Finding a suitable marriage partner has always been a challenge. To find a partner whom you could love, cherish and build a life with is no small task. To find someone who shares your ideals and beliefs can be challenging. For Yitzchak the challenge was compounded in that he was surrounded by idolaters. Avraham and Sarah began their journey together. They found God and grew together. Yitzchak, their physical and spiritual progeny would have to find someone who would help him continue to build what his parents had started. Avraham tasked Eliezer with finding a wife for Yitzchak and sent him back to Avraham’s ancestral homeland. Avraham provided explicit instructions on the parameters – the young woman must come from his extended family. Eliezer set out, arrived in Aram Naharaim and devised the following plan:
And he said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform loving kindness with my master, Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.” (Bereishis 24:12-14)
Although Avraham never told Eliezer what qualities to look for, Eliezer intuitively understood that the next matriarch must possesses the attribute of chessed, kindness. If she is so kind that she responds to the request of a stranger for a drink and then offers to water the entire flock of camels – she is indeed righteous and kind enough to be the wife of Yitzchak and join the Abrahamitic dynasty.
We know that chessed is exceptionally important. As the Mishna states:
The world stands on the three things, on Torah, on Avoda (sacrificial service and prayer) and on Gemilus Chasadim (kindness and the performance of charitable acts).” (Ethics of our Father 1:2)
Chessed is one of the pillars which supports the world and humanity. But would this value of chessed require a young woman to water a flock of camels? Let’s assume Eliezer brought with him at least 3 camels. A camel can drink up to 20 gallons at a time, that would be 60 gallons. This would have required Rivkah to run back and forth to the well multiple times – was this a fair expectation? Even in the realm of chessed we find limitations. We are obligated to be charitable, yet, one is not permitted to give away more than 1/5 of one’s wealth for fear of impoverishing one’s self. There are limitations even on kindness. Furthermore, the text never records that Rivkah performed this incredibly selfless act of watering the flock. How are we to understand this strange “test” devised by Eliezer?
The Beis HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik 1820-1892) explains that Eliezer was not only looking for a Baalas Chessed, he was looking for someone who would perform chessed with wisdom. In life, it is not enough to the do the right thing – one must do the right thing in the right way. When Eliezer went up to Rivka and asked her for a drink, he wanted to see what she would do with the remaining water in the jug. To take the rest of the water home to her family would be irresponsible (after all she did not know the identity of this stranger) but to spill out the remaining water would be an affront to this stranger. How did Rivka manage this situation? After she offered Eliezer to drink, she then offered the remainder of the water to his camels (she did not offer to water the entire flock – just to provide the camels with the remaining water in the jug). This was the “test” devised by Eliezer and it was this test that Rivkah passed with flying colors. Rivkah knew how to do Chessed with Chochma (kindness with wisdom).
There are times when we try to help another but forget to be sensitive to the needs of the other. Chessed doesn’t simply mean the performance of good deeds – rather, it means the performance of good deeds in a sensitive fashion. There are times when people need help but feel awkward accepting it. There are times when people need assistance but can’t ask for it and sometimes can’t acknowledge it when it is received.
People are complex, we are complex and when helping another we must think not only of the act of chessed but how the act can be packaged in order to preserve the dignity of self-respect of the other.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
A new series on Parsha, Rabbi Silber shares some of the basic highlights from the weekly torah portion.
Dedicated in memory of our brothers and sisters murdered in Pittsburgh
“And Avraham was old, he came with his days and God had blessed Avraham with everything.” (Genesis 24:1)
We have seen Avraham develop from a young man in Aram to a leader of humanity in Canaan. We have felt the pride of his accomplishments and the sadness of his tragedies. It is now that the Torah sets the stage for the next chapter of our national evolution, the passing of Avraham and emergence of Yitzchak as the next Av, (patriarch). And so the Torah tells us that Avraham was old as a way of foreshadowing what will soon occur. But what is the meaning of the phrase ba ba’yomim, (coming with his days)? What does this add that was not already conveyed through the word zakeyn, (old)?
