Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Chayei Sorah


Vayihyu chayei Sorah meah shana v’esrim shana v’sheva shanim sh’nei chayei Sorah (23:1)

The Medrash relates (Esther Rabbah 1:8) that Rebbi Akiva was once in the middle of teaching a class when he noticed his students beginning to doze off. He digressed from the subject he had been discussing and asked, “Why did Queen Esther deserve to rule over 127 countries? She merited doing so because she was descended from Sorah, who lived 127 perfect years.” Why did he interrupt his class to interject this specific tangent?

The Chiddushei HaRim and Rav Chaim Kanievsky answer that one could view Esther’s kingdom as simply a collection of countries, and for each year of Sorah’s life, she warranted to rule over another one. However, in reality, each country consists of states, cities, neighborhoods, streets, and houses. Similarly, a year can be subdivided into months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.

Rebbi Akiva made the point that it wasn’t because Sorah lived a generally good life that Esther received the same number of countries. If Sorah would have let up for a week or even a second, it would have resulted in a corresponding deficiency in Esther’s empire, causing her to be lacking a city or even just a house. It was only because Sorah’s life was equally good from beginning to end – kulan shavin l’tova – every second of every day, for her entire life, that Esther’s kingdom was complete.

Rebbi Akiva’s students were obviously quite tired, and they assumed that if they took a short nap and missed a little of the class, it wouldn’t be the end of the world or have any real ramifications. Realizing this, Rebbi Akiva wanted to teach them that every second of our lives, every word we say and every action we take, has very real and direct consequences.

Several years ago there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a woman who suffers from Gaucher’s syndrome, a very rare disease that causes tremendous complications in a person’s bones. She has survived with this illness for over 10 years through the assistance of a very expensive treatment that costs her insurance company more than $500,000 annually. Even with the aid of the medicine, she has deteriorated over time and is faced with the question of whether she should continue the treatment or stop it and die shortly thereafter.

As only an American could, the article relates that she feels guilty realizing that her treatment costs other people an average of $1400 a day. When she goes to sleep at night, she looks back at her day and asks whether it was “worth” $1400. In light of Rebbi Akiva’s message to his students about the value of time, when we realize how much Hashem gives us day after day – health, family, happiness, and money – we must make sure that we can look back each night and see that we used our time to study Torah and perform mitzvos.

Vayihyu chayei Sorah meah shana v’esrim shana v’sheva shanim sh’nei chayei Sorah (23:1)

The parsha begins, “Sorah’s lifetime was 127 years, the years of Sorah’s life.” If Sorah lived 127 years, isn’t it clear that these were the years of her life? What is the seemingly redundant end of the verse coming to teach us?

Rav Pam notes that Rashi writes (23:2) that the death of Sorah is juxtaposed to the Akeidah (at the end of last week’s parsha) to teach that the shock and fear from hearing that her son was almost slaughtered was the cause of her death. Realizing this, somebody might mistakenly assume that if not for this tragic turn of events, she would have enjoyed many more years, or even decades, of her long and productive life. In order to counter this erroneous conclusion, the Torah emphasizes that these were the years of life which she was allotted, and if not for this episode, she would have died in some other manner at the exact same time.

Rav Pam often used this message to comfort those grieving the loss of loved ones. Many times it seems that if they would have only tried a different medical treatment or if a certain accident could have been averted, the dead would still be alive, leaving the mourners feeling very guilty. Painful as the loss is, Rav Pam used the lesson of our parsha to teach that each person is given his own unique lifespan for reasons completely beyond our comprehension, and nothing we think we could have done differently would have been able to prevent this person’s death, from one cause or another.

V’haya hana’ara asher omer eileha hate na kadech v’eshteh v’amra sh’sei v’gam gemalecha ashkeh osah hochachta l’avdecha l’Yitzchok u’ba eida ki asisa chesed im adoni (24:14)

Eliezer established a litmus test to determine whether a potential match was the proper spouse for Yitzchok. The test revolved around her dedication to kindness, which would be evidenced by her willingness to give not only Eliezer but also his camels water to drink. Although a generous nature is certainly an important quality to seek in a prospective spouse, why was Eliezer willing to rely on this component without additionally testing her belief in Hashem, wisdom, and values?

Rav Meir Rubman answers based on a Mishnah in Avos (2:13), which relates that Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai instructed his students to seek out the path in life which a person should choose. Rebbi Eliezer said the possession of a good eye. Rebbi Yehoshua answered to acquire a good friend. Rebbi Yossi suggested finding a good neighbor. Rebbi Shimon opined to see the consequences of one’s actions. Rebbi Elozar posited the possession of a good heart. Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded that the final suggestion (a good heart) is the best one, as it includes all of the other characteristics. The Bartenura explains that this is because the heart is the origin of all of a person’s actions.

Eliezer carefully designed his test to measure the potential match’s love of assisting others. He understood that the amount of water needed to feed him and his ten thirsty camels was tremendous. A young girl who was asked by a healthy man to draw so much water for him would typically respond by questioning why he couldn’t do so himself. If a girl instead jumped at the opportunity, such as Rivkah who ran to bring the water (24:20), it could only be due to her generous heart. Once Rivkah passed this test with flying colors, Eliezer knew with confidence – as the Mishnah teaches – that she possessed all of the other necessary qualities, and there was no need to test them.

The Gemora in Taanis (24a) teaches that if one sees a prospective bride whose eyes are pretty, he needn’t examine her appearance further. The Kli Yakar (24:14) is astonished by this statement. Firstly, he notes that it isn’t true. There are many women with pretty eyes who are nevertheless unattractive. Secondly, why does the Gemora advocate the selection of a spouse based on her physical appearance when Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 31:30) that charm is false and beauty is vain?

The Kli Yakar explains that the Gemora isn’t referring to a physical examination of the woman’s eyes, but is suggesting that one test to see whether she possesses an “ayin tova” – a giving eye – as the most important feature of a woman is her generous spirit. The Gemora advises that once this has been established, no further checking is necessary, just as we learn from Eliezer.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Why didn’t Yitzchok eulogize his mother Sorah, as the Torah records (23:2) only that Avrohom did so? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 22:19, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Paneiach Raza, Mishmeres Ariel)

2) Avrohom paid 400 silver shekels to Ephron for the purchase of the burial plot for Sorah (23:14). Was this its actual value, and if not, was it worth more or less? (Targum Onkelos, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Chasam Sofer, Birkas Peretz)

3) Why does the Torah devote so much space (24:1-67) to the details surrounding the finding of a match for Yitzchok while mentioning nothing of the match between Avrohom and Sorah (11:29)? (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. 1 pg. 73-74)

4) Just prior to the return of Rivkah with Eliezer, Yitzchok went out to the field to pray (24:63). How was he permitted to do so when the Gemora rules (Berachos 34b) that one should not pray in an open field because only through praying in a private, enclosed location will one be able to fear Hashem and pray with proper intent? (Tosefos Berachos 34b; Beis Yosef, Bach, Taz, Magen Avrohom, Levush and Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 90; Ma’adanei Asher 5771)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.