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Parashat Chaye Sarah - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read Chaye Sarah. It begins with the death of Sarah and Abraham buying a piece of land for burial. This will become the Me-arat Hamachpelah in Hebron where Sarah will be buried, and where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as Rebecca and Leah will also be buried.

Another important story is Abraham's request to his servant Eliezer that he go to Aram Naharaim (Mesopotamia) to find a girl for Isaac. Being that our synagogue is called "Sharei Chesed" and the word Chesed appears several times in this story, I would like to discuss this concept of Chesed (also spelled Hessed) - kindness - as it is used in this story...

When Eliezer arrives by the well in Aram Naharaim, he is not sure how to pick the right girl fo Isaac, so he prays: "Eternal One, G-d of my master Abraham, please bring me luck today, and do kindness (Chesed) for my master Abraham." The test he devises is that he would ask a girl for some water. If she should respond by giving him water as well as offering to give water to his camels, "...that is the girl that You have destined to your servant Isaac, and that is how I should know that you have done kindness (Chesed) for my master." When the test is completed he says, "Blessed is the Eternal, G-d of my master, whose faithful kindness (Chesed) has not deserted my master."

When he tells Rebeccca's father and brother that they should let Rebecca go with him he says, "And now if you mean to treat my master with faithful kindness (Chesed) tell me."

What is Chesed? The Hebrew dictionary defines Chesed as "a great favor, a charitable act, an act of love, an act that is beyond the call of duty". Another Hebrew dictionary defines Chesed as "a good deed that is done out of compassion, of a generous heart, a righteous act". Maimonides goes a step further. He describes Chesed as limitless acts of kindness. Kindness towards those that you are expected to help, and acts of kindness even towards those that you are not necessarily expected to help. True Chesed is when it is done without any expectation of reciprocity, but out of a good will and a kind and generous heart.

This weeks Parasha teaches us to be proud of our name Sharei Chesed (Gates of Kindness). May we be deserving of the honor of being Anshei Hessed, people of kindness, individuals who perform acts of Gemelut Hassadim, acts of kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram




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Parashat Chaye Sarah - 5773

This week, we read the parasha of “Chaye Sarah” – the life of Sarah. The Torah says that Sarah lived to the age of 127. And when she died, the Torah states:

“Sarah died in Kiriath-arba - now Hebron - in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”

The word for ‘bewail’ is ‘livkotah’; however, the word is always written in the Torah with a small ‘chaf’. Why? Our sages tell us it is because Abraham controlled his outward expressions of grief. But why should he do this? It cannot be because Abraham didn’t love his wife. Sarah was his lifelong companion, putting her faith in him just as he put his faith in G-d.

We are actually given 2 reasons for Abraham’s self-control. The first is alluded to in the first verse of the parasha:

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and 7 years – the years of the life of Sarah.”

Sarah, obviously, lived a long life, and the repetition of the word ‘years’ in the above verse emphasizes that fact. And during those years, she lived a full life of righteousness and good deeds. Abraham knew that, because of the way she lived her life in this world, her soul would live on in the next, and so there was no reason to grieve over it – only over her body.

The second reason has to do with the previous week’s parasha and the Akeidah – the binding of Isaac. It is said that the ‘yetzer hara’ – the inclination to do evil – nagged at Abraham to abort the task G-d gave him to sacrifice his son before he reached Mount Moriah. But when he and Isaac returned home to discover that Sarah had died, the same ‘yetzer hara’ pursued him again, making him wonder if he should regret having gone in the first place – if he was responsible for his wife’s death. But Abraham refused to allow himself to feel that way. His faith in G-d was strong and he knew he had done the right thing as he had been commanded by G-d; therefore, he controlled the grief he displayed over the loss of his beloved Sarah, so as to deny the 'yetzer hara' the satisfaction of seeing Abraham having regrets.

None of us knows how long we will be on this earth; therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to take advantage of the days we have by emulating the life of Sarah – to live a life full of Torah study and good deeds and walking in G-d’s ways. It is the legacy we can leave for our friends and loved ones so that, when our time comes, their days of mourning might be mercifully short, to be eclipsed by their rejoicing in the life we led.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bernie Miller
Co-President, Sharei Chesed Congregation