of personal animosity (and maybe some jealousy). Soro treated Hogor as she always had, but because of Hogor’s now exalted position as a wife, she had developed an inflated self-image of herself, and therefore regarded Soro’s actions as persecution. Not guilty!
And said the Ramban “Soro our mother sinned in dealing harshly with her handmaid, and Avrohom too [sinned] by allowing her to do so. Consequently, the RBSO heard her [Hogor’s] affliction and gave her a son who was destined to be a lawless person who would bring suffering on Avram and Soro.” Innocent!
And listen to this: The Rabbis say that Soro and Avrom are punished for their treatment of Hogor. And some even connect the Yiddin’s slavery and subsequent mistreatment in Mitzrayim (as a result of Yoiseph’s being sold by the Yismoelim (Ishmaelites), Hogor’s progeny, with this story of Hogor and Yishmoel, wow! and the final word on Hogor: Most of the medroshim and other commentators agree that she was indeed a woman of humility and piety. Indeed, few others were privileged to have an angel of the RBSO speak to them twice, and produce miracles for them.
And the bottom line? Seemingly when it comes to marriage, two is a pair and three is a crowd. Says the heylige Gemora (Yevomois) azoy: a second wife is called tzara (literally, pain). Then again, many first wives are called worse. This is but the first example of man’s issues with multiple wives, we will find more in sefer Bereishis and the relationship between two wives is never quite good. Says the Oisvorfer: if you’re happy with what you have, gevaldig. If not, make a change. Ober two at one time is not a workable solution, at least not for the long term, if you chap.
A gittin shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv