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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Sarah died in Kiryas Arba, which his Chevron in the land of Canaan. And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her. Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead… Grant me an estate for a burial site with you, that I may bury my dead from before me. (23:1, 2, 3)

These pesukim seem to tell a simple story. Sarah Imeinu had died. Avraham Avinu mourned her passing. He sought out a burial place, which was the Meoras Ha'Machpeilah. It seems innocuous, no hidden secrets. When one peruses the commentators who focus on the esoteric interpretation of the events, however, the story comes alive. Indeed, it is anything but simple. In his inimitable manner, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, takes us on a journey, viewing the course of events through the lens of Kabbalah. He cites Horav Yehonasan Eybeshutz, zl, in his Tiferes Yehonasan, who posits that the Meoras Ha'Machpeilah was the resting place for those tzaddikim, righteous people, whose deaths were induced by a kiss from Hashem, meesas neshikah, as opposed to being struck by the Malach Ha'Maves, Angel of Death. The fact that Avraham sought to bury Sarah in the Meoras Ha'Machpeilah is an indication that he was well aware that Sarah had died a meesas neshikah. How did he know this?

Rav Yehonasan quotes the Talmud in Avodah Zarah 20b where it states, "They said, regarding the Angel of Death, that he is 'full of eyes.' At the moment of the death of a person who is ill, the Angel of Death stands in the air, above his head, and his sword is unsheathed in his hand, with a drop of poison suspended from its tip. As soon as the person notices the Angel of Death, he shudders and opens his mouth. The Angel of Death throws the drop of poison into his mouth. From this drop the person dies; his body rots; his face turns sallow." Although this passage of Talmud clearly must be explained, this paper cannot provide the forum for this endeavor. The Yaaros Devash explains the concept of "full of eyes" in the following manner: When a person sins, he creates a prosecuting angel who observed his act of indiscretion. When a person is at the threshold of death, these angels - the "eyes" who observed his transgressions - exact retribution from him. Thus, the Angel of Death is "full of eyes."

Based on this Chazal, Rav Yehonasan suggests that Avraham took one look at Sarah's countenance in death and observed that her face had not turned sallow. She was the picture of health; her face was illuminated as usual. Immediately, he understood that Sarah's death had been unique. It was meesas neshikah. This is what is meant by the pasuk, "And Avraham rose up from the presence (face) of his dead." He gazed at her face and knew that the Malach Ha'Maves had had no power over her. Thereupon, he went to Bnei Cheis and sought to have Sarah buried in the Meoras HaMachpeilah. She was worthy of entering into this holy place.

Rav Friedman quotes the Zohar HaChadash which interprets the pasuk, Va'tamas Sarah b'Kiryas Arba, "And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba," to mean that Sarah did not die as a result of the (sin catalyzed by the primordial) serpent (which is the cause of death), but rather, her neshamah left her as she uttered four words (Kiryas/krias - Arba). This refers to the four seminal words of Krias Shema - Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad - "Hashem (is) our G-d, Hashem (is) One." The pasuk concludes, hee Chevron b'eretz Canaan, "it is Chevron in the land of Canaan." The word Chevron may be derived from chibur, to connect. As a result of these four words, Sarah "connected" with Hashem, as her soul left her and became one with the Almighty.

This is the idea, explains Rav Friedman, for the manner in which Avraham grieved for Sarah. The Baal HaTurim expounds on the diminutive chof in the v'livkosa, "and to bewail her." He explains that Avraham held back on the mourning aspect of Sarah's passing because, after all, she had achieved remarkable longevity. To the above, however, can be added that Avraham did not bewail Sarah excessively, because it was not appropriate. Chazal teach that one of the primary reasons for weeping is for the deceased, who had been unable to complete his mission in life. Sarah Imeinu, however, who died as a result of neshikah, surely completed her mission, her lifelong series of service to Hashem. Thus, Avraham "eulogized her" (lispod l'Sarah), reflecting on the irreparable loss to the generation of an individual of her saintly caliber. In contrast, the personal grief, the idea that Sarah had died before her mission had been accomplished, Avraham held back. Concerning Sarah he could say, "mission accomplished."

