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Chayei Sarah

Now Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything. And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his - "Place now your hand under my thigh. And I will have you swear by Hashem, G-d of heaven and G-d of earth, that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land and to my kindred shall you go and take a wife for my son for Yitzchak". The servant said to him - "Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this land; shall I take your son back to the land from which you departed?" Avraham answered him, "Beware not to return my son to there. Hashem, G-d of heaven, Who took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth; Who spoke concerning me, and Who swore to me saying, 'To your offspring will I give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman will not wish to follow you, you shall then be absolved of this oath of mine. However, do not return my son to there" (Bereishis 24:1-8).

In this week's parashah, we learn that Avraham sent his trusty servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Avraham insisted that he bring the appropriate woman only from among his immediate family.

The Sages point out that this story is told and repeated at great length, with every minute detail, in spite of the fact that the Torah is usually as brief as possible. This should make us aware of how much we can learn from the actions of these great men. One of the lessons may be the following.

There was no doubt that Yitzchak had to get married and bear offspring; the entire future of Avraham's Nation depended upon him. Indeed, that is why Avraham had prayed so hard that Hashem grant him a son in the first place. Indeed, when Eliezer asked Avraham's family for their decision as to whether or not they would allow Rivka to go and marry Yitzchak, he mentioned an alternative: "And now, if you intend to do kindness and truth with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, and I will turn to the right or to the left" (ibid. 49). Rashi explains: to the right - to take a wife of the daughters of Yishmael; to the left - to take a wife of the daughters of Lot who dwelt at the left of Avraham.

Yet, when Eliezer asked Avraham what to do if the woman from his immediate family refuses to come with him, Avraham did not offer any "Plan B." He simply told him that if she refuses to come he will be absolved of his oath.

I see this as a major lesson in proper administration.

Some believe it is efficient to consider alternative solutions right from the start. That way, they argue, you may be sure that the mission will be accomplished; one way or the other. I disagree. I discourage those who work with me from even thinking about a "Plan B" until "Plan A" has been thoroughly attempted and exhausted. I tell them, "If you are already thinking about another way of doing it, you won't try your best to do it the way we really want it to be done." I see "Plan B" to be a distraction and a hindrance, when it is considered too soon. Only after it is certain that the first, and preferred, way failed, should one search for a different approach.

When I was a young boy, I learned in the Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Josef (RJJ). One of the Rabbis there was Rabbi Stulman; a student of Reb Aharon Kotler ztvk"l, in Kletsk. He once told me that he had said a vort of his to Reb Aharon and that the Rosh Yeshiva had said that it is good.

It says in Mishlei (22:13), "The lazy one says, 'There is a lion outside, I'll be killed in the streets.'"

Asked Rabbi Stulman, why does Shlomo Hamelech call him a lazy one (atsel)? If there really is a lion outside, then he's right. He cannot go there and put himself in danger. But if there is not, then he should be called a liar (shakran)!

Answered Rabbi Stulman, the truth is that there really is a lion outside. The problem is real. However, Shlomo Hamelech calls him an atsel because he doesn't look for a way to overcome the problem. Perhaps he can fight the lion, perhaps he can chase him away, perhaps he can get others to get rid of him or distract him, and perhaps he can go a different route where there is no lion. Maybe there is some other solution. But since this fellow is lazy, he is satisfied that he has found a good excuse to stay in bed and is not interested in looking for a solution.

I find "Plan B," too, to be "a lion" which serves as an excuse to prevent one from exerting himself completely to expedite "Plan A."

I support my theory with something very interesting which I once heard from one of my mentors, Rabbi Meir Mintz z"l.

Before the influx of refugees to the United States, after World War II, it was very difficult to be a Sabbath Observer. It was illegal then to keep one's business open on Sunday, and people believed that if they did not work Saturday either, they would not earn enough to support themselves. Consequently, if a worker told his boss on Friday that he would not be coming in tomorrow, most bosses told him not to bother returning on Monday either. This meant that every week he had to look for a new job; and there weren't that many jobs available.

Blessed with a wife and children whom they had to support, there were many who could not withstand the test and succumbed. They found no alternative but to work on Shabbos. Some looked for ways to minimize the desecration of Hashem's holy day as much as they could; but they could not stand firm and remain completely shomer Shabbos. It is not for us to judge them, G-d forbid. We do not know what we would do were we in their situation - may Hashem spare us such trials. (But I am very proud that my grandfather, Chaim Yosef Sobel o.b.m., never gave in. He was forced to open his own humble factory and survived on a minimal income. His self sacrifice even influenced my father, may he be well, who refused to work on Shabbos even when he was serving for the American Armed Forces during WWII.)

Rav Mintz told me that when he immigrated to New York he was shocked to find a former yeshiva colleague of his working on the Sabbath. The fellow tried to explain his actions and said, "Don't think it came so easy. Believe me, Meir; I tried every possible thing I could do before I made that drastic step. There just was no other way to survive. I couldn't bear to hear my children crying for bread and milk."

Rabbi Mintz answered, "I believe you. I'm sure you tried everything. But I'll tell you where you went wrong and what your mistake was. When you prepared a long list of options to try, in an attempt to support your family; at the very bottom of that list, you wrote: If all else fails, I will have no alternative but to work on Shabbos, G-d forbid. That's why, eventually, after trying everything else first, you came to that option too. Had your list never even entertained that option as a remote possibility; had your attitude been, "I'll die of starvation, chas veShalom, but I'll never work on Shabbos" - then somehow, you would have found a way to survive as an Orthodox Jew in America, as others did."

I learned from this how "Plan B" can prevent one from successfully fulfilling "Plan A."

So let us try our hardest to do our best; and may Hashem help us to be successful in all of our endeavors, Amen.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel