Parshas Chayei Sarah
Simple Reading Rules and Mesorah Transmission
1) Avraham’s Location After Sarah’s death
The parsha begins with Sarah’s passing and Avraham coming to eulogize her. “Vayavo Avraham l’spod l’Sarah v’livchosa”. Rashi is bothered by where did Avraham come from exactly? The Torah tells us explicitly after the Akeidah that Avraham went back to Be’er Sheva, so we know he was there, but yet he was coming back to Chevron which was where Sarah and him lived. So Ramban wonders what he was doing in Be’er Sheva?
Ramban explains that Avraham, on his way back from the Akeidah, went to Be’er Sheva which was where he had lived many years before, to the place of the Eishel, his special tree that he had done so much kindness with, “laseis hoda’ah al niso”, to give a thanks to Hashem for the miracle that occurred. As soon as he heard that Sarah died he headed home to take care of her burial.
Avraham and Yitzchak Seized the Moment
What happened after the Akeidah? Yitzchak was thirty-seven years old, and Hashem gave a tzivuy which seemed to say that he should be slaughtered, and Avraham followed this through with tremendous emunah and sacrifice, and was willing to sacrifice his own son for Hashem because that’s what Hashem wanted. At the last moment Hashem explains that He is asking for a ram instead and this event becomes a bedrock our Jewish merit, for a long time or even until Moshiach’s time (Gemara Shabbos).
One would think that after this event Avraham and Yitzchak would regroup and spend some family time together and try to catch their breaths. But, what happens is very fascinating. Chazal tell us that Yitzchok immediately went to learn at Shem and Ever, to increase his Torah knowledge and yiras Shamayim. After his inspirational moment, of almost giving up his life to Hashem, he made sure to keep the inspiration going by channeling it into Torah dedication.
Life is a Test
Ramban (Parshas Yisro) explains that Hashem is always testing us. Any challenge or bad event that transpires for us is a test to see whether we will trust in Hashem and anything good that happens is a test: Are you going to thank Hashem, are you going to serve him more? Are you going to spit at Him or kick Him (Berachos 17).
The Akiada challenged Avraham to go against his very nature of kindness. He preached about a loving and kind God and now that God asked Avraham to offer up his own son in a seemingly most barbaric way. Yet, Avraham stood by his covictions of trusting in Hashem and was willing to go through with the sacrifice if hthat is what Hashem requested.
After the akaida, Avraham wanted specifically to go back to the Eshel, which was the place where he had preached so much kindness and so much love. That was the place where he fed everybody and where the shade covered people for having emunah and bitachon in Hashem, and that was the place where Avraham did achilah, shetiyah, levaya. He wanted to close the loop and say: You see Hashem is the One Who is kind and that is what Hashem is all about. Avraham, like Yitzchok above, also wanted to seize the inspiration and make sure to chanel it back into service of Hashem as well.
2) Simple Reading of Verse
There is one more point here. We know that ein mikra yotzei midei pshuto. Chazal say, “Vayavo Avraham mei’Har HaMoriah.” So, why are Ramban and Rashi insisting that Avraham was in Be’er Sheva? The simple reading of the pesukim state that Avraham went to Be’er Sheva and so the question begged to be explained as to what lesson can be learned from this.
Chazal vs. Pshat
There is a fascinating Ramban in Vayikra (7:9) where the pasuk discusses one who brings a mincha, flour offering in the mikdash. The Yisrael brings his mincha to the Beis HaMikdash, and the Kohen takes a kemitzah and the pasuk says, “L’cohen hamakreev oso lo sihiyeh.” It seems to imply that the cohen who is helping you bring your mincha, shoud be given the Kohen’s potion at the end. However, the Gemara in Menachos says explicitly that mincha does not go to the Kohen that helped you, rather, it goes to the kahuna, to any Kohen that you chose. When the pasuk says, “lo sihiyeh”, it should go to him, it means to the family of Kohanim. Yet, Ramban comments on that verse that the p’shat is that when you bring a mincha and a Kohen helps you out, he does the waving and kemitza and thus you should give it to him. We know that Ramban himself is often critical of Ibn Ezra when he appears to contradict Chazal and yet Ramban here seems to be doing so himself?!
