THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
This study is brought to you by Shirley Hellman in memory of her husband Louis Hellman, whose yahrtzeit is 28 Cheshvon. Like Avraham, Lou was a friend to all, and is sorely missed.
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Ebullient eclectic Rav Mordecai Gafni extracts psychological insights from Parshat Hashavua, Sundays 8:30PM, at the German Colony's Ezrat Yisroel Synagogue, Hildeshimer 17-- repeated Monday in Hebrew. He often brings hassidic teachings, including Rav Kook's, enhanced and broadened by those of Rav Yosef Soloveichik, who lived during both the Shoa and the birth of Israel, two recent illuminating mega-events in Jewish history. This week he concluded an overview of Avraham's gradual, but steady growth, tho sometimes interrupted by stagnation and retrogression. According to Gafni, Avraham starts off on his still undefined dream and mission, wandering, as most men in this confusing world, without a clear vision, toward, and then thru, Canaan-- he's guided only by God's clear vision of his ultimate home and destiny. After years of wandering, with periodic Divine Revelation, Avraham reaches the stage where he himself clearly sees what God sees-- the site of the Akada, symbol of his eternal mission. He at first views and uses Sara only as a means of achieving his own Divine Blessed Destiny, via Pharoh's gifts, in effect viewing her as an object, I-it, rather than as an independent person in her own right, with her own agenda, I-thou.
Now that she dies, he appreciates her own unique greatness, so much the source of his own; so often we only appreciate our most precious possessions and relationships after we lose them. Indeed, her name, not his, is contained in "Yisroel", Israel, representing both Yaakov and the Jewish people at their peak development (YF: actually it's her original name, Sarei, not Sara, that's so contained, perhaps a hint that it's her basic holy nature, not her later Judiazation, which is the root of the Jewish heart and soul; so we often encounter great non-Jews, even pagans, whose shining soul constantly radiates. Such is the soul of the captured idolatress, per Ohr Hachayim (Deut. 20:10f). Avraham's ill-gotten Egyptian gain also engendered separation from his other "spiritually intimate other", Lot, his pupil (but some say that he should have never taken Lot, part of his "father's house", with him in the first place).
From time to time, per Gafni, Avraham is complacent, wanting to remain where he's at, rather than taking great revolutionary steps forward in his journey, radically transforming his dream (can women stay happily married to such dynamic, possibly unstable, men? Should they change with them?-- see below Chayim in A., Dickens in C.); Avraham is content with Yishmael, unwilling to have Sara's son radically alter his lifestyle and dream. Sara's anger at Hagar may have engendered our problems with Arabs today; as most anger, it's not just a response to the moment, simple chagrin at uppity Hagar's uppishness, but stems from earlier, perhaps infantile, deep inner resentment-- Sara's core wrath, claims Gafni, stems from the fact that Hagar herself, allegedly Pharoh's own daughter, was part of the booty collected by Avraham for letting Pharoh take her. While I reject Gafni's exegesis, his condemnation of Avraham as insensitive and manipulative (see our Lech Lcha study, G.), his message is both profound and relevant. As Hirsch responded to Ramban's similar critique of Avraham, I praise Gafni's courage in voicing it, while rejecting it-- if superficial Western secular sophisticates have their Great Gatsby, we profound Torah sophisticates need our Great Gafni, Mordecai the yearning Yehudi.
A WIFE LOST, A WIFE FOUND, AND AVRAHAM'S NON-JEWISH DESCENDANTS
(it can happen to the best of us-- Marx comes from Rashi, Rosa Luxemburg from the Pnei Yehoshua, Esav from Yitzchak and Rivka).
A. THE BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF HAYE SARA.
JBS = Rav J. B. Soloveichik. H = Rav S. R. Hirsch. R = Rashi.
A. THE BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF CHAYE SARA
The world is darkened for him who is widowed (Alexandri, Talmud San. 22a)
Chaye Sara opens with Sara's death, right after the tales of Yitzchak's sacrifice and Rivka's birth; some conclude that Sara died of shock, right after she heard about the Akada (some say Satan told her that Yitzchak died!-- see Targ. Yon. on 22:20, PD'RE 32, Lev. Rab. 20:2, Sefer Hayashar)-- but should and could Avraham's great act of devotion to God cause his wife's death? Is this his 11th test? Bad things happen to good patriarchs too-- Yaakov finally ends his over 20 years of Lavan's oppression; after losing Rachel, he settles in Israel, learning Torah-- a well-earned rest. Suddenly his beloved Yosef is presumed dead; he mourns over 20 years, unconsolable. Great people go from test to test in this world of hard work; their reward is only after death (R-- 37:2; cf. Nachshon Wachsman); no recorded Tzadik had an easy life. Had Avraham already married Yitzchak off, Sara would have shared the wedding and seen her grandchildren; she might have then survived the akeda. So God informs Avraham of Rivka's birth right after the Akeda, before he hears of Sara's death-- thus he won't feel guilty for waiting for Yitzchak's sole predestined wife-- Rav A. Goffen. Rav K. Shapiro (Aish Hakodesh, p. 10) claims that Sara WISHED to die, protesting God's test of the Akeda-- Shapiro was the heroic saintly rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto. But if Yitzchak was a young lad at the Akeda (see Ibn Ezra), Sara's much later death is probably unrelated to it.
Losing one's first wife is like witnessing the destruction of the Temple (Yochanan ben Nappaha, San. 22a)
TIME TO RETIRE: Some connect Sara's death with the birth of Rivka, the matriarch of the moment, Yitzchak's mate-- first the new sun rises, then the old sun sets (Gen. Raba 58:2 on Ecc.1:5); perhaps Sara simply had to make way for the next woman of valor (Prov. 31:10), who brought God's Presence into the Patriarchal tents (cf. Moshe and Yehoshua). When God didn't involve Sara in the Akeda, she knew her mission was over. She left her home in Beer Sheva to die in Chevron, making her last contribution to advance God's Zionist universal redemption-- Jews should dwell in Israel, control it, and render it a model nation, leading man back to Eden. As she died in Chevron, Avraham could buy the Cave of Machpalah-- the first eternal Jewish land purchase in Israel; it's also the sacred burial site of Adam and Eve, restored to their original glory (P.D'R.E. 36). Thus the transaction itself is a tribute to Sara's strength and wisdom, tho her eulogy isn't reported (cf. Yaakov and Moshe's deathbed efforts to improve their children and pupils).
Everything can be replaced, except the wife of one's youth (Shmuel ben Nachman, San. 22a).
Sara's premature death may be due to her seeking Divine judgement upon Avraham, when Hagar mocked her (B.K. 93a). The Besht so reads Hillel's adage (Avot 2:5): "JUDGE NOT YOUR FELLOW (at all), FOR (if you do) YOU'LL REACH THE SAME PLACE (of judgment)"*. Conversely, one who prays for another is himself rewarded. We should condemn specific bad behavior, IF we also praise the good-- but only God can render total judgement. Those who pour out their wrath upon alleged infidels, or try to compel observance, only harm their own cause. Truly beautiful and inspiring Orthodox Jews needn't worry about competing ideologies; if they're not such, harangues won't help. Darkness can only be fought with light! (JBS-- see Rav Norman Lamm and others in Jewish Tradition and the Non-traditional Jew).
