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Parshas Chayei Sorah - Vol. 2, Issue 53
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”) 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 at 20, as the Heavenly Court doesn’t punish a person for his sins until he turns 20, and she was as beautiful at the age of 20 as she had been at the age of 7.
Both of Rashi’s comparisons are difficult to understand. 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 required to bring a sacrifice in order to atone for his transgressions. How can Rashi write that a person who turns 20 is free of all sins? As a woman is typically expected to be prettier at 20 than she was at 7, in what way is the latter comparison complimentary to Sorah?
The Brisker Rov answers that the Gemora in Yevamos (64b) teaches 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 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 not considered sins, as she was legally considered a minor until she turned 20!
Similarly, the Gemora in Yevamos (80b) lists the signs commonly associated with an ailonis, all of which are features traditionally viewed as ugly. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (69b) teaches 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 20 than they were at 7, Sorah became a full-fledged ŕééěĺđéú at age 20, so Rashi notes that she was nevertheless just as beautiful as she had been at age 7 before her condition began to develop!
Vayih’yu chayei Sorah meah shana v’esrim shana v’sheva shanim sh’nei chayei Sorah (23:1)
The parsha begins, “Sorah’s lifetime was 127 years, the years of Sorah’s life.” If Sorah lived 127 years, isn’t it clear that these were the years of her life? What is the seemingly redundant end of the verse coming to teach us?
Rav Pam notes that Rashi writes (23:2) that the death of Sorah is juxtaposed to the Akeidah (at the end of last week’s parsha) to teach that the shock and fear from hearing that her son was almost slaughtered was the cause of her death. Realizing this, somebody might mistakenly assume that if not for this tragic turn of events, she would have enjoyed many more years, or even decades, of her long and productive life. In order to counter this erroneous conclusion, the Torah emphasizes that these were the years of life which she was allotted, and if not for this episode, she would have died in some other manner at the exact same time.
Rav Pam often used this message to comfort those grieving the loss of loved ones. Many times it seems that if they would have only tried a different medical treatment or if a certain accident could have been averted, the dead would still be alive, leaving the mourners feeling very guilty. Painful as the loss is, Rav Pam used the lesson of our parsha to teach that each person is given his own unique lifespan for reasons completely beyond our comprehension, and nothing we think we could have done differently would have been able to prevent this person’s death, from one cause or another.
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)
When Avrohom instructed his trusted servant Eliezer regarding the selection of a wife for his son Yitzchok, he was very insistent that Eliezer not choose a wife from their Canaanite neighbors, but rather from Avrohom’s original homeland and family in Charan. Avrohom lived amongst the Canaanites and rejected the possibility of allowing Isaac to marry one of them due to their idolatrous ways. However, in light of the fact that the women in Charan worshipped idolatry just as did the Canaanites, what was the benefit of sending Eliezer to seek a wife from his homeland?
The Derashos HaRan (Derush 5) explains 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.
As 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. On the other hand, matters of philosophical belief are taught, not inherited. The idolatry of Avrohom’s relatives could therefore be remedied much easier by simply educating and exposing them to belief in Hashem.
The Ran’s point that intellectual knowledge and pursuits aren’t passed through the generations is illustrated by the following amusing story. 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 obtained permission to sit in the central Rabbinical Beis Din and observe the various happenings.
One day a woman came before the Beis Din for a proceeding. 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 inquire about her identity. Sure enough, she explained that she was none other than the great-granddaughter of the illustrious Albert Einstein.
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 advanced 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 path that our children will take and the families they will raise are beyond our control. Although we will try our utmost to shape their goal and priorities in life, they will ultimately be influenced and determined by factors beyond our control. What is in our power, however, is to work on our own character traits and to encourage our children to marry those with similar giving dispositions, which will become a permanent part of our spiritual legacy as it is passed down from generation to generation, just as we learn from Einstein’s theory of “relative”-ity!
V’amar el adoni ulai lo teilech haisha acharai (24:39)
Rashi writes that Eliezer related to Rivkah’s family that he had a daughter whom he wished to marry to Yitzchok. He attempted to find an excuse to suggest the match, such as the possibility that the girl he would find for Yitzchok would be unwilling to return with him, but Avrohom dismissed the suggestion, explaining that Eliezer was descended from the cursed Canaan and was unsuitable to be joined together with the blessed descendants of Shem. How did Rashi know that this was Eliezer’s intention? Perhaps Eliezer was merely asking a very real and practical question, namely what should he do if the girl refuses to return with him?
