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Parashat Haye Sara
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
The onion is one of the vegetables used by man already in ancient times. It was quite prevalent among the ancient Egyptians who ate it frequently. It originated in Central Asia and we know of four hundred different species of onions. These species differ from one another in color and form, which depend upon the conditions under which they were grown. Although it doesn't add much in terms of nutritional value, its sharp aroma and flavor render it a most valuable spice for cooking. The smell and taste come from an ethereal oil located in the plant. When peeling or cutting an onion, this oil is released into the air and stimulates the nerves in the nose. One peeling an onion often seems to be crying bitterly. This is because the ethereal oil stimulates not only the nerves in the nose but also the lining of the eyelid, causing the secretion of tears.
The onion undergoes a lengthy growth process, as it is planted in the autumn and harvested only in the summertime. People generally store the majority of the onion produce in order to ensure a continuous supply to the markets. In the factories, the onions are dried and frozen, and often even pickled. Several medical benefits are attributed to the onion, including its impact upon the nervous system and its powers of purification - it purifies the blood, digestive system and breathing organs. It also arouses one's appetite and enhances the operation of the kidneys. Experts claim that onions help fight the common cold, as well. The juice of the onion soothes a hoarse throat and also dissolves clots of blood or fats. It helps prevent clogging of the arteries and can even lower one's blood-pressure. These comprise only a portion of its potential contributions to one's health. Nevertheless, one must be careful not to eat too much onion, as doing so may weaken the brain's activity and cause headaches.
Excessive consumption of onions may also cause a potentially damaging build-up of fluid in the digestive system and cause thirst. Perhaps the characteristic that most stands out regarding the onion is its sharpness. When referring to people, we generally use the word "sharp" to describe a particularly quick mind, one that can penetrate deeply into the given subject matter. This wondrous attribute clearly must be seen as a gift from Hashem. Unfortunately, though, many recipients of this Godly gift use their talent for the purpose of blurting sharp insults against others. This, they think, will publicize their wit to everyone around. One plagued with this tendency must urgently engage in the improvement of his character. The Creator has granted wisdom and wit to His creatures to allow them to build, not destroy; to contribute to society and the environment, and, perhaps above all, to reveal the hidden treasures of the Torah and the beauty of Jewish life.
The Faithful Student (4)
A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk,
Flashback: Rabbi Hayyim Simhah Soloveitchik, the faithful student of the "Seraf of Brisk," was walking in the street in his neighborhood in Mogilov, engrossed in his studies, and didn't notice a terrorist attack executed by the Polish underground. The police arrested him and tortured him until they were convinced that he played no part in the attack, at which point they banished him from the city. Upon his release he learned that his rabbi, the "Seraf of Brisk," was arrested and imprisoned on false charges and being held in Grodno. Rabbi Hayyim Simhah immediately proceeded to Grodno where he staged a pickpocket attempt near the prison and was arrested.
The guard led the "thief" to a nearby cell, making no attempt to hide his excitement. After all, he was just a security guard; not everyday does he have the opportunity to catch a thief. Perhaps he will now receive special citation, a promotion or even a reward. "You know that you can expect seven years here," he said. The inmate remained silent. The guard took out a pile of striped prison clothing and ordered the thief to take off his clothes and put on the uniform. As the inmate took off his clothing, the guard noticed his scarred back. The marks were dark red, only partially covered with fresh skin. "What happened, who did this to you?" he asked in shock. "Your friends in Mogilov," answered the thief, as he donned his prison clothes. "And you still insist on continuing to steal?" wondered the guard. "Come with me," he ordered, as he once again locked the inmates hands in chains. He led him through the dark hallways until they came to a large door. The guard undid the bolt and shoved the thief inside. "Here's another crook," mumbled the older residents of the cell scornfully, as they sat around on the stone floor. The newcomer looked around at each inmate, and saw in the corner an angel dressed in prison clothes, whose beard had just turned white in the past week. "Rebbi!" the new inmate cried. The angelic figure raised his eyes. "Hayyim Simhah, what are you doing here?" "I came to be with my rebbe," he answered, "so that I can serve him and make him happy." "And if they separate us a week from now, if they let me go and you will stay behind - then what?" "Rebbe," responded the student, "the entire world was created only in order that we can serve a ssadik. It is worth it for me to stay in prison seven years in order to serve my rebbe for even a single day, to make him rejoice for even a single moment!"
