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Chayei Sarah – Our Public Face

November 10, 2014

Kurt“The story we tell is beyond athletics. It’s beyond sport. The story behind every single person is this massive tale of extremely real experiences that I think the community can feel.” Kurt Fearnley

A summary of this week’s Torah Parshas (Portion) Chayei Sarah from . Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up/ call up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.

1st Aliya: Avraham negotiates with Ephron the Hitite to purchase the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah. Tradition says that this is also the burial place of Adam and Chava.

2nd Aliya: Avraham sends Eliezar, his trusted servant, to Aram Naharayim, (between the Tigris and the Euphrates) to find Yitzchak a shiduch – a bride.

3rd Aliya: Leading a caravan of supplies and riches, Eliezar arrives in Nachor. While resting by “the well”, he devises a test to ascertain the worthiness of a potential mate for Yitzchak. Rivkah (Yitzchak’s 1st cousin once removed) meets all the criteria and Eliezar presents her with the appropriate gifts.

4th Aliya: Eliezar is invited into Bisuel’s home (Rivkah’s father) and he relates the entire story of his mission and his encounter with Rivkah. Eliezar asks for her hand in marriage to Yitzchak. Bisuel and Lavan (Rivka’s brother) agree.

5th Aliya: Rivkah express her desire to depart immediately. Her family blesses her, and Eliezar brings her to Canaan. Yitzchak marries Rivka in the year 2108 after creation.

6th & 7th Aliyot: Avraham marries Keturah (some say she was Hagar) and has 6 more sons. Avarham dies in 2123 – 1638 b.c.e. at the age of 175. His two sons Yitzchak and Yishmael bury him in the Cave of Machpelah. Yishmael’s 12 sons are listed and Yishmael dies at 137.

Reading the Age newspaper on Saturday I was struck by articles on sportsman and musicians that people look up to or even “idolize”. These people are meant to be role models but are they? Why do society and even the authorities treat them differently?

  • AC/DC’s Phil Rudd – Charges for attempting to “procure” a murder dropped, but charged with possession of various drugs and “threatening” to kill. What is the difference?;
  • NRL “Star??” Kirisome Auva avoids conviction over “violent” attack. One of the reasons the judge did not convict him was his “…promising future…”. Because he is a “star” who has a promising future he goes free for violently attacking a former partner? Why do these NRL players never get convicted?
  • AFL player Stephen Milne pleads guilty to indecently assaulting a woman a decade after she first alleged he attacked her, rather than face a charge for rape. If it was rape then he should stand trial for rape? What also made the news was why some of his teammates showed support for him in court. What message are they sending to kids? It’s ok to support a rapist? What about the victim – Should the public not be supporting her?


Then I was relieved to read an article[1] on Kurt Fearnley. Kurt was born without the lower part of his spine and does not have legs, he is triple Paralympic gold medallist’s, has won the New York Marathon 5 times, has done (crawled) one of the world’s hardest trails, the Kokoda Trail[2] in PNG on his leg stumps (yes!) and is a father. Reading his philosophy to life and how hard some of these events have been is truly inspiring. This is a person who should be looked up to – His attitude to life, his mental strength, his toughness and the fact he want to make such a big contribution to society. But people like Kurt are not always treated properly by society as a whole.

I believe that people in the “Public” eye HAVE to be able to set a good example. In this and the last few weeks Torah Parshas we learn from the examples set by our forefathers (men and women). I would like to include a short vort (Word in Yiddish) titled – “Setting a Good Example[3]” By Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden

In relating the mission of Avraham’s servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak (Isaac), the Torah’s narrative (Beraishis/Genesis 24) is excessively lengthy and repetitive. The events are told as they unfold and then repeated when Eliezer recounts the events to the family of the bride to be, Rivka (Rebecca). Rashi, quoting Midrash Raba (60:8), explains (v. 42), “The ordinary conversation of the Patriarchs’ servants are more pleasing before G-d than even the teachings of their children, for Eliezer’s full account of his journey is recorded in the Torah, whereas many important halachic principles are derived only from textual allusions.” Why is this so? What is so special about these interactions?

Rabbi Aharon Kotler[4] expounds that, if one is to learn proper Jewish conduct and ethics, a list of laws does not suffice. The code of appropriate human interaction is contingent on myriad variables that change in different situations. One must develop a sensitivity, set deep in the heart, to know the proper response for any given situation. Essential to this process is the careful observation of those who have achieved character refinement.

To appreciate the numerous lessons in character refinement and proper interaction taught in this chapter of the Torah, the Torah needs to provide, at length, the background and context in which the events transpired. Thus, we are taught the proper conduct in any given context. We are a nation charged with embodying the will and message of G-d. Thus, part of our mission is to be an example of proper conduct, morality, and character refinement. How do we become such a people? We must observe and learn from the examples of our forefathers and Sages and find, in their example, an understanding of proper character that will guide us in all situations in our lives.

inner-strengthReading the article on Kurt and his experiences, you can grasp his inner strength. I read a beautiful thought from this week’s Parsha on Inner Strength – Being a strong person means more than being able to lift a heavy weight over your head. In this week’s Torah portion we learn about Abraham’s son, Isaac, the second of our forefathers. Our sages teach that Isaac’s most outstanding character trait was ‘gevura‘ – self-control and inner strength to do what’s right even when it’s hard. We have all inherited this trait from him and by tapping into it can become strong where it really count

As a person, we all need to strive to grow and improve in all we do. I noticed the following quote:

“I am an athlete. I may not be the best, but that is what I strive to be. I may never get there, but I will never quit trying.” – @Sports_Greats

The face of the Jew must always be clean. Integrity, honesty, and the keeping of one’s word must always be the world’s first impression. Regardless of the truths we live and teach, if the other nations do not perceive us as honest and forthright we will have failed in carrying on the mission of Avraham and Sara.[5]

To end another Kurt Fearnley quote – “It’s just a matter of training every single day and dealing with the discomfort you’re going through every day, and then just getting to the start line and dealing with that specific pain.”

[1]  and watch this video clip –

[2] The Kokoda Trail – The Kokoda Trail is one of the world’s great treks, linking the southern and northern coast of Papua New Guinea, it is a challenge to be enjoyed by the fit bushwalker.

The Kokoda Trail and Sogeri area have a history of bitter fighting between Australian and Japanese armies during the early days of the war in the Pacific in World War II.

The 96 km Kokoda trail passes through rugged mountainous country of rainforest, jungles of fern, orchids, birds and clean mountain streams which tumble into steep valleys.

The unspoilt villages throughout the Kokoda Track will welcome you and the Koiari and Orokaiva people will greet you with smiles and tempt you with seasonal fruit and vegetables.


[4] 1892-1962; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Kletzk, Poland and founder of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey



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