The sequence of pesukim, which was our original question, is hereby elucidated. Sarah Imeinu died in Kiryas Arba, which means that the Matriarch eluded the serpent's hold on humankind. She left this world with mesiras nefesh, sacrificing her life for Hashem, with the four words - Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad. As a result, when Avraham came to eulogize and bewail Sarah, he did not weep excessively, realizing that Sarah had not succumbed to the primordial serpent as the catalyst for humanity's death sentence. This was supported by Sarah's countenance in death, which Avraham noted was unlike that of any other human being. Her visage had not turned sallow. With this knowledge in hand, Avraham turned to Bnei Cheis to have Sarah buried in the Meoras HaMachpeilah.

In an addendum to the above, the Panim Yafos explains that the poison which is at the tip of the Angel of Death's sword is actually comprised of three drops. Chazal allude to this when they detail the three consequences of this poison: the individual dies; the body rots; the face turns sallow. These three drops of poison are generated by the person himself through his pursuit of the three middos raos, negative character traits, which, Chazal say, motziin ha'adam min ha'olam, "take a person out of the world." Simply, this Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:28) exhorts us to distance ourselves from the deleterious effects of kinaah, envy; taavah, desire/lust; kavod, honor. The word motziin, however, seems to imply that it is specifically these three traits that actually take the person out of the world. How?

Now that we consider the composite of the three drops of poison that take a person's life, we understand how these negative character traits actually catalyze a person's death. They are the poison. Rav Friedman adds that the effect of each individual poison coincides with its source. Kinaah, envy - an individual in a group often becomes envious of the other, their successes, their achievements, their fame and glory. The poison resulting from envy is what kills the person, severing his relationship with others. Taavah - desire, for food and drink, the temporal things in life that soon rot is ameliorated when the poison created by this taavah causes his body to rot. Kavod, honor, is something which one pursues, so that others will look to him with reverence. Thus, the poison generated by one's pursuit of honor causes his face to turn sallow. No one will be interested in looking at him now.

And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. (23:2)

In his Sefer Chareidim, Horav Elazar Azkari, zl, writes, "It is a mitzvah to eulogize an adam kasher, a proper, upright man, as it is written, 'And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.'" This is part of gemilas chassadim, acts of loving-kindness. While it is the correct and proper thing to do, the sequence of events in the parashah seems out of order. One would think that the first reaction to hearing the news of someone's sudden passing would be weeping. Only later, after the emotion of the day has settled, does the mourner begin with eulogy, which appears to be an intellectual appreciation of the deceased. Avraham Avinu did the opposite, first eulogizing Sarah Imeinu, and only afterwards did he cry.

Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, explains this practically. People respond to death with immediate weeping, because it is the natural reaction to the loss of a loved one - regardless of the individual's stature, pedigree, achievement, etc. Later, after the grieving is subdued, one begins to formulate an appreciation of the deceased, his or her distinct individuality. Personal loss precedes public loss; thus, weeping precedes eulogy.

In Sarah's case, as well as in the case of a world leader, one whose impact on the klal, community, is profound, the sequence is different. Avraham Avinu was acutely aware that Sarah's passing was not just a personal loss. It was a world tragedy. She impacted humanity. Her passing was felt by every living soul with whom she had come in contact and by all of those others who had lost out on this singular opportunity. Avraham's tears for his personal loss had to be choked back in order to allow for the communal expression over their collective loss.

Perhaps, we might offer another insight into the change in sequence that appears in the pasuk. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, wonders why the Torah repeats Sarah's name. "And Sarah died; and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her." Clearly, he was eulogizing Sarah. After all, she was the one who had died! Rav Shach explains that, given Avraham's world position, understandably the most distinguished members of that generation came to eulogize her out of respect to Avraham - the gadol ha'dor, preeminent leader of the generation. Their words reflected Sarah's distinction because of - and in relation to - her esteemed husband. They lauded the support she gave him, her constant encouragement, her readiness always to be present for him. The eulogies were impressive, but, regrettably, they all addressed Sarah as Avraham's wife. She was secondary to him. Her own personal distinction, her myriad acts of chesed, her supremacy in nevuah, prophecy, were not addressed. This is why Avraham made a point to eulogize "Sarah," the woman, the individual, the mother, the matriarch. This is why the Torah emphasizes the name, "Sarah."