to be continued.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"And Avraham was old, advanced in years, and Hashem blessed him with everything"
The Midrash cites the comment of Rabbi Meir that "Hashem blessed him with everything" refers to the fact that Avraham had no daughters. What kind of blessing is that, not to have a daughter? The first missvah in the Torah is to procreate, to have at least a son and a daughter! The Ramban explains that since a daughter enters the domain of her husband upon marriage, and were Avraham to have a daughter she would have married one of the local idolaters, thus bringing her and her children away from the path of Avraham, it is indeed a blessing that Avraham had no daughters. The only true blessing is that one's children and grandchildren follow the path of the Torah!
"And Avraham was old, advanced in years, and Hashem blessed him with everything"
Rashi comments that the word "bakol" (with everything) has the numerical value equivalent to that of "bein," son, and "since he had a son, he had to marry him off." But why does the Torah introduce this parashah with a remark about Avraham's old age? Rabbi Yehudah Ssedakah zs"l answers based on a comment of the Ben Ish Hai zs"l (on the haftarah for Parashat Masei) that the reason why Avraham had a son only through a miracle at a very old age was so that before having children Avraham would be fully detached from the heredity of his father, Terach. Thus, Yisshak would be influenced only by Avraham himself, and not the heredity of his idolatrous grandparents. Upon realizing this, Avraham recognized just how great an affect heredity has on the development of a child's character. He therefore instructed his servant to go specifically to Charan to select a wife for Yisshak, so that he wouldn't marry a girl from the local, corrupt Canaanite population. Therein lies the relationship between the pesukim: ""And Avraham was old, advanced in years - and Hashem blessed him with everything," referring to a son (as mentioned above). Thus, "Avraham said to his servant.do not take a wife for my son from among the girls of Canaanites, among whom I dwell."
"And Avraham was old, advanced in years, and Hashem blessed him with everything"
The Hid"a zs"l cites the comment of the Midrash that every time the Torah writes "v'Hashem" (and Hashem), it refers to the Almighty together with His Heavenly Tribunal. Hashem Himself represents the Attribute of Mercy, whereas His Court signifies the Attribute of Justice. The Midrash further comments that "Hashem blessed Avraham with everything" in the merit of the tithes that Avraham donated to charity. The pasuk states, "One who pursues charity and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor." Therefore, even the Attribute of Justice consented that Avraham, the pillar of kindness, should earn old age and all-encompassing berachah.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
The Saintly Poet, Rabbi Yisrael Nagara zs"l
The following story appears in the book, "Shivhei Ha'Ari." During the golden age of the Ar"I zs"l there lived Hacham Yisrael Nagara zs"l, author of the popular piyut, "K'ah Ribon." He was known for his beautiful songs and piyutim. One Shabbat eve, as he sat at his table singing, the Ar"I saw from a distance how the angels of heaven came to Rabbi Yisrael's home to delight in his sacred song. Suddenly, the Ar"I saw that one angel came and dispersed the gathering of angels, on account of the fact that the singer's arms were uncovered and he was not wearing a hat, as he sat at the table before Hashem with only a kippah on his head. When the Ar"I beheld what was happening, he immediately sent Rav Hayyim Vital zs"l and Mahar"I Kohen zs"l to go to Rabbi Yisrael and inform him that the angels were forced to disperse since he did not stand with sufficient reverence before Hashem. When Hacham Yisrael heard the news from the Ar"I's students, he was gripped with fear and trepidation. From that point he sat with intense awe, wrapped in his cloak and with his hat on his head, singing his song with great joy and reverence. The angels immediately descended as they had originally, rejoicing like bride and groom. Rav Hayyim Vital and Mahar"I Kohen looked on in awe. From here we learn that we must sit with a sense of reverence and sanctity at our Shabbat tables, singing passionately the songs and piyutim. The angels in heaven will be awakened to descend and join us, to listen in and bestow blessing in our homes!
