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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Chayei Sarah

Finish What You Begin

And he said, Oh L-rd, G-d of my master Avraham, I pray to You, be with me this day, and deal kindly with my master Avraham.
(BERESHIS 24:12)

When a shidduch was suggested to the Chofetz Chaim for his son, Aryeh Leib, he would carefully inquire about the girl's family. He wanted to know whether they kept the traditions of previous generations, or if they tended towards change in Judaism. He was careful to find out also what kind of school the prospective bride had attended. If she had attended a secular high school, he would not consider the match.

The Chofetz Chaim was not interested in a rich family, as he feared Reb Aryeh Leib might be influenced by them. Changes in Jewish tradition were very common among the rich, and this exerted an influence upon the rest of the community.

When Reb Aryeh Leib was nineteen, he traveled to Kolevarya to study Torah with Rabbi Ben Zion, a beloved friend of the Chofetz Chaim. There, Reb Aryeh Leib received a letter from his father, saying that when he was in Pinsk, he had visited the small town of Rubizavitz to see his nephew there. During his stay he had become acquainted with an honorable man, who loved Torah and who was well-to-do.

This man told the Chofetz Chaim, "I hear that you have a learned son. I have a beautiful daughter, and I would like your son to marry her. I am offering a dowry of 1500 rubles, which is half my wealth. I will also support the young couple for six years while he learns Torah."

The man's words found favor with the Chofetz Chaim. He visited the man's house and had tea there. The Chofetz Chaim told him that he did not want to commit himself to the match until the prospective father-in-law had actually seen Reb Aryeh Leib in person and had a chance to speak with him, since he did not consider it right for the man to depend only on what the Chofetz Chaim had told him about his son. Since Reb Aryeh Leib was in Kolevarya, the man would have to travel there to see him, and he could also inquire about him from Rabbi Ben Zion. Only after that would the Chofetz Chaim agree to finalize the shidduch.

After a while, Rabbi Ben Zion notified Reb Aryeh Leib that a guest from Rubizavitz had arrived to see him. Reb Aryeh Leib came to the rabbi's house and found the man about whom his father had written him. The man asked Reb Aryeh Leib some halachic questions and Reb Aryeh Leib responded. Afterwards, he spoke privately with Rabbi Ben Zion and left, apparently satisfied. Several months passed, and nothing was heard from the man.

Shortly afterwards, Reb Aryeh Leib received a letter from the Chofetz Chaim, saying that when Reb Aryeh Leib would arrive in Radin, he would be offered a shidduch by the mayor, with the daughter of a wealthy man, and that he should not accept the offer under any circumstances. When Reb Aryeh Leib came to visit Radin, the mayor approached him, and suggested to him the daughter of a wealthy man who owned large whisky distilleries, and was willing to give a dowry of more than three thousand rubles plus support for many years. Although Reb Aryeh Leib realized that this offer was better than the previous one, he procrastinated, saying that he must speak with his father first. Reb Aryeh Leib could not understand why the Chofetz Chaim had refused this shidduch, since the father was known as an honest and generous person and even had a son studying in yeshivah.

In the meantime a letter arrived from Rubizavitz, saying that the man whom Reb Aryeh Leib had met in Kolevarya had agreed to the match, and invited the Chofetz Chaim and his son to come there to finalize the matter and celebrate the engagement. That is what they did. Reb Aryeh Leib's father-in-law was Reb Avraham ben Eliyahu, a very special person.

After the marriage, when Reb Aryeh Leib was living in his father-in-law's home, he received a letter from the Chofetz Chaim. The letter began with the Chofetz Chaim thanking G-d for all His favors, and especially that He had saved his family from the shidduch which the mayor had offered his son.

He wrote, "Let me tell you, my son, what happened. The fourteen-year-old sister of the proposed girl was sent by her father to learn in Grodna in a secular high school. There she met a gentile army officer and was enticed by him to convert to Christianity in order to marry him. The father went to Grodna to stop her, and spent thousands of rubles in his efforts, but he was unsuccessful. In the end the girl died in childbirth at the tender age of fifteen.

