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THIS COMING SHABBOS Shabbos, b”H, is Shabbos Mevarchin Chodesh Kislev. We are moving into Chanukah territory, which seemingly has nothing to do with this week’s parsha. Until that is, you consider the little Chof in the word, livchosa—to cry for her. That’s what Avraham Avinu came to do after Sarah Imeinu died after the Akeidah in last week’s parsha.
Why is the Chof smaller than all the other letters of the word? To tell us, we are told, that Avraham did not cry excessively over the loss of his wife, as someone might do for another they loved so much being taken from them so unexpectedly. Especially if, as the Midrash says, she died because of the Akeidah (one opinion says it was because Sarah thought that Avraham was actually going to kill Yitzchak, and another opinion says it was because she thought he wasn’t actually able to carry out the command of God).
Because crying excessively might have given others the impression that Avraham did not accept what God had done. Because crying excessively might have made it seem as if Avraham had felt cheated, since while he was out passing God’s test, God was taking the life of his beloved wife. Talk about good news and bad news. By crying normally, Avraham mourned the loss of Sarah while showing that he accepted that all that God did He did for the good.
The letter Chof also a numerical value, 20. There aren’t a lot of places that the number 20 shows up to teach anything really significant except perhaps here:
Rav Kahana said: Rav Nachman bar Munyumi elucidated in the name of Rebi Tanchum: A Chanukah light placed higher than 20 amos is unfit… (Shabbos 22a)
Why? Because, the Gemora explains, the eye doesn’t see that well from 40 feet away, and the Menorah is kindled to be seen. We light it during the eight days of Chanukah for pirsuma nissa, to publicize the miracles of Chanukah. Therefore, we need the flames to be very visible as ner shel Chanukah.
But be that as it may, what does pirsuma nissa have to do with Avraham’s minimalized crying and, for that matter, Chanukah? If anything, the fact that Avraham had come to mourn publicized just the opposite, abandonment by God. “After all,” people probably thought to themselves, “shouldn’t God have spared Sarah in appreciation for Avraham’s extreme loyalty, or at least wait for a better moment to take her?” Ironically, the once source of laughter, Yitzchak, had become the reason to cry.
THE BA’AL HATURIM says something remarkably disturbing regarding the reduced letter Chof. He says that it indicates that Avraham did not eulogize Sarah because she was like someone who caused her own death, and we don’t usually eulogize intentional suicides. When did she do that? When she said this:
Sarai said to Avram, “May my injustice be upon you! I gave my handmaid into your bosom, and she saw that she had become pregnant, and I became unimportant in her eyes. May God judge between me and you!” (Bereishis 16:5)
As the Gemora warns, someone who invites divine judgment on someone else gets it first (Bava Kamma 92a). Sarah may have been trying to get her husband more involved in the problem with Hagar, but she seems to have cut off her nose to spite her face. Eventually Hagar was sent away, but the death of Sarah resulted in her return as Keturah later this parsha. We need to be careful with what we say, especially when it comes to invoking judgment on others.
The truth be known, Sarah had to die when she did anyhow. As the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains, Sarah was the gilgul—reincarnation—of Chava. But so was Yitzchak (a female soul can come in a male body and vice versa), because the soul of Chava was divided between him and his mother, and the Akeidah was Chava’s final tikun.
Consequently, both Yitzchak and Sarah died at precisely the same moment during the Akeidah, allowing the two parts of Chava’s soul to rejoin and return to their rightful place above. Since Sarah had basically finished her own tikun as well, she remained dead. The soul of Yitzchak, which replaced Chava’s, was now in a position to undergo rectification through the life of Yitzchak. It also made Yitzchak capable of fathering children, something that is almost impossible to do with the opposite gender soul. That is why right after the Akeidah, the Torah turns to a shidduch for Yitzchak.
What about the Ba’al HaTurim’s pshat?
The answer is the same to explain why Moshe Rabbeinu was punished with not entering Eretz Yisroel after hitting the rock, when it had already said at the end of Parashas Shemos that he was not going into the land. The real reason for the events of history is what goes on behind the scenes. But sometimes, for free will’s sake, God will provide reasons we can see, to hide the miracles from those undeserving to see them.
WHICH BRINGS US back to Avraham’s miniaturized Chof. It is hard to know what Avraham Avinu knew and understood, either because he worked it out for himself, or because God told him. The Torah doesn’t indicate too much in this way, but the Talmud says that Avraham kept the entire Torah, even future rabbinic decrees such as Erev Tavshillin (Yoma 28b). And tradition says that he authored one of the most kabbalistic works ever, Sefer Yetzirah.
If he did, then he knew about the sefiros. He understood how God made Creation and how it works. He might even have known, and probably did, that he had “inherited” the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon to rectify, and Sarah, the soul of Chava. He might have even known that the soul was split between his wife and his son.
He certainly would have been suspicious about how both of them died at the same time, through the same rectifying event. Perhaps he even knew in advance about the possibility, and wasn’t so surprised to find that Sarah had died, especially since he knew that Yitzchak had momentarily died at the Akeidah. It was in that moment of death that the soul switch occurred, which is perhaps why Avraham knew it was time to marry off his son and give rise to the next generation.
One thing is for sure. Avraham Avinu looked at reality a lot differently than most of us do. We are very sophisticated when it comes to knowledge of how the world physically works, the knowledge of the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra, a lot less so when it comes to understanding how it spiritually works, the level of the Aitz HaChaim. He didn’t just see the death of a beloved wife. He saw history sticking to the divine plan in ways he either understood or didn’t.
That’s what the small Chof indicates. Beyond 20 amos represents a blurry spiritual vision that most people have and which prevents them from the seeing the workings of God in history. Within 20 amos represents the Chanukah vision that allows a person to look past the obvious to see the hidden inner workings of hashgochah pratis. Avraham had Chanukah vision, and this allowed him to see how the events of history fulfilled the master plan for Creation. For this reason, he did not need to mourn excessively.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 26
IT IS FITTING that this week is Part 26, the gematria of God’s Ineffable Name, called the Shem Hovayah. That’s what it is all about. Pharaoh didn’t ask Moshe Rabbeinu, “Who is God?” because, as Rashi explains, he already believed in God, as in Elokim. He asked Moshe, “Who is this Hovayah?” and the Ten Plagues and the miraculous redemption of the Jewish people were his answer.
This was also the disagreement between the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks also believed in gods of nature, and had a problem with the idea of one, all-powerful God. The Menorah is the symbol of our victory over them because it alludes to Hovayah. The six branches correspond to the six “natural” days of the week and leaned towards the middle branch, which pointed Heavenward. That is the Chanukah vision.
It is also the disagreement between our heads and our hearts. It’s like the guy who has Ain Od Milvado glued to his car bumper, and then lost his temper at you for driving a bit too slow. If you were to ask him:
“Did you put that bumper sticker on your car?”
“Of course,” he would proudly answer.
“Why?” you could ask him.
“To remind the world that God controls everything,” he would tell you with conviction.
Then you could ask, “Everything?”
“Yes, everything…” he would have to reply.
“…including the drivers on the road?”
“Even the drivers on the road…” he might now answer sheepishly, if he has figured out where you’re going with it.
“So, then you’re really yelling at God, and not just the slow driver in front of you, right?”
Checkmate, not just on the bumper sticker guy, but on all of us at some time or another. Not Avraham though. The small Chof tells us that he was on the level of the Shem Hovayah in his head, and in his heart.