The focus of this week’s Parsha, are the paragons of Chesed, Avrohom Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. Their home, their personal actions, their communal involvement are models for eternity of how we are to concern ourselves with the needs of others, even at great personal self-sacrifice. We strive to emulate their behavior, in whatever small way we can.
Is the imperative of Chesed without end? Perhaps there are limits to giving of ourselves to others? We cannot reach the level of our Avos and Imahos – what are our parameters? Is there a balance between our and our family’s needs in contrast to the needs of others? Does the Torah provide us with any guidance on this question?
The Torah does indeed guide us, and the lesson comes directly from Avraham and Sarah themselves! The Torah recounts the great party Avraham and Sarah conducted “on the day Yitzchak was weaned”, with the great kings and leaders of the generation in attendance. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a), based on the plural usage of “…and Sarah would nurse children” (Bereishis 21:7) and not “child”, relates that in conjunction with the celebration, the babies of the nobility were presented to Sarah for her to nurse. By demonstrating her ability to provide her milk, Sarah put to rest the vicious rumors that persisted that Yitzchak was not, in fact, her child. Being 90 years of age, the people of her time did not believe a miracle had occurred and that Sarah did indeed give birth. By nursing the others’ babies, Sarah proved Yitzchak was hers and thereby created a great Kiddush Hashem.
The Brisker Rav zt’l, as quoted by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein in his sefer Aleinu L’Shabeiach (p. 248) asks the following question. If there was a need to dispel the rumors, and thereby to create a Kiddush Hashem, why did Sarah wait until she weaned Yitzchak (presumably at 24 months of age), and not demonstrate to the world much earlier that she in fact, had given birth to Yitzchak, as proven by her ability to nurse babies?
The answer is that had she nursed other children while Yitzchak was still dependent upon her milk, she may have deprived Yitzchak, at least to some small degree of the volume of milk that was in his best interests.It was only once he was weaned and no longer dependent upon his mother’s milk, that Sarah would allow herself to give of her milk to others.
What a powerful lesson! Sarah Imeinu, whose life was completely devoted to Chesed and concern for the honor of Hashem and the needs of others, held back from those activities, when they were harmful, even to a small degree, to her son. Even a potential Kiddush Hashem was not more important than her fulfilling her responsibility first, to her own family.
The message is clear. When parents perform acts of Chesed, it leaves a powerful impression on their children that helping others is a paramount value in life. That is why, in addition to the Chesed itself, doing for others is a very effective Chinuch tool, greater than any words or lectures. But there must be a limit – if your child comes away feeling shortchanged by your Chesed, it may not be the right thing to do!
It’s not always easy to gauge our children’s true feelings about our acts of Chesed. We need to tread cautiously, and be very aware of the impact our kindness to others has on our children. They must always remain our highest priority – both to motivate us to do chesed as role models for them, and to refrain from that same Chesed, when it comes at their expense.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann