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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS Chayei Sora

Sarah's lifetime was…the years of Sarah's life. (23:1)

The Torah repeats itself when describing the length of Sarah Imeinu's life. It begins with "the life of Sarah" and concludes with "the years of Sarah's life." Why? Simply, the Torah is alluding to the dual nature of Sarah's life. It is teaching us both about the span of her life and about the quality of her life. Rashi explains that all of her years were filled with goodness - from the very beginning to the very last breath. When we take into consideration Sarah's life story, we wonder if it was really that positive. Most of her life she was childless - without hope of ever conceiving a child. She later had to contend with a maidservant who created a serious rift in the home she had established with Avrohom Avinu. When she finally gave birth to a son, she had to deal with her maidservant's ill-bred son and his influence on her beloved son, Yitzchak. Twice in her life she was abducted by kings. Later, Avrohom left her alone when he went to fight a dangerous war to rescue his nephew, Lot. To say that her life was difficult would be an understatement. Yet, as far as Sarah was concerned, her life was great. It was wonderful. This is all due to her perspective. As a true servant of Hashem, she realized that life had tremendous meaning. She did not feel for one moment that she had been deprived of anything. So great was her trust in Hashem.

To understand this idea better, Horav Ezriel Tauber, Shlita, gives the following analogy. Imagine a stopwatch which, whenever it was pushed, would freeze time. The emotion that a person had been experiencing when he pushed the stopwatch would be preserved for all time. It would become his eternal state. When would we push the button? Most people would probably never push it, because they would always think that tomorrow might be better. Wait; it can always get better. Indeed, most people would leave this world waiting to push that button, always saying to themselves, "Wait - it might get better." Not so, Sarah Imeinu. She would have pushed that button at every and any moment that an opportunity existed, because every moment in her life was inherently good. There was no good, better and best. It was all good.

And Avraham weighed out to Efron the price which he had mentioned in the hearing of the Bnei Cheis. (23:16)

Throughout the chapter, Efron's name is spelled "full," with a vav, except here where the actual money is exchanged. At this point, the Torah spells his name chaseir, missing a vav. By doing this, the Torah implies that Efron's stature was diminished. He talked in such a manner that he indicated to Avraham Avinu that he was prepared to give away the gravesite as a gift. In the end, his grandiose speech was nothing more than rhetoric. He charged Avraham a hefty amount. He gained money, but he lost his reputation. We are hard-pressed to see how this would bother a person like Efron. What if his name is missing a vav in one place? Does he care about the Torah, or how it spells his name? Furthermore, what is the Torah inferring by omitting specifically the vav?

Horav Moshe Soloveitchik, zl, explains that the name Efron is derived from the word afar, dust, the material from which every human being is formed. Although dust is the source of every person, Efron had the golden opportunity to do one act that would garner unprecedented reward for him. He had the opportunity to receive eternity, and he blew it! Had he had the common sense to grant the gravesite to Avraham as a gift, or for a fair price, then he and every one of his descendants would have had a z'chus, privilege, in Meoras Ha'Machpeilah. Then his name, Efron, with a vav would have been appropriately suited to him. The vav is a letter that emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual. It is a way of underscoring his name. Efron's afar, his earthliness, his genesis from the dust of the earth, was different than that of other men. He made it. He had acquired for himself a special z'chus like that of no other person. Efron, however, allowed his love of money to blind him. It obscured his ability to think clearly, causing irreparable damage, sacrificing an eternal opportunity. Now, instead of elevating himself, he became nothing more than a shtick afar, piece of dirt, for all eternity.

How often are we granted opportunities from Heaven, only to ignore their messages? These are gifts that could change our eternal lives and that of our families for generations to come. Yet, we waste them -due to laziness, frivolity, or lack of insight. Life is filled with lost opportunities. The difference between a life well-lived and one in which we simply exist is how we respond to Heavenly opportunities.

