Torah Fax

Friday, November 2, 2007 - 21 MarCheshvan, 5767 

Torah Reading: Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18) 
Candle Lighting: 5:33 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:33 PM


Our Parshah of Chayei Sarah tells us that after Sarah's passing, Abraham remarried. However, the identity of his new wife, whom the Torah calls Keturah, is a subject of controversy. According to Rashi, Keturah was actually Abraham's first wife, Hagar. Hagar, Sarah's maidservant, was married to Abraham and she bore him his first son, Yishmael. After Yishmael's birth, upon Sarah's advice, Abraham sent Hagar away from his home (see Gen. 21:10- 21). After that episode, Hagar is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah again.


Rashi tells us that Hagar was called Keturah because her deeds were as beautiful as incense, Ketoret, and that, since she had been married to Abraham, she "tied herself up" - from the word Keter, meaning knot - once she left Abraham's house and refused to marry anyone else.


The question can be asked: why does Rashi feel compelled to explain that Keturah was in fact Hagar, Abraham's first wife, and that Keturah was not her real name? How would our understanding of Abraham be different if we were to accept the story on its simple level and believe that Abraham actually married a third woman later in life?


The answer lies in a clearer understanding of Abraham, his life's work and what he stood for. Abraham's main objective was to educate mankind about monotheism: the Oneness of G‑d, Divine Providence, the fallacy of idolatry, etc. We are all familiar with the famous Midrash that tells of Abraham as a child smashing his father, Terach's, idols in order to prove to him the uselessness of polytheism. Similarly, throughout his life, everyone who came in contact with Abraham was overwhelmed by his faith, his kindness and his righteousness. Even the most coarse and unrefined people did not remain the same after interacting with Abraham.


But this begs a powerful question. If Abraham had such a great influence on even the most lowly of strangers he came in contact with, why couldn't he have the same influence on his own family members? Why did his own son Yishmael have to be sent away from home because of his recalcitrant behavior? Why did he have to send his wife Hagar away? Wouldn't one expect the many years that she and her son spent in Abraham's household to rub off on them - at least to a certain extent?


Rashi partially answers this question later in our Parshah. Toward the end of our Parshah (25:9), where the Torah discusses the burial of Abraham, the Torah says that "Isaac and Yishmael buried Abraham," putting Isaac, who was younger, before Yishmael. Rashi comments that by the time Abraham had passed away, Yishmael had done Teshuvah and had returned to a G‑dly lifestyle. He thus recognized that Isaac was to be the spiritual heir of Abraham and therefore deserved to go before him at the funeral, though he was the senior of the two. Thus we see that Abraham ultimately did affect his son Yishmael and he eventually became a holy person.


In a similar vein, Rashi tells us elsewhere that Abraham's father, Terach, ultimately repented and denounced his idolatrous ways. Abraham's rejecting of his father's idolatry, many years later, finally had an impact on Terach himself and he became a monotheist.


But one can still wonder about Hagar. Why was she - Abraham's very own wife - seemingly outside of Abraham's sphere of influence? To answer this question, Rashi tells us that Hagar was far from being oblivious to Abraham's inspiration for Keturah was none other than Hagar. Though his affect upon her was delayed, Hagar eventually became a righteous woman whose deeds, as indicated by the name Keturah, were pleasant to G‑d.


One lesson that can be derived from this narrative is that no good deed goes to waste. Even though we may not see the positive effects of our actions immediately - we can be reassured that eventually our good deeds will bear fruit.


There are those cynics that wonder what value there is in the Mitzvahs and good deeds done by countless Jews throughout the ages. After all, they wonder, what good has been accomplished - is the world getting better? The promise that Moshiach will come as a result of all of those Mitzvahs done for the past 3,300 years and change the world for good seems like a distant dream. Haven't we waited what seems like an eternity?


The message of our Parshah is that there is a major difference between an eternity and an inevitability. We can be assured that seeds planted through the thousands of years of doing Mitzvahs and good deeds collectively by the Jewish people will certainly bear fruit very soon - and that will be with the coming of Moshiach - immediately.


Moshiach Matters       

While Maimonides writes that Judaism has 13 fundamental principles, or Ikarim, and includes the belief in Moshiach's imminent arrival as one of them, the noted halachic authority of the early 20th century known as the Chofetz Chaim, goes one step further. He calls the belief in Moshiach the "Ikar HaIkarim - the principle of all principles." According to him, belief in Moshiach is even more fundamental to Judaism than the other 12 principles enumerated by Maimonides.
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