וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֶן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּתֵּן לִפְנֵיהֶם וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ וַיֹּאכֵלוּ: בראשית יח/ח
He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate. (Breishis 18/8)
The Gemorro in Babba Metzia (daf 86b) explains, “R. Tanchum bar Chanilai says: A person should never deviate from the local custom, (a proof of this:) … the melachim (that came to Avraham) descended down to this world, and they ate bread. (The Gemorro asks,) Did they really eat (bread)? Can it enter your mind that they actually ate food? Rather, they merely appeared as though they ate and drank.
Tosfos quotes the Seder Eliyahu Rabah that says that it didn’t just look like they ate but they actually did eat! After he quotes the Seder Eliyahu Rabah Tosfos adds a phrase, “and this argues on (what is written) here (in our Gemorro)”.
Zera Shimshon asks what is Tosafos adding with this phrase? It’s pretty self evident that they argue. In our Gemorro it says that they didn’t really eat but only looked as if they ate and Seder Eliyahu Rabah says that they actually did eat. How could one think that they agree?
He answers that this phrase is not referring to their opinions of what exactly the melachim did; did they actually eat or it just looked like it. Rather it is referring to the fact that there is also a machlokes in halacha between them which is a derivative of the first machlokes.
The Mishna in Pesachim (beginning of the fourth perek, daf 50a) says that there are some places that the minhag is not to work Erev Pesach and there are some places that the minhag is to allow work Erev Pesach.
The Mishna continues to say that if one travels from a place where people are accustomed to do work to a place where people do not work, or from a place where people do not work Erev Pesach to a place where people do work, Chazal impose upon him the stringencies of both the place from which he left and the stringencies of the place to which he came. (In both cases, he is prohibited to do work.) The Mishna concludes that the reason for this is so there will be no disputes and arguments.
The Ran holds that since the reasoning behind this prohibition is to avoid disputes then in a situation where no one knows what he is doing, for instance if he does it in private, he does not have to follow the minhag of the place where he is, but he can follow his own minhag
Tosafos, in essence, agrees with the Ran but he holds that work, even if it is done in the privacy of his own home, will eventually “leak out” and therefore it is prohibited to do work even in private. (However a minhag that is not connected with work even Tosafos agrees that it is permitted to do it in private.)
Zera Shimshon suggests that even though that surely according to our Gemorro this is the halacha, the Seder Eliyahu Rabbah argues and holds that one must follow the minhag of his surrounding community even if they do now know what he does.
Zera Shimshon explains that each of their opinions is based on their understanding of what the melachim did when they came to Avraham.
Our Shas explained that they didn’t really eat, and only acted “as if”. From this we can learn that one can follow his own minhag (like the melachim’s not eating) as long as no one realizes that he is not following the surrounding community’s minhag (since they made “as if” they were eating.)
Correspondingly, Erev Pesach a person who has the custom to do work, even if he goes to a place that doesn’t do work, can do work in private since no one knows what he is doing. (According to the Ran. According to Tosafos this halacha only applies to minhagim that are not connected with work.)
Seder Eliyahu Rabbah explained that the melachim really did eat and deviated from their custom of not eating because he holds that it is prohibited to not follow the custom of the surrounding community (in the case of the melachim; that mortals eat) even if he could have done it without anyone knowing (pretending “as if”
Correspondingly, a person who has the custom to work cannot work, even in the privacy of his own home, when the surrounding community has the custom not to work.
To allude to this machlokes in halacha Tosafos adds “and this argues on (what is written) here (in our Gemorro)”
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל. בראשית יח/ט
And they (the Angles) said to him (Avraham), “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, Behold! She is in the tent.”
The Gemorro in Babba Metzia (87A) explains that this dialogue was written to make known that Sarah was a modest woman.”
Zea Shimshon asks why did the Torah find it so important to make special mention that Sarah was modest? Since it is well known that she was tremendously righteous, obviously she was also modest! Besides this, Avraham Avinu already realized that she was modest before they went down to Mitzrayim right after they entered Eretz Yisroel! ( Rashi mentions this on the possuk, “I know that you are a very beautiful lady…”)
He answers that the Torah isn’t telling us that she was simply modest. This was obvious. Rather the Torah is telling us that she reached a remarkably high level of modesty.
However the second question still remains, Avraham already knew this.
