Chayei Sarah 5774 – Gilayon #822
(link to original page)
Click here to
receive the weekly parsha by email each week.
Parshat Chaye Sara
And the maiden was very
beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known.
She went down to the
stream, filled her jug, and came up.
the maiden was very beautiful… There are three reasons why the servant
chose her from the others.
than the others he saw there.
"And she was a virgin whom no man had known" – When he observed her,
he saw she had no interest in other men, as opposed to the other maidens who
were used to mingling with the other shepherds and were not so modest. But this
maiden had not even drawn water yet and had not known men. From this the servant
observed that she was well bred and was not used to drawing water. Or maybe because of modesty.
And she went down to the stream, filled her jug, and came up. She had a modest
way of drawing water. She did not swim the water, but went down into the
spring and came up.
Beautiful – Good looking and not "pretty"
looking. Good looking teaches us that she had spiritual and moral beauty, which
was reflected in her facial features, that it is her charm that reflects her
character, as opposed to pretty that suggests her physical beauty. We would
accept this commentary as certain, if not that it is also written about Vashti "She was good looking." (Esther
had more charm than beauty, the fact that of her refusal proves her inspiration,
propriety and morals.
(Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch,
to run and time to travel slowly
Are there omens and hints hidden in the parsha, and in the Tanach, as a whole,
which invite us to stop, look around and ask: Can we unearth new layers, gain
new insights through these omens?
I will attempt to demonstrate this through
following the subject of "running" in our parsha.
Why should we denote running as an "omen",
as running is an ordinary physical activity? The clue to running as an omen is
found in the literal meaning of the sentence, with Abraham, the first runner in
the Scriptures: "Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon
as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and
bowing to the ground… (Breishit
him, where did he run? This, and more as we have seen that when
Lot saw them, he rose to greet them, and bowing low with his face to the ground…
not "proof" that this is how we are to understand this, but an
opportunity for those interested to seek new insights.
It seems that running reflects the meaning of
the discerning and integrating and internalizing the magnitude of the moment,
and mobilizing for the mission and cause.
So it is with Elisha: "Elijah came over to
him threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah. (Kings
opposed to the detailed description, two sentences later: "Then he arose
and followed Elijah and became his attendant."
Back to Abraham, running has another facet: "Then
Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice and gave it to a
servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it" (Ibid,
And now we come to the running in our parsha, in the story where Abraham's servant's assignment
is to choose a bride for Isaac.
The immediate discernment of the magnitude of the
moment for Abraham's servant is not immediate with him when he has a glimpse of
the young woman, but: "She went down to the spring, filled her jug and
came up. The servant ran towards her." (Ibid 24:
perceives her destiny: "Quickly emptying her jug into the trough,
she ran back to the well to draw and she drew water for all his camels"
(Ibid, 20) and continues: "The
maiden ran and told all this to her mother's household." (Ibid 28)
The mobilization of Rebecca to fulfill her
destiny that came on so tenaciously, gives her fortitude to stand up against
the paternal authority in her home. Laban and his
mother request a "delay for a few days or more," but when she is
asked her opinion, it is a decided, "I will go."
Until now we have discussed the meaning of running
as signifying the quality of the response to the assignment or destiny.
To this we will add, from an extended survey of
the literature of the scriptures on omens, that there are definite signs that
characterize their activity. These signs find their characteristics from the
specific commentaries that are reconciliatory and become an invitation to
search and delve deeper for more complex insights.
A. The omens, not only
signify a defined topic to themselves, as is acceptable in a verbal-literary
deconstruction, but they bring up more complex issues, the area of dialectics
between opposites. (For example: "The righteous shall blossom like
the palm tree." This is not a one dimensional image, righteousness-palm,
alone, but he "corresponds" with the text five sentences earlier, "When
the evil men blossom like grass," thereby creating a dialectic
between righteous-palm and evil-grass (Psalms,
B. When the omens
delineate a subject that can be observed as being directed toward a
value-spiritual process that occurs within, the omens point to this as an impetus
to elevate it to a higher educational-spiritual level.
C. At a certain stage,
when the omen completes its purpose of directing and pointing, the omen moves
aside and "leaves the stage" to leave the affixed ethical message,
with no intervention of the omens. (For example, when David prepared to fight
against Goliath, he removes his sword, his helmet, and his armor, "And he
takes a stick in his hand." The stick is the omen, as the stick has no
practical role in the story, since David used the slingshot that was in his
hand. Goliath chides him, "Am I a dog that you come after me with sticks?"
