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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Chaya Sora

And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba....And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry for her. (23:2)

Rashi explains that the narrative regarding Sarahís death is juxtaposed upon the previous parsha, which relates the story of Akeidas Yitzchak, because her death is intrinsically related to the Akeidah. When she heard the news that her only child was about to be slaughtered, "parchah nishmassah," her soul "flew out" and she died. We may question why Rashi discusses Sarahís death and its connection with the Akeidah while commenting on the pasuk which mentions Avrahamís eulogy. He should have raised this issue in the beginning of the parsha, when the Torah says, "And Sarah died." Second, it is difficult to grasp that Sarah, who was even greater than Avraham in prophecy, died as a result of an act that was the paragon of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. The news should have moved her to the ultimate heights of nachas.

The usual pshat, explanation, given by most commentators, is that Sarah was an "alteh mommeh," old mother, who simply could not handle the shock of losing her only child. The mere thought of Yitzchak being taken to the Akeidah was enough to kill her. In another few minutes, however, she would have found out that he had been spared. Are we to accept that such a noble soul was so overcome with anxiety that she could not wait a few minutes to ascertain whether her son had died or not? It is difficult to accept that Sarah Imeinu died of fright. Horav Shlomo Carlebach, Shlita, offers a novel insight into Sarahís sudden death.

Sarahís primary focus in life was that her offspring would maintain the same lofty relationship with the Almighty that she and Avraham had nurtured. What criteria would clearly demonstrate their resolve? What would constitute undisputed proof that her progeny would sustain their commitment to Hashem? The test would be - and has always been - the ability to die Al Kiddush Hashem. Klal Yisraelís readiness to sanctify Hashemís Name, even if it means giving up their lives, has been the litmus test of our faith and loyalty to the Almighty. Anyone who is willing to relinquish life in this temporal world for eternal bliss in the World-to-Come is truly worthy of his share in Olam Habah.

As soon as Sarah heard the exciting news that her only child had been privileged to be a sacrifice to Hashem, she was overcome with rapture and joy. The mere fact that her son was willing and ready to offer his life Al Kiddush Hashem caused her neshamah to be uplifted. The words "parchah nishmassah," which is traditionally translated as, "her soul flew off," now has an entirely different meaning. "Parchah" can also mean "it bloomed," as a flower blooms. When Sarah was assured that her son had attained the sublime level of kedushah which she had aspired for him, her soul "bloomed"; it flowered and radiated as it reached the height of nachas. When Sarah saw that everything she hoped for had been achieved, she died. Her neshamah departed this world--not in fear, but with joy and satisfaction. Sarah did not die like an "alteh mommeh," but like the Matriarch of Klal Yisrael, leaving this world secure in the knowledge that she had accomplished what she had set out to do.

I have given you the field, and as for the cave that is in it, I have given to you....bury your dead. Land worth four hundred silver shekels; between you and I--what is it? Bury your dead. (23:11,15)

What made Efron change his mind so radically? At first, he appeared to be a wonderful, refined gentleman who opened his land to Avraham. He granted him a place in which to bury Sarah without asking any compensation. Suddenly Efron showed a different side to his personality, when he "intimated" that he would be inclined to "give" the property to Avraham for a mere four hundred silver shekels, which constituted an outrageous amount of money. Something must have transpired that catalyzed this sudden change. What was it?

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, cites the Alter MíKelm who responds to the question by applying a famous story that occurred concerning the Rambam. The Rambam had a dispute with a group of secular philosophers who contended that cats can be trained to act as human beings. They felt that with proper training and environment, an animal could be transformed. The Rambam argued that it was impossible to alter the nature of an animal. They established a date when the philosophers' trained cats would be put to a test.

