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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Chayei Sara

And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. (23:3)

Rashi cites Chazal, who teach us that the narratives of Sarah's death and the Akeidah follow one another in order to demonstrate that Sarah died as a direct result of the Akeidah. The Satan told Sarah that Avraham had slaughtered Yitzchak. When she heard this shocking news, she cried out in grief and died. The commentators offer various explanations for this Chazal. Interestingly, Rashi mentions this juxtaposition - in regard to the pasuk detailing Avraham's reaction to Sarah's death, his eulogy and mourning. He does not mention this Chazal at the onset of the parsha, which begins with Sarah's death. Why does Rashi wait?

Horav Zeev Weinberger, Shlita, explains this approach by adding a new understanding of Avraham's test at the Akeidah. He contends that Sarah's death was actually part of the nisayon, trial, of Akeidas Yitzchak. When Avraham returned from the Akeidah to discover the tragic effect of his actions on Sarah's life, he could momentarily have regretted his actions. Perhaps he was to blame for her premature death. Retroactively, he perceives that he should not have been so quick to consent to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice. The Torah attests that Avraham did not flinch for a second. He returned from the Akeidah and proceeded to eulogize Sarah immediately. He suggested no regret, no refrain, just positive confirmation of his actions.

A remarkable and timely lesson can be derived herein. One should not be distressed or regret his actions, even if after he has fulfilled a mitzvah or followed the halachah, he is confronted with a reality which does not validate his behavior.

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

The Midrash distinguishes between ziknah, old age, and ba ba'yamim, getting on in years. They maintain that some people attain ziknah, but do not have their "days." Others have their yamim, days, but do not have their old age. Avraham Avinu had both; he was well-on in years, and he also achieved ziknah. What is the meaning of this Midrash? How does it apply to Avraham? Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that ziknah is a reference to the past, to what one learned as a youth, to the Torah and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, which he has attained. Yamim is an analogy for the present, being attuned to the "day", to the occurrences of the times, to society's constant changes in culture, perspective and values.

There are people who are "with it", attuned to the present. They ackowledge the changes in lifestyle which modernity engenders, and they react to them. These individuals however, have divorced themselves from the past. They perceive the Torah and the yirah they had achieved in the past to be ancient relics. These people have yamim, but no ziknah. There are yet others who have successfully maintained their spiritual stature throughout the changing scenery of the years gone by. They are erudite and deeply religious, actually presenting themselves in an image of a different era. They, too, present a problem - they live in the past. They have ziknah, but no yamim. They have not yet learned how to harmonize the present with their glorious past. They cannot relate to today's youth or establish any form of dialogue with them, because they live in a different world.

Avraham Avinu was zakein u'ba bayamim; he maintained the traditions and observance of the past and was able to integrate them into the present. He had the capacity for presenting the Torah to a society alien to its teachings and precepts. He understood their psyche, teaching in accordance with the people's level of understanding. He taught a world, because he was not divorced from it. While he maintained his distance from their way of life, he did not disassociate himself from understanding their perspective.

And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his...that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaani. (24:1,3)

The Torah places great emphasis upon Eliezer's position in Avraham's household. Certainly it was a high status position, considering Avraham's great wealth. Horav M.D. Soloveitchik, Shlita, comments that Avraham Avinu placed incredible trust in Eliezer, appointing him to direct and control all of his material assets. When it involved spiritual pursuits, however, he exacted an oath from him. He did not simply rely upon his proven integrity and devotion. He sought a promise that would bind him to his word. Marriage was a spiritual endeavor for Yitzchak. He and the woman he would marry were to become the progenitors of Klal Yisrael. Avraham could not afford to chance that Eliezer might not carry out his mission.

Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, related that he once read in a sefer a parable that addresses the Torah's emphasis on Eliezer's position. A man had entered a city starving, after travelling for a number of days without adequate food. He saw a restaurant that displayed a "Kosher" sign. He immediately entered to order a meal. It goes without saying that an individual who is more scrupulous regarding kashrus will not enter an establishment until he knows who the owner is. A greater yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing person, will surely investigate the kashrus standards of that restaurant thoroughly. There are those who will not be satisfied until they have spoken to the local rabbi and received confirmation that the restaurant is unequivocally kosher.

On the other hand, if someone were to come to this community with the intention of making a business deal, the story would be quite different. They would investigate every aspect of the deal, demand guarantees and be completely confident that nothing would go wrong with their money. This is, regrettably, human nature; when it comes to money, people are uncompromising and demanding. When it comes to spiritual matters, they leave frumkeit for the next person.

Avraham Avinu's standard is the converse. In regard to his material possessions, he was confident that Eliezer would suffice. When it came to selecting a wife for Yitzchak, he recognized that it was a spiritual endeavor. This woman would be responsible for continuing the matriarchal tradition which began with Sarah Imeinu. A simple assurance was not sufficient. He exacted an oath, signifying the overwhelming importance of his endeavor.

And Avraham was old, well on in years...and Avraham said to his servant...that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaani. (24:1,3)

Nowhere in the Torah is so much space devoted to one incident, as it is to Avraham's initial command to Eliezer, his servant, followed by the eventual securing of a wife for Yitzchak. Indeed, the Ten Commandments occupy only fourteen pesukim, while the story of Yitzchak and Rivkah take up sixty seven pesukim! We infer from here the overwhelming significance of Jewish continuity. Avraham's mission in life, together with that of Sarah Imeinu, would die with them if there were to be no one faithful to carry on their legacy. Without a secure family, devoted and committed to the faith that he preached, what would Avraham really have accomplished?

