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Parshas Chayei Sorah
Vayih’yu chayei Sorah meah shana v’esrim
shana v’sheva shanim sh’nei chayei Sorah (23:1)
The Torah relates that Sorah died at the age of 127. Rashi notes that the Torah mentions “years” after each component of her age (“100 years and 20 years and 7 years”) in order to teach that each of these units of her life had a unique significance. At the age of 100, Sorah was just as free of sin as she had been when she turned 20, as the Heavenly Court doesn’t punish a person for his sins until he turns 20. Although a person doesn’t receive punishment, his transgressions are still considered sins – as evidenced by the fact that somebody under the age of 20 is still required to bring a sacrifice in order to atone for his transgressions – so how can Rashi write that a person who turns 20 is free of all sins?
The Brisker Rov answers that the Gemora in Yevamos (64b) states that Sorah was an ailonis – a woman who is unable to have children. Such a woman never develops the physical signs of adulthood. The Gemora in Yevamos (80a) rules that when a woman turns 20 without becoming physically mature, she is declared an ailonis and legally considered to be an adult from that time onward. Therefore, although sins which are committed before a person turns 20 are indeed considered sins even if they aren’t punishable at that time by the Heavenly Court, the transgressions of Sorah were indeed not considered sins, as she was legally viewed as a minor until she turned 20!
Rashi additionally writes that Sorah was as beautiful at the age of 20 as she had been at the age of 7. In what way is this comparison considered praiseworthy, as a woman is typically expected to be considered prettier at 20 than she was at 7? We may similarly answer by noting that the Gemora in Yevamos (80b) lists the signs commonly associated with an ailonis, all of which are features traditionally viewed as being ugly. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (49b) states that women in these early generations were able to give birth as young as 8. As this was the age at which their bodies began to develop and mature, this was also the age at which an ailonis began to exhibit signs of ugliness. Although most women are expected to be prettier at age 20 than they were at age 7, Sorah became a full-fledged ailonis at age 20, so Rashi notes that she was nevertheless just as beautiful as she had been at age 7 before her condition developed!
Vayakam Avrohom me’al p’nei meiso vay’dabeir el b’nei Cheis leimor ger v’toshav anochi imachem t’nu li achuzas kever imachem v’ekb’ra meisi mil’fanai (23:3-4)
The Gemora in Bava Basra (15b) relates that the Satan challenged the piety of Iyov and suggested that his commitment to Hashem wasn’t as pure and reliable as that of Avrohom Avinu, who didn’t question Hashem’s ways even when confronted by the trial of purchasing a burial plot for his beloved wife Sorah. As the Satan was attempting to prove the extent of Avrohom’s devotion, why didn’t he invoke Avrohom’s steadfastness at the Akeidah, when he demonstrated his willingness to offer his only son to Hashem?
Indeed, when we pray and invoke the merit of Avrohom’s dedication and commitment during Selichos and the Zichronos section of the Rosh Hashana Mussaf prayers, we mention the trial of the Akeidah as his greatest merit and achievement. Yet the Satan seemed to imply that passing the test of burying Sorah was an even greater proof of his faith than the Akeidah. What exactly was the trial involved in purchasing Sorah’s burial place, and in what way was it considered to be a more difficult test than the Akeidah?
Rav Mattisyahu Salomon answers this difficulty by way of a parable. Imagine if one day the government would enact legislation making it illegal to study Torah more than 8 hours daily. All of the leading Torah sages would give powerful speeches and publicize letters calling upon yeshiva students to brazenly and defiantly ignore this diabolical decree, who in turn would eagerly heed the call. If so, why is it that on a daily basis, there are so many yeshiva students who constantly get distracted throughout the day and fail to study 8 hours daily? The answer is that when a person feels that he is being confronted by a challenge, his adrenaline takes over and he rises to the occasion, but when he doesn’t feel that he is being tested and there is no enemy to fight against, his performance often leaves much to be desired.
Similarly, it was easy and self-evident for Avrohom to recognize that he was being tested through the Akeidah. Hashem called to him and explicitly spelled out the trial for him, making it clear what was being demanded of him. While the difficulty of the test was unfathomable, it was nevertheless clear that he was being tested, thereby allowing his adrenaline to flow and help him to rise to the occasion.
On the other hand, purchasing the burial plot from the money-hungry Efron – the equivalent of a modern-day used-car salesman – after he had just returned from the emotional rollercoaster of the Akeidah to find his beloved wife dead wasn’t presented to him as any sort of unique trial. Nevertheless, Avrohom handled it properly, conducting the transaction fairly and calmly in spite of his emotional state, without knowing that he was being tested. There were no clear decrees or enemies present and no knowledge that his actions would be recorded for posterity for all future generations to read about. Yet he passed with flying colors – with his natural and ingrained fear of Hashem.
In explaining to Miriam her error in comparing Moshe to other prophets, Hashem explained to her (Bamidbar 12:7) that Moshe was different in that b’kol beisi ne’eman hu – in My entire house, he is the trusted one. The Rashbam explains that ne’eman – trusted – means fixed and established always, in all situations of life.
A similar expression is used in regards to Avrohom (Nechemia 9:8): u’matzasa es levavo ne’eman l’fanecha – and You found his heart to be trustworthy before You. Avrohom’s greatness was proven by his unprecedented accomplishment in passing the test of the Akeidah, for every person has peaks in his life when he is able to rise to the call of the test, but these moments don’t necessarily reflect accurately on his internal level on a daily basis. Avrohom’s greatness was demonstrated by the fact that he passed all of the trials, all of the time, even when he didn’t know that he was being tested.
