chayei sarah

november 19th 2011

heshvan 22th 5772

The Life Of Sarah And The Kingdom Of Esther

by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

It is written, “The life of Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years; the years of Sarah’s life” (Bereshith 23:1). The Sages have said, “The Satan went to Sarah and appeared to her in the form of Isaac. When she saw him, she said: ‘My son! What has your father done to you?’ He replied, ‘My father took me and made me climb to the top of a mountain, where he built an altar, arranged the wood, and tied me upon the altar and took a knife to slaughter me. If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not said to him: “Do not touch the lad,” I would have already been slaughtered.’ He had barely finished speaking when her soul left her” (Tanchuma, Vayeira 23).

This is very surprising, since in the Midrash the Sages state: “It is written, ‘Hashem knows the days of the complete, and their inheritance will be forever’ [Tehillim 37:18]. As they are complete [i.e., unblemished], so are their years complete” (Bereshith Rabba 58:1). We also find in the Gemara, “The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and completes the years of the tzaddikim [precisely] from day to day and month to month” (Kiddushin 38a). Therefore if we say that Sarah died suddenly, how can we reconcile this with the teaching that Hashem completes the days of the tzaddikim precisely? After all, she died suddenly on account of the Satan’s trickery. This is the problem that was presented to me by Rabbi Yedidia Assaraf Shlita, one of the leaders of our kollel, from a student: It’s either one thing or the other: If Sarah’s time had come to leave this world, then why did the Sages say that her soul did not depart until she heard what the Satan told her? Yet if her time to die had not come, how is the verse, “Hashem knows the days of the complete” fulfilled?

We cannot answer this with the teaching that some people die before their time (Chagigah 4b). Which people does this refer to? It refers to other people, as the text clearly explains. As for the tzaddikim, the Holy One, blessed be He, completes their years precisely from day to day. Furthermore, there remains one question that we have already asked elsewhere: Why is neither illness nor old age mentioned prior to Sarah’s death, as is the case in regards to the Patriarchs? Thus we read, “Abraham was old, advanced in days” (Bereshith 24:1), after which it is said: “These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, which he lived: One hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people” (ibid. 25:7-8). In other words, his death is not mentioned suddenly. From the fact that Sarah’s death is mentioned suddenly, we understand that she died suddenly. Yet in that case, how can we say that the teaching “Hashem knows the days of the complete” was fulfilled?

No One Knows

To answer this, I first cited a teaching of the Sages: “Seven things are hidden from man. These are: The day of death…” (Pesachim 54b). King David praised G-d for having hidden the day of death from man (Midrash Tehillim 9), for if people knew when they would die, they would sin for their entire lives and repent at the end of their days. G-d would then forgive them, despite the fact that they sinned throughout their lives. Since the day of death is not known, however, the tzaddikim fear the day of death and repent each day, for to them each day is potentially their last.

Since the day of death is hidden from man, and since this principle applies to everyone, it is not even revealed to the greatest tzaddikim. Hashem did not even answer King David’s request to reveal the day of his death. As the Gemara states, “What is meant by the verse, ‘Hashem, let me know my end and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know when I will cease’ [Tehillim 39:5]? David said before the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Sovereign of the universe, let me know my end!’ He replied, ‘It is decreed before Me that the end of flesh and blood is not made known’ ” (Shabbat 30a).

Our mother Sarah therefore died suddenly, even though she was not sick or extremely old, for her time had come to leave this world. She could not overcome the Angel of Death, as the Midrash states: “A man cannot say to the Angel of Death, ‘Wait for me until I complete my accounts, and then I will come’ ” (Kohelet Rabba 8:11). Hence the Torah did not precede the account of Sarah’s death with any mention of her being ill, teaching us that even if someone is in good health, he will suddenly leave this world when his time comes. The day of death is hidden from man, and although a person may not be old or sick, the day of death will still come and fulfill its mission.

I knew someone who went to see his doctor when he was 50 years old. The doctor performed some heart tests on him, each one more bizarre than the other. When it was over, the doctor told him that his heart was as good as a baby’s, and that nothing was wrong with him. He left the doctor’s office and returned to his wife all content, telling her what the doctor had said. On that very same day, while he was eating, he had a heart attack and was found dead at the table. Although he had not been sick, the Angel of Death had come for him because his time to leave this world had arrived.

How do we know that Sarah’s life had been fixed at 127 years, at which time she suddenly died? It is from the fact that the Torah details the years of her life. The Midrash states, “There were 22 righteous women in the world, and Scripture does not give the years of any of them except for Sarah, for by her merit Esther governed 127 lands” (Midrash Hagadol Bereshith 23:1). These correspond to the years of Sarah’s life, each land by the merit of one year. We must therefore say that her years had been fixed at 127.

