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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.

(Breishit 24:16)

 

And the maiden was very beautiful... There are three reasons why the servant chose her from the others.

1. She was more beautiful than the others he saw there.

2. "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.

3. 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.

(Haemek HaDavar Ibid)

 

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 1:11) Although it is still a possibility that Vashti had more charm than beauty, the fact that of her refusal proves her inspiration, propriety and morals.

(Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, ibid)

 

 

A time to run and time to travel slowly

Meir Hermon

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 18:2) If they stood opposite him, where did he run? This, and more as we have seen that when Lot met the same angels, it is described differently, "When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them, and bowing low with his face to the ground... (Ibid, 19:1) As I have said, this is 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 1, 19:19) Elisha perceives the greatness of the moment, this, as 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, 18:7). The boy also "caught" the rhythm.

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 24:16) Rebecca is caught up with the running of the servant and 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,1)

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.17) An expansion on this can be found in my book Symbols in the Tanach.

Running 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 running.

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 29:12-13)

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.

 

The 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 his sons.

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 slowly." (Ibid 33:12-14)

A time to run and a time to travel slowly

For on Jacob's shoulders, is the responsibility to build a nation, to run the long distance.

Meir Hermon is a graduate of Hebrew University 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 symbol, 'the stick-staff.' Meir77@zahavnet.net.il www.symbolpath.co.il

 

"His loving-kindness and His truth"

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 hessedthe limitation, the observing the condition "but not in Egypt", is the emetSo, 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.

So 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 Aram) then they are endeavoring to do hessed without emetBut Abraham wanted only hessed together with emet, 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

It 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 Cave of Makhpela which was in Kiryat Arba, "The Town of Four", which is Hebron.

(Rabeinu Bahya, Bereishit 23:20)

 

This 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.

(From Leibowitz, "Seven Years of Discussions on the Parasha of the Week")

 

Why Did Abraham Object So Strongly to the Canaanite Women?

"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)

 

We must recall that when Abraham rejected the Canaanite women, the people of Aram were also idolaters. It follows that Canaan's moral 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 Canaan], 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 24: 4)

 

Any man can repent and repentance atones for everything

"And 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 Abraham.

 (Rashi on Genesis 25, 9)

 

"The 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 life.

 (Da'at Zekenim Miba'alei Hatosafot," Genesis 23,1)

 

All of abraham's children are nurtured from the same roots and are expected to continue his mission

"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 Land of Israel.

"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.

(Midrash Tehillim, 1)

 

"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 14:15)also - to include the sons of Ishmael and Keturah. "Sons of man" - these are the sons of Noah, of whom it is written: "a righteous man" (Bereishit 6: 9).

(Midrash Tehillim, 49)

 

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