Parsha Pearls: Parshas Chayei Sarah

Taking Money From the Wicked
Did the Land Belong to Avraham?
When the Unholy Has a Holy Name
When the Wicked Make Concessions

And they called to Rivkah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” (24:58)

The Midrash (Yalkut Tehillim 795) says that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt as a reward for the deeds of the Imahos: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. For each of the Imahos, it mentions a great deed that she did, and when it comes to Rivka, it says because she said, ‘I will go.’ What is the connection between Rivka’s willingness to go to marry Yitzchak and the Exodus from Egypt?

On the words “I will go,” Rashi comments, “On my own, even if you do not want.” Lavan was willing to let Rivka go; he had already told Eliezer, “We cannot speak to you evil or good. Behold, Rivka is before you, take her and go, and let her be a wife to your master’s son, as Hashem spoke.” But Rivka realized that when a wicked man gives something or accomplishes something, he has a certain power over it. When one receives a gift from another, he becomes obliged to the giver. Rivka’s marriage to Yitzchak was destined to give rise to the entire Jewish people. She did not want Lavan to play any role in this great accomplishment. Therefore, she said, “I want to go on my own, even if you don’t want.”

In this vein, we can explain the words at the beginning of the Haggadah, “If the Holy One, blessed is He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would be enslaved (meshubadim) to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Seemingly, this is obvious – who would have taken us out if not Hashem? But the answer is that after suffering through the first five plagues, Pharaoh would have let the Jewish people go, if Hashem had not hardened his heart during the sixth plague. The reason Hashem hardened his heart is that He did not want the wicked Pharaoh to have any hand in the great beginning of our holy people. Hashem made sure that we left not through Pharaoh’s graciousness, but “with a strong hand,” against Pharaoh’s will. “If the Holy One, blessed is He, had not taken our fathers out” – i.e. had He allowed Pharaoh to be the one to let us out – then we would be “meshubadim” – obliged, grateful, under the influence of – Pharaoh, even today.

Thus, the Midrash tells us that in reward for Rivka’s concern that Lavan not have a hand in creating the Jewish people, Hashem made sure that Pharaoh did not have a hand in the Exodus from Egypt; rather, Hashem Himself took us out with a strong hand. (Divrei Yoel, p. 492)

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Just as a gift from the wicked influences a person to be wicked, a gift from a good person influences a person to be good. Based on this, Rabbi Avigdor Miller once explained the meaning of the verse in Mishlei (15:27), “He who hates gifts will live.” The only way to succeed in this world is by exercising one’s free will, doing mitzvos and avoiding sins, and thus earning reward in the World to Come. So the essence of life is really free will; without free will, life would have no meaning. When one accepts gifts, even from good people, the gift takes away part of his free will, because he is now under the influence of the giver. So, only someone who hates gifts will have true life. (Tape 59)

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Reb Moshe Shmuel Shapiro relates that when he was young, at one point he was not sure if he should open a yeshiva or become a dayan within the Zionist system. He went to speak to the Brisker Rav, and he found him sitting together with his son Reb Berel. The Brisker Rav told him, "To be a dayan in their system is much worse than taking their money for yeshivos!" "Is there any prohibition to take money from them?" asked Reb Moshe Shmuel. "I'm not saying that it it's a prohibition," said the Brisker Rav, "but would you be able to take money for a yeshiva from someone who owns a pork store?" Then he looked at his son and Reb Moshe Shmuel and said, "I promise you that as long as you take money only from clean sources, you will never lack money." (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 2 p. 181)

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Reb Dovid Soloveitchik later expressed his father's position in another way: How can one take money for the support of Torah from those who are trying to destroy Torah? Chazal say, "One who causes another to sin is worse that one who kills him." (Sifri quoted by Rashi, Devarim 23:9) If Hitler, yimach shmo, had proposed to support the yeshivos at the same time that he was murdering the Jews of Europe, would they have accepted it? ("Today, maybe they would..." he added.) So why is this any different? The Zionists are working as hard as they can to destroy whatever remains of Torah-observant Jewry. (ibid. p. 179)

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The Poneveczer Rav built many yeshivos using money from the Zionist government. Every time he made a gathering to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of one of his buildings, a small group of Neturei Karta members would attend, holding signs saying that they protested against the acceptance of the money. Their protests often disturbed the festivities. Someone asked the Poneveczer Rav, "Why don't you do something about it? Make sure they don't come!" "If they wouldn't come on their own," answered the Poneveczcer Rav, "I would pay them to come! I want everyone to know that what I'm doing is only bedieved - not the right way to do things, but necessary because of the difficulty of the times."