"What great mercy from Heaven that we did not join this family, for had we accepted the match, we would also have suffered all the anguish and embarrassment. Also, it would have been a terrible disgrace to the honor of the Torah, since people would have said that we were ready to sell our principles for money," concluded the Chofetz Chaim.

No one ever discovered how the Chofetz Chaim had foreseen what would happen.

Although the shidduch seemed very attractive, the Chofetz Chaim felt that it was his responsibility to uphold the honor of the Torah. Our children must understand that the honor of the Torah is always our first consideration, no matter what decisions we have to make in life.

"And he said, 'Oh L-rd, G-d of my master Avraham, I pray to You, be with me this day regarding that for which I am searching, a bride for Yitzchak].'"(1) "Who among you are G-d-fearing,"(2) this is Eliezer. "Who listens to the voice of His servant,"(3) this refers to the voice of Avraham. "Who went in the dark,"(4) refers to when Eliezer went to bring Rivkah. "And there is no light for him."(5) Who gives him light? G-d gives him light with lightning and comets. "He shall trust in the name of G-d, and lean [upon Him],"(6) this refers to the words of Eliezer when he said, "...let it come past me today."(7)

It is written, "A wise servant shall rule over an embarrassed son."(8) This is Eliezer. And in what way was he so wise? He said to himself, "I am doomed to the curse I have already received, to be a slave. Perhaps an Ethiopian or a barbarian shall come and enslave me. It is better for me to be a slave in this house of Avraham then to be a slave in another house." "...Shall rule over an embarrassed son,"(9) this is Yitzchak, who embarrassed the whole world when he was tied to the altar to be sacrificed. "And among brothers he shall share the inheritance."(10) "Among brothers" refers to the Jewish people. Just as the Jewish people mention the merit of their forefathers, so does Eliezer, as it is written, "Oh L-rd, G-d of my master Avraham, let it come past me today"(11) - finish what you started.

"And do chesed with my master, Avraham."(12) Even though all the chesed in the world exists in Avraham's merit, everyone needs chesed, including Avraham, as it is written, "And do chesed with my master, Avraham."
(YALKUT 107, par. "Vayomer")

How do we know that Eliezer feared G-d? Why is Eliezer considered to have gone "in the dark?" What do our Sages mean when they say that G-d gave him lightning to see the way? Why do we say that Eliezer was wise, since he was a slave in any case, so what choice did he have? How did Yitzchak embarrass the whole world at the Akeidah? In what way did Eliezer rule over Yitzchak, since the verse states that he "shall rule over an embarrassed son?" Why is Eliezer's "inheritance" attributed to his mention of Avraham? What is meant by, "finish what you started?" Why does Avraham need chesed when he is the source of all the chesed that exists in the world?

Eliezer's Fear of G-d

Who among you are G-d-fearing," this is Eliezer. "Who went in the dark," refers to when Eliezer went to bring Rivkah. G-d gives him light with lightning and comets.

We know that Eliezer feared G-d from seeing his devotion to Avraham's commands, as we see from the way the Sages expounded the end of the verse. Eliezer could easily have refused to undertake such a dangerous and uncertain journey, especially since he was laden with precious stones to give to the bride,(13) which made him vulnerable to robbers and murderers along the way.

But Eliezer realized the greatness of his master, and he understood that every command he gave originated from a Divine command. Our Sages emphasize that Eliezer's fear of Heaven was the key to his courage. He knew that listening to his master was just like listening to G-d Himself. He understood the importance of his task, and he accepted it eagerly and without hesitation. His fear of Heaven overcame his fear of earthly consequences.

Eliezer is considered to have gone in the dark, because of the difficulty of his task. Asking the hand of a maiden in a foreign land, when she doesn't even know the proposed groom, is a formidable task. Why should they give their daughter to a stranger under such circumstances, when they could surely find enough suitors in their own land who could match this servant's offer? He did not foresee how he could possibly succeed in his mission. Yet he undertook it. In the language of the prophet Yeshayahu, this is a mission "in the dark."

