Parashat Chayei Sara
Kohen - First Aliya - 16 p'sukim - 23:1-16
Avraham comes (some say from the Akeida, from Har HaMoriah; some say from Be'er Sheva) to eulogize Sara and to cry for her.
[SDT] LIVKOTAH, and to cry for her, is written with a small KAF. Some take this as a reminder that the crying was "small" since Sara had lived such a long life. There is more crying when a person dies young. Others say that the small KAF allows us to reread the word with regular-sized letters only to obtain a different understanding, on a REMEZ (hint) level. And Avraham came to eulogize Sara U'L'VITAH, and her daughter. This corelates with the opinions that Avraham and Sara had a daughter, but she died when Sara did. Not everyone agrees.
Avraham next makes the arragements for providing a suitable place to bury Sara. (There is a Tradition that Avraham was aware of the burial place of Adam and Chava, and that is the piece of land he was interested in.) He turns to the people of CHEIT, one of whom is known as EFRON. They all exchange niceties and the people offer Avraham any land he wants. He insists on paying and that is what he does for the field and cave of Machpela.
Pirkei Avot made famous that Avraham was tested 10 times. But we are not told what the ten tests are. And there different opinions as to which of Avraham's experiences are considered tests of his faith. Most lists of the 10 end with the Akeida, as implied from the p'sukim themselves. Rabeinu Yona finds a test after theAkeida - Avraham's experience in providing a burial place for Sara. What was so difficult about that, that it should qualify as a test of faith - especially after the Akeida? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that after the Akeida, Avraham still had a couple of difficult things to go through. Wasn't the Akeida and everything that preceded it enough? No, not finished yet. This can test a person, sometimes, more than terrible trials and tribulations.
Surviving the Holocaust did not guarantee a person that he would have an easy life from then on. Some were blessed with trouble-free lives, but most had many more difficulties.
We do not know how G-d works. Why must we suffer trials and tribulations in this world? It has something to do with making us better people. With challenging us. With testing us. With preparing our souls for the World of Truth. And probably a lot more.
There is another approach to answer the same question. Eulogizing his wife, acquiring a burial place, finding a "shiduch" for Yitzchak - even remarrying Hagar (Ketura) are all "regular", mundane experiences. Can one who spoke repeatedly to G-d, ascended Har HaMori'ah, had a special relationship with G-d - can such a person return to being a "normal" human being? This too is a test, and Avraham passed with flying colors.
The field, cave, trees, etc. become the lawful possessions of Avraham, after which he buries Sara.
Avraham is now at an advanced age and has been blessed greatly by G-d.
The numeric value of BAKOL 52, the same as BEN, son. This alludes to the ultimate blessing that Avraham received - his son Yitzchak.
R. Meir says that Avraham was blessed by not having a daughter. In Avraham's time and in his unique circumstances, who would she have married? What would have happened to her?
R. Yehuda says that Avraham's extra blessing was that he did have a daughter. (I can testify as a father of daughters that they are indeed a great blessing.)
Rabbi Eliezer HaModai says that Avraham was blessed with the art/power of astrology and that he was consulted by noblemen from far and wide.
These two opinions identify BAKOL as Avraham's prominent position in the world. This fits with his role as "father of many nations".
Some suggest that Eisav's not sinning and Yishmael's repentance, both during Avraham's lifetime are the extra BAKOL blessings.
There are still other explanations.
The one major task remaining, which will forge the next vital link in what promises to be a great people and a great Chain of Tradition, is finding a suitable "shidduch" for Yitzchak.
Everything now will depend upon Yitzchak. However great Avraham was, unless there is "solid" continuity, all will be lost. To this end, Avraham calls upon Eliezer to swear that he will faithfully carry out his task, that he will return to Avraham's family, and find a wife for Yitzchak there. And that Yitzchak is not to leave Eretz Yisrael (having been consecrated on the Mizbei'ach during the Akeida).