And David's answer is not "You come to me with a sword and a javelin – And
I come with a stick," but the stick, as an omen, clears the way for the
accompanying spiritual message, "In the name of God." (Samuel I.
and its obverse
Of course you have waited patiently with the
immediate question that arises from our parsha: What
about Laban's running, immediately with Rebecca's
arrival at her house, running – "Laban ran out
to the man at the spring." (Ibid, 29) In theory, this running contradicts the nice,
neat new commentary presented here.
Everyone is familiar with Rashi's
commentary: "Why did he run and for what did he run? And when he saw the
nose ring, he said: He is rich and he set his eyes on the fortune." It
seems that this interpretation is the reply to the question of the difference
between Laban's running and Rebecca's
But, as we said, our purpose is not to reconcile
the different texts, but to search for more layers, more insights. If we
continue looking into the way the omens work, we have before us a contradiction
that arises directly from the written text, between the quality running of
Rebecca and the running that at face value, looks like running of a different nature:
ordinary, at best and self-centered, at worst. Have we run into a stumbling
block or maybe the contrary: The text presents us with a means of
discriminating between the two.
We should emphasize that if the second
possibility exists, the text provides us with the keys in our hand, not only to
understand the chapter, but also a general direction to discern deception:
between words of truth and empty words, as eloquent as they may be. Between an
act with intention and an act that is self-serving. To wit, the study has
developed into an existential inquiry.
I can offer an answer from the literal meaning
of the parsha. Indeed Laban
ran, but the texts clarifies that his running was specific, Immediately,
on the morrow, Laban tries to slow down, to hold up "for
a day or ten," The answer from the text to our query is: We shouldn't draw
conclusions from a single word or act, but rather test them in a wider context,
whether the act supports the big picture of events. (In practice, the incident
recalls the tests for a false prophet).
Interestingly enough, these incidents repeat
themselves with the meeting of Jacob and Rachel. "Jacob told Rachel that
he was her father's kinsman that he was Rebecca's son; and she ran and
told her father. On hearing the news of his sister's son Jacob, Laban ran to greet him; he embraced him and kissed
him…" (Breishit 29:
Also here, Rachel runs and even Laban runs. Maybe Laban changed
his character? The continuation of the story is known and the delay this time
ends with no less than 20 years.
We found that when we look into running as an
omen, it not only attests to the special quality of the action, but also
observing running as physical only, when in fact it is procrastination.
cherry on the cake
The second feature of the omen is the process.
Rebecca ran a quality run, of mobilization,
towards the destiny that lies before her. She is prepared to stand up against
her family and to steadfastly adhere to her destiny. In theory, when she met
Isaac and conceived-the process was completed.
And now, the text hints to us, thru the means of
the continuation of the omen, that she has erred. "And the babies struggled
within her." Rebecca is amazed, for hasn't she gone over and above to fulfill
her destiny? Her running came from good intentions, and, here, suddenly, the
running is struggling within her? She tries to understand what went astray: "…and
she said 'If so why do I exist; She went to inquire of the Lord and the Lord
answered her, "Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall
issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, and the
older shall serve the younger'" (Ibid 25:22-23)
If so, Rebecca alone knows what will happen. And
here, from following running as an omen, a different way is offered to us to
comprehend the meaning of her intervention to correct the blessing of Isaac to
And when does the omen vacate its place?
In following the process of the non-mentioning
of running, arises a conspicuous point. Jacob does not run.
Not towards Laban, as
we have seen above, and not in his renewed meeting with his brother Esau after
20 years. "And Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and falling on his
neck, he kissed him; and they wept." (Ibid 33:4)
How are we to understand this? If running is a
desired quality towards mobilization, how is it that Jacob is not described as
using this quality? Again, the essence is really the posing of the question and
the discussion of the meanings that present themselves to us.
Immediately, the text presents us with a
statement: Don't be righteous fools. Running has its place, but it should be
tested by it's appropriateness in the situation. But in our case, Jacob himself
provides us with the meaning of the subject.
Esau, of whom it is not clear if his intention
is towards killing or reconciliation, sees that it is better to join the rising
power or even better – to have Jacob join his camp. "Let us start on our
journey and I will proceed at your pace." But Jacob elucidates the state
of affairs: "Let my lord go ahead of his servant, while I travel
to run and a time to travel slowly
on Jacob's shoulders, is the responsibility to build a nation, to run the long
Hermon is a graduate of
and Harvard in Jewish Thought. He has served as an educational shaliach of the Jewish Agency. He is the author of Symbols
in the Torah; a Study of the Tanach through Symbols.
The book demonstrates the approach of "Symbol Method" thru one
"His loving-kindness and
What love is in feelings, hessed – loving-kindness – is in deeds, love translated into action.
