Chayei Sarah - Making An Effort for a Mitzvah

In the Parshah Chayei Sarah, The Kedushat Levi comments on the pasuk: "The servant ran toward her. 'If you would, let me sip a little water from your jug,' he said." (Breisheit 24:17). The author is stirred to comment on this episode, based on the servant, Eliezer's, actions. What attracted caught his eye in the young girl, Rivka, that excited him to specifically run toward. her?

First we should take a step back and look at what instigated Eliezer to run. Take a look at the previous pasuk:  "The girl was extremely good-looking, [and] she was a virgin untouched by any man. The girl went down, filled her jug, and then came up again." (Breisheit 24:16).

From a simple observation of this pasuk, besides the emphasis of her attractiveness and appearance, there doesn't seem to be an indication of something that would drive Eliezer to run straight toward Rivka. The Kedushat Levi addresses the question of Eliezer's behavior by noting the commentary of Rashi. Rashi elucidates the situation by bringing the midrashic text from Breisheit Rabbah on pasusk 24:17: "[he ran] since he saw the water rise to her."

The Kedushat Levi expands on this by noting the commentary of the Ramban on this pasuk: "according to Rashi, since he saw the water rise to her. And in Breisheit Rabbah (60,5) 'filled her jug, and came up again,' all of the women go down and fill up from the well, and this is because they saw the water immediately rise up, and Hakodesh Baruch Hu said to her that this is a good sign for sons.
It appears that it was precise in the language used: 'filled her jug, and came up again,' rather than saying 'and she drew water and it was filled.' A miracle occurred in the first instance (pasuk 24:16) and after when she brought water for the camels (pasuk 24:19 When he had finished drinking she said, let me draw water for your camels, so they can drink their fill.') it is written 'ותשאב' meaning 'and she drew the water'.
And thus further on (in pasuk 24:45 I had not yet finished speaking to myself when Rivka suddenly came out carrying her jug on her shoulder. When she went down to the well and drew water. I said to her, 'Please give me a drink'), he uses the language of 'drew water' for they (Rivka's family) may not believe him.

So we see from the Ramban's clarification of the issue that a miracle occurred when Rivka went to get water from the well. It was such an impressive miracle that not only did he come running to her, assured by the heavenly sign he saw, but also concealed the details of these events when repeating the events to her family out of concern for how his miraculous observations would be taken.

The motivation for Eliezer's actions is the undeniable miracle he witnessed, reassuring him without doubt that he had found the woman for which he had been purposed with finding.

The essence of the Kedushat Levi's question goes further and deeper than accounting for why Eliezer ran to Rivka. The Kedushat Levi asks on the language of the pasukim themselves. Why when in pasuk 24:16 does it say that she 'filled her jug' while in pasuk 24:19 does it say 'let me draw water for your camels'? What changed? What is the difference in circumstance from when she initially went to the well, to when she went back to get water for the camels.

Kedushat Levi notes that Chazal, in b'seiata dshmayah, say in Mesechet Psachim (114:Bet): Mitzvot need intent (kavanah).

Let's look at the discussion in Psachim. "They brought before him, he dips in the hazeret before he comes to parperet ha-pat. They brought before him matzah and hazeret and haroset and two cooked dishes, even though the haroset is not an obligation. Rabbi Eliezer bar Zadok says, It is an obligation. And in the Temple they would bring before him the body of the korban pesah."

The Talmud continues with the following discussion.
"Resh Lakish said: This proves that mitzvot require intention, [for] since he does not eat it the stage when hazaret are compulsory, he eats it with [the blessing,] ‘boray pri ha-adamah,’ and perhaps he did not intend [to fulfil the obligation of] hazaret; therefore he must dip it again with the express intent of [eating] hazeret. For if you should think [that] mitzvot do not require intention, then why two dippings: surely he has [already] dipped it once?"

The sugya continues to examine whether intention is required. But for the Kedushat Levi, the outcome of this discussion is not pertinent to the pasukim in Chayei Sarah.

The Kedushat Levi explains: Mitzvot need intention. And the main issue with mitzvot is the thought put in when performing the mitzvah in satisfying the will of the creator. And so with this mind, in the first instance (pasuk 24:16) when Rivka's intention was to draw water for herself, the water (miraculously) rose up to her so as not to trouble her since her own intention was only to draw water for her own needs. However in the second instance (pasuk 24:19) when her intention was to perform an act of loving kindness (gmilut chesed) to give water to the camels of Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, the water did not rise (by itself) to her.

The Kedushat Levi concludes with: When a person does a mitzvah it is more important to carry out the action, so that the action itself, is done with intention of doing the mitzvah. In other words, when doing mitzvot it is meritorious to put forth effort and invest in doing mitzvot, not to rely on miracles.

