Chazal lavish effusive praise on the lofty achievement of Avraham Avinu.
No wonder – between the two parshios that focus on his life, we
witness the great esteem in which he was held, whether by humans (“You are
a prince of G-d in our midst”) or angels (e.g. those who wept for him as
he readied his knife-laden hand at the climax of the Akedah).
His accomplishment is alluded to in summary fashion at the beginning of
our parshah: “Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem had
blessed Avraham with everything.” This can only mean his grasp of
chesed, through which he was able to access and secure all levels
of spiritual elevation.
Why is it precisely at this moment that we see Avraham holding the keys to
the Heavenly kingdom? Be’er Mayim Chaim borrows from the Rambam (Perush
HaMishanyos, Peah 1:1) to explain why this blessing was bestowed upon
Avraham specifically after burying Sarah.
Despite the fact that mitzvos are rewarded primarily in the World to Come,
the “fruits” of some mitzvos are served in this world. Two elements are
included in those mitzvos. Obeying them means responding to His command –
which, like most mitzvos, can be rewarded only in the next world. At the
same time, however, these mitzvos in particular benefit other people.
They bring good to others. Those who perform these mitzvos inspire others
to do the same. The general goodness that this brings about benefits
everyone, including the original performers of the mitzvah, to whom some
of that benefit redounds. Torah stands as “the equivalent of them all”
because learning it leads to many acts of chesed.
What emerges is that the main “substance” of any mitzvah is so lofty that
its reward is not and cannot be of this world. That reward is reserved
for a loftier place – Olam Habah. The ancillary aspect of a
mitzvah, such as the benefit that it brings to others, is rewarded in this
world. Thus, the rich chesed shel emes (i.e. the chesed
done for the dead, who cannot reciprocate the favor) performed by Avraham
in burying Sarah brought him untold reward in the next world, but also
much bounty in this one. “Hashem blessed Avraham with everything” follows
inexorably from Avraham’s extending himself in chesed in the long
Moreover, Avraham distinguished himself in the hidur mitzvah, the
embellishing of the mitzvah beyond its strict requirements. He spent a
large fortune on acquiring the Machpelah cave, sparing no expense to bury
Sarah in the most perfect way possible. While Chazal tell us that mitzvos
are not rewarded in this world, the extra touches – the hidur
mitzvah - is rewarded. This, too, is part of the Be’er Mayim Chaim’s
intent in linking Hashem’s blessing of Avraham with the burial of Sarah.
(We find an analogous thought by the Saba Kadisha of Lechowitch. A
familiar passage in the Zohar states that all beracha – “upper and
lower” – is contingent upon Shabbos. The Saba Kadisha expands upon this.
Blessings of ruchniyus – “upper” blessings – stem from Shabbos
itself. The lower blessings of material benefit flow from our observance
of Tosafos Shabbos – the time we voluntarily append to Shabbos,
embellishing it by lavishing a bit more time and concern. Here, too, the
added element that stands a bit to the side of the main observance of the
mitzvah occasions its own rewards, which are experienced in this world
rather than the next.)
We are still puzzled. Just why should it be that all these seemingly
unrelated items - benefiting others, embellishing mitzvos, and adding on
to Shabbos – deserve special treatment, special reward in the here and
A Gemara in Avodah Zarah (25A) provides the missing link. Two opinions
are voiced regarding a line in 2 Shmuel that speaks of Sefer
HaYashar. Just what is this Sefer HaYashar? One opinion sees
this as Bereishis, the book of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, all of
whom were called yesharim, upright. A second opinion links the
pasuk, to Devarim. It might be called a Sefer HaYashar
because it records the command “You shall do what is upright and good in
the eyes of Hashem.”
We are getting closer to our destination. We understand the role of the
Avos, their importance in beginning the process of tikkun,
of launching the observance of mitzvos. Just how did they know in what
manner to observe the Torah before it was given?
The foundation of their observance was complete commitment to doing all
that was upright and good in the eyes of Hashem. Utterly devoted to this
goal, they found that their very souls and limbs led them inexorably to do
what is upright and good, which ultimately means living by the Torah’s
mitzvos. Put more succinctly, the source of the observance of the Torah
by the Avos was their devotion to the upright and the good. Their
observance in turn became the foundation of the practice of Torah by their
descendants, the Jewish nation.
The Torah provides a place for the mitzvah of “you shall do what is
upright and good” not at the very beginning of Chumash, but at the end, in
Devarim, well after the Avos discovered that this translated into
observing the Will of G-d through the performance of what would become the
mitzvos. Even after these actions were translated into fixed demands upon
their descendants, there would be room for seeking out the upright and the
good. An entirely different facet of this search applies after Matan
Torah. It is aimed at areas not specifically addressed by the
mitzvos. It calls on us to carefully weigh all of our actions and
decision, to determine whether Hashem will approve of then as upright and
This search is a global one. It applies in all areas of life, whether in
our relationship with G-d or with man. In our relationships with our
fellow man, we are called upon to make choices that maximize the good that
can result from our endeavors. Chazal make a point of illustrating the
principle with one law of their making, the right of the neighbor2. In dealing with G-d, seeking out the
upright and good requires us to examine activities that the Torah does not
forbid, but may not be so upright or good. Included in this is the
concept of sanctifying ourselves in the arena of the permissible, taking
care not to make use of available pleasures in excess.
We now understand that the two opinions do not conflict with each other in
the slightest, but touch on two aspects of the same quest. A commitment
to steer all activity in the direction of the upright and good in the eyes
of Hashem, a resolve to do nothing but that which will bring, as it were,
pleasure to our Creator, leads to different places. A Bereishis variety
leads to discovering the complete structure of halachic life. This was
the experience of the Avos. A Devarim variety leads their descendants to
find new and otherwise unlegislated opportunities to fulfill what we sense
is Hashem’s Will.
In the follow-through to the Devarim-command, the Torah promises that
Hashem will “do good to you and your children after you, forever.” We see
here the mirror of Avraham’s experience with burying Sarah. His
preoccupation with the upright and good led to Hashem’s blessing him with
everything good. The two sections are perfectly parallel.
Why the promise of a bounty of Hashem’s good? Two kinds of Divine flow of
good are available to us. One we merit as a result of the performance of
mitzvos, and it is reserved for the next world. A second kind of Divine
flow results from our very relationship with Hashem, not from what we
deserve as a reward for having served Him. It comes to us, even in this
world, when we find grace in His eyes. Our davening is full of
references to our desire to find this grace. The surest way to finding
this grace is through single-minded devotion to do the upright and good.
This, kevayachol, brings Him pleasure, which in turn cements the
relationship of closeness. The Divine influence associated with this
closeness operates entirely outside of considerations of reward for our
actions; that can only be addressed in the next world.
How rich are the words of Rambam, now that we are cognizant of the inner
meaning of his words. Rambam created an identity between deeds that
benefit others and the promise of tasting the “fruit” of the good deeds in
this world. The very purpose of Creation was for Hashem to be able to do
good for His creatures! When we mere mortals succeed in doing so, we act
in consonance with the most basic purpose of Creation. We bring pleasure,
as it were, to Him, and receive the benefits of our closeness to Him.
Pursuing the upright and good is not reserved for the enlightened few.
All of us can find ways to do so, each according to his comprehension and
his spiritual level.
1 Basesd on Nesivos Shalom, pgs. 138-140 2 Basing itself on the imperative to do what is upright and
good, the Gemara legislated a right of first refusal for a neighbor. One
who offers a parcel of land for sale is legally required to allow his
neighbor to match his best offer and buy the land in preference over a