Parshas Chayei Sarah
The Ultimate chessed
וירץ העבד לקראתה ויאמר הגמיאיני נא מעט מים מכדך (כד:יז).
“The servant ran towards her and said, ‘give me please a gulp of water from your jug’ (24:17)”.
Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a suitable partner for Yitzchok. He arrived in Rivka’s city and devised a test by which to determine Yitzchok’s mate. He prayed to Hashem that the girl whom he would request a drink from and receive positive compliance from, giving water to him and to the camels, should be the one. Rivka arrived, and Rashi explains that Eliezer phrased his request in the following manner: “allow me to gulp some water please.” Why did he use such a coarse expression?
The Megged Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Sorotzkin shlit”a) says that this was part of the test! Some people prefer not to help others, but when asked nicely they may well become motivated to help out. Other people genuinely desire to help others regardless of how their help is requested. Had Eliezer asked nicely or even not asked at all, this would not have proven the young lady’s character. Many people have compassion on a nice stranger and would offer him water. The test which Eliezer employed was devised in order to examine the candidate’s true personality. He specifically made his request for water in an unrefined and somewhat impolite manner to see if nevertheless she would kindly heed to his request. Rivka indeed put aside the offense and out of her genuinely kind heart offered him a drink and then gave his camels as well. This virtue which she possessed merited her to become a mother of Klal Yisrael.
From the Heart
Often one may be offended by the manner in which someone requests favors from him or how ungrateful the receiver is after he has received the favor. True ba’alei chessed, doers of kindness, however, are not phased by this, for they rejoice at the opportunity to perform real chessed from the depth of their heart, emulating their Creator, the Ultimate Provider of kindness.
ויקח העבד עשרה גמלים מגמלי אדוניו… (כד:י).
“The servant took ten camels from the camels of his master (Avraham)” (24:10).
It is interesting and bizarre to note the dominance of one animal throughout the Parsha. Over and again the Torah mentions the camel! The Torah felt that it was necessary to mention the details of the mere mode of transportation eighteen times! What is going on here?
It would seem that the camel offers an important lesson for us to learn. Let us delve into this.
Avraham sent Eliezer to find a worthy wife for Yitzchok. The criteria was clear and not able to be compromised. She had to be a true Ba’alas Chessed, one who possessed a passion for performing kindness for others. In fact, that is the theme of the entire Parsha. Avraham took great care to bury Sarah with utmost respect and dignity. This is the ultimate kindness. Rivkah was chosen to be the mother of Klal Yisrael because of her kind heart and actions. She lived to do chessed for others.
There is one vital point of clarification that is necessary for us to understand. Kindness is only true and long-lasting if it stems from self-appreciation and respect. One who thinks lowly of himself and thus feels that everyone else deserves his help is not a true Ba’al Chessed. Yes, he may share his time and efforts with the world, but he is forgetting to do chessed with the most important person: himself! He is a rag and a pushover, not a Ba’al Chessed. Inevitably, he will run out of steam and will burn out and no longer be able to give to others. This is not what Hashem wants. True chessed starts with a healthy sense of self-respect and self-caring. From that spills forth genuine care, love and help to others. This way, the giver remains healthy and has much strength to share with others in need. That is true chessed.
Now for the camels. Camels are one of the most useful devises utilized for traveling long distances. Their bodies are designed for it. They use up very little water as they move and sweat minimally in order to preserve their energy and water supply. Indeed, they can transport people for days on end without stopping.
They are the ultimate “givers”. In fact, their very Hebrew name, גמל, Gamal, means “to give!” However, there is one catch. You first have to fill them up. Before your journey, you must allow them to drink and fill up their hump with an average of 26 to 40 gallons of water. They are the true Ba’al Chessed. They fill themselves up first and then dedicate all of their efforts in order to help others.
So why 18 times? I suggest that it corresponds to the 18 times that the Torah says the word “Man” before Adam was given his wife, Chavah. The Bartenura and Rashi (Avos 5:21) learn from here the source that one should marry at age 18. I connect the two occurrences of 18 and wish to learn that one should not get married until he is a true Ba’al Chessed. This is, in fact, the reason that Yitzchok and Rivkah were now united! The only thing left to explain is why the camel is a non-Kosher animal?! This I leave for you to decipher…
Thus, the camel has been shown to be very appropriate and amazingly in line with the entire theme of the Parsha. Chessed is beautiful; it starts with caring for yourself first and expands outward to the world!
Life or Death?
It is interesting to note the title of the Parsha. Whereas the entire opening theme discusses a burial plot for the deceased Sarah, the title focuses on her life?! What is the explanation?
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 1:8) tells us that Rebbe Akiva was lecturing one day and found his students to be dozing off. Wanting to stir their attention, he asked, “why did Queen Esther merit to rule 127 countries? It was because her great grandmother Sarah, lived 127 years”! What is the connection here?
