In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Poupko
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Looking at Yitzchak’s life, we find that he plays a fairly passive role in some of the most pivotal events in which he is involved. He appears not to be active during the Akeidah (Sacrifice), his wife Rivkah is chosen for him by his father's servant, and he administers the blessing for his first-born son completely unaware of whom he was truly blessing. And yet, we find deep meaning in an apparently mundane activity in which Yitzchak engages. When the servant of Avraham arrives with Rivkah to meet her new husband, the Torah reports that Yitzchak went out, “LaSuach BaSadeh Lifnot Arev,” “To Supplicate in the field towards evening” (BeReishit 24:63). Chazal (Berachot 26b) understand this phrase to mean that Yitzchak was davening Minchah (afternoon prayers) and therefore credit Yitzchak with the institution of this prayer.
In fact, the source for the three Tefillot – Shacharit, Minchah, and Maariv – is the subject of a dispute in the Talmud. According to one opinion, the three daily Tefillot were initiated by Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. The other opinion holds that the three daily Tefillot were enacted to correspond to the sacrificial service.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs explains that underlying this dispute is an issue far deeper than the history of our practice to daven. What this dispute represents are two different attitudes regarding the nature of prayer itself – attitudes that are reflected by different figures in the Torah who serve God in different ways.
One approach to Tefillah was embodied by individuals like the Avot and the Neviim, who all had the remarkable ability to approach God in a more direct way than other people. They could hear the voice of God, as it were, more clearly and respond more directly. The three Avot and Moshe were all shepherds and therefore they held no formal office or title. They spoke with God when the situation demanded. When they were spiritually inspired, they were able to turn to God and pray in a way that was different from the last time they had spoken to God.
A second, different approach to connecting with God was exemplified by the Kohen, the priest and custodian of the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash. Unlike the Avot, the Kohen had an official office and title. He was obliged to remain holy, separate from the rest of the community, and his job was to administer the Avodah, the divine service in the temple, according to strict rules and regulations. The Temidim, the regular daily offerings, for instance, had prescribed times, places, and procedures that regimented how Korbanot were offered.
The element of spontaneity which characterized the service of the Avot was foreign to the Kohanim in the Mishkan. The one attempt by Kohanim to introduce their own offering was that of Nadav and Avihu, who died as a result of their creativity. The structure of the Temple service disdains such originality.
For Divine service to thrive, though, it needs both the spontaneity of the Avot and the structure of the Kohanim because these elements speak to different aspects of the soul. Without spontaneity, the spirit loses emotion; without structure, it can descend into chaos. Without the Avot and their spontaneous prayers, the faith of Israel would have grown old; without the Kohanim and their structured service, it would never have been able to become the standard of living for an entire people.
The dispute in the Talmud thus addresses which tradition prayer belongs to– the tradition of spontaneity of the Avot, or the tradition of structure of the Kohanim? Were the prayers enacted to be personal dialogues akin to that of the Avot or were they meant to establish the communal worship of an entire nation like that of the Kohanim? Which approach should form the model for how we approach God?
It seems from the way the Rabbis composed our Tefillot that they contain elements of both – but one must come before the other. Really, our Tefillot should be structured and organized like they are right now: we daven three times a day at specific times during the day, using specific formulas set down for us. But the challenge is to invest our own emotions and our own thoughts and feelings into the words we say.
If it is true that we should be original in our thoughts and feelings when we pray, why do we need set Tefillot at set times? If a person would daven only when he was in the mood to do so, it would guarantee a heart-felt prayer full of emotion. Most often, the prayers that are the most heartfelt are the ones inspired by some particular need or issue. Why not pray only at those times and not when we are half asleep and nothing is really grabbing at or motivating us?
Perhaps an answer can be found in the following parable. We all know jogging is a good cardiovascular workout. But for someone who never jogs, going out for a half-hour jog can be a disaster; that person is likely to collapse before he achieves anything productive. In order to jog productively, we have to keep at it. We have to practice and get in shape so that when we need to jog, we'll have the stamina to endure.
That is what our Rabbis had in mind for Tefillah. It would be ideal if we only davened when we felt like we needed God the most, but when those opportunities would arrive, we would not what to say or how to say it. We need structure to stay in spiritual shape so that we not only hone davening skills but also develop our thoughts about God as well. That is what we do when we daven in a structured fashion, the same prayers at the same time every day. We stay in spiritual shape so that when the opportunity arises, when we need to daven on behalf of someone else or for some difficult circumstance, we will know how to daven and we will know to Whom we are davening.
In Parashat Chayei Sarah, Avraham buys Ma'arat HaMachpeilah from Efron HaChiti. Initially, Efron offers to give Avraham the land as a gift, as he says “Lo Adoni Shema’eini HaSadeh Natati Lach" “No my lord, listen to me, I have given you the field” (BeReishit 23:11). Yet when Avraham insists on paying for it, Efron sets the sum at an exorbitant 400 silver shekels “Oveir LaSocheir,” in negotiable currency. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) states that each shekel Avraham used was worth 2,500 regular shekels, thus making the purchase worth one million shekels, a tremendous amount for Efron to ask, considering he offered the land for free. Shockingly, though, we find that Avraham does not even attempt to negotiate. Why is this?
