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Parshas Chayei Sarah - What Are You Running For?

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 11/12/20

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
(410) 788-6633

The race is on. Eliezer runs towards Rivkah with enthusiastic anticipation. Rivkah runs with genuine devotion in drawing and providing water for Eliezer and the camels. Lavan runs towards the ‘man at the well’. 


Why is everyone running? 


Understandably Eliezer seeks to fulfill his mission with great dispatch. Rivkah eagerly pines to do unconditional kindness for all who are in need. But why is Lavan running? 


Rashi teaches that he was seeking to ingratiate himself from the ‘rich man’— Eliezer, who was dispensing ‘goodies’. 


Yet, if one reads the verses as they appear, it will seem to tell a quite different tale. 


The Torah depicts how Eliezer rewards Rivkah handsomely for her kindness, requesting if he may lodge at her home. She readily consents and runs over to her mother to tell her of her remarkable encounter. The Torah then states that she had a brother who proceeds to ‘run’ to catch the man at the well. In the very next verse it reports how Lavan first observes the jewelry upon her sister and hears her account of the words exchanged between them, and then ‘approached the man, who was still standing by the well.’ Lavan then graciously invites him to his home to lodge. 


The author of the Tur in his commentary on Torah describes more accurately what transpired between the lines. 


Evidently, after Rivkah acceded to assist Eliezer, it took more time than she usually allotted at the well, which prodded her ‘devoted’ brother, Lavan, to find out why she was so delayed. Worrying that perhaps something inappropriate took place, he took a shortcut through the woods, instead on traveling the main road, to get there as quickly as possible. Rivkah in the interim, likely concerned her family was concerned, already was on her way to her mother, traveling the main highway, causing them to miss each other. Lavan hurries to the well to discover she is nowhere to be found. Running back home Lavan sees his sister newly adorned with nose ring and bracelets, and she shares her story with him. At this point he returns quickly to the well hoping to catch ‘the man at the well’ to invite him for the night. 


What might otherwise be interpreted as the heroic efforts of a brother in fending for his sister, Rashi informs us is not the case. In Rashi’s own words: 


למה רץ ועל מה רץ, Why did he run and for what did he run? ‘Now it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring’, he said, “This person is rich”, and he set his eyes on the money.  


Rashi’s introductory questions seem redundant, isn’t ‘why did he run’ the very same inquiry as ‘for what did he run’?  


I believe Rashi is teaching us a most profound lesson in human nature. 


Each one of us are born with the instinct to be responsive selflessly to the needs of others. During our ‘altruistic’ acts often a sense of pride seeps in. Occasionally because of our devoted efforts towards others, opportunities arise due to the gratitude others sense towards us. 


The honor we receive fuels our hungry ego, and our strong personal needs and desires push us to develop opportunistic attitudes.   


When we become tainted by self-interest then all our motivations are suspect. 


We must ask ourselves two questions. What is the catalyst for our action? But then we must honestly evaluate, what is it that truly fuels those ambitions. 


So, in truth Lavan responded with a brotherly devotion, but what subconsciously drove that engine was a thirst for the opportunities it would behold for him to personally benefit from. 


The illustrious Mashgiach, Rav Wolbe, pointed out that the word for running, רץ, is the same root as the word for ‘will’ or ‘desire’ — וןרצ. Our deepest will is what compels us to ‘run’. 


The question is what exactly our ‘will’ is. 


Rashi sees in the Torah reporting first his gallant deed in saving a damsel in distress, and then telling us how upon his return he discovers the riches and pursues the rich man, as a lesson that teaches us that one who is tainted by personal gain contaminates his otherwise noble display of chivalry, reducing it to a cynical tool for self-gain. 


The Tolna Rebbe often quotes in the name of the Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes, that the oft quoted sentiment, אין דבר העומד בפני הרצון — There is nothing that stands in the way of one’s will, does not seem to be accurate. Many a time even the strongest of wills do not accomplish their pure intended goals. What it does mean however, he explained, is that although we may fail in life, the one thing no one can take away from us is our pristine and genuine רצון — will. Ultimately it is that will that define who we truly are.  


We have recently observed a plethora of ‘runners’ for higher office. People are running but what is it that powers that running. Is it the pursuit of a ‘lifetime dream’ or perhaps a desire for honor or power? Someone may be running but fueling it with polluted desires. 


Lavan was perhaps the world’s first politician, feigning to promote the people’s cause, but only interested in personal glory and gain. 


We have lost two towering giants of the spirit this past week, whose pure and perfect desire and drive to serve impacted our world so profoundly. 


We must reexamine our own intentions in purifying our motives in bringing about the final redemption. We must strive ceaselessly in accomplishing our goals and acting kindly to one another. Even if we do not always succeed, we must maintain the will.  


If we will it, He will come! 


באהבה, 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן