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PARSHAS CHAYEI SARAHAnd Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. (23:2)
Rashi comments that the death of Sara Imeinu is juxtaposed onto the story of Akeidas Yitzchak because our Matriarch's death was connected with the Akeidah. In an attempt to frighten Sarah, Satan told her the news that Avraham Avinu was about to slaughter Yitzchak. Before she could hear that nothing had yet transpired and, Yitzchak was still alive, her soul flew from her body and she died. Clearly, it was Sarah's time to leave the world. It just so happened that this designated time coincided with the Akeidah. This does not prevent people from laying blame, harm, and second-guessing their decisions. "If only I would have - or would not have - done this, then he would be alive;" "If only Avraham would not have taken Yitzchak to the Akeidah…" Life is replete with "what ifs." This is the normal reaction of people to tragedy, to the unknown. It is so much easier to blame someone, or even oneself, than to concede that what occurred was destined according to Hashem's decree.
In his sefer, Dudaei Yitzchak, Horav David Nebentzhal, zl, writes that the above juxtaposition, which connects Sarah's death with Avraham's ready acquiescence to slaughter Yitzchak, teaches us a powerful lesson concerning Avraham's righteousness and unequivocal faith in the Almighty. According to Rashi, Sarah died as a result of hearing the news that Yitzchak was about to be killed - not killed yet - but about to be killed. It was sufficient to frighten her literally to death. This indicates the incredible love that our Matriarch manifested for her only child. They were inseparable. The thought of something bad happening to Yitzchak was enough to kill Sarah.
Undoubtedly, Avraham was fully aware of his wife's love for their son. This verity must have been weighing heavily on his mind as he traveled to the site of the Akeidah. He was acutely aware that the Akeidah would net two victims: Yitzchak and Sarah. Avraham would be responsible for both of their deaths. Yet, despite all of this, Avraham readily accepted Hashem's command and proceeded on to the Akeidah.
Furthermore, if Sarah had lived, Avraham could always hope that Hashem would bless them with another son - sort of a "replacement." With Sarah's death, however, everything - all avenues of hope for progeny - came to a complete halt. He no longer harbored any hope. No Yitzchak, no Sarah, no future Klal Yisrael. Avraham's present mission meant putting an end to Klal Yisrael. Nonetheless, Avraham's conviction was unshakeable. He forged on in his quest to perform the word of G-d.
Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, takes this idea a bit further. Let us picture Avraham following the Akeidah. He had successfully negotiated the emunah issues and challenges that the Akeidah had presented. Satan's challenges were quite difficult, but he emerged triumphant - and this is how he was returning home. He was a hero. He bested Satan. As he neared his home, he heard cries, weeping and other manifestations of grief and mourning. He then realized the terrible tragedy that had struck him. Yitzchak was alive - but Sarah, his life's partner, was dead. Can we imagine what must have been going through our Patriarch's mind? Certainly, he had questions. Is this the way one who shows faith at its apex should be rewarded? To succeed at the Akeidah, only to bury Sarah - is that success? Is that reward?
One would not be taken aback if Avraham's reaction to this devastating tragedy would have been "slightly" negative. At least, he would have had some serious questions. Indeed, even Satan accused him of "causing Sarah's premature death." This was Satan speaking after the fact, in an attempt to detract from the success of the Akeidah. Perhaps, Avraham would regret his conviction, be rueful of his commitment.
Not Avraham Avinu! Our Patriarch stood firm and resolute; with fortitude and mettle, he repulsed all obstacles and challenges. He understood that all that Hashem does is good. Thus, Sarah's death at the time that it occurred, under that set of circumstances, was an act of G-d and, therefore, inherently good. True, he could at present neither see the good nor understand it, but his conviction remained strong and unshakeable.
This is why the Torah emphasizes that Avraham "rose up from the presence of his dead." The father of emunah in Hashem rose above all those who would take him down to disbelief in Hashem. He distanced himself from any form of negativity, knowing fully well that Sarah's designated time of death had arrived. It just happened to coincide with the Akeidah.
One question still needs to be addressed. Sarah Imeinu knew nothing of Hashem's command to Avraham concerning slaughtering Yitzchak. Thus, when Satan frightened her with the news, she reacted terribly. Did it have to be this way? Why could not Avraham simply have gone to his wife and shared with her the details of Hashem's command? After all, Yitzchak was also her son. Did she not have a right to know that he was going to be slaughtered? Rav Zilberstein writes that he once visited his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Shlita, when someone brought up this question.
The venerable poseik ha'dor, Halachic arbiter of our generation, responded: "Who gave Avraham permission to seek Sarah's counsel? Hashem commanded Avraham. He instructed him neither to share the command with Sarah nor to seek her advice. If Hashem had wanted Sarah's input, He would have turned to her as He did to Avraham." This was our Patriarch's greatness. He understood that if Hashem spoke to him, it was meant only for him. We do not second-guess or try to understand the Almighty. Emunah must be unequivocal.
Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead. (23:3)
Avraham Avinu turned from his personal grief to attend to the burial of his beloved wife, Sarah Imeinu. When we think about it, our matriarch Sarah was the only "victim" of the Akeidah. Avraham and Yitzchak returned safely. Sarah, who was not even present, died as a "result" of the Akeidah. Well, not really. She died because her time had come. Her "time" Providentially coincided with the Akeidah. Satan brought her the grim news that Avraham was about to slaughter their only son. This shocking news, presented under such circumstances, was too much for the elderly Matriarch to manage.
In his commentary to Chumash, Minchas Ani, Horav Yaakov Ettlinger, zl, explains what is meant by the Torah's statement, "Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead." He explains that while our Patriarch was overcome by the death of his life's partner, the experience did not leave him spiritually traumatized. Having returned from the Akeidah, and having passed the ultimate test administered by Hashem, Avraham had reached his spiritual zenith. He was on top of the world. Suddenly, he discovered that, as a result of his spiritual advancement, his wife had died. It would have been understandable for him to have slipped somewhat spiritually, to have been set back emotionally, temporarily - or even permanently. Suddenly, the Akeidah was not the apex of his spiritual development, but rather, the cause of his wife's premature demise.
The Torah attests to Avraham's spiritual resilience. He was devastated, but he immediately bounced back, as he "got up" from the presence of his dead. He did not allow the experience to take him down, to remove him from his elevated spiritual perch. Despite the trauma, his inner strength gave him the fortitude to "get up," "brush himself off," and take on the world. The situation was not going to control him.
After all is said and done, we wonder how Avraham did it! This was a trauma of the highest order. It dealt a serious blow to everything in which the Patriarch had believed. From where did he garner the strength to triumph over this latest challenge? Perhaps it was the Akeidah itself that buttressed his faith. Death does not end a person's influence of life. Death is very much a part of life. Judaism is the story of the continuum of generations. One generation moves on; the other one assumes its position based upon - and influenced by - the lives and lessons of the previous generation.
The living generation perpetuates the past generations. Our ancestors who perished in the fires of the Auto de Fe, who succumbed to pogroms, who gave their lives al Kiddush Hashem during the European Holocaust, are all very much alive in us! By our adherence to the traditions and way of life of generations past, we affirm their achievements and attribute greater meaning to their lives.
The generation that views itself as free-standing, as having no connection to the past and no responsibility to the future, is a generation in which death is final. It is permanent. It creates utter desolation. Avraham "rose up from the presence of the dead," because life goes on and the next generation was establishing itself upon the foundation which Sarah Imeinu had prepared. This is the "life of Sarah."
Our gedolim, Torah leaders, placed the needs of Klal Yisrael before their own needs. Hardship and travail were often their lot, yet they picked themselves up and worked tirelessly for the Klal. Apathy was a word that did not exist in their lexicon. The Klausenberger Rebbe never thought about his personal needs. The needs of Klal Yisrael were his needs. Despite suffering serious personal trauma during the Holocaust, followed by the murder of his wife and eleven children, the Rebbe did not cry, for fear that others would think that he was critical of the derech Hashem, ways of the Almighty. Indeed, as a result of his own tragic losses, the Rebbe understood the survivors' needs. He was concerned with restoring their emunah, faith, in Hashem. He labored relentlessly to provide the survivors with basic religious necessities - kosher kitchens, Tefillin, printing presses for seforim, and Torah literature for learning. He raised the funds for the first yeshivos after the war, transforming the D.P. camps from hopelessness to hope. He arranged marriages and even provided the women with sheitlach, wigs. He traveled all over raising money to ease the plight of the survivors. During all of this, he never once thought of his own dismal circumstances. He "rose up from the presence of his dead."
Now, Ephron was sitting in the midst of the Bnei Ches. (23:10)
Rashi cites the Midrash that relates that, on that day, Ephron was elevated to a position of leadership. The people realized that a dignitary such as Avraham Avinu could not negotiate with a common citizen. Thus, out of respect for Avraham's position in world society, Ephron was promoted to leadership. The Bnei Ches demonstrated great respect for our Patriarch, going out of their way to treat him as royalty. It is, therefore, strange that Avraham exhibited such negative feelings towards them. He enjoined his trusted servant, Eliezer, not to take a wife for Yitzchak from among these people. He sent Eliezer to a distant country to procure a wife for him. Why not Bnei Ches? They seemed to be decent, respectable people.