This might be why Avraham first eulogized Sarah before expressing his personal grief. He needed to set the record straight, notifying everyone that Sarah was a giant in her own right, that his spiritual level was overshadowed by hers. Then he allowed his personal grief to set in. He now could weep over his personal loss.

Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead. (23:3)

Horav Yechezkel Rabinowitz, zl, author of the Knesses Yechezkel and Admor of Radomsk, explains this pasuk homiletically. He cites the Talmudic dictum in Meseches Shabbos 153a, and Pirkei Avos 2:15, "Repent one day before you die." The Talmud poses the question of whether one knows when he will die: "Therefore, one should repent daily, since he never knows if he will be around the next day. This will generate an entire life filled with teshuvah." The Radomsker remarked that this is how a Jew should live: Today is the last day of my life. I was allowed to live today, so that I can leave this world spiritually correct, having repented any indiscretions.

This is the pasuk's message. "Avrohom rose up," every aspect of the Patriarch's life which represented a spiritual "rise," advance/progress, was predicated upon the notion that it was "from the presence of his dead." Avraham Avinu's mortality was a constant presence in his mind. He never forgot for one moment that "today" could be the last day of his life. "Tomorrow" could have him standing before the Heavenly Tribunal. The Patriarch never lost sight of man's ultimate end. I must add: He neither lived negatively, nor was he a fatalist. He was a realist. Our mortality is quite real.

The Radomsker lived his life this way. Even in his youth, he never for one moment lost sight of this verity. Every day had the specter of death looming over it. He left this world on Shabbos Parashas Chayei Sarah (1911). That Friday night, he sang Eishes Chayil, "Woman of Valor," with great intensity and fervor, repeating the phrase, Va'tischak l'yom acharon, "She joyfully awaited the last day," many times - until he left this world - with those words on his lips. He died in as much the same manner that he lived - at peace with himself, because he never lost sight of the yom acharon.

Chazal cite Shlomo HaMelech's exhortation in Koheles 8:9, "Let your garments always be white," as an allegorical message that one should always be in a state of spiritual preparedness. They present a parable of a woman who dressed up in her most impressive finery, as she was anticipating her husband's arrival from sea. When asked why she was doing it now, when, in fact, her husband was not yet due home, she replied that the ship might pick up a strong headwind, causing it to arrive in port earlier than expected. She wanted to be ready for her husband's arrival.

Our Sages enjoin us to be ever vigilant of "today" - never knowing what tomorrow will bring - or if it will, in fact, arrive. While Chazal are addressing the need to be in spiritual readiness, I think this idea may be applied to the mundane areas of life and the relationships we have. Whether it be our relationship with our spouse, our children, our parents, our associates and friends, if we were to stop momentarily and think, "What if today is the last day of my life? What if today is the last day of their lives? Is this the way I want to be remembered? Is it worth having the "last" word - when it might really be the last word?" If we would approach life with this attitude, the various issues that cause tension in our lives would be quickly ameliorated

That you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites. (24:3)

Avraham Avinu was adamant: Yitzchak was not to marry a girl from his Canaanite neighbors. Eliezer, Avraham's student, must go to Aram Naharaim to find Yitzchak's bashert, Heavenly-designated spouse. These two places had one thing in common. The people worshipped pagans. Avodah zarah, idol worship, was a way of life in both places. What did Avraham gain by going elsewhere? At least, if Yitzchak's wife were to come from Canaan, Avraham would be acquainted with the family. Kli Yakar focuses on this question and presents us with an important explanation. He explains that there is another fear, something which concerned Avraham. The nature of parents is usually transmitted to their children. Some more - some less - but certain character traits are retained. If the parents had them, there is a strong likelihood that these character traits will be prevalent in their children. This is true, however, only of those traits that are physical. For instance, if the father is an individual who is a glutton, morally deviate, envious, quick to anger, such behavior will be perpetuated by his offspring. Idol worship is a cerebral issue, dependent on a person's mind, his way of thinking, his intellect. An intellectual approach to life does not necessarily carry over from parent to child.

There are three partners in the creation of man: father, mother and Hashem. The physical aspects of the person are inherited from parents. The ability to think, believe, postulate, form an opinion - all matters of the intellect - are from Hashem. Emunah, faith, in Hashem is a function of the mind. Hashem grants each of us a neshamah, soul, and the ability to contemplate, muse, rationalize - all functions of the mind. This is not passed on from parent to offspring.

