Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number
22 Cheshvan 5758
November 22, 1997
The Parness Family
on the yahrzeits of their fathers
on the yahrzeit of Max Parness a"h
Sarah and David Maslow
in memory of their fathers
Archie Maslow a"h (18 Marcheshvan)
and Samuel Holstein a"h (25 Marcheshvan)
We read in this parashah that before Rivkah left her family to
marry Yitzchak, they blessed her (24:60), "Our sister, may you
come to be thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit
the gate of its foes." Some commentaries observe that Hashem
placed these words in the mouths of Rivkah's relatives. Just as
Hashem had sent His angel to bless Avraham in the past, so He sent
Rivkah's family to bless her, these commentaries say.
R' Zvi Hirsch Schloss z"l (19th century) writes: Whether Hashem
directly influenced Rivkah's relatives to say these words or
whether the relatives said them of their own accord, we attribute
importance to these words because Hashem made them a part of the
Torah. Everything in the Torah is a prophecy which speaks to us.
Just as we do not attribute importance to Bil'am's prophecies
merely because Hashem placed the words in Bil'am's mouth, but
rather because they are part of the Torah, so it is here. [Ed.
Note: The gemara (Bava Batra 14b) states, "Moshe wrote the Torah
and the prophecy of Bil'am." What does this mean? Is not the
prophecy of Bil'am a part of the Torah? One answer is that the
gemara wishes to emphasize that the importance of Bil'am's
prophecy does not come from the fact that Bil'am said it, but
rather from the fact that the Torah repeated it. (Compare Shnei
Luchot Ha'berit, Parashat Balak)]
Why does the Torah relate the blessing to Rivkah through the
mouths of Rivkah's relatives? R' Schloss explains: The message
here is that Rivkah's descendants would one day inherit the land
where her relatives lived. That land was Aram (Syria), and the
prophecy came true when King David captured that land many
centuries later. Through King David's battles, Syria became a
part of Eretz Yisrael; nevertheless, just as Rivkah's relatives
were impure, so Syria never achieved the same level of sanctity as
the rest of Eretz Yisrael. (Thus, for example, the laws of
tithing are more lenient in Syria than they are in Eretz Yisrael.)
(Niflaot Mitorat Hashem p.28)
An Astonishing Midrash
"Sarah died in Kiryat Arba" (23:2) from here we know that
Adam spoke Aramaic.
R' Shimshon Ostropoli z"l explains: The pasuk implies that the
place was already called Kiryat Arba/"The city of the four" when
Sarah died. Who named it so? Presumably Adam [for the gemara
says that Hashem showed him every place where towns would be built
by his descendants]. The word "kiryah" is Aramaic for "city";
therefore, Adam apparently spoke Aramaic.
(Quoted in Binat Nevonim)
"Sarah's lifetime was 100 years, 20 years and seven years;
the years of Sarah's life." (23:1)
Rashi comments: All of her years were equal in their goodness.
Certainly Sarah's years were not equal in their goodness in a
material sense, as she longed for a child until she was 90 years
old and she had other troubles, such as those with Pharaoh and
Avimelech. R' Aharon Lewin z"l (20th century) explains Rashi's
comment as follows:
Every person has ups and downs in his life, and both the "ups"
and the "downs" can have a negative impact on his spiritual well-
being. When a person experiences troubles, he may be unable to
serve Hashem because he is depressed. On the other hand, when a
person experiences great success, he may become haughty and thus
fail to serve Hashem.
However, this is not the Torah's way. On the verse (Michah
6:8), "Walk humbly with your G-d," Chazalcomment: "This refers to
assisting a bride and accompanying the deceased." R' Lewin
explains that one's relationship to Hashem should be the same
whether he is at a wedding or at a funeral.
Rashi is teaching us that Sarah's service of Hashem was not
negatively affected by her experiences, either good or bad. For
all of her years, her service of Hashem was equal in goodness.
