Parshat Chayei Sarah: Every Shlichut is a Life’s Mission
Tehila and Yehoshua Sadiel are Beren-Amiel shlichim preparing students at the Lauder Beth-Zion community school in Berlin, Germany for Israeli matriculation exams in Hebrew and Jewish Studies
There are no soup almonds in Germany.
One can buy overpriced kosher yellow cheese and even cottage cheese, which is hardly as tasty as the Israeli kind, mind you. But soup almonds are nowhere to be found. If one wants some, one has to bring them from Israel. The packets of soup almonds that are available at kosher stores – bearing English and German captions, of course – are imported from Israel.
Many Israeli emissaries, or any Israeli visiting or living in another country for that matter, usually lack something, a specific item that is not available outside of Israel. It can be food, a piece of stationery, a kitchen utensil, a particular toiletry or anything else. We miss those little things from Israel to such an extent, that should we hear of anybody coming from Israel with some space in his or her suitcase – we immediately ask them to bring those particular items with them.
In the portion of Chayei Sarah it is written of Avraham: “And the Lord blessed Avraham in all things” (Bereishit 24:1). Avraham, who was born in Ur-Kasdim, and had wandered many miles before arriving in the place to which God had sent him, seems to be lacking nothing. He is even able to buy a burial plot in his new place of residence.
However, it seems that even in the Land of Canaan, Avraham was lacking something after all – a bride for his son. The Radak explains as follows: “He was lacking nothing, and desired nothing in the world, except for a woman who would be suitable to become his son’s wife” (Radak on the verse above).
Indeed, Avraham was lacking nothing physical; he coped well with everything God sent his way, even in this new land to which he was sent. However, Avraham was missing the means to continue this huge shlichut enterprise of his: disseminating God’s name and the worship of God in the world.
But even when the servant is sent out to find a bride to bring back to Canaan, no clear definition is given of the bride-to-be. Moreover, the episode in question evokes quite a few challenging questions:
- Why does Avraham send out his servant to search for a woman among his own relatives?
- At the end of the portion of Vayera, Avraham hears of the birth of Rivka. How do we know she is suitable for Yitzhak?
- Who would even be a suitable woman for Yitzhak? What qualities or character traits ought to be included on the “check list for a suitable bride”?
- How is the servant supposed to go about searching for a woman?
- Avraham’s prayer attests to the fact that he believed things would sort themselves out in a way yet to be discovered. These are his words to the servant: “God… He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence”.
It goes without saying that Avraham was well aware of the fact that he was not just sending “any old servant” of his. Rather, he was sending the “elder of his house”, a man who had been by his side all this time; a man who had observed Avraham’s conduct and all his ways, learning from Avraham constantly and incorporating Avraham’s values into his own life. So much so that our Sages tell us that had Yitzhak not been born, the servant in question, Eliezer, would have become Avraham’s heir. This did not only mean inheriting Avraham’s worldly possessions, but also meant that Eliezer would be his successor and the one who would continue Avraham’s extensive enterprise! (Rashi on Bereishit 24:39)
And, indeed, a closer look into the words and deeds of this servant, reveals an impressive figure: the man in question has truly learned to emulate Avraham’s ways. At every point in the story, and with every action taken, two motifs are highlighted: The first is chessed, the acts of kindness in which the servant is engaged; the second – the fact that “the name of God is constantly on the servant’s lips”.
His kind and compassionate conduct is apparent in many of his actions and reactions: The first example is the precondition he sets right at the outset. He prays to God to help him find a woman who will give water not only to himself, but to all his camels as well. What this really meant was that the sought-after woman would have to be an exemplary chessed figure, a woman of extraordinary kindness, one who would be willing to quench the enormous thirst of the newcomer and his ten camels, following a strenuous journey through the desert. Surely this would require exceptional efforts on the part of the woman.
Immediately following this, the servant expresses his gratitude to the woman by giving her gifts – even before he asks her for her name or her family’s name. This shows us that the servant did not wait to express kindness and show gratitude until he knew in certainty that his mission had succeeded; rather, he repaid Rivka’s kindness right away. Furthermore, when the servant arrives in Rivka’s home, he puts the needs of his camels and his men before his own. Through these actions, we learn that the servant practices what he preaches. He may expect compassion and kindness of the intended bride, but expects of himself no less.
The second motif is the mention of God every step of the way. As soon as the servant arrives in Charan, he utters a prayer. When he hears of Rivka’s ancestry, he thanks the Lord. When the family consents to Rivka’s marriage, he expresses gratitude to God. During the scene that takes place in the home of Rivka, the servant retells the events as they had unfolded and keeps mentioning God’s name throughout, making mention of Avraham’s hope that God would render the mission successful, referring to his own prayers, and highlighting his gratitude to God for making the mission successful. By seeing God’s hand in everything that had transpired, and acknowledging the fact that God directs everything in the best possible, the servant also conveys Avraham’s unwavering faith in God.
Thus, the servant teaches what any shaliach or emissary knows first-hand. However, the goal of any shlichut, as it is written on paper, doesn’t end there. Every individual impacts upon reality through his deeds and his way of conduct. In some instances, he has the power to influence others; at other times, he illuminates the lives of those whose paths cross his.
As such, any shlichut or mission turns into a way of life and is much more than just a job.
The story of the Jewish community in Berlin, founded in the 13th century, involves the story of the entire city. The largest Jewish community in Germany lived and thrived here until 1933, reaching at its peak 160,000 Jews. The majority of these Jews were deported at the beginning of the war, and unlike other European cities, a ghetto was not established in Berlin.
Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of the city, the commemoration of the crimes of the Nazi regime began, and the foundations were laid for the revival of Jewish life in Berlin. In East Berlin, in contrast to the West, most of the places associated with the Jewish tradition were neglected for years and the number of community members dropped below 200 people. However, with the unification of the city, the reconstruction and renovation works of the abandoned synagogues in the east of the city gained renewed momentum.
There are two separate Jewish communities operating in the city, the largest of which is the “Jewish community” numbering close to 12,000 people, and the smaller one called “Adat Yisrael” and numbering close to 1,000 community members. Each of the communities makes available to its members a wide variety of religious, educational and leisure services, and also helps its members in everything related to finding a place to work and live.