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Chayei Sarah
Divrei Torah Parshas Chayei Sarah

B”H
Parshas Chayei Sarah 5773: Conquering the Yetzer Hara Through Torah Study
The pasuk in this week’s Parsha says [1] ואברהם זקן בא בימים וה’ ברך
את אברהם בכל – And Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything. What is the purpose of the double wording of aged and well on in years? If Avraham was old he was clearly well on in years. Why does the pasuk use the expression “ba bayamim – came with his days” to tell us he was elderly? Is it not more appropriate to use the words “yatza min hayamim – his days have departed”? Reb Ahron of Karlin II [2] explains the verse, “he was old uba bayamim and he came with all of his days”. This insinuates that he had utilized each and every day of his life to serve Hashem to the utmost. Hence he had all of the days of his life accounted for at the time of his passing.
The Gemarah [3] teaches us that a person should constantly engage his Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) in battle. If the Yetzer Hara starts pushing one to sin the proper tool to combat him is by going to the Beis Hamedresh – study hall- to learn Torah. If this does not work than one can recite shema. This also has within it the power to vanquish the Yetzer Hara. If this too does not work than one should remind himself that he will eventually expire; this too has the ability to weaken one’s desires.
Clearly there is a quandary with this Gemarah that must be addressed. If the Gemarah suggests that by merely reminding oneself of one’s imminent passing there is enough force to weaken one’s yearning for self gratification, why do our Rabbis precede this solution with the other two solutions of learning Torah and reciting krias Shema?
From the Gemarah’s usage of the word constantly we can derive that engaging one’s evil tendency is necessary at all stages of one’s life- during his formative years, during middle age, as well as in his elderly years. Thus it can possibly be explained that this is what the Gemarah’s intent is when giving three different solutions on how to restrain one’s need to fulfill his impulses. We are referring to three different solutions each applicable at a different stage in one’s life. The Gemarah’s various suggestions are not meant as a trial and error to see which one works well for him. Thus the question posed on the Gemarah is no longer difficult.
A young person who is full of life has the capability to study Torah with great diligence. His desires are great, and the fact that he is not going to live forever is a distant concept. Therefore the solution to overcome his Yetzer Hara is to go to the study hall and learn Torah. As our Rabbis say [4] תורה מתשת כחו של אדם – Torah weakens the strength of the person. We see from various other sources [5] the contrary, that Torah learning actually strengthens the person who is studying it rather than weakens him. Therefore, Reb Moshe of Tchitchelnik [6] explains that the statement ‘Torah learning weakens one’s strength’ refers to כחי ועוצם ידי וכו’ – [one’s evil inclination tells him that] “my power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth” [7]. This strength, meaning that which allows a person to believe that everything he has is from his own abilities, is weakened by
Torah study. Thus we can deduce that diligent Torah learning puts everything in the right perspective. Now it is understandable that for a person in this age group learning Torah is the effective way of staying on the right path and not falling prey to the Yetzer Hara’s pitfalls.
An individual who is middle aged, generally has difficulty studying Torah meticulously for he has וראווצב םייחיר- a millstone around his neck (metaphorically) [8]- he has the responsibility to sustain his family; he is busy trying to make a living. He too, is removed from the notion of his own demise. However, since prayer is a prevalent part of his day, he can use the recital of krias Shema which is a part of the prayer process to defend himself from the Yetzer Hara’s constant onslaught.
The third age group is the elderly who unfortunately have a difficult time studying Torah very thoroughly; they also have it hard praying with great intensity. On the other hand, their mortality is a major focus of their thoughts. Thus by reflecting on their demise, this alone puts things into the right perspective for their age group.
Our Rabbis teach us [9] that the word “zaken – elder” does not necessarily refer to one who is of advanced age; rather it means one who has acquired knowledge. The word zaken is an acronym for zeh kanah chachma – he who has attained wisdom. The Pnei Yehoshua [10] on this Gemarah notes that the acronym of zaken is only zeh kanah – he that has obtained. Where does the Gemarah find an allusion to chachma (knowledge) here? He answers this difficulty prefaced with a notion declared by our Rabbis (Vayikra Rabbah 1:6) דעה קנית מה חסרת, דעה חסרת
מה קנית – if you have obtained knowledge what deficiencies do you have, if
you are lacking wisdom what have you attained? Therefore by the mere mention of acquisition without specifically pointing out what one has attained it is evident that we are referring to wisdom.
We can know understand the verse ‘and Avraham was a zaken ‘–he had attained Torah wisdom despite his being (ba bayamim) well on in years. He was still capable of combating his Yetzer Hara through delving into Torah study like a young man. Thus the verse reads “ba bayamim – came with his days” -the term that would be used by a young person who still has many days coming, and not yatza min hayamim – his days have departed- for he still learned vigorously like a younger person. Reb Ahron II of Karlin’s explanation of the pasuk also indicates to us this notion. Avraham was a zaken one who studies and is steeped in Torah wisdom, ba bayamim he came with all of his days. Thus he did not need to utilize any of the other methods used in the Gemarah.
Therefore the pasuk ends: Hashem blessed him with everything; he consequentially had all there was to have since he had Torah knowledge which is the equivalent of everything.
The Medrash [11] on this verse expounds on the pasuk [12] רדהו זוע
לבושה ותשחק ליום אחרון – strength and honor are her attire, and she has joy at the last day. Perhaps the correlation of this verse together with our pasuk can be understood as follows.
“Strength (oiz) and honor is her garments”, and she has joy at the last day. Chazal (our Rabbis) [13] expounds on the verse [14] ה’ עוז לעמו יתן – Hashem has given oiz- strength to his nation. The word oiz alludes to the
Torah. The Medrash understands the verse as we explained “oiz vehadar” the Torah is her raiment – armor to use while fighting his yetzer Hara. “And she has joy at the last day”- a person who constantly learns the Torah with great thoroughness and thus stifles his desires to do evil does not have to arouse the depressing thoughts of his last days. He can constantly be joyful without thinking of his ultimate demise.
With these explanations of the pasuk we learn that we must utilize every moment in serving Hashem, our Creator. We also gain deeper understanding of how great and vital Torah study is.
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[1] 24:1
[2] 1802-1872
[3] Tractate Brachos 5A
[4] Tractate Sanhedrin 26B
[5] See Tractate Eirivun 54A one who is suffering from a headache should study Torah and the headache will go away etc.
[6] Rabbi Moshe Gitterman 1837-1871, his yartzheit was this week on the 21 of Cheshvon.
[7] See Devarim – Deuteronomy 8:17
[8] See Tractate Kiddushin 29B
[9] Tractate Kidushin 32B
[10] Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Falk of Frankfurt 1681-1756
[11] Medrash Rabbah 59:2
[12] Mishlei – Proverbs 31:25
[13] See Medrash Shmos Rabbah 27:4
[14] Tehilim 29:11

