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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah's life. (23:1)

The Midrash quotes the pasuk in Tehillim 37:18, Yodea Hashem yemei temimim, "Hashem attends the days of the perfect." This refers to Sarah Imeinu, who was perfect in her actions. Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, derives from Chazal the concept of, tamim b'maaseh, "acting perfectly." This means that an activity is carried out in perfect harmony, focused on serving the Almighty. "Everything" means exactly what it implies: every aspect, all of the person's organs, limbs, working together in perfection to serve Hashem. This was Sarah: tamim b'maasehah, "perfect in her actions."

The Mashgiach observes that, when Avraham Avinu addressed the needs of his guests, it consisted of one long execution, from the moment he saw them until he accompanied them to the door. Every individual deed was part of one long activity, with each part fusing perfectly with the next component, much like a perfectly synchronized watch, in which each wheel causes the next one to move, so that everything works together in harmony. Avraham wanted to treat them well. This mandated showing respect, by addressing the individuals as adoni, my master. He must provide the choicest cuts of meat and do so quickly, and so on and so forth. What appears to be a separate component is actually all part of one long act of chesed. If one aspect were to be off center, if the meat would not have been perfect, the entire act of chesed would be imperfect. This is the meaning of tamim b'maasim.

Eliezer was sent on a mission to seek a wife for Yitzchak Avinu. Thus, everything that took place from the moment that Eliezer left home until he returned with Rivkah was all considered to be intrinsic to the execution of Eliezer's mission.

The mission seems to be broken into various segments, but they are actually all components of one long mission. The requirement of temimus, perfection, demands that what seems to be the most minute detail be carried out in exact perfection or else the entire activity is left failing.

Likewise, Rivkah Imeinu merited to become the second Matriarch of Klal Yisrael. She was selected to be Yitzchak's wife due to her attentiveness to chesed. This does not mean that most of her actions were considerate of others. It demands that every nuance of every action was all perfected in harmony to the highest goals of chesed. From the moment Rivkah appeared on the scene until she met Yitzchak, all that was demonstrated was one lengthy act of kindness.

Rav Yeruchem explains that this principle of tamim b'maaseh is rooted in the attribute of emes, truth. Chesed in its own right does not require sheleimus, perfection. Indeed, whatever kindness one performs is great. Emes, truth, demands perfection. For an act of chesed to achieve spiritual integrity it must achieve total perfection. Chesed v'emes, kindness and truth, do not simply go together, they are one. Chesed must be emes, or else it is not perfect.

And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah. (23:2)

The Midrash notes the word va'yavo, "And (Avraham) came." "From where did he come," the Midrash asks. "He came from the burial of Terach, his father, but did not the passing of Terach precede Sarah Imeinu's death by two years? We must say that he came from Har HaMoriah." The Midrash is obviously enigmatic. When Avraham left Har HaMoriah, he returned to Beer Sheva. If this is the case, Avraham Avinu was "coming" from Beer Sheva. Ramban explains that vayavo does not refer to Avraham's physical act of coming, but rather, the place which inspired his eulogy of Sarah. Therefore, he explains that Har HaMoriah inspired his appreciation of Sarah.

In his commentary to the Torah, Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, coalesces the two places quoted in the Midrash and offers a practical explanation of the places which inspired Avraham's eulogy of Sarah. The Patriarch focused on two significant points in Sarah's life and how she was able to transcend her own murky background and upbringing in order to be able to raise a son of the caliber of Yitzchak Avinu, infused with holiness and purity, willing to part with his life in the service of Hashem.