In deference to those who wait for that special opportunity, why should we not wait for that special chance to achieve more and better? An old story about an Indian princess might have some meaning for those who choose to wait. The princess was given a basket and told she could fill it with the finest ears of corn in a given row. There was one catch, however: she was to choose as she went along. She could not retrace her steps. The princess admired the exceptional quality of the corn, but, as she examined every ear, she left each one on the stalk, always thinking that the next one would be better. Suddenly, to her dismay, she arrived at the end of the row and had not gathered any. Regrettably, many of us can relate to this analogy.

And I will have you swear by Hashem, G-d of Heaven and G-d of earth, that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan. (24:3)

Avraham Avinu was concerned that his son, Yitzchak, would not find a wife worthy of him. He instructed his trusted servant and disciple, Eliezer, concerning specific criteria to determine the young woman's suitability to be the next Matriarch of the Jewish People. Chazal make interesting contrasting statements regarding marriage: "He who marries a woman worthy of him, Eliyahu HaNavi kisses him and Hashem loves him." On the other hand, "One who marries a woman unworthy of him is despised by Hashem, and Eliyahu pierces his ear with an awl," the symbol of servitude. In the first marriage in Avraham and Sarah's family, the Patriarch made sure that the bride met the criteria necessary to become a wife worthy of Yitzchak, a wife who would become the mother and progenitor of the next link in the chain of Judaism. Avraham understood that the very existence of a Jewish home rests upon the shoulders of the wife he would choose for Yitzchak. Indeed, this selection would determine the entire future of the Jewish People. This explains our Patriarch's anxiety about the selection of a wife for his son.

The fact that Chazal ascribe this role to Eliyahu HaNavi -- and not to any of the other prophets -- gives us a penetrating insight into the nature of the Jewish wife within the family unit. Chazal teach us to appreciate the overwhelming significance of the Jewish wife and mother in laying the foundation for the future of the Jewish People. By virtue of her constant dealings with her children, her direct molding of their hearts and minds-and, thus, their souls-- she commands the greatest influence over their lives. This, of course, is only possible if she considers David HaMelech's appellation of the Jewish woman, Kol kevodah bas melech penimah, "Every honorable princess dwelling within [the privacy of her palace] (Tehillim 45:14)," realizing that her activity within her home compromises her unique honor.

Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, wrote at a time in Jewish history when the temptation to leave the home and join in the many cosmopolitan, cultural and social pursuits were occupying the minds of Germany's women. He commented, "When the woman finds the walls of her home too narrow and looks beyond them for satisfaction and fulfillment, the purity of heart and receptiveness of our young for all that is Jewish and Divine suffers a most lamentable decline." Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei 12:4, Eishas chayil ateres baalah, "A woman of valor is the crown of her husband." Chazal added: It is she who induces him to study Torah, attend shiurim, classes, and be on time for davening. It is she who accompanies him in spirit on his travels, helping to maintain his purity of heart and sanctity of his soul. Finally, the character of the noble role that women play in the future of our people is expounded by Chazal in the Yalkut Rus: At all times, the redemption of our people has rested in the hands/on the merit of nashim tzidkanios, righteous, duty-conscious women.

While the other prophets and leaders complete their mission, Eliyahu Ha'Navi's mission will not be complete until he succeeds in "restoring the feelings of the fathers for the children and the feeling of the children for the fathers." (Malachi 3:24) Rav Breuer notes that these words embody Eliyahu's mission and the immensity of the task that is still before him. His charge is a most difficult one, for he has to heal the rift between parents and children. While it is a difficult assignment, it would be less of a challenge if the Jewish homes were to be presided over by the likes of an ishah hagunah, worthy woman, who, like her matriarchal ancestors, stirs the hearts of their husbands and children with the feminine intensity of devotion to the Almighty. It is the Jewish mother who inspires her husband and son to walk together - Vayeilchu shneihem yachdav, "And the two of them [Avraham and Yitzchak] went together." (Bereishis 22:6)

Thus, the truly duty-conscious Jewish woman speeds Eliyahu's work, and, therefore, the Prophet treats her husband affectionately. Eliyahu scorns a woman who is unworthy, whose insecurity drives her to a life of wanton abandon, who is everywhere but at home raising her children and imbuing them with Jewish values. The Navi pierces her husband's ear with an awl, an act which is performed on the Jewish servant who refuses to accept his freedom after his six-year period of servitude. Since he rejects the call to freedom and total subservience to Hashem, his ear receives the symbol of unworthy dependence. One whose wife is unworthy, weans him away from the freedom that accompanies serving Hashem, leading both himself and his wife to a state of unworthy servitude.

