Sunday, October 21, 2018

Rav Yerucham Levovitz would often say Sefer Bereishis is not just a book of stories; it’s an instruction manual on how to live life—a Torah way of life.

Our parsha of Chayei Sarah contrasts two personalities who were presented with a test: Efron and Eliezer. The test was simple: would they let their personal interests govern their actions or not. One passed and the other failed.

Efron seemed like a righteous individual, offering to gift the Me’aras Hamachpela (burial cave) to Avraham Avinu. However, Avraham insisted on paying market price. Efron’s true character then emerged and his greed led him to ask an exorbitant price for the cave. Thereafter, the Midrash notes a change in how the Torah spells his name. He went from Efron…to Efrn (without the vav). The name change indicates a change in his whole being. He was now equated to afar (first three letters of Efrn)—dirt. The Baal Haturim notes the numerical value of Efron without the vav is equal to the numerical value of the words ra ayin—evil eye/greedy. He transformed himself into a greedy soul.

This reminds me of a similar story with a very different outcome. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber is both a popular lecturer/author and a businessman with many real estate investments. He once had a multimillion-dollar commercial property to sell. A company was interested, and after negotiations, they came to an agreed price. A date was set for the closing.

A day before the closing, Rabbi Tauber was informed of a major flaw in the building that the buyer’s own inspectors did not detect. Rabbi Tauber struggled internally—should he divulge this information? This would cause the sale price to drop drastically or possibly cause the buyers to back out of the deal. He decided he had no choice: emes (truth) is emes and he would be fully truthful. At the closing, Rabbi Tauber told them about this key development. “I am an observant Jew and I must inform you of this even though it will affect the sale,” he said.

The buyers quickly discussed the matter with their lawyers. They decided to go ahead anyway at the agreed price. Rabbi Tauber made it clear it would cost them a lot to fix this flaw. Again, they insisted on the sale and paying full price. (Later, he found out they suspected another buyer was trying to outbid them and perhaps he was looking to back out of their deal.)

Rabbi Tauber faced a moment of truth. His choice left him with a gain both in this world and the next.

Eliezer was also presented with a test. He was the right-hand man of Avraham Avinu. He managed everything for his master. Because they were so close, Eliezer hoped that his own daughter would be able to marry Avraham’s son Yitzchak. But Eliezer was a descendent of Cham, who was cursed by Noach. His daughter therefore could not be a match for Yitzchak. Still, when Eliezer was sent to find a match for Yitzchak within Avraham’s own family, his self-interest could have led him to subconsciously thwart the match with the hope that Avraham would change his mind and consent to marry Yitzchak to his daughter. Avraham made Eliezer take a solemn oath to follow through on his mission and he did, returning with Rivkah to be Yitzchak’s wife.

Why did Eliezer meet his challenge and Efron did not? In the latter case, the Midrash says that Efron, the ra ayin (greedy person) was hungry for money. He was powerless to conquer this impulse within himself. He didn’t even realize that he changed his life’s destiny by throwing away the opportunity to humbly gift the Me’aras Hamachpela to Avraham. His honorable place in history was gone.

Eliezer climbed great spiritual heights in being faithful to Avraham’s orders. He loved his daughter, but he loved his master as well and was honorable in fulfilling his sworn obligation. Eliezer was aware of the great challenge before him and was able to overcome it. He became known as “the blessed one of Hashem” because he overcame his personal interest. This act changed him from being arur—cursed (as a descendant of Cham, cursed by Noach)—to baruch—a blessed person. This shows the power of overcoming one’s personal interests.

It’s crucial for us to take time to analyze our own strengths and weaknesses. This self-knowledge helps us be vigilant and prevents us from succumbing to our baser inclinations. That’s what the study of mussar (moral guidance) is all about. Really knowing what makes us tick—knowing which pursuits make us succeed and which make us falter—allows us to overcome our challenges and bring blessings to ourselves.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield and Fort Lee. This year he joined Yeshiva Heichal Hatorah as a Gemara iyun rebbe. His email is [email protected].