Parshat Chayei Sarah
November 21st-22nd, 2003
27 Cheshvan, 5764
(Genesis: 23, 1 to 25, 18)
What are the scenes in this week’s Torah portion that someone is most
likely to remember a few days from now?
I should make clear that I’m speaking of a person who takes the time to
read the parsha, in a language that he or she understands! To quietly
listen to the public recitation of the Torah in synagogue (for those who
attend) is praiseworthy, but if you don’t comprehend much biblical Hebrew,
then the experience cannot be all that intellectually (or spiritually)
rewarding. SO READ THE PARSHA IN ENGLISH IF NEED BE—AT HOME, IN SHUL, OR
WHEREVER. [This has been a public service announcement from the Associated
Parsha Patrol of America, or APPA…]
Back to our original question. What are the scenes in this week’s Torah
portion that someone is most likely to remember a few days from now?
I would imagine that people will remember Avraham patiently bargaining
with a conniving local chieftain for a plot of land in Chevron [Hebron] to
bury his departed wife, Sara (and showing extraordinary self-restraint in
the process). Perhaps they will remember the first description of Rivka
(who will become the wife of Avraham’s son, Yitzhak), energetically
tending to the needs of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, and his camels, upon
their arrival at her home from the Land of Canaan. Perhaps also, Rivka’s
first glimpse of the awesome Yitzhak, and her immediate response of
covering her face with a veil—the source of the "bedecken" ceremony at a
Jewish wedding, when the groom veils his bride right before the chupah—will
stick in their minds.
But there’s a large portion of the parsha which may seem, well, somewhat
pedestrian…and not especially memorable. Much space is taken up with a
lengthy description of the mission that Eliezer, Avraham’s servant,
undertakes at his master’s behest: to travel to the home of Avraham’s
nephew, Besuel, to find a bride for Yitzhak (from the extended family), so
that the process of building the Jewish nation can proceed. The outcome of
that mission is surely important…but what can we learn from all the
details of the story along the way?
Well, as is the case with every verse (and word) of the Torah, the answer
is: PLENTY! There is a whole lot to learn from the story of Eliezer and
his journey. We’ll focus on just one aspect here.
We see in Eliezer, our commentaries note, the model of a faithful servant
(eved, in Hebrew).
Note (when you read the parsha!) the alacrity with which he carries out
his master’s desire, and the pride and absolute devotion with which he
speaks of Avraham.
When he arrives at the well outside the city of Avraham’s nephew, he calls
on Hashem to help his mission succeed: "And he said, ‘Hashem, G-d of my
master, Avraham, may You so arrange it for me this day that You do
kindness with my master, Avraham." When Divine Providence causes the young
Rivka (from Avraham’s own family—the very people whom Eliezer is seeking!)
to suddenly appear at the well, Eliezer expresses his gratitude: "So the
man bowed low, and prostrated himself to Hashem. He said, ‘Blessed is
Hashem, G-d of my master, Avraham, Who has not withheld His kindness and
truth from my master.’" And when he follows Rivka to her home, and is
brought inside (convinced that she is the one chosen by Heaven for
Yitzhak), he opens his speech to the family again with humility and
gratitude: "Then he said, ‘A servant of Avraham am I. Hashem has greatly
blessed my master, and he prospered…"
The S’fas Emes (great modern commentary on the Torah) cites the Zohar, the
central work of Jewish mysticism, which praises Eliezer for how he glories
in being (and publicly identifying himself as) the faithful "servant of
Avraham." The S’fas Emes writes that we should emulate Eliezer, and serve
G-d with the level of faithfulness and devotion that he showed to his
master. We should glory in having been chosen (as Jews) to carry out the
will of Hashem (as expressed in the Torah), we should always praise G-d
for the privilege [yes, privilege] of being able to serve Him! Just as
Eliezer cherished the designation of "servant," so should we Jews as well.
"A servant of Hashem am I," should be our motto…and our source of pride.
The S’fas Emes writes that we should particularly try to awaken in
ourselves the feeling of pride in being servants of G-d, and a longing to
get closer to Him, when we recite the Shema each day. For the Shema is is
nothing but the (wholehearted) declaration of our acceptance of the
Kingship and Unity of G-d. It is meant to be our own deeply felt and
personal expression of loyalty unto G-d (and His Torah), our "pledge of
allegiance" to the One King, the Holy One Blessed be He. "A servant of
Hashem am I!"
The designation of "servant" does not sound so glamorous to our ears. We
all love to be masters. (B.M.O.C.—"Big Man on Campus"…or even better, "of
But there is actually great dignity and honor in being a servant—at least
if your master is a pillar of kindliness, justice and righteousness, as
was Avraham. And even more so if your master is the One Whom Avraham
himself served--Who breathes a soul (neshama) into every human being,
creating him or her in His image, and endowing us with the ability to
reason, to choose good over evil, and to elevate all of Creation with our
acts of righteousness. To be a servant of such a master is some
distinction in itself.
Then, further, to be a part of the Jewish people, blessed with the
opportunity to connect to G-d through even more "divine pathways" (i.e.,
the 613 mitzvot, or commandments of the Torah), with additional
opportunities to bring holiness to this physical world….Why, we Jews
should be dancing for joy, and singing in the streets: "A servant of
Hashem am I!" [If a policeman stops you, you can just show him this parsha
Better (so as not to disturb our neighbors), we should be inwardly
singing, and that joy should express itself outwardly in deeds of holiness
and chesed (kindness), and in the devoted study of our great Torah.
Remember that Moshe, our teacher, was described by the Torah (in the final
verses of Deuteronomy) as nothing else than--or less than--a "servant of
G-d (eved Hashem)! That is the greatest distinction of all.
The classic work of Jewish ethics, Duties of the Heart, writes about the
qualities a servant should show to his master:
"He should honor him [the master]; exalt him with his tongue and in his
heart; praise and thank him by day and by
night; recall his beneficence in private
and in public; recount his glory and praise as befits him; run to
do his service with joy and good intentions, out
of love for him, to find favor before him, to
draw near to his will." [Feldheim edition; I, p.
That is a perfect description of the behavior of Eliezer, faithful servant
of Avraham. And it can be a guide for us (as is the example of Eliezer
himself) in our own (lifelong) mission to become "servants of Hashem."
My e-mail address is email@example.com
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