Sanofi August 2021 Wide

Parshas Chayei Sarah - Dealing with the Hittites

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Nov 11, 2020

The narrative at the beginning of our parshah is perplexing. On the one hand, we read how Efron the Chitti (Hittite) deceptively and greedily negotiated with Avrohom Avinu for the sale of Me'aras Ha-Machpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs) to Avrohom, initially asserting to Avrohom (Bereshis 23:11) that the property was being given to him as a gift, yet when Avrohom then insisted on paying, Efron exacted a very hefty fee (ibid. v. 15).

On the other hand, Rashi (ibid. v. 10) cites the Medrash (Bereshis Rabba 58:7) that the locals, B'nei Cheis (the Hittites), took leave of their work when Avrohom came to their town that day, in order to be present and show their respects to him ("to bestow kindness to him") upon the passing of his wife Sarah. 

These same people who had just appointed the selfish Efron as their leader and representative that very day (v. Rashi ibid.) came out en masse to perform an act of kindness to Avrohom; how could it be?

The simple explanation is that although B'nei Cheis were no tzaddikim, as illustrated by the atrocious way that Eisav's Chitti wives dealt with Yitzchok and Rivka (v. Targum Yonasan b. Uziel on Bereshis 26:35), when it came to a person who had just suffered the loss of his wife, B'nei Cheis showed their humanity. This trait was perhaps not dominant in B'nei Cheis, but it emerged in a time of personal crisis.

The juxtaposition of Avrohom's interactions with B'nei Cheis and his subsequent command to Eliezer to travel to Charan in order to find a wife for Yitzchak, due to the unfitness of the local women in Canaan, is quite striking. Let's take a close look.  

Avrohom Avinu was renowned for his chesed, reaching out to people and bringing them near to Hashem. Avrohom could see the good in people and recognize that they are redeemable. It is clear from the reception accorded Avrohom by B'nei Cheis that they held him in very high esteem, undoubtedly due to his reputation for dealing warmly and lovingly with everyone, such that all had the greatest respect for him. Everyone knew that Avrohom could see their virtues, despite other major aspects of them that offended Avrohom's values. 

But this was not enough when it came to selecting Yitzchok's future wife - it would not suffice for Yitzchok's lifemate to merely have a latent sense of goodness and be redeemable. To become the next of the Imahos, the Matriarchs, one needed to be a Rivka - a pillar of tzidkus (righteousness) without question or deficiency. It is for this reason that the narrative of Avrohom and B'nei Cheis is immediately contrasted with the narrative of Eliezer's dispatch to Charan in order to locate a wife for Yitzchok, to differentiate and teach that the standard for this mission was vastly different and higher, as merely possessing a concealed potential for good and hopefully improving one's ways was not enough. Rather, to be Yitzchok's wife and the progenitor of the nascent Jewish nation, total devotion to the path of Hashem was an absolute requirement from the outset; someone with lacking commitment was a non-starter.

The lesson for us is clear. We must deal with everyone warmly and in a welcoming manner, acting with chesed and making a kiddush Hashem as we interact with all types of people. But when it comes to our own lives and the lives of family members, we dare not embark on an insecure spiritual path, placing people in scenarios in which we hope that they can make the best of a situation that is not spiritually ideal and try to seek out the latent good so as to emerge as Torah Jews.        

Whether it comes to where we decide to live, where to send our kids to yeshiva, where to daven, and much more - matters that determine our religious path and spiritual future - we cannot compromise. We need to be like Avrohom Avinu sending forth Eliezer, demanding for ourselves and our families unwavering standards. This is our holy responsibility and an absolute necessity in placing ourselves and our dear ones on the derech (path of) Hashem. 










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