Sarah grew up in Terach's home. Her father, Haran, had died as a result of being flung into a fiery cauldron upon the command of Nimrod. Sadly, his own father, Terach, played a role in his son's death, since Terach was an idolator whose vocation was making and selling idols. Avraham and, by extension, his brother, Haran, had a problem with this. They believed in Hashem unequivocally, thus maintaining that idols were composed of nothing more than worthless stone. Terach could not allow his son to continue with this slander of his precious gods. It was bad for business. He went to King Nimrod who immediately gave Avraham a choice: to live as a pagan, or die as a monotheistic believer. Haran had the same choice, but being less of a gambler and less of a believer, he opted to see what would transpire with Avraham. If the Patriarch lived, Haran would jump into the cauldron. If Avraham perished, Haran would take the easy way out. Avraham entered and exited the flames unscathed; Haran did not exit. His daughter was sent to live with his father, Terach.

Being the chief idolator, he certainly must have raised his granddaughter with the appropriate hashkafos, principles and outlook, of a pagan. Terach was out of his league, and was as unsuccessful with Sarah as he was with Avraham. Sarah left this pagan house and reached out to the world, converting thousands of women, while Avraham did the same with the men. Despite the unacceptable, morally repugnant education which Sarah received in Terach's home, she was able to go on to raise her only son to become a Patriarch. Sarah's chinuch prepared Yitzchak to be an olah temimah, perfect sacrifice. How did this apparent paradox happen? How could it have succeeded?

We underestimate our Matriarch, Sarah. She transcended it all. She was not influenced by the pagan home of her surrogate father, Terach. Avraham took one look at Yitzchak and saw a son that would have made any mother proud, a son who was willing to lay down his life for his beliefs. When Chazal say that Avraham buried Terach, they mean that the Patriarch buried everything which Terach represented: his idols, his paraphernalia; everything that even remotely carried the "smell" of Terach. He did this at Har HaMoriah when he saw the results of the excellent chinuch Sarah had imparted to Yitzchak. Har HaMoriah was the scene of Terach's second burial. Here was laid to rest the man and his pagan ideas. Yitzchak was living proof that Terach was dead. This is how Terach's "burial" and Yitzchak's akeidah inspired Avraham's eulogy.

I personally experienced a similar situation, and, by extension, so does each and every ben Torah attest to the burial of the Terachs, the Amaleks, and all of the wicked people throughout the generations. My mother, Glicka bas R'Avraham Alter, a"h, lived a full life. It was a difficult life, as she survived a number of Hitler's death camps. She, together with my father, zl, lost their first set of children during the war and came to America following the liberation, to rebuild their lives and family.

They raised three children who, in turn, raised two more generations of Torah-abiding Jews. My mother was widowed early on, and she was left to raise her family alone. She did so with perseverance, dedication and love, never once faltering in her commitment to Torah observance. At her funeral, I insisted that she be carried out only by her grandsons, who were mature bnei Torah. As the coffin was raised up, one of the bystanders, an elderly "landsman," friend from Europe, remarked, "She has just taken her revenge on Hitler!"

When we maintain our allegiance to Hashem, His Torah, and mitzvos, we bury all of those enemies who have attempted to destroy our beliefs throughout the ages. Every Jewish child who receives a Torah education, who lives a life of Torah values, represents another nail in Amalek's coffin. Every bar mitzvah, wedding, simchah adds more dirt to his grave. By acting like Torah-committed Jews, we take our revenge on our enemies. We also inspire those who are on the line, whose Jewish lives are filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. They know that the lives they lead are void of Jewish values and morals; yet, they are afraid to take the plunge. When they observe the simchas ha'chaim, joy of life, joie d'vivre, that is inherent in Jewish observance, they may finally be tempted to take the next step.

Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead. (23:2,3)

Avraham Avinu eulogized his life's partner: the woman with whom he had shared his spiritual goals; the mother of his son, Yitzchak; the first Matriarch of the Jewish Nation. This is a tall order. There must have been so much to say, so much to emphasize about a woman who had lived life so well, who was such a vital component of Avraham's success as leader of the world, father of the Jewish People, paradigm of the morally perfect, ethically correct, spiritually replete individual. Yet, when one peruses the pesukim, not one word is mentioned concerning the eulogy Avraham must have given for Sarah Imeinu. Clearly, a eulogy of such import should find its way into the Torah. Horav Yosef Berger, Shlita, quotes Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Munkatch, grandson of the Bnei Yissaschar, who asked this question when he eulogized his own Rebbetzin. "What was Avraham's hesped, eulogy?" he wondered.

