Chayei Sarah: Maybe Yes, Maybe No ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

The word “maybe” in English is neutral; it belies not the speaker’s preference regarding the possibility of which he speaks. The same is true of the Aramaic words dilma/shema* (“maybe”). Rabbi Shlomo of Urbino (a 16th century Italian scholar) writes in Ohel Moed (a lexicon of Hebrew synonyms) that the Hebrew word ulai likewise has a neutral charge. However, two other Italian grammarians who lived at the same time disagree. Rabbi Eliyahu HaBachur (1469-1549) in Sefer HaTishbi and Rabbi Immanuel Benevento in Livyat Chen write that in Biblical Hebrew there is no neutral word for “maybe.” Instead, there are two different words for “maybe”, each of which carries implications as to the speaker’s preference for the possibility which he introduces with his “maybe”: Using the word ulai as “maybe” implies that the speaker desires that possible outcome, while using the word pen connotes the speaker’s hopeful rejection of that outcome. Malbim similarly writes that the word ulai implies a certain desire for the realization of this possibility or implies the recognition that this possibility is more likely to materialize than the alternative.

To illustrate this distinction, we can use an analogy: if one says, “I bought a lottery ticket because maybe I will win”, the Hebrew word ulai is appropriate. On the other hand, if one says, “I wear a seatbelt because maybe I will get in a car accident”, then the Hebrew word pen is appropriate.

This distinction is also somewhat supported by linguists. Some experts explain that the word ulai is a portmanteau of the words oh lo (“or not”) or is related to the Hebrew word loo or the Aramaic word levay (which mean “if only”). Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) argues that the word pen is related to the Hebrew verb panah (“turned away”) because it connotes the speaker’s hope that the listener will “turn away” from the unfavored possibility which he raises.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna (1720-1797), better known as the Vilna Gaon, made famous the idea that the Hebrew words for “maybe” differ from their English and Aramaic counterparts by applying it to exegesis: The Torah relates that Eliezer was commissioned to seek out a suitable wife for Yitzchak in Abraham’s Mesopotamian homeland and to bring the maiden back to the Land of Canaan. When presented with this plan, Eliezer raised the possibility that the girl in question might not want to follow him to the Land of Canaan, “…maybe (ulai) the woman will not follow me…” (Gen. 24:39). Rashi explains that embedded in this clause is Eliezer’s secret desire to see his own daughter marry Yitzchak. Where did Rashi see this ulterior motive in Eliezer’s words? The Vilna Gaon explains that Rashi saw this in Eliezer’s word choice, which used the word ulai to introduce the possibility that the girl will not want to follow him, instead of the word pen. Had he used the word pen, Eliezer would have demonstrated that he truly wants his mission to the East to succeed, and remained hopeful that the girl would not refuse to follow him. However, because he used the word ulai, Eliezer showed his true colors that he had a hidden hope that the suitable girl would not want to travel to Canaan, so that his own daughter could marry Yitzchak.

Nonetheless, there is a significant problem with how HaBachur, Rabbi Benevento, and the Vilna Gaon explain the connotation of the word ulai. The Torah tells the story of how Yaakov received a special blessing from his father Yitzchak by impersonating his hairy brother Eisav. When Rikva first proposes to Yaakov that he pretend to be Eisav, Yaakov notes that his father could easily detect the ruse by simply feeling Yaakov’s smooth body and realizing that he is not Eisav. In Yaakov’s own words, “Maybe (ulai) my father will feel me…” (Gen. 27:12). If the word ulai implies that the speaker wants that particular possibility to come true, then why would Yaakov use the word ulai to introduce the possibility that his subterfuge will be discovered?

The commentators answer that Yaakov is most associated with the commitment to the truth. In fact, the prophet Micah (7:20) explicitly associates Yaakov with “truth” (and Avraham with “lovingkindness”). Accordingly, Yaakov actually wanted his father to feel him and put an end to his deception. He was so concerned with the truth that he felt uncomfortable passing a lie to his father, even if justified. This answer is proposed by a bevy of commentators, including, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760-1828), Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayes (1805-1855), Rabbi Seligman Baer (Yitzchok Dov) Bamberger of Würzburg (1807-1878), Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935), and Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966).

