Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chayei Sarah: The Torah of the Patriarchs


A little late, I know, but this is such a great Devar Torah I decided that it was better late than never!

Chayei Sarah: The Torah of the Patriarchs

Even the Sages were puzzled why the Torah describes in such detail the doings and dialogues of Abraham's servant, in his search for a wife for Isaac. Why are so many verses devoted to the story of meeting Rebecca at the well, as well as the servant's subsequent report of this encounter to Rebecca's family? The Torah is so parsimonious in its words - important laws are often derived from a single letter - why such verbosity here?

Due to this textual anomaly, the Sages made a bold claim: "The conversation of the Patriarch's servants is superior to the Torah of the descendants" [Breishit Rabbah 60]. What does this mean? Was their casual discourse really more important than Torah?

The Lofty Torah of the Patriarchs

In fact, these 'conversations' of the Avot (Patriarchs) were also a form of Torah. This Torah was more elevated than the later Torah of their descendants, as it reflected the extraordinary holiness and nobility of these spiritual giants. If so, why is it referred to as mere 'conversations'?

A conversation is natural, unaffected speech. The Torah of the Avot was like a conversation, flowing naturally from the sanctity of their lives and aspirations. Holy ideals permeated the day-to-day living of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to such a profound degree that they were manifest even in the everyday discourse of their servants.

The Torah of their descendants, on the other hand, lacks this spontaneity and naturalness. It is a thought-out religion based on willed-holiness, a compendium of detailed rules and regulations calculated to govern all aspects of life. This is especially true for the development of Torah during the long years of exile, a Torah limited to the religious life of the individual.

Torah of Redemption

With our national return to the Land, to Eretz Yisrael, we also return to the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. The generation of national rebirth has no patience for the feeble lights of exilic Judaism. The people seek sublime ideals and great deeds. They aspire to build a model society, to correct injustice, to restore the Jewish people to its former independent state. An inner Divine spirit drives their brazenness as they reject the paltry lights of Torah from the Exile - like the dim glow of candles in the brilliant midday sun.

What will meet the spiritual needs of the generation of rebirth? They will acquire new life from the comprehensive Torah of the Patriarchs. "He remembers the kindnesses of the Patriarchs, and lovingly brings the redeemer to their descendants" [from the Sh'moneh Esrei prayer]. It is the "kindnesses of the Patriarchs" and their vibrant Torah that will redeem their descendants in the final generation. The Messianic light shines forth, and out of the darkness of heresy and denial will emanate a supernal light from the lofty Torah of the Avot, a Torah of naturalness and greatness that redeems the generation.

The great holy scholars need to recognize this secret. Their mission is to combine together the Torah of the children with the Torah of the fathers, and thus form a Torah crowned with honor and strength, beauty and splendor.

[adapted from Orot pp. 66-67]

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