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Weekly Chizuk

Chayei Sarah


And the man was astonished at her, reflecting silently on whether Hashem had made his journey successful or not. (Bereishis 24:21)

Adapted from Shai l'Torah, vol. 1, p. 64.

This statement of the Torah is quite perplexing, notes R. Simchah Zissel Broide, zt"l. Why was Eliezer so anxious at this point over whether or not his mission was successful? He had just experienced an impressive series of miracles. First, he had arrived at his destination in an incredibly short time, through (a miraculous jump through spatial dimensions). Second, he had witnessed a sudden upsurge of the water in the well, as it jumped up to greet Rivkah. Wasn't it obvious that his mission was crowned with success? What additional proof did he require?

In order to answer this question, let us raise another one, regarding an incident that took place earlier in the parashah. We read: "And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his house 'Put your hand under my thigh and I will minister an oath to you...'" (Bereishis 24:2-3). And further on, Avraham says: "'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.'" (ibid. 24:8). Incredible! In this verse, the Patriarch raises the possibility that Eliezer will return home empty-handed! How could Avraham Avinu, the paradigm of faith in the Almighty, have doubts over whether Eliezer's mission would be successful?

In truth, however, this does not illustrate that Avraham lacked faith; rather, it indicates his tremendous humility. Even though his recognition of Divine Providence had reached the apex of human perception, he still stood in utter subjugation to the Almighty's will. Man, no matter how great, is limited in his understanding of Hashem's boundless wisdom and plan.

Therefore, Avraham didn't feel that any supervision of his life in the past by Hashem was an indication of the future. True, Hashem's previous dealings with him seemed an obvious sign of His will, and the Divine plan was totally clear to any intelligent being. However, Avraham's subjugation to Hashem was so complete that he felt it was impossible for him to truly understand the Divine plan for the future.

Thus it was that he remained in doubt: perhaps the woman would not want to come back with Eliezer. Avraham was so totally subordinate to his Creator that he felt he could have no inkling of the Divine plan. Therefore, he could not be sure about the outcome of the search for a shidduch.

Eliezer, Avraham's faithful servant, was his primary disciple. He had absorbed his master's teachings well, learning not only his Torah, but his very manner and behavior as well. Therefore, even though he was confronted by obvious miracles, the calculations he drew from them were only to determine his next step. It was for this reason that he immediately gave Rivkah the jewelry, even before asking her whose daughter she was. He had just witnessed an obvious miracle, and so it was obvious that he had to give her jewelry.

Afterwards, however, he stood there anxiously, waiting to see if "Hashem had made his journey successful or not." In spite of the fact that the whole chain of events pointed unequivocally toward success, his feeling of subservience to his Creator was so strong that he refused to draw conclusions regarding the future. He had no inkling of the Divine plan, and everything was still up to Hashem.

The Chickens and the Ticket

The following story is taken from Me'oros Ha-Daf Ha-Yomi, (a daf yomi pamphlet by Kollel Chassidei Sochotchov, Bnei Brak), vol. 96, citing "VeAmech Kulam."

Everyone in the compartment of the dilapidated train made a lot of room for her to sit down. Not that the other passengers respected elderly woman - no one wanted to be near her, for she was traveling with filthy, smelly chickens and geese! The shrill whistle from the platform signaled that the train was about to pull out. Suddenly a young and frightened boy, out of breath, jumped into the compartment. As he refilled his lungs with air, the train jerked forward and started to pick up speed.

The boy quickly studied everyone in the coach, which was crowded with robust Russian farmers and peasant housewives. He saw that the only place left for him was near the old woman's geese and chickens. "Sometimes life surprises a person," Dovid Mendel mused. Not many hours ago he was happily and calmly studying Gemara with his chavrusa, and now he found himself shivering like a windblown leaf in a fourth-class coach of a packed train heading to Kiev. That morning, a high-ranking Russian soldier with a scowl on his face had handed the Rosh Yeshivah a government order saying that all the yeshivah students had to leave Lubitz within twenty-four hours. Not obeying the order would bring bitter consequences.

