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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum

Chayei Sarah

"And Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years..." (23:1)

The narrative of Sarah's death follows immediately after the story of Akeidas Yitzchak. Chazal explain that Sarah died as a result of the Akeidah. The Satan told her that Avraham had actually slaughtered their only son, Yitzchak. In response, she cried out in grief and died. The Piazesner Rebbe, zl, offers a fascinating insight into her death. He cites Rav Mendel M'Rimanov, zl, who explains Chazal's dictum concerning bris, covenant. Chazal refer to bris when discussing yesurim, pain and affliction, as well as when discussing salt. What relationship is there between salt and suffering? He comments that just as salt prepares and softens meat, so do yesurim refine one's spiritual character. Another idea connects the two. Just as an excess of salt ruins meat, too many yesurim can quite possibly destroy the person.

Moshe Rabbeinu juxtaposed Sarah's death upon Akeidas Yitzchak. He was positing an appeal on our behalf that a plethora of suffering and affliction can cause the converse of the original intent. What happened to Sarah Imeinu, the paragon of virtue and righteousness, can surely happen to us. Each person, regardless of his resoluteness and conviction, has a breaking point. This concept is reflected in Sarah's sudden death upon hearing the news concerning her only son. Indeed, the Rebbe advances his thesis suggesting that even he who has suffered greatly, yet persevered, still does not emerge unscathed. The scars of his affliction leave an indelible mark on his psyche. His mind is no longer the same. His personality has forever been changed. May the Ribono Shel Olam - in His infinite compassion - take pity on His People who have suffered and endured so much.

"And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her." (23:2)

The Midrash says that Avraham came directly from Har Ha'Moriah, the scene of the Akeidah. What is the significance of Avraham's point of origin? Does it make any difference to us from where he came? The commentators respond with various explanations. Horav Aharon Levin, zl, suggests that "Har Ha'moriah" served as the text for Avraham's eulogy. Throughout her life, Sarah Imeinu excelled in spiritual realms. She was righteous and G-d fearing, kind and noble. She attained a level of prophecy that surpassed even that of Avraham. Yet, all of these attributes do not necessarily dignify Sarah's essential function in life - to develop and execute her maternal obligation to its ultimate perfection. Is a woman praiseworthy if she devotes her life to performing acts of kindness, if she sits and recites Tehillim all day - at the expense of her children's education? Sarah perfected every area of spirituality and still raised her son to attain a superior spiritual level. This was demonstrated by the scene at "Har Ha'Moriah," where Avraham prepared her "ben yachid" to be sacrificed to Hashem.

Every woman is obligated to imbue her children with the proper moral characteristics and spiritual values. As a child matures, the mother's handiwork becomes apparent - one way or another! From the time of Yitzchak's birth, Sarah looked to the future to educate her son to spiritual perfection, to prepare him for a life of service to Hashem, to be the next Patriarch.

She clearly succeeded in her life's endeavor, as the "finished product" was eager and prepared to submit himself upon the altar at his father's behest . This was the greatest compliment to a woman whose life was completely devoted to serving Hashem. She worked side by side with her husband in order to purge the world of paganism and to infuse it with belief in Hashem. Yet, when Avraham Avinu came to give the hesped, eulogy, for this noble and lofty soul, to offer the praises of the woman with whom he had shared so much of his life, he focused on the area which Hashem destined should be the principal focus of the Jewish woman. Avraham spoke about the efficacy of Sarah's educational training. He recalled the events at Har Ha'Moriah where everything that she transmitted to her son was tested - successfully!

"And the maiden was very fair to look upon, a virgin and no man was on familiar terms with her." (24:16)

This pasuk is the basis of the Torah's characterization of the modesty appropriate for a Jewish daughter. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that Torah does not say "A man does not know her," as it states in other places, but rather vgsh tk ahtu, a term which does not occur in any other place. This seems to imply that not only was she a virgin in the usual sense, that no man knew her, but she was also so uncommonly modest that no man had dared to become intimately familiar with her. Rivkah's standard of tznius, modesty, her exemplary purity, was such that she commanded respect even at her young age. The truly modest Jewish girl has a high level of instinctive morality, displaying an aura of dignity and refinement. As such, even the most uncouth young man would never approach her improperly. People demonstrate their basic nature in the presence of someone for whom they have little or no respect. The bas Yisrael is the touchstone of tznius who serves as an example for others.

Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, once had a dispute with a rabbi who had a tendency to be more relaxed in his religious observance. He manifested his "liberal" stance in his public association with the secularists whose antagonistic views of Torah and mitzvos were notorious. When Horav Shapiro took him to task for attending their social affairs, he replied that, in reality, his intentions in attending these functions were not malicious. It was just that he was constantly receiving invitations which were difficult to refuse. Horav Shapiro responded to this lame excuse by quoting the pasuk which describes Rivkah's virtue, rather than praising the people of the community for not approaching her in an immoral manner. This teaches us that when someone's behavior is exemplary, their peers will inevitably respect him. Rivkah was so refined in her moral virtue that people were inclined to treat her with the utmost reverence. When a person distances himself from any indiscretion, people will not invite him to join them in an unprincipled endeavor. Obviously, if the rabbi was the recipient of many invitations to attend functions that reeked of animus to Torah, it was because the organizers considered him to be one of them. One's friends are indicative of the association he values.