It happened that the Sultan was visiting on the appointed day. It was decided that he would observe the catsí behavior and be the judge of their "humanness." A large group gathered to gape in wonder, as the cats set a table for the Sultan and his distinguished entourage. Each dignitary was assigned a specific place, while the Sultan was at the head of the table. Word was fast spreading that the Rambamís theory was refuted. Yet, the Rambam sat there unperturbed by the proceedings. The meal was about to begin. The cats came out of the kitchen carrying large tureens of hot soup. Everyone was visibly impressed with the poise with which the cats carried out their functions. As soon as the cats came close to the table with the hot soup, the Rambam opened up a little bag that he had brought with him. Suddenly, a little mouse appeared for all to see. At the sight of the mouse, all of the cats were thrown into a frenzy. They dropped the pots, causing the hot soup to spill all over the tables and the guests, and chased after the mouse.

Everyone was now wet and fully aware of the Rambamís lesson. We might succeed in superficially training the cats, but their internal nature, their essence, cannot change. A cat is, and will always be, a cat.

This analogy applies likewise to Efron. As long as he did not see the money, he could act refined, dignified and almost human. As soon as Avraham said, "Take my money," and Efron saw the money with his own two eyes, he reverted to the money-hungry, deceitful person that he had always been. Human nature is difficult enough to change when one seeks to transform himself. What can we expect from Efron, who was comfortable with his current position?!

Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, "Please tip over the jug so I may drink," and who replies, "Drink, and I will even water your camels," her will You have designated for Your servant Yitzchak. (24:14)

Eliezer established a criteria for a suitable mate for Yitzchak. He would request of her an act of chesed, kindness. If her response exceeded his request, it would indicate that she was truly a baalas chesed. The wife for Yitzchak, the future Matriarch of Klal Yisrael, must be an individual whose character refinement is innate. Rivkah displayed a level of chesed that was exemplary. We may wonder why her willingness to draw water for the camels was so remarkable that it demonstrated her admirable quality of chesed. What was so special about it?

We suggest that the answer lies in understanding the essence of chesed and its true meaning. People perform acts of loving-kindness for various reasons. Some people do it because they actually want to help others. Other individuals do it because they feel good when they make other people feel good. Yet others perform acts of chesed for the recognition they get. True chesed is developing a sensitivity towards another's needs. We feel for other people, and we attempt to provide them with what they need, not with what we need. It is essential to help those who are in material need with food and clothing and, at times, even shelter. A simple "Good morning," or the act of including someone who does not have friends into oneís inner circle, also constitutes chesed. Chesed means providing kindness where and when it is needed--not when it is convenient or fashionable. Chesed means not expecting and not desiring recompense--of any sort. A cute anecdote tells about the boy scout who came to school one half-hour late. When the teacher asked him to explain his tardiness, the young boy responded, "I was helping an old woman to cross the street." "Since when does that take a half-hour?" asked the teacher. "Well, she did not want to cross!" This boy had been taught to perform acts of kindness, so he performed them whether or not the person was in need.

All too often, we act kindly--for our benefit. We might be responding to a guilty conscience or the need for recognition, or, we might be searching for a merit. We must be sensitive to the needs of those around us, looking for those areas where we can be of assistance, for purely altruistic reasons. Being available when one is needed can be of greater significance than sending a meal.

Rivkah was the model of a baalas chesed. She was sensitive and caring. She sought to give help, even if it was to an animal that could not express its feelings or say, "thank you." When Eliezer saw Rivkahís outpouring of chesed, even for an animal that does not express its needs or respond with gratitude, he knew that he had found the suitable mate for Yitzchak.

And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his....And I said to my master," Perhaps the woman will not follow me?" (24:2, 39)

The Torah tells very little about Eliezer, Avrahamís trusted servant. Who was he? Who was his father? The first indication about his origins is later in the narrative, when Rashi explains the word "hkt"--"ulai," this word is normally spelled with a "vov" and is translated as "perhaps." It is now spelled without a "vov" and should really be interpreted as "to me." Rashi says that Eliezer was alluding to his own daughter whom he had hoped to marry to Yitzchak. Thus, when he asked Avraham what to do if he was not successful in finding the suitable mate for Yitzchak, he was not really asking. Rather, he was hoping that he would not find a mate and that Yitzchak would come "to me." Avraham responded, "My son is blessed, and you, as a Canaani, are accursed. The accursed cannot unite with the blessed." Apparently, Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan. Targum Yonasan states that Eliezer was the son of Nimrod, the son of Kush, the son of Cham.

