Two Lessons from Avimelech
The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah covers a number of diverse events:
1. The miraculous birth of Yitzchok.
2. The banishment of Yishmael: He becomes ill and is dying of thirst. He prays and miracously a well appears for him in the desert.
3. The pact Avrohom forged with Avimelech: Avimelech asks Avrohom to swear not to harm or do battle against his grandchildren; Avrohom points out that he, Avimelech, has wrongly taken Avrohom’s wells.
We easily understand the connection between the birth of Issac and Rosh Hashanah – a time when the books of life are opened. Moreover Hashem “remembered” Sarah on Rosh Hashanah and decreed that she would give birth. Likewise we can readily explain the connection between the saga with Yishmael and Rosh Hashanah. The miracle was performed because of his repentance and the New Year ushers in the “Ten Days of Repentance”. But what has the treaty between Avrohom and Avimelech got to do with Rosh Hashanah? What is the message of this final paragraph?
This section begins with an interesting dialogue. Avimelech together with his top military General Pichol state to Avrohom “G-d is with you in all that you do”. Rashi explains that this refers to three epic recent events in Avrohom’s life. He escaped the destruction of Sodom, fought against four powerful kings, and his wife gave birth in his old age. Avrohom led a life where strangers were gaping in awe. They realized this is a result of “G-d is with you in all that you do” and they wanted to ally themselves to Avrohom. This is appropriate for Rosh Hashanah as we strive to improve ourselves, we should reach for the level where outsiders will comment G-d is with us.
The section concludes “Avimelech and his General Pichol left and returned to the land of the Philistines”. Avimelech was so inspired that he had to meet Avrohom [see answer one] and yet after his engagement, Avimelech returned to the Land of the Philistines, implying that nothing changed in his life. He was the same old Avimelech. This is a message for Rosh Hashanah: We readily become inspired by the special day, but as Rosh Hashanah fades our inspiration evaporates. Lets take something away be it a minute, almost imperceptible, detail.
Strive for everything, but don’t forget to improve something.
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach (c. 120-40 BCE) once decided to buy a mule. When he brought the mule from the market, his students went out to see it. They stroked it and petted it and admired it, and then they suddenly discovered a little bag hanging down from its neck, hidden in the little bag was a precious stone. The students rushed into the house. “G-d’s name be praised!”, they exclaimed. “G-d has rewarded your piety. You are a wealthy man now! Our dear master shall know no more want!”.
They showed him the precious diamond which they had discovered on the mule. But Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach did not share their excitement.
“G-d forbid, that I take this diamond,” he said. “I only bought a mule from that Ishmaelite, and this diamond does not belong to me.”
Whereupon Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach ran to the market in search of the man who had sold him the mule. He found the Ishmaelite and returned the precious stone. The Ishmaelite was amazed at such unheard of honesty.
“Blessed be the G-d of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach!”, he exclaimed.
One should be stringent to eat “Pas Yisroel” during the “Ten Days of Repentance”.