Eliezer (who is exclusively referred to as "The Servant", as opposed to by name) takes ten camels laden with a splendid assortment of goods and, travels to Avraham's hometown. Upon arrival. he ties the camels up near the well, towards evening, at the time that the local girls come to draw water. He asks G-d to be kind to his master Avraham. Eliezer asks for a sign - the girl who will offer him drink and also for his camels she will be the one sent by G-d. No sooner had he finished speaking, when Rivka b. Betu'el of Avraham's family arrives on the scene with her water container on her shoulder. Eliezer runs to her and asks for a bit of water. She immediately gives him his fill and then draws water for his camels. Anxious to find out whether she was "the one", Eliezer waits until the camels have their drink and then presents Rivka with gifts of jewelry. (On the one hand, he has seen her kind nature and tireless act of chesed; on the other hand, he has not even asked her who she is.) When Rivka tells Eliezer that she is indeed from Avraham's family and invites him to stay at her home, he acknowledges G-d with a bow.
[SDT] The Gemara says that Eliezer did not ask properly, but G-d nevertheless, answered him properly. Combining the different opinions on the subject (if that can be done), let's say that Eliezer's actions were borderline forbidden. Relying on Signs and Omens is forbidden. Yet Eliezer's sign was a reasonable test of the girls. But it could easily have backfired. He was not B'SEDER, but G-d "sent" Rivka to him.
One more point along similar lines. In Korbanot (how many daveners don't say it?) there are the Mishnayot of EIZEHU M'KOMAN. After the third mishna, for example, which includes the personal Sin Offering, the Chatat Yachid, we say, "May it be Your will, that if I would be obligated to bring a Chatat, let the recitation I have just completed be considered before You as if I actually brought a Chatat. Simple question: If a Chatat was brought with the same Kavana, care, attention to detail as the mishna I have just read, would it be an acceptable korban or a PASUL one?
Eliezer also says a blessing to G-d for not abandoning Avraham or withholding Divine Kindness from him. Rivka runs hoime to tell her family what has happened. Lavan (filled with ulterior motives, our commentaries tell us) runs to greet Eliezer. The gold jewelry adorning Rivka catches Lavan's eye, and he "graciously" offers Eliezer hospitality. Eliezer is served food but refuses to eat until his "business" is completed.
Eliezer proceeds to tell the story of his mission. He tells of Avraham and Yitzchak and of being sent to find a wife for Yitzchak. When he asks for Rivka's hand on behalf of his master, Lavan and Betu'el (commentaries point to Lavan's pushing himself beofre his father as an indication of a negative personality) accept all as G-d's will.
Eliezer again prostrates himself before G-d in grateful acknowledgment of the success of his mission.
Eliezer gives more gifts to Rivka and her mother and brother then they all celebrate with food and drink and Eliezer and his party stay overnight. In the morning, Elizer asks his leave. Rivka's family asks that she remain for a while but Eliezer insists on leaving immediately. Rivka is consulted and she agrees to leaveright away. They send her off with a "maid" (later identified as Devora) and bless her. (This blessing has been repeated countless times to Jewish brides throughout the generations. Ironic, is it not, that we use Lavan's words for such a special occasion.) and finally the entourage leaves for Canaan.
Meanwhile, Yitzchak (having gone to bring Hagar back to Avraham) is in the Negev area and goes "into the field to commune, before evening". (This, we are taught, was the model for Mincha.) As the Rivka-Eliezer caravan approaches from a distance, Rivka sees Yitzchak, jumps down from her camel, and asks Eliezer who the manis. She covers her face with a veil when she is told that the man is her intended.
Eliezer tells Yitzchak everything that has occurred. Yitzchak takes Rivka as his wife and she becomes a comfort to him for the loss of his mother. For us, she becomes Rivka Imeinu (not yet, but years later).
