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by Daneal Weiner
More Rav Wolfson vortlach.
A very famous Rashi opens this week's
regarding the unusual syntax in the first verse, "And it was that the days of Sarah were one hundred years and twenty years and 7 years." Why not just says "127 years"? Rashi explains that each number is expounded on its own. At 100 years old she was like 20 years old with regard to sin because the Torah does not hold a person accountable for any sins until 20 years of age. And when she was 20 years old she was like 7 years old with regard to her beauty. Volumes of explanations have been written on this Rashi. Rav Moshe Wolfson humbly offers his own insights.
What is the significance that at 20 years she had the beauty of a 7 year old? Don’t we sing every Friday night in Eishes Chayil, "Sheker hachain v'hevel hayofi"- False is grace and vain is beauty?
Furthermore, assuming there is cause to draw attention to Sarah's beauty, who thinks of a 7 year old as a depiction of the beauty of womanhood? Why did Hashem bless her with a miraculous maturing of this nature?
As we saw mid book of Dvarim, by the Woman of Beautiful Form [women of the enemies of Israel whom, during battle, an Israelite soldiers felt a strong desire for] that the soldiers of Israel who were specifically chosen for there righteousness were not attracted to the physical beauty of these women but to the spiritual beauty of their souls! But the commentaries that say this will not take the verse out of its simple meaning. They were beautiful women. The point is that their exterior beauty was a reflection, a manifestation of an inner beauty.
As beautiful as that sounds, there is a problem. Not so far off in the distance is Purim. At Achashveiroshes feast he is going to demand his wife Vashti nakedly graces the presence of his guests to show off her incredible beauty. No one thinks Vashti’s beauty was a reflection of a spiritual beauty within!
Rav Wolfson would like to suggest there are two forms of beauty. One that is a reflection of sanctity and one that is a force of uncleanliness. It's brought in the sefer Agarah D’kalah that although Rivka and Miriam were two of the most beautiful women in history, they never caused a single man to stumble- to have an inappropriate thought because of their beauty. That is a beauty generated by sanctity.
The latter beauty is that against which Hashem warns us every day in the Shema, "Do not turn... after your eyes, that which you lust after." That grace is false. That beauty is vain.
A further contradistinction between these two beauties is that whereas a beauty of the spirit does not wane with time, the beauty of vanity is most certainly in the moment. A society steeped in such shallowness spends all it's energies vainly attempting to reverse if not at least to hold back the aging process.
The praise of Sarah in Rashi is that her soul was so sanctified by her Torah life that it radiated through her skin like the beauty of a 7 year old. A beauty that has only begun to form, not one that has peaked and begins to show age. A beauty that shares a child's innocence, not one of uncleanliness or vanity.
Rav Wolfson asks against himself and the Agarah D'kalah why Avraham was concerned with Sarah’s beauty when going to Egypt? Why her and Rivka's beauty was a concern when traveling to the kingdom of Avimelech? Perhaps a non-Jewish soul cannot distinguish one beauty from another. Or perhaps they lust even after the manifestation of a spiritual beauty, as the Arizal wrote regarding Dinah and Shechem. Lends a whole new meaning to the expression, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder."
And speaking of Shechem, by the 10th verse of the parsha Avraham has already asked the children of Cheis to intercede on his behalf before Efron, son of Zoar, in an attempt to buy from him the cave, Ma'aras Hamachpelah, as a burial place for Sarah. The verse says, "Efron the Hittite responded to Avraham, in the ears of the children of Cheis, to all who have come to the gate of his city."
Taking a look ahead at the abduction and rape of Dinah at the hand of Shechem, Shechem is spell bound by Dinah’s beauty and asks his father, Chamore, to ask Yaakov for Dinah's hand in marriage. The sons of Yaakov intervene and say daughters of Israel cannot intermarry with an uncircumcised people. If they all agree to circumcision, only then can the Children of Israel and the people of Shechem mix. Chamore and Shechem ask the townsfolk and they agree to the terms, as we read in 34:24, "And they listened to Chamore and Shechem, all who depart the gate of his city." What is the difference between the children of Cheis whom the Torah describes as those "who have come to the gate" and the children of Cheis whom the Torah describes as "those who depart the gate"?
