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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS Chayei Sarah

Grant me an estate for a burial site among you. (23:4)

The Torah dedicates a considerable amount of space to detailing the meticulous care and devotion which Avraham Avinu demonstrated in searching for a suitable gravesite for Sarah Imeinu. He spared no expense in finding the proper place. This teaches us that the soul of the departed hovers over the grave. Therefore, it is appropriate to locate a place suitable for the neshamah, soul. Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, comments that this means that one should not bury a person who was spiritually deficient next to someone who was pious and virtuous. His reasoning for this statement gives us something to consider.

When Rav Shternbach first arrived in South Africa to take a position as rav, he was astonished to learn that there was no exclusive burial site for shomrei Shabbos, those who observed Shabbos. Everybody was buried side by side, regardless of his level of observance. Rav Shternbach spoke in shul that Shabbos, declaring that it was prohibited by Jewish law to bury a Shabbos-observant Jew next to one who was not observant. Understandably, when word of his speech got out, the city was in a state of outrage. "How dare he issue such a rule? It is bad enough that there is no harmony among Jews when they are among the living! Do they have to be also separated in death?" This went on to the point that some people started a movement to have Rav Shternbach recalled. Editorials in the liberal press declared that South Africa was not a place for religious fanatics.

Rav Shternbach announced that he was inviting the community to assemble in his shul, where he would publicly address the issue in order to validate his statement. The shul was packed, as a large crowd came to hear what the famous rav had to say. Rav Shternbach ascended to the lectern and began, "When a person leaves this world, his soul ascends to the Heavenly Tribunal for judgment. One will be questioned about why he did not observe Shabbos. The answer will be that in South Africa it is difficult to observe Shabbos. Immediately, when the Tribunal hears this, they will point to the soul that is buried near you and ask, "Why was your neighbor able to observe Shabbos? He also lived in South Africa." You see, when an individual who was not observant is buried in the proximity of one who was, it can be a condemnation against him. He no longer has any excuses for eschewing Jewish ritual. When one is buried in an area where the lifestyle of his neighbors paralleled his own, then he can possibly seek to justify his non-observance."

Rav Shternbach suddenly raised his voice and declared, "I am here to help you, and you attempt to castigate me! It is for your ultimate good that I rendered the halachah that those who had not yet been observant should be buried in an area with others who had maintained a similar level of observance."

We do not realize, writes Rav Shternbach, that when those who have the wherewithal to purchase burial plots near great, pious Jews, exercise this option, they are making a serious error. A person should be buried near his own kind, people who have lived and acted in a manner similar to his own. That is why Avraham first eulogized Sarah, so that people would have an inkling of her distinction. They would then realize why her burial site had to be on ground which was unique and revered, such as the Me'oras ha'Machpelah.

And take a wife for my son for Yitzchak. (24:4)

There is no dearth of stories concerning shidduchim, but I recently came across what seems to be a well-known story, which I think conveys a powerful, but practical, message. The Divrei Chaim, popularly known as the Sanzer Rebbe, Horav Chaim Halberstam, zl, was a brilliant talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and patriarch of many of the greatest chassidic dynasties. Even as a young man his fame grew throughout Europe. The most esteemed families sought to have him included as one of their own, through marriage. There was a problem, however, a physical flaw, which prospective wives did not dismiss as casually as did their fathers. He had been born with one leg shorter than the other, which produced a limp when he walked. Despite all of his wonderful qualities, his parents soon realized that it would not be as easy as they had thought to marry off their son.

One day, his parents notified him that, regrettably, another young lady, the daughter of a great rav, had declined a match with him. The Sanzer was interested in this shidduch, and, consequently, asked the young lady's father if he might argue his case with her.

The meeting was arranged. He began by citing Chazal's statement that forty days prior to a child's conception, a decree comes forth from Heaven saying, "So and so will marry so and so." "Before I was born, my neshamah, soul, asked to see my destined wife. When my soul beheld you, it sang because you were so perfect. There was, however, one physical flaw."

"What was that?" she asked, her curiosity piqued.

"A limp. You had a noticeable limp, because one leg was shorter than the other. I had such pain when I saw this, because otherwise you were the picture of perfection. Knowing that outward appearances play a greater role for women than for men, it troubled me that you would have to live a lifetime with this impediment. I, therefore, asked Heaven if I could be afflicted with this physical imperfection instead of you.

"Heaven listened. They saw how concerned I was for you and they gave me the limp instead of you. I have a limp today, so that you do not. I took it upon myself, so that you would not suffer."

When the young woman heard these words, she became very still. After a short while, she rose from her chair and left the room. A few hours later, she approached her father and said that she had changed her mind. She now wanted to marry Chaim Halberstam. They were married shortly thereafter, and the beginnings of the famous Sanzer dynasty was established. I guess each one of us will - and should - derive his own individual lesson from this story.

Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, "Please tip over your jug so I may drink," and who replies, "Drink and I will even water your camels," her will You have designated for your servant, for Yitzchak. (24:14)

Parashas Chayei Sarah revolves around a number of themes, the most predominant being the concept of shidduchim, matrimony. Avraham Avinu instructed his trusted servant, Eliezer, with guidelines for selecting a wife for his son and spiritual heir, Yitzchak. The Chasam Sofer explains why chesed, the character trait of kindness, plays such a critical role as the primary criteria in the selection process. He cites the pasuk in the beginning of Sefer Bereishis (2:18), which describes the creation of woman: "I will make for him (Adam) an eizer k'negdo, a helper against him." This seems somewhat paradoxical. To be a helper is not to be against him. One either helps or contends. The idea is, that if the woman's nature is different from that of her husband, then she complements him. She is his helper. If, however, their personalities are similar, if their character traits are alike, then they will end up maintaining the same weaknesses and, in all likelihood, their opportunities for individual growth will be stunted. In a marriage, the ideal is for two people with contrasting or differing characteristics to join together and build upon one another's strengths, very much like a puzzle where each of the pieces fit into place to form a complete mosaic.

Avraham Avinu exemplified the middah of chesed, while Yitzchak symbolized the attribute of din, strict justice. His strength lay in his Divine service and prayer. Thus, it was fitting that his wife be a person who embodies a trait that would augment and enhance him. Rivkah exhibited a sublime sense of chesed which impressed Eliezer, so that he understood that this girl was sent by Hashem to be Yitzchak's wife, with whom he would forge another link in the chain of Klal Yisrael.

When she finished giving him drink, she said, "I will draw water even for your camels until they have finished drinking." (24:19)

Eliezer did not ask Rivkah to give drink for his animals. She did it on her own because she understood that chesed goes beyond that for which one asks. An act of chesed fulfills a need. In this circumstance, the animals also had to be given drink. There are "do gooders" who tend to fulfill one's requests, but they do not necessarily fulfill their needs. They hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. Yes, they perform acts of loving kindness. If you are going to do it, you should do it right. We should try to listen between the lines and look beyond what seems to be. We should take into consideration that someone in need quite often wants to maintain an element of their self-esteem, and is, therefore, hard-pressed to ask for what they really need. They following story, related by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in "Touched By A Story 2," demonstrates what it means to listen and to see.

The legendary menahel of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Yerushalayim in the early 1940's was Horav Arye Levine, zl. His love for all Jews, regardless of background and religious affiliation, was well-known. To his students, he was both mentor and father, expressing his heartfelt love to each of them individually. His love and respect were reciprocated by all who came in contact with him.

As menahel, he had to deal with boys from all walks of life and financial levels. He was meticulous about orphan boys and cared for them like a loving father. One day, a young orphan boy whom we will call Eliyahu was walking around the playground as the other boys played. It was a wintry day, cold and wet, and the boys were either warming themselves by playing or by drinking a glass of hot tea which they had purchased from the caretaker for a few pennies. Rav Arye noticed that Eliyahu was neither playing nor drinking tea. He approached the young boy and asked him why he was not warming himself as the other boys were doing. Eliyahu gave the impression of not caring, saying that he did not really like the tea. This attitude might have fooled someone else, but not Rav Arye. He understood that the young boy had no money and was too embarrassed to concede that he could not afford a cup of tea. Rav Arye instructed the caretaker to give the boy a cup of tea and put it on his bill. When the boy received the cup of tea, he smiled in gratitude to Rav Arye. The caretaker, who apparently was not as astute, turned to Rav Arye and asked, "Did he not say that he does not like tea?"

Rav Arye replied, "Is that what you heard him say? Well, I did not hear that. I heard a completely different response from the boy. You see, he is an orphan who lost both his parents as a child. He lives at the Diskin Orphanage and goes to school with these boys. He has no money whatsoever. The reason he said that he did not like the tea was that he did not have the money to pay for it. You must learn to listen with more than your ears. You must listen with your heart."

This is a moving story with an important lesson. If I may use my writer's license, I would like to extend this idea a bit further. There is a colloquium that is commonly used as a cure-all for a number of uncomfortable situations: "no problem." When we insult someone and ask forgiveness, we receive a response of, "No problem." When we ignore someone or are late for a meeting, forget to do something, say something we should not have said: "No problem." These two words seem to be a panacea for everyone's concerns. After all, it is "no problem." If we were to look with our hearts, however, instead of our eyes, we might sense that there really is a problem, that the person really is hurt or upset. He simply covers up his pain by responding "no problem."

Let us look back at some of the conversations we have had in the presence of those who replied, "No problem." For instance: lauding the success of our son in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael (it does not matter which one) in front of a father who is going through a difficult "parsha," chapter, in life, with his son; talking about the various shidduchim that are being offered to our daughter, or discussing our imminent wedding plans in front of someone who cannot find a shidduch for his child; discussing our vacation cruise to Alaska in front of someone who cannot find the tuition to pay for his children in school; discussing our children or grandchildren in front of someone who has yet to be blessed with either one. The list goes on and, when we apologize for acting without sensitivity the answer will invariably be, "No problem." We all know, however, that there is a problem. We have hurt another Jew, albeit inadvertently, but the hurt is still there. Let us take a lesson from Rav Arye and listen with our hearts. Then, there will really be "no problem."