"And she went down to the well and filled her pitcher and came up. And the servant ran to meet her and said, 'Let me, please, gulp a little water out of your pitcher.'" (24:16,17)

When one studies the narrative of the entire encounter between Eliezer and Rivkah, he assumes that the length of the text emphasizes Rivkah's kindness. Eliezer devised a system of testing this young girl to determine if she was worthy to be the wife of Yitzchak, to take her place as the second Matriarch of Klal Yisrael. Yet, one wonders why, after Eliezer saw that the water "rose up" to "greet" Rivkah, he still felt driven to test her. Does the water rise up for every individual? Did he need any greater indication that this was no ordinary young woman? How often do we find that "nature" alters its course out of respect for a unique individual?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, offers a profound insight into the character of Rivkah Imeinu. At the moment when Rivkah came toward the water, she clearly exuded such moral perfection that the water rose up to greet her. The wife of Yitzchak, however, must be so refined in the spiritual/moral sphere that the water would rise up towards her at all times. Eliezer was searching for some type of guarantee that even in the future Rivkah would exemplify chesed, kindness.

How does he obtain such a guarantee? What determines Rivkah's true essence? This, posits Horav Ezrachi, is essentially what Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai asked his disciples, "Go out and see which is the good way to which a man should cling" (Pirkei Avos 2:14). The great Tanna challenged his students to present him with the best quality for man to cultivate, one that would ensure his continued success. They responded with different virtues, each reflecting his own particular temperament and character. The answer of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach found favor: He asserted that a good heart, a lev tov, is the trait which is crucial in order to maintain consistency and continuity. All of the qualities which the other students expressed are included in a lev tov. One who has a good heart maintains a spontaneous love for the good everywhere, an intuitive grasp of the inherent good in everybody and every situation. The master plan for ensuring chesed -- and all virtue for that matter -- is to cultivate and enhance one's heart, to create a lev tov. Through a good heart, one can obtain the epitome of virtue. Thus, one sees and strives to connect only with that which is good.

Gemillus chasadim, the act of showing kindness, is a noble endeavor. Such behavior, however, will not necessarily continue. One can perform acts of kindness, one can go out of his way to assist others in all areas of need, but there is still no guarantee that this will endure. One who has a lev tov has a wellspring of good flowing from within himself. His heart overflows with goodness. It is not an external quality or action. It is an inherent part of his essence. One who has a lev tov is not merely a person who performs good deeds - he is a source from which good emanates. The one who performs chesed does so even at his own expense or inconvenience. One who possesses a lev tov, however, is never inconvenienced by doing good, for that is his life! The gomel chesed, who performs acts of kindness, does so only when the need arises. In contrast, the lev tov seeks opportunities to help others.

This is the specific quality that Eliezer sought in a mate for Yitzchak, a woman who had a lev tov. Rivkah performed her kindness with alacrity and enthusiasm. She did not tire from the strain of drawing the heavy pails of water. This was her enjoyment! Rivkah demonstrated a character trait that was innate, a virtue that was intuitive, a goodness of heart that represented her essence.

"Blessed is Hashem Who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my master. As for me, Hashem has guided me on the way to the house of my master's brother." (24:27,28)

What does Eliezer mean when he says, "Hashem has guided me"? Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl, interprets Eliezer's words to relate that Hashem took him by the hand and led him to this place. Hashem did not let go of his hand at any time during his journey. He never permitted him to falter or stray from the path to his destination. Rav Yerucham continues to assert that this concept applies to all of us. If we were each to look back in life, each individual tracing his own unique "history", we will note that indeed Hashem has guided us along the way. We have just to contemplate the manner in which we all arrive at our destination, be it our station in life, our vocation, our mate, or simply our every day successes, and we will see how Hashem guides us. The notion of being in the "right place at the right time" means that Hashem has led us to be there at the appointed time in order to achieve success; such "coincidences" do not spontaneously occur. If the path towards our success "seems" smooth, it is because Hashem has guided us on that route.


  1. Which place in the parsha is referred to by its future name?
  2. What was Eliezer told to do in the event he could not find a wife for Yitzchak in Canaan?
  3. What was unique about the manner in which Avraham Avinu's camels went out?
  4. Did Eliezer have anyone else in mind whom he would like to see Yitzchak marry?
  5. How do we know that Lavan did not properly fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av?
  6. A) Was Besuel agreeable to Rivkah's marriage to Yitzchak? B) What happened to him?
  7. Who was Keturah?
  8. Why did Avraham not bless Yitzchak before his death?
  9. Did Yishmael do teshuvah before he died?

  1. Kiryas Arba where Sarah died was not the name of the town at that time.
  2. To seek a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Anar, Eshkol and Mamr'e.
  3. They were muzzled, so that they would not eat from other people's fields.
  4. Yes. Eliezer had his own daughter.
  5. He spoke before his father did.
  6. A) No. B) He was killed by an angel.
  7. Hagar.
  8. He feared that Eisav, who was destined to be born to Yitzchak, would receive the blessings. He, therefore, said, "Let the Master of blessings bless whom He desires to bless."
  9. Yes.

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