Chayei Sarah – The Impact of a Kind Deed

Yishmael was prophesied and known to be a pere adam, a wild man, as the Torah says, “And he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell” (Breishis 16:12). He was the predecessor of the Arab world.
The medrish PirkeiDiRebbe Eliezer (perek 32) mentions that “there were six people whose names were given to them before they were born, Yitzchak, Yishmael, Moshe Rabbeinu, Shlomo, Yoshiyahu, and the name of moshiach, whom G-D will bring speedily in our days… How do we know Yishmael? For it says, ‘And you will name him Yishmael’ (Breishis 16:11). Why was he called Yishmael? For in the future Hashem will listen to the groaning of the nation from what the children of Yishmael will do to them in The Land at the end of days, that is why he is called Yishmael [which literally means G-D will listen], as it says, ‘G-D will listen and He will answer’ (Tehillim 55:20).” The commentary, Bayis HaGadol points out that the pasuk says why he was called Yishmael, for an angel said to his mother, Hagar, when she was originally sent away from Avraham and Sarah’s house, “Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for Hashem has heard your affliction” (Breishis 16:11). However, Avraham, on his own called him Yishmael as well because of the prophesy he saw at the end of days of Yishmael’s descendants causing Avraham’s descendants [through Yitzchak] to moan and be heard by G-D. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Bayis HaGadol then references to an early chapter, perek 30 in Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer. There it says, “And furthermore Rebbe Yishmael said, there will be 3 wars of riots that the children of Yishmael will do in The Land at the end of days. As it says (Yeshayahu 21:15), ‘For, because of the swords they wandered;’ and swords refer to war. One will be in the forest as it says there, ‘because of the raging [battle] sword.’ One will be in the sea, ‘because of the bent bow’ (the Bayis HaGadol explains that battles at sea must be fought with arrows not swords). And one will be in the great metropolis within Rome (some editions have in their text “Aram” which was around the Syrian/Iranian area), which will be more intense than the other two [battles] as it says there, ‘and because of the pressure of war.’ And from there the son of David will sprout out and will watch the destruction of the wicked, and from there he will go to Eretz Yisrael as it says, ‘Who is this coming from Edom, with soiled garments, from Bozrah, this one [who was] stately in his apparel, girded with the greatness of his strength? I speak with righteousness, great to save’ (Yeshayahu 63:1).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Although this medrish is very esoteric and we won’t fully understand what it meant until after the fact, we see clearly that Yishmael and his descendants were and are like “a thorn in the flesh.” Yet the last Medrish Rabba in this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah depicts one lasting kindness that Yishmael did. The Maharz”u points out that this medrish is of the opinion Yishmael was wicked his entire life and never repented. Therefore, the medrish asks why he was deserving of having his age of death and lineage of descendants spelled out at the end of this week’s Torah portion?

The Maharz”u aptly further points out that the Torah wanted to spell out his age of when he died in order to be able to calculate Yaakov Avinu’s age, which could have been mentioned in a later portion but it was mentioned here because of a kindness that Yishmael did to Avraham Avinu, his father. The Medrish says, “What did the Torah see to write the age of this wicked person here? For he came from a distant part of the desert to be kind to his father [by paying his last respects and helping to bury him after he passed on].” The Rada”l explains further that Yishmael lived in the desert of Paran, which is a vast desert in the south of Israel and Yishmael might have lived in a place called Gadgod which is near Etzion Gaver, in the southeast by the Land of Edom. He traveled all the way to Beer Sheva, where Avraham Avinu passed away, to pay his last respects and do a kindness to his father. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This is quite astonishing! It would seem that Yishmael was really not deserving of having his age or lineage of his descendants listed at all in the Torah, except for the fact that it would have helped in calculating Yaakov’s age. Which means it should have been mentioned much later, like by the Torah portion of Vayigash or Vayechi; yet because of this kindness that he performed, the Torah, when formulated within earthly time by Hashem and given to Moshe at Har Sinai, wrote Yishmael’s age and lineage because of the kindness he did. And it was written next to Avraham Avinu’s death just to hint to the kindness this wicked person, whose descendants have not been any better throughout the generations, had done. How powerful is even a simple act of kindness in the eyes of Hashem!