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The Midrash (introduction to Esther, based on a rule mentioned in the Gemora, Megillah 10b) says that the words, "And it came to pass in the time of Achaz..." (Yishaya 7:1) indicate that a tragedy is about to be described. What was it? Aram was in front and the Phillistines behind (ibid. 9:11). The wicked king Achaz hated the Torah and its scholars, continues the Midrash, but he was afraid to kill them directly, so he reasoned, "If there are no kids, there will be no goats. If there are no goats, there will be no flock. If there is no flock, there will be no shepherd. So too, if there are no students, there will be no Torah scholars. If there are no scholars, there will be no elders. If there are no elders, there will be no Torah, no shuls and houses of study, and Hashem will not cause His presence to rest in the world." He went and closed all the shuls and houses of study, so that no one should study Torah. Rav Huna in the name of Rabbi Elazar said, Why was he named "Achaz?" Because he held onto the shuls and houses of study.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld asked, doesn't the word achaz (held onto) sound like a positive word, that he supported the houses of study? He answered that yes, Achaz supported the houses of study, because he wanted them to become dependent on him so that he could control them and force them to follow his ideas. His cold calculation told him that power over all of the Jewish people begins with control of the yeshivos. This is what Chazal say in the continuation of that Midrash, "Once he supported the shuls and houses of study, everyone began to cry out, Woe!" The Jewish people knew that such crafty support, designed to exert control, is reason not to rejoice but to cry out. Furthermore, said Reb Yosef Chaim, look how the Midrash begins. Before it starts telling about Achaz's plot to uproot Torah, it says, "Aram was in front and the Phillistines behind." What is the connection between this and Achaz's plans? The answer is, he said, that Achaz convinced the yeshivos to accept his support by telling them of the dangers the kingdom faced from Aram and the Phillistines. Now is not the time for lofty ideological refusals to take money from an anti-religious government. We are in danger! Accept my leadership for now so that we can face the common enemy. Reb Yosef Chaim concluded: Let us not repeat the mistake of the yeshivos in the time of Achaz. (Chochmas Chaim, p. 29)

I am a stranger and a resident among you; give me a portion of land for burial among you, so that I might bury my dead from before me (23:4).

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains why Avraham called himself "a stranger and a resident". He meant to say: "If you agree to sell it to me, I will be a stranger and buy it. But if you do not agree, I will be a resident – an owner – and take it by my own rights, for the Holy One, blessed is He, said, 'I will give this land to your offspring.'"

The commentators ask that in Parshas Lech Lecha, when Lot's shepherds allowed his sheep to graze in the Canaanite fields and Avraham rebuked him, the Torah says, "And the Canaanite and the Perizite were then living in the land." Rashi comments that they were still living there and the time had not yet come to give the land to Avraham's family, so Lot was wrong for stealing the grass. If so, how would Avraham have had the right to take the burial plot?

The Levush Haorah resolves this question by saying that in Parshas Lech Lecha, the time for fulfilling the promise had not yet come, because Avraham did not yet have any offspring then. Now, however, he had Yitzchok, so the time had come.

But Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi shows from a passage in Bereishis Rabbah (41:5) that the time had still not come. The Midrash says that when Lot's shepherds made their argument that the land would eventually belong to Lot, G-d said, "When I promised the land to Avraham's offspring, I meant only when the seven Canaanite nations are uprooted from it, but now the Canaanite and the Perizite are still living in the land." Here we see that even when Avraham had offspring, the land did not belong to him as long as the Canaanites still lived there.

Similarly, the Yefeh Soar asks from the verse, "And a fourth generation will return here, for the sin of the Emorite will not be complete until then" (Bereishis 15:16). This was a prophecy that Avraham's descendents would not get the Holy Land until after four generations of Egyptian exile. Avraham merely having one child was clearly not enough.

In Yehoshua 14:15 we read, "The name of Hebron was originally Kiryas Arba; he was the great man among the giants, and the land rested from war." Rashi explains that the prophet is telling us why the land rested from war for the forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness – why did the Canaanites deserve that grace period? They should have been conquered right away after the Exodus. The answer is "the great man among the giants" – Avraham Avinu, whom the Canaanites honored and called "a prince of G-d among us" (Bereishis 23:6). As a reward for honoring Avraham, they were allowed to stay in the land for forty extra years.