The Midrash notes that the Tanach names only three places that were bought without negotiation and bargaining (Kever Yosef and Har Hamoriyah being the other two), insisting an important message is to be learned from all three. The fact that the Torah describes in detail the purchase of Ma’arat HaMachpeilah shows how great Avraham's love was for Sarah, and how he put the needs of a Meit (deceased individual) above all else. He wanted the best burial spot for her and was willing to pay a great amount to a shady person just to get it cleanly. Let us learn from Avraham to always put other people ahead of us even if may come at an expense.
One of the focuses of this week’s Parashah is Eliezer’s search for Yitzchak’s wife. However, we never learn about but what happens to Eliezer after the task. The Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer teaches that after Eliezer did this Chesed for Yitzchak, Avraham set him free. His status was initially “cursed,” as he was a descendant of Kenaan, whom Noach cursed (BeReishit Rabbah 60:7). But after Avraham’s manumission changed him to “blessed,” Hashem rewarded Eliezer in this world by making him the king Og Melech HaBashan. A proof to this is that according to the Midrash, Eliezer’s feet were forty Mil long, the same length as Og’s feet.
The Gemara teaches that Hashem rewards sinners and evil doers in this world so they do not merit a share in Gan Eden. If Hashem rewards individuals in this world to keep them from meriting Olam HaBah, why does He reward Eliezer in this world? Does Eliezer’s reward demonstrate that he is a Rasha and isn’t worthy of receiving Olam HaBah? Growing up with perceptions of Eliezer as a righteous servant of Avraham, it is difficult to believe that he was so evil.
Many commentators also pose significant ideas that contradict the belief that Eliezer was evil. The Derech Eretz Zuta states that Eliezer was one of the nine people who went to Gan Eden without dying. Furthermore, the Gemarah (Bava Batrah 58b) relates that Rav Benaah would measure crypts to prevent individuals from accidentally stepping on them and thereby becoming Tameh LeMeit. When Rav Benaah came to Ma’arat HaMachpeilah, he was stopped by Eliezer who was guarding the entrance. Thinking Eliezer was guarding Avraham while he was davening, Rav Benaah asked Eliezer if he could enter to measure the cave. Eliezer called to Avraham who replied that Rav Benaah should be allowed to enter. We see that by guarding Ma’arat HaMachpeilah, Eliezer remained faithful to Avraham even after his death. How can a person so faithful to a Tzadik be considered a Rasha?
In Parashat Chukat, Moshe kills Og, proving that Eliezer did not go to Gan Eden without dying. One possible answer to our quandary is that there were two Ogs. One was Eliezer, Avraham’s servant who went straight to Gan Eden. The second was another individual who ruled as king of Bashan and assumed the name “Og” as a royal title just as the King of Egypt assumed the title “Pharaoh.” Now understanding, as we initially thought, that Eliezer was a righteous individual and faithful servant, we should strive to emulate him in our service to Hashem.
We see the life of Sarah (or at least how she lived it) summed up in one Pasuk, the first one of the Parashah, which states, “VaYihyu Chayei Sarah Meiah Shanah VeEsrim Shanah VeSheva Shanim Shenei Chayei Sarah,” “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life” (BeReishit 23:1). The Vilna Gaon points out that the small letter (Chaf) in the word “VeLivkotah,” “And [Avraham came] to cry over her” (23:2) in the next Pasuk teaches us that when Sarah died, Avraham did not cry over her Neshamah, but only over her deceased body. This was because she had done everything she needed to do in life; Avraham knew that there was no reason to cry over her Neshamah. Rashi points out that the Pasuk quoted above superfluously contains the word "years." He reasons that when Sarah was one hundred years of age she was like twenty, and when she was twenty she was like seven. As Shlomo Carlebach teaches us (referring to people), “Only the outside gets old; the inside never gets old.” This idea, which is repeated in the Pesukim, helps us understand the life of Sarah. Sarah lived a life of a Tzaddeket and the Gemara teaches us that Tzaddikim live on forever. Sarah’s Chessed still impacts us today and there are still people who daven and learn at her Kever every day. No matter how hard people try, no one will ever be able to destroy the legacy Sarah and our other patriarchs and matriarchs established. The Torah teaches us that Torah and Mitzvot are not just things that we do when we are not busy but that they are a way of life, in the end of Parashat Nitzavim, “Ki Hu Chayecha VeOrech Yamecha,” “For it (the Torah) is your life and the length of your days” (Devarim 30:20). The Torah is stating that we should be involved in Torah and Mitzvot, and that involvement is what will keep the Jewish people alive forever just as it did to Sarah Imeinu.
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