MEIN YIDDISHE MAMA: Yitzchak was broken by Sara's death, losing her Holy Female Presence (shchina), perhaps what he primarily sought in marriage. Avraham's later death wasn't as great a loss for Yitzchak, who himself embodied Avraham's masculine Divinity. God appeared to Avraham in 18:1; after the akeda, God testifies: "... for now I know you perceive the Lord (22:12)!"-- God appears to the man who's prepared to see Him in nature, life and history; many stare at market reports and sports scores, ignoring the awesome wonder of every leaf and bird. Yet Avraham accomplished little after burying Sara, his source of inner strength (JBS, whose wife was similar). So only a Jewish mother makes you Jewish, tho your dad's Avraham himself!-- she instills your essential soul, your deepest God connection. Dad then ties you to the external world; he guides your formal learning and behavior, once you're weaned. So Judaism created institutions-- synagogues and yeshivot-- and many more mitzvot to successfully domesticate and spiritualize its males. More naturally holy females, "created like His own Will", are to render their homes sanctuaries.
Avraham, Sara, and their progeny self-sacrifice for the material and spiritual welfare of countless future generations. No other people's so concerned about the future-- Yitzchak means: "he WILL laugh (Gen. 17:19)"; he sacrifices foolish friviolity and triviality today for a truly meaningful tomorrow of joy, tranquility, serenity, love, etc., the laughter of Shabbat, presage of the world to come, of Yom Tov-- "THEN will our mouths be filled with joy..." (Ps. 126). Laughter's not to be a laughing matter. But Yishmael laughs NOW (M'tzachek; 21:9-10), lives for the fleeting pleasure of the moment; cf. today's "heroes", potential models, God forbid, for our children, e.g. Presley, Jackson, Madonna, Judy Garland, etc., the idolized pantheon of Western culture; they literally laugh themselves to death, self-destruct, slaves to an ethic which preaches: "Fly now, pay later, laugh now, cry later"; whatever is fun-- take it, grab it, use it; there's no tomorrow, no Divine yod, no future tense (Rav E. Feldman, The Biblical Echo). So Avraham builds an altar of sacrificial concern between Bet El andAi (12:8); he foresaw that, long after his death, Achan would sin by looting at Jericho, removing Israel's Divine support, causing their defeat (Joshua 6:18, 7). Avraham prayed for them. So a hint of Rabin's assassination may be found in Lech Lcha, read just before his murder: (... and a torch of) fire, which passed between these cut pieces (Gen 15:17); the Hebrew letters could be read: aish, aish rah b'rabin-- a fire, a fire (2 shots), evil, against Rabin.
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B. A SYNOPSIS OF CHAYE SARA-- A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS
"SARA'S LIFE STAGES WERE (VAYIYU): 100 YEARS & 20 YEARS & 7 YEARS-- YEARS OF SARA'S LIVES. SARA DIED IN ... HEBRON, IN CANAAN... (23:1-2). "WERE"-- VAYIYU, 37 in numerical value, is a hint that Sara's true "life" was her 37 years with Yitzchak . "Years", written after each part of Sara's life span denotes the uniqueness of each stage of her life, and compares it to that adjacent. At 100 she was as sin-free as at 20, at 20 as beautiful as at 7 (Gen. Raba, R)!
MATURE AT 20! God doesn't view one as fully responsible until 20 (Shab. 89b; M.K. 28a; Yer. Bik. 2; Rambam on Mishna, San. 7; but see Chacham Tzvi 49, Nodei B'Yehudah O.H. 8); thus the kaddish prayer isn't recited for anyone who died under 20-- its function is expiation from sin (Sdei Chemed, Avelut 151). Yet Ohsry ruled that bereaved parents SHOULD say kaddish for 1200 infants murdered by Germans in the Kinder Aktion of 3-4 Nissan, 5704 (MiMaamakim 1, p. 104-- he considered other purported reasons for kaddish, e.g. elevation of the deceased and comfort, in faith, for the survivors. See THE HOLOCAUST AND HALAKHAH, I. Rosenbaum, 70-3; THE JEWISH WAY IN DEATH & MOURNING, M. Lamm, 158-61).
CAPTIVATING AT 7! 7 is the peak of femininity; Chanala's charming mystique slowly wanes with growing sophisticatioon and a sense of life's challenges and dangers, especially from men, as she approaches 20-- cf. "Thank Heaven For Little Girls", from Gigi, 1958, starring French singer and actor Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972). A charming little boy or girl may unconsciously be the platonic boyfriend or girlfriend of the opposite sex parent, whose mate lacks romance and joy, amidst the vicissitudes of life. The father of the bride and mother of the groom are often reluctant to part from their progeny!
Others (e.g Yalkut Shimoni, Ps. 37) call Sara as beautiful at 100 as at 20, as sin-free at 20 as at 7, more down-to-earth concepts. The Torah should praise Sara's well-earned sin-free state-- but God created her beauty (Ben suggests that she exercised, dieted, etc.)! Sara's praise may be that she was sin-free, a beautiful soul, THO she was so beautiful and desirable! Only homely women NEED to develop deep and beautiful souls and minds-- they've got nothing else! Little Rivka, Yitzchak's Mission-Mate, was also beautiful (24:16); here too, her great kindness stems from high motives-- everyone would like beautiful little Miss Aram, even w/o her good deeds. She relit Sara's sparkling spirit in Yitzchak's tent.
If we define beauty as childlike feminine ebullience, we praise Sara's optimistic soaring spirit amidst pagan decadence. She's tested when Avraham's great dream seems a failure; famine compels yerida to Egypt, where the king takes her for himself. She can be Egypt's queen. Then Avimelech, ruler of "higher" Philistine civilization, takes her-- a harder test; Philistinian vulgarity was concealed by a veneer of culture and refinement (cf. Germany, Austria, Playboy, and ballet). When she's redeemed and becomes pregnant by Avraham, all rejoiced, healed and comforted from their afflictions-- Gen. Raba 53:12 on 21:6; good news for Jews is good news for the world, Israel's goal.
Sara was ALL AGES AT EVERY AGE-- 100, 20, and 7 all being "... YEARS OF THE LIFE OF SARA". Little Sarai was mature as an adult; mature Sara retained childlike joy and optimism. YEARS is similarly repeated amidst the ages of Avraham and Yishmael (25:7; 25:17); there too, Avraham was as strong at 100 as at 70, w/o sin at 70, as at 5 (R). "Strong as at 70" (of 175 years) = as strong as at 28, re our normal lifespan of 70. Why praise him for his God-given strength? As a pretty pious woman, a strong fearless pious man probably has true faith (cf. Little House On The Prarie). A weak man may cultivate piety and meekness to curry favor from those whom he fears, or to conquer his own fears of undefined existence, and of meeting the challenges of livelihood and survival. The existence of many alternative approaches, tho all within Torah, upsets such folks.
Midrash Raba doesn't so expound "years"; so Ramban rejects all the above deductions! But why indeed should the Torah tell us how long someone lives? Even Rashi only interprets those lifespans whose years are grouped in unusual fashion as containing an additional message. He doesn't so expound Yishmael's "years", only stating that he died righteous; he repented before Avraham's death, letting Yitzchak direct the burial: "Yitzchak (#1) and Yishmael (#2), his sons, buried him" (25:9; see Rav Yochanan, B.B. 16b), as opposed to stubborn Esav, who precedes righteous Yaakov at Yitzchak's burial (35:29). So Yishmael's heirs, the Arabs, WILL eventually repent AND recognize Yitzchak's heirs as their leader, and replace the Koran with the Torah; but Christianity will be the last to recognize the O.T. (Only Testament) and its Jewish Oral tradition as their sole guide, when, finally: "Savoirs shall go up on Mt. Zion to judge Mt. Esav (i.e. Esav's pretensions to higher Divine Revelation), and the kingdom will be God's (Ovadia 1:21). But Israel must shape up first, producing great loving leaders like Avraham, Arye Levine, and Shlomo Carlebach. Drasha pooper Ibn Ezra, however, says that Yitzchak is named before Yishmael at Avraham's funeral only because he was the son of Avraham's wife, Yishmael of his servant. But both Yaakov and Esav had the same mother, Esav being the firstborn.