Pshat Teaches Lesson
Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sefer Emuna V’Hashgacha II) devotes half the sefer to “ein mikra yoitzeih midei pheshuto”. There he explains that certainly Ramban is not arguing with Chazal, he himself quotes the Gemara in Menachos. However, Ramban is teaching us that from the simple reading of the verse we learn a lesson in life. Although, technically you have the right to give the Kohanic portion to any Kohen you choose, it would be appropriate for you to give it to the Kohen who helped you out to show your gratitude for what he did for you. That is why the simple reading of the verse, the pshat, is phrased that way. It should be noted that this explanation can often be used for many times that we suspect that a Rishon is contracting Chazal.
Esther: Zohar vs. Pshat
Another example that Rav Chaim Friedlander goes to length about is that the Zohar says that Esther HaMalka never actually touched Achashveirosh. That it was always a shaid, demon, that appeared like her, that took her place. Yet, this explanation is hard to understand considering that the pasuk says, “Ka’asher avidity avidity,” which implies that there was contract? See Ben Yehoyadaya (Ben Ish Chai) in Megillah who discusses this at length.
Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that ein mikra yotzei miday peshuto means that the pesukim in Esther explain that this is what happened, that she went in. Therefore, we have to learn lessons from that actual pasuk itself about what a woman is allowed to do, what a person is not allowed to do in those situations, and the gemara discusses it at length: Why Esther was permitted, etc. Because ein mikra yotzei midei peshuto we have to learn from it. The Zohar is ading another layer, al pi kabballah, and sod Hashem lirayav.
Pshat Brings Lessons
Thus ein mikra yotzei midei peshuto means that we have to look at the simple explanation and learn a lesson from it. Ibn Ezra, in some comments, seems to contradict Chazal, but he himself writes in Parshas Mikeitz and other places that we all remain faithful to Chazal. The dispute of the rishonim is in how to interpret and thereby comment based on ‘ain mikrah’ which does give the rishinom permission to suggest simple explanations that produce life lessons.
This brings us back to our parsha. Chazal say that Avraham came from Har HaMoriah. However, the pashut p’shat of the pesukim seem to be indicating that Avraham came from Be’er Sheva, and therefore it was explained that he went to Be’er Sheva to the Eshel.
3) Hashem Blessed Avraham ‘Bakol’
The verse (24:1) says that Avraham was old, ba bayamim, and Hashem blessed him with bakol, and the Ramban brings down, it’s a machlokes in Chazal, a very fascinating machlokes, what this means that he had everything. One man d’amar says that he had a daughter. That was the bakol. He had everything, even a daughter. And, the other one says that he was blessed bakol, that he didn’t have a daughter. Ramban explains a little bit what’s going on. Avraham did not want any of his children that came from Sarah to go out to Chutz L’Aretz, and therefore, he did not know how, if he would have a daughter, he didn’t know how he would marry her off. Therefore, there was a blessing from Hashem to make it that Avraham did not have a daughter from Sarah, specifically. Ramban explain that there’s a big sod, secret, here. Ramban explains that what’s happening is that this is referring to the middah of hakol that Avraham had. He doesn’t explain. The mefarshim talk about what exactly this means.
Gra: “Bakol” is a Reference to Succah
The Vilna Gaon (Pninim M’Shulchan HaGra) explains that the word “bakol” is roshei tevos: beis, chaf, lamed. The three pesukim that describe Succah are: “BaSuccos teishvu shivas yamim”- that’s the beis of bakol. And then, “Kol ezrach b’yisrael yeishvu b’succos” – that’s a chaf. Lamed is “l’maan yeidu doroseichem ki bisuccos hoshavti es Bnei Yisrael”. Now, these three pesukim refer to Succah. So, what does this mean that Avraham was blessed with Succah? We find that Chazal say that we got ananim in the midbar and Sukka shade because Avraham put the malachim ‘v’hishanu tachas ha’eitz, sit under the shade.’