Rabbi Mecklenburg too argues that Yaakov wanted his father to feel him, but not in the context of realizing his ploy, rather in the context of placing his hands over Yaakov’s head when giving him the special blessings. Alternatively, we could answer that according to the Malbim (cited above), the term ulai does not necessarily imply that Yaakov wanted that to happen, but that he simply felt that it was most likely to happen. (Rabbi Wertheimer uses a similar argument to justify the appearance of ulai in Gen. 18:28.)

NOTE: Although the Aramaic word for “maybe” (spelled SHIN-MEM-ALEPH) is traditionally pronounced shema (with a kamatz under the MEM), there are two alternatives: Rabbi Meir Mazuz (a contemporary Sephardic grammarian in Bnei Barak), basing himself on HaBachur’s vowelization of the word and on other sources, claims that the correct pronunciation is sheme (with a segol under the MEM). Alternatively, the oldest vowelized manuscript of the Mishna, known as the Kaufmann Manuscript, consistently vowelizes the word as shemay (with a tzayrei under the MEM).




Chayei Sarah: Tasteful Tasting ~ The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

Chayei Sarah

Let me please sip(הַגְמִיאִינִי)a little water from your jug (Gen.24:17).

Pour into me (הַלְעִיטֵנִי), now, some of that very red stew (Gen.25:30).

In requesting a drink from Rebecca, Eliezer used the term הַגְמִיאִינִי,let me sip.Our Sages expounded on the righteousness of Eliezer for expressing himself in this manner: Numbers Rabbah 21:20 – That which the verse states,A righteous man eats to his soul’s satiation (Prov.13:25), is an allusion to Eliezer, who [merely] said to Rebecca, Let me please sip(הַגְמִיאִינִי)a little water– one swallow;[the conclusion of that verse,] but the stomach of the wicked will always be lacking, is an allusion to Esau, who said to Jacob: Pour into me(הַלְעִיטֵנִי), now, [some of that very red stew](Gen. 25:30).R’ Yitzchak son of R’ Ze’ira said: Esau opened his mouth as wide as a camel and said, “I will open my mouth and you put it in,” for [the expression הלעטהrefers to feeding camels, as] we were taught in the Mishnah: One may not stuff a camel [on the Sabbath], nor may he cram it, but [מלעיטין] he may put food down their throats (Shabbat 24:3).

Eliezer’s request for “a little water” is evidence of his modesty and refinement in and of itself, and in conjunction with the wordהגמיאיני, the manner of thinking of this righteous man is fully revealed. The word הגמיאיניdenotes what the Mishnah (Shabbat 8:1) refers to asכדי גמייא,1the amount that a person is able to swallow in one gulp.2By contrast,הלעיטניisthe amount that can be put down the throat of an open-mouthed camel– a prodigious quantity.

However, based on the Midrash’s own definition of these two terms, its explanation of the verse from Proverbs as referring to Eliezer and Esau, respectively, seems perplexing. For eating tohis soul’s satiation” seems a more fitting description of Esau, who sought to fill his stomach to the point of satiation, whereas “a stomach that is lacking” seems more fitting for Eliezer, since such a minimal amount of drink would never leave him fully sated! A deeper examination of the meaning of these words, however, will reveal the key to solving this mystery, with G-d’s help.

Radak assigns the word הגמיאיניto the entry גמא, which he defines as drinking.But he also links two other words to the same root: a) He interprets the verse, with noise and trembling [the horse] drinks up (יְגַמֶּא)the land(Job39:24),to mean that the ease and speed with which the horse traverses the land makes it appear as if it drinks it.3b) Radakalso notes that according to his father, the phrase מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם קָדִימָה,the מְגַמַּתof their faces is like the east wind(Habakuk 1:9), is also derived from the root גמא(drink), with the verse meaning that the arrogance in their faces will make it appear as if the powerful east wind filled their faces with drink.4

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (Gen.2:7)5also sees the word גַם(also) as linked to the root גמא, since alsodenotes adding something to that which already exists, as when one drinks a sip at a time.6

Indeed, it appears that numerous other Hebrew words that contain the two-letter string גםare also related. They are: 1) גמא; 2)לגם; 3)אגם; 4)גמץ; 5)מגמה; 6)גמש; 7)גמל; 8)גמר; 9)גמד. All of these denote one or more of the following characteristics that are related to a water source and being nourished by it: drinking/absorption, addition /concentration, satiation /weaning, moisture /flexibility, modesty /satisfaction. Let us now look at each of these in more detail.