Regardless of whether Eliezer was a Canaani or Nimrodís son, he came from a tainted lineage. The only question is the degree of imperfection. Nimrod was the great rebel who disputed Hashemís Divinity, who rallied a world to rebel against Him. He was the one who threw Avraham Avinu into the fiery furnace in an attempt to rid himself of any antagonists. Yet, he fathered Eliezer, who was entrusted by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak.

Horav Zaidal Epstein, Shlita, makes a compelling observation from here. We see that it is conceivable for one who is a rasha mírusha, thoroughly evil, to have a child that who achieve remarkable spiritual heights. We find that descendants of Haman haírasha studied Torah in Bnei Brak. Consequently, we must keep in mind that while we must separate ourselves as much as possible from reshaim, a concealed spark of "decency" might be buried deep beneath all that evil. The spark in this individual might germinate and manifest itself many generations later through his descendants. Indeed, we find that before Moshe killed the Egyptian who was striking a Jew, he saw through Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, that nothing positive would ever emerge from him. We should never totally dismiss anyone's possible future merit. Is that not what characterizes Judaism?

And Avraham expired and died in a good old age, mature and content. (25:8)

The Ramban remarks on Avraham Avinuís lofty character. He was sameiach bíchelko, satisfied with his lot in life. He was not one to yearn for luxuries. Those who desire luxuries will never be happy with what they attain. If they have a hundred, they desire two hundred; if they have two hundred, they desire four hundred. We are puzzled by the Rambanís statement. Avraham really did not have a reason to complain. Hashem blessed him with extraordinary wealth and prestige. He miraculously saved his life when he was thrown into the fiery furnace. He was blessed with a son in his old age to perpetuate his legacy. He was selected as the Father of Am Yisrael. Now, was it really that difficult for Avraham to be satisfied with his allotted portion in life? Things could certainly have been worse.

Horav A.Z. Leibowitz, Shlita, asserts that we have no idea of the compelling effect that human desire for wealth and luxuries has over us. How often do we hear the statement from people who are supposedly "happy." "If I had a million dollars, I would give it to tzeddakah and be satisfied with my own financial situation"? People just do not seem to be happy with what they have. If Avraham had not been born with unique character traits, even he, who was blessed with so much, would not have been happy. So what should we say? No one is above the desire for luxuries, regardless of his present financial state of affairs.

There is also an alternative approach to this concept. One who has financial means should - by all means - enjoy it. This does not mean that he should act like a glutton and overindulge. It is just in the natural order of things that he who is blessed by Hashem with material wealth should enjoy and be happy with his gift. Only he who enjoys what he has is able to share his blessings with others. An anecdotal story is told about a Chassidic rebbe who visited one of his wealthy constituents and found him eating black bread and radishes for dinner. The Rebbe told the man, "My dear friend, you should be eating chicken one day, turkey the next, duck the third day, and then have a good steak. This is no way to live." When they left, the students who had accompanied him questioned their Rebbeís interest in the diet of this affluent man. The Rebbe replied, "If he eats chicken, he may then be expected to give a poor man herring. If he himself eats radishes, however, what do you think he will end up giving the poor man?" Let the rich enjoy, so that he may be favorably disposed to sharing his wealth with others. To paraphrase Reb Yitzchak Bunim, zl, "There is only one thing in life that is multiplied by division. Divide and share your happiness, and you increase it."

QUESTIONS:

1. Was Efron always the leader of his community?

2. What mitzvah was especially dear to Avraham?

3. What was Eliezer to do if he could not find a suitable mate for Yitzchak in Canaan?

4. How was it easy to recognize Avrahamís camels?

5. Who was Keturah?

6. Did Yishmael die as a rasha?

ANSWERS:

1. No. He arose to distinction on the day that Avraham came to speak to him.

2. Bris Milah

3. He was to pick a wife from the daughters of his friends, Anar, Eshkol, and Mamr'e.

4. They went out muzzled so that they would not eat from the grain in other people's fields.

5. Hagar

6. No. He repented before he died.

Shema

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