...YEARS OF SARA'S LIFE implies that they all were equally good-- R. But Sara was barren most of her life, exiled amidst famine, and twice seized by pagan kings! Some say that "equally good" means that whatever life brings is a gift from God, to be used for our spiritual development; we can't always control what happens to us, but we can usually determine our response to it (but not when in coma, dead, etc)-- so "gam zu l'tova", all can be for the good; some people lead charmed lives, but are always discontent, focusing on their petty problems; others, upbeat, like Rav Arye Levin, may have lives of hell, but remain cheerful, accentuating the positive, decentuating the negative (Rav Zushia of Anapoli, discussed in Rav Zelig Pliskin's GROWTH through TORAH). But JBS stresses that Judaism never calls evil good-- we indeed pray for life and honor, for health and wealth; we just try to extract whatever good is found in evil, e.g. to value every precious moment of life after losing an intimate other. We might claim that Rashi's exposition refers to Sara's altogether good years in the future world, but the verse refers to this world.
Why does God tell us so little about Sara's life, unlike her death? The above hints about her "years", the "souls which they made in Charan", her abductions, and her disputes with Hagar, are all that's revealed about the "woman in the tent". Yet she's a higher prophet than Avraham, at least after motherhood. Perhaps inwardness and modesty, a withdrawal from the aggressive hustle and bustle of the public world, is needed for a woman to build her Home Sanctuary (cf. Pelach & Bruria, w/Bnos Yerushalayim & Bet Yaakov); from her holy home, the woman of valor develops a husband and sons "known in the gates"-- they civilize and inspire a mundane corrupt world (H on Prov. 31:10f).
A great person's life is an integrated whole; the essence of each life stage continues into the next stage, which builds upon it-- "coming in days" (see our Shmini Atzeret study); so Avraham and Sara retained contact with the "old country", from which wives were sought for Yitzchak and Yaakov (H). Many returnees don't integrate their new experience with positive aspects of their past; they repress who they were and their former society. When they eventually see faults in their new world (e.g. smoking, internecine warfare, and lack of tolerance, creativity and good professions), they may revert, disillusioned, rather than becoming seasoned baaley tshuva-- cf. olim. Resh Lakish retorted to Rav Yochanan that he might have been better off remaining a leader of brigands, rather than of rabbis, due to him; he died after he realized how much he hurt his brother-in-law, Rav Yochanan, who wouldn't forgive him; Rav Yochanan then became incurably insane; collegues prayed for his death-- see B.M. 84a, Jer. Meg. 1:11, and Friedman The Tutor's gem, How To Get Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off The Deep End.
CHAYIM, LIFE, IS ALWAYS PLURAL-- to truly live is to constantly grow and change. Thus God tells Avraham LECH L"CHA, "go forward TO yourself"; man continually progresses toward self-discovery (cf. our preface). These two adjacent unvocalized words look identical (lamed-cheyt); the message may be that self discovery (l'cha) is innate in movement and progress (lech). Per Rambam (Guide), intelligent men always reexamine their beliefs and conclusions (e.g. JBS). So Rav Gafni notes that Rashbam constantly criticizes the views of "yisroel saba", his grandfather Rashi.
R. Akiva's students became drowsy. To awaken them, he asked: "Why did Esther deserve to reign over 127 provinces?-- Let Esther, descended from Sara, who lived 127 years, come and reign over 127 provinces (Gen. Raba 58:3). So Rebbe startled his sleepy pupils, stating that Yocheved, Moshe's mother, gave birth to 600M in Egypt-- Moshe was the equal of 600,000 Israelights (S.S. Rab. 1:66)! Moshe, Esther, and Sara, outstanding leaders, had the faith to spread the faith, even when conditions seemed helpless. So R. Akiva and Rebbe urged their pupils, "asleep", stupeified, amidst the low spiritual state of their broken fellow Jews, not to give up-- one great leader can make dramatic changes in the nation's faith and fate. Esther carried on Sara's torch (Rav M. Saks, Menachem Tziyon; see Is. 51:2).
NOTHING NEW UNDER THE ISRAELI SUN: Unlike Sara's life saga, the Torah describes Avraham's haggling purchase of Machpalah Cave in great detail; yet, Torah isn't an ancient saga, but God's eternal message. Great teachings must abound in this seemingly prosaic account. Sara's burial may have been Avraham's last great trial; promised the land by God, he had to go thru a demeaning ordeal to bury her in their own plot; as many an oleh, he accepted longterm future realization of God's promises, only by his descendants. Per Ramban, Machpala was the first concrete acquisition of Israel, fulfilling God's promise. So their descendants, JNF, had to purchase the Promised Land as strangers, often at exhorbitant prices.
About 4000 years later, in 1855, Sir Moshe Montifiore bought the site of his windmill and Mishkanot Shaanim (now Yemin Moshe) from a friend, Achmed Aga Dizdar, governor of Jerusalem under Mohammad Ali; he set up a dispensary for the poor there. When Sir Moshe broached the subject, Achmed replied: "You're my friend, my brother, the apple of my eye-- take possession of it at once. This land I hold as an heirloom from my ancestors; I wouldn't sell it to any person for thousands of pounds, but to you I give it without any money-- it is yours, take possession of it! I, my wife and children, we all are yours!"; this was his daily reply when asked about the price.
Judith Montifiore, who conducted the negotiations for her husband in broken Arabic, finally made a breakthru, when Ahmed said: "You're my friend, my brother; by my beard, my head, I declare this is the case. Tell Sir Moses to give me a souvenir of 1000 pounds sterling, and we'll go at once to the Khadi". "The moment I informed him of the Aga's price", writes Judith, Sir Moses lost no time and counted out 1000 English sovereigns, did them up in a roll, and proceeded to the English consulate, together with the Aga and his friends, where the sale was effected. On our arrival at the Mahkameh (hall of justice) to have the purchase confirmed, we found all the members of the Meglis assembled, and the judge, or Khadi, with his secretaries, present. ?? were put by the judge, both to the seller and the purchaser. The purchase money was counted, and the contract of sale was read aloud and witnessed by all those present...". Montifiore also tried to buy land for a dispensary for the poor of Chevron, but backed down when the owner raised the price from 50 to 500 pounds-- alas! Who knows how Chevron might have been!
A STRANGER AND A SETTLER: Avraham, the first model Jew, proclaims: "I'M A STRANGER AND A RESIDENT WITH YOU (23:4)". Yes, he's a resident, a full-fledged leader in Canaanite society; he speaks Hittite well and knows the ropes, when Efron means the opposite of what he says, when witnesses are needed, etc. Yet, he's a stranger too-- he lives in another world, with different values and concerns, transcending time and space. His people will redeem the world, so imperfect after Eden. This combo of Torah and the "way of the earth" forever characterizes the ideal Jew (JBS; great Torah scholars lacking worldly knowledge are not great Torah leaders of all Israel, tho great Roshei Yeshiva).
