Chayei Sarah

Torah Fax

Friday, November 21, 2003 - 26 MarCheshvan, 5764

Torah Reading: Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:15 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:17 PM
We bless the New Month of Kislev   

Small Talk

Our Talmudic Sages have taught us a lesson in contrasts. In last week's Torah portion, Abraham offered to give his guests a little bread to sate their hunger and then proceeded to give them a lavish feast fit for a king. This teaches us, our Rabbis say, to "promise a little and do a lot." By contrast, in this week's parsha, Efron graciously offers to give Abraham the plot that he wished to purchase for the burial of his wife Sarah without remuneration - but in the end he asked Abraham for an exorbitant amount. Once more, our Sages declare, that we should not be like Efron who "promises much and does very little."

One can raise the obvious question: What is wrong with just promising to do exactly what one plans on doing - and then delivering on that promise? No more and no less. Why does it have to go from one extreme (Efron's) to the other (Abraham's)? On the surface one could suggest that the desirability of making modest promises is based on considerations of modesty. Since mere words don't actually help anyone, why should one advertise their magnanimity? It could even be misconstrued as bragging. However, it is more plausible to suggest that there is some intrinsic value to "promising a little and doing a lot" beyond the dictate of humility.

To understand the value of always doing more than what one promises, we should refer to the Talmudic principle that we highlight during the upcoming festival of Chanukah: "Ma'alin Bakodsesh, one must always ascend in matters of holiness." Implicit in this principle is the notion that a human being ought not stay on one level, specifically with respect to matters of holiness. Every human being has ambition, some more and some less. But what separates us from the rest of G‑d's creatures is the desire to grow, health wise, financially, emotionally and intellectually.

But why is this desire innate to the human spirit? What is wrong with staying on one level?  The answer lies in a better understanding of our inner dynamics. We, as well as all other creations, are finite beings - but we were all created and continue to be created by an infinite G‑d.  However, while the Divine spark within all other creatures is securely ensconced within the creation, we humans were created with an "anomaly." Our Divine spark-that we refer to as our soul and is a part of the infinite G‑d-can never be fully contained. Some people frequently feel their soul's invitation to them to reach greater spiritual heights. In others, the spark that is felt sporadically jolts them to seek more out of, at least, some aspect of life. The common denominator in all humans is that they are driven by an inner force that is reflective of the infinite nature of G‑d.

When the soul voice resonates within our psyche, we hear its message and it reads as follows: "While ambition is good in all of the important aspects of life, the one area that is truly what I, the soul, am looking for is spiritual growth. For those whose inner soul's voice is muffled, they will feel only the urge to be ambitious. However, it is inevitable that such people will soon come to the realization that their ambition is not really making their lives more meaningful, because it is not consistent with the soul's real reason for having this ambition in the first place. We must steer our ambition in the right direction - towards spiritual growth and accomplishment.

We can now understand why it is so important to follow the example of Abraham and "promise a little and do a lot," rather than to simply promise much and keep the promise. The message here is not just that we should be modest in our promises and not sound conceited. It is our way of appreciating the need for continual growth. Between the time one delivers a promise and makes good on that promise, one undoubtedly has grown and developed. Thus, the person will inevitably "do more" than he had originally "promised." This is similar to the message of the Chanukah lights, where we start with one candle on the first night and grow to eight candles on the last night, instead of simply lighting eight candles each and every night. To light eight lights nightly would be great, but to start with one and to continually increase the number of candles brings home the idea that we must always grow, that we can never be satisfied with the plateau upon which we find ourselves.

Whereas in the present day and age we experience intermittent spurts of growth and a taste of infinity, in the future Messianic Age infinite growth will become an integral part of our lives. Whatever constraints life in exile places on our ability to truly experience the infinite nature of G‑d, will be removed in the future Redemption. 


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 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.

Moshiach - It's a Jewish issue. For more info, visit

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