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A LITTLE LOST
Parashat Chaye Sarah
The greatest cause for “midlife crisis” is the belief that you are supposed to be in control. There is no greater haughtiness than the belief that you have your whole life mapped out for you. Life is full of crises, because we are all a little lost. And it is totally fine to be a little lost. The problem is when we title it as a crisis. It is just being a little lost, and that is fine. Sometimes, the best things in the world happen when we’re a little lost. There is nothing wrong with stopping and thinking. Because during those times when we are a little lost, we need to recalculate, reset our destination and, most importantly, realize that we need to humble ourselves a little to an Almighty G-d. I would not call it crisis, I would just call it shalshelet.
Probably the most interesting of the ta’amim is the ta’am we call shalshelet. The ta’amim set the tune for the way we read the parasha from the Sefer Torah. And the ta’amim have hidden in them great wisdom. The shalshelet is found in the entire Torah a total of 4 times. And a total of 3 times in Neviim and Ketubim. Interestingly enough, we had one in Parashat Vayera and we have one in Parashat Chaya Sarah, back to back. What is the meaning of the shalshelet?
The Vilna Gaon said that the first mention of a word in the Torah sets the tone for the rest of the usages of that word throughout the Torah. Looking back to the first time the ta’am of shalshelet appears, it is obvious that the words marked with a shalshelet have a double meaning. Wherever a shalshelet appears, the person who is being referred to is going through a crisis. And that crisis will cause a long-lasting chain reaction, a ripple effect on history.
In Parashat Vayera, Lot was going through a crisis. The angels were pressing him to leave quickly, leaving all his worldly possessions behind, in order to save his life. Lot needed to think fast and decide what is more important: his career or his life. וַֽיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ׀ — He needed to make a quick decision; that is indicated by the psik after the shalshelet. The word is broken up into מה and מה. What or what? My status… or my ability to have something live on after me? And his decision is what brought us his descendant, King David. This is something we can learn from. At one time or another, we all need to deal with this type of crisis: choosing between our career and our family/future generations. And probably, the best way to make the decision is with humility.
In Parashat Chaye Sarah, we find the shalshelet used to accentuate the crisis of Eliezer, when he was sent to find a wife for Yitzhak. Eliezer was the ever-so-righteous servant of Avraham – as we know, המושל בכל אשר לו — Eliezer ruled over his yetzer hara just like Avraham (BR 59:11), and he did not die, but entered Gan Eden alive (Kallah Rabti 3). But at that time, he was dealing with an inner battle. Eliezer so much wanted his own righteous daughter to marry Yitzhak. The top girl in Sarah’s seminary, she was a perfect match! She would have been, theoretically, the best mother for the Jewish Nation. There was just one problem. Eliezer was from Canaan, and Canaan was cursed by Noah. Avraham told Eliezer that it just won’t work – they are just not compatible. One who is blessed cannot marry one who is cursed. Avraham made Eliezer swear that he would not take a Canaanite girl for Yitzhak, and if he couldn’t find one, Eliezer would be freed from his oath. This would mean that if Eliezer did not find a wife for Yitzhak, then Avraham would have to reconsider taking a wife from either Lot’s or Yishmael’s daughters, or even from Eshkol or Mamreh, who were actually Canaanim, but they had made a covenant with Avraham . But because Eliezer was a Canaani slave, his daughter was just not an option.
Now, it was one thing for Eliezer to try his best for his master and realize that his daughter had no chance to be Yitzhak’s bride. But then, there was another step: for Eliezer to pray to G-d for help in finding the right match for Yitzhak. Eliezer mustered up the strength to pray wholeheartedly to G-d. וַיֹּאמַ֓ר׀ יְקֹוָ֗ק אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם: And he said, “YKVK, the G-d of my master Avraham, may You arrange it for me this day that You do kindness with my master, Avraham.”
There is a lot of talk about the shidduch crisis. People suffer from crises in relationships, and from sometimes being not wanted. How can a person accept rejection? There is only one way. Humility. G-d has His plans, and only He knows what is the best for us. Relationship crises usually occur when the person involved asks, aloud or subconsciously, “Why am I not loved/accepted/respected?” But the truth is that only G-d has the answer to that question. And when Eliezer fully realized that he couldn’t be accepted, when he humbled himself, he became the greatest shadchan of all time. We all owe him our existence. A tremendous ripple effect – a historical chain reaction.
The third time there is a shalshelet in the Torah is when 18-year-old, most-handsome Yosef was at the height of being tested by Zilka, the beautiful wife of his master Potifphar. Yosef had been seemingly betrayed by his holy brothers, sold as a slave, lost, to be “forever” alone in Egypt – orphaned from his mother and estranged from his father. And now, he was actually popular in his master’s home… just a little too popular. All she wanted was just one time to be with him, just one child from him, as her astrology told her she would. No one would ever know. וַיְמָאֵ֓ן And Yosef refused. This was a tremendous crisis for Yosef. He could have given in to his desires, enjoyed the present, and ignored G-d, Who, it seemed, might have been “ignoring” him. But, Yosef overcame his desires in order to be true to his faith. He rejected the present pleasure and got himself thrown into jail, accused of the worst. But, this refusal of Yosef is what had the greatest ripple effect on his life and on the history of the entire Jewish Nation. It was from prison that he became known as the Dream Interpreter, and from there that he arose from the bottom of the pit to the top of the Egyptian empire.
The fourth time in the Torah where the shalshelet is mentioned is when Moshe Rabbeinu was in crisis. He was performing all the services of Priesthood, a service to G-d that was meant to be his. And, when he needed to slaughter the sacrifice to inaugurate his brother Aharon and his four children, the Torah tells us, וַיִּשְׁחָ֓ט׀. These were the seven days of miluim (inauguration). But, the Midrash tells us that G-d waited for Moshe at the burning bush for seven days, until Moshe agreed to take out the Jews. On the third day, Moshe said, שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח — which, in essence, was asking, Please, send the Jews out in the hands of Aharon. Because Moshe refused G-d’s proposal and instead recommended Aharon, G-d took the Priesthood from Moshe and gave it to Aharon. The Midrash teaches, Rav Halbo says that during all of the seven days of miluim, Moshe thought he would be the Priest. But on the seventh day, G-d gave the Priesthood to Aharon. And when Moshe gave the Priesthood to his brother, he did so with his whole heart, despite the enormity of his regret. We all have things that we regret having done in life. And sometimes, there is not much we can do to change the past. But this is part of G-d’s plan. We need to accept that we are human, and we sometimes miss out on opportunities that we mistakenly thought we were not ready for.
Whether your crisis is deciding between your career or your family and future, or if your crisis is about accepting wholeheartedly that you are not accepted, whether your crisis is about standing strong in the face of forbidden desire, or accepting that you missed out on a past opportunity and there is no going back… Whatever makes you feel a little lost… it is okay. Relax. Recalculate. And Remember, that the greatest things in life “happen” from those times that we were lost…