Chacham Ezra Attiyah, zl, venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, one of the greatest Torah personalities of his time and mentor to generations of great Sephardic leaders, came from very humble beginnings. His parents had been blessed with a son and daughter, and they prayed for another child. They took the long trek by donkey to Tedef, a small town in the Ottoman Empire, where the remains of Ezra HaSofer were interred. Yitzchak and Leah Attiyah poured out their hearts, entreating Hashem for a son. Leah vowed that if Hashem granted her wish, she would name him Ezra and dedicate him to a life of Torah. She was blessed one year later, when she gave birth to Ezra.

Twenty years later, Leah was left alone with Ezra when her husband passed away. Her older son and daughter had already married. It was now just the two of them with no source of material support. The normal thing would have been for able-bodied Ezra to go to work in order to support his mother. Leah would hear nothing of it. She had dedicated her son to Torah learning. She left no room for discussion. She did anything and everything to bring in a meager living to sustain the two of them.

The end of the week found Leah both emotionally and physically drained. On Friday nights they would eat their meager meal, and Leah would exert superhuman effort as she sat in her chair and listened to the sweet sound of Torah emanating from her son. As her weary body relaxed and her bones cried out for sleep, she would begin to doze. Seeing his mother fall asleep, Ezra would quickly close his sefer. The halachah was clear: One may study by the light of a kerosene lamp only so long as someone else was there. Otherwise, he might accidentally adjust the wick.

Leah's body may have been spent, but her senses were sharp, as she would quickly awaken. The sweet hum of Torah had stopped. "Do not worry, my child. I am awake. You can return to your Torah learning," she assured him. The tears and devotion of this woman were rewarded when her son became the great rosh yeshivah.

Then Lavan and Besuel answered and said, "The matter stemmed from Hashem." (24::50)

In the Talmud Moed Katan 18b, Chazal derive that Hashem ordains the suitable mate for a person. Chazal's statement is perplexing. Is shidduchim, marriage, the only area in human endeavor or in life in general in which Hashem plays a role? Is there anything in life that could function without Hashem's direct intervention? Horav Baruch M. Ezrachi, Shlita, gives a practical response to this question. While it is clear that nothing functions without Hashem's direct involvement, it is a phenomenon that people do not always "see." We believe that there are no coincidences. Things do not "just happen." Everything has its proper place as decided by Hashem. Regrettably, the Hashem component in life eludes many of us, either because we do not see or because we do not want to see.

Shidduchim are different. If it is a Torah-oriented shidduch, in accordance with the will of the Almighty, then one can see Hashem's guiding hand. We do not just simply know the scheme of things. One who looks objectively at the match between a young man and woman notices how the events in their past have led them to this auspicious moment. The shidduch is one area in which the perceptive eye is not fooled.

Yitzchak went out to supplicate in the field towards evening. (24:63)

From the Torah's description that Yitzchak Avinu prayed before nightfall, Chazal in the Talmud Berachos 26b derive that the Patriarch instituted Tefillas Minchah. His father instituted Shacharis and his son, Yaakov Avinu, instituted Maariv. Chazal laud the exemplary power of Yitzchak's tefillas Minchah, for Hashem immediately responded favorably to Yitzchak's plea. The Kli Yakar adds that Yitzchak was praying for a wife, since it would be the appropriate time to do so when Eliezer is on the road. He went out to a field which was fertile and prepared for planting. He figured if Hashem had provided him with a field that produced an incredible crop; it is likely that he surely would provide him with a wife.