1) Root גמא: This term has two meanings: a)A minimal amount of drink.7b)a light tree גֹּמֶאthat grows near a lake.8

2)Rootלגם:A small amount of drink (in Rabbinic Hebrew). For instance,Midrash Sechel Tov (Gen. 24:17) links the Scriptural גמאwith the Talmudic גמעand לגם. The phrase מְלֹא לוּגְמָיו (Yoma 73b) means a mouthful.The term לְגִימָה9is likewise translated as a mouthful.

3)Rootאגם: This term has two meanings: a) a confluence of water10; b) a light tree that grows near a lake Radak interpretsthe verse: and theאֲגַמִּיםthey burned with fire(Jer.51:32),as follows: The גֹּמֶאtrees that grow near the rivers were burned with fire, so that the abundance of these trees would not hinder their entrance into the city.11

4)Rootגמץ:a type of pit.12This can be compared to anאֲגַםbecause a pit absorbs / drinks everything that is put into it, similar to the nature of the lake or swamp.

5) The word מגמה:drinking/longing.13

6)Rootגמש: In the Talmudic vernacular, גמישmeans bending /crouching(see Yoma 67a and Rashi,ad loc.).14The Midrash15explains that Jochebed placed the infant Moses in a wicker (גֹמֶא)basket, because it was a soft material that could withstand a confrontation with either a hard or a soft object in the river. The flexibility of the גֹמֶאstems from the fact that it is situated upon waters that it absorbs constantly, so that it is always wet and soft).

7)Rootגמל(camel): There are two manners by which the name גָמָלmay be connected: a)גָמָלis similar to גוּמָא(pit), in that they both drink and absorb that which is placed within them; b)One may read גָמָלas a compound root: גםand מל. That is, the camel first drinks profusely (גוֹמֶא, related to גם)from a water source, and eventually is cut off (נִמוֹל, related to מל) from the need to drink for an extended period.16We also find the same link in an alternate usage of the root גמלin the verse, וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַיִּגָּמַל,The child grew and was weaned(Gen. 21:8), rendered by Onkelos as ואתחסיל, literally חסלmeaning termination.

8)Rootגמר:cessationגמרshares a meaning with גמל, i.e. הִגָמֵל,the end of the nursing period, when the child is weaned from his mother’s milk.17Indeed, a certain Halachic teaching that we find in Tosefta(Parah 11:7) with the expression גִּבְעוֹלִין שֶׁלֹּא גָמְרוּ,stalks that were not completed,appears in identical wording in the Mishnah at the same location (Parah 11:7), with the sole exception that the word גָמְרוּis replaced by גָמָלוּ(see Rash,ad loc., who notes that it means ended, as in the word הִגָמֵלthat is used regarding the weaningof Isaac.18

9)Rootגמד(a short cubit): The word גֹּמֶדthat appears in Jud. 3:16 is interpreted by Rashi as an abbreviated/cut offcubit. The root גמדalso appears in Ezek. 27:11, in the word גַמָּדִים, which Metz. Tzion interprets as dwarfs,since they are of an abbreviated height. Thus, גמד“,a small measure of length,shares the meaning ofsmall measurewith the verb גמיאה.

The first words in this list denote the supply of water and its use, with the lake /pond /swamp(אַגַם)at the center of this water system. The reeds that grow amid this swamp dwell in security, assured of their sustenance under ordinary circumstances.19Human beings who find themselves in similar circumstances do not feel any pressure; their basic sustenance is assured. As long as the source of their nourishment carries on in its usual manner, why should there be cause for concern? Their confidence in the continuously flowing well provides them with spiritual satisfaction. They drink calmly, with no need to accumulate stacks of reserves or fill warehouses for the future. And just as the reed that is supplied with water from the swamp is healthy and flexible, so does a sense of trust and confidence provide human beings spiritual powers that allow them to “flow” — the flexibility and ability to handle all manner of situations and difficulties.