When our Sages say that G-d made lightning for him to see the way, they are referring to the inspiration Eliezer felt for his mission. He felt as if G-d were showing him the way with lightning, to remove his doubts and to guide him on the right path. He knew that this was not a natural mission, and only with Divine help could he possibly succeed.

The Wisdom of Eliezer

"A wise servant..." This is Eliezer. He said to himself, "I am doomed to the curse I have already received, to be a slave. It is better for me to be a slave in this house of Avraham then to be a slave in another house." "...Shall rule over an embarrassed son," this is Yitzchak, who embarrassed the whole world when he was tied to the altar to be sacrificed.

Since Eliezer had a great deal of money with him, as well as ten camels laden with goods,(14) he could have easily run away and failed to fulfill his mission. With the wealth he was carrying he could have made a new start and put an end to his slavery. But Eliezer was wise, and he knew that he was a slave because of the curse of Noach, issued many generations before to his forefather, Canaan: "Cursed is Canaan, a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers."(15) Therefore he reasoned that since it was his fate to be a slave, it was preferable to be the slave of Avraham, the greatest man of chesed in the world, than to be anyone else's slave.

The reason Eliezer is called "wise" is clear, since the verse says, "The wise person has his eyes in his head."(16) In other words, a wise person understands all that is going on around him on a deeper level. He judges not only by what is visible to the eye. Eliezer knew that his being a slave was not by chance. He understood that his destiny had been determined by previous generations. This ability to "see" deeply is the essence of true wisdom.

Yitzchak embarrassed the whole world with his courage during the Akeidah. No one would have believed that a human being could allow himself to be sacrificed. One feels embarrassment when he is in a situation in which he feels uncomfortable. The same was true concerning Yitzchak. Everyone felt uncomfortable knowing that there was someone living among them who had so much courage that he was willing knowingly to give his life for G-d. In comparison with him, they now felt small, in the awareness that their lives were shallow and materialistic, whereas his was on such a high spiritual level.

Eliezer Rules over Yitzchak

"A wise servant shall rule over an embarrassed son." This is Eliezer.

Just as the Jewish people mention the merit of their forefathers, so does Eliezer...

The verse states that the wise man "shall rule over an embarrassed son." Perhaps we could understand this to mean that Eliezer ruled over Yitzchak when he made the vital decision of who would be his future bride. After she was chosen, Yitzchak could hardly have refused to marry her, as such a refusal would have been a great embarrassment for Rivkah. Thus Eliezer "ruled" over Yitzchak in the sense that he was the decision maker in this case.

The reason Eliezer's mention of Avraham is considered as if he received an inheritance is that the Jewish people have a special inheritance; they can rely to a certain extent on the merit of their forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. We mention this daily in our prayers. Since Eliezer was a slave of Avraham and performed his will, he had the privilege of utilizing that special inheritance for the success of his mission. This explains the verse which says, "And among brothers he shall share the inheritance."

Remind G-d of Previous Chesed

"Oh L-rd, G-d of my master Avraham, let it come past me today" finish what you started. "And do chesed with my master, Avraham." Even though all the chesed in the world exists in Avraham's merit, everyone needs chesed, including Avraham...

When Eliezer prayed to G-d and reminded Him of His previous chesed to him, his intent was, "You have already done so much chesed with me by allowing me to arrive here safely, despite all the dangers along the way. Please continue that chesed, so that it will prove fruitful and I shall achieve my goal."

This is what is meant by the statement, "finish what You started." In our prayers we follow this pattern of reminding the Almighty of His previous chesed to us. For example, we say at the beginning of the Amidah that G-d is the shield of Avraham, and then we state that He does chesed with our fathers and forefathers. We are actually saying to G-d every day, "Finish what You started!"

Avraham too needed chesed, even though he was the paragon of chesed in the world, for no one can live without the constant chesed of G-d. We know that we are far from perfection, and we are badly in need of His kindness at all times. Although Avraham's level was so lofty that we cannot even begin to imagine his greatness, even he needed G-d's kindness to overcome all the difficulties in his life. He would not depend on his own merit, since he was aware of his shortcomings. One can never say, "Give me this, since I deserve it." We can only beg for G-d's chesed, no matter how great we are.