Ramban might be saying is that this middah of bakol is this idea of being able to sanctify everything in your life for Hashem which is what Succah is. The Gemara (Sukka 28) tells us that “afilu sichas chullin shel talmidei chachamim tzricha limud”. Even the idle chatter of talmidei chachamim needs to be studied because it has Torah ideas in it. Rav Tzadok explains that the reason that that’s in the gemara in Succah is because Succah is a fascinating mitzvah that it allows us to be mekadeish our entire body and to make it holy in a mitzvah. When you eat in a succah it becomes a mitzvah. When you sleep in the Succah it’s a mitzvah. And, so therefore, in perek hayashein, where it talks about the kedusha of literally sleeping in a Succah, which is turned into a mitzvah, so it talks about the sichas chullin shel talmidei chachamim, that even the mundane acts that we do are niskadeish, and that’s the middah of bakol.
Avos Sanctified Life
We say in benching: “bakol mikol kol” which is referring to three pesukim that are in reference to all the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. There is a pasuk: Hashem beirach es Avraham bakol. That’s the “bakol”.“Mikol”: ‘Vi’achal mikol is what Yitzchok said after he asked: who fooled me and stole the berachos and gave me food? “Kol” is: yesh li kol of Yaakov. The Avos were able to be miskadeish their lives with great holiness. They were miskadeish Olam HaZeh, the world around them that they used, and they made it into a holy place for bringing down Hashem’s name in all that they did.
The Shlah explains the ladder that Yaakov saw, the sulam mutzav artza, is olam hazeh, a downward pull. But Yaakov sanctified it with his ‘rosho magiah hashamaymah’ with his head (thoughts) about spirituality. After Yaakov saw that image he got up, and he said that Hashem is in this place: achein yeish Hashem bimakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati because I didn’t know that I could be miskadeish my sleep to be l’sheim shamayi. Yaakov beseeched Hashem, V’nasan li begged lilbosh, lechem lechol.” Just give me the minimal things, then I will dedicate myself to You, Hashem.
That is the middah of bakol. If you have that you literally have bakol. You have everything that you need in life to succeed and to feel good, and to know that you’re doing the right thing and growing.
4) Rivka’s Family Oversight
Bereishis 24:17 tells us that when Eliezer eved Avraham, was telling over the story he says: vateireid ha’ayinah, she went down to the well and Rivka drew up the water. Ramban asks, why didn’t he tell them about the miracle that the water came up to her and she gave all the men and camels to drink? Ramban answers: Uly lo yaaminu, They would believe him. Then the question becomes, they have this great daughter named Rivka, who’s this great tzaddekes, and they don’t believe that a miracle like this happened? Do they not know their daughter?
I believe that the answer to this may be that part of the challenge that Rivka had was not only was she the daughter of Besuel, who was an oved avodah zarah, a philanderer and a murderer who tried to kill Eliezer, and not only was her brother Lavan, who was a thief, but this is the family that she came from, a family that didn’t appreciate her, and that did not know her greatness. She was a great person in her own right.
5) Rivka was the first woman in Sarah’s tent
The pasuk (25:67) describes that Yitzchak and Rivka got married, and Yitzchak brought Rivka into the ohel of Sarah his mother, and the Ramban explains that from the time that Sarah died they did not allow any other women to dwell in that tent. And, this shows the amount of respect and prestige that Yitzchak held for his mother. Yet, when Rivka came in, not as a replacement, of course, but “vayinachem Yitzchak achar Imo”. She was a comfort that now there was a great woman in his life who would love him and care for him and develop a home of Torah and yiras Shamayim with him.