And Avraham was old, BA BAYAMIM. Literally, advanced in years. But it could mean, he came with all his days. Not one of his days would "embarrass" him, so to speak. Shishi - Sixth Aliya - 11 p'sukim - 25:1-11
An interesting question was posed a shiur in the Center. Avraham was the embodiment of CHESED. He gave lavish gifts to Ketura's children. Why did he send Yishmael away with only bread and water. True, he had to banish Hagar and Yishmael. This was Sara's prophetic command, not merely her personal desire. G-d confirmed that. So Yishmael is to be sent away. But give him some camels, a nice tent, camping equipment, food, etc. Just bread and water? Doesn't sound like the Avraham that we know.
Rabbi Sholom Gold says that the bread and water was sufficient to keep them alive until they reached their intended destination. More than that would not fit the command from G-d (via Sara) - GAREISH... Banishment is just that. Gifts would not be appropriate.
Rabbi Zacharia Dorshav adds that there was an crucial difference between Yishmael and Ketura's children. Yishmael challenged Yitzchak's heritage. He claimed (and in some ways continues to claim) Avraham's legacy. When G-d told Avraham to listen to Sara, He told him to banish them, BECAUSE in Yitzchak will be called your offspring, your descentants. This point had to be made, and a farewell party and lavish provisions for the journey would not have made the point.
No such problem with Ketura's children. They made no such claim. They did not dispute Yitzchak's role. They received gifts.
Avraham dies at the "ripe old age" of 175 (actually, this is 5 years short of the complete 180 that Yitzchak achieved - various reasons are given for the "lost" 5 years). His was a graceful, good, and fulfilling life (despite the tough times he had). He is buried in the Cave of Machpela, where he had buried Sara. Both Yitzchak and Yishmael take care of the burial. The Torah implies that Yishmael had repented his ways and had become righteous. What greater joy can a father have?
G-d blesses Yitzchak after Avraham's death.
From the fact that Avraham took Ketura only after Yitzchak was married, the Baal HaTurim says that this is the proper thing to do - Marry off your children, before you yourself remarry.
Sh'vi'i - Seventh Aliya - 7 p'sukim - 25:12-18
The descendants of Yishmael are now enumerated. Yishmael is identified fully as the son of Avraham and Hagar the Egyptian maiden of Sara who bore Yishmael "to Avraham". (This is quite parallel to the description of Yitzchak's "connection" to Avraham as stated in the beginning of next week's sedra. This might further indicate Yishmael's T'shuva in his later years.) It is noteworthy that Yishmael fathered twelve sons, not like Yitzchak, but like Yaakov. Yishmael dies at the age of 100 and 30 and 7 years. The wording in the Torah purposely parallels that which was used to describe Sara's lifespan, a further indication (perhaps) of the change for the better in Yishmael. Rashi says that the age of Yishmael is included to help us compute the chronology of Yaakov Avinu.
The last three p'sukim are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara - 31 p'sukim -1 Kings 1:1-31
The sedra tells of the aging Avraham and his task in providing for the continuity of his beliefs through his son Yitzchak (even though there were other potential heirs). The Haftara parallels this theme by telling us of the aging King David with many potential heirs, providing that it would be his son Shlomo who would be the next link in the Davidic line. This, fulfillment of a promise made to Shlomo's mother, Batsheva - similar to the promise made to Sara that her son would inherit. The starting points are Avraham Avinu and David Hamelech. But no matter how strong their personalities were, the chain ends with them unless the next generationis as strong as a Yitzchak Avinu and a Shlomo Hamelech.
Rabbi Jacobs (A Haftara Companion) finds other similarities between sedra and haftara. Both Avraham and David are so determined in their selection of proper successor, they both invoke oaths with similar wording. And, Rabbi Jacobs points out, we find in both portions an unusual repetition of a narrative - Eliezer's experience is told twice, first as the Torah's story of the event and again when Eliezer tells his story to Rivka's family. In the Haftara, there are duplications of events when both BatSheva and Natan recount the same event.
A look at the Chumash will reveal many similarities between Avraham's and Yitzchak's lives. As different as their reigns were, both David and Shlomo were king for 40 years.