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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chayei Sarah’

20,000 Jews in Hebron for Chayei Sarah

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

At least 20,000 Jews from all across Israel, and some coming in from around the world, converged on the biblical city of Hebron this shabbat to honor the memory of the Matriarch Sarah, whose burial in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron – Maarat HaMachpela – was chronicled in this week’s Torah portion.

Considered the first piece of land purchased by the Patriarch Abraham in the land of Israel, Sarah’s burial place later became the final resting place of her son Isaac and his wife Rivka, and her grandson Jacob and his wife Leah.  Jewish tradition teaches that the Tomb of the Patriarchs is also the burial place of Adam and Chava (Eve), and even Moshe and Tzipporah.  It is also believed to be situated at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.

Despite threats of inclement weather, today’s descendants of Sarah arrived en masse in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and were hosted by local residents.  They also participated in tours, two political panels, open houses, and the dedication of a community hall.  Videos from the events can be viewed at www.hebronvideo.com.

The Fascinating Life of Our First Matriarch

Friday, November 9th, 2012

From the moment she is introduced as Avraham’s young bride (Bereshit 11: 29,30,31) till her death in this week’s Torah portion appropriately titled Chayei Sarah — The Life of Sarah , the fascinating image of our first matriarch is the subject of many intriguing Midrashic commentaries.

The verse (Bereshit 11:29) that introduces Sarah also introduces Yiskah, the daughter of Haran, giving rise to a Rabbinic interpretation, which identifies Yiskah with Sarah. Sarah was also called Yiskah, Chazal say, because everyone who beheld her “would gaze” (yiskeh) at her beauty (Megillah 14a), an extraordinary gift that she retained till the end of her days (Bereshit Rabba 40:4). According to another Rabbinic commentary, Sarah was so beautiful that all other people “were like monkeys” by comparison (Bava Basra 58a), while another Midrash claims that even Avishag the Shunamite, the archetype of Biblical beauty, never “achieved even half of Sarah’s charm” (Sanhedrin 39b). In a summation of her life Chazal further elaborate on the theme of 127 -year-old Sarah’s physical and spiritual beauty and assure us that she was as pure at the age of one hundred as a seven-year-old and as beautiful as a twenty-year old.

Sarah’s identity with Yiskah based on the root “sacho”(see), has prompted an additional interpretation by Chazal that besides beauty, Sarah possessed the gift of prophetic “vision” which enabled her to “see” by means of the Holy Spirit (Megillah. 14a).

As a matter-of-fact, Sarah’s visionary gifts surpassed even those of Avraham (Shemot Rabba 1:1), and it was for this reason that Avraham was admonished:

Our Sages teach that the Almighty heard Sarah’s prayer for deliverance from Pharaoh’s clutches, and sent an angel to whip the Egyptian king at her command when her extraordinary beauty caused her abduction to the latter’s palace (Bereshit Rabba 41:2). It was on this occasion that, intimidated by Divine punishment on her account, Pharaoh presented to Sarah the land of Goshen as her personal possession and his daughter Hagar as her handmaid (Bereshit Rabba 45). This is how it came about that Bnei Yisrael dwelt in Goshen during their sojourn in Egypt; it was their inheritance through our Matriarch Sarah.

Our Matriarch Sarah’s original name was Sarai, and it was only later with the assumption of their divine mission that the letter “h” from the Divine Name was added. Avram became Avraham and Sarai became Sarah. From Midrashic literature we learn that Sarai meant “a princess to her own people,” but when her name was changed to Sarah, she became a “princess to all mankind” (Bereshit Rabba 47:1). In this capacity she shared Avraham’s mission to spread the faith in one G-d – while Avraham converted the men, Sarah converted the women.

Besides her gifts of beauty, prophecy, wisdom and leadership, Chazal attribute to Sarah great spiritual and material blessings. “As long as Sarah lived,” Bereshit Rabba reveals, “there was a light burning from one Shabbat eve to the next; and there was a blessing in the dough; and a cloud was hovering over the tent. And when she died – they ceased.” (Idem.). And yet, Sarah’s greatest merit was Avraham’s heeding her admonishment and his decision based on her advice — removing from his household Yishmael and with him, Yishmael’s deleterious influence.

