Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Extreme Chesed

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we learn that following the passing of Sarah Imeinu, Avrohom Avinu sends his trusted aide Eliezer to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.

Having arrived in the city of Nachor in Aram Naharayim, Eliezer prays that Hashem send him the girl destined for Yitzchok. He devises a test to determine if the girl he meets is indeed Yitzchok’s bashert. If the girl would not only offer to quench his thirst but would offer to give water to his camels, Eliezer could then be certain that she was Yitzchok’s intended. And that is exactly how the events played out.

What was the meaning behind the test and what convinced Eliezer that this was the proper way to determine if the girl was the one intended for Yitzchok?

In last week’s parsha, we learned how Avrohom Avinu interrupted his conversation with Hashem in order to entertain three nomads who chanced upon his tent on a scorching hot day.

Every time I learn the parsha, I wonder anew how Avrohom could have done that. I wonder how he could ask G-d to stand aside, kivayachol, so that he could offer a few vagabonds some food and drink. And every year I understand it differently.

This year I understood it as follows. Every person has a shlichus in this world. Every individual has a mission to carry out during his/her time on Earth.

Avrohom’s was to be mesakein the chata’im that led to the Mabul which destroyed the world. Avrohom Avinu rectified the world and purified it from the sins which had led to the great flood in the days of Noach. The people of the time were sinful, but the sin which rose above all others and caused G-d’s fury to bring the flood was the sin of chomos, loosely translated as thievery, chicanery and jealousy wrapped up in one.

The opposite of chomos is chesed, kindness. The opposite of one who is so jealous that he must have the possessions of his friend is the one who is so generous that he would give anything of his to help a stranger. As the one whose shlichus it was to be mesakein the cheit of chomos, Avrohom was the consummate baal chesed. There was nothing that could stop him from offering a helping hand, even to a stranger, even to a shlepper, even if he was engrossed in doing something very important. He would even interrupt his conversation with G-d to help someone out.

Eliezer had seen Avrohom sacrifice so much for others. He knew that Avrohom lived only to perform chesed and spread G-dliness in this world. Thus, he understood that the woman who was destined to enter this family by way of marrying Yitzchok would have to be someone who was a consummate baalas chesed. She would have to be a girl who went above and beyond what would be expected of any normal mortal when it came to understanding another person’s needs. It would have to be a girl who would be as kind to a man’s animals as she was to the man himself. She would have to be the extreme baalas middos tovos, possessing rare refined character and truly excelling in her dealings with others.

And thus he devised his test.

In such times as we live in, it behooves us to learn the lesson of Avrohom and Rivkah. As their grandchildren and as bearers of their great legacy, we must seek to follow in their ways. As the world grows dark, as the air all around us gets murky and polluted, as people become lost in gloom and depression, we must not fail to reach out and offer support.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we cried out, “Useshuvah usefillah utzedakah maavirin es ro’ah hagezeirah - But repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree.”

During these days when the mettle of every human is tested, those words must ring in our ears. The Rambam writes that the reason bad omens are brought upon us is to lead us to teshuvah.

At times, Hashem brings tzaros to the world so that we will cry out to Him and remember that we have a Father in Heaven Who controls the world and cares for us.

If we want Hashem to have mercy upon us and return to us our incomes and businesses, if we want him to bring us health and prosperity, if we want to be blessed with fine children and proper shidduchim for them, we also have to strengthen our commitments to helping others in their times of need. We have to follow in the path of Avrohom and Rivkah in doing extreme chesed.

If we want the news to improve, if we wish for confidence to return to the markets, the only way to generate that is by teshuvah, tefillah and tzedaka.

Nothing else will help.

The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task of finding Yitzchok’s shidduch, that the Medrash, in Bereishis Rabbah (60:8), states, “Yofeh sichasan shel avdei botei avos mitorasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers so many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.

The purpose of the Torah relating this episode is to teach us the importance of middos tovos in our lives. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as a practical guide in our own lives.

Eliezer displayed an unflinching dedication to his master coupled with an unfailing faith in Hashem, despite all of the difficulties inherent in the situation. In fact, in referring to Eliezer, the Medrash (60:1) relates that the posuk in Yeshaya (50:10) which states, “Asher holach chasheichim v’ein nogah lo,” refers to Eliezer when he went to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.

Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope that he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu haya me’ir lo bezikim ubevrakim.” When the baal bitachon appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem will burst forth as lightening through the darkness and dread.

The way we go about finding our mates has become so difficult and demeaning that people involved in the parsha of shidduchim sometimes grow so disheartened and despondent that they give up hope. A good study of this week’s parsha and its Medrashim can help instill in us the faith necessary to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times. Even when we find ourselves in difficult situations, we must always remain optimistic and hopeful. The dark clouds will eventually part for men and women of faith and their world will be brightly lit.

We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and we will remain loyal to our personal ambition. When we lose hope, we have lost everything. Even when we encounter the Besueils and Lavans of this world and people who are thoughtless say things to hurt us as we seek to find what we are looking for, or if we are facing a personal battle or financial hardships, we must not lose our faith and optimism.

Take the time to contrast the behavior of Eliezer with that of some other people we meet in the parsha. Efron and Lavan both professed to be concerned about Avrohom’s welfare, but actually were plotting to take advantage of him. They both sought to exploit his desperation.

Lavan and Efron made their unsavory mark in history as infamous charlatans.

Their ruses didn’t fool anyone and they are remembered for eternity as liars and cheats. Eliezer is lauded for his extraordinary devotion and honesty.

Thanks to Eliezer’s unswerving loyalty, Yitzchok found his life partner and was able to help forge the glorious chain begun by his father, Avrohom, which has spanned the centuries to this very day. Lavan and Efron also contributed to Jewish history - Lavan as the brother-in-law of Yitzchok and father-in-law of Yaakov, and Efron as the man who sold Avrohom the Me’oras Hamachpeilah.

Part of our legacy of chesed is to possess the ability to live by high standards of decency and honesty, despite the daily challenges we face. We must be charitable not only with our money, but also with our hearts and minds. We have to learn how to forgive people for their mistakes and human failings, without condemning them. A true friend accepts your flaws and blemishes, just as you should accept theirs. A true friend doesn’t let go of you when times are rough or when being your friend might be inconvenient or costly. We must be that way in our communal and personal lives.

We must do what we can to support and help each other and remain united.

Triumphalism and one-upmanship should have no room in our world and should not be tolerated.

Eliezer stands for all time as the epitome of a loyal friend and student.

Eliezer achieved immortality because he was a true friend to Avrohom and the Jewish people. He journeyed to a strange land and negotiated with devious people in order to satisfy the wishes of his master Avrohom.

In life, we are tested how far we will go in the pursuit of chesed and tzedaka, and whether we will behave like Lavan or like Eliezer. The Lavans and Efrons of the world think that they have come out ahead because they pocketed some extra change, but this week’s parsha reminds us that the achievements of crooked people are momentary and fleeting.

The children and talmidim of Avrohom Avinu are the ones who are blessed with fine children as Yitzchok. The people who are accused of being naïve in their acts of kindness are the ones who merit eternal blessing.

We all have a shlichus in this world and a mission to complete. Chesed complements whatever it is that we are here to accomplish. Our teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah will light up the darkness of the exile and will cause the redemption to occur speedily in our day.


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