Human life commences with reliable sustenance from one’s mother, and the child swallows a mouthfulat a time, as per his need. Ultimately this period of nursing ends with a weaningprocess; slowly but surely he is weaned from his mother’s milk and becomes accustomed to solid foods in stages.20So too does God prepare for a person at every stage of his life the essential tools that allow him to cope with all the challenges that crop up when he is weaned off his present state and slowly enters another. In the words of our Sages, “G-d prepares the cure before the wound.21” Likewise, the camel that sets out on a lengthy journey — and thus must be weaned from its usual sustenance sources — is armed with the necessary devices which enable it to cope with its hunger. It fills its stomach and hump sufficiently, and thus embarks on the journey without incident and without concern.

All this is alluded to in the word הַגְמִיאִינִי: “It is sufficient for me to take a small gulp at present, for I am certain that G-d will also(גם) provide me each time with the מגמהthat quenches my thirst and fulfills my other needs — as the reed (גומא) is sustained by the swamp (אגם).22The polar opposite of this worldview is that of Esau, which is constantly focused on the next meal. The minute he swallows the food that then fills his stomach, he’s already preoccupied with the source of the upcoming meal. Whatever he has eaten is gone, swallowed up in the dark caverns of his stomach.23That food has vanished into oblivion, and he is already lacking.

By using the word הַלְעִיטֵנִיin asking Jacob for food, Esau sought to compare himself to a camel. In the words of Rashi, he stated, “I shall open my mouth, and you pour a lot into it,” as we were taught in the Mishnah (Shabbat 24:3) [regarding the feeding of a camel on Shabbat], “One may not stuff a camel [on the Sabbath], nor may he cram it, but [מלעיטין] he may put food down their throats.” Esau also sought to mimic a camel in another sense — his effort to remove any dependency on outside sources, first and foremost from the “One Who satisfies all living things,” may His Name be blessed. However, a camel has a major advantage over the person who seeks to mimic it — for its satiation at the moment is bona fide satiety. The Esaus of the world, on the other hand, never cease to worry about the future for even a second… even at the very moment that their stomachs are filled to the maximum.

This attitude of the wicked toward the life of This World is reflected in their attitude toward the World to Come. In the words of the Midrash (Eliyahu Zuta [Ish Shalom, Ch. 19]): Jacob said to Esau: There are two worlds before us — This World and the World to Come; This World has eating and drinking, business dealings, marrying a woman and bearing sons and daughters, but the World to Come is not like that… Immediately, Esau disavowed [belief in] the Revival of the Dead [in the World to Come], stating: “If the living who possess a spirit and a soul die, how can those who already died live?” For the evil, the end of This World is nothing but darkness — “lights out. ”24

The righteous, on the other hand, witness G-d’s propensity to provide us with ever more benefits in this world, and thus trust that G-d will continue to add goodness upon goodness in the World to Come as well — and so shall it be for them.

May we all merit great wealth, truewealth, namely, to be satisfied with our portion in This World. In doing so, we shall merit the bliss of the goodness of our portion that we have been assured גםto receive in the World to Come.

1In its Talmudic usage, the Scriptural rootגמאis spelled both asגמאandגמע(Rashi, ad loc.; see also Ramban to Deut. 21:14).

2According to the Bartenura.Tosafos Yom Tovadds that this quantity is less than מלא לוגמיו, a mouthful.

3Rashialso seems to suggest the same meaning in the second of his two interpretations. Even his first interpretation, that יְגַמֶּאmeans “it makes גוּמוֹת(pits/depressions)” in the ground, may be reconciled with Radak’s interpretation, since a pit “drinks” and absorbs that which is placed in it.

4Rashialso interpretsמְגַמַּתas based on the root “drink,” albeit based on an understanding of מְגַמַּתaseagerness,as their faces “drink and absorb” their aspirations.

