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Orach Chaim 336:1-3
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The Zohar states that the reason Sarah’s death and burial are described so prominently in the Torah is that Sarah descended to Egypt, was taken to Pharaoh, and was saved. R’ Avraham Bornstein z”l (see page 4) explains:
Sarah’s trial in Egypt was to keep her body pure, which she did. (Similarly, every person’s trial on earth is to keep his body pure, for the body is easily soiled by sin, unlike the soul, which is inherently pure.) And, because even Sarah’s body was pure, it is fitting that she be honored by having her burial and eulogy – both of which relate only to the body, not to the soul, which does not die – described in the Torah.
Rashi writes (near the end of the parashah) that Sarah’s Shabbat candles burned from one Friday to the next. R’ Bornstein explains that this symbolizes Sarah’s purity, for the test that one experiences in going from Shabbat to the workweek is the same type of test that Sarah experienced by going from her pure home to Pharaoh’s palace. Likewise, it is the same test that the soul experiences when it leaves G-d’s throne to enter this world.
We read in the Torah (Devarim 5:15) that Shabbat commemorates the Exodus. In light of the above, we can more readily understand that our leaving behind the impurities of the workweek is akin to our ancestors’ leaving behind the impurities of Egypt.
Based on this explanation, one might think that one who has slipped during the week cannot merit to experience Shabbat. However, says R’ Bornstein, Hashem’s kindness is such that every person can be elevated by Shabbat. (Neot Desheh)
“Rivka raised her eyes and she saw Yitzchak, and she fell from on top of the gamal / camel. She said to the servant, ‘Who is that man walking in the field toward us?’
“And the servant said, ‘He is my master.’ [Rivka] then took the veil and covered herself.” (24:64-65)
There are many questions to be asked about these verses, says R’ Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub z”l (the “Modzhitzer Rebbe”; died 1947). First, why did Rivka fall off of the camel? Second, why did she say, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” when it would have sufficed to say, “Who is that man walking in the field?” Third, why did the servant (Eliezer) answer, “He is my master,” whereas, throughout the parashah, he had referred to Yitzchak as, “the son of my master”?
Also, Rashi comments on the words, “She saw Yitzchak”: “She saw his hadar / splendor and she was astounded.” What does this mean?
Finally, we must understand Eliezer’s rationale for choosing Rivka as a wife for Yitzchak. The test that Eliezer used to find a girl fit to enter Avraham’s household – asking for a drink and evaluating her response – related to the attribute of chessed / kindness, which was the attribute in which Avraham himself excelled. However, the Sages teach that Yitzchak’s own attribute was not chessed, but gevurah / strength or justice!
R’ Taub answers all of these questions as follows: In the High Holiday prayers, we describe Hashem as: “Garbed in vengeance, His concealment is uprightness.” Hashem sometimes shows us His “strong” or “vengeful” side, but that is only His outer garment, so-to-speak. Concealed within all of Hashem’s acts is chessed.
Yitzchak, too, exhibited gevurah outwardly, but concealed within him was the same chessed that his father practiced. However, when Rivka first saw Yitzchak, she saw his outer garb, his hadar. (“Hadar” refers to the outer garb; for example, an etrog is called [Vayikra 23:40], “the fruit of the hadar tree,” because the outer garb of the etrog is splendorous, while the inside of the etrog is not particularly tasty.) This caused her to fall off the gamal, i.e., it caused her to question Yitzchak’s commitment to gemilut chassadim / kindness. She asked Eliezer, “Who is that man walking in the field toward_us?” He is going in the opposite direction from our own; we practice chessed, but he practices gevurah!
Eliezer answered, “He is my master.” Yitzchak exemplifies the same chessed as my master, Avraham, and his gevurah is only outward. Rivka then took the veil and covered herself, i.e., she concealed her chessed just as Yitzchak’s chessed was concealed. (Yisa Berachah)
From the haftarah . . .
“King David was old, advanced in years; they covered him with garments, but he did not become warm.” (Melachim I 1:1)
Chazal explain that King David could not stay warm because he had once cut off the corner of King Shaul’s garment. Since he had shown disrespect for clothing, they (the clothing) did not serve him.
How King David came to cut off a corner of King Shaul’s garment is related in Shmuel I, chapter 24. King Shaul was chasing David, hoping to kill him, and, unbeknownst to the King, David was cornered in a cave. Shmuel I, chapter 24, verses 4-5 relate, “So David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Shaul’s robe. Afterwards, however, David’s conscience troubled him [literally, ‘his heart smote him’] for having cut of the corner of Shaul’s garment.”
