This week's parashah begins with the death of the Matriarch
Sarah. Midrash Rabbah applies to Sarah the verse (Tehilim 37:18),
"`Hashem knows the days of the temimim / wholesome, their inheritance
will be forever' - Just as they are wholesome, so their years are
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief
Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) asks: What is the connection between the first
part of the verse - "Hashem knows the days of the wholesome" - and the
second part of the verse - "their inheritance will be forever"? He
The Torah says (Devarim 33:28), "Yisrael shall dwell securely,
solitary, in the likeness of Yaakov, in a land of grain and wine."
The Jewish People can be secure only when they stand apart from the
nations of the world. Sarah was the first person to express this,
saying (in last week's parashah - 21:10), "For the son of the slave-
woman shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak."
Sarah also represents another "first." Her burial place was the
first Jewish-owned land in Eretz Yisrael, as described in this week's
parashah. Says R' Kook: These two "firsts" are alluded to in the two
parts of the verse, "Hashem knows the days of the temimim, their
inheritance will be forever." The first part refers to Sarah's
understanding that Jewish wholesomeness is attained through Jewish
solitariness. The second part refers to Sarah's role in securing the
inheritance of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael. (Shemuot
"I am an alien and a resident among you; grant me an estate
for a burial site with you, that I may bury my dead from
"The children of Chet answered Avraham, saying to him, `Hear
us, my lord - You are a prince of G-d in our midst'." (23:4-
R' Meir of Premishlan z"l (Galicia; early 19th century) exclaims:
Could it be that the evil Canaanites would honor Avraham thus!?
Rather, their intention was as follows: It was well known that Hashem
had decreed 400 years of wandering upon Avraham's family. Avraham
wanted his own lifetime to count toward those 400 years; therefore he
said, "I am an alien among you." But the Canaanites did not want to
give Avraham that satisfaction. "No!" they said. "You are a prince
"Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, `Please tip
over your jug so I may drink,' and who replies, `Drink, and I
will even water your camels,' her will You have designated
for Your servant, for Yitzchak; and may I know through her
that You have done kindness with my master." (24:14)
Rashi explains: "She is fit for him since she will be charitable
and will therefore be worthy of admission into the house of Avraham."
R' Shlomo Wolbe z"l (preeminent educator and mussar figure in
Israel; died 2005) writes: What we learn from Eliezer's request and
from Rashi's explanation is that the measure of chessed is the
quantity in which it is done. Precisely because Rivka not only
fulfilled Eliezer's request but went beyond it, she proved that she
was worthy of entering Avraham's household. Many people say, "I am
willing to do chessed, but only up to a point." The ideal practice of
chessed, however, knows no limits. [Ed. note: Presumably, R' Wolbe is
not referring to limits that are imposed upon a person by his
circumstances, for example, his need to earn a living and spend time
with his family. Rather, R' Wolbe apparently is referring to limits a
person imposes on his chessed because he thinks he has already
fulfilled his obligation.]
The story is told of a rabbi [some say it was R' Yitzchak
Elchanan Spektor z"l of 19th century Kovno, Lithuania] who was asked
by a congregant: "May I use milk for the Four Cups at the Seder since
I have no money for wine?" "No!" answered the rabbi, and he gave the
questioner a large sum of money to buy provisions for the holiday.
"Why did you give him such a large donation?" other congregants
asked the rabbi. "Wine does not cost that much!"
"Because," replied the rabbi, "if the questioner intended to use
milk for the Four Cups, it is apparent that he is lacking not only
wine, but also meat." That, says R' Wolbe, is chessed - recognizing
how great others' needs are and following through.
In truth, if we only recognized others' needs, we could perform
unlimited chessed. How so? Because chessed is performed not only
with one's money and other tangible things. Smiling, saying a kind
word, and giving encouragement are all forms of chessed. There is no
limit to the "small" acts of kindness that we could perform if we
would only recognize that others need our kindness.
(Alei Shur Vol. I, p. 93)
From the Haftarah . . .
