שבת טעם החיים חיי שרה תשע”ב
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sarah 5772
Transforming the Sins into Years
ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים חיי שרה, Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life. (Bereishis 23:1)
We often take the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs for granted. We assume that their entire lives were untarnished by sin, and they passed every test that they were confronted with. While we have a tradition that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were beyond what we refer to as sins, we are still required to learn from their lives and their actions. How can one learn from someone who never sinned? When we examine carefully the wording in the beginning of this week’s parasha, we will begin to understand how we can learn lessons even from people who never sinned.
Sarah led a life of Perfection
It is said (Bereishis 23:1)ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים חיי שרה, Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life. Rashi writes that this teaches us that all of Sarah’s years were for the good. The simple explanation of this statement is that Sarah never sinned, so subsequently all of her years were for good. However, the Lev Simcha (Vayeira) writes that there are two types of repentance. One type of repentance is referred to asתשובה מיראה, repentance out of fear. The other type of repentance is referred to as תשובה מאהבה, repentance out of love. Sarah’s life was תשובה מאהבה, repentance out of love. Regarding one who repents out of love, the Gemara (Yoma 86b) states that ones intentional sins are transformed into merits. Thus, any action that Sarah committed in her lifetime, even of dubious nature, was transformed to a merit. This idea is reflected in the Medrash, part of which is quoted by Rashi. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 58:2) cites the verse that states (Tehillim 37:18) יודע ה’ ימי תמימים ונחלתם לעולם תהיה, HaShem knows the days of the perfect, their inheritance will be forever. Just like they are perfect, so are their years perfect. Sarah was at twenty years old like she was when she was seven years old regarding her beauty. When Sarah was one hundred years old she was like when she was seven years old regarding sin. The Medrash is perplexing for a number of reasons. What does it mean that in the same way the righteous are perfect, their years are perfect? Are their years distinct from their personalities? Furthermore, why is it necessary to compare how beautiful Sarah was at twenty to when she was seven, and to compare how she was free of sin at one hundred similar to when she was twenty? Would it not have been sufficient for the Medrash to state that Sarah was beautiful her entire life and that she never sinned?
If your sins are scarlet they can be transformed to years
The answer to these questions is that Sarah certainly had her challenges in life, and the Torah records how she at times did not act on par with her righteous status. Nonetheless, Sarah was able to transform those negative points into positive actions by constantly repenting. The Medrash teaches us that Sarah’s years were like herself. Just like Sarah ensured that even after a spiritual descent she would repent and get back on track, so too her years were deemed to be completely sin free, because her aspiration was to reach perfection. For this reason the Medrash states that just like when she was twenty and in her prime she was able to repent and transform her sins to merits, so too when she was one hundred she was able to transform her sins to merits. It is said (Yeshaya 1:18) אם יהיו חטאיכם כשנים כשלג ילבינו, if your sins are like scarlet they will become as white as snow. The Medrash states that the word כשנים, literally translated as like scarlet, can be interpreted to mean “like years.” We can apply this interpretation to the life of Sarah. Although Sarah may have had times when she did not act correctly, she was able to repent and transform her inactions into merits. Thus, although “her sins were like scarlet, they became like snow,” as she transformed her actions to שנים, years.
The Shabbos Connection
Throughout the week we struggle to pray and study Torah, and at times we may not perform mitzvos in the proper way. With the onset of Shabbos, however, we are delivered from the machinations of the Evil Inclination and we merit the eulogy that Avraham said regarding Sarah (Mishlei 31:12)גמלתהו טוב ולא רע כל ימי חייה, she bestows goodness upon him, never evil, all the days of her life (Tanchuma Chaye Sarah §4). HaShem should grant us peace and tranquility this Shabbos and we should merit the day that will be completely Shabbos and rest for eternity.