Avraham will take the land by force, by his Divine right as SETTLER, if the Hittites won't sell it to him as a STRANGER (R, Mid.); will Satmar & Neturai Karta denounce Avraham and Rashi as Zionists? Yet he "bows down before the earthy folks, am ha'aretz" (23:7); Torah giants sometimes must honor and deal with crude materialists to change this world (D. Tamar-- cf. Oslo). The regional council gives a special permit to sell land to an outsider; he then buys the field at top shekel, duly witnessed. He refuses the choicest Hittite burial plots; he insists upon separate Jewish burial-- Judaism is Zionism and Zionism is Judaism. He envisions different after-death soul states, depending on how people lived and developed themselves. Some militantly secular Israelis invoke democracy for common burial of those with different religious lifeviews; they imply that one's beliefs DON'T change his nature and destiny; yet they ape Western canine racism-- purebred dogs ARE deemed important; they sublimate "don't mix your meat & milk" and "don't intermarry Jew and Gentile" into "don't mix your CANAANITE with your COLLIE"!
Rav Mordecai Gafni noted that Israel's Orthodox Establishment had a golden opportunity to bring Israel's wandering souls back to themselves and Torah, when they were granted exclusive jurisdiction over the major life-cycle events: birth (via brit) and death, marriage and divorce. But when they muffed it, when citizens approaching them were treated with insensitivity, indifference, hostility and bureaucratic balagan, they lost respect for Torah; now that the courts have allowed conservative and reform conversion, the healthy competition engendered may stir those who adhere to truly traditional Judaism to get their act together and sanctify God's name; then, as the fathers turn to the sons, the sons may also turn back to the fathers' ancient tradition-- not from force, but from true conviction.
"...A STRANGER & A RESIDENT (together) WITH YOU" also depicts Everyman's brief existence between eternities. Live life to the full, but don't forget-- it's but a brief transition, to fully develop your Divine Essence, while a mammal. A tourist, seeing the Chofetz Chayim's simple hut, asked: "Where's your furniture, Rebbe?"; he replied: "Where's your's?". The astounded visitor said: "But I'm just here on a short trip!"; the sage retorted: "So am I!". After Sara's burial, the cave is not only called a "purchase" (mikna, 23:18), but a "true possession (achuza)", a "holding", for a grave (23:20). The holy remains of Sara's life, linked to eternity, connect this plot to her descendants, beyond all norms-- land may remain in a British family for 700 years, but 4000 is unheard of (JBS)!
Then: "Avraham was old, having come thru his days, AND GOD BLESSED AVRAHAM WITH EVERYTHING (24:1)". We ALREADY know of his wealth, influence, and nice family. What was missing?-- he needed, and got, a daughter (R. Yehuda); some say she died with Sara. But Rav Meir (married to egalitarian Bruria) says that the blessing was that he never had a daughter!! (B.B. 16b-- cf. Kid. 81b; in Gen. Raba 59:7, this view is R. Nechemia's). This may not malign females-- Avraham couldn't protect Sara w/o God's miraculous aid; Lot was ready to give his daughters away. One couldn't save his daughters from a tragic end back then, in Avraham's bad old days. IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, Avraham was "blessed", saved from agony, w/o a daughter (difficult daughters are discussed w/banned books!-- San. 100b; cf. obsolete Sephardi blessings-- to have a male child!)-- unlike halacha, we needn't follow previous generations' opinions and interpretations, other than basic dogmas (see Ibn Ezra on the akeda, Ohr Hachayim, Deut. 32:1).
So Pele Yoetz castigates Sephardic men who ridiculed those who wives bore daughters, who, in turn, often shunned such wives-- they didn't order a girl from the shuk!-- God sent her! Vishnitz chassidim stamped their feet when the father of a new daughter entered their shul, until the Rebbe's wife put a stop to this ugly practice. Rashi (who had only daughters) doesn't quote the above passage; he notes that BAKOL (= 52), WITH EVERYTHING, hints at its numerical equivalent, BEN, son (= 52)-- the ultimate blessing is a son (R had none); one multiplies this blessing by marrying him off well, as Avraham's about to do (R's great sons-in-law were tosafists!). God blessed Avraham with 3 things-- self mastery, the repentence of Yishmael, and retention of his storehouse intact (R. Levi, Gen. Raba 59:7). Perhaps the blessing was that God stopped testing him! (see R. Chama ibid).
Rambam, unlike Hirsch, denies that God elevates and "tests" people with suffering-- even "afflictions of love" (see Ber. 5a; cf. Gen. 22, Ex. 16:4, 20:17, Deut.8:2, 16, 13:4); Avraham's sacrifice of Yitzchak is simply to serve as a model of faith and devotion for all men (Rashbam says it's Avraham's punishment for making a treaty with Philistia, letting it retain the land God gave him-- cf. Oslo). Rambam claims all afflictions are punishments for sin-- "Every intelligent religious person should have this faith and not ascribe any wrong to God, Who's far from it; he mustn't assume a person's innocent and perfect and doesn't deserve what's befallen him"-- but why should Avraham suffer to demonstrate faith to others? (Guide 3:17, 24; Rambam also rejects Providence over each leaf and even over each happening to ordinary mortals, who don't develop their Divine uniqueness; see Shabbat 55a).
BODY CARE: Even Avraham's vital body ages and wears out (24:1); we must care for and preserve our bodies; but over-focus on the body leads to an empty inner life in old age-- some Charles Atlas types eat like pigs to turn into monkeys. Hesder Yeshivot, also active in sports and Tzahal, have few overweight, frail, or lethargic young men and few cigarette butts. Hassidic Prof. A. Twersky (in a TOP Video) forbids the cigarette grabbed after Shabbat too-- it's gradual suicide. Parents and rabbis, e.g. Badatz, who relieve normal life tensions by alcohol, cigarettes, or vallium (candy and cake too?), thereby encourage drug addiction among their children and followers. Animals avoid harmful excess; humans can't solve spiritual crisis by physical palliatives (including sex). Medications are for illness, not normal life difficulties. Never get drunk, even on Purim (Mishna Brura).
Avraham sent his servant, Eliezer, back home to Mesopotamia to seek a suitable wife for Yitzchak-- he mustn't marry a Canaaniite, even from Avraham's fine allies (24:2f). But God ordered Avram to leave his father's household of idolatry! Perhaps the Canaanites were morally perverse, lacking family dignity, rather than just having wrong beliefs; it's much easier to change beliefs than character (Lev. 18:3; cf. baalei tshuva). A Canaanite girl, allied with her family and friends, would influence Yitzchak and her children toward Canaanite ways; a girl from Aram would cleave to his family, rather than surrounding Canaanite culture (H). God devotes more space to this match (67 verses) than to the relatively unimportant sagas of Creation (31). The quality and productivity of our lives and families depends far more upon whom we marry, than upon our scientific beliefs about Earth's Origins; the Jewish mission of world redemption, return to Eden, will fail if Yitzchak doesn't marry the right woman, Rivka-- Sara II. Modern education, allegedly preparing one for life, devotes much more time to Darwin's way-out guesses than to the basics, marriage and family.