The Vilna Gaon answers that there are two words in Hebrew to express doubt about something occurring: ulai and pen. However, the difference is that when the speaker hopes that the issue in doubt will occur, the proper term is ulai, whereas if he hopes it will not come to fruition, the appropriate word is pen. When Eliezer said ulai the girl won’t come back with me, it reveals that he secretly hoped that she would refuse to do so. This could only be the case if he personally stood to gain something from a refusal, namely the possibility of a match for his daughter.
When Rivkah told Yaakov to pretend to be Eisav to receive his father’s blessings, Yaakov expressed his concern to his mother (27:12) that ulai y’musheini avi – perhaps my father will feel me when I go in to receive the blessings, and when he feels my smooth arms, he will know it is me and not my hairy brother Eisav. As this is surely a scenario he didn’t want to happen, why didn’t Yaakov say pen y’musheini avi according to the Gaon’s grammatical rule?
A beautiful answer given by Rav Moshe Shternbuch and Rav Shimon Moshe Diskin is that Yaakov’s dedication to truth was so strong that he actually hoped that Yitzchok would feel him and catch him in this trickery which was so anathema to his very essence, even if it would mean losing his father’s blessings for him and all of his offspring.
In Genuzos HaGra, it is related that the Vilna Gaon himself answered this question based on a comment of the Seforno in Parshas Vayechi (48:10). The Torah relates that Yaakov hugged Ephraim and Menashe before blessing them. The Seforno explains that in order for a blessing to take effect, the person giving it must somehow connect himself to the one he is blessing. Although the most powerful way to connect is through seeing the other person, Yaakov was blind at the end of his life and was unable to do so. He therefore connected himself to his grandchildren through the next best alternative: touch. Based on this explanation, we may now explain that Yaakov used the expression ŕĺěé because he wanted his father to feel him in order that the blessings should take effect and be more potent.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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 is a person who commits certain sins – such as desecrating Shabbos – before he turns 20 required to bring a sacrifice to effect atonement when he isn’t yet subject to the Divine punishment of spiritual excision regardless? (Rav Simcha Zissel Broide quoted in M’rafsin Igri)
2) Why does the Torah devote so much space (24:1-67) to the details surrounding the finding of a match for Yitzchok while mentioning nothing of the match between Avrohom and Sorah (11:29)?
3) As Eliezer is the protagonist of the parsha, why isn’t he referred to by name even once in the entire parsha?
4) How was Avrohom able to appoint Eliezer as an agent to take a wife for Yitzchok (24:4) without any action or approval by Yitzchok when an agent can only be appointed by the person who wishes to get married? (Ayeles HaShachar)
5) How was Avrohom able to appoint Eliezer as an agent to take a wife for Yitzchok (24:4) when the Gemora in Kiddushin (41a) rules that if it is forbidden to marry a woman until he has looked at her to ensure that she will find favor in his eyes? (Paneiach Raza, Meged Yosef)
6) Rashi writes (24:10) that Avrohom wrote a deed giving all of his possessions to Yitzchok so that the prospective in-laws would jump at the opportunity and allow their daughter to return with Eliezer and marry Yitzchok. How was Avrohom able to subsequently give the gifts that he received on account of Sorah as presents to his sons from the concubines (Rashi 25:6) if he already gave away all of his possessions to Yitzchok? (Sifsei Chochomim, Ayeles HaShachar)
7) If Eliezer’s goal was to test Rivkah’s love of kindness and helping others, why did he request from her (24:17) only a small amount of water? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Ayeles HaShachar)
8) We find in the Torah three different places where people meet their matches at wells – Eliezer and Rivkah, Yaakov and Rochel, and Moshe and Tzipporah. What is the deeper significance of wells and meeting one’s match near them?
The Daas Z’keinim writes (24:39) that Eliezer was one of nine people who merited entering Gan Eden while still alive. How many of the other 8 can you name? (Yalkut Shimoni Yechezkel 367)
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