Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Sarah's life was. (23:1)

The theme of Parashas Chayei Sarah - from its opening episode concerning the burial of Sarah Imeinu until its conclusion with the marriage of Yitzchak Avinu to Rivkah Imeinu - is chesed, acts of loving kindness. In a very inspiring shmuess, ethical discourse, Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, relates how our attitude can transform a common act of courtesy into a holy act of chesed, which will earn us incredible Heavenly reward. He related that many years ago, when one of his younger children was ill, he took his older children to his mother's house to protect them from contracting the same illness and also to ease the load on his wife. As he walked down the street with his children in tow, he met Horav Isaac Sher, zl, "Good morning, Reb Sholom," the venerable sage greeted him. "Where are 'we' going?" he asked.

Rav Sholom explained his situation at home, relating why he was taking the children to his mother's home.

"So, why are you going?" Rav Isaac asked - again.

Rav Sholom once again explained where and why he was going, to which Rav Isaac once again asked, "Why are you going?"

This went on for a number of minutes, as Rav Isaac asked the same question and Rav Sholom reiterated his reply. When Rav Isaac saw that Rav Sholom did not grasp what he was suggesting with his question, he said, "In other words, you are on the way to perform an act of chesed with a Jewish child who just happens to be yours!" They bid each other "good day," and Rav Sholom continued along the way. Suddenly, the depths of Rav Isaac's words dawned on him. He was not simply going to his mother's house with his children; he was involved in carrying out an act of chesed! He now realized that every mundane act of assistance, if focused properly and with the correct intention, is exactly that: an act of chesed. It is up to us to elevate our activities, to give them the spiritual substance and focus.

We have no idea of the value of everyday, routine activities, because we do not give it any thought. This lack of cognition blurs the distinction between the mundane and the spiritual, between the common and the sublime, between assistance and chesed. While a woman/wife/mother is raising her children, she performs countless acts of chesed daily. Does anybody give it a second thought? Does she? This is pure chesed. The fact that it happens to be her own children does not diminish its significance. The significance is reflected in her attitude.

Rav Sholom relates that he was once walking with Horav Elya Lopian, zl, as they chanced upon a Jewish street worker fixing a crack in the pavement. Rav Elya said, "See! A Jew is involved in the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling Eretz Yisrael, and he does not realize it. If his kavanah, intention, would not simply be to earn a living, but to help the land be settled, so that people can be more comfortable, he would have an incredible mitzvah. Alas, his attitude circumvents him from realizing his true achievement.

Life is about little things. We do them all of the time. When we greet someone with a smile, it is an act of chesed. When we go out of our way to assist someone with a minor favor, it is an act of chesed. The way we act in our homes defines our chesed. It all depends on our attitude. We can either elevate our actions or leave them in the mindless realm of trivial activity.

May You arrange it for me this day. (24:12)

Eliezer realized that he was the beneficiary of Hashem's siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance, so he offered his gratitude. He also asked for future favors in finding a wife for Yitzchak Avinu. We note that while he thanked Hashem for the past, he kept on praying for the future. Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, explains that one should not take the future for granted just because he has benefited from siyata diShmaya in the past. There is no guarantee for the future. Prayer is an essential prerequisite for all siyata diShmaya. When one is makir tov, shows his appreciation for past favors, he should also offer his prayer for future Heavenly assistance.

Often, we become so wrapped up in the excitement of our success that we forget that, if it is to continue, we must pray for it. Rav Shlomo Zalmen explains that this is the reason that our Matriarch, Leah, ceased giving birth after Yehudah was born. She neglected to pray for the future. Children are a gift, not something to take for granted or to expect blindly. While she certainly offered her gratitude for her gift, she should have immediately entreated Hashem for her future fertility. Her preoccupation in offering gratitude for the present distracted her from petitioning for the future. This is why Eliezer prayed for continued blessing. The past notwithstanding, he now had to look forward to the future.

