Friday, October 29, 2010

Chayei Sarah: Make It Or Break It 2 - Further Down The Path

This essay is very much a sequel to the essay for Parshas Noach. Some of the ideas herein have been adapted from the Shiurim of Rav Sitorsky Shlit”a. His website is

This week’s Parsha begins by telling us about Sarah Imeinu’s death, and it does so in an interesting way. The first verse begins, “VaYihiyu Chayei Sarah” – ‘This was Sarah’s lifetime’; following this introduction there is a record of years, “One hundred years, twenty years, seventy years’”– and then the Passuk repeats itself, “Shnei Chayei Sarah” – The years of Sarah’s life.

The Ba’al HaTurim points out a beautiful nuance in the language of the Passuk. As we said above, the words Shnei Chayei Sarah mean ‘The years of Sarah’s life”, but the word ‘Shnei’ doesn’t just mean ‘years of’, it also means ‘two.’ Says the Ba’al HaTurim the verse can be also be telling us that Sarah had two aspects to her life.

As we know, HaKriya Meoreres Es HaZeman - there is always a connection between the Parsha being read and the time in which we are in. So therefore the concepts that are introduced to us in this Parsha have to be perceived within through the lens of our location in the cycle of the year. Where these two layers of season and scripture overlap we will encounter even more, interesting paradoxes.

The Parsha begins with the aforementioned theme of duality and carries it through all the way to the end. For example, we see Eliezer go find a wife for Yitzchak, and that story is told… twice. And at the end of the Parsha, Avraham marries a woman named Keturah, who Chazal tell us was really Hagar, in essence making this Avraham’s second marriage to the same woman.

We can begin to connect the season to the themes in the Parsha with short analysis of Avraham Avinu’s purchase of the Ma’aras HaMachpelah, the double-decker cave, which within its graves holds the Zugos, the pairs (Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka etc…).

A friend pointed out that this meshes perfectly with our month. Our month is called MarCheshvan - the bitter Cheshvan. Rav Shlomo Carlebach famously said that the first two letters of MarCheshvan can be flipped around to spell RamCheshvan - the highest Cheshvan (diametrically opposed to the classic reading). This idea can be found in the word Ma’aras, a word that only appears in this week’s Parsha. The letters of Ma’aras can either spell Eis Ram or Eis Mar - The Highest Time or a Bitter Time. The duality of the cave hints to the duality of the month: Highest or Lowest.

Our main analysis is the connection between the month of Cheshvan and the city of Chevron which is introduced to us for the first time this week. On the one hand, Cheshvan is the month in which Malchus Beis David split. And by a similar token, in this week’s Haftarah we see David HaMelech’s reign begin to come to a close.

Conversely, in this week’s Parsha we are introduced to Chevron where Malchus Beis David started (David reigned there for the first seven years of his rule). And the Midrash tells us that in the end of days Malchus Beis David will reach it’s Tikun, it’s rectification this month because the third Beis HaMikdash will have its Chanukas HaBayis, it’s inauguration ceremony in Cheshvan. Deeply negative themes on one side, thoroughly positive themes on the other.

This double-nature extends into the personality of Chevron in that it goes by two names: “Kiryas Arba, Hi Chevron.” Kiryas Arba is the dual-identity of Chevron, and Kiryas Arba has two paradoxical explanations as to the nature of it’s name.

Kiryas Arba is introduced to us as the place of Sarah’s death. The Sfarim bring down that the words Kiryas Arba can be read Kriyas Arba, ‘The Reading of Four’; a reference to the four words which ended Sarah’s life.

The Binyan David explains the exegesis of Kiryas Arba towards the negative. The four words that “ended” Sarah’s life were read last week when she said “Umnam Eileid, Va’Ani Zakanti!” ‘Is it true that I shall have a child? But I am (too) old!’ These four words; says the Binyan David, displayed a speck of a lack of faith in Hashem, and thus they were the catalyst of her death.

There is a diversely contrasting explanation brought by the Zohar. It says there that the final four words off of Sarah Imeinu’s lips were “Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad” God is One. In a totally different approach, the Zohar is telling us that it was not a lack of faith that prompted Sarah’s death rather the Kriyas Arba is a praise of her trust in Him, even down to the last second.