Getting older is a blessing but it can also be filled with challenges and difficulties. Aside from the physical and sometimes cognitive limitations, there is a reality that one can’t do what he once did. Thus, there are some who spend their older years pining and yearning for the vitality and vigor of their youth. They yearn for the days gone by and for the years that have passed. Unfortunately, the yearning and pining often yield sadness, depression and hopelessness. But there are others who, accepting the limitations of their present, do everything in their power to maximize and find meaning in their current circumstances. They realize that every stage of life has its own unique opportunities. Just because the present is not like the past doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful, meaningful and holy. This was the greatness of Avraham Avinu; he was able to maximize every stage of life. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that Avraham was able to access the Tov HaGanuz, (the unique hidden good) in each and every day. He realized that the purpose of today is different than the purpose of yesterday and what one can achieve at 100 is different than what one could and needed to achieve at 20. This is the meaning of the phrase, ba ba’yomim (he came with his days), he maximized each day in its own unique way reflecting the stage of life which he was in.
Amazingly, Sarah Imeynu, Avraham’s life partner found her unique way to maximize each stage of life. The Torah states:
“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” (Genesis 23:1)
Rashi points out that the last phrase in the above-mentioned verse seems to be extraneous. Why must the Torah conclude by saying, “these were the years of the life of Sarah” after the verse just told us Sarah’s lifespan? Rashi gives a simple answer, “kulan shavin l’tova, (they [her one hundred years, twenty years and seven years] were equally good).” Sarah’s entire life was infused with meaning, purpose and holiness. Often we “wake up” later in life, realizing that we have limited time on this earth and we must make something of ourselves. Sarah lived her entire life, from childhood to her last breath, with an awareness of the need to infuse meaning in every moment of life.
The lifetime of a person can be divided into three stages; childhood, youth and adulthood. Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik zt’l explains that each of these stages has unique characteristics:
“The child is endowed with a capacity of an all-absorbing faith and trustfulness; youth bursts with zealousness, idealism, and optimism; the adult, mellowed with years, has the benefit of accumulated knowledge and dispassionate judgment. Each age is physically and psychologically attuned to particular emphases, but the superior individual can retain and harmonize the positive strengths of all three periods during his entire lifetime. Sarah was such a person, “the goodness of her life was equally distributed,” kulan shavin l’tova. She was at the same time a child in her total faith, youthful in her exuberant idealism and an adult in the maturity of her judgment.” (The Covenantal Role of Sarah, 88)
This was the greatness of Sarah. She took her life stages with her every step of the journey. She maintained her childlike, simple faith and trust. When Avraham was told, “Lech Lecha, (Go for yourself),” leave everything you know and travel to an unknown, alien land, Sarah went along. Sarah never heard from God, Sarah never received a direct command nor was she given any explicit promises, yet, she believed, she trusted in God and she embarked on the journey. Sarah put her faith in a loving God whom she believed would protect, nurture and guide her every step.
Sarah maintained a constant sense of idealistic optimism. After years of marriage without children, Sarah turned to Avraham and urged him to marry her maidservant, Hagar. The Ramban (16:2) comments, “ki Sarah lo nit’ya’asha me’Avram, v’lo hirchiyka atzma me’etzlo, ki hi ishto v’hu isha, (Sarah did not give up on Avraham, nor did she distance herself from him, for she was his wife and he was her husband).” One might have thought that by giving Hagar as a wife to Avraham, Sarah was withdrawing, giving up, admitting defeat and retreating to the shadows. Instead, she says to her beloved Avraham, “I am right here by your side. Life hasn’t worked out the way I had hoped, but I am not giving up. We will realize our life dream of building a people and a destiny together.”