I believe this was perhaps the most important achievement in the life of Sarah and her most far-reaching historical move.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

In his book, Thirteen Days (1968), Robert Kennedy publicized the inner workings of the Kennedy White House during the terrible days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He described how the President’s special advisory group, known as ExComm, debated the options available to defuse the crisis in light of the intelligence presented to them. Fortunately, JFK and his advisors managed to avoid a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union and compelled Khrushchev to withdraw his missiles from Cuba. For many who have studied this crisis the story ends on day 13 when the Soviet Union agreed to remove its weapons. However, David G. Coleman in his new book, The Fourteenth Day (2012), argues that the story did not quite end there. In fact, an entirely new chapter began on day 14.

The challenge facing Kennedy on that day, and in the subsequent months, was how to ensure that the Soviet Union kept the agreement. Coleman explained that, “One issue stood out as the most urgent: verifying that Khrushchev was following through in having the missiles removed. It was not an easy problem. It hinged on a fundamental issue notably lacking in the U.S.-Soviet relationship: trust. How could Americans be sure that they weren’t being duped? Might it all be some kind of devilish trick, buying time for the Soviet nuclear forces in Cuba to be readied for action” (p.36).

Over the next several months various agreements were achieved, ultimately ensuring the removal of the missiles and Soviet combat troops from Cuba. But to achieve these agreements Kennedy had to go through many hoops and juggle many different constituencies and pressures. He had to address the military’s concerns, he had to convince the American people that he was not compromising their security for the sake of a diplomatic deal, he had to confront the partisan pressures and accusations from his opposition in Congress, and he had to seal a deal with the Soviet Union that would actually decrease tension permanently, thus lessening the chance of a recurring crisis.

Kennedy understood a fundamental aspect of leadership. Success without follow-up is not success. If gains are not consolidated they will evaporate quickly. The essence of this week’s parsha illustrates the importance of this truism. Prior to the events recorded in Chayei Sarah we witnessed Avraham changing the world through feats of international renown. In Lech Lecha he emigrated from his homeland to the Land of Israel. During his journey he and Sarah spread monotheism and taught people how to lead an upright life. In Vayeira we were overwhelmed by Avraham’s defeating an international coalition of the greatest military powers of his day. He then argued with Hashem to spare the lives of the citizens of Sedom. Finally, he was prepared to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to G-d. These events are certainly worthy of note. Yet when we read Chayei Sarah we seem to leave the world of front page news and move to what at best seems like the human interest section. We see Avraham purchasing a grave for his wife and mourning her. We then spend the bulk of the parsha learning how Avraham, through the services of his loyal servant Eliezer, finds a wife for Yitzchak. We conclude with Avraham’s relatively quiet retirement and passing.

This contrast begs the question: What is the real message of Chayei Sarah? Rav Moshe Feinstein in his work of Torah insights, Derash Moshe, suggests an explanation that sheds light on this issue. Rav Moshe questions why the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (9a) claims that with Avraham, the two thousand year period of Torah learning began, when, in fact, there were others who prior to Avraham taught Torah as well. Rav Moshe answers that Avraham revolutionized Torah learning. Torah scholars prior to Avraham, such as Shem and Aver, taught Torah, but only to those people who were self-motivated enough to seek out Torah on their own and who were willing to commit totally to a Torah way of life. Avraham, on the other hand, circulated among the people, encouraging them to join the ranks of Torah learners and explaining that every commitment made to Torah, no matter how incremental, is important and a critical step forward. It is for this reason, Rav Moshe claims, that Avraham is credited with the real beginning of Torah learning. Through Avraham’s actions the Torah achieved a permanent place in peoples’ consciousness.

Archie Rand: Three Major Works

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The Hyams Judaica Museum

Temple Beth Sholom

401 Roslyn Road, Roslyn Heights, New York

 

On one level we all have the same glorious inheritance. The Torah in its largest sense, along with the voluminous Oral Tradition in the Talmud, its commentaries and elaborations, make the Jewish artist the richest creative person imaginable.  However, there are crucial distinctions in how we use this inheritance.  British philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) famously distinguishes between creative thinkers who are like either a “hedgehog” and those who are “foxes.”  Ah, there’s the rub!