The Midrash says that anyone who participated in this final act of kindness for Sarah, attending her burial, was blessed with a lengthening of their days! The children of Cheis looked upon Avraham with great reverence and sincerely referred to him as a Prince of G-d. They certainly participated in Sarah's burial. They are called those who come to the gate.
Just the opposite was the fate of the people of Shechem who had let the abduction and rape of Dinah go without protest. One of the 7 Noahide laws incumbent upon the non-Jew is a system of justice. The people of Shechem closed their eyes to the crime and sealed their fate, they were sentenced to death. Since burial grounds were always located outside the city gates, the people of Shechem not only figuratively but even literally were “those who depart the gate.
Did Efron the wicked Hittite, who feigned a generosity similar to the children of Cheis by offering Avraham the cave as a gift- only to end up charging him an exorbitant sum- did he attend Sarah's burial? I don’t know. But it lends a whole new meaning to Chief Sitting Bull's expression, "Hittite man, fork tongue."
And speaking of Indian traditions, Lavan, brother of Rivka was more than happy to trade off his sister for a few camels worth of gold, silver and jewelry. Unfortunately, all he got was a basket of fruit.
With Eliezer heading for home with the company of Rivka, the story switches back to Yitschak whom, verse 24:62 tells us, had just returned from Be’air Lachai Roie. Rashi says Yitschak had gone there to bring Hagar back to remarry Avraham!
Just prior to Avraham sending Eliezer to find a wife for Yitschak the Torah says (24:1), "VaHashem bairach es Avraham bakol"- And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything. Rav Wolfson brings the sefer Tiferes Yehonasan which sites a Midrash that says, on this verse, that Hashem blessed Avraham with a daughter, a daughter named Kol! What is the relevance of this information at this point in time? A Gemorah which states that if a father needs to wed and his son needs to wed, the father should wed first!
If that Gemorah is true- which, of course, it is- the question is why would Avraham send Eliezer off to find a wife for Yitschak when he has some business of his own to attend to? Fortunately, the Gemorah clarifies that the obligation on the father to tend to his own needs first is when he has yet to fulfill the mitsva of Pru ur'vu- be fruitful and multiply. That is the need of a man for which he must wed. We hold according to Beis Hillel who says the mitsva of Pru ur'vu is fulfilled with a son and a daughter. Now that the Torah has informed us that Avraham and Sarah had already been blessed by Hashem with a daughter Avraham may tend to his sons wedding plans. So says the Tiferes Yehonasan.
Rav Wolfson continues: Avraham personified Chesed-kindness and Yitschak personified Din- Judgment. We said last week that Yitschak never appears in a parsha alone because the world cannot exist with only the influence of Din. Yitschak's Din is always softened with the Chesed of Avraham or, starting next week, with the Rachamim- Mercy of Yaakov. Hashem has maintained this balance throughout history. One such partnership was played by Hillel and Shamai.
Hillel was also a personification of Chesed. His expounding of the laws of the Torah was always through a filter of man's humanity and frailty. To him and his Yeshiva the Torah allows for a, for lack of a better word, lenient approach to law.
Shamai, however, personified Din! He learned Torah as a being created in the image of G-d! Jewish law purifies and refines the soul. The more we persevere the greater we become! His laws manifested with a 'stricter' expression. When it came to the law of Pru ur'vu, Beis Hillel, as we saw above, held that a son and a daughter fulfilled the mitsva. Beis Shamai, however, held two sons were the fulfillment of the mitsva.
Avraham fulfilled the Torah through his personification of chesed. Having had a son and a daughter he sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitschak. Yitschak, however, learned the Torah under Din. To him his father had not yet fulfilled the mitsva of Pru ur'vu, not yet having had two sons. [Yishmael, born prior to Avraham's circumcision, was not a Jew therefore not a partial fulfillment of the mitsva.] According to Yitschak’s take on the Gemorah, he would not wed until his father was wed. He went to Be’air Lachai Roie to get Hagar. Gevaldik!!!! Plus it lends a whole new meaning to Shakespeare’s, "Two boys or not two boys. That is the question." [Hey! Who threw that cholent potatoe?]
And speaking of two's. During the six days of creation the days were paired off! The odd day, Shabbos, came before the Creator and asked, "Who will be my mate?" Hashem answer, "The Children of Israel." Lends a whole new meaning to the expression, "Shabbot Shalom!"
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