Vayakam mei'al pnei meiso, "Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead." This was the gist of Avraham's eulogy. The Patriarch realized and expounded upon the fact that his tekumah, rising up, spiritual elevation, success as a person, teacher, leader, was due to pnei meiso, "the presence of his dead." Sarah was the reason that Avraham achieved such success. The Patriarch recognized this. It was all in his noble wife's merit. He attributed nothing to himself. This was truly an impressive and inspiring eulogy.

When one reads the pasuk, "Avraham came to eulogize Sarah," the lamed, which actually means "to" as in "to Sarah," seems out of place. Obviously, since Sarah was the deceased, he was coming to eulogize her and no one else. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, explains this practically. Avraham was the gadol ha'dor, preeminent leader of the generation. As such, it is certain that Sarah's funeral was well-attended by every noble and distinguished personage. Quite possibly, many of these illustrious leaders were asked to speak - which they probably did. They spoke with great fanfare, relating the many accolades and praises of Avraham Avinu. Sarah was praised for being the wife, helpmate, life's companion of the gadol ha'dor, but they mentioned very little about Sarah herself. It was Sarah's funeral; yet, they spoke about Avraham! What about Sarah - as a person in her own right?

Thus, the Torah tells us, "Avraham came to eulogize l'Sarah," only Sarah, her values, her attributes, her virtue, her character refinement, her nobility. He spoke about the deceased - in her own right - not as her husband's partner in life. Sarah had achieved her own personal significance. In his Ohel Rachel, thoughts on the month of Elul and the Yamim Noraim, Horav Shmuel Auerbach, Shlita, has a section entitled, Alon Bachus, which is the eulogy he gave for his Rebbetzin. It is an inspiring mussar shmuess, discourse, which portrays the Torah's attitude concerning the esteem that a gadol ha'dor had for his wife. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that his distinction in the field of Torah and as rosh yeshivah should be attributed to the direction he received from his wife. She was involved in every aspect of his life, encouraging a number of his decisions vis-?-vis the yeshivah and his students. To her, it was all about learning Torah, which was paramount in her life.

His Rebbetzin was integrity personified, unable to grasp anything that was not totally "true." She never thought of herself - only of others. She had no needs; others had needs. The Rosh Yeshivah relates that, during one of her more difficult, painful days, as she was slowly succumbing to her illness, one of his students became engaged. The ceremony honoring the engagement was being celebrated that night. Rav Shmuel was not planning to attend. How could he leave his wife when she was in such excruciating pain?

The Rebbetzin replied with complete equanimity, "You must go! You do not mix two situations. My pain is my pain. It is not the chassan's pain. Why should he suffer because of my pain? He is waiting for you to attend as his rebbe, his Rosh Yeshivah, and his spiritual father. Why should his simchah, joyous occasion, be marred because of your absence? I am in pain, and he is experiencing great joy. What does one have to do with the other? You are going!" It was as simple as that. These two distinct situations were exclusive of one another. The pain that she was enduring should have no effect on the life of anyone other than herself - and her husband. The subject was closed.

Her illness did not deter her from her many acts of chesed, kindness. Toward the end of her life, the Rebbetzin attended a Shabbos Sheva Berachos, which required traveling and staying as a guest at someone's house. She arrived before the Rosh Yeshivah. After spending part of the day helping to prepare for the festivities, she insisted that the Rosh Yeshivah partake of the sweets that had been set aside for them. The hostess worked hard to prepare a fitting welcome for the guests, how could he not eat? Also, she said, to be careful not to leave any crumbs! This is what went through her mind - and this is what was important to him to remember at her funeral!