Hayei Sarah (1989), acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 36 x 24 by Archie Rand From “The Chapter Paintings,” courtesy the artist

Berlin posited that some thinkers are like the hedgehog (who seems to be solely expert at self defense), knowing one big idea that subsumes all their creative work; while others are like the fox (cunning and drawing on a multitude of strategies and concepts,) constantly seeing new and different visions.  Archie Rand is a fox of epic proportions, as evidenced in his latest exhibition: “Three Major Works.”

In this show Rand offers us three distinct ways of making biblical art. He presents “The Chapter Paintings” (1989), “60 Paintings From the Bible” (1992) and “Psalm 68” (1994) as divergent paradigms of Jewish art methodology. The approximately one hundred and twelve paintings shown here are testimony to the breadth of his vision of Jewish art.

Over the last ten years I have reviewed Rand in this column many times: “The Painted Shul: B’nai Yosef Murals” (April 2002); “Rand’s Prayer: 19 Diaspora Paintings (December 2005)”; “The Image Before the Text: The 613” (April 2008) and “Had Gadya” (April 2011). While his more recent work has frequently taken a deeply personal and idiosyncratic turn, these earlier works over a scant five-year span provide very important markers in the development of contemporary Jewish art.

Daniel (1992) acrylic & marker on canvas, 18 x 24 by Archie Rand From “Sixty Paintings from the Bible,” courtesy the artist

“The Chapter Paintings” (1989) were a groundbreaking series of 54 paintings, each dedicated to the weekly parsha. Curator Bat-Sheva Slavin comments that their creation “instigated curator Norman Kleeblatt’s landmark 1996 ‘Too Jewish’ ” exhibition at the Jewish Museum.  In this series Rand bravely selects one significant image or theme to characterize each parsha with “what he calls ‘the visual key.’ ”  This approach ranges from the simple meaning (Rand’s “pashat”); for example Chayei Sarah represented by the gaping mouth of a cave; to the considerably more complex, frequently based on midrashic sources.  The painting of Ekev, a brightly shinning red ruby, is based on the verse, “…if you obey these rules and observe them faithfully, the Lord your God…will love you and bless you…(Devarim 7:12-13).  We can only understand his image in light of the midrash in Devorim Rabba that relates: “R. Shimon ben Shetach once bought a donkey from an Arab.  His students found a jewel in the animal’s neckband. They said, ‘God has granted you riches!’  But Shimon ben Shetach replied, ‘I paid for a donkey, not a for a jewel.’ He sought out the Arab and returned the jewel to him. Overjoyed, the Arab exclaimed, ‘Blessed be Shimon ben Shetach’s God.’”  So, where is Rand going with this?  It seems that the blessing and love God will give us for observing his commandments will come in the form of peace and blessing from the non-Jews.  Thus Rand’s visual midrash casts the verse in a radically different light indeed.

Chayei Sarah with Sheikh Jabari

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

This year’s Shabbat Chaye Sarah, was, thank God, very successful, as expected. Despite the rain, somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 people walked the streets of Hebron, worshiped at Ma’arat HaMachpela, and even tented outside. Lectures and Torah classes to people of all ages were conducted in Kiryat Arba and Hebron. Groups of Americans, visiting Hebron via the New York-based Hebron Fund, and also AFSI, feasted on scrumptious meals at the Gutnick Center, adjacent to Machpela and participated in various Hebron excursions, including the famed Casbah tour, Shabbat afternoon.

I spent a good part of Friday night and Shabbat day with a group of American/Israeli youth, who study in a special Yeshiva High School near the Kinneret in northern Israel. Their Rosh Yeshiva, the dean of the institution, Rabbi Danny, told me that he wanted the guys to have a good time, but also have a meaningful experience. It’s a long drive, to and from Hebron, and he wanted to make sure the Shabbat was a full educational experience.

I set up a Torah class Friday evening, as well as a short discussion with a Hebron resident. We also took a tour of Tel Rumeida in the cold crisp night air. The next day we toured other Hebron sites, and concluded with a discussion, tea, cake and cookies in my apartment in Beit Hadassah. They certainly left Hebron knowing more than they did when they arrived. More importantly, they ‘felt Hebron.’

