Friday, November 9, 2012

Chayei Sarah - The Pleasant Deeds of Keturah

Towards the end of Parshas Chayei Sarah we read that Abraham took a wife named Keturah (Genesis 25:1). The midrashim, quoted by Rashi, tell us that Keturah was, in fact, Hagar, whom Abrahamn had sent away previously, and she was called Keturah because "her deeds were as pleasant as incense." (Incense is "ketores" in Hebrew). 

 Now, it is self-evident that, despite her failings, Hagar was always a righteous and worthy woman (or she would never have accepted into the home of Abraham). Yet these verses appear to indicate that at this point Hagar had reached an exceptional pinnacle of righteousness, so that the Torah changed her name to express her greatness. However, the Torah does not tell us exactly in what manner Hagar had changed. the only hint given to us is the allusion to the incense.

R' Shlomo Ganzfried
R' Shlomo Ganzfried (d.1886), best known as the author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, addresses this question in his commentary on the Torah, Sefer Apiryon, based on an insight drawn from an enigmatic Talmudic statement, "אוקירי לנשותיכי כי היכי דלתעתרו" - "Honor your wives so that you will be made wealthy."

R' Ganzfried explains that it is well-known that giving charity makes one wealthy (כמ"ש רז"ל עשר בשביל שתעשר - שבת קי"ט). It is also known that the charity performed by women is considered more meritorious than that of men, because of it more direct nature (כדאיתא במס' תענית כג: במעשה דר' זירא ואשתו). Morever, adds R' Ganzfried, the nature of women is to be more merciful than men and they therefore tend to give more charity than men.

However, if a husband does not properly honor his wife, by trusting her judgement and allowing her to make such decisions independently, then his wife will not be able to give charity properly, and certainly not to the degree that is natural for her as a woman. This is why the Sages tell us that if one honors his wife, he will become wealthy. For by honoring his wife and trusting her to distribute charity according to her nature, he will earn a greater merit for charity which, in turn, brings wealth.

However, the Talmud also states, "שהאשה צרה עיניה באורחים יותר מן האיש" - "That a woman is more stingy towards wayfarers than a man." How are to understand this? R' Ganzfried explains that even though, by nature, women are more merciful and generous than men, nevertheless men tend to have more compassion for wayfarers because they are more likely themselves to have experienced the difficulties of traveling away from home and needing to rely on the compassion of strangers. It is easier to have compassion for people when you have experienced similar difficulties in your own life.

Thus, the fact that men are better to identify with the difficulties of wayfarers means that, with regard to wayfarers, men tend to be more compassionate than women, in contradiction to the normal pattern when women are more compassionate than men.

This, concludes R' Ganzfried, explains why Hagar had now attained an exceptionally high level, for, as we saw in last weeks parsha (Genesis 21), Hagar had now experienced the difficulties of the wayfarer in her own life. Thus, she now had the natural advantage of a woman's compassion plus the advantage of having experienced the hardship of traveling on the road. Thus, the Talmudic lesson of " "Honor your wives so that you will be made wealthy" would apply to her to a truly exceptional degree. This is why her deeds are compared to the incense, for we are taught that (Talmud, Yoma 26a) that the incense service also brought the blessing of wealth.

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