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Chayei Sarah 5777

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  With the American holiday of Thanksgiving coming up this week, I thought to share with you an email exchange with a synagogue president who was upset that a generous donor to the Kol Nidre appeal was miffed at not being thanked. Wrote the president, "charity is not done in anticipation of thanks and recognition." I thought I'd share with you my response and some thoughts on giving charity.

There are different levels of charity and different motivations. Both the giver and the recipient(s) have their obligations and opportunities. If we were all perfect we would give anonymously to the most important causes and not need anyone to know or to thank us. However, even if the donor has elevated himself to this high level of spirituality, it does not free the recipient(s) from their obligation to have gratitude and express gratitude for his benefaction.

The president: "If we give this man a thank you, what about the poorer congregant who gathered every penny he could to give a five dollar donation?"

By struggling to give, the poorer person receives a great reward in the World to Come; his caring and effort deserves thanks, even if his gift is meager. It is incumbent upon us to express gratitude to all who benefit us either with intent or without intent. Ultimately, it is to the Almighty that we must give thanks and recognize His great kindnesses. If we do not recognize -- or feel that we must recognize -- the good that others do for us, likely we will lack in our appreciation of the Almighty's goodness as well.

The president: "The truest form of tzedakah is to give anonymously. Are we wrong in not thanking every member who responds to our Kol Nidre Appeal?"

They deserve thanks; they are helping others. Those who don't express their appreciation are missing an opportunity, just as those who could give and do not give are missing an opportunity. Too often we get caught up with "What is the minimum the law requires of me?" when the real question should be "What does my Creator, the Master of Universe, want me to aspire to do and to be?"

Perhaps the rich person should not need to be thanked in an ideal world. However, on a real human interaction level, does the president think that people will give if their gifts are not appreciated? I am reminded of the story of Bart Starr, quarterback for the Greenbay Packers. He was noted for his passing game, not his running game. One time he opted to run the ball in from the 3 yard line for a touchdown. He ran back to the bench and excitedly asked the coach, "What did you think about that?" The coach replied, "You want me to thank you and praise you for running the ball?" Bart Starr responded, "Only if you ever want me to do it again."

Some additional thoughts about Tzedakah:

The Hebrew word "tzedakah" is commonly translated as "charity" or "tithe." But this is misleading. "Charity" implies that your heart motivates you to go beyond the call of duty. "Tzedakah," however, literally means "righteousness" -- doing the right thing. A "tzaddik," likewise, is a righteous person, someone who fulfills all his obligations, whether in the mood or not.

The Torah says: "Tzedek, tzedek you shall pursue" -- justice, justice you shall pursue (Deut. 16:20). There's a basic human responsibility to reach out to others. Giving of your time and your money is a statement that "I will do whatever I can to help." That's the Jewish concept of Tikun Olam -- repairing the world.

The Torah recommends giving 10 percent. (Hence the popular expression "tithe," meaning one-tenth.) The legal source is Deut. 14:22, and the Bible is filled with examples: Abraham gave Malki-Tzedek one-tenth of all his possessions (Genesis 14:20); Jacob vowed to give one-tenth of all his future acquisitions to the Almighty (Genesis 29:22); there are mandated tithes to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21, 24) and the poor (Deut. 26:12). We should look for opportunities to help others with our actions and with our resources.

A humorous addendum: One person who loves Aish HaTorah half-jokingly told me, "When I give Tzedakah ... I love to give alphabetically!"


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Torah Portion of the week

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18

Sarah dies at the age of 127. Avraham purchases a burial place for her in Hebron in the cave of Ma'arat HaMachpela. Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, back to the "old country," his birthplace Charan, to find a wife for Yitzhak (Isaac). Eliezer makes what appear to be very strange conditions for the matrimonial candidate to fulfill in order to qualify for Yitzhak. Rivka (Rebecca) unknowingly meets the conditions. Eliezer succeeds in getting familial approval, though they were not too keen about Rivka leaving her native land.

Avraham marries Keturah and fathers six more sons. He sends them east (with the secrets of mysticism) before he dies at 175. Yitzhak and Ishmael bury Avraham near Sarah in the Ma'arat HaMachpela, the cave Avraham purchased in Hebron to bury Sarah. The portion ends with the listing of Ishmael's 12 sons and Ishmael dying at age 137.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, asked Rivka for a drink of water. She gave him and then offered to water his camels. The Torah tells us:

"And she hastened and emptied her pitcher into the trough and ran again unto the well to draw -- and drew for all his camels" (Genesis 24:20).

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato takes note of the swiftness with which Rivka performed her act of kindness: "She hastened" and "ran again." As the Midrash states, "All of the deeds of the righteous are done quickly" (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:7). Rabbi Luzzatto writes: "The man whose soul yearns to perform the will of his Creator will not be lazy in the performance of His mitzvos. His movements will be as the quick movements of a fire and he will not rest or be still until the deed has been completed" (Mesilas Yesharim, chapter 6).

Rabbi Isaac Sher commented on this that even a seeming minor action such as giving someone water, can be spiritually elevated when prompted by the proper motivation. When Rivka gave water to Eliezer and his camels, she did it with a love for chesed (kindness) which was manifest in her speed. For this deed she was deemed worthy of becoming the mother of the Jewish People.

Rabbi Sher encouraged people to elevate the level of their chesed. Most people perform many acts of kindness daily by mere habit. If we were to consider these seemingly insignificant acts not as automatic behavioral responses, but rather as opportunities to do the will of the Almighty, we would succeed in transforming the mundane into the sublime.

A suggestion: When a delivery person brings a package or the mail, offer him/her a glass of water. It is a great kindness and deeply appreciated!

You will find invaluable the book Ahavath Chesed -- a guide to understanding the meaning of the commandment to "love kindness" -- available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.


Candle Lighting Times

November 26
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:00
Guatemala 5:12 - Hong Kong 5:20 - Honolulu 5:30
J'Burg 6:25 - London 3:41 - Los Angeles 4:27
Melbourne 8:03 - Mexico City 5:39 - Miami 5:11
New York 4:13 - Singapore 6:35 - Toronto 4:26

Quote of the Week

When you are good to others,
you are best to yourself
--  Benjamin Franklin



With Deep Gratitude to
Helen Bowers
With Special Thanks to
Paul J. Ronan

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