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Derasha Parshat Chayei Sarah

11/16/2023 05:29:14 PM


The dominant scene in the Parasha is Eliezer’s search for a wife for Yitzhok.  One subtext in that search is Eliezer’s at first subconscious hope that it will not be successful.  In a fascinating turn, he becomes aware over time that he is angling to become part of Avraham’s family.  That urge is understandable, as the ties of family surpass any other way to connect to Avraham.

When he speaks to Avraham about the trip, Eliezer raises the possibility that he will find an appropriate girl but that she might not follow him back.  Ulai, he says, maybe she won’t come along.  Then, after he finds Rivka, he recounts this part of the story again.  He repeats his worry that the girl would not follow him.  Again, he says, Ulai, maybe, she won’t want to come.  But the second time, the Torah writes it differently.  Instead of Ulai, Aleph-Vav-Lamed-Yud, the Torah spells it with just Aleph-Lamed-Yud.  Rashi says that this means that Eliezer has realized that “Ulai” really means “Elai,” to me.  

To understand this, we have to know that there are two ways to say “maybe” in Hebrew -- Ulai and Pen.  One attaches to something we hope will happen while the other means what we mean in English when we say “lest.”  “Pen” recognizes a possibility that we truly fear will occur.  If so, that means Eliezer has said something odd.  He has said that “maybe she won’t come back with me,” as in “I hope she won’t come back with me.”  He does not understand this at first, but he does when he repeats the story.  Why would he hope that the girl will not come back with him?  Because he hopes that his own daughter will have a chance to marry Yitzchok.  He has become conscious  of this the second time, which the Torah conveys by writing his hopeful “ulai” in a way that means “I hope that girl does not work out and you have to come to me for a wife.”  

By this point in Avraham’s story, Eliezer understands that the Jews are not a community of believers.  They are destined to be family.  That is why he wants to join not just as a student of Avraham but as family.  The Jews are of course a family.  We have an open adoption policy -- people can join the family.  But it is a family and the deep and sometimes complicated ties of family are at stake.

R’ Asher Weiss in Israel has said that there are three things everyone must prioritize now.  Two of them are connected to these family ties while the third points to another crucial realm, beyond family.

He said, first, that one must make sure that one is feeling.  R’ Weiss is an address for many questions even during calmer times.  Now he is being inundated with questions about the most intractable problems.  People are asking about the writing of Gitten, of divorces, in case they do not come back.  They are worried that their fate might be unknown for months or years.  They don’t want their wives to be stranded as Agunot.  If someone writes his wife a Gett on the condition that it will take effect only if nothing is heard from him for six months or a year, then his wife would be freed to move on.  R’ Weiss advises against it, but then he stays up and Davens for the soldiers who ask him these questions.  His empathy for them knows no bounds.  We hosted Justice Elyakim Rubenstein at EB last Shabbat.  He told us that he and his wife have been going to Shiva even for people they do not know.  This maintains their empathy for so many people.  

At the same time, we should remember that if we are doing something, like seething at the news, which takes away the ability to feel, then that is a problem.  We must maintain our empathy.  

The second thing is to unify.  Just as at Har Sinai, great things come with unity.  Restaurants are Kashering their kitchens.  People are making Tztitzit for total strangers.  A resident of the one of the Kibbutzim close to Gaza said that when she thinks back at the division about judicial reform all she can think is Hevel Havelim, vanity of vanities.  What a petty waste.  The unity has been striking and everyone can see that great things can be accomplished with it.    

All of this flows from the ties of family.  But it’s never about just the family.  There is great pride in being part of this family.  But there is a higher purpose.  

There will be a rally this week, and the nation will be there.  But we are never about numbers and we are never about nationhood alone.  The Jewish people are not unified just to preserve each other.  We have a purpose.  Nobody has ever said that music exists to preserve instruments.  Similarly, Judaism does not exist to preserve the Jewish people.  The unity of the Jews allows us to play the music. That is the point.   

The Avot were made into precise and exquisite instruments.  Not all of us are the same.  We play off key.  That’s why we need all of us together.  It’s about service, fidelity, to the music.  

The third thing for focus, then, is to understand the power of this music.  What we do in Torah and Mitzvot has cosmic consequences.  Davening and learning affect upper worlds.  They can change the world.  They are more powerful if they have intention but they don’t need great intention.  Even with some intention, every line of learning is a cosmic event.  Davening too is cosmic.  We have to know that and we have to take advantage of the chance to Daven and to learn.    

In the Torah’s final Parasha, which we read on Simchat Torah, the partnership between Zevulun and Yisaschar is celebrated.  We normally associate this with a business relationship, a partnership between the one who works and the one who learns.  But the Netziv says that the repetition of this partnership here at the end of the Torah is for a different purpose.  It’s not just about business.  It also applies to war.  One part of the nation goes to war and the other learns and Davens for the sake of the soldiers.  I only wish we understood this as well as the soldiers do.  They ask us for purity in learning and in Davening because they sense the difference between when we are in our groove and when we are not.  These are the cosmic consequences.  All of the family ties are to bring out that kind of care, so that we will come together to play the music.  If we can do that, we will see great things, Bimheira Viyameinu. 


Wed, November 29 2023 16 Kislev 5784