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"You Satisfy the Desires of All Living Creatures"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"You Satisfy the Desires of All Living Creatures"

Summarized by Betzalel Posy


What was the nature of the test devised by Avraham's servant (identified by Chazal with Eliezer) to find a wife for Yitzchak? Eliezer, aware that he was making a historic choice, wanted to assure that she possessed more than just volunteerism, more than just the ability to see to her family's needs. But how was her empathy for beasts of burden to show Eliezer that she was inculcated with both the virtue and dignity needed to sow the seeds of Am Hashem? How did her offering to feed the camels signify the character traits that meant God had chosen her ("Otah hochachta") as the next mother of Israel?

The dual nature of the test contains the key to its interpretation. Avraham's initial requirement that Yitzchak's wife be of his family was based on the assumption of the singular nature that was innate and specific to people who had a common bond, much like a family structure. People who feel a connection and solidarity with each other are obviously willing to sacrifice in order to achieve the greatest possible unity. This connection comes from a sharing of ideals and mutual goals, an active participation in each other's well-being.

However, Eliezer also had to vet the candidate for another important, even essential, character trait that Avraham wanted in his daughter-in-law, so that she could pass it along to the rest of the Am Segula. This characteristic was the ability and need to empathize with all of society at large, both in joy and distress. One's natural reaction to suffering anywhere, by anyone, should be deep; the Jew's reaction should run even deeper, even though we maintain our separateness in many ways. The pain to the heart, no matter what heart, should be manifest in us; upon seeing the weary traveler, we should drop what we are doing and rush to his aid: "And I will also give drink to your camels."

The gemara tells us that one who recites "Tehilla Le-David" (Psalm 145, which we preface with the verses "Ashrei yoshvei veitekha..." and "Ashrei ha-am she-kakha lo...") thrice daily is assured a place in the World-to-Come. This mizmor reflects the theme we are discussing. We begin by expressing our appreciation of the Jews' privilege of standing before God. We speak of our personal gratitude in the same breath as our collective gratitude for a long list of favors that God grants us. But we also declare: "Pote'ach et yadekha u-masbia le-chol chai ratzon!" - "You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of all living creatures." We then assert that God is close to all those, chosen or not, who cry out to Him in truth.

Today, we Jews spend much, if not all, of our time and resources fighting our own battles and solving our own particular problems. But we cannot forget that even as we live at home, holy and separate, we are part of all mankind; travesty and tragedy, from Rwanda to Bosnia, must pain us, especially when we do not have the well to satisfy their thirst. If we internalize this, then we can truly identify with the last verse of "Ashrei:" "Tehillat Hashem yedaber PI, vi-varech KOL BASAR shem kodsho le-olam va'ed" - "MY mouth will speak the praise of God, and ALL FLESH will bless His holy name forever."

(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5757.)


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