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Parshas Chayei Sorah -
Vol. 4, Issue 5
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vatamas Sorah b’Kiryas Arba hee Chevron b’eretz Canaan vayavo Avrohom lispod l’Sorah v’livkosa (23:2)
The Medrash Tanchuma (4) teaches that the chapter in Mishlei (31:10-31) known as “Aishes Chayil” was authored long before Shlomo HaMelech was born. Upon the death of his beloved wife Sorah, Avrohom began to eulogize her and composed this beautiful expression of his appreciation for his woman of valor.
The Medrash explains how each line was a unique expression of praise for an event which occurred in Sorah’s life. While many of the connections are self-evident, the Medrash curiously teaches that “darsha tzemer u’pishtim” – she seeks out wool and linen – is illustrated by Sorah’s forceful demand (21:10) that Avrohom separate between Yitzchok and Yishmael. What could be the connection between looking for weaving materials and insisting that the wicked Yishmael be driven out of her house?
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik brilliantly elucidates the intent of the Medrash. Rashi writes (21:9) that Sorah insisted on sending Yishmael away only after seeing him engaged in idolatry, forbidden relations, and murder. She feared that he represented a negative spiritual influence on Yitzchok, and she was also afraid that he may kill Yitzchok to guarantee his inheritance. Nevertheless, how was Avrohom permitted to send away Yishmael, thereby denying him of his rightful inheritance as the first-born?
On a simple level, we may answer that Avrohom was allowed to do so because Hashem explicitly commanded him (21:12) not to worry about Yishmael and to follow Sorah’s instructions to send him away. However, the Gemora in Yoma (28b) teaches that Avrohom observed all of the mitzvos. If so, he had a dilemma, as the Torah rules (Devorim 21:15-17) that if a man has two wives and the wife whom he hates bears his first child, he is forbidden to transfer the right of the firstborn to a son who is born later with the wife whom he loves. How was Avrohom to decide what to do when confronted with seemingly conflicting obligations: a positive commandment to listen to Sorah and to send away Yishmael, thereby depriving him of his rightful inheritance, and a negative prohibition forbidding him to do so?
There is a Talmudic principle that “aseh docheh lo sa’aseh” – when the performance of a positive commandment comes into conflict with observing a negative one, a person should nevertheless fulfill the positive obligation. The Gemora in Yevamos (4b) seeks a source for this rule and concludes that the Torah juxtaposes (Devorim 22:11-12) the prohibition against wearing a garment which contains shatnez (a mixture of wool and linen – tzemer u’pishtim) to the commandment to wear tzitzis to teach this principle.
With this introduction, the Medrash becomes perfectly understandable. Avrohom was torn between obeying Hashem’s positive commandment to listen to Sorah and send Yishmael away and refraining from doing so due to the Torah prohibition against transferring the inheritance of the first-born to a favorite child. He resolved his dilemma by “seeking out” the rule taught by the Torah’s use of wool and linen, from which we derive that a positive commandment should be performed even at the expense of a negative one, and he concluded that he should follow Sorah’s instructions to separate between Yitzchok and Yishmael by banishing Yishmael from the house!
Vayomer Avrohom el avdo zekon beiso hamoshel b’kol asher lo sim na yadcha tachas yereichi (24:2)
When Avrohom decided that it was time to seek a wife for Yitzchok, he called his trusted servant Eliezer to instruct him regarding the mission. As we have already been introduced to Eliezer and his role as Avrohom’s servant several times in the Torah, why was it necessary to repeat and emphasize at this point that Eliezer controlled all of Avrohom’s possessions?
On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter was in need of money. He requested a small loan from one of the local townsmen. Because the man didn’t recognize him, he was suspicious of the request. He demanded collateral or guarantors to the loan in order to avoid being swindled. Some time later, Rav Yisroel encountered that same man carrying a chicken, attempting to find somebody who could ritually slaughter it for him. The man approached him and asked if he was capable of doing so.
Seizing the opportunity, Rav Yisroel taught the man an invaluable lesson in priorities and values. He pointed out that with regard to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a fraudulent con artist who wouldn’t repay his loan. Yet when it came to the risk of eating non-kosher meat if his animal wasn’t properly slaughtered, the man had no problem trusting him.
The Be’er Mayim Chaim answers our original question by comparing it to a case of a person visiting an unfamiliar town. If he is hungry, he will seek out a restaurant which advertises that it is kosher. For some people, this claim will be sufficient, while other more G-d-fearing individuals will inquire among the locals about the standards of the proprietor. Still others will insist on speaking to the Rav of the town for his opinion about the reliability of the establishment.