I think her life was aptly summed up in the phrase on her matzeivah, gravestone: Evlah b'libah v'tzahalasah al panehah, "Her sadness (was) in her heart; her joy (was) on her face." This was the Rosh Yeshivah's tribute to his Rebbetzin.

Now Avraham was old, well on in years. (24:1)

The word zakein, old, implies that the individual has lived an increased number of days. Likewise, ba ba'yamim, well on in years, indicates that we are not talking about a young person. Zakein and ba ba'yamim are redundant to one another. Why are they both used in the same pasuk? Chazal explain that some people have experienced physical longevity, ziknah, but their days are incomplete. Likewise, there are those who age prematurely, although their length of days are actually short. Avraham Avinu's ziknah, old age, was the result of a full life, well-lived in the service of the Almighty.

The Shlah HaKodesh, zl, derives a profound lesson from the coupling of zakein with ba ba'yamim. Avraham Avinu teaches us that one should make sure that he experiences positive achievement every day of his life. Otherwise, that day is rendered lifeless. In order that a day of life be considered a "living" day, it is necessary for one to infuse that day with life by doing something positive and good.

Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei 10:27, V'yiraas Hashem tosif yamim, "And the fear of G-d adds days," meaning that on a day in which a person acts positively, he injects that day with life. In contrast, u'shenos reshaim tiktzarenah, "the years of the wicked will be shortened," meaning that even if a wicked person has a lengthy stay on this world, it will ultimately be shortened, because his many days are rendered incomplete.

Avraham was ba ba'yamim, with each day being added as a day of life infused with his many positive activities. His life was full, because every day was well-lived. We wonder why it is only concerning Avraham that emphasis is placed upon his "days," Was he any different than any of the other Patriarchs whose lives were all infused with daily goodness? Horav Yisrael Chaim Prager, zl, Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Novominsk, explains that, concerning the counting of days, Avraham was truly different from the others. He quotes the Midrash Rabbah, "Rabbi Nechemiah says, Lech Lecha, 'Go to yourself,' is actually a command concerning the 'goings,' (Thus the lecha, yourself, is translated as 'go.' The pasuk would be read as lech, lech - 'go twice'). This is a reference to two commands: one from Aram Naharaim/ Aram Nachor (which was actually Uhr Kasdim, where Avraham was thrown into the fiery cauldron); the second refers to the five years which Avraham spent in Charan following the Bris Bein HaBesarim, the Covenant of the Parts (which was essentially when Avraham had his seminal dialogue with Hashem concerning his and his descendants future)."

Chazal teach us that Hashem directed Avraham to leave Aram Naharaim, but instructed him to tarry in Charan for five years, after which he went to Eretz Yisrael at the age of seventy-five. The Midrash uses a vernacular in describing Avraham's trip from Charan to Eretz Yisrael as: She'hifricho mi Bein HaBesarim v'havio l'Charan, "He (Hashem) flew him from Bein HaBesarim and brought him to Charan." Why "fly" him? Chazal explain that, following the Covenant, Avraham expressed concern for the earlier years of his life, when he had participated in the "family" worship that had prevailed in his home. Hashem made the sins of Avraham's youth disappear, sort of "fly away." This is what is meant when Chazal say that Hashem flew Avraham to Eretz Yisrael.

We see from the Midrash that our Patriarch was very anxious concerning his past, the earlier years of his life when his "days" were far from perfect. Therefore, the Torah makes a point of underscoring Avraham's length of days, that each and every one achieved perfection. Once he committed his belief to Hashem, his past was expunged and his days cleansed, so that all of his one hundred and seventy-five years were considered to be pristine and complete.

