Starting point: The Dedication of a Messenger

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PARASHA : Chayei Sara

Date :27 Cheshvan 5763, 2/11/2002

“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)

Dedicated to the loving memory of Avi Mori

Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l

Please respect the Holiness of these pages

These pages are also sent out weekly via the internet in MS Word format. Anyone interested in receiving them, please feel feee to contact me at the following email address: - Arieh.



Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel

STARTING POINT: The Dedication of a Messenger

by Rabbi Amnon Bazak

The Torah describes at great length the journey of Avraham's servant to Aram Naharayim to find a wife for Yitzchak, his master's son. This is one of the longest passages in the Torah, and many items are repeated. Thus, it is a surprise to find that the Torah conceals the name of one of the most important figures in the story, the trusted slave. Dozens of people about whom we know next to nothing are mentioned by name in Bereishit, whether they belong to our nation or not (for example: Enosh, Keinan, and Yered, and on to Re'u and Sarug, and Yemuel, Yamin, and Ohad). It seems curious indeed that the name of the central figure of such a long story is not given.

In addition, as is well known, the sages identified the slave as Eliezer (see Yoma 28b, and other sources). There are many cases where the sages identify anonymous figures in the Tanach. For example, in Bereishit, we are told that "the survivor" of the war in Sedom [14:13] was Og, King of Bashan, and that the man "who found" Yosef [37:15] was the angel Gavriel. But in this case, the choice of Eliezer is very logical and straightforward, for Avraham himself had already said, "the keeper of my house is Eliezer, from Damascus" [15:2], while the story begins with Avraham turning to "his slave, the elder of his house, who controlled everything he had" [24:2]. The question becomes stronger still: Why didn't the Torah mention Eliezer's name?

Anybody reading the passage cannot help from being impressed, and even from inspired, by the great dedication that Eliezer showed to his mission. Let us remember that from the above quote it seems clear that for years Eliezer was considered the almost definite candidate to inherit all that Avraham had. But Yitzchak's birth destroyed this dream. One might have expected Eliezer to be upset with Yitzchak, and possibly even to hate him.

However, Eliezer does not let his personal feelings interfere. Just the opposite is true. He is totally infused with the sincere desire to fulfill his mission in the best way possible. Because of his empathy with the practices he saw in his master's house, he even adds a new element, one that he was not told to do - a test of the prospective bride's manners. We are just as excited as he to discover that the girl he found is none other than a daughter of Nachor, and this brings him to burst out in praise of G-d, who did not abandon His kindness to his master. Even when the weary slave arrives in the house and is offered food, he refrains: "I will not eat until I have spoken" [24:33]. And he begins to talk by saying, "I am Avraham's slave" [24:34].

When he returns, Rivka asks the identity of the man they see in the field, and he defines Yitzchak too - for the first time - as "my master" [24:65]. Until then he had consistently called him, "my master's son." Eliezer is willing to continue his loyalty in his relations with the younger generation.

This high level of dedication is emphasized by the Torah by omitting the name of the servant. It is as if to say that he fulfilled his mission with perfect loyalty, with no hint of any personal involvement. This will be a source of inspiration for future generations of public servants and messengers of all kinds, to learn how to fulfill a mission faithfully.

SERMON OF THE WEEK: Chevron, Then and Forever

by Rabbi Baruch Palsko, Head of the "Torah Mitzion" Kollel, Montreal

The Torah dedicates an entire passage to Avraham's purchase of the Machpela Cave. Yaacov repeats the story of the purchase in the Torah portion of Vayechi. Why is this series of events so important? This question is especially strong in view of the words of the sages, that "the name Chet is mentioned ten times, the same as the number of the Ten Commandments. This teaches us that whoever elucidates the purchase by that righteous man can be compared to one who observes the Ten Commandments." In what way can the purchase of the cave be considered as important as the Ten Commandments?

In the Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi criticizes people who pay more attention to the holiness of Eretz Yisrael at a time of death than when they were alive. According to Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, the Torah wants to tell us "how important Eretz Yisrael is, both for the living and for the dead." The Ramban has a different approach. He feels that the Torah wants to emphasize the kindness that G-d performed for Avraham. Even here, far away from where he was born, alone in the land, G-d is careful to fulfill His promise to Avraham, "I will make your name great" [Bereishit 12:2].

It may be that this is related to a sharp debate about the sanctity of the promised land. According to the "Meshech Chochma," the holiness of the land depends only on the actions of Bnei Yisrael, and any claim that there is an inherent holiness to the land can be compared to idol worship. Other commentators insist that the holiness of the land does not depend on the actions of Bnei Yisrael but rather that it is an element of the creation by the Almighty. One such commentator is Ibn Ezra. He considers the land to indeed have be inherently holy, and he therefore praises it even for burial of the dead, in spite of the fact that their actions can no longer have any effect on it. The Ramban feels that the merits of the land are given by the Almighty only to those who have shown they deserve them, by performing holy acts.