This is why our Patriarch, Avraham, distanced himself from the Canaanim, who were morally corrupt and sinful. Idol worship, which was prevalent in Aram Naharaim, was sinful behavior, but it was of an intellectual nature. Just because the parents were idolaters was not an indication that the children would follow suit.

We now understand why Avraham sought a young woman whose middos, character traits, were impeccable. Intellectual deviation is the result of middos raos, negative character traits. One who does not believe does not want to believe. He is arrogant, weak and insecure, character traits that are the antithesis of trust. Avraham knew that if he would discover a girl whose middos were exemplary, she would make the perfect life's partner for Yitzchak. Her positive middos would not allow her mind to become poisoned. It all depends on what one practices. Indeed, the Minchas Chinuch (15) writes that a wicked person who performs mitzvos all day - even though he does not perform them out of a sense of conviction - will eventually be chozeir b'teshuvah, repent and return to Hashem. In contrast, one who is a tzadik, righteous person, yet becomes accustomed to middos raos, negative character traits, will regrettably discontinue his righteous practice and become a rasha, evil.

The significance of maintaining positive character traits cannot be emphasized enough. Two bachurim, potential students, presented themselves before the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg, which at the time was the preeminent yeshivah in Hungary. This took place immediately after the Yom Tov of Succos. These two bachurim were different from one another. One possessed a brilliant mind, with an ability to grasp and analyze the material that was quite admirable. The other bachur was a fine, young man who applied himself diligently to his studies. Acumen, however, was not something with which he had been abundantly blessed. Both were fine students, each in his own, individual manner. Yet, the Chasam Sofer accepted only one - the one whose aptitude was lacking. When queried concerning his decision, the Chasam Sofer explained, "When the bachurim came to the Yeshivah, it was immediately after Succos. Some of the leaves that had served as s'chach, covering on the Succah, had fallen to the ground. I noticed that the bright young man, whose brilliance should have been his key to the Yeshivah, had no problem stepping on the leaves that had once been part of a mitzvah. The other student, although weaker, pushed the leaves aside and walked around them. He would not step on an object that had, until recently, been a vital component in a mitzvah. I am not interested in accepting a student in my yeshivah who is not sensitive to the enduring sanctity of mitzvos.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates how a distinguished Bnei Brak family inculcated their children with positive character traits. Every Friday night, following the Shabbos meal, the children would gather at the table for Oneg Shabbos during which they would partake of some sweets, amid conversation and story-telling. During these sessions, every child was to relate a laudable action which had occurred in the home. The children basically stopped their rivalry. There was no discord, no fights; everyone got along. If each one was to relate a positive episode about his or her sibling, they were always on the lookout for good things, positive activity - not what is the norm in our contentiously-oriented society. This practice spread, altering the children's outlook on all people. They were always looking for something good to say about them.

Indeed, positive character traits and the performance of good deeds are what truly define a person. At the end of the day, one's actions speak loudest. Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, Rav of Vilna, came to visit Horav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, zl, Rav of Lodz. Rav Chaim Ozer did not come empty-handed. He brought as a gift his brilliant sefer, Achiezer. The Rav of Lodz was very grateful and expressed his gratitude profoundly.

Rav Chaim Ozer asked, "When will his honor publish his sefer?"

Rav Eliyahu Chaim replied, "Oh, but I do have a sefer.

"I was unaware," countered Rav Chaim Ozer. "May I see it?" he asked.

"Sure," replied Rav Eliyahu Chaim. "Come with me." The Lodzer Rav brought him over to a desk, opened the drawer, and showed him letters of credit, wherein he had undertaken to support a number of widows, orphans, and Torah scholars who were without ample means. "This is my sefer! Zeh sefer toldos Adam, "'This is the account (book) of the descendants /generations of man" (Bereishis 5:1)/ A person's good deeds are his sefer. I am too busy with this sefer to author my novellae."

Rav Chaim Ozer did not respond. A number of years later, when he was at death's door, he intimated to Horav Yosef Mishkovsky, zl, that he now understands the profound words of the Lodzer Rav. The real "book" of man is comprised of his good deeds and character traits. This is what he brings with him to his eternal resting place.

