In the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah we read1 how Avraham sent his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for Yitzchak. Arriving in Aram Naharayim, Eliezer prayed that his mission be crowned with success. The Torah goes on to say:2 “He had not yet finished speaking when Rivkah appeared….”
Regarding the alacrity with which Eliezer’s prayer was answered, the Midrash states:3 “There were three individuals whose prayers were answered immediately: Eliezer the servant of Avraham, Moshe, and Shlomoh.
“Eliezer — [as written:] ‘He had not yet finished speaking when Rivkah appeared’; Moshe — [as written]:4 ‘No sooner had he finished speaking these words [that the earth would split and swallow up Korach’s rebels if he, Moshe, was indeed G-d’s messenger], than the earth split; Shlomoh — [as written]:5 ‘And as Shlomoh concluded praying [that the Divine Presence grace the Beis HaMikdash], a fire descended from Heaven….’ ”
In light of the fact that Eliezer’s prayer was likened to the prayers of such giants as Moshe and Shlomoh, and that other individuals of great stature did not have their prayers answered with such dispatch, we must perforce say that the immediate response was not so much dependent on the person doing the praying as on the uniqueness of the prayers.
In what way were these prayers so exceptional that they, and they alone, were answered with such speed?
The amount of time it takes for something to be transferred from one person to another depends entirely on the distance between the giver and the recipient; when they are utterly united, the transfer takes no time at all. It thus follows that the petition of one entirely united with G-d will result in an immediate response.
Just as the degree of closeness to G-d will affect the swiftness of response to one’s prayer, so too will the content of the prayer have a direct effect on the speed of the answer — the more the prayer emphasizes the concept of unity and closeness to G-d, the more immediate the response.
In light of the above we can understand the uniqueness of the three abovementioned prayers: they encompass the three general manners whereby G-dliness is united with creation — within the world , within man , and within Torah.
The proof that G-dliness abides within the world was the manifestation of the Divine Presence in the Beis HaMikdash.6 There it was possible for the naked eye to perceive that the material world was nullified before G-dliness, so much so that physical space transcended finite boundaries, as our Sages state:7 “The space of the Ark was not [capable of being] measured.”
It was for this measure of unification and revelation of G-dliness within the world that Shlomoh prayed at completion of the Beis HaMikdash , and that is why his prayer was answered immediately.
The revelation of G-dliness through unification with man finds expression in prophecy. This state is achieved when a prophet cleaves to G-d,8 meriting to have G-d’s words revealed to him clothed in his own intellect, in his thought and speech.9
Moshe’s prayer in response to the rebels’ clamor:10 “Why are you setting yourselves above G-d’s congregation?” addressed itself to this issue, as the verse states:11 “This shall demonstrate to you that G-d sent me to do all these deeds, and I did not make up anything myself.”
Because Moshe’s prayer dealt with the critical issue of uniting with G-d through prophecy, G-d’s response was instantaneous.
The third manner of revelation of G-dliness — in a manner of complete unification — is the Divine revelation within Torah , for Torah and G-d are entirely one.12
When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He brought about the unification of the highest with the lowest — transcendent G-dliness uniting with the physical world — thereby making it possible for parchment, for example, to become a sacred object.
The incident that paved the way for the unification of the most lofty with the most base was the marriage of Yitzchak to Rivkah, for the actions of the Patriarchs serve as an antecedent to the actions of their progeny.13 Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivkah mirrored the joining of the most high with the most low.
Marriage is the highest form of union. In order for Rivkah (a child of the nefarious idolater Besu’el and sister of the infamous swindler Lavan) to marry Yitzchak (a living “sacred offering,”14 the ultimate in holiness), a true union of the loftiest and lowliest had to be achieved. This marriage served as the forerunner of the union represented by the Torah.
It was for this union that Eliezer prayed. Little wonder, then, that “He had not yet finished speaking when Rivkah appeared.”
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XX, pp. 91-96.
In chronicling the life of Avraham, we are told in the portion Chayei Sarah that15 “Avraham was old, well advanced in days, and G-d blessed Avraham in all things.”
Seemingly, “old” and “well advanced in days” are synonymous. Why does the verse repeat itself?