Why didn't Avraham or Yitzchak personally seek Yitzchak's bride? Perhaps Avraham was too old to make the trip. Yitzchak would stain his purity if he ever left Israel; he might not withstand Lavan's efforts to keep him in the old family fold of idolatry. Avraham assumed that God would also bless Eliezer's vital holy matchmaking mission. Eliezer prays to God for help and gives a sign, to indicate the right lass-- she'll give him and his camels water, without asking his help. Some say he sinned, relying on omens, others see it as a reasonable character test. But should kindness be the SOLE grounds for marriage? Shouldn't a mate also be fun, not just "good"? Rivka passes the test. Kindness, which brought God's revelation to Avraham, is more important than culture or beliefs in shaping a future Jewish leader. God can later give the proper Tora training to His kind shephards Moshe and David. Humanity is more important than talmudic erudition in choosing your daughter's husband. Prophets constantly denounce the piety of immoral Jews, who disgrace God's Name; they rarely condemn, however, good deeds of the non-observant; the humanism of chassidut may be far more important than its borrowed medieval kabbalistic theology. Rivka's at odds with her idolatrous mercenary environment; she decides to go to this unknown husband, Yitzchak, who shares her outlook, tho her family wants her to wait (every pair of hands was valuable).
Rather than widowed remain, 'tis better to marry again (Resh Lakish, Ket. 75a, Yev. 118b)
YITZCHAK prays in the field, instituting the afternoon service. He eagerly LIFTS UP HIS EYES toward Rivka's caravan and she eagerly LIFTS UP HER EYES to see him. Outgoing, "with it", she's shocked by her introspective God-absorbed fiance; she falls off the camel and covers her face with a veil-- lack of mutuality and communication colors the marriage of the little bat tshuva from Las Vegas to the yeshiva bucher from Mea Shearim (JBS). He loves her and is comforted for Sara, whose tent and position Rivka takes over. Avraham now MARRIED Ketura (a Canaanite or Hagar) and had 6 more kids (cf. "IN THE MORNING YOU SHALL SOW YOUR SEED, AND IN THE EVENING YOUR HAND SHALL NOT LAY AT REST..."-- optomistic Ecc. 11:6). He had 3 wives-- Sara, from Shem; Ketura, of Yafet; and Hagar, from Cham (Yalkut Job 8). He sent all his kids from CONCUBINES (not Ketura?) East (for prep schools?); he gave them gifts of money and spirit, which were not truly "his"-- i.e. inappropriate acquisitions, e.g. Babylonian magic and the money for Sara's humiliation. These Easterners may have later influenced Jewish mysticism-- e.g. belief in reincarnation and haircuts for 3 year olds! All truly "his" in body and spirit, Avraham left to Yitzchak. Avraham's other kids aren't connected to his mission. As all truly righteous men, he was given a vision of his afterlife; death didn't faze him (Gen. Raba 62:2-- he died of stomach trouble). After he's buried in Machpalah, God blesses Yitzchak. Yishmael's dynasty is briefly noted; then comes Yitzchak's saga.
C. DAVID STILL LIVES!
One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; death-- thou shalt die (John Donne, Death Be Not Proud; cf. Chad Gadya, in the Hagada, where God finally slays the angel of death).
THE HAFTARA, I K 1:1-31, contrasts the aging and death of David and Avraham; both "came in days" (to eternity) and appointed wonderful successors. Avraham's TENT is filled with love, harmony, and a loyal servant; but David's PALACE features an old displaced wife, brothers in conflict, and servants in intrigues. His wife, prophet and new young mistress must push him to settle his kingdom, that it remain eternal and messianic (Mendel Hirsch; Y. Leibowitz-- power always corrupts). All 10 of S. R. Hirsch's children, 5M, 5F, including Mendel, were models of Tora and Worldliness; tho a great public figure, his family life was fine-- a rare combo. The families of famous, especially creative, people, e.g. David and Solomon, are very often disfunctional; the etiology of very gifted souls often reveals an overly independent stance, an inability to related to those closest and dearest with true intimacy, perhaps from a fear of being engulfed by them; typical parents of such folks might be alienated fathers, whose model is over-absorption in their own careers, and lonely abandoned mothers, who try to make sonny a substitute mate, to share and control his every step; such a kid may escape into a very rich inner life of mind and soul, which then becomes his life focus, especially if aided and abetted by true brains and talent. He must constantly impose his inner self on his true love, the enthusiastically responsive public. The opposite approach to life, over-absorption in others, in the group, characterizes much of oriental society-- see F. below.
The man of breadth does his charming creative thing-- engendering thousands of beautiful sensitive casual relationships; his need for approval is constantly satisfied; but he has difficulty with depth, whose master limits himself and his creativity to forge a few links of unity, based upon selflessness and commitment. These two personality types imitate the infinite and contracted aspects of God Himself (JBS).
Phyliss Rose, in Parallel Lives-- 5 Victorian Marriages portrays, explores and deftly defines M-F relationships. She claims that there is no such thing as a marriage, only parallel lives, where each partner has his/her own view and experience of the relationship; what's a fine relationship to one partner may be hell to his/her mate. In portraying the Dickens' marriage, she shows how a fine attractive young women, Catherine Hogarth, dissolved under the huge burden of keeping up with her hyper-active multi-faceted genius Charles, while bearing and raising ten children, whose were a burden to her dashing spouse. Eventually he got rid of her and treated her cruelly, e.g. not inviting her to their daughter Kate's wedding. Perhaps such men need many women to absorb their incredible energy and creativity.
David, King of Judah, a soul inspired by Divine music and much other heroism, was wont to pour himself in song; he, with seer's eye and heart, discerned the Godlike among the human... Reader, art thou 1 of 1000, able still to read a Psalm of David... ? Then go to the opera and hear, with unspekable reflections, what things men now sing! (Carlyle, The Opera, 1852).
DAVID, The great Psalmist, Singer of Israel, inspirer of mankind, had terrible family life-- rape and murder among his children, and murderous conflict with them. His kids may have simply been spoiled by the court, by "religious", but sordid, politics (cf. today). David's family failure may be Divine punishment. When he took Bat Sheva, sending her husband Uriah to his death, he violated no rule of Torah-- the best rabbinic lawyers told him how to arrange it; Rebbe (2nd Cent.) concludes: ANYONE WHO THINKS DAVID BROKE THE RULES ERRS (but, unlike "religious" MK's, he doesn't call such a person terrible names! Shabat 56a-- others disagree)! But morality and rabbinic lawyers are often far apart (see Sylvia Mandelbaum's DIVORCE YOUR LAWYER). God concludes that the net effect of David's actions, tho perfectly legal, is highly immoral-- it gives Him a bad Name.
*Natan has David unknowingly judge himself in an analagous situation. A rich man, with many lambs, took the beloved sole little lamb of his poor neighbor, to prepare a feast for a traveller (Yosef Kahana, z"l, became a lifelong Yerushalmi vegetarian at 5-- his pet goat was killed for the family Seder). After David orders the rich man fined, deserving death for his cruelty, Natan proclaims: "You're he!". Modern psychologists have developed similar indirect techniques to get one involved in his problem, w/o being scared off by facing it directly (see Biblical Roots of Literatherapy, M. Shiryon, Journal of Psychology and Judaism, Vol. 2, 1).
Besides predicting the death of David's first child from Batsheva, for his sin, God decrees: AND NOW THE SWORD SHALL NEVER DEPART FROM YOUR HOUSEHOLD, AS YOU DESPISED ME AND TOOK THE WIFE OF URIAH THE HITTITE (Bat Sheva, Shlomo's mommy) TO BE YOUR WIFE. SO SAYS THE LORD: "BEHOLD-- I'LL RAISE UP AGAINST YOU EVIL OUT OF YOUR OWN HOUSE... FOR YOU'VE ACTED IN SECRECY, BUT I WILL DO THIS THING BEFORE ALL OF ISRAEL AND BEFORE THE SUN" (2 S 12:10-12-- the moral: don't be too friendly with other men's wives). David fasted and afflicted himself while his baby lay dying, to no avail; after he died, he quickly bathed, dressed, and ate, saying: "But now he's dead-- why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I'll go to him (life after death), but he won't come back to me". He comforted Batsheva, only now called David's wife, after Uriah's death (Radak); David slept with her and fathered Shlomo-- God loved him and had Natan name him Y'didya (also the name of Baka's feminist Orthodox shul, with beautiful public singing); only a few great people are named by God (Gen. Raba 45:8): Shlomo (here and ICh. 22:9), Yitzchak (Gen. 17:19), Yoshiyahu (IK13:2) & Yishmael (Gen. 16:11). Shortly after, David's son Amnon raped David's daughter, Tamar.
Malbim sees another moral sin as the start of David's downfall; he stayed home, self-indulgent, when his men risked their lives on the battlefield (2S11:1; cf. those yeshivot and shuls who won't even pray for the soldiers and State of Israel on Shabbat); David knew Bat Sheva was destined for him, but jumped the gun (San. 107a; cf. Adam and Eve eating the wonderful fruit on mundane Friday, not saving it for holy Shabos! So Ms. Potiphar tried to seduce Yosef, unaware that her daughter, not she, was to marry him).
Abrabanel opposed monarchy, as a pagan institution (Y. Leibowitz claims we might be better off without leaders); he strongly condemns David, listing 5 sins stemming from the Bat Sheva episode: adultery, covering up a mamzer (bastard), murder, causing Uriah to die abroad at the hands of heathen, and brazenly taking Bat Sheva right after her mourning. Rav M. Sosevsky intelligently dissents in Judaica Samuel; Judaica doesn't skew Biblical Study toward today's charedi weltanschauung (cf. Artscroll-- but their Ezekiel's great, especially in bringing views that the 3rd Temple may not be in Jerusalem).
A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW: Great public personalities engender great expectations for their children; many feel inadequate and prefer obscurity; they may harbor great resentment toward both their challenge and their parent's primary involvement with the public (cf. many Rabbis' kids, e.g. Moshe's; thus it's important that their mothers be nurturing and home-oriented; there's also less chance of family conflict if public affairs are left to males); but that child who shares his parents' interests and abilities, as Shlomo, can really flourish.
Some psychologists advise children of great parents not to try to replicate their particular success-- better to achieve in a related field, which the parent respects, but lacks time or inclination to pursue. A great rosh yeshiva's son might become a high level university professor of Judaism or physicist; a great artist's daughter might become a great musician, a great Rebbe's son a great Twerskian therapist.
IKings opens with David old and cold-- perhaps he shivers in fear of his impending death and judgement (Rav Shmuel Bar Nechmeni). Avishag, a young virgin (allegedly warmer) is brought in; tho he doesn't sleep with her, she's serving him when his old true love, Bat Sheva, enters. David wouldn't marry Avishag, as he'd then have to divorce one of his 18 wives (the maximum, per Deut. 17:17-- see R), a most unkind act; instead the prohibition of being alone with a maiden was relaxed (apparantly she refused to be a mere concubine, on which there's no limit). Ibn Ezra says David's life was at stake, but this would not be enough, per Jewish law, to justify their being alone (vs. Abarbanel; see San. 75a); perhaps our case is different-- the whole future of Jewry and the world was at stake, if David remained bed-ridden, and Adoniyahu reigned instead of Shlomo.
Oruch Laneir (San. 22a) claims David attempted to repent for his sin with Bat Sheva by resisting great temptation-- Avishag was almost as beautiful as Sara! Unlike Sara and Avishag, spoiled Adoniyahu let his beauty and popularity go to his head (1:6). Avishag taunted David, claiming he was impotent, that his 18 wives were only an excuse not to marry her. She thereby inspired David's last burst of energy, which saved the world and propelled him into eternity-- infuriated, he showed his potency by calling in Bat Sheva and having repeated relations (13) with her (R, San. 22a; cf. Yael's sleeping with Sisra).
Can 2 kings wear 1 crown? (Shimon ben Pazzi, Chulin 60b)
While so on fire, he dealt with the rebellion of his oldest surviving son Adoniyahu-- he proclaimed Solomon his successor on the spot! He thus ensured that the Temple will be built and that Meshiach, humanity's great Zionist redeemer and universal teacher (Gen. Raba 98:9), will eventually come from him. Moshe, our teacher, presents the ultimate educational product, the Torah; the Messiah, the Master Salesman, successfully convinces all mankind to buy it. Then Bat Sheva bows down and proclaims: "MY LORD AND MASTER DAVID SHALL (now) LIVE FOREVER". Rambam proclaims: "David's dynasty will endure forever" (M. T. Malachim, 1180, 1:9). As we return to Israel, David's sukka, the Temple, will be rebuilt-- maybe in Ofra (see Rashash, B.B. 122a, Radal PDRE 51). Bar mitzva celebrants at the renewed Wall, Monday and Thursday mornings, joyfully chant-- DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL, IS ALIVE AND ENDURING (San. 22a; cf. R.H. 25a).
Rav Eliezer Berkovits, ztz"l, in Faith After the Holocaust tells the tale of Isaac Rozensweig, a poultry farmer in Slovakia, Poland, murdered by the Germans during WWII. Crowded with huundreds of other Jews into a cattle car headed for Auschwitz, surrounded by hostile and jeering Polish neighbors, Rosenzweig pleaded: "Please go to my house and give water and food to the poultry. They have had nothing to eat or drink all day". Berkovits concludes: "Because of what man did to Isaac Rozensweig, I have no faith in man; because of Isaac, in spite of it all, I have faith in the future of man."
D. AVRAHAM-- A CONSTANTLY KIND HASSID
God commanded the ravens, symbols of cruelty, to feed Eliyahu (IK17:4), to show that cruelty can be turned into kindness (Reb Nachman of Breslav, Likutei Maharan, 2:10f).
From risking his life to save renegade Lot to burying Sara, from craving to serve others to raising more children in his old age, Avraham's the model of tolerant kindness and positive expansion. His leitmotif, "chesed", is considered the holiest trait by many Hassidic leaders. Our great Chief Rabbi Israel Lau extolled modest "street rabbi" Shlomo Carlebach's rare and high Jewish soul-- like Avraham, he not only fed and inspired strangers, Jewish and non-Jewish, but didn't really consider anyone a stranger-- we're all God's children, with unique Divine Image potential. Rav H. Ziditzover once spied upon the Sassover Rebbe, who rose to perform the midnight service on a cold winter night. He brought wood to the hut of a lonely poor new mother, reciting the mystical service, as he chopped it and lit her fire (Tzidkat Hatzadikim, P. 39).
Who'd do this today? Should a zealot denounce him for being alone with her? We read no such tales of Rav Nachman, who preferred to meditate, pray, and speculate. The old Tzanzer rebbe met a weeping poor widow, who couldn't sell her apples; all eagerly bought them, when he loudly proceeded to sell them! (Gemeinde der Chassidim, Bloch, 333). Did he lack dignity? (cf. Chabad's parades, aid to the spiritually poor, condemned by Y'ted Neeman, possibly Israel's most negative and slanderous newspaper).
Man is honored for his wisdom (e.g. Moshe), loved for his kindness (e.g. Aharon; S. Cohen, Mishle Agur, 1803, p. 57).
