Wednesday, November 25, 2009

201 - Chayei Sara

Chazal tell us that the speech of the servants of our forefathers is 'superior' to the Torah that was given to the later generations. For we find that the Torah relates the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchok in its entirety twice, while many fundamental halachos of the Torah are conveyed through merely a subtle hint (Rashi, Bereishis 24, 42). Why is it that the Torah felt their speech to be of the utmost importance? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that the Torah uses the speech of our forefather's servants as a way of transmitting the guidelines of derech eretz. Each action and expression of Eliezer was rooted inderech eretz, and therefore a lesson for future generations that the Torah felt too crucial to ignore. Yet, we still must ask why derech eretz is of such great importance?

Chazal write (Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu 1, 1) "Derech eretz kadma l'Torah" - derech eretz precedes Torah. Rav Wolbe explains that when one goes shopping, he must take along a bag to hold the potatoes and a special container to hold the eggs, because without a proper receptacle it's not possible to bring his purchases back home. Similarly, this concept holds true with regard to spirituality. Torah must be placed in a proper vessel, and that vessel is derech eretz.

Derech eretz can be defined as those actions and behavior that every person should recognize to be proper without having to be taught. Before one starts learning Torah, he must first behave in accordance with the dictates of seichel i.e. a deeply perceptive intuition. Once that is accomplished, he has reached the level where he can be called human, because one who lacks basic derech eretz is referred to by Chazal as being worse than a dead animal. Only then can he hope to internalize Torah which brings a person to a level above that of a normal man, so to speak, above the laws of nature.

There is yet another aspect that falls under the category of derech eretz. The Medrash writes that Torah learning must be interspersed with acts of chesed, as the Mishna states, "It is good to learn Torah along with derech eretz, for both together eliminate sin." We see from here that chesed is also included in derech eretz. If we pay close attention to the story of Eliezer and Rivkah, we will be able to glean numerous insights into the way to conduct our lives with both forms of derech eretz.

No comments: