Thursday, November 20, 2008

151 - Chaya Sara

When Sara Imeinu passed away, Avraham went to Bnei Cheis to purchase Me'aras Ha'Machpeila as a burial ground for his wife. After he bought the land from Efron, the Torah tells us, "And Efron's field "rose" ... as an acquisition of Avraham" (Bereishis 23, 17). Rashi explains that the field, so to speak, "ascended" when its ownership was transferred from a layman (Efron) to a king (Avraham). Rav Wolbe asks, (Shiurei Chumash) what difference does it make to the field who owns it? He explains as follows.

The Vilna Gaon on Megillas Esther (3, 13) writes that there are three mitzvos performed on the day of Purim - the reading of the Megilla, Mishloach Manos to complement the Seudah and Matanas L'evyonim - corresponding to the three components that comprise a person. The reading of the Megillah corresponds to his neshama, the Mishloach Manos to his body and Matanos L'evyonim to his material acquisitions. It is evident from this explanation that one's money and possessions are part and parcel of who he is. If so, we can understand the spiritual ascension of Me'aras Ha'Machpeila after it was purchased by Avraham. It had been an essential part of Efron and now it became an essential part of Avraham, the greatest person alive at the time.

Rav Wolbe elaborates that we tend to believe that we are in control of our money and we may do with it as we see fit. However, this is not a correct perception. Every dollar and every material acquisition was Heavenly ordained that it be placed in a person's possession, and he becomes a guardian of all that he owns. Therefore, he must appropriate his money properly and not act negligently with regard to his belongings. One who constantly spends his money on frivolities might very well be lacking in his emunah. Such a person shows that he does not believe that his money was given to him by Hashem with a specific purpose in mind.

The Torah relates a number of stories, which according to Chazal, demonstrate this idea. One such example is when Yaakov Avinu prepared his family in anticipation of their meeting with Eisav, and he crossed over a river with his family and all his belongings. However, he forgot some small vessels and he put himself in danger by going back to retrieve them. Yaakov acknowledged the fact that his money was G-d given and therefore, spent time and effort to retrieve seemingly trivial utensils.

All possessions are given to a person for a purpose. If he doesn't need it himself, then it was given to him to allocate to others who do need it. Just because one may have no use for an item, this does not permit him to act carelessly with it. One who shows care for his possessions has in effect displayed his emunah that the Creator gave him those belongings for a specific reason.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

150 - Vayeira

The Gr"a says that the 613 mitzvos are merely the general commandments, because the specific details of each mitzva are endless. He proves this idea from the fact that many parshios in the Torah contain not even a single one of the 613 mitzvos. If we were not supposed to be gleaning details from these parshios with regard to the performance of mitzvos, for what purpose were they written? Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash) that Parshas Vayeira is a case in point of this idea of the Vilna Gaon. Despite the fact that it contains not a single commandment, it contains a veritable "Shulchan Aruch" with regard to the area of chesed. Vayeira commences with recounting Avraham's extraordinary hachnasas orchim.
Despite Avraham's very advanced age and weak state of health, as he recovered from his circumcision, he nevertheless went out searching for guests in the scorching sun. When he finally spotted the G-d-sent angels in the guise of Arabs, he asked Hashem to put their conversation on hold(!) so that he could tend to his guests. He offered his guests merely bread, but then hurried to prepare them a gourmet meal: slaughtering three cows so that he could give each one the best cut of meat. Avraham didn't wait until the entire meal was prepared; as each dish was made he hurried to bring the food to his hungry visitors. He waited over them as they ate, and personally escorted them after they finished their meal.
However, the chesed mentioned in this week's parsha is not limited to Avraham i.e. the host. The Torah tells us that the angels asked Avraham, "Where is your wife Sarah?" to which he answered that she could be found inside the tent. Rashi points out that although the angels knew the whereabouts of Sarah, they asked Avraham so that he would appreciate his wife's modesty. It didn't make a difference that Avraham was nearly one hundred years old and had been married for over seventy years - a wife should always be endeared to her husband. This is chesed that pertains to a guest.
Moreover, the Torah reveals a chesed performed by Hashem Himself. After being informed that she would give birth to a child, Sarah laughed and questioned the possibility of such an event in light of the old age of Avraham. Hashem (the G-d of truth) repeated this conversation to Avraham - with a small change intended to preserve their marital harmony. Instead of relaying that Sarah said, "My husband is old" He stated that Sarah said, "I am old." Chazal derive from Hashem's remark that it is permissible to lie for the sake of making peace. When the intention is one of chesed, an untruth cannot be considered deceit.
Our second encounter with the chesed performed by Avraham comes in the wake of his being informed about the imminent destruction of the cities of Sodom and Amorah. Though the inhabitants were wicked, he was concerned about them and extended himself on their behalf by praying fervently for their survival. They were neither his colleagues nor his friends - he didn't even know them; they needed help and he did everything in his ability to save them.
If we take a minute to study this Shulchan Aruch of chesed, we will find many aspects that we can incorporate into our everyday lives. There is nothing loftier than helping another, there is almost never a situation where it is too difficult to perform chesed, and it is never beneath one's dignity to personally perform the kindness. The beneficiary deserves the very best treatment, without delay and every single person is a potential beneficiary - regardless of his greatness, age or social status. We have much to gain from an in depth study of the parsha - even one that contains none of the 613 commandments!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

