This sermon was delivered on Shabbat Parshat Vayeira, 20 Cheshvan 5784, November 4, 2024.
We have a unique circumstance in this week’s Parsha:
וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹקים נִסָּה אֶת־אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי׃
Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test, saying to him, “Abraham.” He answered, “Here I am.”
This is the one and only time in Torah where we are specifically told that a story is about a test. There are other times where the Torah tells us we are being tested. For example, when the Jews heard the first two commandments directly from G-d, they became terrified. They pleaded with Moshe:
“You speak to us,” they said, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
Moshe answered the people, “Be not afraid; for G-d has come only in order to test you, and in order that the fear of God may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray.”
But, in this week’s Parsha we are told up front that what is about to happen is only a test. It’s almost as if Hashem doesn’t want us to be shocked by his request for a human sacrifice so he tells us right away not to worry, it’s only a test.
Come to think of it, why does Hashem need to test Avraham anyway? Every test I ever took was given so the tester would know whether or not I would be able to come up with the right answers and pass. Hashem already knows this. He knows what Avraham will choose before Avraham chooses it. So, why the test?
Here’s how the 13th-century scholar, Nachmanides, more commonly known as RamBan, explains it this way. He says that Hashem tests the righteous for their benefit because he knows they will do as he asks. I guess you can think of it as throwing some work their way so they can earn some extra credit.
Rabbi Hezekiah bar Manoah, a 13th-century French scholar who wrote a major commentary on the Torah called the Chizkuni, says that the purpose of the test was to show the world how complete Avraham’s faith in Hashem was and eliminate any questions about it in the future.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the NeTziv, a 19th-century scholar and author of the commentary on Torah known as Haamek Davar, offers yet a third thought. Although Hashem knows that Avraham will be willing to fulfill his command, Avraham himself doesn’t know it yet. By undergoing the test, he learns something about himself and how deep his faith in Hashem is. In this view, the purpose of the test is to give Avraham the experience to realize his full potential.
I have to think that we, the Jewish people, are being tested today. True, many of the Jewish people may not qualify for the label “righteous” but the Jewish people as a whole are righteous. As the Mishna tells us in Sanhedrin:
כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה ס) וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ נֵצֶר מַטָּעַי מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי לְהִתְפָּאֵר
All of the Jewish people, even sinners and those who are liable to be executed with a court-imposed death penalty, have a share in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: “And your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, for My name to be glorified.”
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, leader of the Breslover Chassidim, explained the phrase “are all righteous” in the following way. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. No individual is completely righteous on his or her own. However, we complete each other and, as a people, we are righteous because we are all connected.
So, if the Jewish people as a whole are righteous, the Jewish people as a whole can be tested. The question is, what is the nature of this test and are we passing it?
I truly wish I could tell you what the test is. Unfortunately, as I have said on many occasions, I have not been privileged to have received Hashem’s email address or cell phone number. However, I would like to speculate on a possible answer to this question.
We know that, before the Hamas attack, Israel was horrifically divided. Many people were protesting planned government policies and actions, and hundreds of members of the IDF reserves declared that they would not report for duty. This was the greatest period of political unrest in Israel that I remember. The demonstrations and vitriolic rhetoric were truly horrific.
Now, I know that the Knesset can be a raucous, contentious place, but this was different. This was the Israeli public. The demonstrations and threats were nothing I had ever seen before.
Even here in the United States, the Jewish community was heavily divided, not only regarding the politics and policies in Israel but also regarding our own domestic politics and policies.
Perhaps our test is to see if we can come together to fight this existential threat as one. Well, if this is the test, I offer the following vignettes as an indication as to how we are doing:
In an article published October 16th by The Media Line, as well as other outlets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that the IDF experienced a 130% response rate to its call for reservists to report for duty. In other words, 90 thousand reservists showed up for duty that were never even called up. (So much for reservists not responding to a call to duty.)
FoxBusiness.com reported on October 11th that an anonymous Orthodox Jewish man was standing by the El Al counter at JFK airport. He paid the airfare for anyone who showed him an IDF call-up notice and insisted that he remain anonymous. He paid for over 250 tickets. Considering the cost of a ticket to Israel on such short notice, I can only imagine how much this one person contributed to the welfare of these soldiers and Israel as a whole.
Los Angeles Magazine reported that a group of Israelis in the entertainment industry launched a fundraising effort to get reservists and others who wanted to serve, home to Israel from all over the world. Led by Actress Swell Ariel Or who was joined by Jewish activists such as Hen Mazzig, co-founder and senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute, and TV writer Leslie Schapira (Harley Quinn), Or established the Israel Reservist Fund (Israelreservistfund.com), founded to raise money for Israeli soldiers in the diaspora needing help paying for their plane tickets home.