The Dinover Rav noted that we seal our first blessing in the standing prayer with "the shield of Avraham", tho we mention the unique relation to God of all 3 patriarchs. Avraham was known for kindness, Yitzchak for Divine Service, and Yaakov for Torah study; these are the 3 bases of existence (Avot 1:2). Few today can really study or pray well; yet all can do kindness. Its powerful effects can keep the 3 legged stool standing, even when the other 2 legs are so weak (cf. Ber. 32). Avraham's trait shields when all else fails (Esser Tzachtzochot, 117)-- from HASIDIC ANTHOLOGY, Newman. Perhaps God must shield the Avrahams of every age, who question and seek truth-- others follow what society teaches w/o ??-- cf. early religious Zionists.
Sara, the mistress, represents Torah; her handmaiden, Hagar, is Philosophy... who fled from her rule into the wilderness... but the angels taught her that it was better to be a servant in Sara's house than a mistress of the desert (Arama, Hazut Kasha, x. 1552).
CHANA HENKIN, IN A TOP VIDEO, ASKS IF RIVKA WAS A FEMINIST. THE 3-FOLD MENTION OF THE ZEALOUS KINDNESS OF BOTH AVRAHAM & RIVKA DENOTES AN ESTABLISHED MODE OF BEHAVIOR.
E. TO LIVE, LET LIVE!
Which is the greatest virtue?-- Patience with others' vices (Ibn Gabirol, Mivchar Hapeninim, c. 1050, #84).
We're all close to many people, whose essence and opinions are anathema to us and v.v. But we must tolerate each other, and work together, to survive. Rav Shlomo Carlebach greeted every stranger with a smile and a kind word; indeed, he didn't regard him/her as a stranger, but as a brother or sister, however estranged. After Rabin's murder by a misguided zealot, we must stress the limits to dissent, to the conviction that only we are right, balancing truth with peace (see Zech. 8:16). Truly great rabbis, from Avraham on, always did so, e.g.--
THE N'TZIV, Naftali Tzi Yehuda Berlin, beloved head of Bialak's Yeshiva, Volozhin, who added Tanach to the curriculum; a slow, but assiduous, scholar, even his wife and father-in-law didn't appreciate him for some time; he was sad and lacked self-confidence, which later gave him great empathy for others, who had also been shunned. In Haamek Davar, he explains why Genesis is called Sefer Hayashar, The Book of Straightness or Uprightness (in Joshua 10:13, 2S1:18; others say S.H. refers to Deut., Numbers, or Judges; Radak and modern scholars claim it's a long-lost book):
"Rav Yochanan explains: this is the book of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, called "yesharim", "straight", as Bilaam said: "may my soul die the death of the straight (non-devious)-- Num. 23:10" (A.Z. 25a). Why did Bilaam call the Patriarchs "straight", rather than "tzadikim" (righteous) or "chasidim" (pious), etc.? Why is just this book called such? "Straight" is explained in the Song of Haazinu (Deut. 32:4): "The Rock, His work is perfect-- He is righteous and STRAIGHT"-- "Straight" there justifies the justice of the Holy One, blessed by He, in destroying the 2nd temple, in a crooked and perverse generation; true, they were righteous, pious and devoted to Torah study, but not "straight" in worldly matters. Thus, due to groundless hatred in their hearts, they suspected anyone, who acted differently in his awe of God, of being a Sadducee or heretic. They thus developed exaggerated hatred, and all the evils in the world, until the temple was destroyed, a just decree. For God's "straight"-- won't tolerate such "tzadikim", unless they also go straight in worldly paths, not crooked, tho they act "for the sake of heaven"-- for this destroys creation and breaks down civilization.
And this was the praise of the Patriarchs-- besides their being the ultimate righteous and pious God-lovers, they were also "straight", i.e. they interacted with non-Jews, even disgusting idolators, with love, concerned with their well-being-- to perpetuate Creation; we see how much Avraham bowed down in prayer for S'dom (Gen. 18:23-33), tho he really hated them and their king, due to their evil... nevertheless, he desired their existence... as "father of many nations" (Gen. 17:4-5); tho one's son isn't straight, he's still interested in his peace and welfare; so he exemplified kindness and civility re his depraved disciple, Lot (Gen. 13:1-11). We also see how ready Yitzchak was to reconcile with his enemies; with a few pacifying words from Avimelech & Co., he was even more reconciled than they asked (cf. Oslo)-- see Gen. 21:22-4. After Yaakov's righteous anger at Lavan, who tried to uproot him (Gen. 31:22-9, Deut. 26:5), Yaakov spoke to him so gently... and was quickly reconciled. And so we've learned much from the ways of the Patriarchs... how to keep the world going, especially relevant to this Book of Creation-- Sefer Hayashar...". Bilaam, living among unclean heathens, may not have been expected to be truly righteous or pious; but he could be upright-- yet he tried to uproot a whole people, destroying the world.
The N'tziv urged Orthodox Jews to join the organized Jewish community; he was active in the early Zionist movement, Chovvei Tziyon, and eventually supported even Bilu; he, his nephew, Baruch Epstein (Torah Tmima) and Rav Yosef Ber Soloveichik of Volozhin, all died broken and depressed due to the terrible suffering of European Jewry (cf. Eli Weisel's similar tale "Four Chassidic Rabbis"). He closed Volozhin, when the Russians and maskilim tried to destroy its traditional Torah curriculum and died a year later. He considered his considerable patience obligatory: "Our sages have said: `How much patience must a community leader have for the community?-- the same as a nursing mother has for her suckling' (San. 7a)... When she holds her baby, it often dirties itself, soiling her too. Does she put him down in anger?- God forbid! She washes and cleans him with love and patience, before cleaning herself-- then takes him in her arms and nurses him lovingly... So, tho a community member causes him great suffering, their leader must draw him close and try to make him understand, with good will and patience, what's proper... this is the way of derech eretz." (from Baruch Epstein's gripping Artscrolls-Targum "My Uncle The Netziv", $20 from TOP; it includes a chapter on great women of torah, but ignores Zionism). Next week, the good Lord willing, we continue "To Live, Let Live" with Hartman Institute's David Dishon's remarks at NCSY on debate and dissent in Torah.
F. JAPANESE AND JEWS
Just as Avraham was a savvy Canaanite, who understood Hittite language and culture, and functioned well on their turf, so it behooves us to knw well our neighbors in the global village, especially those who so muich affect our own lives, e.g. the Japanese. Also, man learns by contrast and, in discovering and evaluating another culture, we see and understand our own much better, the aim of pluralism. I hope to soon review Norman Lewis' The Missionaries-- God against the Indians, showing how genocide is practised against native cultures in our times, in the name of God, by fundamentalist Christian missionaries. In The Japanese and the Jews, which sold over a million copies in Japanese, publicity-shy allegedly Jewish Isaiah Ben-Dasan juxtaposes, compares and contrasts basic life attitudes in Jewish and Japanese civilization. He starts with the Jewish fear of persecution, beginning with frequent foreign invasion of Israel, and fortified by constant persecution of this beleagured minority by a surrounding majority in almost every time and place. Thus a Jew will pay a lot to live a high security apartment building, whereas the Japanese, virtually devoid of such fears historically, feel no such need (tho they may pay a lot for luxury). Jews, descendants of animal-oriented civilization, will value animals, also the object of religious sacrifice, greatly, sometimes even having pets, tho not to the extent of the British; Japanese, however, traditionally had little meat in their diet and even regarded it as somewhat bloodily disgusting.