The midrash says that R' Akiva once noticed that his students
were dozing off. In order to awaken them, he said, "What did
Esther see in order to rule over 127 nations? She saw that Sarah
lived 127 years." R' Lewin explains: Esther, in her lifetime,
experienced the humbling feeling of being an orphan and a foster
child, and she also experienced the heady feeling of being empress
of the Persian Empire. How did she maintain her equanimity? She
learned the above lesson from studying Sarah's 127 years.
How was this statement calculated to awaken R' Akiva's students?
R' Akiva lived at a low point in Jewish history, having seen both
the destruction of the Temple and the crushing of Bar Kochva's
rebellion. The nation was dozing off, i.e., it was becoming lax
in its observance because of a collective state of depression. It
was from this state that R' Akiva sought to awaken his students
with these words.
(Hadrash V'ha'iyun, ch.87)
The gematria of "va'yihyu chayei Sarah"/"Sarah's lifetime was"
equals the gematria of "Kulan hem shavin letovah"/"They were all
equal in their goodness."
"Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem blessed
Avraham with everything. Avraham said to his servant, the
elder of his household who ruled over all that was his . . ."
The midrash states: "Hashem blessed Avraham with everything"
means that he placed Avraham in control of his inclinations. "His
servant . . . who ruled over all that was his" means that he (the
servant, Eliezer) ruled over his inclinations.
How is it possible, asks R' Yisrael Salanter z"l, that Eliezer
ruled over his inclinations, while Avraham had to be given this
control as a gift? He explains as follows:
There are two approaches that a person can take to avoid being
enticed by his evil inclinations. One approach is to suppress
one's evil inclinations entirely; the other approach is to put
those inclinations to good use. [For example, a person who is
obsessed with material belongings can improve himself by
suppressing his desires and choosing to live in poverty, or he can
improve himself by putting his desires to good use, i.e.,
gathering wealth so that he can have the wherewithal to help
What is the difference between the person who adopts one
approach and the person who adopts the other approach? R' Yisrael
Salanter explains that a person who continually suppresses his
inclinations can face any challenge, whereas a person who molds
his inclinations so that they can be put to good use will be "out
of shape" -- he will have forgotten how to fight by the time he is
faced with an unusually great challenge. On the other hand, the
person who has molded his inclinations and put them to good use
will have "made something" of himself, while the other person will
not have done so.
Eliezer was the first type of person. He suppressed his evil
nature and behaved in a manner befitting a member of Avraham's
household. He "ruled over all that was his."
Avraham, on the other hand, was the second type of person. He
attempted to use his natural inclinations for good and he
succeeded, thus developing many unusually good traits. As a
result, however, he lacked the ability to suppress his
inclinations when necessary; therefore, this ability was given to
him as a gift, as the above midrash indicates.
(Ohr Yisrael, ch.30)
R' Donash ben Lavrat z"l
born approx. 920 - died approx. 980
Also known as R' Adonim Halevi, R' Donash was a grammarian and
paytan (liturgical poet). His works include the Shabbat song Dror
Yikra and Dvai Hasair, the (now) traditional preface to birkat
hamazon at weddings. It is not known where he was born, but he
studied in Baghdad under Rav Saadiah Gaon, who may have been his
Expert in the rules of Hebrew grammar and the meaning of obscure
Hebrew terms, R' Donash often disagreed with R' Saadiah and even
wrote a work, Teshuvot Al R' Saadiah Gaon, disputing many of his
teacher's definitions. In another work, R' Donash lists
approximately 200 instances in which his understanding of word
roots and definitions clashes with those given in the Machberet of
his contemporary, R' Menachem ben Saruk. Rashi frequently quotes
R' Donash, and R' Avraham Ibn Ezra lists him among the "Elders of
the Holy Tongue."
R' Donash has been called the father of Sephardic Hebrew poetry.
He borrowed certain forms from Arabic poetry, for which he was
criticized by R' Menachem. (This criticism appears to have been
connected to their disagreement over the relationship of Hebrew to
Arabic. R' Menachem disagreed with the convential wisdom that
Hebrew and Arabic words share common etymologies.) R' Donash also
was among the first poets of note to write secular poetry in
Hebrew. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim p.51-53; Shem Hagedolim,
Ma'arechet Aleph No. 115)
Copyright © 1997 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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