Weekly Reading Insights: Chayei Sara

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Chayei Sara, 25 Cheshvan 5777/Nov.26, 2016

Torah: Genesis 23:1-25:18; Haftorah: Kings I 1:1-31 (because the first verse is like Gen. 24:1)

Chayei Sara is the 5th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 5314 letters, in 1402 words, in 105 verses

Sarah died at the age of 127. Avraham bought the Cave of Machpelah. Avraham sent his servant to look for a wife for his son, making him swear not to bring back a Canaanite bride. The servant left for Charan, and arriving at the well, asked G-d to give him a sign. Rivkah arrived to draw water. The servant asked if he may have some, and after he drank she drew more water for his camels. The servant spent the night in her father's house. Her family agreed to let Rivkah marry Yitzchak. Avraham remarried Keturah, who bore him six sons. Avraham died at the age of 175, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah, next to Sarah. Ishmael had twelve sons, each princes for their nations. He died at the age of 137. His descendants lived along the border of Egypt all the way to Assyria.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The Jewish people are clever. From my youngest years growing up in NY, I heard, a very common expression, a Jew doesn't buy retail. Only a chump pays full price. Yet we have a very interesting episode in this week's Torah portion, that when Avraham was acquiring the cave of the Machpela as a burial place for his wife Sara, he insisted on paying its full value, no discounts. (see verse 23/9 and Rashi).

That is especially interesting since in fact G-d had promised the entire land of Israel to Avraham's descendants. Rashi says on an earlier verse (23/4) in the name of Avraham, 'according to the law I could take it if I wanted'. Avraham could have taken the land for free… but he WANTED to pay full price.

We can understand this dichotomy from a teaching in the Zohar (Book # 2 128a). The world is divided into two broad camps. Kedusha- holiness and klipa-the shell, things that hide the holiness from us. One of Klipa's characteristics is taking something for nothing, as it says "we ate in Egypt for free". In the holiness camp there is a crucial importance to working for something with your full strength, using everything you have. Only through working, effort and struggle can holiness be drawn in. The Talmud proclaims, according to the effort is the reward.

This is the reason that Avraham paid full price. It was unthinkable to take something without efforts. Who wants something devoid of holiness?

There is a lesson for each of us here besides the obvious message to not be afraid of investing yourself, of working. A person might think that since G-d gave him or her certain natural positive abilities, and therefore parts of life are easier for them, there is no reason from them to make an effort. A person who is a natural speaker might become a teacher or lectures. Someone good with numbers would be an accountant. G-d gave them these talents as a gift! Efforts is for the other people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. G-d gave us these abilities because that is where the effort begins. And if this is true everywhere, it is particularly true in relation to G-d's service, studying Torah and doing the commandments. Jewish life begins when you leave your comfort zone.

Therefore the Torah tells us about Avraham, who under no circumstances would take for free something that was actually his and which he could have taken easily. Nevertheless, he paid full price. Similarly for each of us. In order to draw the spirit of holiness, it has to be with effort and struggle, not for free. There is no free lunch.

One of the many areas in life where effort is required is with food. Overdoing food is very easy. Eating the right amount, the right kinds of food and at the right time certainly takes effort. But still it is universally accepts that we should enjoy our food. You have to eat. Why shouldn't it be a pleasure? Therefore, every Jewish child learns from an early age that Judaism demands that a person make a blessing before he or she eats, acknowledging that the food came from G-d. By keeping this in mind before and while we eat elevates the food and makes it holy, bring it up a level instead of our being brought down to the level of the food.

Understanding this on a deeper level, there is a custom by some chassidim whose roots are from the Chassidic communities of Poland, to share the food that their Rebbe made a blessing on. Even if I can't elevate the food I eat in a proper way, certainly my Rebbe can elevate his food. By partaking of his food, at least then I am eating truly elevated food. The Rebbe helps me go to a higher level through his effort. Once in the early years of his leadership, a Polish chassid came to the lubavitcher Rebbe and asked him for some of his 'shirayim', meaning leftovers, the elevated food of the Rebbe. The Rebbe did not give it to him until he told him that by his, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's followers, is an understanding that eating a Rebbe's shirayim is not only a merit, but it comes with an obligation, to do something with the free spiritual strength that the food will give.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Chayei Sara

one sample:

Mystical Classics

Knowing You from Adam

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Rabbi Shimon said that when Abraham entered the cave of Machpela to bury Sarah, Adam and Eve did not want to remain buried in there. They complained they needn't suffer any additional shame upon constantly facing a pair of people so much better than them, who hadn't brought sin into the world as they had. Abraham replied that he would pray to G-d on their behalf so G-d would forgive their sin

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