On the other hand, if the visitor is coming to town to pursue a potential business partnership, such divisions won’t exist. When his money is at stake, nobody would dare rely on an advertised claim that the individual in question is honest, nor would he even consider accepting the opinions of the townsmen. He would remain in town until he is able to ascertain first-hand knowledge about the prospective partner.
The conduct of Avrohom was precisely the opposite. To him, material possessions were significant only as means to pursue his spiritual goals of serving Hashem and spreading His knowledge throughout the world. On the other hand, spiritual matters were viewed and treated with the utmost care. Avrohom had no qualms about entrusting Eliezer with all of his earthly possessions, but when it came to the selection of a wife for his spiritual inheritor Yitzchok, a new standard had to be applied. Eliezer could be trusted only after swearing to adhere to Avrohom’s instructions. Precisely at this time the Torah emphasizes Eliezer’s well-known position to contrast it with the concern which Avrohom displayed in assigning him this new task and to teach us what Avrohom’s true priorities and values were.
V’haya hana’ara asher omer eileha hate na kadech v’eshteh v’amra sh’sei v’gam gemalecha ashkeh osah hochachta l’avdecha l’Yitzchok u’ba eida ki asisa chesed im adoni (24:14)
Eliezer established a litmus test to determine whether a potential match was the proper spouse for Yitzchok. The test revolved around her dedication to kindness, which would be evidenced by her willingness to give not only Eliezer but also his camels water to drink. Although a generous nature is certainly an important quality to seek in a prospective spouse, why was Eliezer willing to rely on this component without additionally testing her belief in Hashem, wisdom, and values?
Rav Meir Rubman answers based on a Mishnah in Avos (2:13), which relates that Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai instructed his students to seek out the path in life which a person should choose. Rebbi Eliezer said the possession of a good eye. Rebbi Yehoshua answered to acquire a good friend. Rebbi Yossi suggested finding a good neighbor. Rebbi Shimon opined to see the consequences of one’s actions. Rebbi Elozar posited the possession of a good heart. Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded that the final suggestion (a good heart) is the best one, as it includes all of the other characteristics. The Bartenura explains that this is because the heart is the origin of all of a person’s actions.
Eliezer carefully designed his test to measure the potential match’s love of assisting others. The amount of water needed to feed him and his ten thirsty camels was tremendous. A young girl who was asked by a healthy man to draw so much water for him could respond by questioning why he couldn’t do so himself. If she jumped at the opportunity, such as Rivkah who ran to bring the water (24:20), it would reveal a generous heart. Once Rivkah passed this test with flying colors, Eliezer knew – as the Mishnah teaches – that she possessed all of the other necessary qualities, and there was no need to test them.
The Gemora in Taanis (24a) teaches that if one sees a prospective bride whose eyes are pretty, he needn’t examine her appearance further. The Kli Yakar (24:14) is astonished by this statement. Firstly, he notes that it isn’t true. There are many women with pretty eyes who are nevertheless unattractive. Secondly, why does the Gemora advocate the selection of a spouse based on her physical appearance when Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 31:30) that charm is false and beauty is vain?
The Kli Yakar explains that the Gemora isn’t referring to a physical examination of the woman’s eyes, but is suggesting that one test to see whether she possesses an “ayin tova” – a giving eye – as the most important feature of a woman is her generous spirit. The Gemora advises that once this has been established, no further checking is necessary, just as we learn from Eliezer!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (23:2) that the death of Sorah is juxtaposed to the binding of Yitzchok to teach that the shock and fear from hearing that her son was almost slaughtered was the cause of her death. How is it possible that the mitzvah of binding Yitzchok caused the death of Avrohom’s beloved wife when the Gemora in Pesachim (8b) teaches that those who perform mitzvos won’t be harmed in any way as a result of doing the mitzvah? (Taima D’Kra, M’rafsin Igri)
2) The Baal HaTurim writes (23:2) that the letter “chof” in the word “v’livkosa” (and Avrohom cried over Sorah) is written smaller than the other letters in order to teach that he only cried over her a small amount. Why didn’t Avrohom cry more over the loss of his beloved wife? (Baal HaTurim, Darkei Mussar, Kehillas Yitzchok)
3) After the match between Yitzchok and Rivkah was agreed upon, Rivkah’s mother and brother Lavan escorted Eliezer and Rivkah, and they blessed her that her descendants should number many millions (24:60). Why did the wicked Lavan bless his sister that her offspring should be so numerous when they would presumably reflect her righteousness and the piety of her husband Yitzchok? (Yalkut HaGershuni, Torah L’Daas Vol. 1)
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