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Parshas Chaya Sarah 5774: Preemptive Action in Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chassadim

Eliezer went to Haran as Avraham’s messenger to find a wife for Yitzchok. Avraham explicitly requested that this bride-to-be should be a member of his own family. Upon arrival to Haran, Eliezer recited a prayer asking Hashem for assistance in finding the right girl for Yitzchok. The events that transpired immediately upon the conclusion of his prayer were a confirmation to him that his request had been answered in a far better manner than he ever imagined. He proceeded to give presents to Rivkah even prior to his verifying that she was Avraham’s kin as the pasuk relates [1] ויהי כאשר כלו הגמלים לשתות ויקח האיש נזם זהב בקע משקלו ושני צמידים על ידיה עשרה זהב משקלם, ויאמר בת מי את – And it was when the camels finished drinking, Eliezer took a golden nose ring, its weight a Beka, and two bracelets on her arms weighing ten golden Shekel, and he then said whose daughter are you.” Why did Eliezer give all these gifts without making sure that she was from Avraham’s family? Rashi tells us that he was certain who she was due to the miracles that happened for her, but how hard would it have been to ask for her name before giving the gifts?
Rashi enlightens us that the weight of a beka was an allusion to the Shekalim of Klal Yisroel – (a beka was half the weight of a shekel) donated by Bnei Yisroel for the Beis HaMikdash / Temple- one beka for every head. The two bracelets allude to the two Luchos / the two paired tablets of the covenant – and the weight of ten shekel is symbolic of the Ten Commandments which were written on them.
Why was Eliezer concerned with these future events indicating them to Rivka at this particular moment? The Maharal of Prague [2] answers that Eliezer was revealing to Rivka, “I see you are exceedingly accomplished in Gemilas Chesed / acts of loving kindness. However, to be one of the foundations of Bnei Yisroel this alone does not suffice, one must also excel in Torah and Avodah / service to Hashem.” The Mishna states [3] that the world stands on three principles: Torah, Avodah, and Gemilas Chassadim.”
Eliezer hinted this to her by giving her two bracelets that weighed ten shekel alluding to the Luchos that were two tablets with the Ten Commandments which symbolized the ‘Torah’, the Beka, which was the weight of the nose ring, pointed to the Beka used to purchase the Korbonos / sacrifices for the Beis HaMikdash / Temple characterizing ‘Avodah’ (Tefilah / Prayer is included in avodah the Rabbis teach us [4] that the prayers were established in place of the sacrifices), and Gemilas Chassadim she possessed on her own.
I would like to expand on the Maharal’s words. We find that immediately after Rivkah was brought to Yitzchok, the pasuk says [5] ויביאה יצחק האהלה שרה אמו ויקח את רבקה ותהי לו לאשה ויאהבה וינחם יצחק אחרי אמו – and Yitzchok brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother. He married Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her and thus was Yitzchok consoled after his mother. Rashi elucidates that he brought her into the tent, and behold, she became like the image of his mother Sarah. While Sarah was alive three miracles occurred: 1- the candles would continually burn from Shabbos eve to Shabbos eve, 2- a blessing would be found in the dough that it would miraculously grow, and 3- a cloud hovered above the tent. When Sarah passed away all of these three things ceased, and when Rivkah came they all returned.
What is the significance of these three unique miracles? It is conceivable to propose that three miracles are also symbolic to the three pillars mentioned in the Mishnah. The lamp continuously burning is symbolic to the Torah which is referred to as light נר מצוה ותורה אור – the mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light [6], a blessing found in the dough is Gemilas Chesed / acts of loving kindness, charity, the dough satiated all who ate from it, and the cloud stationed above the tent, is corresponding to avodah as the pasuk says [7] וכסה ענן הקטרת את הכפרת אשר על העדות – that the cloud of the incense may blanket the Ark-cover that is atop the (Tablets of the) testimony, this transpired in the Mishkan / Tabernacle the place of Avodah.
If we see that Rivkah already possessed these lofty traits, what was Eliezer trying to indicate with these specific gifts? It is true that we can say that Rivkah gained these added two traits merely from Eliezer’s veiled cue, albeit it is pretty difficult to instantaneously acquire two of the most difficult thing in the world to master. Therefore I would like to suggest another understanding to the Rashi mentioned at the beginning of this essay, rooted in the Maharal’s explanation. Rivkah already had these traits, but even in the greatest of qualities there is always room for improvement.