We can conclude by noting what a beautiful and appropriate match Sorah was for Avrohom, as Rashi writes (23:1) that the Torah uses the expression sh’nei chayei Sorah – the years of Sorah’s life – to teach that her service of Hashem throughout her entire life was equally good. While it is essential to rise to the difficult tests life may throw out way, it is just as important – and much harder – to pass the more subtle tests of our relationships with Hashem and with other people that we face on a daily basis.
V’ashbiacha b’Hashem Elokei HaShomayim V’Elokei ha’aretz asher lo tikach isha liv’ni mi’bnos haC’naani asher anochi yosheiv b’kirbo ki el artzi v’el moladti teilech ul’kachta isha liv’ni l’Yitzchok (24:3-4)
Avrohom insisted that Eliezer not take a wife for Yitzchok from their Canaanite neighbors, but rather from his original homeland and family. Although Avrohom lived amongst the Canaanites and rejected the possibility of allowing Yitzchok to marry one of them due to their idolatrous ways, what was the benefit of sending Eliezer to seek a wife from his homeland in light of the fact that the women in Charan worshipped idolatry just as did the Canaanites?
One of my Rabbis spent several years living in Jerusalem. As he was interested in the practical aspects of applying the knowledge he had spent many years acquiring, he asked for and received permission to sit in the central Rabbinical Beis Din and observe the various proceedings. One day a woman came before the Beis Din seeking to convert to Judaism. When asked for her last name, she replied, “Einstein.” Curious, my Rabbi respectfully waited until the end of the session and then approached the woman to hear her story.
Although people assume that Albert Einstein was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, in reality he wasn’t so bright after all, for he married a non-Jewish woman. Their son, Albert Jr., wasn’t legally Jewish, but nevertheless he opted to marry a Jewish woman. Their son was a proper Jew, but unfortunately followed the practice of his illustrious grandfather and married a non-Jew. It was the non-Jewish daughter of that union who came before the Orthodox Beis Din in Jerusalem in order to arrange for a proper conversion!
At this point, with her ancestry clarified, my Rabbi couldn’t help but ask if she followed in the path of her famous great-grandfather and spent her spare time studying physics and the theory of relativity. Albert Einstein’s great-granddaughter replied that she never understood the subject and found Albert’s work totally uninteresting and incomprehensible!
The Derashos HaRan explains (Derush 5) that Avrohom’s objection to a Canaanite daughter-in-law wasn’t based on their idolatrous practices, but rather on the immorality and lack of proper character traits they exhibited in their behavior. Although Avrohom’s relatives in Charan also worshipped idols, he knew that at the core their values and ethics were wholesome and intact. Because immodest and unethical behavior originates in one’s very essence and can be passed on genetically, the Canaanites where thereby disqualified from marrying into Avrohom’s family. The idolatry of Avrohom’s relatives could be remedied much easier by simply exposing them to belief in Hashem, for matters of the intellect aren’t genetically inherited but taught – just as we learn from the Einstein family!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Why is our parsha known as Chayei Sorah, which means “the life of Sorah” when it begins with her death, and why is a later parsha known as Vayechi, which means “and he (Yaakov) lived” when it contains Yaakov’s death? (Oznayim L’Torah)
2) Rashi writes (23:1) that at the age of 100, Sorah was just as free of sin as she had been when she turned 20, as the Heavenly Court doesn’t punish a person for his sins until he turns 20. Why isn’t Sorah included in the list (Shabbos 55b) of those who committed no sins in their entire lives and died solely because of the punishment of death decree upon all mankind (3:19) as a result of Adam’s sin of eating from the tree of knowledge? (M’rafsin Igri)
3) The Gemora in Nedorim (32b) states that although Malki-Tzedek served as Kohen, the position was taken away from him and given to Avrohom Avinu. The Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer (31) states that Avrohom wasn’t considered a regular Kohen but rather a Kohen Gadol. How was he permitted to bury his wife Sorah (23:19) when a Kohen Gadol is forbidden to become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, even those of his closest relatives (Vayikra 21:11)? (Tzafnas Paneiach)
4) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (107b) derives from 24:1 that Avrohom was the first person in the history of the world to grow old. The Gemora explains that because Avrohom and Yitzchok looked identical (Rashi 25:19) and people regularly confused them, Avrohom prayed that his body should age and he should look old, a request which was granted. How can this be reconciled with Sorah’s earlier comment (18:12) that it would be impossible for her to have children after her skin has withered and wrinkled, which indicates that she aged prior to Avrohom? (Maharsha Bava Metzia 87a, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
5) Why did Avrohom need to make Eliezer swear (24:2-4) not to take a wife for Yitzchok from the Canaanites when he could have more simply appointed him an agent only to betroth a woman from his land and family? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, M’rafsin Igri)
6) We find in the Torah 3 different places where people meet their matches by wells – Eliezer and Rivkah, Yaakov and Rochel, and Moshe and Tzipporah. Obviously, even something that is recorded only once in the Torah is no mere coincidence, and all the more so when it happens 3 times. What is the deeper significance of wells and meeting one’s match by them?
7) The Daas Z’keinim writes (24:39) that Eliezer was one of 9 people who merited to enter Gan Eden while still alive. How many of the other 8 can you name? (Daas Z’keinim)
8) Rashi writes (25:1) that Keturah, the woman Avrohom married after the death of Sorah, was none other than Hagar, who was called Keturah in recognition of the fact that her deeds were as pleasant as incense. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment (21:14) that when Avrohom sent her away she returned to the idols of her father’s house? (Sifsei Chochomim)
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