We take too much for granted. This is especially true when one has been the recent beneficiary of Hashem's favor. His first-hand experience in being spared from disaster can affect his judgment. He may be so excited about his good fortune that he might expect it to continue. After all, does not one miracle beget another miracle? This is a time when he offers his appreciation for the past and supplicates Hashem for continued Divine assistance. As there is no "lock" on the future, there is also no guarantee of siyata diShmaya.

Unless you go to my father's house and to my family and take a wife for my son. (24:38)

Eliezer is relating what Avraham, his master, had instructed him to do. Interestingly, he deletes Avraham Avinu's actual words. Avraham had said, "And you shall take a wife for my son, for Yitzchak." For some reason Eliezer did not repeat verbatim that Avraham had specified a wife for his son, Yitzchak. Why did he neglect to repeat Yitzchak's name? The Bais HaLevi explains that saying, "My son, Yitzchak," implies that Avraham was looking for a girl that would be appropriate for his son, a wife that would be suitable as the daughter-in-law of Avraham Avinu, as well as a wife for Yitzchak, one that was appropriate for someone of his spiritual stature.

There is a difference between these two criteria. Indeed, while Rivkah's family might be enthusiastic about sealing a match between their daughter and Avraham, they might not be as acquiescent to having Yitzchak enter the family. The actions of many people who do not value spirituality, are regrettable. They seek a distinguished mechutan, father-in-law. They would like their daughter to join into an eminent family. They do not, however, want a rav or rosh yeshivah for a son-in-law. Their daughter deserves a "better" life than to be a rebbetzin!

Many people appreciate and respect the Torah and its disseminators - from afar. They support and express their praise, as long as the Torah is ensconced somewhere else - not in their home. A talmid chacham who devotes himself to Torah study is someone to revere, someone who should serve as an example of ethicality, erudition and devoutness - but not one to take for a son-in-law. This was Eliezer's concern. If he would add "Yitzchak," thereby implying that the chassan was an individual of unique character, whose life would be devoted to expanding his knowledge of Torah, not increasing his portfolio, the shidduch might be eschewed. He, therefore, only mentioned that it was Avraham's son. After all, who would not want to be mechutanim with Avraham?

And I said to my master, "Perhaps the woman will not follow me?" (24:39)

The word, ulai, perhaps, is usually spelled with a vov. It is spelled here without the vov, so that it could easily be read as eilai, which means, "to me." The Midrash explains that the Torah is alluding to Eliezer's personal hope: He had a daughter whom he would have loved to marry off to Yitzchak Avinu. He was actually hoping that he would not find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Avraham, however, set him straight and explained, "My son is baruch, blessed. Your daughter, a descendant of Canaan who was cursed by Noach, is an arur, accursed. The accursed cannot unite with the blessed." He had put an end to Eliezer's dream. The two could never unite in matrimony.

Horav Avraham Schorr, Shlita, explains that Chazal are revealing to us the key to Eliezer's spiritual shortcoming: He was an arur. Why? Because he had negios, vested interests, and they dominated his mindset and actions. In order to be included in the baruch group, one must be willing to defer and abnegate his ani, "I." He no longer plays a role. Everything is for others. In order for Eliezer to succeed in his mission for Avraham, he had to be mevatel, nullify, his ani, totally subjugating himself to Avraham.

When Hashem called to Avraham requesting him to sacrifice Yitzchak, the Patriarch's immediate response was hineni, "Here I am." The Sefer Orah V'Simchah explains that the advantage of hineni is that one demonstrates instant preparedness and total negation of oneself. Only when one neutralizes the ani, I/himself, can he stand in total readiness to serve Hashem.

The ani plays a critical role in raising children. Often the demands we make of our children are really for ourselves. When our children look good; we look good. It is all part of the wider picture: nice house, successful business, good kids. After all is said and done, however, the only one we really care about is ani, myself. Rather than recognize that everything in life - including children - is a gift on loan, a deposit from Hashem, which He entrusts in our care, we think that it is all ours to keep and to do with whatever we want.