Guard Your Tongue!

Complete Enemies

There are many people whose nature is such that they ask others what so-and-so said about them, even if this information does not affect their future. When their questions go unanswered, they beg until they are told what so-and-so said about them, and if it contains something negative, they accept everything they are told as if it were absolutely true. In this way, they become the complete enemy of the person in question.

Mussar from the Parsha

Jewish Commerce

It is written, “Four hundred silver shekels current with the merchant” (Bereshith 23:16).

In this week’s parsha, we learn how a deal was negotiated between our father Abraham and Ephron, a fascinating exchange from which the Sages derived several principles that everyone must bear in mind before entering a business deal. As the Gemara cites Rabba as teaching, when a person is brought before the Celestial Court, he will be asked if he dealt honestly in business (Shabbat 31a).

The gaon Rabbi Chaim David Azoulay interprets the verse in this week’s parsha (“Four hundred silver shekels over la’socher [current with the merchant]”) by way of allusion: Each letter in socher appears immediately after, in the Hebrew alphabet, each letter of nezek (“damage”). The term over means “before,” as in the expression over le-asiatan (we first say a blessing, and then we perform the mitzvah). Now Ephron, who was greedy, believed that making this deal could damage him financially. As King Solomon said, “One overeager for wealth has an evil eye. He does not know that cheser [want] may befall him” (Mishlei 28:22). For Ephron, the letters of socher became cheser.

This is a lesson that applies to every merchant, for before a socher (merchant) lay nezek (damage) and cheser (want). If a merchant fulfills Hashem’s will by not transgressing various prohibitions (not to steal, not to oppress, not to deceive), he will be successful. However if he transgresses them, he will experience both damage and want.

We may also recall a statement from our Sages: “The salt of money is decrease” (Ketubot 66b). This alludes to the fact that if a person lacks something because he has given it to tzeddakah, he will be a successful socher (Chomat Anach).

This is what the great men of Israel have done in every generation. For a few hours each day, they occupy themselves with earning a living to support their families, and they pay great attention to all the laws pertaining to business so as not to provoke a desecration of G-d’s Name.

Thus it is said that before becoming the Rav of Tchebin, the gaon Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfeld (the author of Dovev Mesharim) had a business buying and selling charcoal. His meticulousness and honesty in business were typical of everything he did in life. He took responsibility for all that emerged from his mouth, meaning that he never went back on his word, not even for all the money in the world.

One merchant recounted the following incident: “One day I ordered a few carts of charcoal from Rabbi Dov Berish for a certain day. A few days later, he told me in great secrecy that he had learned that the price of charcoal was about to drop. He therefore advised me not to be in such hurry to buy, since it would be unfortunate for a Jew to lose money to non-Jewish wholesalers, who were wealthy. As it turned out, Rabbi Dov Berish, the main charcoal dealer, focused more on his clients than his vendors, despite the large profits that he could have made in this endeavor.”

Why Was Your Coat Stolen?

It is said that the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen Zatzal of Radin) once hired a wagon driver to take him outside of Radin. The driver began to complain to the Chafetz Chaim about his troubles, asking him: “Why has it been decreed that a Jew as poor as me should have so many troubles?” The Chafetz Chaim consoled him by saying, “Hashem is righteous in all His ways, and wagon drivers encounter troubles of their own making. Sometimes they agree with clients on the price of transporting them and their luggage, but in the end they ask for more. At other times, while they are on route, they allow their animals to eat in the fields of others, or they send their horses to graze in pastures belonging to others. You should therefore think back and ask yourself if you have ever been led astray by such things.”

The driver replied, “Rabbi, if that’s the case, then why was your own coat stolen last winter at the train station?” The Chafetz Chaim let out a sign and replied, “Do you think that I’m a perfect tzaddik? To my great regret, that is not the case! I too have my own trials. I print my books, but sometimes a page is torn or erased, or even completely missing! True, I pay attention to checking every book before it is sold, but I’m only human. It’s impossible not to make a mistake. Buyers are hesitant to ask for their money back, but deep down they are upset. That being the case, what is so surprising that I too am punished?”

The Late Neighbor

Still on the same subject, it is said that the Chafetz Chaim’s wife once purchased a large fish with her neighbor. Together they agreed that the neighbor would come to the Chafetz Chaim’s home and that they would divide the fish between them.

