Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Chayei Sorah

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Vayakam Avrohom me’al p’nei meiso vay’dabeir el b’nei Cheis leimor ger v’toshav anochi imachem t’nu li achuzas kever imachem v’ekb’ra meisi mil’fanai (23:3-4)

The Gemora in Bava Basra (15b) relates that the Satan challenged the piety of Iyov and suggested that his commitment to Hashem wasn’t as pure and reliable as that of Avrohom, who didn’t question Hashem’s ways even when confronted with the trial of purchasing a burial plot for his beloved wife Sorah. As the Satan was attempting to demonstrate the extent of Avrohom’s devotion, why didn’t he invoke Avrohom’s steadfastness at the Akeidah, when he demonstrated his willingness to offer his only son to Hashem? What exactly was the trial involved in purchasing Sorah’s burial place, and in what way was it considered a more difficult test than the Akeidah?

Rav Mattisyahu Salomon explains by way of a parable. Imagine if one day the government would enact legislation making it illegal to study Torah more than eight hours daily. All of the leading Torah sages would give rousing speeches and publicize letters calling upon yeshiva students to brazenly and defiantly ignore this diabolical decree, and they in turn would eagerly heed the call. If so, why is it that on a regular basis, there are so many yeshiva students who constantly get distracted and fail to study eight hours daily? The answer is that when a person feels that he is being confronted by a challenge, his adrenaline takes over and he rises to the occasion, but when he doesn’t feel that he is being tested and there is no enemy to fight against, many times his performance leaves much to be desired.

Similarly, it was easy for Avrohom to recognize that he was being tested through the Akeidah. Hashem called to him and explicitly spelled out the trial, making it clear what was being demanded of him. While the difficulty of the test was unfathomable, it was nevertheless obvious that he was being tested, thereby allowing his adrenaline to flow and helping him to rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, purchasing the burial plot from the conniving, money-hungry Ephron – the equivalent of a modern-day used-car salesman – after he had just returned from the emotional rollercoaster of the Akeidah to find his beloved wife dead wasn’t presented to Avrohom as any sort of unique trial. Nevertheless, Avrohom handled it properly, conducting the transaction fairly and calmly in spite of his emotional state, without knowing that he was being tested. There was no knowledge that his actions would be recorded for posterity for all future generations to read about, yet he passed with flying colors through his natural and ingrained fear of Hashem.

In informing Miriam of her error in comparing Moshe to other prophets, Hashem explained (Bamidbar 12:7) that Moshe was different: B’chol beisi ne’eman hu – in My entire house, he is the trusted one. The Rashbam explains that “ne’eman” – trusted – means fixed and established always, in all situations of life. A similar expression is used in regards to Avrohom (Nechemia 9:8): U’matzasa es levavo ne’eman l’fanecha – and You found his heart trustworthy before You.

Avrohom’s greatness wasn’t proven by his unprecedented accomplishment in passing the trial of the Akeidah. Every person has peaks in his life when he is able to rise to the call of the test, but these moments don’t necessarily accurately reflect his internal level on a daily basis. Avrohom’s greatness was demonstrated by the fact that he passed all of the trials, all of the time, even when he didn’t know that he was being tested.

We can conclude by noting what an appropriate match Sorah was for Avrohom, as Rashi writes (23:1) that the Torah uses the expression “Sh’nei Chayei Sorah” – the years of Sorah’s life – to teach that her service of Hashem throughout her entire life was equally good. While it is essential to rise to the difficult tests life may throw our way, it is just as important – and much harder – to pass the more subtle tests of our relationships with Hashem and with other people that we face on a daily basis.

V’eileh sh’nei chayei Yishmael me’as shana u’shloshim shana v’sheva shanim vayigva vayamas vayeia’sef el amav (25:17)

Parshas Chayei Sorah concludes by recording that Yishmael died at the age of 137. Since the Torah only relates information which is relevant to us in every generation, why was it necessary for us to know the age at which Yishmael died? Rashi explains that this information is useful not for its own sake, but because it indirectly enables us to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life.”

