Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
Bereishis, 24:14: “And it will be that the girl that I will say to her, ‘Please tip your jug and I will drink’ and she will say ‘drink’ and also, I will water your camels, You have proved that [she is fitting for] your servant, for Yitzchak, and through her I will know that You have done kindness with my Master.”
Rashi, Bereishis, 24:14, Dh: You have proved: “That she is fitting for him that she will be a performer of kindness and she is worthy to enter into the home of Avraham…”
When Eliezer is searching for a wife for Yitzchak, he focuses on finding a girl that excels in the trait of kindness. On a simple level, this teaches of the importance of that trait in a spouse, yet the commentaries suggest that Eliezer understood that the wife of Yitzchak in particular had to stand out in the trait of kindness.
The Chatam Sofer1 explains this based on interpretation the idea that a wife is an ‘eizer kenegdo’ (literally meaning a helper opposite him) for her husband. He writes that some commentaries2 explain that a wife can help her husband by being different to him in character, and that it is not ideal if they are too similar. For example, if both of them always give in, then they would not balance each other. He then cites the examples of Avraham and Sarah and Yitzchak and Rivka: Avraham excelled in the trait of kindness whereas Sarah was characterized by the trait of judgment. Yitzchak also excelled in din, judgment, whereas Rivka shone in the trait of kindness. This is why Eliezer looked for the trait of kindness in a wife of Yitzchak in order to complement and at times, temper, his trait of judgment.
In what way do we see from the Torah that these wives complement their spouses? One glaring example with regard to Sarah is when there was a risk that Yishmael would negatively influence Yitzchak. Sarah told Avraham to throw Yishmael out of their home, but Avraham was very reluctant to do so. G-d then told Avraham that Sarah was correct and that Avraham should listen to her.3 In this episode, Avraham’s trait of kindness was tempered by Sarah’s din.
It is more difficult to find an application of the ‘eizer kenegdo’ aspect of the relationship between Yitzchak and Rivka, largely because there are very few instances of their communication in the Torah. Nevertheless, the Tiferet Shlomo4 does find an example. As an introduction to understanding his point, the trait of din (normally translated as strictness) implies boundaries and a fear of sin that causes a person to avoid unnecessary tests. In contrast, the trait of chessed (normally translated as kindness) implies overflowing, and the desire to use everything for the good.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes that Yitzchak’s trait of strictness meant that he had a natural internal focus and fear of sin, and this caused him to refrain for a long time from coming out into the world to teach the world about G-d.5 It also meant that he feared that material wealth would pose a great test to a person and therefore should be avoided. Based on this idea, the Tiferet Shlomo explains why Yitzchak did not initially want to bestow the blessings on Yaakov. Those blessings are primarily materialistic and Yitzchak feared that such involvement in the physical world would adversely affect Yaakov spiritually. Therefore, he wanted to protect Yaakov from such a test by not blessing him with physical abundance.
However, Rivka who exemplified the trait of kindness, recognized that physical bounty could be used to enhance one’s Divine service in various ways. Consequently, she recognized that Yaakov could use the bounty of the blessings for the good.6 In this way, Rivka’s trait of overflowing kindness tempered Yitzchak’s trait of cautious strictness in a positive manner.
One aspect of this idea is that a significant purpose of marriage is to help a person work on those character traits that do not come naturally to him. When one’s spouse is different in a certain area, it can often require the other spouse to go against his or her nature in order to maintain marital harmony. For example, if one spouse is particularly tidy and the other one is not, then both will need to adapt to the other person in certain ways: The tidy one may have to work on being a bit more tolerant of mess, whereas the less tidy one may have to go against his nature and clear up when he would not normally feel the need to do so.
The Chatam Sofer’s observation on this week’s Parsha reminds us that the perfect spouse is not the same as us, rather is often very different and in that way, complements us and enables us to grow in our lives and in our marriages.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Torat Moshe, Chayei Sarah, Parsha 4, Dh: Osah.
- He does not say who they are.
- Bereishit, Chapter 21.
- Tiferet Shlomo, Toldos, Dh: Vayehi ka’asher kila Yitzchak levarech.
- Michtav M’Eliyahu, Chelek 2, pp.`162-163. Rav Dessler adds that Yitzchak’s test was to overcome his natural trait of fear of exposure to the world in order to go out and influence others.
- Of course, she also realized that Esav would misuse the blessing of bounty should he receive it.
Reprinted with permission
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further.