Our Sages interpret the qualities of “old” — zakein — and “well advanced in days” — ba bayamim — in the following manner: “Old” alludes to the acquisition of knowledge,16 while “well advanced in days” refers to the filling of each and every day with the performance of mitzvos.17
“Old” and “well advanced in days” thus allude to two distinct things: “Old” relates to the superior quality of Avraham’s soul , for he acquired much wisdom and insight; “well advanced in days” relates to Avraham’s accomplishments with regard to the world as a whole, since the world is a composite of time and space.
This is in keeping with the general difference between Torah and mitzvos.18 Torah, G-d’s wisdom, is both intellectual and spiritual. By acquiring this wisdom, one enhances the quality of one’s soul. Mitzvos , on the other hand, are clothed in physical things, and their main purpose is not so much to enhance a person’s spiritual standing as to illuminate the physical world and transform it into a dwelling fit for G-d.
Thus, with regard to gaining wisdom the term “acquisition” is used, for a person acquires wisdom. With regard to performing mitzvos , however, the term “days” is used, as it indicates the effect that mitzvos have on the world at large.
Herein lies the special quality of Avraham. He was able to harmoniously combine the ability to perfect himself and the ability to perfect and elevate the world. Moreover, Avraham accomplished both in a flawless manner — he was “blessed in all things,” “old” and “well advanced in days.”
An additional matter now becomes clear. The Gemara relates19 that the 2,000-year period of Torah began with Avraham, for Avraham’s manner of service was such that it served as a preparation for the giving of the Torah. What aspect of Avraham’s service served as a forerunner to Mattan Torah ?
The Midrash20 informs us that prior to Mattan Torah , physicality and spirituality were separate entities. The novel quality of Mattan Torah was that from then on it became possible to fuse the physical with the spiritual through the performance of Torah and mitzvos.
The process of blending the sacred and the mundane began with Avraham’s perfecting of his own spirituality while perfecting the spirituality of the world as a whole, to the degree that the world could attain such perfection prior to Mattan Torah.
As with all accounts in the Torah, there is a lesson21 here for our own spiritual service:
There are individuals who constantly busy themselves with rectifying and improving the world, yet forget about their own self-improvement. Then there are others who are entirely immersed in perfecting themselves and do nothing to illuminate the world around them. Avraham’s manner of service teaches that we must combine the two.
Although both these aspects of service are necessary, greater emphasis is placed on illuminating and improving the world. Why?
Creator and created are separated by an infinite gulf. Perfecting oneself enhances the quality and increases the joy of created beings; perfecting the world at large and fulfilling G-d’s desire of transforming it into a dwelling place for Him through the performance of mitzvos causes G-d pleasure and delight.
It is thus understandable that no matter how great the pleasure an accomplishment brings to created beings, it can in no way compare to the delight and gladness of the Creator Himself.22
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, pp. 773-778.
1. Bereishis 24:1-14.
2. Ibid. verse 15.
3. Bereishis Rabbah 9:4; Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 108.
4. Bamidbar 16:31.
5. II Divrei HaYomim, 7:1.
6. See Or HaTorah, Vayeitzei 178a and onward; Ma’amar Reb Brachya 5643, chs. 2-3, 14 and onward; Ma’amar Padah B’Shalom 5680 and 5687.
7. Yoma 21a.
8. See Rambam, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 7:1.
9. Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah conclusion of ch. 2, quoting the Ari Z”l.
10. Bamidbar ibid. verse 4.
11. Ibid. verse 28.
12. Tanya chs. 4 and 23 quoting the Zohar.
13. See source cited in Likkutei Sichos V , p. 79, fn. 20.
14. Bereishis Rabbah 64:3.
15. Bereishis 24:1.
16. Kiddushin 32a.
17. See Zohar I 224a; Torah Or 16a, 79b.
18. See Tanya chapters 23, 37. Iggeres HaKodesh conclusion of section 20.
19. Avodah Zarah 9a.
20. Shmos Rabbah 12:3.
21. See Zohar III 53b.
22. See Hemshech V’Kachah 5637 ch. 12.
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Friday, 2 March 2018