It was already noon, and the neighbor had still not arrived. The Chafetz Chaim’s wife quickly went to the window, for it was time to cook the fish, but the neighbor was not to be seen. Realizing that it was late, the Chafetz Chaim’s wife divided the fish by herself. She then took the larger piece and put it aside for her neighbor, while she took the smaller piece for herself. She then placed it in a pot and began to cook it.

The Chafetz Chaim washed his hands, recited the blessing over bread, and ate a piece of bread. He then recited Tehillim 23 (“Hashem is my shepherd; I shall not want”).

In the meantime, his wife served him the fish, which was now cooked. However the Chafetz Chaim paid no attention to it, for he continued to eat bread as if nothing else was on the table.

His son Reb Leib thought that perhaps his father had not noticed the fish, and so he placed the dish closer to him. However the Chafetz Chaim pushed the dish away and continued to eat nothing but bread. Reb Leib then realized that something else was happening. He went to the kitchen and asked his mother to tell him about the fish. She explained what had happened, namely that the fish had been too large and that she had purchased it with a neighbor, who had still not shown up. That is why she divided the fish and left the larger piece for her neighbor.

“Everything’s clear now,” Reb Leib whispered to himself. “It’s an explicit Halachah in the Shulchan Aruch on the laws of partnerships: If one has not fixed a time for a partnership, or a time was fixed and it has ended, and one divides his portion without the consent of the other, he must do so before three people, even if they are uneducated, as long as they are honest and can make a proper evaluation. If one has divided his portion before less than three people, it is as if nothing has been done [Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 176:18].”

“No doubt,” thought Reb Leib, “that father did not want to eat the fish for this reason.” The division had been invalid, and a portion of the fish still belonged to the neighbor. After all, would the author of the Mishnah Berurah succumb to theft?

To Weep for Her

It is written, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Bereshith 23:2).

According to tradition, the letter caph in the term velivkotah (“and to weep for her”) is smaller than usual. Hence the Baal HaTurim said, “He only wept a little for her, either because she was old, or it was as if she had caused her own death, and we do not mourn someone who commits suicide.”

Looking at the verse in another way, the gaon Rabbi Shachna of Lublin states that according to some opinions, Abraham also had a daughter named Bakol who died at the same time. This is why the caph is smaller than usual, for the text does not mention her death at all. It is therefore as if it were written velevitah (“and his daughter” – velivkotah without the caph), meaning that Avraham came to mourn both Sarah and his daughter.

By the Merit of Abraham

It is written, “Hashem blessed Abraham in all” (Bereshith 24:1).

The Midrash states that Ishmael repented during Abraham’s lifetime.

Since “Everything is in the hand of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b), and since Ishmael was wicked, many people ask why G-d caused him to repent. After all, “He did not do so for any other nation” (Tehillim 147:20).

This is not a valid question, writes the Chida in his book Pnei David, for Ishmael certainly thought of repenting on his own. Had it not been for the merit of Abraham, however, he would not have repented, for his vague attempts at repentance were not enough. In fact Ishmael’s wickedness had created many accusers who rose up against him, and it was the love of Abraham that silenced them all. At that point, Ishmael’s desire to repent began to rise towards Heaven and was accepted.

Respect for Others

It is written, “She hastened and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again to the well” (Bereshith 24:20).

The Shlah Hakodesh writes, “Consider the lesson that we learn from Rebecca in terms of demonstrating respect for others! Eliezer had already drank, and yet water still remained in the pitcher. What was Rebecca going to do? If she gave the remaining water to the camels, it would have been like placing man and animal on the same level. Yet if she threw out the remaining water, it would have also been disrespectful, appearing as if the water that remained from Eliezer was only good to be thrown out! She therefore ran to the trough, and while running she pretended to fall and spill the water remaining in the pitcher. She then filled it up again, and in this way she was careful in regards to Eliezer’s honor.”

Modest Clothing

It is written, “The servant brought out vessels of silver and vessels of gold, and garments, and he gave them to Rebecca” (Bereshith 24:53).

In arranging shidduchim, the Sar Shalom of Belz was very careful to warn young women in advance that they had to commit themselves, after getting married, to wearing Chassidic clothing in accordance with the norms of religious women from previous generations. They were especially not to change anything in accordance with modern fashions. This was specifically written in the Tenaim.

The Sar Shalom found proof for this in the Torah: When Abraham’s servant Eliezer went to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham gave him garments to give her. Why did she need garments? Was her father Bethuel, who was wealthy, going to send his daughter away without a beautiful wardrobe? The answer is that Abraham wanted her father to know what type of clothes were worn at his home, and the girl herself was to know that as Isaac’s wife, she could not wear the beautiful garments of Bethuel’s home. Instead, she was to wear modest garments that befit the daughters of Israel!

