Rabbi Weisblum – Parshat Chayei Sarah November 22, 2003
Three times a day we recite the Amidah prayer that begins with, "Blessed Are You, Our Lord our G-d, G-d of Our Fathers, G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac, G-d of Jacob." This blessing finishes with: "Blessed Are You, G-d, Shield of Abraham." The question is, if we started with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob why do we finish with only Abraham? What makes Abraham different from Isaac and Jacob?
The Mishna tells us in Ethics of the Fathers that G-d tested Abraham ten times and Abraham passed all the tests. The Rabbis tell us that Abraham went through very hard trials and tribulations. For example, when Abraham was 99 years old, G-d asked him to circumcise himself and he did it. G-d asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac and he did it. The tenth test, the hardest one, was in this week’s Torah portion. After all the suffering that Abraham experienced, he finds that his wife Sarah has died. He then has to deal with her burial and do business with Efron, who was very mercenary and unscrupulous. Efron changed his mind about the price and overcharged Abraham. With all that he went through, Abraham could have been very angry. However, Abraham never got upset, and he dealt with his issues in a calm and positive way.
There is a very important message behind this. The Rabbis teach us how we are supposed to behave. Think about a used car lot. You walk in and see the salesperson, whom you know will most likely do anything to make a sale and rip you off. The salesperson is willing to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and he or she will convince you to buy the "best car." Similarly, sometimes a stockbroker will tell you that a certain thing is the best for your interest. Sometimes they will be right and sometimes they will be wrong.
I, as the Rabbi here for the past 7 years, have unfortunately officiated at many funerals. I’m telling you, quite honestly, that I could write a book about human behavior at a time like this. I’m looking at the family behavior. Some of them are difficult to deal with and some of them have unpleasant family relationships.
One time, I was told at a funeral, when it was time to do the Keriya (tearing the garment of immediate family members at a funeral) for 5 sons, that they would each be found in a different room. Although these men were brothers and had lost an immediate family member, they continued to refuse to get along with one another and refused to help each other at this time of sadness. They avoided each other and would not be in the same room together. I have seen people at a time like this who are mean to everyone and anyone. They feel that they have the right to behave like that. They’re blaming G-d, the Rabbi, the funeral home, the doctors and anyone in the world.
I talked with friends who are doctors and nurses. Sometimes people who are sick or have sick relatives are very rude to the medical staff and to others who are in the hospital. They consider that they have the right to be angry and to take out their anger on others. Sometimes people get upset at work with the boss, the employees, the co-workers and clients. That night at home, the spouse and the children will suffer because of the person’s anger.
Look back at the parsha. Abraham was thanking G-d for all the goodness and blessings that he had received from The Almighty. He is thanking Efron and bowing to him. Abraham might have thought that if Efron was not being honest with him, he himself did not have to treat others kindly. Especially after all the suffering he had endured. Yet, Abraham felt that no one in the world should suffer because of his own troubles and difficulties in life.
Now we understand why we say "Shield of Abraham" in the blessing. Abraham was a paragon, a role model of leadership and a teacher of kindness. The notion of having lived a life under heavy trials by G-d doesn’t make Abraham bitter and it doesn’t make other people grumpy or unhappy.
This coming Thursday, we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. If we are looking at life in a positive way, we need to express our appreciation to G-d for the wonderful United States and all the good things that He has done for us. We are also about to thank G-d and to bless the month of Kislev and Chanukah, because of the miracles He had performed for us.
We learn from Abraham which way we should behave in a time of tragedy. We learn that in spite of our difficulties, we should thank G-d for all that we are and for all that we have.
May this month of Kislev be a month of tolerance, a month of blessing and a month that G-d will grant us with fulfillment of our hopes and dreams.