The Ramban also mentions a third approach. The Torah told us where our forefathers were buried so that we would be obliged to visit the sites of their graves and pay them our respects. Chevron is not only a significant historical site, it is a living city, both in the present and for the future. It is therefore necessary for us to take care of the city, to continue to build there, and to honor it.

Let us pray that we will all have the privilege, as messengers of our forefathers, to fulfill the words of the Ramban: To return to our holy land, to take part in the rebuilding, and to renew the glory of olden days. Just now, as I write this in the exile of Montreal, we can feel the great distance from Chevron, the city of the forefathers. "Then and Forever."

POINT OF VIEW: "With Everything, from Everything, Everything"

by Prof. Shalom Rozenberg

In the traditions of Jewish commentary, one can sometimes find something that is reminiscent of musical variations. Just as in the Goldberg variations by Bach, the main theme is repeated with small modifications each time, leading to a complete work of music. One example of such an approach is related to the verse in this week's Torah portion, "And G-d blessed Avraham with everything" [Bereishit 24:1]. What is the meaning of the word "bakol," with everything?

Ibn Ezra explains that it means "a long life, wealth and honor, and sons." This is certainly a straightforward interpretation, but it is trivial, and the information was known to us before this. In the Tosefta of Kidushin (5:14), there is a variation on the theme. Avraham had a son, but what about a daughter? And indeed, Rabbi Yehuda says that "everything" means he had a daughter. This is related to the feeling of every father that he is missing something of great significance of he does not have a daughter (please, all you psychologists, spare us any comments about an Oedipus complex). On the other hand, Rabbi Meir surprises us by saying, "This means that he did not have a daughter." This paradoxical opinion was explained in a wonderful way by the Ramban. Just suppose that Avraham had a daughter, who was then kidnapped by a cursed Taliban gang. It was a kindness to Avraham that he did not have a daughter, who might be a victim of such cruel evil. Perhaps it is in this context that the Tosefta adds a political interpretation: "This means that Yishmael repented during his lifetime." In the end, Avraham and his two sons joined together for prayer.

Another variation on the theme is connected to the above commentaries. "Others say, Avraham had a daughter, and her name was 'Bakol.'" Ibn Ezra, the expert on straightforward interpretations, criticizes this with light irony. "With respect to the comment that his daughter's name was Bakol, another 'beit' must be added before the name." That is, if her name was indeed Bakol, the verse should read "with Bakol," not "with kol, everything." To this day I can recall the comment by my wonderful late teacher, Prof. Shoshani: this is a case of reverse irony. The sages knew the language very well, and they purposely left a "grammatical error," to show that it is not easy to understand the verse. My teacher maintained that a question such as this is an entrance pass to the halls of knowledge. The Zohar taught us that "rough edges" in the text are not a mistake but a clue leading to deeper insight. My teacher did not tell me the details of the secret, so it will suffice to use the words of the Ramban, who identifies "Bakol" with the "Sphere of Royalty" in Kaballa, which is derived from Chessed, kindness, the trait of Avraham.

The next variation is something I heard from the late Dr. Yehuda Moriel, and I don't know if it was his novel interpretation or not. The word "bakol" is joined by two similar words (in the blessing after a meal): "Just as our fathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov were blessed, with everything, from everything, and everything." This echoes the words of the sages: "We have been taught, three people were given a taste of the world to come in this world. They are Avraham, about whom it is written 'bakol,' Yitzchak, about whom it is written, 'mikol,', and Yaacov, about whom it is written, 'kol.'" [Bava Batra 16b]. To understand the "kol" of Yaacov, we can turn to the dialogue between Esav and Yaacov, related to Yaacov's gift to his brother. Esav refuses to take the gift. "My brother, I have very much" [Bereishit 33:9]. But Yaacov insists, "Please take my gift... I have everything." [33:11]. In front of our eyes, we can see the struggle between Esav's "very much" and Yaacov's "everything." "Very much" is related to possessions, where the quantity is most important. "Everything" represents completeness, what G-d gave to Avraham: "And G-d blessed Avraham with everything." Possessions can be divided, "To the children of the concubines... Avraham gave gifts" [25:6]. However, "everything" was given to Yitzchak, "And Avraham gave everything he had to Yitzchak" [25:5]. And who inherited this? When Yitzchak discovered the mistaken blessing that he gave to Yaacov, he was shocked, "Who was it that hunted food and brought it to me, and I ate from everything?" [27:33]. In the meeting with Yaacov, he felt the influence of "everything," which he had inherited from Avraham, and he could therefore say, "He will indeed be blessed" [27:33].

