Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and the Artscroll biography

The Torah repeats the story of Eliezer looking for a wife in great detail. Rashi tells us that from this we learn how beloved the simple, mundane, talk of even the slaves of the forefathers is more beloved to Hashem than even the Torah of the future generations.

Why? Why is the talk of the slaves so beloved to Hashem? What is so special about what Eliezer said that we dedicate so much space to his words, more so than the Torah itself later?

There is obviously something very special about Eliezer's words and conversation. If you look at the whole story, the whole conversation, you will see that Eliezer was imbued with a level of emuna that we rarely find in any person.

Avraham gave Eliezer a job - to find a wife for Yitzchak. He did not tell him how to look or what to do. Just to do it.

Yet the whole method selected by Eleiezer, a simple Canaanite slave, was based on how Hashem would help him find that woman. Nothing was done without basing it on Hashem.

A simple slave. A Canaanite from the people Avraham refused to trust. Yet Eliezer had, and described, this amazing level of emuna.

All too often our torah, the torah of the children, as too academic. I once heard a quote from a rav that a yeshiva bochur nowadays, growing up in our yeshiva system, could learn many pages of gemara, finish many tractates, spend many years learning the torah, yet never once think about Hashem.

But the talk of the slaves of the forefathers, a simple slave, is more beloved.

That is why it repeats the story of Eliezer a second time in full detail. To tell us that we can, we should, learn from Eliezer about emuna. That is what we need before we worry about anything else. The emuna is the basis for the Torah of the Children, and that we get from even a simple slave like Eliezer.

Just looking at Avraham's level of emuna might not teach us this. Avraham was great. Looking to him for a lesson is like reading an ArtScroll biography of a great rabbi. You cannot really relate to it, because the picture painted is just in a different world. Yet a slave with this level of emuna? That is something we can learn from. if a slave can have such emuna, for sure we can aim for it.

this dvar torah was said at my sons bar mitzvah - Parshat Chayei Sarah 5770

Chayei Sarah: Responsibility

In Parshat Chayei Sarah we find the Torah going through great length and detail in relating the story of how Eliezer, servant of Avraham, searched for a wife for Yitzchak. Not only does it go through unusually lengthy detail in relating the story, it repeats it a second time also in great length and detail, as Eliezer reviews the events for Lavan, Rivkah's brother.

Rashi quotes a saying by Rav Acha that this shows us how beloved the simple talk of the servants of the forefathers were to Hashem, much more so than even the actual Torah of the future generations.

But still, I ask, why spend so much time describing these events in such great detail? No matter how beloved Eliezer was, there are other important lessons that can be taught to us in that amount of space. If it reviewed it in such detail, it must be teaching something.

It must be that the Torah is telling us that we can even look to the slaves of the forefathers for lessons in how we should be living and behaving.

Eliezer said, when relating to Lavan, that, after Avraham appointed him to the job of searching for a wife, he had responded to Avraham - what do I do if I find a woman and she chooses to not come back with me to marry Yitzchak. Rashi explains that Eliezer had a daughter and he wanted to propose her hand in marriage for Yitzchak. He was suggesting that if he cannot find a wife, perhaps Avraham would consider his own daughter as a wife, even though they were from Canaan.

Even without it being his own daughter, surely he wanted to marry Yitzchak to a neighbor or a cousin or friend. He wanted to be released from his oath and suggest a Canaanite girl.

Despite the conflict of interests in which Eliezer found himself, he still accepted the job which Avraham had appointed him to. And Avraham trusted him to fulfill it faithfully.

The torah repeats the story of Eliezer in such great detail because it shows us that despite Eleiezer's personal preference, and despite his conflict of interests, Eliezer had accepted upon himself a certain responsibility - he made a commitment - and he put aside his personal issues and fulfilled his commitment.

I said this dvar torah at my sons bar mitzvah shabbos on Parshat Chayei Sarah 5770. I concluded the dvar torah by adding that if there is one thing I hope we have taught you while we were raising you, it is that idea of commitment and responsibility.
Sometimes you have to do things that are less than pleasant, that conflict with other things you find important, that present you with a dilemma. Life is not always easy, and often a job you get is not exactly what you want or find to be in your best interests.

But when you accept a responsibility, and commit to doing something, we can look at Eliezer and see that you have to put aside your personal issues and fulfill your commitment.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Parshat Va'Eira: no unnecessary bad words

Parshat Va'eira

In 6:11-12, Hashem tells Moshe that he should go to Pharoah and tell him to send out My people from his land. Moshe responds that the Jews did not listen to me, so how will Pharoah listen to me, and I have [uncircumcised] blemished lips.

Then the Torah goess a bit off topic and describes some of the lineage of some of the fmailies of the tribes.

Then the Torah gets back on topic and repeats the last conversation between Hashem and Moshe and then moves on.

Rashi explains that the reaso why it repeats that last conversation is because that is the normal thing to do. After going off-topic, when getting back on-topic it first repeats the last item and then goes forward.

But what did the Torah repeat? In 6:29-30 Hashem said to Moshe to go speak to Pharoah, and Moshe said to Hashem how will Pharoah listen to me, as I have uncircumcised lips.

According to Rashi that it is repeating the last conversation, why did it leave out the part of Moshe comparing the Jews not listening to Pharoah potentially not listening? That was the basis for his assumption that Pharoah would not listen, so why leave that part out?

I was thinking that perhaps, while it was necessary in the actual conversation for Moshe to make his point by comparing it to the jews not listening, in essence that is really a complaint against the jews. Sure they were overworked, impatient, frustrated, and did not listen to him for good reason. No time for false hope. no energy to get worked up over aanother likely false start. etc. But the fact is it was a sort of complaint that the jews did not listen to him.

So, while it was necessary at the time for Moshe to say it, and therefore it got relayed in the Torah as part of the conversation, but the second time when it is just repeating to get back on topic, there is no longer a need to say that aspect of the ocnversation. The point was already made. No need to repeat a complaint against the Jews.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Va'Yigash: The first message

Parshat Va'Yigash

In 45:9, Yosef finally can't hold back any longer and just has to tell them who he is. He tells them, and then he says, "Go up quickly to my father and tell him that God has made me a king in Egypt. Go quickly, do not delay."

That is the first message he sends? Not "Tell my father I am alive"?

If you heard your friend was in a car accident, and you heard he died in the crash. Suddenly 20 years later you get an email from his saying "Long time no speak. Update - I am president of a major corporation." that would be strange. At that point, you could care less about what job and title he holds. You first want to hear "I am alive." - you want to hear how he survived, what happened, etc.

Yaakov at this point would not care what position Yosef is holding. He would want to hear "I am alive". He would want to hear what happened, how he survived, etc. Only later would he be interested in what Yosef is up to and how he earns a living.

Why is this the message, and specifically the first message, Yosef sends to his father?

I think Yosef is really sending a message within the message. i think he is telling his father that what happened along the way is not important, becuase this was the ultimate goal. Hashem made me king in Egypt so I would be in place to protect the family. Hashem did whatever he did to save me the past 22 years because I was meant to be king. Dad, you can ignore the past 22 years - that was all for the purpose of my being here today as king of Egypt.

The first message is not specifically that he is king, but that his whole life, his whole time away, has been directed by God up to this moment and place. And that is the message that was important for him to send to his father.