Parshas Chayei Sarah 5758

Each person is endowed with the ability to fashion a life which is really called "Life".

"And the days of the of Sarah were one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were the] years of the life of Sarah." (Bereishis 23:1)

The Gemarra in Tractate Yevamos (64a) asks, "Why did the Imahos, Sarah, Rifka and Rochel suffer from barrenness." It answers, "They suffered so, because Hashem desires the prayers of the Tzaddikim."

By way of her prayers and her acts of charity and kindness, Sarah merited to have a child. She caused that her life should be a life of 'chayim'; living and not dying..

This is learned from Rochel, who when she saw her sister bearing children and she not, bemoaned to Yaacov, "Give me children or I shall die!" (Bereishis 30:1)

R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev in his work, Kedushas Levi, maintains that this is the meaning of " . . years of the life of Sarah", that by way of her prayers and kindness she brought life to her years.

Why does the verse break up her 127 years into separate groups? Rashi comments that it teaches us that all of them were equally good.

This is in spite of the fact that she suffered barrenness for most of her life, experienced years of famine and exile, and was twice taken captive by foreign kings. How can those years be called good?

Says R' Zusia of Anipoli, it must be that she constantly repeated to herself "Gam Zu L'Tovah", "Also this is for the good." (Tractate Ta'anis 21a)

In this way she experienced every event in her life as a blessing, understanding that everything which comes from Hashem must be for the good.

Good Enough for Me

The famous brothers, R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg and R' Pinchos of Frankfurt came once to their Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch with a question. "How can one possibly fulfill the Talmudic precept (Berachos 54a), 'One is obligated to bless [Hashem] for the bad just like for the good'? Who would have the fortitude to bless Hashem for being punished?"

"Go speak with R' Zusia", said the Maggid. "He sits in the Shul at the edge of town"

They found R' Zusia in the shul as the Maggid had said. They didn't find what they had expected; a man of stature and dignity radiating an air of confidence. Instead they found Zusia; bedraggled, wearing rags and almost without a tooth in his mouth. Everybody in Mezeritch knew Zusia. His miseries were endless, he was spared no misfortune.

The brothers asked Zusia the question as the Maggid had instructed them. "R' Zusia, how can one possibly bless Hashem for bad just like he would for good?"

Zusia stared at them dumbstruck. "Zusia (he always referred to himself in 3rd person) do...does...does...doesn't know", he stammered in bewilderment. "You see", he continued with a bit more composure, "Zusia cannot answer your question. Zusia has never experienced a bad day in his life. He lacks nothing. Zusia is sorry, but he does not know the answer to your question!"

Zusia had not even understood the question . . . or maybe he did!

The relationship that an ordinary person has with Judaism's sages and teachers is symbiotic. We need them and they need us. This relationship can only succeed if when each one knows his proper place in relationship to the other.

"The servant then took ten of his master's camels, bringing along the best things of his master. He set off and went to Aram Naharayim, to the city of Nachor." (Bereishis 24:10)

Rashi - Avraham Avinu's camels were especially recognizable. They were always muzzled in order to prevent them from grazing in the fields of others along the way, which is an act of theft. (Bereishis Rabbah 59:11)

And the man (Eliezer) came to the house (of Rifka's father) and opened (the muzzles of) the camels, and gave them straw and fodder, and took water to wash his feet and the feet of his entourage. (Bereishis 24:32)

Rashi: "Opened" means taking off their muzzles. As mentioned above, Avraham's camels always travelled muzzled. They were now unmuzzled so that they could eat and drink. (Bereishis Rabbah 60:8)

Here is the continuation of the second Midrash quoted above:
(Part 1) "R' Huna and R' Yermiah asked R' Chiyya bar R' Abba, "Weren't the camels of Avraham Avinu as good as the donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair?" (a Mishnaic sage who lived some 1800 years after Avraham) (The question stems from the fact that the camels of Avraham Avinu had to travel muzzled to prevent them from grazing in the fields of others, while the donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair willingly abstained from forbidden food as is brought below.)

The donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair was captured by bandits, and taken to their secret cave in the hills. After three days the donkey still hadn't eaten anything. The bandits were worried that he would die and the stench of the rotting carcass would give away their hiding place. So they sent him back to his master. The donkey set out for home. When R' Pinchos heard the braying and howling of the donkey outside, he immediately recognized the voice. He instructed his household to quickly bring the famished animal something to eat since he knew that it hadn't eaten for days.

They brought some barley, but the starving animal wouldn't eat it. R' Pinchos asked "Did you remove the Trumah tithes?" (the portion for the Cohen). "Yes", they replied. R' Pinchos further inquired, "Did you take out the rest of the tithes?". "No", they said. "Did not the Rebbe teach us that animal food does not require separation of the remainder of the tithes?" "What can I do", replied R' Pinchos, "My donkey is stringent with himself!"