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at
Chapter 25: The Halachot of Tefillin
Hazal had very strong things to say about the sin of neglecting tefillin, claiming that one who does not put on tefillin is considered among the "sinners of Israel with their bodies," since the tefillin touches the body directly. Thus, the sin for neglecting this missvah is almost too great to atone (Rosh Hashanah 17a). Some Rishonim claim that this severity applies specifically to one who never wore tefillin. If one wears tefillin from time to time, however, then although his sin is great as he violates a positive commandment each day he fails to put on tefillin, he nevertheless is not considered among the "sinners of Israel with their bodies." Some Rishonim argue and maintain that even one who wears tefillin periodically is considered a sinner of Israel with his body. Some Roshonim comment further that this status is afforded specifically to one who doesn't wear tefillin out of scorn for the missvah. If, however, he does not wear tefillin because he is afraid he will be unable to maintain the proper state of bodily cleanliness required for tefillin, he is not considered a sinner of Israel with his body, despite the fact that he has nevertheless committed an aveirah by not wearing tefillin. Within this view, some maintain that one who fails to wear tefillin because he does not want to take out time from his work or out of sheer laziness also falls under the category of sinners with their bodies. Some, however, contend that so long as the reason behind one's failure to wear tefillin involves some reason other than disdain for the missvah, he is not considered a sinner of Israel with his body. Others, though, hold that no matter what the reason behind one's refusal to wear tefillin - laziness, work or fear that his body will not remain clean - he attains the status of a sinner of Israel with his body.
There are authorities who maintain that the missvah of tefillin does not apply at nighttime, as they interpret the pasuk, "You shall observe this statute in its time, from day to day" (Shemot 13:10) as referring to the missvah of tefillin. In fact, the Rambam rules (Hilchot Tefillin 4:11) that one who wears tefillin at night violates a negative commandment, since the aforementioned pasuk employs the term "veshamarta" (you shall observe), an expression that implies a negative commandment. Nevertheless, one who fails to wear tefillin during the day does not violate a negative commandment but rather a positive commandment. The negative violation applies specifically when one wears tefillin when he should not have; one who does not perform the missvah at all violates a positive commandment. Some, however, argue, and maintain that even one who does not put on tefillin at all violates the negative commandment of "veshamarta."
"Until They Have Finished Drinking"
Unbeknownst to her, Rivkah was tested by Eliezer. If she would respond to his request for water by saying, "Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink," she would be chosen as matriarch of Israel, one of the four righteous women who built the House of Israel. Unbeknownst to her, she passed the test. She said, "Drink, my master," and quickly gave him water to drink. She then continued, "I will draw for your camels, as well, until they have finished drinking." This ending - "until they have finished drinking" - Eliezer never demanded. As the camels drink enormous amounts of water, "The man stood gazing at her, silently wondering whether God made his mission successful or not." He continued to watch, observe, take notes, assess and examine her conduct to see if indeed his mission has succeeded. "It was, when the camels finished drinking, the man took a golden ring, a 'beka' in weight, and [placed] two bracelets on her hands." Only then did he know for sure that his mission has been successful. Rivkah, the young girl on her way to draw water for her family who agreed to bring water to a total stranger, offered of her own volition to give water to his camels, as well. She filled one pitcher after the other, drew water and poured it into the trough and then ran back to the well to draw water - with a small pitcher - for ten camels. What would have happened if after twenty or thirty rounds of drawing and pouring into the trough she decided her arms were tired and needed a rest, a little before the camels finished drinking and lifted their heads from the trough? The Or Hahayyim Hakadosh zs"l comments: "Eliezer did not have to wait for the camels to finish drinking, as this did not constitute part of his condition.
