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Parshat Chayei Sarah

"Said Rav Acha: The conversation of the father's servants is preferred to the Torah of the sons. Eliezer's parsha is repeated over two or three pages, while the laws of the sheretz [unclean swarming animal] is part of the main body of the Torah, yet we only know that its blood contaminates like its flesh from extra words in Scripture" (Beraisheet Rabbah 60:8).


These words of Rav Acha point to an important and central idea that the Torah wishes to teach us. There are those who think that the function of man is to fulfill the Divine command including all its details and fine points, and that in this he completes his obligations to the Creator. In other, less practical areas of life, however, the Torah no longer guides him and he feels he can live like everyone else, through a modern outlook that has no connection with and is not based on the Torah. Yet from the words of Rav Acha we understand that the Torah elaborates in order to teach us about the lives of our fathers in their most natural, flowing state so that we should know to live a Divinely inspired existence in all aspects of our lives.

 
The Gemara in Sukkah (51b) says: "How do we know that even the conversation of Talmidei Chakhamim must be studied? It says 'And his leaf shall not wither' (Rashi – even the lightest part of him)." This "conversation" does not refer to Torah conversation, as there would be no need to teach us that it must be studied, but rather it means secular conversation. A Talmid Chakham who cleaves to the Torah himself becomes Torah, and therefore even his normal conversation springs from his total personality and must be studied. Our fathers, in their wonderful greatness, not only led their own lives according to their personalities, but also influenced those surrounding them as well. Thus Eliezer, Avraham's servant, reveals through his natural behavior and words the depth of Avraham Aveinu's life.


The understanding that the Torah is not merely a technical system of laws is also made clear to us by the first Rashi on the Torah: "Said Rabbi Yitzchak: The Torah needed only to begin from 'This month shall be to you,' the first mitzvah that Israel was commanded. For what reason did it open with Beraisheet? Because of 'The strength of His actions He related to his people, to give to them the inheritance of nations' - that if the nations should say to Israel, "you are robbers," they can reply, 'the whole earth belongs to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, He created it and gave it to whomever He pleased.'" The Torah teaches us our moral right to Eretz Yisrael, and it is not enough to say that there is a mitzvah of inhabiting the Land.


Regarding this Rashi, one can ask why the entire book of Beraisheet was written, for he explains only the reason for the writing of the creation of the world. Yet it appears that Rashi is teaching us a particular approach, from which we can understand the purpose of the writing of the entire book of Beraisheet.

 
Avraham commands Eliezer: "…You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Cana'anites in whose midst I am living, but rather you shall go to my land and my birthplace, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Yitzchak" (xxiv, 3-4). Eliezer perceptively asks: "…Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Shall I surely return your son to that land where you came from?” (5) Avraham answers him: "…Guard yourself, lest you return my son there. Hashem, the G-d of the heavens, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birthplace, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, 'To your seed I will give this land;' He will send His angel before you, to take a wife for my son from there" (6-7).


Eliezer is portrayed as a realistic person, "with both feet firmly placed on the ground," whereas Avraham is spiritual and detached from life. Yet Rashi says that if Eliezer's mission does not succeed, he should take a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre (8). The Ramban, however, rejects Rashi and states: "If they are Cana'anites, Heaven forbid [he should marry them]! And indeed they are of the descendants of Cana'an, for Scripture writes: 'Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol and brother of Aner.’" The Ramban therefore explains: "He did not permit him to take a wife for him from the daughters of Cana'an, but rather that he would be released [from his mission], and Hashem will do what is good in His eyes" (8).


When we examine the beginning of the Parsha we find an Avraham who is perceptive and who knows the realities of the world, for he turns to the sons of Chet, saying,  "a stranger and resident am I amongst you, give me a portion for a grave amongst you, and I will bury my dead before me" (xxiii, 4). Rashi explains: "If you wish I am a stranger, but if not I will be a resident and take it by right, for Hakadosh Boruch Hu has said to me: 'To your seed I will give this land.'" Avraham does not say, "after all the land is mine and hence 'Hashem will do what is good in His eyes' and He will take care to actualize my justified rights,” but rather he agrees to buy the land at a very high price. This behavior indicates to us a perceptive and realistic analysis of life. If so, how can we understand Avraham's behavior, for at times he is "realistic" whereas at other times he lives in a completely idealistic world.

