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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Chayei Sarah

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Chayei Sarah
25th of Cheshvan, 5777 | November 26, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Ruthie Halberstadt
Meeting Mr. Cohen

אם ישך נא מצליח דרכי

If you would graciously make my way successful… (Bereishit 24:42)

When I was ten years old, I remember there being a man, Mr. Cohen, who lived in America and started becoming more interested in Judaism. In his progress of learning more about Torah and mitzvos, he had gotten a hold of multiple Torah tapes given by my father, Rabbi Akiva Tatz. Deeply influencing and making an impression on him, he arranged that he would learn once a week with my father over the phone from America. For forty-five minutes, he and my father sat down miles away and discussed various Torah topics.

Now, Mr. Cohen was a very wealthy and influential individual. One of his charities, in fact, included the State of Israel. As such, whenever he would call, all of us children knew we had to be very quiet. “Abba is on the phone with Mr. Cohen!” we would say.

Sometime after he began studying together with my father, he came to Israel for a business trip. At the time, my family, which included myself and six other siblings, lived in Telz-Stone in a three-bedroom apartment. The plan was for Mr. Cohen to meet the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and afterwards meet my father at our house.

That day, I finished school and headed straight home. As I walked through the front door, I was met by the same state our house was commonly in: disorganized. And this time, it was nothing different than usual. Our house was often quite untidy, to say the least. There was nothing dirty or disgusting lying around, but there were always stray toys and housewares on the floor. My mother with her relaxed and easygoing personality would always say, “As long as the kids are happy, it is fine.” “But isn’t his face and clothing full of chocolate?” I said. But again, with gentleness and love, she would tell me, “I can wash him and his clothes. There is a washing machine. As long as the children are happy.”

It was not uncommon for me to come home and find my mother comfortably sitting on the couch reading a book and undisturbed by a whole mess surrounding her. Her patience and laidback attitude was remarkable and something which enabled our family to function happily and healthily.

Personally, I could not tolerate a disorderly house. Yet, there I was standing in our lounge on the day the distinguished Mr. Cohen was going to walk inside and it was a mess. Mr. Cohen was due to arrive very soon, and there was not enough time for me to significantly turn the house around and make it perfectly presentable. And as could be imagined, I was having a hard time coping. And then there was a knock at the door.

My mother, still wearing her apron, opened the soon. “Welcome,” she politely said to Mr. Cohen. “Please come inside; my husband will be with you shortly.” Ushering Mr. Cohen into our home, in walked this very dignified character with a leather briefcase. He looked exactly as we had expected.

My mother then proceeded to grab a chair from the table and lightly pat it down to remove any dust. Placing the chair in front of Mr. Cohen, he took a seat in the lounge. All I could do was cringe. I could not believe my eyes. Here was this extremely well-to-do gentleman sitting in the middle of our unorganized house on a chair that was just seconds before brushed off from its dust.

Thankfully, this scene didn’t last too long. A couple minutes later, in walked my father. Making his way to the nearby closet to hang up his coat as he normally did, I inched my way behind him and whispered, “Why did you marry her?”

My father paused. Walking over to Mr. Cohen, he said, “If you don’t mind, I will keep you waiting two more minutes. I will be with your shortly.” He then called me over to the room adjacent to the lounge. At this point, I knew I was in for it. I was only ten years old, but I had clearly crossed the line and acted with chutzpah.

As I entered the room and approached my father, he gently said to me, “You know why I married your mother? Because she is the most remarkable woman I have ever met. And I wanted her to be the mother of my children I would bring up. But you know what, Ruthie? I love it when things are neat and clean. So you know how you can help me? Every day before I come home, you can clean the lounge.”

And with that, my father said, “If you can now excuse me, I have to go see Mr. Cohen.”

To this day, I vividly remember this incident. I even have reminded my father of this occasion, sharing with him how deep an impression he made on me. At a moment when he could have harshly reprimanded me, which I certainly deserved, he taught me an invaluable lesson which lasted much longer than being sent to my room or a week of being grounded. Quickly thinking on his feet, he wisely imparted a message with such simplicity and beauty that said it all. If I was so disturbed about the messiness of the home, I would be the one to take care of that chore. Instead of complaining, I could be accomplishing.

That is how you use your words wisely to achieve wonderful results.

Rabbi Label Lam
Sparks in Savanna

נשיא אלקים אתה בתוכנו

You are a prince of G-d in our midst (Bereishit 23:6)

On my return trip from taking a number of yeshiva boys to Florida during the week of Parshas Lech Lecha, we stopped off at the same place we did on our way there: Savanna, Georgia. With a group of four cars and a nice crowd of boys, the yeshiva planned in advance to stop off for breakfast somewhere in Savanna. Mr. Gottleib, a local caterer, had organized a beautiful breakfast for everyone.

Asking one of the older boys to deliver a short Torah thought, he complied. By nature, the boy was a very straightforward, linear thinker. It was therefore odd when he got up and began speaking in Kabbalistic terms about the effect the yeshiva boys were having wherever they passed throughout their travels. “We are releasing little sparks of holiness everywhere we go,” he said. “Just passing through Savanna, Georgia and making blessings, we are infusing spiritual sparks of influence all around. The impact we are having, however subliminal it may seem, is enormous.” As I listened closely to the words of this boy, I was a bit surprised. But I didn’t say anything.

Getting back on the road and continuing to head towards Baltimore where one of the boys would be dropped off, it was nearing the time for Maariv. I recommended that we find some place in Virginia to daven, and so we did. Locating an outdoor mall, we all gathered together and davened. Shortly afterwards, we got back into our vans and drove to Baltimore and then to New York.

