Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chayei Sarah 5775

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1) 

The first word of this verse in Hebrew is "Vayih'yu".  The word Vayih'yu is a palindrome; that is it is spelled the same way backwards and forwards, with the Hebrew letters Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv.  So "Vayih'yu" when it is read backwards also is "Vayih'yu".  This comes to hint that if a man does Mitzvot and good deeds, the day that has passed isn't thought of to be in the past, for even though the day has already gone by, the Mitzvot that he did continue to exist and stand before him always.  And that is why it says "Vayih'yu Chayei Sarah", with the word "Vayih'yu" which is read backwards also "Vayih'yu", to tell us that because she was a righteous woman,  even when looking backwards, that is at the days which have already passed, these days are still thought of as the lifetime of Sarah (i.e., as if she is still alive) because of the good deeds which she did.

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1)

The first word of this verse in Hebrew, "Vayih'yu", has the Gematria (numerical value of its letters) of 37.  (Note: The Hebrew letters of Vayh'yu are Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv. The numerical value of Vuv = 6, Yud = 10, Hey = 5, Yud = 10, and Vuv = 5.  The sum of 6 + 10 + 5 + 10 + 6 = 37.)  This is a hint that 37 years were the most important, best years of Sarah Imenu's life, because from the time that Yitzchak was born until Sarah passed away there were 37 years.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)

There are those that explain that thus are the ways of man, in the days of his youth he is connected in his nature to the desires of this world but on the other hand he is strong in the trait of being alacritous (to do Mitzvot), but an elderly man is the oppposite way -- he is weak in the trait of alacrity but on the other hand he is not as connected to the desires of this world as he was during his youth.  And this verse comes to tell us that Sarah had both of these good traits together.  All her days she was like a 20 year old regarding the matter of being alacritous to do Mitzvot, and also she was like a 100 year old, distant from the desires of this world all of her days.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)

Tehillim Chapter 100 is "Mizmor L'Todah" (in English: "A Psalm of thanksgiving") , and Tehillim Chapter 20 is "Ya'ancha Hashem B'yom Tzarah" (in English: "May Hashem answer you on the day of distress").  In all situations one needs to thank Hashem, also on a day of distress.  In addition, the custom is to say the Tehillim "Ya''ancha Hashem" aloud and slowly (that is, with deliberation and enunciation of each word), and also the Tehillim "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to be said that way.  In the Shulchan Aruch  Orach Chaim (Siman 51) it's written that "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to said with a melody.

"...the years of Sarah's life."  (Bereisheet 23:1)

Rashi explains that "they were all equal in goodness".  And behold, in truth Sarah had much anguish and suffering in her life.  Until the aged of 90 she didn't have children, and she was also taken into the house of Pharoah and the house of Avimelech, and she also suffered from famine.  And in spite of all that, she accepted everything with love, and that is the explanation of what Rashi said that "they were all equal in goodness".  Even the difficult days were thought of in her eyes as good.

" eulogize Sarah and to weep for her." (Bereisheet 23:2)

Why is it written first "to eulogize" and afterwards "to weep"?  This is not the usual way of mourners, who at the beginning weep and afterwards eulogize, as it is written in the Gemara (Moed Katan 27b): three days for weeping and seven days for eulogizing.  And the Rishonim explain that when Avraham came he found the people in his household eulogizing her because three days had already elapsed from the time of her passing, so Avraham made eulogies with them, and afterwards he wept for her.  And the Kli Yakar explains that in general, for everyone who passes away the mourning gradually decreases, because with the passage of time everything is forgotten.  But in the case of this righteous woman, on each and every day the people of her generation increasingly felt her absence, because of the absence of her Torah and good deeds, which were lost from her generation.  Therefore, the eulogizing came before the weeping.

