This week’s parsha, Chayei Sorah, speaks of historical underpinnings of our people as we read of Sorah’s death and Avrohom’s search for a proper burial place for her. That is followed by the search for a wife for Yitzchok and ends with the passing of Avrohom. As happens in Jewish life in the exile, there are obstacles and setbacks along the way. People who profess honesty and statesmanship turn out to be neither honest nor statesmen.
Following the passing of Sorah, the Torah elaborates on how Avrohom reached out to the people of Cheis regarding a kever for her. The people of Cheis treat Avrohom with great respect, referring to him as a G-dly king and offering him any grave he chooses. Instead, he asks to speak to their distinguished friend, Efron, and offers him a high price for the cave at the end of his field. After first proffering the field and cave as a gift, Efron demands a very high price, telling Avrohom that he’s giving him a good deal.
Avrohom happily paid for the Me’oras Hamachpeilah and buried Sorah there without a complaint.
Avrohom Avinu paved the way for us in golus. So many times, we are lied to and played for fools. In the name of justice, good people, such as our friend Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, get locked away for years. In the name of fairness, the Balfour Declaration is mocked and vilified in honor of the 100th anniversary of the document that led to the founding of Israel.
The New York Times honored the centennial with an article wondering whether the document was “the original sin in which Israel was conceived.”
The paper of record reports, “The Balfour Declaration, the pivotal, 67-word assurance by the British foreign secretary that promised support for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,’ turned 100 on Thursday…
“Dated Nov. 2, 1917, the letter was delivered to the leaders of Britain’s Jewish community at the height of World War I, when Britain was driving the Ottomans from Palestine and seeking Jewish support in the United States to spur the American war effort. It did not gain the force of international law until 1920, when the remains of the Ottoman Empire were divided into mandates by the League of Nations, and the British inserted the Balfour Declaration into the text for their mandate for Palestine.
“The Arabs of Palestine were overmatched in the diplomatic realm, offering only feeble attempts at rolling back the declaration,” said Mahmoud Yazbak, a history professor at the University of Haifa.
The document was not fair, reports the Gray Lady. “Dueling academic conferences at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in central Jerusalem and at the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem offered sharply different takes on the document’s meaning, genesis and historical consequences,” continues the Times. “The former emphasized World War I-era geopolitics and international law, and the latter keyed on imperialism and racism.”
More, “In an interview, MK Zouheir Bahlool spoke of the Balfour Declaration as if it were a fresh wound. ‘This declaration virtually buried the existence of the Palestinian people, which I am a part of,’ he said. The document, he said, promoted self-determination for the Jewish people ‘while completely ignoring the fact that there were Palestinians here.’”
One hundred years later, after all the crimes against humanity committed by Arabs in the name of a fictitious people they invented, the Palestinians, the world is still upset about the lack of fairness in returning the Jews to their ancestral home following two thousand years of being chased from place to place, pariahs wherever they were.
It is interesting that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 79:7) comments that there are three places in Eretz Yisroel that the nations of the world cannot contend to have rights to: the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, Har Habayis and Kever Yosef. Symbolic of the perfidiousness of the nations of the world, davka these three places are depicted most often as Muslim holy places where Jews should have no rights.
Such is the way of the nations.
Republicans were swept to power with promises of healthcare and tax reform. There was no healthcare reform, and now that they have presented their plan for tax reform, it seems that nobody will gain from the changes. More likely than not, you will pay more taxes if the bill, as it is proposed, is approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president.
So much of what is said and promised turns out to be less than truthful. More often than not, politicians, upon being elected, turn their backs on their constituents and seek to benefit themselves.
Witness the trial of Senator Bob Menendez and the news about Mrs. Clinton and how she and her husband used their charity foundation to enrich themselves and collude with Russia on a deal giving them control of 20% of America’s uranium. Read the recent revelations of how she corrupted the Democrat Party to fix the primaries to guarantee her victory, while she continuously lied throughout the campaign about her handling of classified information.
As bnei Avrohom v’Sorah, we place our faith in Hashem, for we know that He is the One who guides us through our days.