Three Generation of Imahos Didn’t See Each Other
One fascinating comment that I like to talk about is a very interesting idea that none of the three generations of Imahos saw each other, while all the Avos overlapped. And, what does that mean? We look at the life of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Avraham and Yitzchak interacted; Yitzchak and Yaakov obviously interacted, but so did Avraham and Yaakov. We know that Rashi tells us that Yaakov and Esav were fifteen years old when Avraham died, and so all three of the Avos roamed the earth for 15 years together. Whereas, when it comes to the Imahos, Sarah died at the Akeidah, and then according to some midrashim Rivka was born then. Yaakov, Rivka’s son left to marry Rachel and Leah, and we know that Chazal tell us that Rivka died before she ever met Rachel and Leah. So, none of the three generations of Imahos ever saw each other. What’s pshat?
Avos Represent the Logical Mesorah
I once heard a cryptic statement about this phenomenon from Rav Ezra Neuberger, shlita, Rosh Kollel at Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore. He said that there’s a gemara that talks about whether yeish eim l’mikrah or yeish eim l’mesores. There’s a mesorah of how to pronounce a word, and there’s the mikra of how it actually appears. He explained that the Avos represent the logical mesorah of Torah, the aspect of Moshe kibeil Torah m’Sinai, umasruhah l’Yehoshua. Therefore, it had to be passed from generation to generation, and each transmitter had to see each other because there’s a logical aspect there, and in logic the only way to have a mesorah is to pass it down from person to person. That’s the way our mesorah is passed down: from rebbe to talmid.
Imahos Represent the Emotion of K’lal Yisrael
The Imahos represent the emotion of K’lal Yisrael. Therefore, the ability to connect with Hashem and to recognize Hashem comes from an emotional level which is one that of “mibesari echeze Eloka”. We could recognize Hashem and experience His existence from our own selves. The Ramban explains that there was kolos uberakim at Har Sinai and the voice of Hashem transmitting the Torah. The logical part is the Torah being passed down from Hashem and Moshe’s mouth to the Jewish nation’s ear. The emotional part is the thunder and lightning which jolt the body and make an everlasting impression. This is represented by the men and women and thier respectvie jobs of tranmitting Torah to the next generation.
Three Matzos and Four Kosos
At the Pesach seder, that there are three matzos, that we use, and four cups of wine. The three matzas represent: the three Avos. The logical tranimssion ofthe Torah represented by wheat, the staple of life. Our mesorah is ironclad. There’s an overlap between all of them: passed from father to son, generation to generation. We also have the Imahos, the kolos u’brakim, the emotional part of maamad Har Sinai, the connecting to Hashem on an emotional level of your own finding of Hashem, through an emotional capacity, which is represented by the four cups of wine is something that stimulates the emotion, the arba kosos or the arba Imahos, that aspect is another aspect of Yiddishkeit. This is why we sing about Who knows three and four. Pesach is the great night of transmission of mesorah and we need to focus on the logic and emotion of it.
Elokeinu v’Elokei Avoseinu
Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaYichud) explains and the siddur Eitz Yosef explains this as well that in Shmoneh Esrei when we say: Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v’Elokei Yaakov, there’s kind of a paradox because why don’t you just say Elokei Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov. Why do you have to say Elokei by each one? And the paradox is that on the one hand you have to find G-d individually, so there has to be Elokei Avraham, that Avraham found Hashem, and Elokei Yitzchak, Yitzchak found Hashem, and Elokei Yaakov, but collectively we’re saying that this is our G-d. So, it’s Elokeinu v’Elokei Avoseinu. So, we have to have both. Elokei Avoseinu is the logical part that we connect to Hashem through logic. But, Elokeinu is the emotional part of how we connect to Hashem, and those are the two that make complete our emunah and bitachon in Hashem.