Your Child Must Suffer the Consequences

The words Eliezer used, "Finish what You started," may be used by parents in the education of their children. These words should be used to teach a child that he is held responsible for what he does and says, and he must suffer the consequences of his actions and always finish a task which he has begun.

If a child never learns that he must consider carefully everything he does and says, then he will never become a mature adult. He will not have the tools he needs to be able to study Torah, hold down a job or educate his own children. If a person does not know what responsibility is, then he lacks something basic that every human being needs in order to function.

A common example of this is when a child requests a large portion of food and does not finish it. He must be taught to be responsible for his actions. Thus, he can be told that he will not get the rest of the meal until he finishes the portion he has requested, or the parents should impose some other restriction that will remind him not to ask for something unless he is certain that it will be used.

If he has not done his homework, do not give him a note saying that he was busy with home chores to avoid his being punished by his teacher. By doing that you are allowing him to avoid responsibility. He must learn that if he does not do his job, he will have to suffer the consequences, and his parents will not always be there to cover for him.

Chores at Home

Children should also be given chores at home, but the main reason for this should be to educate the children rather than simply to help the parents maintain the home. By giving your child a chore, he learns that home is not a free place where he can get everything he wants and he does not have to give anything in return. Being part of a family obligates a child to take part in family responsibilities. If he gets away with avoiding his share of the work at home, then he will never learn to help others, and when he is married he will be a very poor spouse.

The best thing is to divide the chores equally among your children, both boys and girls. If a child does not like a certain chore, he may want to trade it for another. But the main idea is that he knows that he is sharing the work, that he is a part of the "home team," and from this he learns that everyone must pitch in and do his share.

The Responsibility Involved in Being a Jew

This lesson will help the child to succeed in Torah observance as well. Otherwise he will feel that he can do what he wants and he will not be held accountable for his actions. If he is trained to feel responsibility, he will become aware that there are rewards and punishments to be taken into account for all his actions.

If we are too lenient with a child, we are harming him. That is what the verse means when it says, "One who holds back his stick, hates his son."(17)

To an outsider, it might seem that someone who is not willing to punish his son is very kind and merciful, but in reality the opposite is true. For if you love your son, you wish to give him the tools he needs to succeed in life. If he truly deserves a punishment, then having mercy on him is, in fact, harming him. He will learn that he does not have to be responsible for his actions, and who knows to what extremes such an attitude will lead him.

A good way to teach a child responsibility is to give him household chores. He must go to the grocery store, take out the garbage, or hang up his clothes. Even if he complains that it is hard for him, try not to relent. The moment you relent, you will be sending him the wrong message.

Why Did You Do That?

It is mentioned in this week's Haftarah that concerning Adoniahu the verse says, "And [David] never made him [Adoniahu] sad, saying, 'why did you do that?'"(18) Adoniahu rebelled against his father's wishes. The verse reveals the reason Adoniahu turned out the way he did. He was never reprimanded. Since he was never held accountable for his actions, he did whatever he wanted, and this led to his going astray and failing to act according to his father's wishes.

The Torah is teaching us in the above verse that one must often ask his child, "Why did you do that?" In this way the child will learn that whatever he does, he will be held responsible and consequently pay for his actions. If he is asked for an explanation for whatever he does, he will learn that one cannot do whatever one's heart desires. There are set rules at home, set rules in school, and set rules in the Torah, and all must be followed to the letter.

This does not mean that we can never smile at our children or laugh with them. Of course, one should always be warm and loving. Yet the child should be aware that every situation is accompanied by rules which must be followed.

When our children learn to abide by the rules, they will be a source of pride to all, especially to themselves.

1. Bereshis 24:12
2. Yeshayahu 50:10
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Bereshis 24:12
8. Mishlei 17:2
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Bereshis 24:12
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid. 24:53
14. Ibid. 24:10
15. Ibid. 9:25
16. Koheles 2:14
17. Mishlei 13:24
18. Melachim I 1:6

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