Let us look at the beginning of the parsha, which recounts Sarah's death and Avraham's search to find a suitable burial place for his eishas chayil. The fact that Avraham seemed to have been alone is striking. What happened to all of his students, the converts that he had brought into the fold? Avraham and Sarah travelled everywhere to bring people closer to the monotheistic belief. Where were they? Where was Lot, his "devoted" nephew, who actually repented before he died? How was it that Avraham is left with Sarah - alone?

The answer is that while the others either converted or repented, it was not a complete, internal, all-encompassing experience. When Avraham needed them, they were not present. We infer this from the fact that there is no memory left of them. They did not transmit their conviction to their children, either because it was too late or because they did not care enough. When one believes with great conviction, it is passed on to his children. When one's belief is external - or at best fleeting - it dies with him.

Avraham Avinu fully understood the importance of choosing the suitable mate for Yitzchak. The future of Klal Yisrael hinged upon this union. This is underscored by the many pesukim devoted to this story. Without a future family of committed Jews, what good would the Torah be? Sarah had died and left a single child - Yitzchak. He represented the hope and future of their life's work. Without him, their work would be wasted, Klal Yisrael would never be. Yitzchak could not transmit his parents' legacy, however, unless he was also blessed with a special wife with whom he would carry on the Abrahamic mission. A present with no future quickly dissipates into the past.

Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaani in whose land I dwell. (24:37)

Avraham Avinu rejected the Canaani as potential mechutanim, people from whom he was willing to take a wife for Yitzchak, because of their moral degeneracy. While his "family" were idol- worshippers, their iniquity was basically in the intellectual realm. Philosophic sin can be cured without leaving a blemish upon the individual's character. A lack of morality and ethics affects the entire psyche of the person. Such a person was disqualified from being a mate for Yitzchak. We see that the Torah presents a picture of Lavan and Besuel, Rivkah's brother and father, Avraham's "family" who were acceptable for a shidduch for Yitzchak, as decent people who "happened" to be idol-worshippers. Is this true? Lavan was a scoundrel, a thief and a crook, who lusted for money. Besuel was no different. These people were far removed from being the paradigms of integrity. Why would Avraham overlook their lack of ethical behavior just because they were not moral degenerates? Are there different levels of morality?

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, lends insight towards understanding the anomaly of Avraham's family, i.e. Lavan, etc. Living among idol worshippers while not believing in their idols, is difficult. Lavan was no fool; he knew that the idols were worthless pieces of stone. Yet, one cannot live in a community that worships a stone as god and not acquiesce to their practice - at least publicly. This is what they did. Lavan and his family lived a life of sham, publicly serving idols, while secretly realizing their folly. Even Terach, Avraham's father, was in the idol business; surely he knew that these idols which he fashioned had no supernatural powers. Business is business, however. In short, these people lived a lie. When someone lies long enough, it becomes part of his nature. He becomes accustomed to lying. He sees nothing wrong with it. He enjoys it. Indeed, he no longer knows how to tell the truth. They became crooked out of necessity - but were crooks, nonetheless. Rivkah, on the other hand, was a little girl who had no opportunity to be inculcated into the family way of life. She was still pure, untainted by their lack of integrity. Thus, she was acceptable to become Yitzchak's wife.

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

Chazal infer from this pasuk that Yitzchak initiated Tefillas Minchah. The afternoon prayer, Tefillas Minchah, is different from the morning prayer, Tefillas Shacharis, and the evening prayer, Tefillas Arvis. In the morning, a person arises rested after a night's sleep. He has not yet become involved in the hustle and bustle of his daily endeavor. His thoughts are still peaceful, his emotions are relaxed. He can supplicate Hashem with a relaxed, peaceful frame of mind. He can have the proper kavanah, concentration and intention. Likewise, at the end of the day, regardless of the day's trials and frustrations, business is now complete. He can relax, because nothing is going to change. Tomorrow is another day. Tonight he can pray to Hashem relaxed and at peace. Thus, Shacharis and Arvis are both tefillos that are prayed at a time when one's frame of mind is attuned to prayer.

Tefillas Minchah is different. Because Minchah is recited in the middle of the afternoon, at a time when one must invariably take time out from his hectic schedule, it is difficult to maintain the proper concentration. One must block his thoughts regarding a favorable business deal, rid one's mind of his daily business affairs, in order to daven with total kavanah. Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, explains that this is the reason for the uniqueness of Tefillas Minchah. It is, indeed, a difficult prayer to daven. Minchah is a prayer in which one sanctifies the material, one transcends the "field," the symbol of material pursuit, in order to consecrate his thoughts to serve Hashem. Yitzchak instituted Minchah while he was yet in the "field." He sanctified the field with Tefillas Minchah. Thus, Minchah is recited during the time of day which offers us the opportunity to reach further with our prayers, if we are able to transcend the physical/ material world in which we are currently involved.

1. Was Efron always the leader of Bnei Cheis?

2. Why was the mitzvah of Bris Milah so precious to Avraham?

3. Avraham refers to his "father's home" and the "land of his birthplace." Where were these two places?

4. What great wisdom did Rivkah demonstrate in the manner in which she responded to Eliezer?

5. How long did it take Eliezer to travel from Avraham's house to Rivkah?

6. Did Besuel attend Rivkah's wedding?

7. What was Rivkah prepared to do if Lavan and Besuel did not agree to her marriage to Yitzchak?


1. No. He was elevated to that position on the day that Avraham arrived, as a result of Avraham's importance.

2. It was the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to him. Also, he achieved it through great pain.

3. His "father's home" was Charan. The "land of his birthplace" was Uhr Kasdim.

4. She responded to the questions in their chronological order, i.e. first things first.

5. He arrived that same day.

6. No

7. She was prepared to go, regardless of their decision.

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