However, a real highlight of the day took place on Friday afternoon. The Hebron Fund group, together with AFSI, drove in two buses, early Friday afternoon, about 15 minutes south of Hebron, to the Zif junction. There, leaving the buses, we all walked a few minutes to a big tent, where everyone was asked to remove their shoes before entering.

A number of years ago, a group of Arabs, together with Israeli leftists and anarchists, planned on burning down the Hazon David Synagogue, just outside the gates of Kiryat Arba, on the eve of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. The event was stopped at the last minute when it came to the attention of Sheikh Jabari, leader of Hebron’s largest clan. He told Hebron Arabs that he didn’t agree to destruction of a ‘holy place,’ especially on a Jewish holiday. He told them that this was a place of prayer, and prevented the destruction.

Following his intervention, a meeting was arranged between several Hebron leaders and the Sheikh, thanking him for his involvement. Since then, the Sheikh and Hebron-Kiryat Arba leaders meet relatively frequently, discussing relevant issues. He has publicly declared his opposition to unilateral declaration of a ‘palestinian state’ in the UN and also acknowledged the right of Jews to live in Hebron. Last summer he met at his Hebron home with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Pastor John Hagee.

This past Friday afternoon he met with almost 70 Americans and a few Hebron residents in a large tent, just outside Hebron. Welcoming the group, he asked those attending to be ambassadors to his message of peace ‘in the land of peace.’ He also spoke of Shabbat Chaye Sarah, Abraham and Ma’arat HaMachpela, saying that Machpela should unite all of us together, that we are one family, from one father, Abraham. He blessed the group ‘from all his heart, on this holy Shabbat.’ He thanked the group for visiting him, saying he appreciated that they came from so far away for this holy occasion.

Other members of the group addressed the Sheikh, expressing thanks for his hospitality, commenting and asking questions. The event concluded after the group was given a small cup of traditional Turkish coffee.

Chayei Sarah: The Blessing Hashem Wished To Impart

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Hashem has many agents who do His bidding and bring about in the world the ends He desires. Sometimes the agent is rather unlikely, as when an evil person’s deeds bring about something beneficial. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that such was the case when Rivkah’s family bestowed upon her a blessing that in fact alluded to Israel’s ultimate elevation over the other nations, and Hashem’s ultimate kingship over all the world.

“Our sister, be you to thousands of ten thousands, and your seed should inherit the gate of his enemies” (24:60).

These words were put into the mouth of the speakers; they are really the words of G-d. We note they did not bless her with wealth or happiness or good health or even long years. G-d’s greatest blessing is children and children’s children forever. When one`s descendants cling to the service of G-d, the progenitor is considered as if he were alive forever, continuing to serve Hashem in this physical life.

This is the blessing G-d gave to Abraham (“be you to thousands…”; 13:16, 15:5, 17:20), and to Yitzchak (26:4) and to Jacob (28:14). For similar instances where G-d put His words in the mouth of ordinary men, see 23:6, 24:30. We note the similarity between this verse (“thousands of ten thousands”) and the verse “ten thousands of thousands of Israel” (Bamidbar 10:36). Thus we see that this blessing upon Rivkah was that she would  become the mother of all Israel.

Hashem blessed Abraham similarly (“your seed should inherit…”; 22:17), and Rivkah’s kin extend this blessing to her. We see here that Hashem puts His words into the mouths of ordinary persons (23:6, 24:31, 24:60). We understand that this blessing was not intended for all the seed of Rivkah, including Eisav, but for the seed of Jacob alone concerning whom it was said: “Come to rest, Hashem, upon the ten thousands of thousands of Israel” (Bamidbar 10:36).

Eisav would have benefited from this blessing had he remained with the family, but by deserting them he forfeited his benefits. However, a minor reflection of blessing came upon him; just as after Isaac’s blessings upon Jacob, Eisav gained some minor blessing from his father (27:39-40). As it turned out, Rivkah’s true seed was Jacob, and he eventually conquered Eisav and had dominion over the land of Edom (II Samuel 8:14). But the enemies of Jacob were many (22:17) and in all eras; Jacob would overcome all of them in the end.