He answers in light of the Gemorro in Shabbos (53B), “The Rabbis learnt: A certain man was once married to a woman with a stumped hand, yet he did not notice it until the day of her death. Rebbi Yosef observed: How modest this woman must have been, that her husband did not know her! R. Chiya replied, For her it was natural; but how modest was this man, that he did not scrutinize his wife!”
From here we see that a wife is not the only one who creates modesty between a couple. It could be the result of the combined effort of the husband and his wife.
According to this, the fact that Avraham didn’t recognize her beauty all the years of their marriage is not a proof that Sarah was exceptionally modest. It could be that the modesty in their home was the outcome of both of their modest behavior.
If this is true, however, then what exceptional modesty did Sarah Imainu display by staying in the tent?
Zera Shimshon answers that the main reason for a woman not to mingle with men is to make it easier for men, who have a strong yetzer horra, not to sin. Sarah and Avraham knew that their guests were really angles and that therefore that they have no yetzer horra (as Rashi points out on the possuk (18/5), “And I (Avraham) will take (for you) a little bread, and sustain your hearts…”). Since even with beings who have no yetzer horro Sarah acted modestly and stayed in the tent to be away from them, we see that she was intrinsically very modest!
The Medrash in the beginning of the parsha comments that after Avraham Ovina circumcised himself he said that many gentiles will come to attach themselves to this sign of the covenant (between Avraham and his descendants and Hashem) and convert.
Zera Shimshon asks how can we understand Avraham’s reasoning? Before Hashem commanded Avraham to make milah, a person could convert painlessly, just keeping Hashem’s commandments. After Hashem gave the mitzvo of mila a person has to suffer the pain of circumcision to convert. Why then did Avraham feel that there would be more converts now?
Zera Shimshon answers that Avraham always felt uncomfortable about his sinful beginning. (According to Rebbi Yochannon Avraham only recognized his Creator at the age of 48!) He was afraid that Hashem didn’t look at him like a total tzaddik but rather slightly blemished. He felt that Hashem looked at him like a dirty garment that even after it gets dry cleaned, it doesn’t look completely new but small remnants of dirt always remain on it.
This changed, however after he circumcised himself.
In the parsha we see that Hashem sent three types of remedies to heal Avraham after his milah.
Firstly, “the heat of the day”. the Medrash explains the reason that Avraham sat near the entrance of his tent “in the heat of the day” is because heat helps to heal.
Secondly, Hashem sent the Malach Rephael to heal him.
And thirdly, Hashem payed Avraham a bikkur cholim visit. Chazal teach us that the mitzvo of bikur chollim helps a sick person recuperate.
Why did Avraham need all three remedies?
Zera Shimshon explains that the heat of the day was simply to heal the physical wound of the mila.
The Malach Rephael added to Avraham’s recovery. Avraham didn’t only get back his strength like he was right before he did the milah. Rather, he became to make him strong like when he was much younger. This was in order that he would be able to have more children.
Hashem’s visit was in order that Avraham wouldn’t only recover physically be he become completely clean from all of his sins!
It says in the Gemorro Nedarim (41a) Reb Alexandri said in the name of Reb Chiya bar Abba, “A sick person doesn’t recuperate until he has been forgiven for all of his sins….” Rav Hammuna said “He returns to his youth…” Rashi explains, “He returns to his youth: like a young child who never sinned.”
In other words, in the merit of milah, Avraham not only merited to become stronger than he was prior to the milah but he also merited to be completely and totally cleansed of any remnants of sin that tainted his soul.
After realizing the huge benefit of mila we can now understand why Avraham felt that the mitzvo of mila would cause more people to convert.
HaRav Shimshon Nachmaini, author of Zera Shimshon lived in Italy about 300 years ago in the time of the Or HaChaim HaKodesh.
The Chida writes that he was a great Mekubal and wrote many sefarim including sefarim about “ practical kabbolo“ but asked that all of his sefarim be buried after he passes away except for Zera Shimshon and Niflaos Shimshon on Avos.
He had one child who died in his lifetime (hence the name “Zera Shimshon“) and in the preface he promises for people who learn his sefarim after he dies “... And your eyes will see children and grandchildren like the offshoots of an olive tree around your tables, wise and understanding with houses filled with all manner of good things... and wealth and honor......”
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