One of the most notable moments in our nation’s history took place right before we received the Torah. The Bnei Yisroel declared to Moshe: נעשה ונשמע – We will do and then we will hear [8]. With this proclamation we were elevated to the exalted status of angels. Hashem’s response to this declaration was, “Who revealed to my children this secret which the ministering angels use”? Angels are prepared to perform Hashem’s will even before hearing what He commands. Bnei Yisrael also accepted Hashem’s commandments without even questioning whether it was too difficult for them [9].
In all three of the pillars Torah, Avodah, and Gemilas Chesed there is the opportunity to do and then to hear. Torah is understandable as it was by the giving of the Torah we proclaimed on the reception of the Torah we will do and then hear.
In regard to tzedakah, which is an element of Gemilas Chesed the Arizal [10] said that when performing the mitzvah of tzedakah the giver should initiate the donation of tzedakah prior to the poor person begging. Tzedakah is not only the mitzvah of helping a person in need; the performance of tzedakah actually spells out the Name of Hashem! The donated coin is a dot, which represents the Hebrew letter that is most dot-like: the “yud”. The giver then takes the coin in his hand which has five fingers. The hand represents the Hebrew letter with the numerical value of five: a “hei”. The giver then stretches out his hand to give the coin, forming a straight line with his arm that bears a resemblance to the shape of the Hebrew letter “vav”, whereupon the poor person opens his hand, which represents the final “hei” of Hashem’s name, to accept the donation. In this way, Hashem’s Name (“yud”, then “hei”, then “vav”, then “hei”) has been spelled in order. This is true, however, only if the donor initiates the charitable act, before the recipient of the alms extends his hand begging for help. However, if the destitute individual must first ask for aid and extends his hand first, Hashem’s name is spelled backwards (hei-vav-hei-yud). The Zohar HaKadosh [11] teaches us that when Hashem’s Name is spelled in order, the letter “yud” before the first “hei” and the letter “vav” before the second “hei”, it is indicative to the quality of Hashem’s mercy in granting life and peace. When heaven forbid Hashem’s Name is out of the preferred sequence, it is indicative of some impediment to the fullness of Hashem’s mercy. In that case, the manifestation of Hashem’s goodness is somewhat impaired. This is why we are advised to respond to the needs of the indigent even before they ask for assistance. In a way we might say that tzedakah in its purist and most effective form should be by ‘doing and only afterword hearing’.
We also see this in regard to Avodah – prayer. The Gemarah [12] teaches us that when we pray we must first praise Hashem and only afterwards may we ask for our own personal needs. This ‘doing and then hearing’ is also manifested in Tefillah. We put our own needs aside and focus first on Hashem.
Eliezer saw that Rivkah was exceptional in her devotion to Gemilas Chesed – to the degree that she gave even prior to being asked. He asked her הגמיאיני נא מעט מים מכדך” – let me sip, please, a little water from your jug”. She answered שתה אדני וכו'”- drink my lord” etc. She continues,” ותאמר גם לגמליך אשאב – she (then) said I will draw water even for your camels [13]”.
By giving Rivkah her gifts which were, as explicated above, emblematic of Torah and Avodah, prior to asking who she was, Eliezer was providing Rivkah with the inspiration that it is not only enough to “do before hearing” in regard to charity – gemilas chesed, but this trait also should be present by the other two pillars – Torah and Avodah.

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[1] Bereishes / Genesis 24:22

[2] Rabbi Yehudah Lowey (1512- 1609) see Gur Aryeh.

[3] Tractate Avos / Ethics of our Fathers1:2

[4] Tractate Berachos 26A and B

[5] 24:67

[6] Mishlei / Proverbs 6:23

[7] Vayikra / Leviticus 16:13

[8] Shemos / Exodus 24:8

[9] See Tractate Shabbos 88A

[10] Rabbi Yitzchok Luria (1534 – 1572) He was perhaps the greatest Kabbalist. The Arizal’s doctrines were recorded posthumously by his pupil (Rabbi Chaim Vital) which had a great influence on later Jewish mysticism and on Chasidism.

[11] Tikkunei Zohar 10A

[12] Tractate Berachos 32A

[13] See Bereishes / Genesis 24:17-19