And she said to the slave, "Who is that man?"… And the slave said, "He is my master." She then took the veil and covered herself. (24:65)

Rashi explains that the word va'tiskas, "and she covered herself," is the hispael form of the word kasoh, to cover. It is, thus, reflexive, indicating the future, third person, feminine. The word therefore means, "and she covered herself," with the object stated in the word itself. This is as if it were to read, va'techas es atzmah. Rashi compares it to two other words: va'tikaver, "and she was buried," (ibid 35:8) a reference to Devorah, Rivkah Imeinu's nursemaid; and va'tishaver, "and it was broken," in Shmuel I 4:18. While these two are not in the hispael tense, they are all passive verbs, indicating that it occurred to the individual. It was not an active motion. The commentators wonder why Rashi specifically chose these two examples of passive action.

The minhag, custom, at weddings under Chassidic auspices, is to have someone - usually employing gramman, rhyme - to give mussar, reproof and introspection, to the chassan, shortly before the chuppah. Horav Avraham Yaakov, zl, the first Admor of Sadigur, told his son, who later became the Pachad Yitzchak, zl, of Boyan, the following words of introspection before his chuppah: "Your future father-in-law, Horav Aharon, zl, m'Karlin, wonders why we do not have the custom to sing mussar/grammin to the chassan before his chupah. Let me explain: When Rivkah Imeinu saw Yitzchak Avinu for the first time, the Torah says that she reacted reflexively, covering her face with her veil. Rashi cites two other places where the word reflects a passive verb occurring to the individual such as, va'tikaver and va'tishaver. Why did Rashi choose these words? Are there no other examples in Tanach?

"Let me explain. There are three moments in a person's life during which a tumult/commotion is made concerning him. At birth, at death, and when he marries. The two extremes - birth and death - are moments when he is the center of attention, but he is unaware. He knows nothing; thus, he cannot feel any emotion that might turn his head. It is only at one's wedding when a person might become haughty, with all the attention being paid to him that he is aware. This is Rashi's message: When a person achieves the moment of matrimony, his reaction should be passive as we find by va'tikaver - and she was buried, a reference to death; va'tishaver, and it was broken, a reference to birth, since a mashber is a birthing stool, a word related to va'tishaver. Rashi's message should sufficiently impact the chassan. While this all may be about him, it should not go to his head. He should act like a spectator."

Va'ani Tefillah

Malah ha'aretz kinyanecha. The earth is filled with Your possessions.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that the word kinyanecha has a deeper meaning. In Jewish law, a kinyan is an act of acquisition. When one acquires an object, he must execute a kinyan as proof of possession. Thus, kinyanecha should be translated as: "The earth is filled with proofs of Your possession." When a non-believer (if such a creature exists) studies nature, he looks for every excuse to deny Hashem's existence. The "Big-Bang" theory - which is the parent of all the "accidents," "coincidences," and "random occurrences" of nature - is his way of explaining the origin of the world's existence. The believer, of course, sees Hashem in every blade of grass. Malah ha'aretz kinyanecha, "The entire earth is filled with Your proofs of possession." We sense Hashem's ownership wherever we look.

Rav Schwab relates that, upon flying in a jet plane over the clouds for the very first time, he was amazed at the clear beauty of Creation. When he davened and came to these words, he was very emotional. Relating this to Rav Yosef Breuer, zl, he emphasized the tremendous boost in kavanah, concentration, and awareness he had at that moment. Rav Breuer replied, "I have this same feeling when I look at a simple daisy." We must see Hashem in all of His creations.

Rav Schwab quotes Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, who said that as one is impressed by a loud thunderclap, so, too, should he be awe-inspired upon drinking a glass of water. The creation of water is just as much the result of Hashem's power as the thunderclap.

I had the opportunity this year to speak at the birthday party of a friend who had just turned 95 years old. I explained that it is no different for Hashem to make a 95 year old age than it is for Him to continue the life of a child. We are all proofs of His possession.

In memory of
Rabbi Justin Hofmann
Harav Yekusiel ben Yosef z"l
Beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather
niftar 25 Cheshvan 5770
Sophie Hofmann and family

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