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Parshas Chayei Sarah

The Power of Chinuch

“Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please tip your pitcher for me to drink’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and let me water your camels as well’ be the one whom You designate for your servant Yitzchak. Through her I will know that You have done a kindness for my master.” (Bereishis 18:13- 14)

In last week’s parsha, we saw the power of chinuch — education — at work. There was Lot, sitting at the gate of S’dom, a place where they killed people for performing acts of kindness for strangers, doing exactly that. The entire reason he was sitting there in the first place, as Rashi explains, was because it was his turn to be the judge of the city, and in that capacity, he had gone ahead and broken the very rules he was there to uphold!

It’s as if he couldn’t help himself. As Rashi explains, he was fully aware of the consequences of taking care of the three strangers who “happened” to be in S’dom at the time. He had even offered his daughters to the people of S’dom (that’s where his chinuch seemed to fall short), just to protect his three guests, when they finally came looking for them. It was such an act of mesirat Nefesh — self-sacrifice — from a person who seemed to be so not self-sacrificing!

That is how ingrained Hachnasos Orchim — hospitality — had been in Lot from his years of living with his uncle, Avraham Avinu. The chinuch that Lot had received while living with his uncle, the examples of Hachnasos Orchim he had witnessed on a daily basis, had been so powerful that they were able to overcome Lot’s own innate, spiritually-weak personality, and in last week’s parsha, the obvious risk of acting as he had to the three wayfarers.

(This is heartening news for many parents, who repeatedly teach their children the proper values during the early years, but who also see few results from those same children. Was their time wasted on thickheaded children? Not necessarily, for the results of early-age chinuch can take 20 years sometimes before they actually appear, and sometimes not even until after a child is married and is making a life of his/her own. Then the ingrained chinuch of the younger years miraculously emerges, and becomes the young adult’s own approach to life.)

Obviously, it is the ultimate when a person performs a good deed because he himself realizes how Godly it is to do so. However, not every person reaches such a level of understanding, and many people who thought they had failed to prove so during times of difficulty, during moments in life specifically designed to test the person’s commitment to the idea. Sometimes the results have been very disappointing, and at times, disastrous.

Thus, sometimes, it helps to have an idea so ingrained within one’s consciousness that we can perform it without having to consider other options. Sometimes, it helps to have an inner compelling force that drives us to do the right thing, especially when “outside” circumstances compel us to do the wrong thing. According to the Midrash, it was Yosef’s ingrained impression of his father, Ya’akov Avinu, that assisted him in resisting the advances of his master’s wife when it become increasingly difficult to do so.

That explains Lot. However, what about Rivka Imeinu? During her formative years, all she had was bad chinuch, bad examples. Her father had been Besuel, an evil man, we learn from Parashas Vayaitzai, and her brother had been Lavan, Ya’akov Avinu’s future father-in-law, and one of the most deceptive people in all of history. Reincarnating into the evil Bilaam of Moshe Rabbeinu’s time was, for Lavan, just a spiritual hop-skip-and-jump.

Yet, Rivka, in spite of all the negative vibes she had to live from birth, not only remained pure and righteous, but exemplified such righteousness from an early age. Already, while only three years old, she possessed traits many righteous people have perfected only after decades or hard work, even while living in ideal spiritual environments. How is that even possible, unless, that is, there was something special about Rivka Imeinu from before birth, something on the level of her very soul.

We get a glimpse of this when Yitzchak brings Rivka, his wife-to-be, into his mother’s tent. Immediately, the miracles that occurred for Sarah Imeinu returned for Rivka: the special cloud surrounded the tent, the candles that burned from week-to-week on their own returned, and there was a blessing in the challah. Was this because Rivka merely shared the same traits of Sarah Imeinu, or was it because she was the actual continuation of her life?

After all, Sarah died at the time of the Akeida, as Rashi explains at the beginning of the parsha. One of the last things the previous parsha speaks about is the birth of Rivka. In other words, the Torah flows from the birth of Rivka to the death of Sarah, as if to juxtapose the two:

“… Besuel has fathered Rivka.” Milkah gave birth to these eight for Nachor, the brother of Avraham. His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also gave birth to Tevach, Gacham, Tachash and Ma’achah. The life of Sarah was 127 years … (Bereishis 22:23-23:1)

The answer may surface if we approach it from a different angle. For example, we know that Avraham Avinu received and perfected the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon, that Yitzchak Avinu received and perfected his Ruach, and that Ya’akov Avinu did the same with Adam’s Neshamah. Hence, through the lives of the Avos, Adam HaRishon achieved his rectification, at least on those three levels of souls.

We also know, according to the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, at the end of Parashas Vayaira, that Sarah Imeinu received and perfected the soul of Chava. However, the Ohr HaChaim does not mention if she received Chava’s entire soul to perfect, or like Avraham her husband, only a portion, perhaps just the Nefesh. If the latter, then, it would make sense that Rivka would have “inherited” the Ruach of Chava, just as Yitzchak had received the Ruach of Adam, and that, perhaps the level of Neshamah was divided between Rachel and Leah.1

If so, then we can appreciate the greatness of Rivka from birth, and the insistence of the Torah to connect the death of Sarah Imeinu to the birth of Rivka Imeinu. The Akeida had somehow helped Sarah to complete her task in this world, and that meant it was time for Rivka to begin hers.

Furthermore, it would also explain why the same miracles that happened for Sarah continued for her future daughter-in-law, especially when you consider that they rectified the three main damages Chava caused: spiritual impurity because of death, damage to Adam HaRishon who was called the “challah” of Creation, and darkness due to the sin of eating.

And finally, it is why, perhaps, Yitzchak insisted on bringing his future wife into his mother’s tent prior to marriage. He wasn’t just seeking consolation for the loss of his mother; he was also seeking confirmation that the tikun of Chava would continue through his new wife, just as the tikun of Adam HaRishon was being continued through him.

For people bent on being partners with God on the completion of the purpose of Creation, that was the most important point of all.

1 Rachel and Leah were twins, just as Ya’akov and Eisav had been. However, unlike Leah, Eisav chose a path of evil, implying that his own soul lacked a high level of kedusha, as Ya’akov’s obviously had, making it unlikely that he had any of Adam HaRishon’s soul within him. But Leah actually became one of the primary Foremothers, and the bearer of six of the 12 tribes, indicating that her own soul was quite holy, like that of Rachel, her sister. This would imply that the Neshamah of Chava was probably divided between the two of them.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.


 






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