And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. And Abraham arose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me (Genesis 23:2-4).”
Avraham had lost his beloved life partner. Sarah was by his side from the beginning. Before “Lech Lecha” when Avraham was a spiritual wanderer seeking out truth, Sarah was always there. When God commanded Avraham to leave all he had known, when upon entering Canaan they encountered famine and relocated to Egypt, throughout years of childlessness, all of the ups and downs, Sarah remained a devoted partner to her beloved Avraham. But it was now that Avraham had to say goodbye. It was upon him to see to the needs of her burial as this last display of love and honor in this world. Avraham came to Kiryat Arba “to eulogize Sarah and bewail (cry for) her.”
The Tiferes Shlomo (Rebbe of Radomsk, Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen Rabinovitch, 1801-1866) asks a simple question. “The verse tells us that Avraham came to eulogize and cry for Sarah, yet the very next verse says, “And Avraham arose from before his dead” and went to speak to the people of Heth. It would appear that although Avraham intended to eulogize and cry, he never actually did so. What happened? Why did Avraham refrain from eulogizing his beloved wife?” The Rebbe provides a profound answer. As Avraham prepared to begin eulogizing his precious partner, his mind began to fill with thoughts. “Sarah was so righteous and pious. She suffered so much throughout life, and yet, her belief never wavered.
She raised a most holy and virtuous son, a son who would ultimately take on the mantle of his father and continue to be the ambassador of God in this world. And now she is gone. God asked me to sacrifice my son, and Yitzchak and I went and willingly complied; isn’t that enough for you God? Must you take the other half of my soul as well?” Avraham felt a wave of anger, animosity, and resentment towards God, building inside of him. In that moment, he stopped. Avraham understood that I must keep these feelings in check and not allow them to overpower me. I do not understand the ways of God, but I know He loves me and that somehow this is all is for the best. Avraham never delivered a eulogy as he was fearful that his pain over the loss of his wife would taint his relationship with God. Thus, the verse indicates that he intended to eulogize and cry but stopped himself and attended to the details of Sarah Imeynu’s burial.
There are profound and meaningful lessons which emerge from the Rebbe’s words. Events occur in life which confound and perplex us. But like Avraham, we must learn to accept that the Divine plan will often appear illogical and random to us. However, we cannot allow this lack of clarity to tarnish or erode our relationship with our beloved Father. There is a time to question, but then comes the time to accept and move forward.
But there is a second lesson which is not limited to the realm of theological thought. At times, negative thoughts fill our heads and hearts. It can be a feeling of inadequacy, failure, or just a general feeling of not measuring up. At times we feel like damaged goods as a result of our past mistakes. These feelings can rob you of hope, optimism, and a desire to accomplish. Negative thoughts can overtake you to the point where you no longer sense any shred of personalistic good. Too often, we allow these negative thoughts to take control. We allow anger at ourselves or others to dominate relationships. We allow feelings of inadequacy to prevent us from trying new things. We must muster Avraham Avinu strength to identify the negative thoughts which can overtake and paralyze us, and we must shut them down.
While it is true that I cannot always control what swirls around in my mind, I can choose to allow those thoughts to dominate me or to find strength and push them to my internal periphery.
Our beloved matriarch, Sarah, never received her eulogy, but she received something much greater. Her death brought us the strength to continue our relationship with God even if we are beset by questions. Sarah’s death gives us the strength to let go of the negative thoughts which seek to hold us back. May the lives we lead and the accomplishments we accrue be an ongoing eulogy and zechus for our holy mother.
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