Why did David’s conscience trouble him? The midrash explains that David felt guilty for depriving Shaul of the mitzvah of tzitzit. (After David cut off one corner, Shaul’s garment no longer had four corners, and was exempt from tzitzit.)
R’ Baruch Ezrachi shlita comments: This is a lesson regarding the sensitivity that a person should feel towards mitzvot. Tzitzit, of all mitzvot, is not mandatory. If a man is wearing a four-cornered garment, he must wear tzitzit. According to Torah law, however, no man is obligated to wear a four-cornered garment.
Moreover, under what circumstances did David tear King Shaul’s coat? David had every right to kill King Shaul in self-defense, yet he touched only the king’s garment, in order to show his good faith. Despite this, he later felt great pangs of conscience for depriving another Jew of the chance to perform a mitzvah. (Birkat Mordechai Vol. III p. 408)
Regarding the wearing of tzitzit . . .
R’ Yosef Karo z”l (1488-1575) writes: One who is not wearing a four-cornered garment is not obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzit. Nevertheless, it is proper for every man to take care to wear a tallit kattan all day long so that he will remember G-d’s commands at every moment. Each set of tzitzit has five knots, corresponding to the five books of the Torah. The tzitzit are on the garment’s four corners so that a person will remember the Torah no matter in which of the four directions he turns.
When one looks at the two tzitzit in front of him, he sees ten knots, reminiscent of the ten sefirot. Also, each corner has eight strings. The 16 strings together with the ten knots total 26, the gematria of Hashem’s Name.
The punishment of one who disregards the mitzvah of tzitzit is great, and of him it is written (Iyov 38:13), “To grasp the corners of the earth [alluding to the corners of the garment], and shake the wicked from it.” One who is meticulous regarding the mitzvah of tzitzit will merit to see the “face” of the Shechinah. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 24:1, 5 & 6)
Regarding respect for and proper appreciation of clothing . . .
R’ Mordechai Schwab z”l (rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Bais Shraga in Monsey; brother of R’ Shimon Schwab z”l) used to wear his suits until they were so worn that they could not be used again. When he disposed of a suit, he would fold it neatly, and he would say to it, “Thank you! You have served me well.”
Afterward, he would place the suit carefully in a plastic bag and seal the bag before placing the whole package in the garbage - exactly the way one disposes of shaimos / pages containing words of Torah. (Heard from his student, R’ Raphael Mendlowitz, shlita)
R’ Nachum Ze’ev Bornstein z”l
R’ Bornstein, the author of a Talmudic commentary entitled Agudat Ezov, was born in 1821 and died in 1885. One of his sons was the Sochatchover Rebbe, R’ Avraham Bornstein, known as the “Avnei Naizer,” after his collection of halachic responsa. (R’ Avraham’s son, in turn, was known as the “Shem M’Shmuel.”)
It is related that for many years, the older R’ Bornstein used the following method to select the etrog over which he would recite the berachah: at the end of Yom Kippur, before havdalah, he would dip his hand into a box of etrogim, take one out, and put it away until the morning of the first day of Sukkot without even looking at it. Remarkably, he always ended up with the nicest etrog in town.
A few years before his death, R’ Bornstein stopped this practice and began selecting his etrog. When one of his grandchildren asked the reason for his earlier practice and the reason that he changed his custom, R’ Bornstein explained:
G-d created man inherently good, and a good person is automatically drawn to that which is good. However, through his sins, man poisons himself and loses the ability to find good instinctively.
If one repents on Yom Kippur, he finds himself at the close of that day in his original perfect state (until he sins again). Thus, during the first moments after Yom Kippur, I was instinctively drawn to a perfect etrog.
However, now I am older and feel that my end was nearing, and I know that on whichever Yom Kippur turns out to be my last, I will necessarily not be forgiven for all my sins, for if I am, I will be unable to die that year. Therefore, I can no longer risk choosing an etrog in my usual manner. Also, if I continue to choose an etrog in this way and I end up with an etrog of poor quality, I will know that my last year has come and I will not be able to serve Hashem with a clear mind any longer.
R’ Bornstein was a chassid of R’ Mendel of Kotzk, and the two later became in-laws. (R’ Avraham Bornstein married R’ Mendel’s daughter.) R’ Mendel said that the reason the elder R’ Bornstein merited to have a son who enlightened the world (i.e., R’ Avraham) was that on one Purim night, R’ Bornstein was the only person in the world studying Torah at a particular moment. The Sages say that if the world were ever without at least one person studying Torah, it would cease to exist; thus, in his merit alone, the world continued to function. (Gedolei Ha’dorot p. 752)