However, despite the fact that he did not insist upon it, since she mentioned that she would do so, he wondered whether she was among those who speak much but perform little. This doubt was resolved when he saw that the camels finished drinking. He immediately took out the jewelry." The Or Hahayyim here reveals - more accurately, the Torah here reveals - a fundamental precept: even if you were not obligated to do whatever it was, not even as a measure of piety, even if nobody demanded it of you and never expected it, nevertheless if you promised, if you obligated yourself - even without any formal declaration of oath - it is expected that you fulfill your guarantee. Even if you exert the effort and produce results, if even just a tiny element of the promise has not been carried out, you have fallen into the category of those who say much but do little. If nine of the ten camels would have finished drinking and lifted their heads, but the tenth still leaned over into the trough drinking, and Rivkah would have then decided that she had done enough, Eliezer would have thanked her for her kindness and returned alone to Canaan. A good-hearted girl would have been left in Haran and married a local shepherd, lost in the haze of history. Why? Because she was almost perfect, she fulfilled her promise almost to completion. Needless to say, we are not talking to people like us.
When we hit our chests on Yom Kippur as we confessed "for the sin that we committed regarding disrespect to parents and teachers" and accepted upon ourselves never to repeat our mistakes in this regard, we said little, but we do a lot. We are exceedingly careful in the honor of our parents, both in action and speech - with good manners and appreciation, honor and respect - as well as in thought; as the Sefer Haredim writes, that they must be in your eyes as king and queen. We are overjoyed to grant their every request, we are prepared and ready for any of their wishes. And we do it with total dedication, and not just because of our obligation, that we are commanded, but simply because our debt of gratitude towards them is too large to repay even partially, even were we to serve them our entire lives! And the married ones among us: when we obligated ourselves in the Ketubah, which was read out loud under the huppah, "And I, with the help of God, will work on your behalf, I will honor you, and I will do your will" - certainly we do far more than that! We try with all our might to satisfy our spouses' wishes, and not merely because of Hazal's dictum requiring a husband to honor his wife more than his own body (Yevamot 62b), and not just because we realize intuitively that this must be our attitude. But simply, because we obligated ourselves in this regard, we signed a contract read publicly at the wedding. And we are, after all, truthful and honest people, men of our word. Therefore, no husband does not help out in the house, does not honor and respect his wife (we cannot even think of even a single insulting word or denigrating remark, the direct opposite of honor) and does not do his utmost to fulfill her every request. But - and this is critical point - are we perfect in this regard, do we fulfill our guarantee of "until they finished drinking," of honoring, respecting and assisting, with all our capabilities?
The Blessing of Children
"And Avraham was old, advanced in years, and Hashem blessed him with everything." Rashi explains that "bakol" (with everything) has the same numerical values as "bein," son. The pasuk thus tells us that since Avraham had a son, he needed to find him a wife. This is why this pasuk introduces the parashah of Eliezer's search for Yisshak's spouse. The question, however, begs itself: after all of Parashat Vayera - the news of Yisshak's impending birth, the story of his actual birth, the banishment of Yishmael so that Yisshak would be not influenced by his corruption, and the akeidah - do we still need a "gimatria" (numerical allusion) to inform us that Avraham had a son? Is that not fairly obvious at this point? The answer is, that most people in the world have children. Few children, however, can be considered by their parents as the source of "blessing with everything." Few children wholeheartedly perpetuate their ancestral heritage, with perfection of action and thought, and give their parents so much "nahat" and happiness, such that all the wealth and fortune that Avraham enjoyed - "He merited in his lifetime something similar to the World to Come" (Bava Batra 16b) - paled in comparison to the blessing of his son! Torah education, which teaches the path of Avraham and Yisshak, guarantees this great fortune - this is the guarantee for the true blessing of children!
Whom Do We Thank, Whom Do We Bless
Accompanied by Avraham's blessing and assisted with the miraculous "kefissat haderech" (shortening of the journey), Eliezer arrived in Haran. Just as he was concluding his impassioned petition to Hashem, Rivkah came out with her pitcher and the water in the well rose to greet her. "Drink, my master," she said, "and I will draw for your camels, as well." He bowed down in gratitude before Hashem, Who granted him a successful journey. The only stage left was to ask her father's consent to the marriage. After all, the entire matter depends on him. He came, they set the table for him, and he began his story. When he finished talking the family exclaimed, "This came from Hashem! Here is Rivkah - let her be the wife of your master's son, as Hashem said!" Excellent! What else needs to be done? To thank them for their consent, shake hands and wish them "Mazel tov!" and drink "lehayyim!" But no - he falls to the ground: "It was, when Avraham's servant heard their words, he bowed down on the ground to Hashem"! This was his instinctive, immediate reaction! In no way do we mean to undermine for even a moment the obligation to express gratitude and warmly thank those who have done us a favor.