 
It can be explained that Avraham knows that Yitzchak is an "Olah Temimah [an unblemished offering]" who is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisrael. Yitzchak, who operates according to the attribute of justice, must reveal through his life the absolute connection of Am Yisrael to the Land, so that in every situation throughout our long history this connection will not be severed. Avraham himself was born outside the Land, Ya'akov left the Land (Avraham knew this, see Rashi (8): "'Only my son' – 'only' implies exclusion, my son will not return, but Ya'akov, the son of my son, will eventually return"), and therefore Yitzchak must certainly not leave. While there is a problem in finding him a wife, it is clear that an answer will be found, for this is the Divine truth that must be actualized in reality, and therefore "Hashem will do what is good in His eyes."


This understanding is the Torah, and it must guide us today as well. Many claim against us that we are populating the Land but we have no solution to the real problems that arise (as a side point we can mention that all the realistic plans turned out to be entirely imaginary and blew up in the faces of their proponents). Yet we are sure of our right to the Land, and we are sure that the process that we find ourselves in is the process of redemption, and therefore it is certain that we will succeed in the building of the Land.

 
Eliezer internalizes Avraham's answer and the message hidden inside it faithfully, and hence he later says: "…Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham, please make a happening before me today and show kindness with my master Avraham…and the maiden who I will say to her, please let down your pitcher and I will drink, and she says, drink, and I will also give your camels to drink, You have proved her for your servant, for Yitzchak, and through her I will know that You have done kindness with my master." The Midrash Rabbah (60:3) says: "Four demanded improperly, three of them received a proper answer, while one received an improper answer. They are Eliezer, Avraham's servant, Calev, Shaul and Yiftach. Eliezer said, 'and the maiden who I will say to her etc' – had some maidservant come out and given him to drink, would he have married her to his master's son?! Yet Hakadosh Boruch Hu gave him a proper answer – 'No sooner had he stopped speaking, and Rivkah came out etc.'" The Rambam in Hilkhot Avodah Zarah (11:4) rules: "Whoever fixes signs for himself – 'if such and such happens to me I will do the following, and if it does not happen I will not do it' – such as Eliezer, Avraham's servant, and all similar things, it is all forbidden." Yet many Rishonim disagreed with the Rambam and hold that Eliezer's actions were permitted. Thus the Kesef Mishnah explains: "The divination that the Torah forbade refers to one who lets his actions depend on a sign about which there is no logical reason for it to serve as a useful factor in the matter, but one who fixes a sign in a matter that logically provides an advantage or disadvantage in the matter, this is not divination…for Eliezer knew that no woman would be made a match for Yitzchak unless she was worthy of him, and therefore he fixed a sign for himself that if she would be so beautiful in her ways and perfect in her character, it is she that Heaven has prepared for Yitzchak." Eliezer learned this trust in Hakadosh Boruch Hu from his master Avraham, and we learn from this about the perfection of Avraham's life, who had a holy influence and who caused trust in Hashem even in a Cana'anite servant.


Eliezer, who was raised in Avraham's house and was influenced by the latter's love of his fellow creatures and by his great kindness with every person whoever they might be, understands that Yitzchak's attribute of justice must be joined to the attribute of kindness, and then Yitzchak's influence can be fixed and permanent in the reality of life. The Zohar (Balak 191) states: "Avraham possesses kindness – an attribute that is part of the makeup of all the others." Therefore Eliezer searches for a woman of kindness to join Yitzchak.


We find this intuitive understanding in the words of the Gemara (Sotah 14a): "Rabbi Simlai expounded: The Torah begins with loving-kindness and ends with loving-kindness. It begins with loving-kindness as it writes, 'And G-d Hashem made man and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.' It ends with loving-kindness as it writes, 'And He buried him in the valley.'"
The mothers who follow also continue along the path of kindness. Rachel hands over to Leah the signs that Ya'akov gave her, as it states: "And it was in the morning, and behold she was Leah" (xxix, 25). Rashi explains: "But at night she was not Leah, for Ya'akov had given signs to Rachel. When Rachel saw that Leah was being given to him, she said, now my sister will be embarrassed. She rose and gave her those signs."


When Leah was in her seventh pregnancy its states: "After that she gave birth to a daughter." Rashi explains: "She was called Dinah for Leah made a judgment [din] with herself – if this is a male, my sister Rachel will not have even as many as the maidservants. She prayed regarding it and it turned into a female."


We learn from this that the building of the Israelite nation must be based on a kindness that is joined to all other behavior. This kindness forms an essential part of the Israelite nation, who are merciful and doers of loving-kindness. Every Friday night upon returning from Bet Knesset to our houses that are filled with light and holiness we adorn ourselves with this attribute: "A woman of valor who can find…she opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue."

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