The next day a message awaited me on my answering machine. The name did not sound familiar, but it soon became clear that it was someone who had been at the same mall in Virginia we had stopped off to daven Maariv. I could not remember coming into contact with anyone Jewish throughout our trip home, but this man had something to say. “I would like to learn more about Judaism and advance my Torah learning. Would you be able to assist me?”

In hindsight, I understood what “sparks” the boy speaking in Savanna was unknowingly referring to. On the week of Parshas Lech Lecha in which we read about Avraham Avinu’s trailblazing influences on the masses, this small group of boys touched the neshama of someone they had never met and never knew. And it was all because wherever a Jew goes, he or she most indelibly leaves a spiritual imprint.

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi
Our Beloved Mother

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה

And the days of Sarah were one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life (Bereishit 23:1)

As Avraham Avinu returns after having gone through the intense experience of the Akeidat Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak, he makes his way over to the tent of Sarah Imeinu. Yet, quite quickly, he realized that something was different. The Challah which once pervaded her tent with a luscious aroma, the candles which once illuminated ever so brightly, and the Clouds of Glory which provided shelter and protection were now gone. And then he realized: Sarah Imeinu’s soul had been recalled to heaven.

And so, there sat Avraham in sorrow. The wife and mother who was so holy and so precious in the eyes of Hashem was no longer with them. As the Midrash relates, it was at this time that Avraham Avinu praised Sarah with the beautiful words of Eishet Chayil, recognizing her dedication as a woman of valor to Hashem and her family.

Yet it seems odd. Why would Avraham only now realize the unique qualities of Sarah? We do not find him offering any special praise about her uniqueness and righteousness when she was alive? Why only after she passed away did he take special note of the blessing in her dough, candles and cloud?

The answer is that a person can only appreciate the full scope of his wife’s and mother’s deeds after her lifetime. Only then can one gain a true picture and perspective of all that she was and all that she accomplished. Her true greatness can be seen in retrospect and from the unparalleled legacy she left behind.

Yet for Sarah Imeinu, she never completely departed from her tent. When Yitzchak Avinu brought his new wife, Rivkah, into the tent of Sarah, the illuminating candles, fresh challah and Clouds of Glory returned. While Rivkah would now step into the role of the primary Matriarch of Klal Yisrael, the life and lessons Sarah left behind would forever continue to inspire and warm the hearts of her beloved children.

How in fact does Sarah Imeinu live on with us even thousands of years later? In what way does our Ima lend us support and encouragement today?

It is through her eternal positive attitude. Even amidst the darkness, she saw light. Even when life was painful and troublesome, she saw Hashem’s salvation. And it is that unique perspective in life which she has bequeathed to us all. We all possess the inner conviction to recognize the good and see that Hashem is carrying us along. For Sarah herself, she was barren for ninety years, abducted by Pharaoh and Avimelech, and died of tremor upon hearing about the near-death experience of her son, Yitzchak. Yet what does the Torah tell us?

“And the years of Sarah were one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s life” (Bereishit 23:1). Rashi explains that the redundancy of the word “years” after each period of life teaches that these years shared similar qualities. When Sarah was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old in that she was sinless, comparable to an individual under twenty years of age who is not subject to Heavenly retribution. As well, when she was twenty years old, she was as charming and beautiful as a seven-year-old.

In another vein, we find a further comparison between the numbers one hundred and twenty, adding further meaning and dimension to the equivalence of Sarah’s life. The 100th Perek (chapter) of Tehillim describes the joy one is to experience when serving Hashem. “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song…” (Tehillim 100:2-5). Yet the 20th Perek of Tehillim depicts the opposite set of circumstances. “May Hashem answer you on the day of distress…may He send help and support you…” (ibid. 20:2-3). Here a life of challenge and difficulty is focused upon.

Yet as Chazal state, the final repetitive phrase of the verse – “the years of Sarah’s life” – teaches that all the days of Sarah’s life were equally good in her eyes. For Sarah, both the joyful and sad experiences were embraced and understood to be coming from Hashem. The positive attitude highlighted in Perek 100 along with the troubling plight spoken of in Perek 20 characterized the life and times of Sarah. Whatever she was going through, she maintained the same positive and optimistic outlook. And that was because she knew all along that Hashem was supporting her and serving as her source of comfort and strength.

After I unfortunately lost my child a”h, a man from the Chevra Kadisha kindly reminded me that it was appropriate to recite the Pasuk, “ד' נתן וד' לקח יהי שם ד' מבורך – Hashem has given and Hashem has taken away; may the name of Hashem be blessed” (Iyov 1:21). While he may have been right, I found it hard to do so amid heartbreaking tears. Yet what in fact does this Pasuk teach?

The Ben Ish Chai explains that we often only understand how much Hashem gives us after Hashem takes it away. It is then that we value what precious gift we had and how much we ought to have appreciated it.

And so, my next son I named Natan, meaning “give.” I learned to understand that everything we have in life is a beautiful gift to appreciate from Hashem. Hashem gives us so much, and all we must do is look to see it. Whether times are good or challenging, our Father in Heaven is there to lend us support. That is the eternal lesson Sarah Imeinu has left us. Appreciate every year of life and every step along the way. And when we do so, we will surely be following in the ways of our dear mother for whom every day and every moment of life was full of Hashem’s goodness.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld

A man once came to Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l with a question about a yarmulke. Inquiring if it met the requirements of proper size and material, Rav Scheinberg said, “We don’t care what is on the head, but what is in the head.” While of course one needs to wear a yarmulke and meet certain halachic guidelines for covering the head, ultimately, what is most important is what is going on within one’s head. What impact and impression does wearing a yarmulke have on its wearer? We can never become overly involved in the particular specifics of a yarmulke and forget why we ultimately are wearing a head covering altogether. What matters most is the inside, not the outside.

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