I believe that Rebbe Akiva wished to instill in his students a powerful appreciation of utilizing every moment of life. It was only because Sarah lived her life to its fullest, that her granddaughter Esther gained that inspiration and thus merited to rule 127 countries as well.
Sarah’s death marked a completion to a life lived to its fullest. That is why the Parsha that describes her burial is given a title to reveal the essence of her life. She lived most productively.
Succos All Year!
The Vilna Goan (1720- 1797) was asked where Succos is hinted to in this week’s Parsha. He replied by quoting the verse, “וה’ ברך את אברהם בכל, Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.” The three letters ofבכל hint to the first letters of three descriptions given in the Torah to Succos (ב’סוכות תשבו שבעת ימים, כ’ל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסוכות, ל’מען ידעו דורותיכם.) This is a famous “vort,” but what does it mean and why does it connect to Avraham?
The greatness of Succos is expressed in the Gemara Succah (21b) itself! “Even the trivial chat of Torah scholars deserves great study.” What is this all about? The Torah is filled with all of the knowledge of the entire universe. There is nothing that is not hinted to in the Torah. The Rabbis who have dedicated their lives to Torah study are heavily saturated with its wisdom and beauty. Hence, it permeates their being. People said about Rabbi Chatzkal Levenstein zt”l that if one were to look into his veins, one would see the flow of Emunah, this was his essence and life. The light comments and chatter of Torah scholars are based on their great wealth of Torah knowledge.
Torah is not meant to simply be studied, it was given to us to be carried out and applied to life. Thus, when a Torah scholar spoke, his words were seen as a reflection of his great Torah background and were deserving of fine attention.
The theme of Succos is to keep one’s inspiration alive. After going through the awe-inspiring days of Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hashem wanted us to have a Yom Tov that would bring everything together. Succos takes our everyday eating and sleeping and shows how we can sanctify them! Succos brings meaning and application to our Torah knowledge. Just as a Succah protects from the elements, so too, it is intended to protect our spirituality from being lost. We apply the lesson of taking actions to ensure our continued inspiration at all times during life.
Avraham Aveinu started a religious revolution. He invited guests to his home and engaged them in talk about chessed and Hashem. They left uplifted and inspired. Avraham and Sarah’s message was one: make it last; keep it going. Indeed, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 48:10) states that precisely because Avraham sat his guests in the shade, we merited the Mitzvah of sitting in the shade of the Succah! The theme is that of continuing the inspiration. The Vilna Goan wished to tie Succos to the entire year and to Avraham. It is most apropos that the Vilna Goan, who dedicated his life to finding meaning and spirituality in every action, passed away on a day no other than Succos (19 Tishrei – October 9, 1797). The lesson is that we can make all aspects of our lives holy and meaningful.
Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, was sent to find a wife for Yitzchok. Avraham went over all of the criteria and specifications with him, had him swear that he would do the job properly, and sent him on his way. Eliezer and his entourage went to Aram Naharayim, Avraham’s birthplace, and began the search. He davened hard that Hashem should guide him and suddenly he met Rivka who was coming to the well. She was a prominent young lady and showed herself to be filled with kindness as she drew water for all of the men and their camels. Eliezer saw and recognized her greatness and told her about Yitzchok. She agreed to marry him and they went to talk with her family as well.
The servant went and met with Lavan and Besuel. They were happy to see Rivka marry such a rich and famous person. In the course of Eliezer’s recounting of the story, he went through many of the details about his appointment by Avraham as the messenger to find a wife for Yitzchok. Chazal (Beraishis Rabbah 60:8) make a perplexing statement. “Rav Acha says that the idle story-telling of the servant (Eliezer) of the Avos is greater than the Torah laws given to the sons, for the Torah elaborates and writes all of the details that Eliezer recounted to Rivka’s family while some Torah laws are learned from minimal scriptural hints.” What does this mean and why is Eliezer’s speech so precious?
Another question is that in Eliezer’s recounting he says that he asked Avraham what do do if (“Uli,” perhaps, see Bereishis 24:39) the girl would not want to come back home with him. Avraham said that he would then be exempt from his mission. The word used is אלי, perhaps, which Rashi points out is missing a Vav and thus can be pronounced as “Aily, to me.” Eliezer had a daughter whom he wished for Yitzchok, but Avraham refused explaining that it was not an appropriate match. Why is this only hinted to here when Eliezer was recounting the mission details to Rivka’s family. Earlier in the Parsha when the mission began, the Torah tells us about Eliezer’s question but spells the word as אולי, perhaps, omitting the hint (because it contains a Vav) about his wish to marry off his daughter?