(Part 2) R' Yermiah sent a basket of figs to R' Zeira as a gift. Thought R' Yermiah to himself upon sending the gift, "It is possible that R' Zeira would eat the figs and not first separate the tithes?" Upon receiving the figs R' Zeira thought, "Is it possible that R' Yermiah would send me something from which he hasn't already separated the tithes?"

So R' Zeira ate the figs not knowing that they were tevel (produce from which tithes have not been removed), and therefore forbidden.

The next day R' Yermiah met R' Zeira. By the way, asked R' Zeira, "did you separate the tithes from the figs that you sent me?" "No", answered R' Yermiah, "it never occurred to me that you would eat them without first separating the tithes yourself!" R' Abba bar Yemina, who was also present lamented, "If the Avos and Imahos were on the level of angels, then we are like ordinary people. But if the Avos and Imahos are like ordinary people, then we are no more than animals, and not even as good an animal as the donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair! He refrained from eating tevel where we have stumbled!"

What is the connection between the two parts of this Midrash?

I heard from Rav Shlomo Ashkenazi shlit"a, of Jerusalem, a fabulous explanation of this puzzling Midrash.

Upon close reading we see that the common denominator of both sections is
R' Yermiah. It was R' Yermiah who asked the initial question; whether the camels of Avraham Avinu were not as good as the donkey of R' Pinchos. It was the same R' Yermiah, who by not tithing the figs caused R' Zeira to stumble.

R' Yermiah's comparison of his predecessor (five generations) R' Pinchos ben Yair, to Avraham Avinu, initiates a series of comparisons diminishing the stature of all: If Avraham is reduced to the level of an ordinary person, the ordinary man of his generation is now on the level of an animal. When man sinks to the level of an animal, he is not even as pious an animal as the donkey of R' Pinchos.

If the donkey of R' Pinchos did not need to be muzzled in order to keep it away from something that was prohibited to its master, all the more it should have been with the camels of Avraham Avinu. Could it be that the piety and caution in Mitzvos was greater in the household of R' Pinchos ben Yair than it was in the household of Avraham Avinu?

The Gemarra (Chullin 10a) says that Hashem doesn't even let the animal of a Tzaddik stumble, not to mention the Tzaddik himself. Nevertheless, the fact is that the camelsof Avraham Avinu were muzzled. Why did they need to be muzzled?

Here are a few answers. Readers are invited to send in their own and they will be published next week.

1) Avraham, knowing that his entire household, (including the camels and servants), was a extension of himself, demanded a higher standard. He muzzled the animals to show that he did not benefit unjustly from another, even from the public domain, and to teach the value and the effort necessary to keep away from theft. This important lesson of Derech Eretz merits its inclusion in the Torah.

2) The stringency of R' Pinchos' donkey was unnecessary piety since an animal is allowed to eat without the separation of tithes. (with the exception of Trumah Gedolah) Eating from stolen pasture is a clear violation of the Torah.

3) Eliezer took extra measures of caution in order to insure that every step of his mission would be successful.

No Room for the Two of Us

When the R' Yisrael Abuchatzeira, the Baba Sali (born 1890) came from Morocco to settle in Eretz Yisrael many ears ago, he arrived in the port in Acre north of Haifa. He was warmly received since his reputation as a scholar and miracle worker had long preceded him. He settled in a well known town in the north of the country.

During his first days in Eretz Yisrael, many ordinary people came to visit him and to ask for his blessing. Torah scholars from all over the country came to greet him and bask for a few moments in the pure light which he radiated. In addition, the scholars and Rabbis of the city came to greet him and didn't leave his side.

One of the leading Rabbis of the city began to talk with the Baba Sali about his experiences and impressions of the Tzaddikim of previous generations.

When the conversation turned to the Baal ShemTov, the founding father of Chassidus, the Rabbi launched into a well rehearsed invective of derisive and contemptuous assertions.

At that moment, the Baba Sali stood up and excused himself. He immediately called together his household, instructed them to pack all their belongings, and prepare to move.

"I cannot dwell together in the same city with Rabbis who show contempt for our sages and teachers."


Here are a few more examples from this week's Parsha of lessons for everyday living from the Avos and Imahos.

(Bereishis 24:10) Avraham took extra precautionary measures against theft by muzzling his camels. Petty theft is an all too common occurrence.

(Bereishis 24:52) Rifka's family agrees to the match with Yitzchok and Avraham's servant Eliezer, prostrates himself on the ground in gratitude. Rashi say that we learn from here that one must express gratitude to Hashem upon hearing good tidings. (See also Bereishis 23:12 and the comment of the Sforno there.)

(Bereishis 24:24) When Eliezer first meets Rifka, and he thinks that she is indeed the wife for Yitzchok, he approaches her and asks her three questions all at once. Rashi comments that Rifka's answers follow the order of the question. One should answer straight and to the point; the first question first, and last question last.

When they ask Rifka if she will indeed go back to Eretz Yisrael with Eliezer (Bereishis 24:58), she answers in one word, "Ailech", "I will go".

A Guten Shabbos!

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