"... and to weep for her."  (in Hebrew: "V'livkotah", Bereisheet 23:2)

The Hebrew word "V'livkotah", which means "and to weep for her", is spelled Vuv Lamed Vait Kaf Tav Heh, and the letter Kaf is written smaller than the other letters. Why is the letter Kaf smaller? The Baal HaTurim says that he wept only a little bit because she was already old.  There is another explanation, that Avraham only wept a little bit so that people wouldn't say that he regretted the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak), because Sarah passed away as a result of being told about the Akeida.  And there is another explanation, that it appears as if the word is written "and for her daughter" (in Hebrew: "V'l'bitah" ,without the Kaf since it written smaller than the other letters), because at the same time the daughter of Avraham also passed away.

"...Chayei Sarah..." (Bereisheet 23:1) and "Vayechi..." (Bereisheet 47:28)

There are two Torah Portions in which matters of death are discussed and yet, the names of the Torah Portions are based linguistically on the word for life in Hebrew, "Chaim" ("Chayei" in this week's Torah Portion, and "Vayechi" in the Torah Portion of Vayechi).  In the Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah, the deaths of Sarah and Avraham are discussed, and in the Torah Portion of Vayechi, the deaths of Yaakov and Yosef are discussed and yet it begins with the words  "Vayechi Yaakov" (in English: "And Yaakov lived").  The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous People) are also called "Chaim" (alive) even when they have died. 

"And Avraham was old, coming with days..."  (Bereisheet 24:1)

The commentators on the Torah say that he filled all the days of his life  with Torah and with Mitzvot, and that Avraham came to the Next World with all the days (of his life), for there was no defect in any of them.

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything." (Bereisheet 24:1)

Rashi explains that the Hebrew word for "with everything", "BaKol", has the same Gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew word  for "son" (in Hebrew: "Ben").  (Note: The letters of the Hebrew word "BaKol" are Beit, Kaf, and Lamed. The numerical value of Beit = 2, Kaf = 20, and Lamed = 30. The sum of 2 + 20 + 30  is equal to 52.  The Hebrew letters of the word "Ben" are Beit and Nun.  The numerical value of Beit = 2, and Nun = 50.  The sum of 2 + 50 also is equal to 52.  So the Gematria of "BaKol" is the same as the Gematria of "Ben".)  And there are those that say that he had a daughter and her name was "BaKol".

"BaKol" (in English "with everything") has the same Gematria as "Ben" (in English: "son")

There are those that ask, why did this need to be stated indirectly, by means of Gematria?  Why couldn't it just be written in the verse "and Hashem had blessed Avraham with a son"?   And the explanation is that someone who has a righteous son like Yitzchak Avinu already has everything, and that is the explanation of "BaKol" (in English: "with everything").

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything."  (Bereisheet 24:1)

What is the blessing to Avraham "with everything"?  If it's good for everyone and not just for himself, that was regarded as a blessing by him. (from Mayana Shel Torah)

"And he said, Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham.."  (Bereisheet 24:12)

The cantillation mark that is written for  the Hebrew word "Vayomar" in this verse (in English: "And he said") is a Shalshelet.  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) explain that the way of the Evil Inclination is that it doesn't come in the beginning with enormous transgressions, such as telling you to go serve idols and the like, but rather it starts with small things.  And therefore it is written regarding Lot, "And he delayed" (Bereisheet 19:16), with a Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination made him lazy and weak with regard to fulling a Mitzvah (to leave Sodom) and he delayed and didn't hurry.  And after that, the Shalshelet appears in the current verse (Bereisheet 24:12)  on the Hebrew word for "And he said";  the Evil Inclination enters into a conversation with him and entices him.  And after that, it's already written "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) with a Shalshelet, because he already doesn't want to learn Torah, and after that it's written in the Torah Portion of Tzav "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) with a  Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination has already conquered him entirely.  And there are those who explain this sequence of verses containing a Shalshelet with a good ending, that "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) means that he doesn't want to listen to the Evil Inclination, and that "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) means that he conquered the Evil Inclination.

The Sages say that three asked inappropriately.

Eliezer said "the girl...who says drink and I will also give water to your camels..." (Bereisheet 24:14), and this was inappropriate, for perhaps a crippled girl would come out.  Shaul HaMelech said that whoever would kill Goliath, he would give him his daughter.  And that was not appropriate, because perhaps the person who would succeed in that goal would have a defect.  But Yiftach asked inappropriately and didn't succeed, because he was forced to offer up his daughter as an offering.  And all three of these are hinted at by the cantillation mark of the Shalshelet on the word "Vayomer" (Bereisheet 24:12 -- in English: "And he said"), because the Shalshelet contains three "waves" of musical notes of rising and falling pitch.