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt”l (1892-1953) explains that it was only after Eliezer found Rivka and saw how fitting she was for Yitzchok and how his daughter was not an option did he recognize that he had really been biased and was only motivated to ask the question of “perhaps” in the first place with his daughter in mind. Now Eliezer recognized that he had almost let himself sabotage the mission because of his own passions. Thus, it is hinted here at his time of deep inner truth and recognition. I add to this that the only way that he was able to overcome the bias was with powerful prayer and his connection to Hashem when he asked to be guided to the right one.
The beauty referred to in the Midrash concerning the repetition of Eliezer’s story is that he showed himself to be a true student of Avraham. He was striving to do what is right and to get in touch with himself. The entire purpose of the Torah is not simply laws and limitations. Hashem wants us to learn how to be free of the biases and shackles of the Yetzer Harah and to achieve autonomy (Avos 6:2). It is no surprise that Chazal say that after this mission Eliezer was freed from being a servant. He had demonstrated deep self-control, contemplation and self-mastery, he was no longer a slave. This lesson is one of the most precious of all of the Torah and is therefore more prominent than other scriptural laws. The sections of the Torah which discuss the Avos are meant to teach us how to live our lives and to gain spiritual sensitivity. The Avos teach us to be in touch with our deep inner world and to seek out closeness with Hashem as we deeply yearn in our hearts.
Parshas Chayei Sarah
A Model Home
“Old age” can refer to the accumulation of wisdom and life experience or it can refer to someone being haggard and worn down. The Midrash (Tanchumah Chayei Sarah 2) explains that there are four experiences that cause one to age prematurely. They are, frustration caused by: (1) excessive fear, (2) bad children, (3) an evil wife and (4) insecurity wrought on by war. By Avraham the verse describes him as coming of age at a natural and healthy rate and being blessed with everything because he was married to Sarah who was a truly righteous woman, who respected him and encouraged him to grow in spirituality and thus he had a good life. These are the words of the Midrash. It is interesting to note that although Avraham experienced all three of the other criteria (he went to war, was put in fearful situations and had Yismael the sinner as a son), the fact that he was married to Sarah brought him comfort and blessing in this world and the next.
Rabbeinu Bechaya states that an old custom was to read a section from our parsha to a chosson, groom, when he was called up to the Torah on the Shabbos before his marriage. The section chosen was none other than the verses describing Avraham getting older and him finding a mate for Yitzchok. They wanted to stress to the groom the importance of marrying a wife who would be a partner and whom he would appreciate as well. Avraham spent much time making sure that Yitzchok would marry someone great and accomplished this with the selection of Rivka. Chazal tell us (Bava Basra 110a) that children often take after their mother and are often most similar to the siblings of the mother. Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that just as wine takes on the flavor of the barrel that it is made in (in fact, many bottles expressly advertise this), so too, a child formed in its mother’s womb for nine months often resembles the mother’s family more. For this reason, Avraham only wanted Yitzchok to marry someone most righteous and great.
Rabbeinu Bechaya echoes the question of the Midrash as to why after the Torah recounts the entire story of Eliezer searching for a suitable wife for Rivka does it quote Eliezer’s recap of the entire story as he gave it over to Rivka’s family? Rabbeinu Bechaya answers in a most cryptic manner by drawing a parallel to the giving of the luchos, tablets, which also occurred once and then a second time when the first ones were replaced. Rabbeinu Bechaya seems to be equating the giving of the Torah to the event of Yitzchok’s marriage. He continues with the parallel and states that just as the Torah itself contains laws throughout the first four our of the Five Books and then contains Sefer Devarim, the fifth book, which is the recounting of the laws of the Torah via the faithful servant Moshe Rabbeinu, so too here. The Torah contains the story of Eliezer’s search for Rivka and then contains a total repeat and review of the details by the faithful servant Eliezer. What does this mean?
When a couple celebrates their marriage we bless them with the Jewish blessing that they should build together a “bayis neeman, faithful home.” Often stress is put on the importance of the home being a place of neeman, trust, commitment and security. This is certainly most appropriate for a healthy marriage. Focus should equally be given to the word bayis, house as well. The Torah home is the place of the embodiment of Torah and mitzvos and service of Hashem. There is no more powerful place for children to learn how to serve Hashem with love and joy than in their home environment. This is the pride, joy and goal of the Jewish home.
It is exactly for this reason that the Torah compares Yitzchok’s marriage to the giving of the Torah. Yitzchok was the first of the Patriarchs to be born into a Torah home (of Avraham and Sarah). He prepared himself to continue that charge by offering his life to Hashem at the akaida, binding of Issac, and by learning Torah in the academy of Shem and Ever. He was set up to continue the Torah home that his parents had modeled. There is nothing more powerful, significant and beautiful than what the couple set out to accomplish as they built the Jewish nation.