To serve Hashem correctly, one must divest himself of the ani. To be a proper parent, one must divest himself of the ani and think only of his child. To be a good spouse, one must divest himself of the ani. It all boils down to living for others and not for oneself. After all, why would Hashem have created us merely to live for ourselves?

"The matter stemmed from Hashem! We can say to you neither bad nor good." (24:50)

Rivkah's father, Besuel, and her brother, Lavan, expressed their realization that Hashem had been dominating the entire proceedings concerning her match to Yitzchak Avinu. They could intervene neither negatively nor positively. Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, cites Horav Yosef Pogremonski, zl, brother of Horav Mordechai Pogremonski, zl, who offers an insightful analogy to explain this. As a large locomotive speeds past us, we would never dream, even for a moment, that if we ran behind the caboose and pushed with all our strength, it would make one iota of a difference in the speed of the train. Our efforts would be meaningless, both from behind and certainly from the front, if we attempt to stop the speeding train. The gesture would be ludicrous.

This is what Lavan and Besuel said to Eliezer: our efforts concerning this match are inconsequential. It is totally in Hashem's hands. All we can do is remain on the sidelines and be spectators as the "train" goes by. This is a remarkable and penetrating lesson for life. If we would only take the time to think cogently about these words. Hashem guides the world. We can watch and, in fact, we should observe and learn from what He is doing. As the old adage goes, "If you are not going to follow, then get out of the way."

Rav Pogremonski adds that we derive another valuable lesson in human nature from this incident. Lavan and Besuel had just expressed their inability to either approve or disapprove of this match. They voiced their acquiescence that everything has been orchestrated by Hashem. Yet, we see that the very next day, they quickly shed their fa?ade of righteousness and donned their true colors. Lavan and his mother wanted Rivkah to "remain home for a little while." Besuel attempted unsuccessfully to poison Eliezer. Incredible! Last night, they were believers, and, in the course of one night, they changed their minds and reneged everything that they had said. Last night, it was, "Take and go," and today, it is "Stay a little bit." This indicates that once an individual has achieved a level of spiritual ascendancy, he should immediately concretize and strengthen his commitment. To dawdle is to challenge the ability of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, to undermine everything that he has accomplished. One either moves up or falls down. Status quo is not a viable option.

And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother; he married Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her; and, thus, Yitzchak was consoled after his mother. (24:67)

The love that Yitzchak Avinu had for his wife was one that was inspired by his appreciation of her sterling character, piety and moral rectitude. One wonders how this phenomenon occurred. Rivkah was raised in a home that represented the nadir of depravity. Her father was evil; her brother was the master of deception. She observed guile and cunning being used to cheat and steal. All of this was carried out under a veil of righteousness and morality. Lavan, her brother, redefined the concept of dishonesty. When he gave his daughter to Yaakov Avinu in marriage, he switched one daughter for another, all under the guise of a caring father who was sensitive to his daughter's feelings. He changed the terms of Yaakov's hire many times - always finding a way to justify his lies. Lavan was not born or raised in a vacuum. He had a father who must have served as a good rebbe to teach him how to raise deception to the level of an art. How did Rivkah survive in such an environment? How was she not influenced?

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, makes a noteworthy observation. Rivkah was influenced! Indeed, as a young girl, she was impressionable and probably absorbed everything that she saw. When we think about it, what did she really see? She saw a father and brother who were deceivers, but who obscured their corruption behind a mantle of innocence and probity. They were chameleons, but all she saw was their righteousness, morality and piety! It was precisely their deception that concealed the truth about them. Thus, Rivkah saw Lavan's refined and respectable surface, his external persona of integrity and trust. She thought this was her brother's essential character. How was she to know that he was a crook? She saw a kind, benevolent man, who, for all intents and purposes, was someone to respect and emulate. She was young and, as such, had no reason to dig below the surface of the fa?ade that she saw. Lavan's cunning shielded his sister from the truth. She saw good - not bad; kindness - not corruption; refinement - not vulgarity. Lavan taught her well.

And Avraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content. (25:8)

Avraham Avinu had a long and productive life. All good things, however, come to an end. While our first Patriarch's soul passed on to a better world, where it would now experience the reward for a life lived well, those who remained were left bereft of their mentor, leader and life's guide. In the Talmud Bava Basra 91, Chazal relate the eulogy that was expressed by the gedolei olam, leaders of the world, as their great leader had passed on to eternal life. They mourned, "Woe is to the world that lost its leader, and woe is to the ship that has lost its captain!"

These are words that are often echoed by maspidim, various eulogizers, upon expressing their sorrow and concern at the passing of a gadol, Torah leader. What is the underlying meaning of this statement, and what is its relationship to the passing of a gadol? In his hesped, eulogy, for the Steipler Rav, zl, Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, gave the following explanation:

When a king dies, the country either follows a line of succession or crowns a new king. In any event, someone is available to assume the previous king's position, so that the country will not remain leaderless. In the event a captain of a ship passes away while the ship is voyaging on the high seas, it creates a much greater and more serious problem. There is no one to assume leadership while the ship is floundering in the sea. There is no way to locate a new captain in the middle of the ocean. This is the approach that David Hamelech took when he eulogized Yonasan. David lamented, "How did the mighty fall?" He then added, "How did the mighty fall during the war?" He supplemented his eulogy, "How did the mighty fall, and the weapons were lost?"

When a general dies, it is a great loss; a vacuum is created in the army's leadership. If the general dies during times of peace, we search for a replacement and give him time to establish himself in the position of leadership. During a war, when the missiles are flying and there is danger all around, when every minute counts and every decision is of crucial importance, the general's passing is of greater significance. It is difficult to replace him at this critical juncture. Yet, if the army has sophisticated weaponry, then, at least, the soldiers are not completely at a loss. They know how to use the available weapons, so that they might continue to fight. If, however, the general dies and access to the weapons is suddenly cut off, the tragedy has greater and more serious ramifications. The army now has no leadership and no weapons with which to wage war.

This is the meaning of "woe to the ship that has lost its captain." When a ship's captain dies during its journey on the seas, there is no one to replace him. There is no one who is proficient in the multitude of switches and dials for maintaining the ship's course, so that it may continue its safe passage.

"Klal Yisrael is in the midst of a raging war between the spiritual and the physical/material dimensions," Rav Galinsky cried. "We have lost our captain. The Steipler led us for so many years, as he guided us through the treacherous seas. What will we do now?"

Va'ani Tefillah

Melech mehullal ba'tishbachos - a king extolled in praises.

Hallel, to extol, and shevach, to praise, are different forms of adoration. If so, why do we conclude the blessing with mehullal ba'tishbachos, which integrates hallel with shevach? It should have been either mehullal ba'tehillos, or meshubach ba'tishbachos? The Baal Hakesav V'Hakaballah explains that shevach is a reflection of one's inner recognition, his profound, well-thought-out understanding and appreciation of the subject. Hallel is an external expression of praise that does not necessarily manifest an intrinsic appreciation of the subject. Often, when we praise a human being, it is nothing more than a superficial commendation which quite possibly is much more elaborate than our inherent regard for that person. In other words, when we praise a human being, the hallel and the shevach do not necessarily coincide. When we praise Hashem, however, the outward praise, the hallel, is never greater than His real esteem, because His true shevach, the intrinsic praise, is much greater than anything we can possibly express. Thus, we say mehullal ba'tishbachos, implying that our internal vision is in accord with what we superficially express, because we can never fully comprehend Hashem's true praise.

Sponsored in loving memory
of our Mother and Grandmother
Celia Schlesinger
Tzirel bas Mendel a"h
niftara 21 Cheshvan 5765
You are forever missed.

Richard and Barbara Schlesinger
and Family

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

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel