Parashas Chaye Sarah 5780 – The Power of Thanking

The Parasha starts by relating the story of Avraham looking for a burial place for Sarah who had just passed away. The Pasuk says: “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of Hashem among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead. Thereupon Avraham bowed down to the people of the land, the Hittites.”
Avraham was recognized by the people as being a Saint, a “Man of G.D”, and therefore they were ready to give him the burial of his choice for free. “I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” The Pasuk states then “Avraham bowed down before the people of the land.” Avraham’s reaction is difficult on different levels: 1) He was the greatest of the generation, how did he not consider the fact the importance of his Torah will be diminished to the eyes of the people seeing him acting this way? 2) It is considered polite to say, “Thank you”, why did he not just say that and instead made a big statement by bowing down twice before commoners? What was so wrong to accept the present they wanted to give him? Was it right to refrain them from giving Tsedaka?
Further on in the Parasha, we find that Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, on who the Midrash testifies that he was amongst the 9 people that went to Gan Eden alive. In other words, he was such a Tsadik, he managed to elevate himself above the curse of death that was announced to Adam. Strangely, he will act like his master. Avraham sends Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. After his mission succeeded very rapidly, his immediate instinct is to bow down. Eliezer repeats this action and bows down a second time when he hears Lavan and Bethuel agree to allow Rivka to marry Yitzchak: “When Avraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed down to the ground before Hashem.”
Though, there’s a fundamental difference between Avraham and his servant. Avraham bowed down before commoners, while Eliezer made sure the people surrounding him understood he was bowing down before Hashem.
It is certain that Eliezer learned the importance of thanking Hashem from his master Avraham. This is precisely why it is so puzzling to see that Avraham himself, in response to the generosity of the Hittites, does not bow down before Hashem, but rather before the people! And not once, but twice – first to the Hittites for their graciousness, and then again after Efron offers to give the Machpela cave for free. How can it be that the servant bows down before Hashem, while Avraham Avinu himself makes the same gesture to commoners? What motivated Avraham to act this way?
בס” ד
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An insight to the reason is provided by Avraham himself during the encounter with the King od Sodom. After Avraham waged war to the 4 kings and succeeded to free all the people as well as their belongings. The King suggested: “Give me the people, and the goods take for yourself.” Avraham refuses, vowing not to take even the slightest amount from him: “I have lifted my hand in oath to the Supreme G-d, Master of heaven and earth: Not a thread to a shoelace will I take, nor anything of yours, so that you should not say, I have enriched Avram.” Avraham could not allow a situation in which the King of Sodom would say that he had enriched Avraham – for this could undermine the entire mission he had taken upon himself.
“Take All the Goods for Yourself” Avraham Avinu declares, wherever he goes, that there is a King in the world and that the entire world is filled with His honor. The idea that money and riches belong to a mortal who can dole them out as he pleases is contrary to Avraham’s entire message! Therefore Avraham, in refusing the offer, swears in the name of “the Master of the heaven and earth” – to emphasize that the whole world belongs to Hashem and is in His dominion
The answer to our questions lies in the reason why did Avraham insist on paying the full price for the Machpelah cave? The Pasuk in Proverbs [15,27] states: “He who pursues illgotten gain makes trouble for his household; He who spurns gifts will live long.” Rashi explains: “Since he hates gifts, a fortiori he hates theft”, a person refusing gifts is furthering himself from the possibility to be exposed to theft.
The Mishna [Shekalim 4,1] discusses this concept; regarding grain that grew during the Shemittah year [from seeds of the previous year], which is to be used for the Omer offering in the Beth Hamikdash. The problem being; that during Shemitah, all the fields are hefker¸ i.e., ownerless and available for everyone to take. How, then, could it be ensured that oats would remain for the Omer offering? Therefore, the Beth Hamikdash had to hire guards to protect a specific field and make sure that no one takes its grain. The guards were paid from a special fund, comprised of contributions from the public. Since the Omer is a “public sacrifice,” those guarding it must be paid from a communal funds. If one of the guards wished not to be paid, but rather wanted to volunteer for the job? Rav Yosi says this presents no problem, but the Sages say it is forbidden. What’s the Sages reasoning? The Shulchan Aruch [Choshen Mishpat 249:5] states; “It is the pious way not to accept gifts but to trust in Hashem that He will provide all our needs.” The Smah explains; That it is human nature to anxiously look for money in order to sustain oneself and his family. Though, the pious hates gifts because eagerness for gifts forces flattering the wrong people and prevents rebuking their bad deeds. The path becomes clear; There’s no “free lunch”. First, the one accepting gifts loses his objectivity with his benefactor, to the point to be blinded about his bad deeds, as the בס” ד
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Smah suggested. Then, as Rashi suggested, he’s getting used to take other people belongings, which makes him capable of theft. The Gemara [Chulin 44b] states; “Rav Chisda said: Who is the one who is a Talmid Chacham?” Obviously, it requires a great deal of knowledge. But that alone does not make a Talmid Chacham. Chazal maintain that Torah scholars are those “whose fear [of
heaven] precedes their wisdom”. First and foremost, a Talmid Chacham excels in
character development. Rav Chisda answers his own question by declaring that a Talmid Chacham is “one who declares his own animal a treif.” When a question arises as to the kashruth of one of his own animals, a talmid chacham is willing to declare it treif despite cogent arguments that might allow one to declare the animal kosher. Therefore, Rav Chisda states that this is possible only if that person “hates gifts”, meaning he doesn’t accept gifts from others. Rashi understands that Rav Chisda’s question as asking who qualifies as a Talmid
Chacham, and since there is no greater area in which to demonstrate one’s impeccable character than in the area of money, only a person that refuses gifts qualifies for it. As this person effectively distances himself from the great sin of theft.
The Zohar explains: When a person works to earn money, his efforts have for
consequence that parts of his soul becomes attached to his earnings. Therefore, theft is in part considered killing. That’s the reason why the generation of the Mabul, the deluge, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorra, despite their great sins, only got punished after they started stealing. Hashem has no patience and no mercy for the thief, as his actions indicate “no one knows”, in total negation of Hashem omnipresence. The Zohar explains also the importance of the Machpella cave: Every person that departs this world, his soul will first go the Machpella, and our Forefathers will decide if to allow him access to Gan Eden. As, the main gate to Gan Eden is there. Therefore, Avraham Avinu refused to obtain such an important place for free. He didn’t want the people of Israel to be indebted for eternity to the Hittites, especially as they were one of the nations we had
to eradicate while conquering the land of Israel. Besides, it’s not befitting to have the soul of a gentile attached forever to such a holy place, the entrance of Gan Eden. Nevertheless, given the great act of kindness, it had to be repaid with the same measure. Therefore, Avraham had to provide him a great honor before all his people, so he’ll be fully repaid for his good intentions. From here we learn the obligation to profusely thank someone even if he only had a good intention toward us. A fortiori if he helped us, as then the obligation is forever. Chazal teach us from here: Someone who does not properly acknowledge his benefactor, can be assured that he neither acknowledges Hashem’s
favors to him. This person is egoistic and egocentric!

By Rabbi Shimon Friedman – Din Torah Of NMB, FL 305.399.0393 / rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com

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