This week’s parsha opens with the passing of Sorah Imeinu at the age of 127 years. We are all familiar with the Rashi that states, “Kulan shovin letovah – All her years were equally good.”
We have learned that Rashi repeatedly since we were youngsters. What does it mean?
There must be a deeper meaning to Rashi’s comment. If we are to understand his lesson as stating that all her years were good, we know that, in fact, they weren’t. The day she was snatched from her husband and brought to Paroh certainly wasn’t a good one. The day she was kidnapped by Avimelech was surely terrifying.
The day she saw Yishmoel being metzacheik with Yitzchok cannot be described as a good one. The days that Hagar caused her pain were not good ones. Of course, she accepted whatever came her way, but that alone does not turn bad days into good days.
The explanation may be that Sorah Imeinu was the personification of goodness. She was so good and so concerned about other people and the welfare of the world that she seized every opportunity to do good. Her days were filled with chesed and tzedakah.
Sorah didn’t just sit by and say, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” When she sensed an opportunity for improving the world, she grabbed it. When she saw someone who needed help, she didn’t just offer them advice about where to go and what to do. She brought them into her tent and took care of them herself, just as her husband did.
Because she was so intrinsically good, she spent her days and years doing good. She spread goodness and G-dliness wherever she went. In every situation and in every predicament, she discovered a way to increase goodness in the world.
When Rashi describes Sorah’s years as “kulan shovin letovah,” the word tovah is not only a noun and an adjective, but a verb. All her years were consistently spent performing good. That is the mark of a person whose essence is goodness.
She didn’t bother with the sheker of the outside world. She ignored it, as she worked on strengthening and improving people, one at a time.
As bnei Avrohom v’Sorah, we need to find the good in everything and seek to create goodness in every situation in which we find ourselves.
The Torah goes into extensive detail about Avrohom’s search for a mate for Yitzchok. Feeling himself growing old, Avrohom entrusted his servant Eliezer with finding a girl suited for his holy son.
The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 60:8) states, “Yofoh sichoson shel avdei botei avos mitorasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.
The purpose of the Torah relating the episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters in the primary grades. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as practical guides in our own lives.
When a talmid’s first daughter was entering shidduchim, he traveled to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach for guidance on what they should be looking for in a boy.
“Middos,” the sage responded.
“But what about yichus?” asked the father. “Is that something I should be looking for in my prospective son-in-law?”
“No. Middos,” repeated the rosh yeshiva.
“And what about excellence in other things?”
Again, the answer was, “Middos. The most important thing to look for is good middos. Only after you have ascertained that the boy is of fine character and middos tovos, then you can look into the other important attributes.
Rav Shach may have reached that conclusion after a lifetime of observation and he may have learned it from this week’s parsha.
The Drashos Haran writes (Drush 5) that Avrohom sent Eliezer to search among his family members for a mate for Yitzchok and warned him against searching among the Canaanites, because the members of his family were blessed with a fine nature, while the disposition of the offspring of Canaan were not. That way, the girl’s children would also be exceptional. (See also Kli Yokor Bereishis 24, 3.)
Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos. He devised a test for the girl he would meet to ensure that the one who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled in dealing with people.
Eliezer’s dedication to Avrohom was reinforced with deep faith in Hashem to lead his way. Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope that he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu haya me’ir lo bezikim ubevrakim.” When the believer appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem bursts forth as lightning through the darkness and dread.
In Parshas Vayeira (21:14), the posuk recounts that Hagar was sent from the home of Avrohom and Sorah. The Torah states, “Vateilech vateisah.” Targum Onkeles translates the words to mean that she went and became lost. Rashi says that they mean that she returned to serve avodah zarah.
The Brisker Rov explained that Rashi saw in the word “vateisah” that she had left the path of Hashem, because anyone who has emunah and bitachon knows that they are never lost. They know that they didn’t end up in their situation by mistake, for everything that happens is Divinely ordained. Hashem declared it so for reasons not always evident at the moment.
