In This Issue:
Rabbi Darren Blackstein
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parashat Chayei Sarah contains a series of events that constitutes a virtual rollercoaster of emotions.
We first read about the heart-wrenching death of Sarah. We witness Avraham's grief and his determination in fulfilling the sacred task of acquiring a burial plot for her. Avraham understands that life must continue, so he proceeds to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. Yitzchak marries Rivkah, Avraham remarries, and, at a later time, he passes away. Towards the beginning of the Parasha, the Midrash points out that the end of Parashat VaYeira and the beginning of Parashat Chayei Sarah echo a message from Kohelet, "VeZarach HaShemesh UVa HaShamesh," "The sun rises and the sun sets" (1:5). We first read about the birth of Rivkah and then are told of the passing of Sarah. The Midrash lists great people and demonstrates that before one passed away, the one who would carry on was already born. This seems to provide us with some degree of consolation. We at least can have faith in the fact that Hashem preserves a type of universal balance and that
loss is compensated for.
Perhaps this is a reflection of another sequence of events that we find in Parashat Bereishit. Only after man transgresses and is subject to passing away (chapter 3) do we read about his children (chapter 4). Marriage and children are functions of continuity. We react to a loss by moving on to an area of gain. Avraham exemplifies this by searching for a wife for Yitzchak after Sarah's passing. It should be noted that this balance is fragile. It is not an issue of substitution; it is an issue of continuity.
Does Yitzchak perceive this continuity? We read, at the end of chapter 24, that Yitzchak brought Rivkah into Sarah's tent. The Midrash tells us that some form of Hashem's Presence hovered over that tent as long as Sarah was alive and that when she passed away, the Presence left. When Rivkah entered, Hashem's Presence returned. It seems that this Midrash is telling us that this also was a signal to Yitzchak that Rivkah would follow in Sarah's footsteps, upholding the values for which his family stood. This would preserve the balance and provide continuity. However, one problem remains: Why does the Torah delay telling us that Yitzchak was consoled? Only after we are told that he brought Rivkah into the tent, married her, that she became his wife, and that he loved her does the Pasuk say that he was consoled (24:67). Perhaps we are to learn from this that consolation may not be immediate. It took time for Yitzchak and Rivkah to function as a
unit, hence the need to say that she became his wife. The Torah then tells us that he loved her. True love takes time to develop, and marriage should nurture that. Only then was Yitzchak consoled.
The balance between loss and consolation is a delicate one. Sometimes we are fortunate, like Yitzchak, and seem to recognize the hand of Hashem as the balance is preserved. Sometimes, though, we are not so fortunate, and the equation seems to remain unbalanced. The latter case would, in some way, resemble Avraham's experience. The Torah does not mention that Avraham was consoled. He knew that Yitzchak was settled, but this did not console him. He understood Hashem's promise of a balance, and that was enough, apparently. Was his heart broken? Probably. Was his Emunah truly shaken? Not for a minute! May we be blessed with Yitzchak's Mazal to notice the balance, and may we also be blessed with Avraham's fortitude when our vision is obscured.
After the death of Sarah Imeinu, the Torah goes into great detail concerning Avraham's mission to buy a burial place for his dear wife. In trying to find a place to bury Sarah, Avraham resolved to bury his wife specifically in Chevron, a place that clearly was very important to him. Why was Avraham so adamant that his wife be buried in Chevron?
In addressing a shul in Yerushalayim one year after the Chevron Massacre of 1929, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook explained the importance of Chevron using the well-known Jewish concept of "Maaseh Avot Siman LaBanim," "the actions of our forefathers are a symbol for [what will happen to] their descendants." When Avraham was first instructed to walk through the land and settle within its bounds (Bereishit 13:17), one of the first places he traveled to and settled in was Chevron. Avraham knew that future generations of Jews would find their respective places in Klal Yisrael through spiritual inspiration derived from visiting the graves of their forefathers. By buying land in Chevron, Avraham designated it as a precedent to influence future acquisitions of land in Israel and as a symbol of the potential Kedushah of the land. When Kaleiv entered the land with the other spies in Parashat Shelach, the only place he ventured to by himself was Chevron in
order to pray at Me'arat HaMachpeilah, as he was well aware of the sanctity and potential holiness that could be found there.