Still a Servant

It is written, “Rebecca arose with her maidens, and they rode upon the camels and followed the man, and the servant took Rebecca and departed” (Bereshith 24:61).

It seems that the end of the verse (“the servant took Rebecca and departed”) is superfluous, since it already states that they “followed the man.”

The gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky says that the verse is teaching us about Eliezer’s modesty, for although Abraham placed his entire fortune into his hands and entrusted him with such an important task, Eliezer still considered himself a servant. Hence the verse states that it was “the servant” who took Rebecca.

Do Not Pride Yourself

It is written, “These are the years of Ishmael’s life” (Bereshith 25:17).

Concerning the years of Ishmael’s life, the Gemara learns that Jacob remained with Eber learning Torah for 14 years (Megillah 17a). This is surprising, for why is the subject of Jacob learning with Eber for 14 years not mentioned directly in the Torah? Why is it only derived indirectly from the account of the years of Ishmael’s life?

From here the gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zatzal derives a great principle in the service of Hashem:

A man who serves G-d, even at the highest level, should not pride himself on his actions or conduct. As Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said, “If you have learned much Torah, do not pride yourself, since you were created for this very purpose” (Pirkei Avoth 2:8). As we know, this consists of learning Torah at one’s own level. Nevertheless, “do not pride yourself,” for if you have the strength to study Torah and serve G-d at a great level, it was for this reason that you were born. Therefore why pride yourself?

This is why the Torah concealed the subject of Jacob’s uninterrupted learning of Torah for 14 years. It is to teach us that “If you have learned much Torah, do not pride yourself.”

In the Light of the Parsha

From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

What Makes a Good Shidduch?

It is written, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land and to my birthplace shall you go” (Bereshith 24:3-4).

In the Midrash our Sages say, “He warned him against the daughters of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre” (Bereshith Rabba 59:8).

Why did Abraham warn Eliezer in regards to the daughter of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre? In his sermons, the Ran reveals a great and marvelous secret concerning this important question: “Although Lavan, the father of Rachel and Leah, was an idolater, Isaac preferred to enter into a pact with him rather than with the daughters of the Canaanites [meaning the daughters of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre]. The reason for all this is that, despite the fact that man is endowed with freewill and has been given the permission to chose the path he desires – as the verse states, ‘See, I have placed before you life and good…. You shall choose life’ [Devarim 30:15-19] – nevertheless we cannot deny the fact that man has a tendency to be led by certain character traits, either good or bad, and that these virtues or faults are transmitted from one generation to the other. Since these faults were deeply rooted in the daughters of the Canaanites, the Patriarchs preferred to distance themselves from them and cleave to someone in whom such traits were not so rooted, even if he was an idolater, for such traits would not be transmitted to their descendants” (Drashot HaRan, Drasha 5).

As proof of this, we see that when the Prophet Eliyahu performed a miracle on Mount Carmel before all the Children of Israel, even though they were idolaters, they all responded: “Hashem, He is G-d” (I Kings 18:39).

We also find that Lavan himself, when he perceived a miracle, immediately said: “This comes from Hashem,” and “as Hashem has spoken” (Bereshith 24:50-51). That is why Abraham chose an alliance with his family.

A Life of Torah

The Zohar teaches that the world exists only because Jews study the holy Torah. If the entire world, from one end to the other, were to be devoid of Torah study for even an instant, everything would return to a state of chaos. This idea is explained at length in Nefesh HaChaim (Gate 1, Chapter 16).

Great men of Torah have always been very careful not to lose a single instant of their time for learning. They clearly understood that through their learning, they were sustaining and giving life to all the worlds. They had a tangible sense of how the world could disappear if the Torah was not being studied.

The gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Heikin Zatzal of the Aix-les-Bains yeshiva recounted an amazing incident from his youth, when he studied in Baranovitch under Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman.

As we know, Rabbi Elchanan was a great tzaddik who was incredibly diligent in learning Torah. He literally did not waste a single instant. It is said that in his youth, he used to learn Torah for 18 hours a day in Telz.

When Rabbi Elchanan served as the Rosh Yeshiva of Baranovitch, he did not want to take money from the yeshiva’s account. The yeshiva students tried every possible way to purchase new shoes for him, and so they collected among themselves the necessary amount, cent by cent, to make the purchase.

Some time later, Rabbi Elchanan said that he suffered greatly on account of his new shoes. This was because they had laces, something that his old shoes did not have, for tying the laces made him lose precious time that could be used for learning Torah!

