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Chayei Sarah

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Chayei Sarah

27 Cheshvan 5767

November 18, 2006

Vol.16 No.9

In This Issue:

How Thoughtful

by Rabbi Josh Kahn

The centrality of Chesed in the story of Rivka and Eliezer is evident; however, a closer analysis of Rivka's actions shows how her behavior went beyond the definition of kindness. When Eliezer went to find a wife for Yitzchak, he asked Hashem to show him the right girl through a certain set of events. In Eliezer's plan, he would sit by the well and the girl who would offer water to both Eliezer and his camels would be the one meant for Yitzchak. Certainly, this girl would demonstrate her sense of kindness through this sequence of events. However, while kindness, the obvious motif in this story, could have been ascertained merely by Rivka offering water to Eliezer, there was a second underlying test that Rivka had to pass which involved the water she offered to the camels. The Beit HaLevi believes that Eliezer was looking not only for Rivka's Chesed, but also for her thoughtfulness and consideration. How were these traits evident in the story at the well?

Rivka was faced with a series of decisions. First, would she offer water to Eliezer, a complete stranger? Then, after giving Eliezer water to drink, she had to decide what to do with a pitcher from which the stranger had drunk. Maybe he had had a disease and his germs would now be in the leftover pitcher that she had worked so hard to fill. If she brought the pitcher home, she would be endangering her family; if she dumped it out in front of Eliezer, she would probably hurt his feelings by showing that she didn't want the water he had touched. Eliezer wanted to see that the girl through whom the future of the Jewish people would be born could balance acting nicely for someone with sensitivity for his or her feelings. Along with the sensitivity for the recipient of kindness, Rivka also demonstrated that she would not endanger her family just because she performed a Chesed for another person. Thus, she would not bring home this pitcher of water and jeopardize her family just to avoid hurting the feelings of this stranger.

The only way to balance all of these factors was to offer the remaining water to the camels. Eliezer was concerned not with Rivka's kindness to the camels, but rather for her ingenuity in decision making. However, Rivka went one step further. She felt this thought process might have been too obvious to Eliezer and therefore offered to draw even more water for the camels. By drawing this extra water, she demonstrated to Eliezer that she did not merely intend to dispose of his leftover water. Rivka's thoughtfulness demonstrated her special Midot.

Creativity and ingenuity are significant even in the realm of kindness. Rabbi Paysach Krohn illustrates their importance in a story. Yaakov was a very capable, young man, who learned in a Kollel in America. He was having a hard time making ends meet. Although he and his wife were determined to live on his small stipend from the Kollel and whatever money she could make, other members of the Kollel constantly tried unsuccessfully to help this couple. Avraham, another member of the Kollel, had already gained a reputation for his constant thoughtfulness because of other things he had done, such as putting pens and pads of paper by each payphone should anyone on the phone need to write down any important information. But, Avraham knew that this time, his plan would have to be much more creative to enable him to fool Yaakov. Avraham called Yaakov and explained that he had just been to the grocery and the owner told him that he had received a shipment of fish that were packaged in damaged cans. Although the owner had reassured Avraham that the fish inside were fine, he explained that he was giving a special discount because of the condition of the cans. After telling Yaakov this creative tale, Avraham said that he was going to the grocery later that day to pick up some for himself. He offered to buy a few cans for Yaakov. Yaakov knew this was a bargain, and it was even better because he wouldn't need to go to the store. Yaakov thankfully accepted. True to his word, Avraham went to the grocery, where he bought the cans of fish. He went home, took a hammer, and lightly dented the cans so Yaakov wouldn't find out about the "scam." Avraham then brought the cans to Yaakov and sold them to him for a cheaper price. Avraham's creativity and ingenuity enabled him to trick Yaakov into being the beneficiary of Chesed.

Surely, Avraham's ancestor, Rivka, would have been proud of his ability to use his cleverness to raise the Midah of Chesed to an even higher level.

Good Planning?

by Marc Poleyeff

After the burial of Sarah, Avraham presents his servant Eliezer with the task of finding a wife for Yitzchak The Torah introduces this section with the Pasuk (24:1), " VeAvraham Zakein Ba BaYamim, VaHashem Beirach Et Avraham BaKol," "Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything." Rashi comments that the word "BaKol" has the same Gematria (numerical value) as the word "Ben," a son. According to this understanding, the Torah opens this section by pointing out that Avraham had a son, so he needed to find a wife for him.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) offers a different interpretation of this Pasuk. Chazal say that Avraham had a daughter named "Bakol." From where did Chazal come to this conclusion? The Chachamim resolve this issue by explaining a Machloket in Masechet Yevamot regarding the Mitzvah of Peru Urvu. Beit Shammai says that in order to fulfill this Mitzvah, one must have two sons. This is derived from Moshe Rabbeinu, who had two sons with his wife Tziporah and then left her (see Bamidbar 12:2 and Rashi there). On the other hand, Beit Hillel says that one fulfills this Mitzvah by having one daughter and one son. This is derived from the Pasuk (Bereishit 5:2), " Zachar UNekeivah Beraam," "Male and female He (Hashem) created them." Comparable to creation, one fulfills the Mitzvah of Peru Urvu by having a daughter and a son. The Halacha was established in accordance with the view of Beit Hillel. Since Chazal say that Avraham fulfilled every Mitzvah of the Torah, they assume that he fulfilled the first Mitzvah of the Torah, that of Peru Urvu. Avraham therefore must have had a daughter, and her name was "Bakol."