Think about it! Yishmael didn’t even do a majorly helpful act of kindness. He just said goodbye to his father on his deathbed and attended his funeral, probably even to help bury him, even though Yitzchak himself with many of his servants and followers could have done it themselves without Yishmael’s help. Yet it was worth “changing” the entire Torah just to point out this act of kindness!
If this is how an act of kindness of a wicked person is treated all the more so can one imagine the value and importance of every single kindness a fellow Jew does, a prince of the King Of All Kings, what an impact it must have in the “eyes” of Hashem.

Chayei Sarah – A Leap of Faith

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In this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, Avraham sends his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. He finds Rivka at the well and asks her for a drink of water, and she proceeds to give his animals a drink as well. Eliezer then gave her gifts of betrothal before he even asks her who she was. “Now it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, [that] the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels]” (Breishis 24:22). Rashi explains that there was a symbolism behind each of the pieces of jewelry Eliezer gave Rivka. “Half [a shekel]: This alludes to the shekels of Israel, half a shekel per head. — [Targum Jonathan] and two bracelets: An allusion to the two Tablets paired together. — [Gen. Rabbah (60:6), Targum Jonathan], weighing ten gold [shekels]: An allusion to the Ten Commandments [inscribed] on them. — [Gen. Rabbah 60:6].”
The Levush Haorah, wondering why Rashi gives symbolism to each of these gifts, gives a very deep and profound insight into Eliezer’s intentions. He says, “It would seem to me that Rashi specifically pointed this out because the pasuk did not write, ‘The man took a golden nose ring and he put it on her nose, and two bracelets etc.’ Rather the pasuk was hinting with this that he was not concerned to give her a gift of greater value, rather he just wanted to hint with it certain concepts. And even though she definitely did not understand them and did not know what they were, nevertheless, it is possible to say that he did this in order to do an action that would strengthen the success of his journey. Meaning, that she will be the woman that Hashem will prove to be for Yitzchak. We find in many places of prophecy that the prophet will strengthen and fortify his prophecy with an action the prophet performs, for example, ‘And he said, “Open the window to the east,” and he opened it; and Elisha said, “Shoot!” And he shot. And he said, “[This is] an arrow of salvation from the Lord, and an arrow of victory over Aram, and you shall strike the Arameans in Aphek until they are completely annihilated”’ (Melachim Beis 13:17). There are many other examples like that one, check and you will find them. This is one of the secrets of prophecy to energize the Powers On High. So too he, [Eliezer], wanted to energize upon her Powers From On High so that she will merit and be ready for this holy match (made in Heaven). This will also answer the question everyone asks of why he first gave them to her and then asked her who she was, for even though he relied on the merit of Avraham, and trusted in him, as Rashi explained, nevertheless, what’s the big deal? Why take any chances? What would hurt if he would have asked her name first and afterwards give her the presents? It would have been better! But according to what I am saying, this isn’t a problem, because if he would have asked her beforehand and then given to her, then there would not have been any room for [spiritual] energy and inspiration, for he would have given it with the confidence of knowing who she was. He would have relied on that and not on the intent of arousing [spiritual] energy, but now that he first gave and did not originally ask, his thoughts and intents were more clinging On High with his inspirational energy in a fashion of prayer and beseeching and it more actively created a clinging to Hashem through his intent, thoughts and arousal of [spiritual] energy. If one truly thinks about this, he’ll understand.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It sounds like from this Levush Haorah that Eliezer was giving some sort of spiritual, kabbalistic sign of success for finding what he thought would be the perfect match for Yitzchak. But wasn’t he taking a big risk? It sounds like the jewelry he gave her was not so expensive; what if she had been insulted and rejected the proposal? Why should he have risked putting in jeopardy such an important mission? He should have put in all his efforts to ensure success and make a good impression on her for Yitzchak! Furthermore, what if she was the wrong girl? Avraham asked him to find his family, so shouldn’t Eliezer have inquired first to be sure he did not mess up? What if he was wrong? You can’t put trust in Hashem on someone else’s expense, especially with so much at stake like a proper shidduch for Yitzchak!