"And the servant ran...and she hastened...and she ran" (Bereisheet 24:17 - 20)

It's necessary to understand why it is mentioned here several times the concept of alacrity and swiftness.  On a simple level, it's possible to say that this is to teach us that all the deeds of righteous people are done with alacrity.  And the Gaon HaRav Yitzchak Zev  HaLevi Soloveitchek of Brisk ztzvk"l explained that Eliezer said "may it happen before me today" (Bereisheet 24:12), that is, that the sign was that it would happen on that very day, and since it was approaching evening, therefore everything needed to occur quickly in order for all of it to happen before the sunset, so that all of it would be on that very day.

"...drink and I will also give water to your camels..."  (Bereisheet 24:14)

The commentators on the Torah ask, what was so special about that?  Behold, also today we see that the daughters of Israel do much kindness similar to that.  The explanation is that Eliezer arrived with many servants and Rivkah could have thought to herself that kindness is something that one should do only if it's needed, but in this instance Eleazer, who was very wealthy and also had a lot of servants, why should he bother a small girl of three years old?  And even so, Rivkah didn't make any calculations like that and immediately acted kindly.  And this is called an act of kindness without any excuses or calculations, because if an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah comes to your hands you shouldn't miss the opportunity because of various answers and excuses.  And this is similar to someone who sees a diamond on the ground, that he shouldn't tell someone else to pick it up.

"And she finished giving him to drink,  and she said" (Bereisheet 24:19)

The Seforno explains that Rivkah waited to speak until he finished drinking, just as the Sages say (Taanit 5b) "One shouldn't speak at the time of eating and drinking lest something goes down into the trachea (tube in the throat for breathing) instead of the esophagus (tube in the throat for swallowing) and the person's life can become endangered".

"And he (Eliezer) said 'I will not eat until I have spoken my words', and he (Lavan) said 'speak'. And he (Eliezer) said 'I am a servant of Avraham'..." (Bereisheet 24:33-34)

The Baalei HaTurim says that Eliezer told them, I need to say beforehand the blessing on washing the hands, and the blessing on the bread.  And when Lavan said "speak', he meant, so say it already, and his intention was that he should say the blessings quickly without enunciating the words carefully and slowly.  And when Eliezer said "I am a servant of Avraham", his intention was to say, that since I am a servant of Avraham, I don't do that in a rush.  I pray and say blessings with intention and slowly, with careful enunciation of the words. And because of that Eliezer was saved from the death (by poisoning of the food) that they were plotting against him. 

"And they blessed Rivkah and said to her, 'Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads...'  "  (Bereisheet 24:60)

The Sages say that because of this blessing, Rivkah was infertile, so that people wouldn't say that Rivkah had been blessed by this blessing.  It can be asked, haven't the Sages said "Don't let the blessing of an ordinary person be a light manner in your eyes, and even the blessing of a gentile", such as the blessings of Aravna and Darius?  And the explanation is that they (Aravna and Darius) blessed in the name of Hashem.  Aravna said to David HaMelech, "Hashem Elokim should be pleased with you" (Shmuel Beit 24:23).  Darius said to Daniel "May your G-d, Whom you serve regularly, save you" (Daniel 6:17).  But Lavan and his mother blessed Rivkah without mentioning Hashem, and therefore this is not considered to fall into the category of a blessing by an ordinary person.  

Why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family?

It has been asked by the Meforshim (those who explain the Torah), why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family, who were idol worshippers? The explanation is that even though they (his family) had corrupt opinions, in any event the Canaanites had corrupt character traits and that was worse, because character traits can be passed on through inheritance but opinions are possible to change.  (from Drashot HaRan, Avnei Nezer)

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah has 105 verses. Haftora: "V'hamelech David" (Melachim 1:1).

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

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