The website Jewish Breaking News reports that Israel’s population has actually grown by 3% since the beginning of the war due to the influx of returning citizens. Anyone outside of the country, not called up for active duty, did not need to return home to a potential war zone yet they are flocking to the banner by the tens of thousands.
According to an article published November 1st on the website eJewishPhilanthropy.com, the Jewish Federation of North America reports that it alone has raised over 600 Million Dollars for Israel since October 7. That means that, over a period of 25 days, 24 million dollars a day was raised for Israel. That figure boggles my mind.
I received a video message from a Rabbi in Israel telling the following story. This happened not long after October 7, as reservists were pouring in and stretching the IDF’s ability to clothe and feed the flood of new soldiers. A man showed up to an army unit and said that he had cooked 3,000 meals for the unit. The commander of the unit thanked him but said he had to call the Rabbi to deal with any potential Kashrut issues. When the Rabbi came, the man told him the following: “This is the second time I have spoken to a Rabbi in my life. Shabbat and Kashrut have never been that important to me. But, I wanted to do this and I could not stand the thought of one of my Chayalim not eating what I had cooked because of Kashrut issues. So, for the first time in my life, I called a Rabbi. I told him what I wanted to do and begged him to help me make my kitchen Kosher and watch what I did to make sure everything was up to the highest standards.” The unit’s Rabbi accepted the heartwarming gift with tears in his eyes.
Our soldiers have been fighting for weeks and most of them have not been able to wear clean clothing since this started. A man drove what looks like a modified tractor-trailer to the Gaza border. The truck was equipped with a generator and washing machines and offered troops who had a break the opportunity to wash their clothes and wear clean clothing for the first time in weeks.
Jews across the world have joined Just One Thing at ShareJustOneThing.org to do a mitzvah to support a soldier serving in the IDF. They sign up at the website, select a particular mitzvah and they are sent the name of a Chayal they have been matched to.
Congregations around the world, of all stripes, are reciting extra prayers for Israel. On October 9th, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported the following:
The Jerusalem branch of the Satmar Hasidic movement, which traditionally rejects Zionism, issued a declaration marking Monday as a “day of prayer” that would include liturgy generally associated with the High Holidays — including the “Avinu Malkeinu” prayer and the recitation of God’s 13 attributes of mercy. The declaration called to “awaken the abundant mercies of the heavens.”
For the record, it wasn’t just the Jerusalem branch. The statement by Satmar, as published on X formerly known as Twitter reads:
The #Jerusalem “Eida Chareidis” and the global #Satmar Community declared an extraordinary “Day of Prayer” in every orthodox Shul tomorrow, uniting hearts and souls amidst the heartbreaking loss and bloodshed of hundreds of innocent Jewish lives in the #HolyLand #PrayersForPeace
Yes, even SATMAR is saying extra prayers during this time of trouble. Not only did they declare the Monday after the attack a special day of prayer, but they also called on their members to recite ten chapters of Tehillim each and every day.
These stories are just a few of the dozens that I could tell. The Jewish people, not just in Israel but all around the world, face an existential threat today from terrorism and antisemitism that we have not seen in at least 50, and possibly 85, years. We know that Jewish blood is considered cheap by the world, but for the first time, we seem to be coming together for the common fight. We know that this time is not like others. It seems like we have finally woken up to the danger and we realize that only together can we overcome the perils confronting us.
MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE! If the purpose of this test is to remind us that we must unite, I submit these few examples as proof of Mi Ke’Amecha Yisrael, “Who is like your people, Israel.” We are indeed an Am Kshei Oref, a “stiff-necked people,” but each and every Jew, regardless of their level of observance, is M’Layim Mitzvos K’Rimon, filled with Mitzvot like a pomegranate. Your people can be difficult at times but they are filled with love for one another and will move heaven and earth for each other. Our children, be they Chareidi or Chiloni, are engaged in the holy task of Milcvhemet Mitzvah, a Commanded War. Jewish parents across the world are being asked to risk their children, like Avraham was asked to do with Yitzchak on the altar he built on your holy Temple Mountain, for the protection of your people. And they have not hesitated. They run like deer and fight like lions for the protection of your land and your people.