A person who feels lost and aimless is lacking in their belief. Hagar was forlorn in the desert. She was confused, broken and lost. If she was feeling forsaken, Rashi reasoned, she must have left the path of Avrohom and drifted back to the ways of her family.
Sometimes, people involved in shidduchim become despondent and give up hope. This week’s parsha and its Medrashim can help instill the faith people need to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times.
We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. We mustn’t lose our faith and optimism. When we lose hope, we have lost everything.
When the Brisker Rov was trying to escape from Europe during World War II, he spent a night in war-torn Warsaw. There was a debate among the residents of the apartment building he stayed in whether it was safer on a higher floor or a lower one. The higher floors carried a danger, since if the area was bombed and the building would topple, they would most certainly not survive. But others argued that being higher up was safer, since at least there was no danger of the apartment being buried under the rubble, whereas on lower floors, although they might withstand an attack, they would be crushed by the building collapsing on them.
The Brisker Rov recalled that the night he slept in that building was more restful than his other nights on the run. He explained that as he moved from place to place, he would worry about whether what he had done and where he had gone was the proper halachic way to seek protection.
On that awful night in Warsaw, he felt that the question of where to take refuge in the building was a “safeik hashakul.” Since there was really no clear answer to the quandary, because both options were equally valid, he knew that his actions were correct.
And what about a fear of dying that night in a bombing attack? He said that he was not worried, for he had bitachon. He did what was incumbent on him to do for his safety and went to sleep with equanimity, for he knew that Hashem was watching over him.
A person like that is never “teisah.” He is never lost and never forsaken.
Eliezer found Rivka and was introduced to her family. Lavan saw Eliezer approaching his home and ran towards him (Bereishis 24:29), apparently to welcome the guest. Rashi informs us that Lavan observed the new jewelry his sister was wearing and sensed that the guest was financially blessed. He ran to him to seek some riches for himself.
The Torah describes the encounter between Eliezer and Rivka’s family, leading up to when Rivka took leave of them to travel with Eliezer to meet and marry Yitzchok. As she left, Lavan gave her a parting brocha: “Achoseinu, at hayee l’alfei revovah…”
Rashi states that Lavan repeated the brocha that was given to Avrohom at Har Hamoriah following the Akeidah. That indicates that Lavan possessed ruach hakodesh, for how else would he be aware of what Hashem told Avrohom?
So, was Lavan a good guy or a bad guy?
The Alter of Kelm writes that Lavan was a gadol hador, but his drive and passion for money led him astray. If someone were to analyze the major failings of our generation, at the top of the list would be the worship of money.
People forsake everything in their eagerness to become wealthy. They wear themselves down, can’t maintain relationships, forego family and friends, and forsake common sense and beliefs in the pursuit of the deal that will take them over the top.
People drive themselves into depression over their jealousy of the money other people seem to have. Their envy leads them to be spiteful, hateful and bitter, oftentimes leading others to be repelled by their behavior.
Some have such a craving for money that they assume crushing debt to create an impression and illusion that they are affluent. They struggle mightily to maintain that image, crushing their hearts and souls in the process.
Lavan was a gadol, and he could have remained a great man had he not craved wealth as he did. We need to take that message to heart and not be obsessed with money.
Like our avos, we are meant to be a people of character, who endeavor to raise our children to be kind, thoughtful and considerate. We seek to do what is right, in all situations. We are contemplative, intelligent and strong in the beliefs handed down for millennia. We are smart, strong and fearless when necessary. We live with faith, emunah and bitachon, and appreciate the calmness and happiness this engenders.
We inculcate in our children and ourselves a love for Torah and mitzvos. We don’t force children to learn by rote without understanding what they are learning. We explain to them the words of Torah and tefillah, and ensure that they understand and thus appreciate what they are saying and studying.
Recognizing that we are bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we have our priorities in order and aren’t led astray by feeble pursuits. We appreciate our lives, and if something is amiss, we daven and seek out good people to guide us.
We learn the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis and gain perspectives on life and direction in a floundering world.
We say, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu,” understand it, mean it, and feel it every day of our lives.