We should note that this blessing upon Rivkah is the same as the blessing upon Yitzchak (22:17). This prophecy that Hashem put into the mouth of Rivkah’s kin certainly includes the conquest of Canaan. But chiefly it refers to the final victory over all the ideologies of the nations, when all the cities of the world will acclaim Hashem as the true G-d and they will acclaim Israel as His people and the sole bearers of Hashem’s truth.

Even more: it foretells that “All Israel has a share in the World to come,” meaning that the seed of Rivkah (which is Israel), and no one else, is guaranteed eternal life on a national scale (i.e. not merely for chosen individuals). Thus Rivkah was given a blessing parallel to the prophecy of Isaac’s name: “He shall laugh” (21:3). Her seed shall inherit the final and eternal “gate.”

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.

Journey Of An Academic Pariah

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

In the good old days, Forest Hills, New York – where I grew up between 1939 and 1951 – was a shtetl for assimilated American Jews. Like my parents, all our neighbors were American-born offspring of Eastern European immigrants. A generation removed from their identity conflicts, we children knew that Forest Hills, liberated from Judaism, was our promised land.

My father and mother rejected the Romanian Orthodoxy and Bund Socialism of their immigrant parents for the security of American Judaism. My Jewish boyhood was spent on the secular side of the shared living-room wall that separated our apartment from our neighbors, Cantor Gorsky and his wife. Through that wall, every Friday evening, I heard him recite Kiddush and the Birkat Hamazon.

On weekday afternoons he taught neighborhood boys the haftarah for their bar mitzvah. Long before it was my turn to join them, I had memorized the blessings that floated into our apartment. To make sure, I was required to attend after-school Hebrew school at the nearby Forest Hills Jewish Center. It provided some of the more vivid miseries of my childhood. My bar mitzvah was mandatory, but there was a tacit understanding with my father that it would mark my exit from Judaism. And so it did.

Yet some Jewish culture and history penetrated. My older relatives spoke Yiddish when they did not want children to understand. (But we became reasonably adept translators.) At the end of World War II Life magazine photographs brought the Holocaust, which had never been mentioned, into our home – though it was not a matter for discussion.

 

I also discovered that Hank Greenberg, the baseball star so beloved by American Jews for his perfect fusion of identities – hitting home runs on Rosh Hashanah and going to shul on Yom Kippur – was our cousin. His sister’s family hosted interminable Passover Seders, which invariably drove my cousins and me from the table after the Fourth Question.

I knew about Israel, born just after my twelfth birthday, because letters to my father began arriving from his Romanian relatives who had survived the war to make aliyah. I was intrigued by the foreign postage stamps and secretly proud of his generosity to our previously unknown cousins. But Israel never was a topic of family conversation.

My high-school years (at Horace Mann in Riverdale) were shared with other non-Jewish Jewish boys whose parents, like mine, wanted their sons to be free of Jewish encumbrances. I first encountered Christian America in Oberlin, Ohio, my college hometown. Before Sunday lunch, my classmates spontaneously sang the Doxology, praising “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Then we were served ham or pork chops. Christmas trees sparkled in every dormitory living room.

* * * * * Eventually armed with my doctorate, I arrived at Brandeis in 1965 to teach American history. Brandeis aspired to become the Jewish – but not too Jewish – Harvard. It proudly displayed its Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chapels, but I never saw anyone enter or leave this ecumenical enclave at the campus edge. Yet it canceled classes on Shemini Atzeret, a holiday totally unknown to me.

After five years of late-1960s campus turbulence I relinquished Jewish zaniness for the Christian decorum of Wellesley College, dedicated since 1875 to the education of young women. Like its ivy-covered Big Brothers and most other Seven Sister colleges, Wellesley had entrenched admission quotas designed to perpetuate an Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.

Genteel anti-Semitism was the pervasive Wellesley norm. By the time I arrived, Jewish students were no longer segregated within their dormitories. But just a few years earlier an Orthodox student who requested postponement of exams scheduled on the High Holy Days was incarcerated in the infirmary for the duration, without access to books or friends, and served treif food she could not eat – to ensure that she would not cheat. In the Religion Department, the unofficial custodian of Christian culture at the college, no Jew had ever received tenure nor was a Jew permitted to teach the required New Testament course.

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