Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Chayei Sarah


 V’ashbiacha b’Hashem Elokei HaShomayim V’Elokei ha’aretz asher lo tikach isha liv’ni mi’bnos haC’naani asher anochi yosheiv b’kirbo ki el artzi v’el moladti teilech ul’kachta isha liv’ni l’Yitzchok (24:3-4)

When Avrohom instructed his trusted servant Eliezer regarding the selection of a wife for his son Yitzchok, he was very insistent that Eliezer not choose a wife from their Canaanite neighbors, but rather from Avrohom’s original homeland and family in Charan. Avrohom lived amongst the Canaanites and rejected the possibility of allowing Isaac to marry one of them due to their idolatrous ways. However, in light of the fact that the women in Charan worshipped idolatry just as did the Canaanites, what was the benefit of sending Eliezer to seek a wife from his homeland?

The Derashos HaRan (Derush 5) explains that Avrohom’s objection to a Canaanite daughter-in-law wasn’t based on their idolatrous practices, but rather on the immorality and lack of proper character traits they exhibited in their behavior. Although Avrohom’s relatives in Charan also worshipped idols, he knew that at the core their values and ethics were wholesome and intact.

As immodest and unethical behavior originates in one’s very essence and can be passed on to one’s children, the Canaanites were thereby disqualified from marrying into Avrohom’s family. On the other hand, matters of philosophical belief are taught, not inherited. The idolatry of Avrohom’s relatives could therefore be remedied much easier by simply educating and exposing them to belief in Hashem.

The Ran’s point that intellectual knowledge and pursuits aren’t passed through the generations is illustrated by the following amusing story. One of my Rabbis spent several years living in Jerusalem. As he was interested in the practical aspects of applying the knowledge he had spent many years acquiring, he obtained permission to sit in the central Rabbinical Beis Din and observe the various happenings.

One day a woman came before the Beis Din for a proceeding. When asked for her last name, she replied, “Einstein.” Curious, my Rabbi respectfully waited until the end of the session and then approached the woman to inquire about her identity. Sure enough, she explained that she was none other than the great-granddaughter of the illustrious Albert Einstein.

At this point, with her ancestry clarified, my Rabbi couldn’t help but ask if she followed in the path of her famous great-grandfather and spent her spare time studying advanced physics and the theory of relativity. Albert Einstein’s great-granddaughter replied that she never understood the subject and found Albert’s work totally uninteresting and incomprehensible.

The path that our children will take and the families they will raise are beyond our control. Although we will try our utmost to shape their goal and priorities in life, they will ultimately be influenced and determined by factors beyond our control. What is in our power, however, is to work on our own character traits and to encourage our children to marry those with similar giving dispositions, which will become a permanent part of our spiritual legacy as it is passed down from generation to generation, just as we learn from Einstein’s theory of “relative”-ity.

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 the Torah uses the expression “the years of Sorah’s life” to teach that her entire life was equally good. How could it be that the early part of her life, in which she suffered tremendously by being kidnapped by Pharaoh and Avimelech and from her inability to conceive a child, was considered just as good as the end of her life? (Darash Moshe Vol. 2, Darkei Mussar)

2)     Parshas Chayei Sorah begins (23:2) with Avrohom coming to bury Sorah and eulogize her after her death, but it omits the content of his speech. What was the text of the eulogy that Avrohom said about Sorah? (Medrash Tanchuma 4, Darkei HaShleimus)

3)     Rashi writes (23:2) that the death of Sorah is juxtaposed to the binding of Yitzchok in order to teach that the shock and fear from hearing that her son was almost slaughtered was the cause of her death. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel (22:20) adds that she heard this information from the Satan. How was the Satan able to kill Sorah when his job is to entice people to sin, but not to kill them? (Kehillas Yitzchok)

4)     Why did Avrohom need to make Eliezer swear (24:2-4) not to take a wife for Yitzchok from the Canaanites instead of simply commanding Yitzchok not to marry a Canaanite woman? (Meshech Chochmah, Ayeles HaShachar)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.