"The king, David, was old, coming along in days; they covered
him with garments, but he did not become warm." (Melachim I
The midrash comments: "`The king, David, was old' - Regarding
this it is written (Mishlei 16:31), `The crown of splendor is old
age.' Where is this crown found? [Mishlei continues:] `It will be
found in the path of tzedakah.' From whom do we learn this? From
Avraham, about whom it says (Bereishit 18:19), "For I have loved him,
because he commands his children and his household after him that they
keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice.' In this merit,
Avraham attained seivah and ziknah [two terms for old age], as it is
written (in our parashah - 25:8), `Avraham expired and died at a good
seivah / old age,' and (24:1), `Now Abraham was zaken / old, coming
along in days.' [The midrash continues:] Likewise you find regarding
King David, about whom it says (Shmuel II 8:15), "David administered
justice and charity to his entire people,' that he merited old age, as
it is written, `The king, David, was old'."
R' Shmuel Laniado z"l (16th century rabbi of Aleppo, Syria)
writes extensively to explain this midrash. We present some excerpts.
The midrash seems to have been bothered by a question: Why does
the verse say, "The king, David," rather than the more correct (in
Hebrew), "David, the king"? The midrash answers that the verse is
alluding to the reason why David merited old age. Specifically, the
structure of our verse allows us to relate it the verse, "David
administered justice and charity." "Charity" is something that even a
commoner can perform. "Justice," on the other hand, is the domain of
the king. Thus, to parallel the phrase, "justice and charity," our
verse had to say first, "The king," and then, "David." And, from the
fact that the person of "David" parallels the concept of charity /
tzedakah in these verses, we learn the lesson that the quoted verse
from Mishlei teaches, i.e., old age will be found in the path of
The verse in Mishlei teaches another lesson as well. It says,
"The crown of splendor is old age." Unfortunately, some people do not
find old age to be a crown of splendor. However, when a person merits
old age as a result of performing acts of charity, his old age will be
a crown of splendor. Thus, regarding both Avraham and David, the
Torah and the prophet respectively use the phrase, "Coming along in
days." This teaches us that they gladly came along with their days.
They did not dread old age but rather found it to be a crown of
This week we present another excerpt from Ma'agal Tov, the
diary of R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l ("Chida"; 1724-
1806), describing the author's travels as a "Shelucha
D'rabbanan" ("Shadar" or "meshulach") on behalf of the Jewish
community of Chevron. The entry presented here is dated 24
Cheshvan 5514 . Note that some of the poetic language
and Biblical references are lost in translation.
Wednesday: We departed from there [Senigallia, Italy] and arrived
safely in the city of Ancona the same day. And it happened, as I was
coming through the gate into the city square and "Avraham came out" -
i.e., the g'vir Signor Avraham Hakohen, may G-d preserve him - to
receive us in his house. Within the hour, the venerable rabbi, his
honor the rav, R' Yechiel Hakohen, may G-d preserve him, came,
together with some of the scholars of the yeshiva, amongst them the
two luminaries, our master R.S. Pappo, may G-d grant him life, Master
of the Mishnah; and R' Yehuda Peretz Bonsenior, may G-d preserve him.
These men are all perfect, all equally good, in doing great honor
to emissaries from the Holy Land. Even toward me - a young man - they
acted marvelously. Day and night - until midnight - the footsteps of
the notables, community leaders and scholars never ceased; one group
entering, the other going out - constantly busy with me. Would that I
were a cowherd to one of them! . . . And when the time came for us
to depart, they would not let us go without escorting us to our abode.
On the day of Shabbat [Parashat] Chayei Sarah, I preached the
sermon. Afterward, the notables of the congregation came forward
"into the shade of my roof" and suggested that they would walk with me
to visit the Italian synagogue. [Elsewhere Chida explains that Ancona
had an Italian synagogue and a Spanish synagogue.] . . .
[Chida remained in Ancona for several weeks.] When it came time
for the men of the great council to consider the matter of my mission.
"Chaim asked" [a play on Tehilim 21:5 and Chida's name]: "It is my
desire to go to the people [presumably, to collect individually] and
do not restrain my going to them." And so they did; after Shabbat
they sent two men of stature [as escorts?] and "they hauled and drew
up Yosef" [a play on Bereishit 37:28 and Chida's second name]. . .
[The council met further] and a spirit of goodwill supported them [to
give] the sum of 275 Corinthian ducats. I answered them that there is
a hint of evil [i.e., 275 is the gematria of "raah" / "evil"], and it
is not fitting after they have rendered me only good. This found
favor in their eyes, and they added another five! . . .
There in Ancona I saw a commentary on the [Midrash] Sifre by R'
Hillel in manuscript, and also She'eilot U'teshuvot Min Hashamayim by
some holy man.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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