Horav Moshe Tzvi Nariah, zl, comments that Rashi's words, oso ha'yom me'tenuhu l'shofeit aleihem, "That day they appointed him as an official over them," reveals to us the reason that Avraham feared having any kind of relationship with them. Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei 27:21, "A refining pot is for silver and a crucible for gold, and a man according to his praises." In his Shaarei Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that if one wants to recognize an individual's true essence, he should look around at who offers his praises, who lauds him, who are his followers. Ephron was promoted due to his financial "acumen." As Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei 28:22, "One over-eager for wealth, has an evil eye." Ephron would be able to get the most out of Avraham for the parcel of land that the Patriarch sought. A wheeler dealer to whom money was a god, Ephron was selected for the ultimate profit he would generate for the Bnei Ches.
A person is judged by whom he lauds, whom he admires, whose attention he thrives on. Ephron was a money-hungry, base individual. The mere fact that he was promoted to leadership indicates the true character of the Bnei Ches. They did not respect Avraham. They only sought his wealth. Their choice in whom to praise reflected their own shortcomings.
What a telling lesson for us. We are defined by whom we praise, with whom we associate, who are our friends, who are members of our inner circle. Not only can their questionable character traits influence us negatively, just being in their vicinity and lauding them have deleterious effects on our own reputation. We are whom we praise.
And Avraham weighed out to Ephron…four hundred silver shekalim in negotiable currency. (23:15)
The Torah refers to the "field that was purchased by Avraham" a number of times. Likewise, Yosef tells Pharaoh that his father, Yaakov Avinu, asked to be buried "in my grave, which I have hewn for myself in the land of Canaan" (Bereishis 50:5).
The parcel of land, the gravesite, was prepared and paid for while they were alive. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, derives from here the significance of paying for a gravesite. It should not be granted as a gift. In fact, when his son-in-law, Horav Tzvi Levenson, zl, passed away, the Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Burial Society, was only too eager to give the family a prime site befitting an individual of his distinguished stature. The Chafetz Chaim refused, insisting instead upon paying full price for the plot of land. He substantiated his actions with the Torah's emphasis on the land which Avraham "bought." This teaches that one must purchase the land.
Horav Shmuel Greineman explains the Chafetz Chaim's position. In Pirkei Avos 4:21, Chazal teach us, "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall." Men of culture and breeding understand that when they are about to present themselves before a distinguished leader, they dress in their finest garb. This is especially true when they are summoned before the king of the land. The preparation for the meeting will often take some time, so that they are sure that everything is perfect.
The Tanna is telling us that life on this world is a preparation for meeting the King of Kings, Hashem. Seventy, eighty years and more are spent preparing ourselves in the lobby, so that we look good and presentable when we enter into the banquet hall.
The modern, secular world has no concept of this reality. They live by the rule, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die." Their thoughts are not of the future, because they live for the present.
The saintly Chafetz Chaim decried those who spend large amounts of money to provide an impressive tombstone for their parents' gravesite. They plant entire gardens to beautify the grave, while neglecting what is really important. The purpose of a stone is to perpetuate the memory of the deceased, to provide a marker, to remember where he is buried, and to remember the person that he was. The amount of money one "sinks" into beautifying the gravesite will not serve as a source of pleasure for the soul of the departed. The mitzvos and good deeds that the children perform earn merit for the parents. Since they can no longer help themselves, the children should show their appreciation to their parents for all that they did for them by reciprocating their acts of love and devotion. That is really all they require of us.
And he loved her; and thus was Yitzchak consoled after his mother. (24:67)
Translating lashon kodesh, the holy tongue or Biblical Hebrew, into English or any other foreign language is dangerous. It is almost impossible to always find the correct foreign word which best coincides with the holy words of the Torah. Biblical Hebrew is like no other language, since it is Hashem's creation. It is His language. Human-created words cannot do justice to Divine vernacular. Having said this, we are able to understand that "love" is a poor translation of the word ahavah. To say that Yitzchak Avinu "loved" Rivkah Imeinu in modern-day vernacular is an insult to the Patriarch and a misinformed interpretation.
The word ahavah, loosely translated as love, originates from hav, which means to give. Thus, "love" in lashon kodesh should be defined as giving to one another in complete devotion to one another. Love between two people is the phenomenon of two individuals who want to give to each other. The relationship is not about taking - but about giving. Therefore, Yitzchak was consoled after the death of his mother. He finally had someone who would be devoted completely to him, a devotion which he could reciprocate. Yitzchak's relationship with Rivkah had nothing to do with the relationship that contemporary society defines as love. It was not about romance. It was about giving all of oneself to another person who has the same feeling for you.
And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak…But to the concubine children who were Avraham's, Avraham gave gifts. (25:5,6)
The Malbim distinguishes between the inheritance Avraham Avinu bequeathed Yitzchak and that which he gave to the concubine children. He gave Yitzchak his father's physical and spiritual possessions. To the Bnei Keturah, he gave gifts. Avraham Avinu's true legacy was his spirituality. This was bequeathed to Yitzchak who would carry on and transmit the Abrahamatic legacy. In light of the above, I would like to expand upon the ideas concerning what we should leave our children.