We could take this a step further and say that not only those extra forty years were due to their honoring Avraham, but also the four hundred years from the birth of Yitzchak until the Exodus. The Canaanites were the most immoral of peoples – the Torah uses "the acts of the Land of Canaan" as the example of immorality that Jews are forbidden to follow (Vayikra 18:3). They should have lost their rights to the land, but since they honored Avraham, they were allowed to stay. When G-d foretold the Egyptian exile and the "fourth generation" coming back in Bereishis 15:16, that was because G-d knew the future, that the Canaanites would honor Avraham.

Thus Avraham said to them, "If you honor me, I am but a stranger among you. But should you choose not to honor me and you refuse to sell me the burial plot, you will lose your rights to the land, and I will be a resident, a rightful owner." (Divrei Yoel, p. 490)

And Avraham gave gifts to the children of his concubines, and he sent them away from Yitzchak his son while he was still alive, eastward to the land of the east. (25:6)

Rashi says, quoting Sanhedrin 91a: “He gave them the name of impurity.” This is a strange statement. Why would the righteous Avraham Avinu teach impurity to his children?

Rabbi Yaakov of Motroyelle, one of the Baalei Tosafos, explains, “Avraham taught them to call their idols with a name of impurity, such as Peor and Markulis, which are so called because they defile them. But originally they called their idols by the name of the Holy One, blessed is He, as it says, ‘Then they began to call in the name of G-d’ (Bereishis 4:26).” (Hadar Zekeinim; Tosafos Hashalem)

Avraham Avinu was upset over the fact that the gentiles called their idols by the name of G-d. He saw that this would lead the Jewish people astray. Therefore he had children with Hagar and Keturah and dispatched them among the gentiles with the mission to change the names of the idols to names of impurity and defilement; then it would be easier for the Jewish people to avoid them.

This is the meaning of the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 61:1) that applies the first verses of Tehillim to Avraham Avinu: “And he will be like a tree planted on streams of water, that gives its fruit in the proper time, and its leaf does not wither, and all that he does will be successful” (Tehillim 1:3). Gives its fruit in the proper time – this refers to Yishmael. And its leaf does not wither – this refers to Yitzchak. And all that he does will be successful – this refers to the children of Keturah.” Why does the Midrash consider Yishmael and the children of Keturah such great accomplishments? The answer is as explained above: Avraham considered it a great accomplishment to make sure that idols are called idols and not confused with G-d.

Similarly in our time, it is a great misfortune when heresy, sin and destruction of the Torah are called by holy names. The Zionist state is called Israel, their language is called Hebrew, their currency is called shekel, and living and dying there is called Kiddush Hashem. If we emulate Avraham Avinu and take whatever steps are necessary to change those names and call a sin a sin, then we will have eased our trials and accomplished a great thing. (Divrei Yoel, p. 538)

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Every morning we make a blessing thanking Hashem “who did not make me a gentile.” The Taz (Orach Chaim 46:4) asks: Why don’t we say this blessing in positive language: “who made me a Yisroel”? (This is indeed the version of the blessing in Menachos 43b; but the Tosefta, the Rif, the Rambam, the Rosh and Shulchan Aruch all say “who did not make me a gentile” and this is our custom.)

The Yalkut Shimoni at the beginning of Parshas Haazinu says that at the time of the redemption, the Jewish people will be embarrassed of its sins and say to Hashem, “How can You redeem me? My witnesses are still here, for You called heaven and earth as witnesses.” Hashem will reply, “I will take them away,” as it says, “For behold I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Yishaya 65:17). The Jewish people will say, “My name is still here!” Hashem will reply, “I will take it away,” as it says, “You will be called by a new name which the mouth of Hashem will specify” (Yishaya 62:2). Why will the Jewish people be embarrassed of its name, Israel?

The answer is that the name “Israel” was actually originally the name of the Satan, the guardian angel of Esav (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer 37). When the name was given to Yaakov Avinu, it became sanctified and purified. As long as the Jews continue in the ways of their forefather Yaakov, their name remains holy. But when they rebel against Hashem, their name has no holiness at all, and on the contrary it is worse than the names of other nations, since it is the name of the Satan. This explains the almost unbelievable fact that we see today, that the heretics and sinners have adopted the name “Israel” for themselves. They pride themselves on bearing this name, which they have used for their defiled purposes.