Then Lavan and Besuel answered, "The matter stemmed from Hashem." (24:50)

After Eliezer related all that had transpired, suggesting that Rivkah was destined to be Yitzchak's mate, her father and brother agreed. Their response, "The matter stemmed from Hashem," is used by Chazal as proof that Hashem ordains a man's proper mate. Although the comment originated from two idolators, the Torah would not have included it had there not been some halachic basis for this statement. Yet, we must endeavor to understand the depth of its meaning. Does not everybody originate from Hashem? What is unique about a shidduch that Chazal must emphasize, me'Hashem yatzah ha'davar, "the matter stemmed from Hashem." Moreover, the Midrash goes so far as to assert that man's zivug, match, stems from Hashem, substantiating this statement with a pasuk from Torah, Neviim and Kesuvim.

Harav Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that Chazal are teaching us a profound concept. Even if a person believes that everything stems from Hashem, that there are no chance occurrences in this world; even if a person knows that everything originates from Hashem, one does not always observe the reality of what he believes or even what he knows. Yet, in regard to shidduchim, it is different - one sees that it stems from Hashem. A person feels that his bashert, predestined mate, was brought to him by Hashem. This means that if it is a Torah-oriented shidduch, then one has tangible proof that it stemmed from Hashem. He does not just believe or know it. He sees it! One must be objective and open his eyes, and he will see clearly that the chain of events that preceded the discovery of his bashert could only have been ordained by Hashem.

I would like to suggest that one should go to the extent to "see" the "Hashem factor" in every match as a way of substantiating his shidduch. Nonetheless, signs from Heaven are not the criteria upon which a shidduch is to be concretized. The fact is, that despite all the Heavenly signs that Rivkah was destined for Yitzchak, it was not until Yitzchak brought her to his tent and - he saw that Rivkah's actions paralleled those of his mother - that he agreed to the shidduch. What about all of the signs? Apparently, says the Brisker Rav, zl, a shidduch is not based upon Heavenly signs. It is the middos tovos, positive character traits, that determine a spouse's suitability for marriage. All too often, we interpret occurrences as signs from Heaven, which, in reality, are not. One must be intellectually honest with himself and look for the signs after everything else has fallen into place.

I recently read a story which did not have the proverbial "fairy tale" ending. There was once a Yeshivah bochur who went to Tzefas for a Shabbos. While he was there, he chanced upon a young lady who was attending one of the more distinguished seminaries in Yerushalayim. He was so captivated with her personality and character traits that he wanted to approach her and ask her name. Realizing this was inappropriate, he resisted. The next day, he went to Amukah, to the gravesite of Yonasan ben Uziel, which is a legendary place for one to pray for a shidduch. Lo and behold, whom does he see there but the same girl that he "met" on Shabbos. She was also praying for a shidduch. What could be a greater sign from Heaven? Before he looked around, she seemed to have left. On the wall outside the area, he found the siddur she had been using. When he opened it, he noted her name, address and phone number. He now felt that he was practically being served the shidduch on a silver platter. For what more could he ask?

Arriving back at his apartment, he listened to his messages and heard from two different people who had called him concerning a shidduch. Yes - it was that same girl - twice! He could not believe his luck. After all, Hashem was speaking to him. He enthusiastically pursued the shidduch and, within a few months, they were engaged. Regrettably, the marriage did not last more than a few months. One must be intellectually honest with himself, or the signs from Heaven might be not much more than a figment of an overactive imagination.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'sneinu hayom u'bchol yom l'chein u'le'chesed u'le'rachamim.
Grant us today and everyday grace, kindness and mercy.

We ask Hashem to grant us acceptance in the world community using three terms, each describing another form of public approval. The word chein is commonly defined as grace or favor. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, points out that chein is a derivative of the word chinam, which means free or unearned. This may be noted in the pasuk in Bereishis 6:8, which describes Noach's relationship with Hashem: V'Noach matzah chein b'einei Hashem. "Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem." This means that Noach, the tzaddik, could not rely on his own merits to be saved. He was spared only because he found chein b'einei Hashem. The Almighty granted him a matnas chinam, a free gift. We thus ask Hashem that we find "favor" in His eyes and in the eyes of all those with whom we come in contact.

Rachamim, compassion, is an attribute that is used for a deserving person. Chesed, kindness, on the other hand, is more of a gift whereby one extends himself beyond what he must do. It is somewhere in between chein and rachamim. We ask Hashem, whether we are worthy or not - or even if we are only a bit deserving - that He grant us favor and grace in the eyes of everyone.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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