Friday, November 22, 2019

Yafeh Sichasan shel Avdei Avos יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות

A talk for Parashas Chayei Sarah given for the Shalhevet Girls High School in Vancouver, CA
via Skype.

Synopsis written by the Menaheles, our daughter, Mrs. Meira Federgrun:

Each week at Shalhevet, we are privileged to hear divrei Torah from a Rabbi or Rebbetzin in our community, a visiting guest speaker, or an out-of-town speaker. The inspirational words they share with us will be written in this column to enhance your Shabbos. This week we were privileged to learn with Rabbi Bechhofer, Rabbi in Monsey, NY.

This parsha repeats the episode of Eliezer and Rivka twice. Chazal are bothered by this because there are many parshiyos in the Torah that contain the basic halachos of Judaism, but most of the halachos pertaining to those topics are not written out in the Torah. They are either written in the Torah sheba'al peh, or we have to derive them ourselves from the yud gimmel middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahem. The reason for this is "Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoser miTorasan shel banim - the conversations of the servants of the Avos more than the Torah of the children."

The Gra says in Mishlei: "The primary reason a person is alive is to break the middah that he hasn't broken until now. A person has to fortify himself, and if he doesn't, why should he be alive." The one thing the Gra chooses for us to focus on is fixing our character traits: break the negative ones and develop the positive ones. R' Chaim Vital says the reason we are not forbidden in the Torah from having negative middos is because working on one's middos is a prerequisite for Torah! "Derech eretz kadmah laTorah."

Working on our middos is difficult, because as R' Yisrael Salanter says, "It's easier to learn Shas than to change one middah." This is because our character is set early on and there are many influences in our lives that contribute to our personality. But this is the reason we are alive, to change and develop ourselves.

Therefore Sefer Bereishis is the first book in the Torah because it tells us what our purpose is. We have to strive to emulate the Avos and their maasim. "Chayav adam lomar, masai yagiu ma'asai l'maasei avosai Avraham, Yitzchok v'Yaakov."  We don't have to strive for the knowledge of Moshe Rabbeinu, but to perfect ourselves by acting in the ways we learn from the Avos

From this teaching of Chazal, "Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoser miTorasan shel banim", we see that we also have to learn from Eliezer. Interestingly, Eliezer is not referred to by name at all in this parsha, but rather as "Eved Avraham." This is because Eliezer's personality became bound up in his master: he absorbed his middos and emulated his deeds.

We learn from this parsha how important it is to have teachers and role models from whom we can learn not just knowledge, but who have middos that we can emulate as well. For that is truly what's most important.


  1. High point: when you realized that they probably never heard of Benjamin Franklin.

  2. The quote from the Gra doesn't appear in the Oxford manuscript (just thought I'd point that out).
    Where is the Rambam (about spending two hours a day on olam hazeh)?