As a result of knowing how long Yishmael lived, we are able to determine that there are 14 years of Yaakov’s life which are unaccounted for, during which time he was studying in the yeshiva of Ever. This is based on the fact that Yishmael died at the time that Yaakov left his parents’ house to travel to the house of Lavan (Rashi 28:9). Since Yitzchok was 60 when Yaakov was born and Yishmael was 14 years older than Yitzchok, Yishmael was 74 at the time of Yaakov’s birth. If Yishmael died at the age 137, Yaakov must have been 63 when he left his parents’ home.

Yaakov worked for Lavan for 14 years prior to the birth of Yosef. Yosef became viceroy in Egypt at the age of 30, after which Yaakov waited an additional nine years before descending to Egypt, at which point he told Pharaoh that he was 130. Working backward, this means that Yaakov was 77 when he arrived at Lavan’s house, yet he was only 63 when he left his parents’ home. How do we account for the unexplained 14 years? Although Yaakov left his parents’ house when he was 63, he first spent 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Ever before traveling to Lavan.

Although this calculation is fascinating and enables us to account for all of the events in Yaakov’s life, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro questions Rashi’s terminology. Why does Rashi say that the information about Yishmael’s lifespan may be used to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life?” In reality, we already know Yaakov’s lifespan and the other events which occurred throughout his life. The only information that we derive from the knowledge that Yishmael died at 137 is that Yaakov spent 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Ever. Wouldn’t it have been more accurate for Rashi to write that this information allows us to calculate “the years in which Yaakov studied with Ever?”

Rav Shapiro explains that through his subtle choice of words, Rashi is teaching us that the true years of a person’s life are the ones in which he is studying Torah, so by enabling us to determine that Yaakov spent 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Ever, the Torah is in fact helping us to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life.”

Similarly, the Torah records (24:1) that Avrohom grew old and was ba ba’yamim – literally, coming with his days. This expression is peculiar; how is it possible to be coming with one’s days? The Shelah HaKadosh explains that each day, a person is given a gift of 86,400 seconds to live that day. Any moment which he uses to study Torah or do a mitzvah is deposited in his celestial bank account, and any time that he doesn’t use productively unfortunately goes to waste.

The Torah testifies that Avrohom used all of his time in this world for the service of Hashem, and therefore he was coming – to Olam HaBa – with all of his days deposited and waiting to give him his due reward, since as Rashi and Rav Shapiro teach us, our life is determined by the time that we spend studying Torah and performing mitzvos.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (23:1) that at the age of 100, Sorah was just as free of sin as she had been when she turned 20, as the Heavenly Court doesn’t punish a person for his sins until he turns 20. Why isn’t Sorah included in the list (Shabbos 55b) of those who committed no sins in their entire lives and died solely because of the punishment of death decreed upon all mankind (3:19) as a result of Adam’s sin of eating from the tree of knowledge? (M’rafsin Igri)

2) Rashi writes (23:1) that the Torah uses the expression ùðé çéé ùøä – the years of Sorah’s life – to teach that her entire life was equally good. The Torah uses the same expression when relating the death of Yishmael (25:17) – ùðé çéé éùîòàì. As he spent a large portion of his life involved in terrible sins (see Rashi 21:9), how is this to be understood, as his entire life was clearly not equally good? (Daas Z’keinim)

3) The Baal HaTurim writes (23:2) that the letter ë in the word åìáëåúä (and Avrohom cried over Sorah) is written smaller than the other letters in order to teach that he only cried over her a small amount. Why didn’t Avrohom cry more over the loss of his beloved wife? (Baal HaTurim, Darkei Mussar, Kehillas Yitzchok)

4) Which three people resembled Avrohom? (Rashi 13:8, 25:19, Bereishis Rabbah 60:7)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.