Parshat Chayei Sarah
Sarah the mother of the Jewish People, passes on at age 127. After mourning and eulogizing her, Avraham seeks to bury her in the Cave of Machpela. As this is the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham pays its owner, Ephron the Hittite, an exorbitant sum.
Avraham sends his faithful servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son, Yitzchak, making him swear to choose a wife only from among Avraham's family. Eliezer travels to Aram Naharaim and prays for a sign. Providentially, Rivka appears. Eliezer asks for water. Not only does she give him water, but she draws water for all 10 of his thirsty camels (some140 gallons)! This extreme kindness marks her as the right wife for Yitzchak and a suitable mother of the Jewish People. Negotiations with Rivka's father and her brother, Lavan, result in her leaving with Eliezer. Yitzchak brings Rivka into his mother Sarah's tent, marries her and loves her. He is then consoled for the loss of his mother.
Avraham remarries Hagar, who is renamed Ketura to indicate her improved ways. Six children are born to them. After giving them gifts, Avraham sends them to the East. Avraham passes away at the age of 175 and is buried next to Sarah in the Cave of Machpela.
The Best Cholent In The World
“Sarah’s lifetime was...” (23:1)
A few years ago, on Shabbat afternoon, I was asked to speak to group of young boys and girls who were about to go into the IDF. To prepare them better for their leadership roles, they join what are known as mechinot k’dam tzva’i. Part of their preparation is to come into contact with sections of Israeli society they would not normally meet.
This particular Shabbat, they were being hosted by Orthodox families in our area. They were all intelligent and articulate, the crème de la crème of Israeli secular society. For the most part, they had never had an in-depth encounter with someone Orthodox. I emphaszed to them that as a Jew I have an obligation to love and respect every Jew as my brother and sister, and that Orthodox Jews care and love their secular neighbors, even though this may not be immediately apparent. The gulf between the two worlds is not easy to bridge, but that afternoon I felt I made some headway.
Towards the end of my presentation, one of the young ladies accused me of not being a typical Orthodox person.
“You don’t seem judgmental to me,” she said. “At lunch, my hostess made me feel like ‘an empty wagon.’”
I’m not sure if she realized it, but that phrase “an empty wagon” was part of an historical argument between the Chazon Ish and the then Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion went to Bnei Brak to try and reach a compromise about yeshiva students serving in the army. He asked the Chazon Ish how the two communities could find a way to live together and the Chazon Ish responded, by quoting from the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “If two wagons meet each other while on the ascent to Bet-Horon, how then should they act? If one is laden and the other empty, the empty wagon should give way to the former.”
The Chazon Ish said that the Torah observant Jew is like a wagon laden with the tradition and customs of centuries, and the secular community should give way to it.
Sometimes. in our sincere desire to bring our Jewish brothers and sisters close to Yiddishkeit, we might possibly come off as somewhat condescending. No real relationship can start with an agenda. However intense my desire to bring those who are far away, close to the Shechina, if I treat my fellow Jew as a mitzvah waiting to be done, if I treat him or her like an Etrog, I will end up with a lemon.
In this week’s Torah portion, the two greatest outreach workers in history pass from the world’s stage. Avraham and Sarah. In Parshat Lech Lecha, the Torah speaks of ‘the souls they (Avraham and Sarah) made in Charan.” Rashi explains that these were the converts whom Avraham and Sarah brought under the wings of the Divine Presence. Avraham and Sarah brought them to a belief in Hashem. How is it then that Noach spent one hundred and twenty years, while building the ark, trying to make the people repent, and not a single one did?
When I was young, I remember a fellow walking up and down Oxford Street in the center of London, wearing a placard that read, “Repent while ye can! The end of the world is nigh!” The rush of commuters past him testified to his singular lack of success. Noach spent 120 years building an ark, the equivalent of a placard proclaiming the end of the world. Avraham and Sarah opened up a hostel which served the best cholent in the world.
Kindness isn’t kindness unless it’s unstinting and unconditional.