Why is Minchah such a propitious time for supplication? What is there about Minchah that engenders a more efficacious response? We might suggest that the timing is a metaphor which indicates one's trust in Hashem. Shacharis is a time when the sun is shining; life seems to be going his way. It is not difficult to pray to Hashem when everything is rosy, nor is it surprising when one pours out his heart when it is dark outside, when his life is bleak and the circumstances surrounding his existence are pressing down hard on him. It is at a time when the sun is still shining, but it is beginning to dim; when life seems to be fine, but there are storm clouds on the horizon: this is when a person displays his trust in Hashem by offering gratitude for the past and supplicating for the future. Yitzchak prayed, and Hashem answered him. He prayed as the sun was beginning to set, as the sun of his mother, Sarah Imeinu, was setting, as she was leaving her earthly existence. He prayed and a new sun arose - the sun of his future wife, Rivkah Imeinu. Hashem listened to his plea so that the world would not even momentarily be bereft of a righteous woman.

Prayer is important in all matters, especially in the area of shidduchim, finding one's bashert, destined mate. One should not think that the time to pray is when the individual is of age or one's child is of age. It is never too early to pray. One never knows the workings of Heaven, as the following story demonstrates.

A young man, a budding talmid chacham, Torah scholar, became engaged to a lovely young lady whose focus on a Torah life coincided with his own. It was truly a wonderful match. Shortly after the engagement, he told his kallah, wife-to-be, that a number of years earlier he had undergone a difficult period in his life. He had seriously been at risk of turning his back on the observant lifestyle in which he was raised. At the age of sixteen, he was about to drop out of yeshivah and take a job. He took the required tests, filled out the papers, and was on the doorstep of a new way of life when suddenly, for no apparent reason, he woke up one morning and was overcome by a desire to return to the yeshivah. He had no idea about the source of his inspiration, only that it was the turning point in his life. From then on, he became a masmid, studied diligently, and left no stone unturned in his quest to achieve greatness in Torah.

Upon hearing this, his kallah asked, "Exactly when did this occur?" Being that this was a seminal moment in his life, he remembered the exact year and day that this episode had taken place. When she heard, her face lit up. Apparently, she had kept a diary in which she had entered that on that exact day on which he had had this inexplicable inspiration, she had gone to the Kosel and prayed fervently to Hashem that her future husband would be a talmid chacham! She was only thirteen years old at the time! We can never underestimate the power of our prayers - nor the timing. The time for prayer is now.

Va'ani Tefillah

I have always had trust in Your kindness; my heart jubilates because of Your salvation. I want to sing to Hashem when He brings His promises to fruition.

Chasdecha - Your loving kindness; and - yeshuasecha - Your salvation, are apparently two different terms. How do they interplay in this tefillah? Also, how are they different from the gamal alai, "He brings His promises to fruition," at the end of the tefillah? The Ri Elgazi cites a question posed by the commentators regarding why Klal Yisrael sang shirah, a song of praise, to Hashem following the miracle of splitting the Red Sea, but did not do so when they received the manna? Certainly, the miracle of manna was worthy of such an expression of gratitude. They explain that shirah is sung only when the miracle is performed in one's own merit. If, however, the miracle is the result of the merit of others, as in this case, Klal Yisrael's leadership, there is an expression of gratitude, but it is not shirah.

With this idea in mind, we understand the above tefillah. When the form of salvation is a chesed, kindness, from Hashem, it is a special gift for which one does not sing shirah. It was an act of kindness, not one warranted by the beneficiary. When it is yeshuah, pure, deserved salvation, then the expression is ashirah l'Hashem, "I sing to Hashem," because - gamal alai - "He brings His promises to me (because of me)" to fruition. When it is brought in my z'chus, merit, I express my joy and gratitude through song.

In loving memory
of my parents
Leo and Bernice (Katz) Malevan
their daughter
Roseanne Malevan

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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