5רשרהבראשיתב:זויפחבאפיוויפחבאפיונשמתחייםמשמעות[שרש]אפף“:לשאוףאלקרבובתשוקה.ומכאןמלתהקישוראף“…דבריםשנאמרותחילהגורריםלתחומםאתהאמורלאחריהם. (והשוהגםמשרשגמאומגמתפניהם[חבא:ט]).

6This view is also supported by HaKetav Ve’ha’Kaballah (Ex.8:17) and Ohr Chadash(Gen.24:17; Ex.7:19).

7רשי ברכד:יזהגמיאיני נא לשון גמיעה.תויט ח:אכדי גמיעה בגממיבעיא להו כדי גמיאה או כדי גמיעה אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק הגמיאיני נא מעט מים מכדך (ברכד)…והוא פחות אפילו מכדי לוגמיו.

In R. Hirsch’scomments tothe verse:my flesh longs(כָּמַהּ)for you(Psalms 63:2), he suggests that the root גמאmeans drinking because, like the similar verbכָּמַהּ, it denotes the thirsty one’s longingfor water, just as the Talmud refers to mushrooms/truffles as כְּמֵהִין, because they longfor water.

8The word גֹּמֶאis so called because it is a light wood that grows near an אֲגַם(lake) and floats upon its waters (see Metz. Tzionto Isaiah18:2), or because it only grows when the land is suffused with water (seeJob8:11). Likewise, Targum Yerushalmi’s translation of the word אָחוּ(marshland) in Gen. 41:1 and Targum Yonatan’s translation of the word סּוּף(reeds) in Ex. 2:3 are bothגוּמַיָא.

9יומא ח:בוְהַשּׁוֹתֶה מְלֹא לֻגְמָיו,חַיָּב.סנהדקג:גדולה לגימה שהרחיקה שתי משפחות מישראל.

10שמות ז:יטעַל יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל אַגְמֵיהֶם.Radakalso suggests in his Sefer HaShorashimthat the same definition applies to the verse (Isaiah 19:10), כָּל עֹשֵׂי שֶׂכֶר אַגְמֵי נָפֶשׁ. However, in his commentary to the verse itself, he interpretsאַגְמֵיnot as lakes, but as the depressed, comparing it to עָגְמָה נַפְשִׁי לָאֶבְיוֹן(Job30:25).See also Malbim’s commentary there.

11מכאן נראה שאגמיםבמובן עץ האגם נקרא גמאבלשון יחיד ואגמיםבלשון רבים (בני אמש ני).

12קהלת י:חחֹפֵר גּוּמָּץ בּוֹ יִפּוֹל.

13The early commentators disagree as to its root: some say it is גמה, some say it is גמא, and some say it is גמם. In his commentary to Chabakuk 1:9, Rashi explains that מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם means the drinking / longing of their faces, and that the phrase יְגַמֶּא אָרֶץ in Job 39:24 means that the horse runs great distances with such speed that it appears as if it drankup the land before it (this resembles Radak’s interpretation that we cited earlier. See also the two interpretations of Metz. Tzion).

14יומא סז.מצוה בשעירזמנין דגמיש ליה לרישיה; רשידגמיש ליה לרישיה יכוף ראשו תחת גופו.

15שמות רבה א:כתבת גמא (שמב).למה גומארשמואל בר נחמני אמר:דבר רך, שיעמוד לפני רך ולפני קשה.

16R’ Hirsch (Gen.21:8) makes a similarlink by arguing that the word גמלhas the same meaning as the verb קמל, which means cutting off(see Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 19:6). [See also R’ Hirsch to Gen. 12:14-19, 21:8, 24:19.]

17See I Sam.1:22.

18וכן:שא א:כבעַד יִגָּמֵל הַנַּעַר;מצציגמלענין גמר ההנקה.

19כלשון הכתוב:איוב ח:יהֲיִגְאֶה גֹּמֶא בְּלֹא בִצָּה.

20כדכתב מצצ:ישעיח:הוּבֹסֶר גֹּמֵל יִהְיֶה נִצָּה;מצצגומלרל תגדל מעט מעט והושאל מלהילד הנגמל משדי אמו.

