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Chayei Sarah - 5761
By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner

This week we read the parsha of Chayei Sarah--the life of Sarah. Our parsha begins with the counting of Sarah’s years upon her death. Avrohom subsequently procures ownership of Ma'aras Hamachpelah {the Tomb of the Patriarchs} and buries Sarah there. With that, Avrohom turns his attention to finding the right wife for his son, Yitzchak.

"And Hashem had blessed Avrohom with everything." [24:1]

The Ramban explains that Avrohom had been blessed with wealth, property, honor, long life and sons.

"And Avrohom said to his servant (Eliezer), the elder of his house, who ruled over all that he (Avrohom) had..." [24:2]

The Sages offer a number of explanations of the rule that Eliezer had over Avrohom's household. Some say that he ruled over his desires and inclinations in the same way as Avrohom. Others explain it to mean that he ruled--had mastery--over the Torah of his master, Avrohom. The simple meaning is, of course, that he was in charge of Avrohom’s considerable estate and holdings. Clearly, Avrohom had absolute trust in Eliezer's integrity and judgment.

With that in mind, Rav Sholom Shwadron zt"l points out, the continuation of that very same passuk seems to be puzzling.

"…place your hand beneath my thigh and I will make you swear by Hashem, the G-d of the heavens and the G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son (Yitzchak) from the daughters of the Cananites amongst whom I dwell." [24:2-3]

Why was there a need for Avrohom to make Eliezer take an oath? What happened to the trust?

Rav Sholom explains with the following story. Rav Yisroel Salanter zt"l once traveled to a small village where the townspeople were impatiently awaiting the arrival of their shochet {ritual slaughterer}. Rav Yisroel wasn't known in the town but, based on his religious appearance, was approached by one of the men and asked if he would please shecht {ritually slaughter} the animals for them.

Rav Yisroel didn't answer directly but rather led the conversation in a different direction. After a short while, Rav Yisroel asked this man if he’d lend him a sum of five rubles, explaining that he had money in his house and he’d be able to repay him very quickly.

The surprised man turned to Rav Yisroel, responding that a wise man such as he should know that you can't expect someone who doesn't really know you to give you a loan.

Having gotten him exactly where he wanted him, Rav Yisroel asked how he could trust him to shecht his animals if he didn't trust him for five rubles!

The Brisker Ruv zt"l was once asked why, after he had heard a perfectly halachic {in accordance with Jewish Law} sounding of the shofar {ram's horn blown on Rosh Hashana--the Jewish New Year}, he was still so nervously worried that perhaps he hadn't properly fulfilled his obligation.

He explained that a person who's carrying a million dollars in his pocket will incessantly check his pockets every few steps to make sure that it's still there. We don't ask why he's so worried! We don't ask why, if it was there a few seconds before, does he need to check again a few seconds later! We don't ask because we understand that a million dollars are at stake.

"To me," the Brisker Ruv concluded, "the mitzvah {commandment} of shofar is worth no less than a million dollars…"

We can trust people to shecht even though we wouldn't lend them a dime. We’re worried about our possessions but can't understand when someone else is worried about shofar. Avrohom, however, had a very opposite attitude…

Avrohom had absolute trust in Eliezer when it came to the small, inconsequential matters of his life such as all of his life-savings and possessions. But when a wife for Yitzchak--the foundation upon which the entire destiny of the nation of Israel would be built--was being discussed, there Avrohom’s trust fell short. "Place your hand beneath my thigh and I will make you swear by Hashem, the G-d of the heavens and the G-d of the earth." No oath, no go-eth.

It's a constant battle to keep our priorities straight, realizing what is truly valuable and important and being willing to sacrifice material gains on the altar of our spiritual convictions and responsibilities. Two of my closest talmidim {students/brothers/friends} have become quite successful in the music business. I'm always inspired by their tenacious commitment to Shabbos in the face of many tempting offers.

They set what I believe was a legal precedent when they signed a deal with a major recording label. Included in the contract was a 'Shabbos clause' stating that any deadline placed upon them would automatically not include Shabbos or any Jewish Holidays. A ninety-day deadline would thus exclude any Shabbos days, automatically turning it into a 102+ day deadline.

When the Olympics were being held in Atlanta they were in strong demand, playing close to twenty shows. In the face of strong pressure, they, of course, refused to play on Friday night. That Friday night, for those who remember, a bomb exploded under the stage where one of the bands was playing--a stage where they had previously played. When they told me the story I recalled the saying that Shabbos keeps the Jews far more than the Jews keep Shabbos.

Priorities. Focus. Knowing when to trust and when to be suspicious. When to worry and when to chill. When to perform and when to make kiddush {Sabbath sanctification made over wine}.

Good Shabbos,
Yisroel Ciner

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).



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