However, if you think about this a bit, I believe there is an incredible insight into bitachon, trust in Hashem, that can be learned from the Levush Haorah’s understanding of Eliezer’s actions. It would seem that the proper effort, hishtadlus, for Eliezer was to have more bitachon, trust in Hashem, even blind faith of sorts which was a matter of taking risks.  But by taking the actions he took, and making the decisions that he made, it was in fact the proper efforts he was supposed to take, and if he had not, then it’s possible that the shidduch and marriage would not have been the same. This trust in Hashem is what transformed his efforts into calculated efforts and not just a blind leap of faith.

The way to understand this best is what the Chovos Halevavos says in the beginning of his introduction to the chapter on Bitachon, “The benefits in religious matters: Among them, peace of mind, and trusting in G-d as a servant must trust in his master. Because if one does not place his trust in G-d, he will place his trust in something else, and whoever trusts in something other than G-d, the Al-mighty will remove His providence from such a person and leave him in the hands of the one he trusted.” 

Eliezer’s actions though seemed odd, risky, and improper, but on the contrary ensured that he will be guided and protected in the “Hands” of Hashem which guaranteed and was in fact a sign of a successful mission.

Chaye Sarah- Freedom, Liberty and the Pursuit of Honesty

If you look up the word “freedom” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary or you will find many definitions. The Cambridge Dictionary defines freedom as “the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.” Also, “a right to act in the way you think you should.”
However, the Torah has a much different approach to defining freedom, as seen in the Medrish Rabba of this week’s Torah portion of Chaye Sara. “Rebbe Yossi ben Rebbe Dosa said that Canaan was Eliezer and because he served this righteous person [Avraham Avinu] with integrity he escaped the fact that he was cursed and entered a state of being blessed, as it says, ‘came the blessed of Hashem.’  Rebbe Yaakov said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan of the House of Govrin when he parted from speaking a Torah lecture, ‘Just as Eliezer who served the righteous one with integrity left his accursed state and became blessed, Jews who do kindness with those greater and smaller than them all the more so’” (Breishis Rabba 60:7).

The Yefe Toar explains that the subjugation to gedolim (great people) is in itself freedom and   liberty; indeed, the fact that Eliezer served Avraham with honesty and integrity caused him to be taken out of slavery, which is the curse, and into freedom, which is the blessing. So, if Jews do kindness with their hands, a referring to giving charity, and with their feet, which refers to running to do good, all the more so. This kal vachomer (fortiori) from the servant of Avraham is similar to one found in the first chapter of Brachos 5a, where we learn that suffering is an atonement. For just as a slave goes free if the master knocks out a limb, like an eye or a tooth, all the more so, suffering that effects the entire body will atone for all of one’s sins. And here we learn a kal vachomer (fortiori) from a slave that kindness and truth redeem a person from all sorts of suffering and distress. (Click here for Hebrew text.
The Maharz”u points out that one shouldn’t think it is too farfetched that Canaan, Cham’s son, be the servant of Avraham, though they were 8 generations apart, for Shem the son of Noach in fact lived 600 years until Yaakov was 50. Canaan who was cursed by his grandfather Noach chose to cling to Avraham at the end of his life which completely changed his life. With absolute dedication and honesty, he not only was Avraham’s right-hand man, but he imbibed all of Avraham’s teachings, and subjugated himself to the will of his master who was the greatest person of his generation. Because of his dedication and integrity Hashem transformed him into a blessed person and took off the curse that Noach gave him. This blessing the Yefe Toar refers to as freedom.

This freedom was not the right to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, whether good or bad. On the contrary, he was still in the service of Avraham Avinu all the way to the end. Rather, what set him free was his honesty and integrity towards the leader of the generation when doing his bidding. Why is that freedom?
The truth is that one’s performance in life, when done in an honest way without any deceit, is in fact genuine freedom. This is especially true when what you are doing is helping someone so great and close to Hashem as was Avraham Avinu. This is because the further away one distances himself from the façade of the physical world with all its trappings and lies, the closer he is to Hashem who is completely truth and is free to do whatever He wants. Certainly, by surrendering yourself to the will of a great spiritual leader in order to serve him and to learn his holy ways,  a transformative effect will occur to bring you closer to Hashem. This was true to the extent that Canaan who was literally cursed with being subjugated by his brethren and their future generations broke out of the curse by honestly clinging and emulating Avraham Avinu, the closest person to Hashem in the generation.