That is why the Jewish people will be embarrassed of this name at the time of the redemption, and that is why Hashem promises to change it to another name, to be specified at that time. And possibly the reason why neither the Navi nor Chazal tell us what that new name will be is because they feared that if it were to be known, the Zionists would steal that name as well.

Now we understand why we do not say a blessing “who made me a Yisroel.” The Men of the Great Assembly foresaw with holy inspiration that a movement of heretics would one day adopt the name “Yisroel” for themselves, and then the true Jews would no longer be proud of this name. Rather, they made the text of the blessing negative “who did not make me a gentile,” for that applies for all time. (Machzor Divrei Yoel, Succos v. 2 p. 28)

The policy of Der Yid was that whenever the State of Israel (Medinas Yisroel) was mentioned, the word Yisroel was placed in quotation marks - to show that Torah Jewry, the true Israel, did not recognize the Zionists' right to use their name. One time, however, the quotation marks were accidently left out. Reb Binyomin Eliezer Lebovitch decided to show it to the Rebbe, so he placed a copy of the newspaper on a table where the Rebbe would see it on his way to davening. It was Erev Rosh Hashanah. The hoiz bochur, Shulem Fekete, took the newspaper away so that the Rebbe shouldn't get angry before davening, but Reb Binyomin Eliezer pulled it out of his hands and put it back on the table. The Rebbe passed by, glanced at it and immediately asked someone to summon Reb Sender Deutsch. By the time Reb Sender arrived, the Rebbe had put on his tallis and tefillin. He said to Reb Sender in Lashon Hakodesh, "Der Yid is now a thousand times worse than the Morgen Journal and the Forwards!" Then he said in Yiddish, "I have never before in my life spoken Yiddish while wearing Rashi tefillin, but now I must speak out," and he continued to rebuke Reb Sender for the mistake. Reb Sender apologized, saying he had not had time to look over the newspaper properly before it was printed. He promised to be more careful in the future. (Heard from Reb Shulem Fekete)

And Rivka had a brother, and his name was Lavan; and Lavan ran to the man, outside, to the well. (24:29)

Rashi says: Why did he run and for what did he run? The Torah continues: “And it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring and the bracelets on his sister’s hands…” He said, “This man is rich,” and gave his eyes on the money.

What is forcing Rashi to say that Lavan ran to get the money? Maybe he simply ran to see who was the guest who had given his sister expensive presents.

Lavan said to Eliezer: “Come, blessed of Hashem! Why do you stand outside? I have cleared out the house, and there is place for the camels.” Rashi says that Lavan meant that he had removed the idols from the house. How did Lavan know that Eliezer would object to the idols? After all, everyone in the world at that time worshipped idols except for Avraham Avinu, and Lavan did not yet know (until v. 34) that this man was Avraham Avinu’s trusted servant and disciple.

The Torah describes Rivka as “a virgin, and no man had known her” (v. 16). The Midrash Rabbah (60:5) notes that this seems to be redundant. Rabbi Yochanan answers that “no man had known her” means that no man had ever even approached her and asked her to know him, as Scripture states, “For the staff of the wicked will not rest on the lot of the righteous” (Tehillim 125:3). The commentary Nezer Hakodesh on the Midrash explains that indeed Rivka was very beautiful and the people of her country were immoral, and thus one would have expected that some of them would have approached her. However, Rivka was righteous and they were wicked, and it is the nature of wicked people to hate righteous people and stay far away from them. Wicked people have no pleasure from being close to righteous people. That is the meaning of the verse, “For the staff of the wicked will not rest on the lot of the righteous.”

According to this, we can answer our questions. Lavan knew that the people of his country hated Rivka for her righteousness, and therefore when he saw a stranger come and befriend her, he knew that the stranger had to be righteous, not an idol worshipper. Therefore he cleared out all the idols from the house.