149 - Lech Lecha

People tend to believe that the earlier generations were less advanced than later, more cultured, generations. We know that for Jews there is a concept of yeridas hadoros - a continuous decline in their spiritual level as they get further away from Matan Torah. However, with regard to Non-Jews, people think that their spiritual level hasn't changed, and if anything, they have only advanced as the generations have moved along. Moreover, some claim, Non-Jews had no knowledge of G-d before the introduction of the religions of Christianity and Islam. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) opens our eyes to a number of incidents in the Torah that prove the exact opposite. The earlier generations believed in Hashem to an extent unmatched by later generations.

In Parshas Vayeira (Bereishis 20, 2-8) the Torah relates that King Avimelech took Sarah as a wife - believing that she was Avraham's sister. Hashem came to Avimelech in a dream and warned him lest he touch Avraham's wife. Avimelech rose early in the morning and recounted his dream to his servants who all trembled in fear after hearing what happened. The very fact that Avimelech merited having Hashem speak to him in a dream is proof that he was on an extremely high spiritual level. Additionally, it could only be the fear of Heaven that propelled the king out of bed in the morning and caused his servants to quake in fright.

In addition, Rashi in this week's parsha (Bereishis 16, 1) tells us that Sarah's maidservant, Hagar, was the daughter of Par'oh - the most powerful ruler in the entire world. After beholding the miracles that occurred to Sarah, he sent his daughter off to work as a maid for this extraordinary woman. He declared, "It is better that my daughter be a maidservant in this household than she be a mistress in any other household!" It is doubtful, to say the least, that in our day and age the President of the United States would send his daughter to work in the home of the Gadol Hador!

What caused Par'oh to make such a remarkable statement? The Torah recounts the amazing events that led up to Par'oh's declaration. Due to a famine in the land of Cana'an, Avraham traveled with his wife Sarah to Egypt - the land of plenty. Upon beholding Sarah's beauty, the Egyptians seized her for they felt she would be an appropriate wife for Par'oh. As a result, Hashem brought terrible afflictions upon Par'oh and his family. The Ramban explains that Par'oh contemplated the cause of his suffering until he came to the realization that it was due to the abduction of Sarah. Hence, he scolded Avraham, "Why didn't you tell me that she was your wife?" Par'oh fulfilled Chazal's dictum, "When one begins to suffer he should examine his actions [to determine the cause of his suffering]."

The Mashgiach adds that we are a little too lax in examining our actions. When one catches a cold or virus he immediately attributes it to some phenomenon. Instead he should take a few moments to reflect on what has happened: "Who caused this, and why did it happen?" A minute of introspection might reveal some action that should have been avoided. One can't know for sure if it was that, which was the cause of his suffering, but regardless, it will motivate him to improve in the future.