Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Avraham Avinu's loyal servant, Eliezer, arrives at Aram Naharaim in search of a wife for Yitzchak Avinu. Immediately he prays to Hashem to help him find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. He even asks Hashem to give him a sign for the identity of the prospective wife, requesting that she treat him with great chesed. The commentaries note that Eliezer deliberately wanted to ascertain that Yitzchak's wife excel in the trait of chesed in particular. Why was this mida, above all others, so important to Eliezer?

The Maharal provides us with the key to answering this question. After Eliezer decides that Rivka is the fitting wife for Yitzchak, he immediately bestows her with gifts; "And it was when the camels had finished drinking, the man took a golden nose ring, its weight a beka, and two bracelets on her arms, ten gold shekels their weight." Rashi tells us that there were deeper allusions contained in these gifts. The beka mentioned in the passuk, alludes to the future mitzvo of giving half a shekel, where the Torah instructs the Jewish people to give a "beka per head", a beka being half the weight of a shekel. The two bracelets alluded to the two Luchos (Tablets) given at Sinai, and the ten gold shekels hinted at the Ten Commandments. The Maharal explains that Eliezer was alluding to the three pillars of Torah, Avoda (service of G-d) and Gemillut chasadim, upon which the world stands. The shekalim referred to the pillar of kindness, whereby everyone gave money. The reference to the nose alludes to the smell present in every korban offered in the Beis HaMikdash. Accordingly, Eliezer was hinting at the pillar of Avoda, with this gift. Finally, the Luchos were references to Torah.

The Maharal continues that Eliezer was hinting to Rivka that since she excelled in one of the three pillars, that of chesed, she would also merit to receive the pillars of Avoda and Torah. Her connection to Avoda would be through her marriage to Yitzchak, who epitomized that trait, and her connection to Torah would be through Yaakov Avinu who represents Torah. The Maharal explains that chesed is the pillar through which all others midos derive, accordingly, Rivka merited all the pillars through her excelling in the one pillar of chesed. With this explanation we can understand why the mida of chesed was so important to Eliezer - he recognized that of all the positive traits, the most fundamental was that of chesed because it was the root of all good traits. Accordingly, this was the most important mida to be found in the prospective wife of Yitzchak.

The Maharal makes a similar point in Parshas Lech Lecha. Hashem promises Avraham that his name would be mentioned in the chasima of the first bracha in the Shemoneh Esrei. Why should his name be mentioned any more than those of Yitzchak or Yaakov? Maharal explains that Avraham's mida of chesed contains within it the midos of Yitzchak and Yaakov.

The idea that chesed is the root of all other traits is strongly supported by the famous gemara in which a prospective convert asks Hillel to teach him the Torah 'on one foot'. Hillel answers him, "that which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend, the rest is commentary, go and learn it." The commentaries understand that Hillel was teaching the non-Jew the mitzvo of 'love your neighbor as yourself', the most fundamental of all the mitzvos relating to bein adam lechaveiro. However, they ask how this encapsulated the numerous mitzvos that do not fall within the realm of bein adam lechaveiro? The Chazon Ish zt"l explains that Hillel was teaching the non-Jew a profound lesson. A person who is self-centered will never try to step out of his own way of thinking and viewing the world. Consequently, he will never relate to the thoughts and opinions of other people. Such a person will be unable to properly keep the Torah. This is because in order to follow the Torah, and the outlook prescribed by it, a person must step out of his own way of viewing the world, and subjugate his opinions to those of Hashem. One who cannot relate to the views of those around him will surely not be able to truly accept the views of Hashem. Hillel was teaching the non-Jew that only by stepping out of one's selfish world, can he begin to come to accepting the Torah.

The Chazon Ish's explanation helps us understand how the mida of chesed lies at the root of seeing the truth of the Torah. A baal chesed is one who can step out of his own world, and appreciate the needs and thoughts of others. Therefore, he can also, more easily step out of his own biases to shift his outlook to fit with that of the Torah. We also see this idea in the Torah's focus on Avraham Avinu's midos. My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits shlita points out that Chazal characterize Avraham for his incredible desire to seek truth, as well as his great chesed. The Torah goes to great lengths to teach us about Avraham's kindness but there is no mention of his philosophical quest for the truth. It is Chazal who point out this aspect of Avraham. Rav Berkovits explains that the root of Avraham's ability to find the truth was his mida of chesed. It was his very selflessness that brought him to the truth. Since his chesed lay at the root of his greatness, the Torah stressed that aspect of his personality as opposed to the intellectual honesty that came as a result.

It is also clear that the midos of Avoda (service of G-d) and gevurah (strength) epitomized by Yitzchak also stem from chesed. Yitzchak is most praised for his total self-sacrifice. This self-sacrifice emanated from his desire to do G-d's will. Thus, his self-discipline and self-sacrifice stemmed from his desire to do chesed, (so to speak) to Hashem. Even the mido of din, (strict judgment) in fact comes from chesed. We know that the reason Hashem created a world of judgment whereby one can falter, is because of the concept of 'bread of shame'. A person feels far less satisfaction when he receives something without having worked for it. Only by earning it through his own efforts does he really feel joy at his acquisitions. In this way, even Hashem's strict judgment derives from His desire to bestow chesed on his creations.

We have seen many sources that the root trait is that of chesed. This is why Eliezer was so focused on finding this mida in Yitzchak's wife. In a similar vein, one renowned talmid chacham pointed out that when his daughters were dating, he would often be told about the brilliance of their prospective husbands. He would say that their intellect was far less important to him than how they would treat his daughters.

It is clear how important the trait of chesed is in all relationships, and in marriage in particular. By working on one's chesed, a person will immeasurably enhance his marriage. To the degree that he (or she) remains ensconced in his own world he will be unable to understand and meet his spouse's needs. This indeed seems to be the cause of many of the problems that plague bad marriages. In contrast, when a spouse strives to relate to his wife, then, in time, their bonds will grow stronger and stronger. May we all merit to marriages filled with chesed.

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