Japanese culture focused on the perilously balanced raising of rice and vegetables, in-between typhoons; they developed little sensitivity to animals, alien creatures, not fit to share their homes-- cf. Haredi attitudes. As Japanese had to calculate the exact time for each agricultural act, and pursue their calendar ardently (one day off could ruin a crop), they became highly disciplined and hard-working folk, oriented toward co-operation interaction with others, limited thereby in their ability to transcend the present. They were very confident, sometimes over-confident (e.g. Pearl Harbor) of their ability to pull off whatever they undertook. Their modern economic conquest of the world testifies to their highly successful development. But other civilizations, focusing on the relatively leisurely pursuit of animal husbandry, didn't have to work in such an intense disciplined fashion, and had time to develop their spiritual and fun sides-- cf. shepherds Abel, Avraham and Yaakov with farmers Cain, Yitzchak and Yissachar.
The Holy One tests the righteous in the pasture; there, Moshe, Dovid and Amos proved themselves (Isaac Nappaha, Tan. Shmot 10).
G. LOST WORLDS
Avraham knows the value of money, what's a pure silver shekel, besides what's a holy shekel-- so did Natan Tzvi Hamburger--
From A Jerusalem Saga, by Shabtai Zacharia
A hundred years ago, the Shuk (marketplace) streets in the Old City teemed with Jewish merchants and shoppers, and there were Jewish homes, businesses, and Torah and charitable institutions in almost every corner within the Old City walls, particularly in the area now designated the Moslem Quarter. Shabtai Zachariah has done intensive research on the Jewish Yishuv within the Old City. A lawyer by profession, Zachariah has devoted himself to guiding tours of the area and writing about it, as well as clarifying the legal status of Jewish property there.
The following passage has been translated from the Hebrew by Bracha Slae, talented translator of Forever My Jerusalem.
HAMBURGER'S BANK IN THE OLD CITY
Like all other banks in Jerusalem, the Hamburger brothers' bank began as a money changing operation. In Jerusalem of a hundred years ago, the money changer was indispensable, largely due to the great fluctuations in the official Turkish currency, and the large influx of foreign currency from abroad. Jerusalem's economy indeed depended upon foreign currency, either brought by pilgrims to the city, or sent as donations.
Natan Tzvi (Notteh Hersh) Hamburger and his brother Pinchas began their careers as money changers, making the rounds of the shops in the Shuk, providing "small change" for gold and silver coins. Later, in 1890, they rented their own shop in the Shuk - changing money, providing credit and accepting securities. Some of their "banking" business stemmed from their special relations with the post. At that time, each country with a consulate in Jerusalem had its own postal service. Due to his good relations with the Austrian Vice Consul, who was also the postal director, Hamburger was able to receive his (and others') mail on Saturday night, right after Shabbat, instead of having to wait until Monday, as did ordinary people. (Religious Jews could not pick up their mail on Saturday when it arrived, and the post office was closed on Sunday). The director trusted Hamburger to return on Monday to sign all the registered mail receipts. There was as yet no Russian post office in the country, but Russian ships brought mail to Jaffa, where the Hamburger brothers received it, and delivered it to Jerusalem.
In Yitzchak Shirion's memoirs, he mentions that there were three banks in Jerusalem, when he first arrived, in 1895. One belonged to Valero, the Sephardi Jewish financier of Austrian Kaiser Franz Josef's Middle Eastern trip, whose main dealings were in land. The second bank belonged to Frutiger, a German Protestant, who also dealt with real estate, and who was one of the founders of Mahane Yehuda and Succat Shalom in the new city. The third bank - or "half bank" as it was popularly called - belonged to the Hamburger brothers, Notte and Pinchas of the Old Yishuv.
Hamburger's bank flourished, as it was the Ashkenazi bank in Jerusalem. In his book "Shlosha Olamot" (Three Worlds), Chaim Hamburger, Natan Tzvi's son, writes: "It was the only large bank of Ashkenazi Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Its credit was unlimited, and it dealt with all the major banks of Europe. No matter how large the sum, its checks were honored throughout the world."
On "Derech Shofet B'Yerushalayim" (page 52), Justice Gad Frumkin takes us on a walking tour of the Old City, and fills in more details regarding the location and financial transactions of the bank:
"Leaving Shuk HaBassamim and heading right, or westward, we could walk straight up David Street to Jaffa Gate. Just after the corner, there was a spacious arched `bazaar' which served as a produce market, where we used to buy barley for father's donkey. Just across from the bazaar was a tiny cubicle of a shop, one of the greatest importance to our daily life in those days. It belonged to Reb Notteh Hersh Hamburger, a wise and learned Torah scholar, who dilligently applied himself to three separate careers. From two he made his living, but the third was `for the sake of the Mitzvah'. Reb Notteh Hersh was first and foremost a money changer and small scale banker, his exchange table - half inside the shop and half outside - consisted of no more than a box covered with a metal grid, through with one could study the `table', covered with local and foreign coins - neat piles of gold, silver and copper carefully arranged one of top ot the other. Reb Notteh Hersh Hamburger's second vocation was his own private postal service (delivery of Russian and Austrian mail mentioned above).
"From these two, Hamburger managed to make a comfortable living. His third - and favorite - calling was `for the Mitzva'. Like his brothers, Pinchas in Jerusalem and Meir in Jaffa, Notteh was an expert Mohel. If Reb Notteh failed to appear in the shop one morning, everyone knew that he was at a Brit Milah - sufficient reason to close the shop (i.e. move the table inside) and let the customers wait. He knew his clients would wait for him and not go anywhere else. There was no where else to go."
Unfortunately, the story of Hamburger's bank had a sad ending. The story goes that, after about ten years, in the fall of 1900, one of the bank's clients passed away, leaving a debt of one thousand pounds. According to Hamburger's son Chaim, in the aforementioned book, this afforded one of Hamburger's enemies an opportunity to sow panic in the Jewish Quarter by urging his clientele to withdraw their accounts quickly, before the bank "went bankrupt". In vain did the brothers try to assure the public that their money was safely invested in loans due at a fixed time, and that all claims were amply covered.
No one was willing to wait - everyone wanted to withdraw his money at once. The bank's debtors took advantage of the turmoil and stopped paying back their debts. Finally, the bank did indeed declare bankruptcy. The two brothers did their best to pay off all their debts, and lived the rest of their lives in poverty. Upon Notteh's death in 1912, the following eulogy, composed by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, appeared in "Ha'Or":
"All of Jerusalem - that is all the financial transactions of Jerusalem - were once in the hands of the Hamburger brothers. The name Hamburger was honored, not only in Jerusalem, but all over Europe. Then the good days passed and days of poverty came upon them. All their own money, as well as that of others, was lost, and they were left penniless.
"In their last years, the brothers' lives were marked by privation and suffering. There were days when they hadn't even enough money to buy bread. They were no longer dressed well, as in days gone by. Had Reb Notteh Hersh passed away a few years ago, while still affluent and dressed in furs, all work would have come to a standstill, and all the children would have been excused from school to recite Psalms at the funeral procession. But Hamburger died a poor man, and whoever honors a poor man?"
This was the tragic end of Hamburger's bank in the Old City. Nevertheless, to this day "old-timers" still point out the place, on the corner of Chabad and David Streets, where a Jewish bank once flourished in the narrow alleyways of the colorful old City Shuk.
You can contact Shabtai Zacharia at 22 Pinsker Str., Jerusalem 92228, (02) 651-7395,
Sarah, the mistress, is the Torah; her handmaiden, Hagar, is Philosophy... that sought to flee from her rule into the wilderness... but the angels taught her that it were better for her to be a servant in Sarah's house, than a mistress in the desert (Arama, Hazut Kasha, x., 1552).
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