The yeshivah boys knew about Stalin's evil decrees. Sadly, therefore, they went to their rooms, packed what few possessions they had, and started off in different directions, heading for their homes. Of course, Dovid Mendel wanted to go home, too, to Kiev, but he didn't have a penny to his name. He came from an impoverished family, and it had taken his parents many months to gather enough money to send him to the yeshivah. Now he had no money to return. The Rosh Yeshivah was not able to help in this respect, but blessed him that he would not suffer misfortune. Then he told him to leave Lubitz as quickly as possible. "One thing I can give you," said the Rosh Yeshivah with tears in his eyes. "Some advice - any time you are threatened with trouble, say to yourself the verse "Ein od milvado" - There is no [power] besides Him.

The landscape outside the window of the racing train changed rapidly. Soon they would arrive at the first stop, where a checker would board the train to make sure that everyone aboard had tickets. From minute to minute, Dovid Mendel's concern grew and grew.

The old woman finished feeding her fowl. Dovid Mendel studied her deep bewrinkled face, and realized that she was Jewish - the only other Jew in the coach. In his predicament he had no choice and decided to ask her for help.

When he saw that no one would notice, he whispered his story to her, but she did not seem to hear. Finally he begged her, "Please, can you help me?" When he finished pleading, the old woman fell into a deep sleep, without a word of response, and her thunderous snoring was heard throughout the crowded coach.

The train continued to speed on towards its first stop. Contemplating his bitter fate, Dovid Mendel did not notice that the old woman had awakened and had stood up, holding a large goose and a noisy chicken. Then she started to stroll with them around the coach.

The other travelers were suddenly startled by the shrill shouts of a chubby and stalwart man who was terribly annoyed by the chicken and goose. His cries woke up several passengers who had been sleeping. The old Jewish woman paid no attention, however. "Excuse me," she said, "but will this ticket get me from Lubitz to Kiev?" "Lady," the man replied. "I already told you that it's all right! Don't worry! Your ticket is just fine. It's 100% good!" She then continued to slowly wander from one person to another accompanied by her birds, showing each passenger her ticket and innocently asking, "Will this ticket get me from Lubitz to Kiev?" Each time, she received a clamorous dismissal: "Yes, yes, it's a good ticket, don't worry. Just go and sit down!"

During the tumult Dovid Mendel awakened from his troubled thoughts. His first impression was that not only had his fate not improved, now he must suffer traveling next to this bizarre and hapless woman. He pleaded to Hashem to save him from the misfortune that probably was about to befall him for not having a ticket to show the checker.

The old woman finally returned to her seat - seemingly satisfied that her ticket would get her to Kiev. She put the goose and chicken back in their place and contentedly went back to sleep. It seemed to Dovid Mendel that every so often she winked at him - but on the other hand, he wasn't sure.

The train started to slow down and pull into a station. Dovid Mendel saw the ticket checker waiting on the platform, just as he had imagined in his dismal musing. The checker was tall and stocky, with a cruel face. He had handcuffs hanging on his belt, intended for passengers like Dovid Mendel who sneak aboard without paying. "Ein od milvado," whispered Dovid Mendel, trembling.

Suddenly Dovid Mendel felt something being shoved at him. The old lady was pushing her worn-out ticket at him. Before he could ask her what she was doing, she quickly motioned to him to remain quiet, closed her eyes, and appeared to fall into a deep sleep again.

As the checker approached and yelled, "Ticket, please!" Dovid Mendel held out his ticket. Then the checker passed on, looked down at the wrinkled old woman and said, "Ticket, lady. Lady - ticket!" She did not wake up and he shouted his command again: "Lady - ticket!" She still did not budge, and then the other passengers began to call out from all sides of the coach: "Leave that crazy woman alone! In the name of all that is holy, please, do not wake her up!" The passenger that she had disturbed first said to the checker, "Believe me, she has a ticket! Everyone here saw her ticket. Just don't wake her up! We have already suffered more than enough from her!"

Lacking much choice, the checker continued on to the next compartment. Dovid Mendel thought he discerned a slight smile in the corner of the clever old woman's mouth. Her eyes remained closed. She remained "asleep," not bothering a soul, just as the other passengers wanted.

This old Jewish woman put herself in great peril in order to help her fellow Jew, though she had never seen him before in her life. What great courage she demonstrated! One small slip and both she and the boy would have wound up in a terrible Soviet prison for many years. Later, when Dovid Mendel went over to her to express his deep gratitude, she explained with shining eyes and simple faith, "When you told me that you are a yeshivah bachur, I knew I had to do whatever I could to save you."

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:

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