Shabbos Through the Prism of the Parashah
It is said (Bereishis 24:67)ויבאה יצחק האהלה שרה אמו ויקח את רבקה ותהי לו לאשה ויאהבה וינחם יצחק אחרי אמו, and Yitzchak brought here into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her; and thus was Yitzchak consoled after his mother. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that when Yitzchak brought Rivka into the tent, she became like Sarah his mother. When Sarah was alive the candle remained burning from one Erev Shabbos to the next, blessing was found in the dough, and the cloud was stationed above the tent. When Sarah died, these miracles ceased, and when Rivka arrived, the miracles returned. The candle burning and the blessing of the dough are associated with Shabbos, and it is noteworthy that the words את רבקה equal in gematria the word השבת.
A Blanket of Trust
I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn. I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs. An uneducated man, he was kind of beaten by the system. He was a World War II veteran who had great aspirations about America, but his dream was not coming true.
At the age of seven, I came home one day to find my dad sprawled on the couch in our two-bedroom apartment in a full-leg cast; he had fallen on the job and broken his leg. This was way before the invention of Pampers, and he worked as a delivery driver for cloth diapers. He hated this job bitterly, but on this one day, he wished he had it back. In 1960 in America, most companies had no workers’ compensation and no hospitalization for a blue-collar worker who had an accident. I saw firsthand the plight of the working class.
That experience had a significant effect on how I see the world. When I got into a position of responsibility at Starbucks, what I wanted to try to do was build a kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for.
We at Starbucks have been trying to create an industry that did not exist, and a kind of brand that was very unusual. We said to ourselves that if we wanted to build a large enterprise and a brand that had meaning, relevance and trust for all its constituencies, then we first had to build trust with our employees. So we tried to co-author a strategy in which those who worked for the business were really part of something. As a result, in 1989 we began to provide equity in the form of stock options to our employees.
A successful business is built on authentic values.
When we did this, we had a couple hundred employees and fewer than 50 stores. Today, we have close to 50,000 employees, whom we call partners, and we will open up our 3,500th store at the end of this month. We have built, I think, an enduring business upon a premise that says the experience that we create inside our company will be the defining mechanism of building our brand. We said we must first take care of our people.
A business must be built on a set of values, a foundation that’s authentic, so you can look in the mirror and be proud of what’s going on.
Recently I was walking down a street in London that was a very high-fashion piece of real estate. It had one designer store after another. Expensive stores, expensive rents. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a storefront that just did not fit. It was about 12 feet wide, and no more than a 500 square foot store. In the midst of all these fancy signs and fancy stores, this store had one word on top of the door: “Cheese.” I couldn’t figure out what it was, so, curious, I went in.
Behind the counter was a poorly dressed 70-year old guy, and I was the only customer. As soon as I walked in, he came to life. I said, “I don’t know much about London, but it appears to me that this store really doesn’t fit on this street.” He replied, “Many people have said that to me, young man. But the truth is, it’s been here over 100 years.”
I said, “I’m sure you can make a lot more money on this store if you leased it or you sold your business.” He replied, “Well, I wouldn’t lease it because I own the building. The legacy, responsibility and pride that I have is to the generations of my family who have come before me. That is why I come to work every day to be a purveyor of cheese to honor the people who’ve come before me.”
The cheese just came to life with his words.
Think about all our experiences every day. How often does anybody honor us as a consumer? Rarely. But when it does happen, the power of the human spirit really does come through. At the end of the day, when business is really good, it’s not about building a brand or making money. That’s a means to an end. It’s about honoring the human spirit, honoring the people who work in the business and honoring the customer.
When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.
Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Our inclination was to look away.
What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.
We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.
Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget?” And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”
The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.
“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.
“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.
Am I going to push the blanket to the other people, or am I going to pull it to stay warm?
“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'”
And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”
And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sarah 5772
Is sponsored in memory of the Mir Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi ben HaRav Eliyahu Meir Finkel zt”l. May his memory be a blessing for the entire Jewish People
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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Zmanim for Oak Park, MI for Shabbos
November 12 (according to http://www.ou.org)
Neytz: 7:28 Sof Zman Krias Shema: 9:17/9:
Sof Zman Shacharis 10:41Shekiah 5:08
Tzeis Hakochavim: 6:20 (72 minutes)