Psachim 114B
But whence [does this food]? Perhaps after a mitzvot do not require intention, and as to what you argue, why two dippings, [the answer is,] that there may be a distinction for [the sake of] the children. And should you say, if so, we should be informed about other vegetables: If we were informed about other vegetables I would say: Only where other vegetables [are eaten first] do we require two dippings, but lettuce alone6 does not require two dippings: hence he informs us that even lettuce [alone] requires two dippings, so that there may be a distinction [shown] therewith for the children. Moreover, it was taught: If he ate them [the bitter herbs] while demai, he has discharged [his duty]; if he ate them without intention, he has discharged [his duty]; if he ate them, in half quantities, he has discharged [his duty], providing that he does not wait between one eating and the next more than is required for the eating of half [a loaf]? -it is [dependent on] Tannaim. For it was taught, R. Jose said: Though he has [already] dipped the lettuce [hazereth], it is a religious requirement to bring lettuce and haroseth and two dishes before him. Yet still, whence [does this food]: perhaps R. Jose holds [that] mitzvot do not require intention and the reason that we require two dippings is that there may be a distinction [shown] for the children?- If so, what is the ‘mitzvah?’

The Importance of the Dimensions of Noah's Ark

In Parshat Noach, when Noach receives the commandment to build an ark, he is given exact dimensions for the measurements of the ark. Why and what is the significance of the stated sizes?
This is how you shall construct it: The ark's length shall be 300 cubits, its width 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 
Bresheit 6:15
The commentary Kli Yakar remarks on this situation giving two explanations.

  1. The size of the ark is specified in order to show the miracle that took place with the building of the ark since the animals that went into the ark, like elephants, were much largely than the stated dimensions would accommodate.
  2. The second reason relates to the amounts for the stated dimensions: 300 cubits and 30 cubits. These are multiples of 15. What is the significance of 15?

When looking at the words for Man and Woman, they are איש and אשה where the two letters that are not common between the two words are י and ה whose combined numerical value is 15. These two letters are also two of the four letters that comprise G-d's sacred name. The people of the generation of the flood exhibited a degenerate level of behavior, where literally nothing was sacred. There was no sanctity to marriage, and women were freely taken upon whim.

When you remove these uncommon letters from these two words, you are left with the word אש which is Fire. So when the generation of the flood removed sacredness, and essentially G-d, from their midst, they really lit the fire that set in motion The Flood.

The Kli Yakar continues by showing the significance of the number 15. First from Parshat Noach, 15 comes up in several places:

  • the dimensions of the ark: 300 (15x20), 30(15x2)
  • the days at sear for the ark: 150 (15x10) Bresheit 7:24
  • the waters had surged upward 15 cubits (Bresheit 7:20)

The Kli Yakar brings in other relevant areas. King Hezekiah was afflicted with a deadly illness (leprosy) as punishment for remaining unmarried; Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Semachot, (47a). Later when he repented and became more religious, he was rewarded with 15 years added to his lifetime.
King David wrote 15 'Shirei haMaalot' - psalms of ascent, specifically in recognition of the disregard of G-d by the generation of the flood.

The Talmud teaches that there was a semicircular flight of 15 stairs in the temple at Jerusalem leading from the women's district up to men's vestibule.

The presence throughout this Parshah of 15, essentially the presence of G-d, and its unique importance in Jewish history and tradition, shows that the choice of exact size for the dimensions of the ark relate an important concept. The Torah constantly works on the principle of Measure for Measure (Midah Kneged Midah), just as the generation of the flood distanced themselves from the inherent nature of G-d, this same essence of G-d was woven into Noach and his experience.

We learn that in the ideal family life, there are three parties to creation - the mother, the father and G-d. It is G-d that plays a central, and so symbolized by the presence of his name in the words for man and woman. When G-d is removed from this scenario, all that remains is Fire.

It is important to realize the opposite.  The generation of the flood ran rampant, devoid of basic morality, tossing any sacredness and sanctity aside, and removing the essence of G-d from their realm, bringing about the greatest destruction upon the world, leaving devastation everywhere.
So also, when we do the opposite, and bring G-d into our lives, and make G-d and inherent part of our family relations, thus we enable great source of creation in the world. The ever-growing presence of G-d in our lives serves to not only nurture our faith but also to enhance the world to the opposite lengths that the flood brought destruction.

Breisheit - Two Depictions of the Creation of Man

In this weeks parshah, the depiction of the creation of man is described in two different accounts. In the first instance, man is created on the sixth day - where man and woman are created together and then given the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.
Later in another account of the creation of man, G-d picks up dust and breathes into it, giving life to a single man. Then G-d sees that it is not good for man to be alone, and an extended narrative describes the creation of man's first companion - woman.