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 Parshas Chayei Sarah - Vol. 8, Issue 5
Compiled by Oizer Alport


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 seven. Both of these comparisons are difficult to understand. Although a person doesn’t receive punishment, his transgressions are still considered sins. How can Rashi write that a person who turns 20 is free of all sins? Further, since a woman is typically expected to be prettier at 20 than she was at seven, 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 aylonis – 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 aylonis 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 aylonis, all of which are features traditionally viewed as unattractive. 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 aylonis began to exhibit signs of unattractiveness. Although most women are expected to be prettier at 20 than they were at 7, Sorah became a full-fledged aylonis 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.

Vayomer Avrohom el avdo zekan beiso ha'mosheil b'chol asher lo sim na yad'cha 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 (see e.g. 15:2), why was it necessary to repeat and emphasize at this point that Eliezer controlled all of Avrohom’s possessions?

An insight into resolving our difficulty may be derived from a story involving Rav Yisroel Salanter. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel 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, he had no problem trusting him.

Based on this story, we can now appreciate how 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 for them to enter and eat, while other more G-d-fearing individuals will inquire among the locals about the religious standards of the proprietor. Still others won’t suffice with information obtained from strangers, but 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 a mere advertised claim that the individual in question is honest, nor would he even consider accepting the opinions of the townsmen. Rather, he would remain in town for a period of time until he is able to ascertain first-hand knowledge about the prospective business partner.

The conduct of Avrohom, however, 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. As a result, Avrohom had no qualms about entrusting Eliezer with all of his earthly possessions. However, when it came to the selection of a wife for Yitzchok, a new standard had to be applied, and Eliezer could be trusted only after swearing to adhere to Avrohom’s instructions. Precisely at this time the Torah emphasizes Eliezer’s 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'Yitzchok ba mi'bo Be'er Lechai Ro'i v'hu yosheiv b'eretz ha'negev (24:62)

The focal point of Parshas Chayei Sorah is Avrohom’s efforts to send his servant Eliezer as his agent to locate a suitable spouse for his son Yitzchok. After Eliezer has done so, he returns with Rivkah only to find Yitzchok returning from a trip of his own. Rashi explains that after Sorah’s death, Yitzchok went to the town of Hagar to bring her back as a wife for his father Avrohom. Why was Avrohom busy trying to find a wife for Yitzchok while Yitzchok was in turn focused on searching for a wife for Avrohom? Why didn’t each of them seek out his own spouse in line with the Talmudic principle (Bava Metzia 62a) chayecha kodmin – your life and personal needs take precedence to those of others?

The Torah relates (41:50) that Yosef bore two sons before the years of famine began. The Gemora in Taanis (11a) derives from this seemingly extraneous information that it is forbidden to engage in marital relations during a time of famine. How can this be reconciled with the Gemora in Bava Basra (123b) which teaches that Levi’s daughter Yocheved was born just as Yaakov and his family entered Egypt, which occurred two years after the famine began?

The Daas Z’keinim answers by noting that the Gemora in Taanis (11a) rules that a person who hasn’t yet fulfilled his obligation to have children is permitted to have relations even during a time of famine. Levi was therefore permitted to do so, as he had given birth to sons but not to daughters, and the opinion of Beis Hillel (Yevamos 61b) is that a person must have both a son and a daughter in order to fulfill this mitzvah. If so, why wasn’t Yosef also permitted to have relations, as he only had two sons at this point? The Daas Z’keinim explains that Yosef agreed with the opinion of Beis Shammai, who maintain that a person fulfills his obligation by having two sons.

Rav Moshe Wolfson suggests that just as Levi and Yosef argued about whether the law is in accordance with Beis Hillel or Beis Shammai, so too did Avrohom and Yitzchok disagree. Although the law is typically that one’s performance of a mitzvah takes precedence over helping another person do the mitzvah, this is only the case if both people have the same obligation in the mitzvah. If one person has fulfilled the obligation to have children while the other has not, the needs of the latter have priority.

The Gemora in Bava Basra (16b) teaches that in addition to Yitzchok, Avrohom also had a daughter named Bakol. Avrohom, whose attribute of serving Hashem through acts of kindness is more compatible with the approach of Beis Hillel, maintained that in accordance with their opinion, he had already fulfilled his obligation to bear children through Yitzchok and his daughter. As a result, finding a marriage partner for Yitzchok was more pressing and received his focus and attention.

Yitzchok, on the other hand, represented the approach of serving Hashem through strength, a philosophy which was better suited for the opinions of Beis Shammai. Yitzchok maintained that because Yishmael wasn’t considered Avrohom’s son (21:12), Avrohom had yet to fulfill the mitzvah of bearing two sons in accordance with the opinion of Beis Shammai. As a result, he felt that his obligation to honor his father by helping him to perform a mitzvah was more important even than fulfilling his own mitzvah, and he consequently focused his energy on seeking out a wife for his father Avrohom.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

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) As the Torah forbids the practice of sorcery (Vayikra 19:26), which includes giving credence to superstition or random acts of chance, how was Eliezer permitted to rely on his arbitrary test (24:12-14) that whomever would offer him and his camels water to drink would be the proper spouse for Yitzchok? (Tosefos and Ran Chullin 95b, Meiri Sanhedrin 68a, Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:4, Gur Aryeh 24:14)

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)

  © 2012 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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