A Living Sefer Torah

Regarding the tremendous diligence of the gaon Rabbi Aharon Kotler Zatzal in learning Torah, Rabbi Nathan Chaim Einfeld Shlita recounted a story that he heard from an eye-witness to the event:

“I believe that it happened in 5716, when Rabbi Aharon arrived in Israel from the United States. He took a taxi from Lod, and he traveled by himself, without anyone accompanying him, directly to the Slabodka yeshiva, his first stay in Eretz Israel.

“Upon his arrival, I saw him get out of the taxi with his suitcase in hand, and he went to see the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Shulman Zatzal. A few minutes later, a special messenger from Rabbi Mordechai arrived in the yeshiva’s main hall, where he told us that a few students were needed to welcome Rabbi Aharon Kotler. This messenger made it clear – and this came from the Rosh Yeshiva himself – that since we were in the middle of learning Torah, only a few students would go in order to avoid a loss of Torah learning. About 20 boys were then chosen, including myself.

“What can I say? We trembled as we entered the room where the gadol of the generation and prince of Torah was seated. We were astounded to see this incredible sight, for Rabbi Aharon – who was already 64 years old at the time, and had arrived only a few minutes earlier, exhausted by a long journey from America – was already seated with his Gemara in hand, focused on a great difficulty in tractate Menachot. I heard him singing the words of the Gemara with a soft and pleasant voice, his head in between his two sanctified hands, immersed in the Gemara. He absolutely didn’t notice our arrival.

“We stood there amazed, unable to speak before such great concentration. We waited in silence for him to raise his eyes and see us, at which point we approached him, one by one. Rabbi Aharon would raise his holy eyes from the Gemara for a second, shake the hand of the student standing before him, and say Shalom Aleichem. His eyes would then immediately return to the Gemara. To the next student, he would say Shalom Aleichem once again, and then return to his learning. He actually did this with all of us, for he would immerse himself in learning between greeting two students. In three minutes, he had finished greeting us all, and then he returned to learning in depth. As for myself, I was the last student to say hello to him, for I went to the back of the line on purpose so I could see this incredible sight over and over again.”

“Let’s think about this!” said Rav Einfeld. “Here from America was an elderly and frail Rosh Yeshiva. Yet how do people greet each other in general, when one arrives from a lengthy voyage? One asks the other how he is doing, how his family is doing, and then suggests that they should have something to eat or drink, and naturally they chat and recount various stories. Several hours can pass in this way, and it is something that everyone does. As for Rabbi Aharon, what did he do? He arrived alone, carrying his suitcase all by himself, and yet within ten minutes of his arrival, he was already immersed in learning Torah! In fact he was so focused on learning that he neither saw nor sensed the presence of tens of students who had come into his room. And in the few seconds that separated one student from the others, he was careful to use his time to learn, his pure eyes being immersed in the Gemara!”

Rabbi Aharon Kotler was a living Sefer Torah and book of mussar that we saw with our own eyes. There is much, very much, to learn from this account.

We Never Stopped For Pointless Conversations

The gaon Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer Shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kaf HaChaim, recounted the following in regards to the gaon Rabbi Yehudah Tsadka Zatzal, the Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef:

“For close to 25 years I had the opportunity to pray with him during the Yamim Noraim. It seems to me that almost each time he spoke words of encouragement and mussar before the tekiot or the Neila service, he constantly underlined the fact that bnei Torah must not engage in pointless conversations while learning. He often complained about this, and in one of his sermons he expressed himself as follows: ‘To find an etrog that is pure, not mixed, people go to a great deal of effort and travel quite far. Yet do they do the same to ensure that their Torah learning is not “mixed” with pointless or forbidden conversations?’ I remember he once said that a person must take this resolution upon himself during the Neila service.

“During Rosh Hashanah 5752, the last year of his life, when he spoke words of encouragement before the tekiot, he said: ‘It’s like someone who is fortunate enough to be the king’s friend, someone who sincerely wants to present the king with a sumptuous meal. He then prepares a meal worthy of a king. Yet among the incredible dishes that he put a great effort into making for the king, he spread a little sand here and there. That said, will the king accept such a meal? Clearly not!’ The lesson is clear: When a man studies Torah, he is preparing a sumptuous meal, so to speak, for Hashem, which has no equal in all the heavens. Yet if a person chats about this and that while he studies, he is thereby spreading a little sand here and there. Will his learning be accepted in that case? If he were to present it before a king, would he be pleased by it? Would he even accept it? May the living be careful to guard themselves from this!”


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