This, then, is the meaning of the triple phrase, "with everything, from everything, and everything." Man, especially in the postmodern era, is able to understand the concept of "very much," but he has trouble with the concept of "everything." "Everything" is what is felt by someone who eats his bread by the sweat of his brow, and does not receive it from charity. It is the joy of a mother who overcomes the pain of childbirth. This is the difference between a lust for love, and the pleasure of happiness. "Let G-d bless us all together with a complete blessing" [from the Grace after Meals].

THE WAYS OF THE FATHERS (Pirkei Avot): The First Mishna

by Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv

The beginning of the Mishna is an introduction to the tractate, describing how the Torah developed, from Moshe to the Anshei Knesset Hagedola. It ends with quotes from their sayings. It will certainly be interesting to look for a link between these two elements, but first it is best to look at each one separately.

"Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, and transferred it to Yehoshua, who passed it on to the elders..." In looking at a chain, made up from one link after another, the usual wish is to have all the links the same. While this seems to be true for most of the links in this case, the first is different from those that follow it. The first link in the chain is described as having "received" the Torah, while the others "pass it on" from one to the next. To be consistent, it might have been more appropriate to begin with a phrase like, "G-d gave the Torah to Moshe."

Perhaps the change in style is intentional, in order to show that the first link was indeed different and possibly should not be considered as part of the chain at all. That is, the giving of the Torah is not on the same level as the subsequent transfer from one person to another. As one generation teaches the next, there is no revolution or clear break with the past. This is completely different from the first "link," when the Torah was handed over from the heaven.

It may be that this also explains why the Mishna tells us that Moshe received the Torah not from G-d but from Sinai. G-d can simply not be discussed in terms similar to the way the sages communicated with each other. Perhaps if it were written that G-d gave the Torah to Moshe, it could have been interpreted to mean that the entire Torah had been given to him, and from this point on the transfer is strictly an earthly matter, with the master transferring it physically to his disciples. But this is not true; even though Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, it still remains in heaven, and the Almighty continues to give it to the people that are found worthy of it. One who studies Torah is inspired by two sources: not only what has been passed on from previous generations but also from a Divine source, which continues to provide the Torah to us. For this reason, the blessing before Torah study is in the present tense, "You are blessed, G-d, who gives the Torah... G-d, who teaches Torah to His nation, Yisrael." He who gives, He who teaches, both in present tense. Perhaps this is the meaning of what we are taught by Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, "Every day a voice comes from Mount Sinai, declaring, woe to the creatures because of the insult of Torah" [Avot 6:2]. In some ways, the Torah is still waiting at Sinai, and it is an insult when people do not come to partake of it.

Thus, it follows that the individual sayings of the rabbis quoted in Pirkei Avot are innovations, additions to what they received from their teachers.

TORAH, SOCIETY, AND GOVERNMENT: The Independence of a Lawyer and of a Messenger

by Rabbi Uri Dasberg

When Avraham's servant meets some degree of opposition from Rivka's family, his reaction is: "If you refuse, tell me, and I will turn to the right or to the left" [Bereishit 24:49]. Was he right to say this, in view of the fact that Avraham had specifically told him to "take a wife for my son from there" [24:7]?

In a discussion between a married couple who were attempting to maintain a peaceful relationship, the lawyer representing the husband claimed that a sum of money that on first glance belonged to both man and wife had really come from the wife's parents, and should be returned to them. Later on, after the couple had come to the conclusion that they wanted a divorce, the wife said that she would have to return the money to her parents. The husband, on the other hand, claimed that he was not bound by his lawyer's comment, and that in fact the sum of money did not belong to his wife's parents at all.

The husband's claim was refused by the court, since he had not objected when the lawyer first mentioned the source of the money. And there is a halachic principle that silence can be interpreted as acceptance of a statement. This principle is valid not only for statements by antagonists in court but also for statements made by a third party in the courtroom. Only if a statement was greeted with silence outside a courtroom can someone claim "I was joking with you," and we can believe him that his silence is not a proof of agreement.

In this specific instance, another factor damaged the case of the husband, who might otherwise have claimed that he did not hear the lawyer and that his words were not recorded in the protocol. His problem is that he appointed the lawyer to act on his behalf. While in general it is possible to refuse to accept the actions of a messenger, since "I sent you to improve the situation and not to cause harm," the case of a lawyer is different. With a lawyer, a client signs an explicit agreement that gives him permission to make claims on his behalf and to arrive at a compromise. This means that the lawyer can waive money that the client might have otherwise won in court. This case can be compared to a person who declares, "I will accept my father as a judge or as a witness," even though in general a relative cannot serve in this role. The same is true for a claim that has now become inconvenient for the client. The husband in our case cannot revoke the appointment of the lawyer retroactively, as of the time he first spoke, since he appointed him in the first place at court.

Reference: Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, "Techumin," volume 21, pages 413-421.

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Starting point: The Dedication of a Messenger iconThis checklist provides you with a good starting point for your dissertation project. Filling in all of the sentences will help you to write a dissertation

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