"Hakkarat hatov" - appreciation and gratitude - constitutes a fundamental building block of Judiasm; its obligation cannot be questioned for a moment, and the severity of its neglect is immense. Nevertheless, we cannot forget to Whom we must thank first, before anyone else. Malki Ssedek, the king of Shalem, surrendered his priesthood on account of having blessed Avraham before blessing the Almighty (Nedarim 32b). There is a well-known story of two singers who stood before the king to entertain, as was the custom way back when. One singer composed songs praising the king, thanking him and expressing the reverence he earns from his constituents, songs filled with flattery and descriptions of his greatness. He would sing of the cities be built and desolate areas he developed into spectacular residences, the roads he paved and the commerce he encouraged. The songs would speak of the wars he fought and the intricate tactics he designed that led his armies to victory, the brilliant strategies and the vast territories he conquered. The songs were ever so pleasant for the king's ears, and stirred the hearts of the audience in the royal court. But even these songs could become tedious day after day, and he was therefore joined periodically by another gifted musician, a Jew, who would sing songs of praise to the Creator of the world. He would laud the power of the One Who created light and darkness, Who makes the sun shine and the wind blow, Who sends water into streams and makes grass grow and flowers blossom, Who produces fruit and grain for people and animal alike, Who provides strength and affords authority to kings, Who is the source of their health, wisdom, dominion, and joy. The king was a believer, and knew full well that everything he enjoyed came from the sheer kindness of the Creator. No one could deny, however, that the first singer's songs sounded more pleasant to his ears. The king said to himself, both singers perform their job with devotion and skill, and both will be paid accordingly. But the first, who glorifies me continuously, deserves a present from me directly. The second, who praises the One above, will receive his gift from the Creator. He thus ordered that loaves of bread be given to them both, fine baked goods straight from the royal table, unparalleled in their aroma or taste. He added that twenty gold coins be placed inside the first singer's bread. The two received their bread upon the completion of their duty. The first singer picked a loaf and was repulsed - it was so heavy! He figured that the dough had been insufficiently baked and was thus inedible. He said to his companion, "Perhaps we will switch loaves?" The Jew thought to himself, in any event this bread may not be eaten, as it had been baked by gentiles. I will feed it to the chickens anyway, so why not at least do my friend a favor? He exchanged loaves, and gave his to his chickens. They ate the bread and uncovered the hidden treasure. The next day, the king expected to hear even greater praise and thanks from the mouth of the first singer. Instead, it was the second who approached him to express his gratitude. Obviously he didn't tell the monarch that he refused to eat his food, but he thanked the king for the gold. The king was incensed. How did this happen? How did his plan not work? His anger reached its peak when the Jew came to sing, and sang praises to the Creator Who instilled within the king the wisdom to provide him with such a precious treasure. The king decided to shut the singer's mouth once and for all. He ordered once again that bread be baked, only this time poison would be mixed into one of the loaves. The fact that the singer may bring the bread home to his wife and children - what did they do? - never crossed his mind. His only desire was that he would never hear the singer's songs of praise ever again. The two again received their loaves of bread, and the Jewish musician headed home, which was on the outskirts of the capital city. Obviously he had no intention of eating the bread, which was baked by gentiles and thus forbidden. He saw that the chickens still had bread left over from the previous day, so he figured he would keep the bread for the next day. Towards evening, there was a knock on the door. The prince was on his way home from a hunting excursion. He was exhausted from the trip and figured he would rest a bit and refresh himself in the singer's home. "Do you have anything to eat, perhaps?" he asked. "Bread from your father's table!" the host replied, and he placed the bread before the prince.
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