Rabbanit Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
After Avraham Avinu buys what is later called the Cave of the Patriarchs, Meorath Hamachpelah, and buries his beloved wife Sarah there, the Torah transitions to the next major theme of this Parsha, finding a wife for Yitzchak. The transitional verse seems out of place, seems not to offer any real transition: “VeAvraham zaken, bo bayamim, VaHashem berach et Avraham bakol, And Avraham was old, coming with many years, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything."
Besides wondering what connection this verse has to the succeeding shidduch search, it is important to understand each of these phrases independently and then how they connect to one another.
In Torah culture, zaken means much more than chronologically old; it implies the acquisition of wisdom through life experience, through the yomim, the days that have made up his life, explains Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. It’s as if upon arising, that day comes before him and pleads, says Rav Schwadron, “Do not waste me. Do not abuse me. Use me to do mitzvoth and learn Torah, for if you use me for sin, I will become defective.” How many of the days God has granted us in life do we use effectively and can come with us at the end of our lives to testify on our behalf?
In this context, Areset Sefataynu continues, old (zaken) and long life (bo bayamim) are not synonymous phrases. A man may be old without having filled his days with substance. Each day has its mission, and the opportunity to fulfill this day’s mission will be gone tomorrow. Each day is an entity unto itself and wants the opportunity to brag about its accomplishments. One who is old in our context, therefore, is one who has acquired wisdom, the wisdom of the Torah, and has internalized it and grown through it each day.
Time is the medium in which we live, explains Rabbi Wolfson in Wellsprings of Torah. Each day presents itself as a blank parchment upon which the day’s events are recorded. Before we go to sleep at night, we have the opportunity to edit that day’s scroll and correct our misdeeds through teshuvah. Hashem offers us opportunities to correct the manuscript of our lives on many occasions. Paragraphs, chapters and units can be amended every erev Shabbos, every Yom Tov, and every year at Rosh Hashanah.
General lore has it that before one’s death, his whole life passes before him. These are the days that escort us to the next world. That day before death is very powerful, for it bears witness to the life just completed. It was on this day that Moshe was finally called ish haElokhim, the man of God, and on this day, accompanied by the merits of all his days, he stood before Bnei Yisroel to bless them.
Each moment of the day is precious and helps build its sanctity. Each day will testify to its accomplishments at the end of its day, says the Ohr Doniel. Unhappy is the day that does not have a day’s worth of “mitzvah notes” to its credit. Even minutes that appear unproductive can be used effectively. A Tehillim carried in one’s purse can be used while waiting in a doctor’s office or while waiting to fill up on gas (and might even help you get to the head of the line before the gas runs out).
These random minutes can be productive or unproductive, and add up to hours and days in one’s life. This was the day Avraham Avinu was to dedicate his efforts to finding a wife for Yitzchak and ensuring the continuity of his line to fulfill the promise Hashem had made to him.
We are still left with trying to understand the second half of the verse, “And Hashem blessed Avraham bakol, with everything,”and the relationship of this idea to finding the appropriate match for Yitzchak. Rav Hirsch explains while Hashem blessed Avraham greatly, kol, everything, is a matter of Avraham’s perspective. Each of our patriarchs has the word kol associated with him, each in different circumstances. The unifying characteristic, explains Rav Hirsch, is that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all felt in their core that they were complete, that Hashem had provided them with everything that was appropriate for them and they therefore neither required nor wanted anything else even while human nature never seems completely satisfied, no matter how much one has. With their mindset, however, these avot lived simultaneously in both this physical world and in the spiritual realm of the world to come.
This is the essence of kol as Rav Aharon Kotler explains it, for if one recognizes that everything he has is tailor made for his individual and unique needs, he can never be jealous of his fellow man who may have more. Rav Kotler cites the Vilna Gaon in clarifying three levels of mood. The first is satisfaction and the second is happiness. Within each of these, however, one may still desire more. The highest level is kol where one feels complete and requires nothing more.
The analogy from Rav Dessler clearly explains this concept. If we need glasses, we do not demand someone else’s prescription because it is stronger; rather than helping us, it would be detrimental to us. In the same way, more wealth or honor, or greater strength, or any other characteristic we may desire but which we were not given may in fact be detrimental to our spiritual health and growth.
Mizkeinim Esbonan sees this characteristic as essential when searching for a proper mate. It is inappropriate and unproductive to look at the “catch” a friend or a neighbor got and compare your potential matches to that person. Each of us has our unique personality and character, and what is fitting for one would be total disaster for another. When Avraham sent Eliezer to look for a wife for Yitzchak, he made it clear to Eliezer that he was looking for a girl to fit Yitzchak’s unique requirements rather than for a girl with particular yichus or wealth.
The Slonimer Rebbe now takes this idea and combines it with the concept of kol. Eliezer’s test for the girl was a test a chessed, would she provide drink for himself and for his camels. But the test was deeper than simply providing the water. Eliezer wanted to test her attitude as well. Would she give the water grudgingly, leering at Eliezer’s entourage whose job it was to water the camels? Would she wonder why the able bodied Eliezer didn’t get his own water? Or would she happily accept this task as part of the required tasks Hashem presented her for this day?
In short, did she possess the quality of kol, the quality of a lev tov, a good heart? The Slonimer Rebbe explains that a good heart is more than a generous heart. It perceives the world as good and radiates the joy of life. But how does one acquire a good heart?
The Slonimer Rebbe continues in Darchei Noam by explaining that the human soul is used to greatness but is imprisoned in its earthly human body. Like a princess married to a peasant, nothing that the lowly body can offer will ever satisfy it. Therefore, unless one satisfies his soul, he will always feel empty, an emptiness that will lead to restlessness, anxiety and depression. Trying to fill this emptiness with money or things is useless and eventually creates a lev ra, a mean heart, for what is missing is not material but spiritual.
Avraham Avinu had fullness of days because he understood what the real purpose of his life was. Hashem gave him riches because He felt Avraham needed them to fulfill the mission of his soul. Avraham did not consider his wealth personal, but rather as a tool toward his spiritual mission. He would have been equally happy without riches, because his task would have needed less. These were the characteristics Eliezer found in Rivka who was able to give of herself with fullness of heart, and love for all human beings, and not be concerned with material appearances.
Each of us has an opportunity to experience this goodness and completeness. Every Shabbos is a reflection of the world to come in this physical world. Every Shabbos is a day when we can bless and praise Hashem in our totality, hakol yoducha, hakolyeshabchucha.
We can enter the spirit of Shabbos by taking the time to make our souls the center of our existence on this day. Perhaps begin by saying Shir Hashirim and reestablishing the loving connection between ourselves and Hakodosh Boruch Hu, or reviewing some special divrei Torah to later recite at the Shabbos table.
We are not on the spiritual level of Avraham Avinu, but in our own limited ways, we have the ability to forge a lev tov within ourselves and for at least one day try to live with a sense of kol, completeness.