Sarah was able to make the difficult decisions that needed to be made. After the birth of Yitzchak, Sarah very quickly understood that to raise a true Abrahamitic heir required an atmosphere of holiness and dedication. Yishmael’s life stood in contradistinction to these values and as such, Sarah felt he had to be sent away. Sarah’s keen judgment, sharpened sense of purpose, profound life experience and acquired wisdom gave her the courage to do what had to be done even though it hurt.
We often view life as a progression requiring us to grow out of one stage as we progress to another. While this is true in many respects, it would perhaps, be more accurate to view life as a pyramid with each stage building on the one before it. As we get older we must bring the ideals of our past into our present to build our future. No matter how old we get we must learn to find our inner child. Although we have been hurt and wronged by others we must learn to trust. Although at times we may feel let down by God, we must try to cultivate a strong sense of faith. We must remember how to believe like a child, in our God and in ourselves. No matter how many times we fall and fail we must maintain an ever-present sense of optimism that things will come together. We must remain idealistic even when so many around us are not. We must use our heart, mind and life experiences to make wise life decisions. We must allow our inner child, young adult and wise elder to walk hand in hand throughout life.
Our grandparents, Avraham and Sarah continue to teach us an important and profound lesson. We must find the strength and courage to maximize our present and build on each stage of life. Let us hope that their holy examples will be an inspiration for us all.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur
So much has happened. The journey which began with Lech Lecha has yielded so much fruit. Avraham has created a family and a dynasty. But it is now, in this week’s Parsha that Avraham must deal with the tragic loss of his beloved Sarah. In the aftermath of this loss, Avraham decided to send his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. In the middle of these two narratives (the death of Sarah and the search for a wife for Yitzchak) the Torah states:
“And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and the Lord had blessed Avraham (ba’kol) with everything.” (Bereishis 24:1)
What is the meaning of this statement, God blessed Avraham with everything? The commentaries advance many different interpretations. Some explain that Avraham was blessed with wealth, longevity, fame and children. Avraham had it all.
The Ramban (1194-1270) advances an incredibly novel approach. Kol is one of the descriptive appellations for God. God is “Kol,” He is anything and everything. The entirety of universal creation begins and ends with God. Everything in this world is wholly and fully dependent on Him. As such, Ba’Kol means that God blessed Avraham by giving him a little piece of God’s luminescent Divinity. God blessed Avraham by implanting a little piece of Himself into His trusted servant.
The Netziv (Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893) further develops this idea. God is the One we turn to in moments of crisis and need. God is the one we reach out to when we need assistance and reassurance. God is the one who heals the sick and mends the broken heart. This was the power of Avraham. Avraham’s days were filled with counseling those who were lost. Avraham’s sacred task was to infuse hope and optimism in those who were down on their luck. Avraham was the one who dispensed pearls of wisdom to those who needed direction. Avraham was the one who shouldered the pain of the other as if it were his own. This is how our first patriarch spent his days and nights; devoted to and attending to the needs of the other. In fact, this helps to answer a profound question. Why did Avraham send Eliezer to look for a wife for Yitzchak? Why didn’t Avraham go himself? After all, This was a most important task. The wife of Yitzchak would fill the void left by the passing of Sarah. Why would Avraham outsource such an important endeavor? Because he was too busy tending to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the other. This was the sacred task of Avraham Avinu. There was someone else who could find a wife for Yitzchak. There was no one else to heal the masses.
I believe we can learn an incredible lesson. All of us want a ba’kol life. We want blessings and we want them in great abundance. We want health, family, parnassa and happiness. The Torah teaches us that sometimes the greatest sense of fulfillment does not come from something you do for yourself. Sometimes, the greatest feeling of completion and Simcha comes from giving to the other. When we help, when we roll up our sleeves and try to make a difference that is truly when we feel we have everything.
God blessed Avraham with the ability to help and heal the other. And Avraham felt complete, happy and fulfilled. May we be privileged to inherit that Divine spark and use it to improve the lives of those around us. May we find the strength to mend the broken hearts and fix that which is broken. May we be blessed with a life of ba’kol.