Truth is, to a certain extent, a restricting, or at least a limiting
addition. Hessed v’emet – loving-kindness and truth is an act of
love where the love does not run too close to overlooking the truth. Human love
is blind. It is inclined to accede to the wishes of the beloved one without
considering the true worth of these wishes. God's love is hessed v’emet, it only grants such wishes in which the
truth is conserved, which truly do lead to happiness. Thus with Jacob, the care
for his burial in general is an act of hessed, the limitation, the observing the condition "but not
is the emet. So, too, what the spies were
to do Rehab was a hessed v’emet, a conditional act of kindness. "Truth"
is the spice, which guards the loving-kindness, so that he not lose with his own hands the main ingredient: the truth.
perhaps here too. To see their children married is
the dearest wish of parents. If they try to accomplish it at all costs, without
consideration of the true essentials (if it is not with a girl with an Abrahamitic disposition, well then we will take one from Aner, Eshkol, or Mamreh, or from
are endeavoring to do hessed without emet. But Abraham wanted only hessed together
and both were granted to him by God.
(Rabbi Shimshon R. Hirsch, Commentary on Bereishit
24:27, translated by Isaac Levy)
Kiryat arba – the city of four
– four-cubit grave
is important to reflect upon this parasha which
suggests that even if Man should grow in stature until the universe is his, and
all that it contains is his, all he really possesses
is his four-cubit grave. All the land (of Canaan) was given to Abraham as
a gift, and his first purchase there was the
which was in Kiryat Arba,
"The Town of Four", which
Bahya, Bereishit 23:20)
is every man's portion in his world… that he is buried in the town of his four cubits, an allusion
to those four cubits which remained Abraham's after he had been given the
entire land as a gift. Actually, this is all that remains of man's greatness
and possessions which he acquires during his lifetime.
"Seven Years of Discussions on the Parasha of
Why Did Abraham Object So Strongly to the
"From the Daughters of the Canaanites"
– Lest they say I entered the land through inheritance and bequest, but I only
want it by God's hands, that he give it to me as a possession.
(Hizkuni 24; 3)
must recall that when Abraham rejected the Canaanite women, the people of
idolaters. It follows that
corruption, rather than its strange gods, motivated his decision. Paganism is
in essence an intellectual error that can be corrected. However, moral
corruption takes hold of the whole of a person's being, to the depths of the
soul and the emotions. Here [in
Abraham could not hope to find his son a modest and morally pure wife, a wife
who would bring to his home the pearl of nobility and the purity of morals.
(R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Bereishit
Any man can repent and repentance atones for
Isaac and Ishmael buried him": Hence we know that Ishmael repented and let
Isaac walk before him, and this is the ripe old age that is attributed to
(Rashi on Genesis 25,
Life of Sarah": Rashi comments, "It is all
equal to goodness," and even though regarding Ishmael it is written,
"And these are the years of the life of Ishmael," it may be said that
he repented, as Rashi commented regarding "And
Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him." And a convert is similar to a
newborn child, and all the years that were earlier, all the evil that he did,
are not thought to be anything, and he is like someone who has repented all his
(Da'at Zekenim Miba'alei Hatosafot," Genesis 23,
All of abraham's
children are nurtured from the same roots and are expected to continue his
"And he will be like a planted tree" – The Holy One Blessed
be He took him and planted him in the Garden of Eden.
Another interpretation: That the
Holy One Blessed be He planted him in the
"That gives its fruits in season" – that is Ishmael.
"And whose leaves shall not wilt"- that is Isaac.
"And everything he does succeeds"
– that is the sons of Keturah.
"Also the sons of Adam, also the sons of Man"
"Also the sons of Adam, also the sons of Man": What does
"also the sons of Adam" mean?
These are the sons of Abraham, of whom it is written "the greatest person ["Adam"] among the giants" (Joshua
of man" – these are the sons of Noah, of whom it is written: "a righteous man" (Bereishit 6: 9).
(Midrash Tehillim, 49)
deductible donation, the New Israel Fund may be used as the conduit.
Contributions should be marked as donor-advised to OzveShalom,
the Shabbat Shalom project, with mention of the registration number
If you wish to subscribe to the
email English editions of Shabbat Shalom, to print copies of it for
distribution in your synagogue, to inquire regarding the dedication of an
edition in someone's honor or memory, to find out how to make tax-exempt
donations, or to suggest additional helpful ideas, please call
Issues may be dedicated in honor of
an event, person, simcha, etc. Requests must be
made 3-4 weeks in advance to appear in the Hebrew,
days in advance to appear in the English email.
Shabbat Shalom is available on
our website: www.netivot-shalom.org.il
For responses and arranging to write
for Shabbat Shalom: email@example.com