We can learn a lesson here that if we act as free people by choosing to emulate Hashem with doing acts of kindness with the utmost of honesty and integrity to others whether greater or inferior than us then we will certainly be free from any suffering and iniquity.

The ability to emulate Hashem who is free to do whatever He wants is the real definition of freedom.

Chayei Sarah – Saving the Best for Last

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The motto “Save the best for last” is a real concept in Judaism, with major ramifications as we see in a medrish on this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah.  In the parsha, after Eliezer and the House of Besuel agreed that Rivka should marry Yitzchok, Eliezer, who was Avraham’s chief servant, gave gifts to Rivka and her family. As it says:  “And the servant took out silver articles and golden articles and garments, and he gave [them] to Rebecca, and he gave delicacies to her brother and to her mother” (Breishis 24:53).

The Medrish Rabba quotes Rav Huna to say that “silver articles” refers to instruments that women used to sew or wash themselves, like a washbasin. The Rabbanan say that “delicacies” refers to popcorn (popped kernels of any grain to be exact) and nuts. The Medrish asks: is popcorn really more desireable than everything else? Rather, it is coming to teach us that when a person is embarking on a journey and doesn’t have proper provisions, he is in in great pain and suffering. Similarly, it says that before the Jews  left Egypt “Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and from the dweller in her house silver and gold objects and garments…” (Shemos 3:22). Were clothes really most desirable? Rather, it is coming to teach us that if one is going on a journey and doesn’t have any clothing, it causes pain and suffering. Similarly, it says in Ezra (1:6): “And all those around them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with possessions, with cattle, and with delicacies, besides all that was donated” (Breishis Rabba 60:11).

The Matnos Kehuna explains that when the medrish asked about popcorn and clothing, it was because it was mentioned last, and we save the best for last; hence, they must be favorite.  The Matnos Kehuna explains the answer of the Medrish that food, as well as clothing, are indeed the favorite because without them there would be pain and suffering. Therefore this is what he took to support himself on the journey. This pasuk in Ezra supports the notion that the delicacies are mentioned last because they are more beloved than anything else.

The Etz Yosef spells the matter out a bit more clearly. He explains that the Medrish first asks: “Is popcorn really more beloved than anything else?” And the Medrish “answers that for Eliezer it was because that was his sustenance on his journey.” The Etz Yosef went on to explain that there are objects that, taken in a vacuum, are seemingly not cherished, but because of circumstance (time, location, etc.) are beloved in that area. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In any event we see clearly that the motto “saving the best for last” is indeed a real thing. However we have to understand to what extent this assumption is made. If you take the second example used in the medrish you find something quite astonishing! You would think that if the Jewish women would be able to borrow anything from their Egyptian counterparts, they would ask for jewelry, fine gold and silver utensils, anything precious to them, which they did. But the medrish is telling us they saved the best for last, which was clothing. The clothing was the best because it was the most useful for them on their journey. Wouldn’t you think that something so essential would be asked to be borrowed first, just in case the Egyptians would change their minds part way and not let them take anything else? Why take the chance of taking too much advantage of the enemy?

It must be that the concept of saving the best for last is so naturally engrained in one’s psyche that that is how a person would automatically act, even at such a perilous time such as this one. They were preparing for a journey which they didn’t even know when it would end, and asking their enemy for anything, which normally could very easily backfire.

For this reason as well, Eliezer gave out his nosh last as presents to the family, not because he wanted to give Rivka first then her mother and brother. If the silver washing basin or golden sewing needle would have been his favorite he would have given that last. But because the nosh, his energy for the journey until now, was what he cherished most, so he gave it last.

 And so too when the exiles in the time of Ezra were preparing for their return to Israel to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, they packed their food provisions last because those were the most favorite, beloved, and cherished items for them at that very moment, upon their journey from Babylon back to Israel.
It would seem unless explicitly expressed or premeditated otherwise we can assume that it is natural habit that a person saves the best for last.
אחרון אחרון חביב!