We are fulfilling our portion. We are doing our Hishtadlut, with guns, aircraft, tanks, and bombs; with acts of personal sacrifice, kindness, and giving; with Torah, Prayer, and Mitzvot; and with every other arrow in our quiver, to fight the Evil that is Hamas and her sister organizations like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and their parent, Iran. We are doing our part. We call upon you to fulfill your part as it says in your Holy Torah:
כִּי ה אֱלֹקיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם־אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם׃
For it is Hashem who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory.”
Take up the cause of your people Israel. Silence the שטן, the prosecutor, and support our advocate, so that your attribute of judgment will rule in favor of your holy people who stand in harm’s way. As we say on Yom Kippur:
הַס קַטֵּגוֹר. וְקַח סַנֵּגוֹר מְקוֹמוֹ. וִיהִי ה לְמִשְׁעָן לוֹ. לְמַעַן נָאֳמוֹ. סָלַֽחְתִּי
Silence the accuser, and let [our] advocate take his place; and may Hashem support him, for the sake of His word— “I have pardoned.”
My friends, this is a trying time for us and all of the house of Israel. Now, more than ever, we have to fight the common fight on all fronts. Our magnificent young men and women are fighting the physical fight, supported materially and spiritually by all of us. But we have battles to fight, each and every one of us.
We must be active in the PR war. Israel’s just cause is under attack all over the world and we must get the good information out to counter the bad.
We must be active in the political war. We must let our representatives know that we are watching them and our support, be it financial or with our votes, does not come free. They must stand up for the cause of freedom and against the voices of hate that sound all too loudly throughout the world and even in the halls of Congress.
We have to make it known to the entire government, from the President on down, that there cannot be a ceasefire, or even a humanitarian pause, so Hamas can catch its breath. If Hamas cannot stand the heat of the Israeli onslaught, they must surrender and release the hostages. Nothing else is acceptable.
We must write to every Democratic member of the House to decry their support for the Jew-hating, terrorist, rapist, and murderer supporting Rashida Tlaib for voting not to censure her despicable speech and actions. How difficult should it be for a party to hold such a reprehensible and miserable excuse for a human being accountable for her atrocious behavior?
And let us not forget the 23 Republicans who could not find it within themselves to call out Tlaib for her hateful conduct. The Democrats, I can kind of understand. After all, they are protecting one of their own, however disgraceful she may be. But the Republicans? I really don’t get them.
This should have been a nearly unanimous vote. We should remember the Democrats who all, each and every one of them, supported Tlaib, as well as these 23 feckless Republicans.
- Rep. Kelly Armstrong (N.D.)
- Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.)
- Rep. John Duarte (Calif.)
- Rep. Chuck Edwards (N.C.)
- Rep. Morgan Griffith (Va.)
- Rep. Glenn Grothman (Wis.)
- Rep. Harriet Hageman (Wyo.)
- Rep. Bill Huizenga (Mich.)
- Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.)
- Rep. Dusty Johnson (S.D.)
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa (Calif.)
- Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.)
- Rep. Tom McClintock (Calif.)
- Rep. Richard McCormick (Ga.)
- Rep. Max Miller (Ohio)
- Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa)
- Rep. John Moolenaar (Mich.)
- Rep. Chip Roy (Texas)
- Rep. Austin Scott (Ga.)
- Rep. Victoria Spartz (Ind.)
- Rep. Michael Turner (Ohio)
- Rep. Derrick Van Orden (Wis.)
- Rep. Timothy Walberg (Mich.)
This is a time when there can be no fence-sitters. I expect every member of Congress to support the right and just cause of our people in defending themselves against evil. Anyone who does not should face our wrath. They should be boycotted financially. Not one dollar of our money should flow to them or their party. And we need to make it known why we are not contributing. Let them know that refusing to take a stand against evil has a price. This is Democracy in action. We must make our voices heard.
I am afraid that the difficult times are still ahead. As of this writing the IDF has already reported 24 killed in action against Hamas and I fear that number will climb further. I pray that Hashem protects our soldiers and grants them swift success in their mission. May Hashem spill out his wrath upon the enemies of the Jewish people and the enemies of freedom in the world as it is written in the Torah:
הַרְנִינוּ גויִם עַמּו כִּי דַם עֲבָדָיו יִקּום וְנָקָם יָשִׁיב לְצָרָיו וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתו עַמּו
Acclaim O nations his people, for the blood of his servants he will avenge, and vengeance will be repaid upon his enemies, and his army will cleanse his land.
ה’ עז לְעַמּו יִתֵּן. ה’ יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּו בַשָּׁלום
May Hashem give his people, the Nation of Israel, strength, and may He bless us with peace.