Now we can also understand Rashi’s question about why Lavan ran. Since Lavan was wicked and he knew that this visitor was righteous, why did he run to greet him and go to such great lengths to clear out the idols so that he would feel comfortable? The answer, Rashi says, is that the desire for money can drive people to do things that are against their nature. The Torah says that a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous (Devarim 16:19). The Gemara comments (Kesubos 105a) that if it does so to the wise, all the more so to the foolish; if it does so to the righteous, all the more so to the wicked. Lavan “gave up his eyes on the money” – he allowed himself to be blinded by his desire for Eliezer’s money. (Divrei Yoel pp. 523-524)

The lesson we must learn from this is that whenever we see the wicked befriending the righteous, there has to be an ulterior motive. Anti-religious Jews do not make concessions to Torah Jews unless they have something to gain.

A year before the Zionists established their state, three of their leaders made a promise to the Agudath Israel activists that certain aspects of their state would be run in accordance with the Torah – notably marriage and divorce. Later, during all the history of the state, although battles were fought over many religious matters, these principles remained constant. Many tout this as an example of how working together with the Zionists and participating in their government yielded a positive result. To this day, the Zionist state has no civil marriage; two Jews can only get married or divorced in a halachic ceremony.

But let us examine the historical context. The following lines are taken from the work of a prominent historian. “The discussions between Agudah and the Zionist Agency began in the spring of 1946, as the Anglo-American Committee was due to arrive in Palestine. Considering the anti-Zionist traditions and statements of certain Agudah leaders who appeared before the Committee, the Zionist Agency feared that Agudat Israel would not support Zionist claims that Palestine was the only haven for Jewish refugees. Hence the Zionist Agency felt the need to approach Agudah…

“When the UN Committee was due to arrive in Palestine (summer 1947), Agudath Israel notified the Zionist Agency that it would appear before the Committee separately and not as part of the Zionist Agency joint delegation. It was then that Ben-Gurion entered the picture, urging Levin to reconsider this decision. “For the sake of Jewish interests,” he said, “the Zionist Agency should be recognized as representing the entire nation.” But Levin did not agree… On June 9, 1947, Agudath Israel leaders again met with Ben-Gurion, informing him that they were prepared to support the cause of a Jewish state if their religious demands were guaranteed in the state constitution…these words obviously express an implied threat: if the Zionist Agency does not promise to fulfill Agudath Israel’s demands, the latter will oppose the establishment of a Jewish state… Ben-Gurion would not deviate from the lines drawn by Shertok and Kaplan a half-year earlier. Regarding marital affairs, he said that there would be no problem arranging matters according to the Torah… Ten days later, the letter from the Zionist Agency Executive was received at the offices of World Agudath Israel… Levin, disheartened, declared that Agudath Israel’s policies were not to be changed despite the letter, which essentially says nothing and contains no genuine commitment. Agudath Israel thus decided to appear separately before the UN Committee, still debating how to present its view that extension of the British Mandate would be the least of all evils…

“The UN Committee…recommended the partitioning of Palestine and the establishment of two sovereign states therein – a Jewish state and an Arab state… After considerable efforts the Agudath Israel Executive Committee succeeded in obtaining a rabbinic decision from five members of its Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. The Moetzes met on November 5, 1947…a decision was taken not to do anything to oppose the Jewish state or to block achievement of a two-thirds majority in the United Nations to establish the state. This was a decision of considerable significance under the circumstances then prevailing. Agudath Israel’s leaders throughout the world could have initiated contacts with leaders of UN member countries to thwart approval of the partition plan by the General Assembly. At that time (about three weeks before the scheduled General Assembly session), the Jewish Agency was exerting great efforts to convince various world leaders to support the plan. They had to make sure Agudath Israel leaders and supporters were not working in the opposite direction. The decision by these members of the Moetzes was thus the first step in Agudath Israel’s involvement in Zionist efforts to establish a Jewish state.”

Throughout the 61 years of the state’s existence, secular Jews have made up a clear majority of its population and government, and they could have easily voted to establish civil marriage, had it been a priority to them. Yet we do not find that it was even a struggle, as were other issues such as drafting girls and autopsies. Why have the anti-religious gone along so willingly with this religious coercion? The answer is that just as in 1947, when the world was deliberating over the idea of a Zionist state, the Zionists desperately needed all of the Jewish people to appear to be united behind them, so too today the Zionists need their state to be officially a Jewish state, so that they can tell the world about their “right” to Eretz Yisroel based on the Torah. They need the approval of Orthodox rabbis to maintain the appearance of a Jewish state. Let those Orthodox rabbis who think they are gaining concessions from the Zionists realize that it is they who are really making the biggest concession – it is they who give the state its legitimacy!