Parashat Chayei Sarah

Rabbi Boaz Tomsky

      When one presents a thought on this Parsha, the underlining theme is generally one of two topics: the passing of Sarah and her subsequent burial or the pursuit of Eliezer in finding a suitable lifelong companion for Yitzchak. Within this topic, the Torah provides countless amounts of meaningful details. These seemingly excessive verses are not stated for naught, rather it provides us with practical advice and insight into what are truly important characteristics in a mate. Even within the modern world, with all the different techniques in dating and all of the professionals providing free unsolicited advise, we need to look no further than our very own Torat Chaim - living Torah. Long before Dr. Phil and John Gray, was the Torah, with all of its splendor. Let's view only a mere speck of its eternal wisdom.

      Immediately following the incident by the well where Rivkah passes her test with flying colors, Eliezer does something completely out of the realm of what we perceive to be rational. The Torah relates that he immediately showered her with presents, valuable jewelry made from gold. Only afterwards does Eliezer inquire into her genealogical status, to fit the criteria his master Avraham had mandated him to follow. Of course, her pedigree held positive and she was indeed fit for betrothal. From the surface, it appears as though Eliezer was a bit hasty, perhaps too over anxious in giving Rivkah the gifts before he knew all of the facts. Why didn't he ask her who she was first and than give her the gifts after she could prove she was fit for marriage? Certainly the Torah places these events in their proper order. This is made clear later in the Parsha when Eliezer relates the happenings of his day to Lavan, almost repeating the story line verbatim outside of some suttle differences in his wording. One of the more obvious differences in this monologue is that he reverses an order of events from the way in which they actually occurred. First he tells Lavan that he asked Rivkah, "who are you?" and only afterwards did he present her with the precious jewelry. Rashi states the motive as to why Eliezer elected to switch the order. Rashi says that Eliezer switched the order so he wouldn't be asked, "how could you give gifts to her when you didn't yet know who she was?" That seems to be a valid question to ask and it appears as though Eliezer was afraid to confront it. But we must presume that Eliezer purposely said it this way to Lavan and most likely had a good reason for it. This being the case, why couldn't he relay this reason over to the likes of Lavan?

      On a seemingly unrelated topic, Rashi quotes the famous Sifri [Devarim 33:2] about how HaShem offered the Torah to all of the nations in the world. Among them all, there were no takers. That is until Klal Yisroel came along and said Nasa Vanishma-we will do and then we will comprehend. How do we understand the thought process of Nasa Vanishma? The nations seemed to be correct in first asking what the Torah was all about before contemplating the notion of accepting to adhere to all of its edicts. How could the Bnai Yisroel make such a statement?

      The answer to all of these timeless inquiries didn't come to me during an insightful lecture or even during a stimulating conversation among my peers. Instead the answer came to me at my daughter, Malka's birthday party. At the party, we had a table set for all of the gifts she would be receiving. I was astounded to see the amount of beautifully wrapped presents her friends had brought her. The wrapping paper on each gift was of different children's themes, each with carefully placed ribbons and bows. I was truly impressed to witness the effort put forth in the presentation of each of these wrapped presents. Then she opened the gifts up, or should I say she attacked her presents! In a matter of minutes, each of the gifts were opened. There was the wrapping paper, torn to shreds, scattered throughout our living room floor. As I proceeded to fill a garbage bag with all of this freshly ripped wrapping paper, I wondered what was the whole point in wrapping presents altogether? How did this enhance the gift?

      Imagine that you desire to give your friends a blender. If it isn't wrapped, they can see what you wish to give them and they can choose to accept or to graciously decline the present. They know what to expect. They know what they are getting themselves into. However if you wrap that present, it is feasible to say that your friends will have no inkling as to what is behind the wrapping. Upon accepting a gift in this fashion, your friends are going a little out on a limb, unsure of its contents, uncertain if it is something they will ever use. Still they accept it willingly, regardless of this uncertainty. Why would you accept such a gift? Since you know the person giving you the gift is giving you something he perceives to be good. This is the message you are relaying to your friend, "I don't know what I'm receiving or getting myself into, but since it is a gift coming from you, it has to be good."

      This is the explanation of the words of the Sifri. The Torah is likened to a wrapped present, an item of uncertainty. The nations of the world questioned their trust in HaShem by inquiring what was written inside. They needed a peek before they were willing to buy into it. This shows they were concerned that the Torah could potentially be detrimental to them. This is, in fact, what they are attesting to by their unwillingness to accept the Torah due to its strict laws and edicts. However the Bnai Yisroel understood that the Torah was a Lekach Tov- a good acquisition. They didn't need to ask any questions before accepting the Torah. They knew that a gift from HaShem had to be good. This is the message of the words Nasa Vanishmah- we will do then we will comprehend.

      The amount of jewelry Eliezer gave to Rivka is also noteworthy. Rashi comments that the two bracelets are an allusion to the Shnay Haluchot-the two tablets and the ten shekels of gold is a hint to the Aseret Hadibrot-the Ten Commandments. What does the giving of these precious jewels have any correlation to accepting the Torah many years later? Just as our acceptance of the Torah was done with a leap of faith, unsure of the future or outcome, so to here, Eliezer first provides Rivkah with the gifts and only later inquires. Eliezer is teaching us that the key to the start and continuity of any relationship is trust. A marriage that is built on trust will endure. It is no coincidence that HaShem likens the relationship between the Bnai Yisroel and Himself to the relationship of a husband and wife. The acceptance of the Torah is built on trust and all interpersonal relationships, especially marriage, is a matter of trust.

      Eliezer, with his wisdom and foresight, was able to read Lavan like a book. He saw Lavan running toward him, acting overly generous and friendly. He wasn't sincere in his actions, instead he cast his eyes toward the money. He was hoping to "cash in" at Eliezer's expense. He even tries to impress Eliezer by talking his language, pretending to be some religious person that he isn't. Eliezer saw this in Lavan and realized he wasn't dealing with a sincere, truthful individual. Such a person would ill comprehend that all relationships are based on trust. He initiated the relationship on deception and trickery. This is why Eliezer was compelled to switch the order. Eliezer felt the need to speak in a manner in which Lavan could comprehend. To a self-centered Lavan, the only possible approach would be to act after all the facts are brought forward. This is not the Midah of Emunah- faith which is a necessity and incumbent for a future matriarch. Only a Rivkah, not a Lavan, is capable of taking such a leap of faith.  It is always a pleasant surprise when we witness someone who truly embodies the trait of trustworthiness. This is an unfortunate statement that such people are more the exception than the rule. Some say trusting others makes you look vulnerable, possibly even weak. Many people can recall back when there was a different level of trust among strangers encountered throughout the day. People would place their trust in society and let their children go out and do things the modern day parent wouldn't even dream of letting their children do. This is the price we pay for living in the world we live in. Surely we must protect our children and ensure they remain safe from the outside world. It would be foolish and naןve to believe the world doesn't have more than its fair share of evil people. September 11th taught me that. However, this does not excuse the way in which we should deal with others we know and love. Trustworthiness need not be a thing of the past. By displaying in our everyday activities, that we are trustworthy and that, we entrust others, we can create a long lasting, positive affect among others. It is my hope that we may return back to such days, where trust endures within all of our relationships.  

First Published November 2, 2002  for National Council of Young Israel Weekly Divrei Torah