Before Matan Torah, it was permitted to marry one's sister. Therefore, why didn't Avraham arrange a marriage between Yitzchak and Bakol? One of the Baalei HaTosafot suggests that Bakol was too young to marry Yitzchak. However, it was only after Akeidat Yitzchak that Avraham learned of Rivkah's birth (for presumably, that's when she was born). Sarah had died after she heard Yitzchak was almost slaughtered. As a result, Bakol must have been older than Rivkah. If so, Bakol's age could not have precluded her marriage to Yitzchak, since it did not preclude Rivkah's marriage to Yitzchak.

The Zera Berech explains that after Akeidat Yitzchak, there was no doubt whom Yitzchak was going to marry. Although there was a major age difference between Yitzchak and Rivkah, Hashem still notified Avraham that Yitzchak would marry Rivkah. The Baal HaTosafot was dealing with this issue before Akeidat Yitzchak, when Avraham was unaware of Rivka's imminent birth. Therefore, Avraham didn't marry off Yitzchak to Bakol because he believed she was too young for him. Only once Rivkah was born did Avraham realize that the age difference was not an issue, but at that point he had already been told that Yitzchak would marry Rivkah.

In the end, everything is in Hashem's hand. We may plan and calculate, but Hashem will ultimately decide what is going to happen. As we say in Shacharit (Mishlei 19:21), "Many designs are in man's heart, but only the council of Hashem will prevail."

Stay Strong

by Daniel Weintraub

Parashat Chayei Sarah starts out with a sad story. Sarah, the great wife of Avraham Avinu had died. Not only had she died, but Chazal teach she had died with the worst timing. At the end of Parashat VaYera, Avraham was about to commit a deed that no father wants to commit; he was going to sacrifice Yitzchak. Hashem had mercy, and once He saw that Avraham was actually going to pass this test, he spared Yitchack's life. Rashi says that Sarah's death was directly related to the Akeidah. He quotes a Midrash that says that Satan showed Sarah a vision of the Akeidah, and when she saw that Avraham had almost slaughtered Yitzchak, she died. This raises a question: how could such an important event, which we constantly refer to on Rosh HaShanah, have caused the seemingly early death of Sarah? The Netivot Shalom offers an amazing answer. He states that Satan had tried to prevent Avraham from performing the Akeidah, and when he didn't succeed, he decided to try a different angle. The Gemara (Kiddushin 40b) teaches that the only way to lose merit for a Mitzvah is to regret doing it. Satan tried this approach on Avraham by causing Sarah's seemingly premature death. However, Avraham stayed strong and did not regret his actions.

In reality, however, this wasn't a premature death. The Parsha starts out, "VaYihyu Chayei Sarah Meiah Shanah VeEsrim Shanah VeSheva Shanim," "And this was the life of Sarah, 100 years, 20 years, and 7 years." Instead of simply saying that Sarah died, the Torah makes sure to let us know that 127 years was the complete lifetime of Sarah; she was supposed to live for 127 years no matter what happened. The Torah wanted to make sure that there was no doubt in our minds that this was the predetermined life of Sarah.

Avraham's reaction to Sarah's death shows us that no matter what, we can't let Satan get in our way. We must remain steadfast in our belief that every Mitzvah will be rewarded for and never regret doing them.

Facial Implications

by Tzvi Zuckier

by Tzvi Zuckier In the very beginning of Parshat Chayei Sarah the Pasuk states (Bereishit 23:3), "VaYakam Avraham MeiAl Penei Meito Vaydabeir El Bnei Cheit Leimor," literally translated,"And Avraham got up from upon the face of his dead and spoke to the sons of Cheit saying." Why does the Torah use such an awkward description of Sarah in her state of death? Couldn't the Torah have just said "From upon his dead," which would have made it quite clear that Avraham was getting up from Sarah's dead body?

The Yaarot Devash offers an interesting and satisfying answer to this question. He quotes several Midrashim that say that only those who merited being killed by Neshikah, a rare form of death in which Hashem Himself "kisses" or sucks out a person's soul in a completely painless way, were buried in Maarat HaMachpeilah. On the other hand, those who die at the hands of the Malach HaMavet, the angel of death, as is the common way for people to die, are buried in ordinary graves. The Chachamim say that the Malach HaMavet causes three things: the death of the person, the subsequent paling of the person's face, and the unpleasant smell of the corpse. However, Sarah's death was through Neshikah, and would not have any of these symptoms. The Pasuk says that Avraham got up from "Upon the face of his dead" to point out that Sarah's face was not pale. The Torah proceeds with Avraham's negotiations for the purchase of Maarat HaMachpeilah because only once he discovered that Sarah died through Neshikah did it become important for him to buy this special plot of land designated for those who died through Neshikah.

The Avnei Eizel introduces another question on the same Pasuk which he also explains using the aforementioned Yaarot Devash. He wonders why the Pasuk used the word "Penei," "face," to describe the dead Sarah. His question is based on the premise that ordinarily (according to Rabbeinu Bachaye) a face is the quintessential expression of the inner feelings of a person, for whatever mood someone is in is expressed in his facial features. If someone is happy, his face will light up, but when someone is sad, his facial features change to a much more gloomy expression (see Ramban to Devarim 21:16). Therefore, if someone is dead, his features cannot reflect on his/her inner core or mood, for he no longer has anything to express. The Avnei Eizel uses the explanation of the Yaarot Devash to answer this question. It is fitting for the Pasuk to use the word "Penei," even when referring to a corpse, for Sarah died through Neshikah and thus her face did not pale. She still maintained her inner essence even though she had perished.

There is much to look up to in Sarah. Very few people in Tanach are at such a level that they merit death by the kiss of Hashem. Although we may not reach this high level, we must still strive for this lofty goal and reach as high as we possibly can. We must try our best to reach the greatness of Sarah, who can teach us a lesson even in her death.

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