Overcoming Obstacles by Aaron Fishkind


Parashat Chayei Sarah depicts two very different individuals who were faced with and passed difficult tests. The first is Eli’ezer, Avraham’s main and most trusted servant, who is commanded by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak (BeReishit 24:2-4). Outwardly, Eli’ezer does not seem to have any hesitations regarding his mission – he swears to Avraham that he will find a suitable bride (24:9), locates Rivkah after she selflessly quenches his and his camels’ thirsts (24:18-20), and, after some negotiating with Rivkah and her family, brings her to Yitzchak to marry him (24:35-58). However, Eli’ezer was in fact presented with a major test of loyalty and devotion to his master. After Eli’ezer arrives at the well to look for a potential bride (24:12), Eli’ezer prays to Hashem, as the Pasuk states, “VaYomar Hashem Elokei Adoni Avraham Hakreih Na Lefanay HaYom VaAseih Chesed Im Adoni Avraham,” “And he said, ‘Hashem, the God of my master Avraham, please cause to happen to me today, and show kindness to my master Avraham’” (24:12). The cantillation note for the word “VaYomar” is a Shalshelet, a rare note which is elongated and three-toned. The Pasuk (24:12) describes how Eli’ezer prayed to Hashem that he should be successful on his mission. However, a Shalshelet usually implies that there is an internal struggle within the character regarding whom the Shalshelet is sung. Eli’ezer’s struggle was that he had conflicting desires. On the one hand, he had a responsibility and a desire to fulfill Avraham’s request. On the other hand, Eli’ezer wanted to be a part of Avraham's family by having his daughter marry Yitzchak (Rashi 24:39 s.v. Ulay Lo Teileich HaIshah Acharay). This oscillation and uncertainty is highlighted by the Shalshelet. Although Eli’ezer had his own aspirations, he put his duties first, and he was rewarded by God for his righteous actions by finding the perfect wife for Yitzchak almost immediately and effortlessly.

The other notable individual who overcomes challenges in Parashat Chayei Sarah is Yishma’eil. Following his and his mother’s banishment from Avraham's household due to Sarah’s intolerance with his behavior towards Yitzchak (21:14), Yishma’eil is not mentioned until Avraham’s death. After Avraham dies, the Pesukim state that both Yitzchak and Yishma’eil buried their father beside Sarah in Ma’arat HaMachpeilah (25:9). Rashi (ad. loc s.v. Yitzchak VeYishma’eil) comments that the fact that Yitzchak is mentioned before Yishma’eil implies that Yitzchak led the funeral procession, despite Yishma’eil's seniority. Yishma’eil, who terrorized Yitzchak when they were children and who was banished from Avraham’s household allowed Yitzchak to precede him in the procession. Yishma’eil could have acted like Eisav, who acknowledged his own seniority and went ahead of Ya’akov at Yitzchak’s funeral; however, Yishma’eil overcame a monumental internal conflict between his desires and reality by recognizing Yitzchak’s status as Avraham’s main son, and he allowed his brother to lead Avraham’s funeral. This act of kindness does not go unnoticed, for a few Pesukim later, in relation to Yishma’eil’s death, the Torah records, “VaYigvah VaYamat,” “and he expired and died” (25:17). The Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) notes that the term “VaYigvah” is used to refer to the death of Tzadikim. Yishma’eil, who after being banished from Avraham Avinu's household could have easily turned against Avraham and refused to attend his funeral, instead did Teshuvah by attending the funeral and allowing his younger brother to lead the procession.

Both Eli’ezer’s and Yishma’eil’s stories teach the value of overcoming obstacles that at first might seem too difficult and daunting to overcome. We see that both of these strife-filled individuals did not shy away from challenge, but rather responded to it in an inspiring manner. Life presents us with difficulties, but as exhibited by Eli’ezer and Yishma’eil, we must rise to the occasion and directly and courageously tackle those challenges.

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