While Chevron never became the actual capital of Eretz Yisrael, the dynasty of King David, which symbolized the complete Jewish control of Eretz Yisrael, began there. By making that first purchase of Chevron thousands of years ago, Avraham knew that he would be establishing a place of Kedushah and Tefillah for all of Am Yisrael for hundreds of generations to come.
When Avraham tells Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak, he gives specific instructions. The Pasuk states simply, "VaHashem Beirach Et Avraham BaKol," "And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything" (Bereishit 24:1). But when Eliezer tells Rivkah's family about Avraham, he goes into great detail about Avraham's wealth. The Torah further states, "VeAshbiacha BaHashem Elokei HaShamayim," "And I will have you swear by Hashem, God of the heavens" (24:3), but when he retells the story, Eliezer omits the reference to Hashem (24:37). A third difference is that when Avraham tells Eliezer to go look for a wife, he asks him, "VeLakachta Ishah LiVni LeYitzchak," "And you shall take a wife for my son, Yitzchak" (24:4). But Eliezer tells Rivkah's family that he was instructed, "VeLakachta Ishah LiVni," "And you shall take a wife for my son" (24:38), leaving out Yitzchak's name. Why is Eliezer changing the story?
answer is that Eliezer, aware that Rivkah's parents would not necessarily be willing to let her leave and marry Yitzchak, adapts the story to fit what her family would want to hear. He first elaborates on Avraham's wealth so that the family would know how rich Avraham was and that Rivkah was not being sent into a poor family. He then says only that Avraham made him swear because Rivkah's family didn't care about Hashem. That Eliezer had taken an oath in the name of Hashem wouldn't mean anything to them. An oath in the name of Avraham, however, was significant to Rivkah's family. Lastly, the Beit HaLevi explains that Yitzchak's potential wife needed to be suitable both for Yitzchak (LeYitzchak) and to be Avraham's daughter-in-law (LiVni). When Eliezer retold the story, he said only that she had to be suitable to be Avraham's daughter-in-law. Although Rivkah's parents wouldn't have minded marrying off their daughter to a family of spiritual
giants (LiVni), they didn't want Rivkah to marry someone who was already a great scholar and who would insist that his wife follow all of his strictures (LeYitzchak). Therefore, he decided to omit the fact that Rivkah also had to be suitable for Yitzchak, as the family might not have consented to such a request.
Following the tragic episode of Sarah's death, Avraham set out to find a wife for Yitzchak. He was getting old (Bereishit 24:1), and he now placed priority on this endeavor, which the Gemara (Kiddushin 29a) states is an obligation upon every father. Avraham decided not to look among the women of Canaan, whom he believed were not fit for Yitzchak, but rather to send Eliezer to Charan to find Yitzchak a wife.
Eliezer devised a celebrated plan to identify which girl would be a fitting wife for Yitzchak. He would walk with his camels to a well and ask a young lady, "Hati Na Chadeich VeEshteh," "Please tip your jug so I can drink." The young woman, according to this plan, would respond, "Sheteih VeGam Gemalecha Ashkeh," "Drink, and I will also give water to your camels" (24:14). It is obvious from Eliezer's plan that he put emphasis on the girl's quality of Chesed, charity. This seems to be the pivotal characteristic that would determine if a young lady was appropriate for Yitzchak.
Avraham's urgency in finding a wife for Yitzchak and the importance lent to her kindness and grace can teach us a lesson. The most necessary ingredient in a successful marriage (or any social relationship) is Chesed. Since Avraham would not be able to guide Yitzchak through the rest of his life, he had to ensure that Yitzchak and Rivkah together would find the Derech of Hashem. Avraham had planted the seed of Torah in Yitzchak, and though he would not be able to see its growth, he was confident that his and Rivkah's Chesed would make the Torah flourish during their lifetimes and for all future generations.
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