This Midrash is an eye-opener. Many recently-returned baalei teshuva worry about their less than perfect pasts. Are they to be ignored? Does one walk around with a life-long guilt trip just because he was not born into an observant family? Avraham Avinu had similar concerns, which Hashem allayed. While we are not Avraham Avinu, sincerity does go a long way. If the present is stable, one should have very little to worry about the past. It is only when one hinges on the past, with it returning to haunt him every time the present does not reach his expectations, that one must be concerned - not only about the past; apparently, his present is shaky as well.

And Avraham expired and died at a good old age. (25:8)

The Talmud Bava Basra 91a, relates that, on the day of Avraham Avinu's passing, the leaders of the world lamented his death with the following eulogy. "Woe to the world which lost its manhig, leader/guide; woe to the ship that lost its kavarnit, captain." In his Derech Tamim, Horav Avraham, Rav of Berezdiv, Western Ukraine, explains the meaning of what appears to be a double eulogy. Avraham was the manhig, leader, of the world. He guided and cared for each individual person, his needs: physical, material and spiritual. He saw to it that no one infringed on his fellowman. Whatever property belonged to a person - stayed that way. He cared for the "little guy," as well as the most powerful, influential individual.

Second, as the primary expounder of the monotheistic belief, he was Hashem's number one proponent in the world. He preached belief in the Creator of Heaven and earth; maintaining that the G-d of Creation was also the G-d of history. He was ship's captain. Life in the world was like a journey across the sea in a turbulent storm. The winds are pushing the ship to and fro, with the possibility of capsizing very real. A captain guides the ship and disciplines its sailors. He knows when to turn right and when to veer left. A leader must, likewise, know when to say yes and when to say no.

The journey of life can allegorically be compared to someone standing on a thin, long board in the sea during a great storm. He must balance himself perfectly, since any sway to the left or right will cause him to fall and drown. Without help to balance himself, he stands little chance of survival. We go through life balancing ourselves on that thin board. One wrong move, and we drown in the sea of contemporary society with its bankrupt morals and misplaced sense of ethics. We need a strong captain, someone to tell us, to guide us, without whom we do not stand a chance of survival. This is what Avraham was to the world. This is what every gadol, Torah leader, is to the Jewish world.

To supplement the above, K'Motzei Shalal Rav, quotes the Eshel Avraham, who goes one step further. When the world loses its leader - it is not the end of the world. Other leaders will step into place and take over. Indeed, before the "sun" of one leader sets, the "sun" of the next leader is already beginning to shine, but "woe" to the ship that has lost its captain. When the ship is at sea in the midst of a storm - who will be the captain's replacement?

V'dibarta bam. And speak of them.

Rashi quotes the Sifri that interprets this phrase: Shelo yehei ikar diburcha ela bam. Aseim ikar v'al taaseim tafeil. "Your primary conversation shall be about Torah and mitzvos. Make them primary; do not make them secondary." Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, quotes Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, who finds in this Sifri a source for the teaching of secular subjects, as long as the Torah remains primary and of utmost significance - with the secular subjects remaining secondary to it. If secular subjects were to be totally excluded from the Jewish curriculum of study, Chazal would have said something to the effect that, v'dibarta bam - shelo yehei diburcha ela bam, "Your conversation should be only in them." Since exclusiveness is not granted to Torah study - only primary significance, it implies that, for certain purposes, secular studies are permitted.

I am not sure what the proof is. Chazal are speaking about conversation - not necessarily study. One is certainly permitted to converse, maintain a dialogue in areas that are not exclusively Torah, as long as Torah is the ikar, primary. Setting time aside for secular study at the expense of Torah might be another question altogether, to which Chazal might not be alluding.

In Memory of
our beloved parents, grandparents,
and great grandparents:
Rabbi Justin Hofmann
Harav Yekusiel ben Yosef z"l
niftar 25 Cheshvan 5770
Sofie Hofmann
Tzipora bas Hachaver Avraham Yosef Simcha Hacohen a"h
nifteres 13 Kislev 5773
From the Elzas, Greenfeld and Levine families

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