Again we see that Chevron pulls us in two opposite directions.

Kiryas Arba has another two sided interpretation. The words Kiryas Arba can be rearranged into ‘Yiras Akrav’, Fear of the Scorpion. What scorpion are we afraid of? The constellation of Cheshvan, which is the scorpion. Why are we afraid? The scorpion is a dangerous animal. It poisons us and freezes our nerves. Cheshvan, with its lack of Chagim and entrance into the depth of winter has a similar potential to take away our spirituality.

But the Bnei Yissachar points out an interesting nuance. There is a concept in Kabalistic etymology called Milui. This means that letters can be taken and elongated into the letters used to spell that letter (Alef for example, would become Alef, Lamed, Peih. Daled would become Daled, Lamed, Taf). Says the Bnei Yissachar, the word Akrav, with the last letter, Beis, spelled with a Milui would be Ikar Bayis (The Milui of Beis is Beis, Yud, Taf which spell Bayis), which means ‘The main house.’ What is the main house? Like we mentioned before, the Ikar Bayis is the third Beis HaMikdash which is dedicated in this month. So instead of rearranging Kiryas Arba into Yiras Akrav, it can be read Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis, ‘The sight of the Third Bies HaMikdash.’ Beautiful.

There is one more two-dimensional analysis that should be addressed, this one being the word Chevron. The word Chevron spells Chibur Nun, ‘Connection to the Nun.’ Every month has a letter that is rooted in the very essence of the month, and Cheshvan’s letter is Nun. Therefore, Chevron, which enters into our consciousness for the first time in this week’s Parsha, is telling us to connect to essence of Nun and therefore the essence of Cheshvan.

But what is Nun all about? It is here that our paradox arises. On the on the one hand, we are told in the Gemara that Dovid HaMelech left out Nun from Ashrei (there is one Passuk for every letter with the exception of Nun) because the letter Nun brings one to think about Nefilah – falling. So on one side the Chibur Nun is drawing us to a very negative place. The Nun of Cheshvan is informing us of the potential to drop in spirituality.

Conversely, in Osios D’Rebbe Akiva, the Tana tells us that the letter Nun is the letter of ‘Neshama’, of reaching one’s inner fundamental nature, of achieving real growth. So in the Chibur Nun can be pulling us in the totally opposite direction. In a month with zero distraction, we have the ability to work on very practical self-improvement.

All of these two-way interpretations are letting us in on the very nature of Cheshvan. It’s right now that we will define if we will have an amazing year, or Chas V’Shalom, a less than amazing year. Right now, in this month, Hashem leaves it up to us to determine how much work we will put in without any outside aid, and the results are dramatic. Cheshvan can become a month that is Mar, bitter. We can break away from the kingship of Am Yisrael, we can lose direction. We can have a Kriyas Arba with a lack of Emunah. We can succumb to the Yiras Akrav, and Chas V’Shalom
Chas V’Shalom Chas V’Shalom
we can connect to the Nun of Nefilah.

But we can see this month in a completely different light. This is the month where now, on a very real level connect to path of Geulah and the final Beis HaMikdash with Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis. This can be a month that it is Ram, higher than anything. Like Sarah Imeinu did, we can attach our whole being to Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. This is month where we can get in touch with out Neshama.

The challenge of Cheshvan is really the challenge of life as a whole. How we deal with the situations we are presented with is the essence of free will. The challenges that come our way are outside our control, but Hashem leaves it up to us as to how we will deal with those unexpected curveballs that life throws in our direction. We can bail out and succumb to the difficulties and challenges of life, or we can rise to the occasion. Every time we make an optimistic decision, every constructive step we take, every positive reaction, puts our whole life in a more positive light. Every fork in the road, every duality is a make-it-or-break-it situation. A positive move, any form of progress, get me moving in the direction I need to make my whole life more infused with Kirvas Elokim.

We should be Zocheh to always be able to approach our challenges confidently and with optimism. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis!

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