What are a man's real possessions? What can be designated as really belonging to him? The story is told that Mayer Anshel Rothchild was once asked, "What is the extent of your wealth?" In response to this question, R' Meir looked up the charity receipts he had in his record. He said, "My real enduring wealth is what I have given away to tzedakah. The rest is not enduring. At any time, a stroke of misfortune can wipe out my entire future, but nothing can erase the record of my charities."
We are concerned about what we will leave our children, but do we even stop to think about what really belongs to us? Material possessions are wonderful things, especially if one knows how to properly use them. Is that what should really be primary in considering the life legacy that we bequeath to our children? It is the spiritual legacy that will accompany us in the World of Truth that is our most precious treasure. Last, there is something which we often forget to consider, which occurs on a constant basis: the memories of ourselves and the images of our lives and activities that will be etched into the minds of our children.
Memories are our most significant, yet fragile, and often misunderstood legacy. We look back at the lives our parents led and attempt to encapsulate it. There were acts they did that make us proud, and, regrettably, there are activities that - in our mind - in retrospect - are viewed negatively. We do not know why they behaved as they did, so why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Parents have to be aware that their actions are being preserved through the eyes of their children and will ultimately serve as their most sustaining legacy. The question remains: How will we be remembered?
In a recent article, Jonathan Rosenblum writes about his friend, who still speaks with amazing reverence about his father whenever he mentions him, although his friend's father has been gone for quite some time. Apparently, he left an enduring impact on his son's psyche. What an incredible inheritance he bequeathed his son! When we reflect on the model we set for our children, how they will remember us, it should have a powerful effect on the way we behave.
In the article, Mr. Rosenblum tells about an observant attorney in North Miami Beach who took down a ponzi scheme run by a crooked attorney in Fort Lauderdale. The whistle blower weighed heavily on his mind concerning his actions. It was dangerous. The last person to have been involved in exposing the crime met with a premature death. He had his family to consider. This had to be carried out in a most discreet and sagacious manner.
It never occurred to him not to take action and just keep his suspicions to himself - something most people would do. It did not involve him directly. He was not losing any money, but that was not what his parents had taught him. Well, not in words, but their actions over the years spoke volumes about their beliefs.
One powerful memory was of a family vacation in Mexico, during which the family witnessed a young man being pummeled by a gang of ruffians. The lawyer's father could not tolerate such behavior. When he ran over to help the victim, the gang took flight, and the man was spared. When he asked his father why he had put his life in danger for a stranger, his response was, "Unless today is well-lived, tomorrow is not important." This is how his father lived his life: intolerant of injustice, unable to bear deception.
His mother was similar in her attitude. Moving to the south, she was repulsed by the separate facilities for Caucasian and people of color. She insisted on drinking from the same water fountain as "colored people." Years later, when Florida schools were desegregated and many white teachers refused to teach, his mother, though a housewife with young children at home, became a teacher in a particularly hostile neighborhood. When she noticed that many of her students arrived at school hungry, she started bringing little snacks for the kids.
When the lawyer/whistle-blower contemplated the selfless lives lived by his parents, he knew what his goal in life must be. What a beautiful legacy to impart. Can we say the same? As long as one is alive, it is never too late.
Va'yar Yisrael es Mitzrayim meis al sefas ha'yam.
We find that when Hashem destroyed Sodom, while sparing Lot from inclusion in that destruction, Hashem instructed Lot not to turn around and look at their downfall. According to Rashi, Hashem told Lot, "'You are undeserving of witnessing their downfall, while you are being saved.'" In other words, it is one thing for Lot to be spared; it is a totally different thing for him to watch the others die. He was not that perfect himself. When Klal Yisrael stood at the banks of the Sea of Reeds, they were not much more spiritually advanced than their Egyptian pursuers. In fact, there was a dispute with the angels, who questioned Klal Yisrael's salvation. Were they not also idol worshippers? If so, why were they allowed to see the bodies of their Egyptian captors?
The Sefas Emes explains that even when Klal Yisrael was being "judged" at the Yam Suf, the issue was never concerning their being destroyed along with the Egyptians. The question was: How would Hashem continue sustaining them? Until now, He employed the Middas Ha'Chesed, Attribute of Kindness, to grant them life, despite their failings. Were they now ready to be given over to the Middas Ha'Din, Attribute of Strict Justice, and be judged thoroughly, and, afterwards, after emerging triumphant, would they be returned to the purview of chesed? One should be aware, that even when Hashem utilizes the middah of chesed, it is a product of din. Going beyond the measure of din is in itself an aspect of din which obligates one to go beyond the strictures of din to act with chesed.
l'zchus u'lerefuah sheleima
for Baruch ben Sara Chasia
b'soch she'or cholei yisrael
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