21Midrash Sechel Tov: Ex. 3:1

22This perspective was also the secret of the manna’s power to satiate the Israelites in the Wilderness. AsMaharshawrites in Yoma 75a in explanation of the verse, Humans ate the bread of angels; He sent them food for satisfaction(Psalms 78:25), “This refers to the righteous and the unique individuals among Israel who merely requested enough to eat.” In other words, it was only to those who were not concerned about the future, who merely ate and drank according to their present needs, and were confident that Hashem would send them all their needs — to them alone He sent them food for satisfaction, in the same sense as our Sages’ teaching, “Who is a rich man? One who is satisfied with his portion.”

23See R’ Hirsch’s proposed linkage between לעיטה(overeating) and עלטה(darkness).

24Ironically, Esau was prescient: what awaits the wicked after their demise is indeed nothing but gloom and oblivion, as Chazal tell us: שמר יד:בויט משהויהי חשך אפילה.מהיכן היה החשך ההוארנחמיה אמר מחשך של גיהנם,שנאמר:אֶרֶץ עֵפָתָה כְּמוֹ אֹפֶל צַלְמָוֶת וְלֹא סְדָרִים וגו‘ (איוב י:כב)ריהודה בר אמר במה הרשעים מתכסים בגיהנם בחשך.




Chayei Sarah: Beyond the Call of Duty ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshasחַיֵי שָׂרָה

Beyond the Call of Duty

גְמִילַת חַסָדִים (גמ”ח): bestowing kindness

גָמָל: camel

גִימֶל: letter gimel

הַגוֹמֶל: gomel

לְהִגָמַל: to wean

גְמִילַת חַסָדִים (גמ”ח): Bestowing Kindness

וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק וּבָהּ אֵדַע כִּי עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי

And it shall be that to the young girl that I will say, “Please incline your jug and I will drink,” and she will say, “Drink and also your camels I will give to drink,” she will be worthy for Your servant for Yitzchak and with this I will know that You have done kindness with my master.1

Eliezer was sent on a mission to find a shidduch worthy to be the wife of Yitzchak Avinu. The Kli Yakar says that the key trait he was looking for was גְמִילַת חַסָדִים/bestowing kindness, because this is the prototype middah/character trait from which all other middosare born. Water was therefore a fitting medium through which Rivkah was tested, since water represents chesedin that it flows.2

Here Rivka does more than what is asked from her, which is the definition of חֶסֶד — that which goes beyond the call of duty. And quenching the thirst of ten camels is by no means an easy task; it would be equivalent to filling up ten trucks with fuel using just one jug.

גָמָל: Camel

The Torah hints to us this middahof גְמִילַת חַסָדִים through the גָמָל/camel itself. When Adam was given the task of naming the גָמָל, he saw into its very essence that it was designed especially for the task of bestowing kindness to man. With a great capability to conserve water coupled with its distinctive hump-shaped backpack full of fatty food, the camel can travel for many days without the need to fill up, making it the most perfect means of transporting man through the unfriendly terrains of the desert.

InParshasVayishlach, Yaakov sends many types of animals as a gift to his brother Eisav.3The verse distinguishes the camels asגְמָלִים מֵינִיקוֹת/nursing camels, where the wordיוֹנֵק/to nurse symbolizes the giving of life, as more than a child wants to feed the mother wants to nurse.4The rest of the animals listed in the same verse are mentioned without any special descriptive qualities. The camel is therefore singled out to teach us that it has this special giving quality.

גִימֶל: Letter Gimel

In the Gemara, it describes the proximity of the letters to each other, starting with alephandbeis, denoting aleph binah— that first understanding is through the learning of Torah.5By decoding the different arrangements of the letters of the aleph beis, by cracking the code, so to speak, through Torah learning, one comes to discover the very essence of life. They are no ordinary letters, as the power of their combinations caused the universe to come into existence.

Gimel-daletis the next combination, denoting גוֹמֵל דַלִים/supporting the poor. ג-דwhere the gimel/the giver is facing the back of the dalet/the poor person, hinting to us that the best way to give is where the receiver is unaware of the benefactor so he will not be embarrassed.

Another way of interpretation is that first of all one must learn to attainbinah/understanding, then, once he has self-understanding, he will be in a position to teach others, where his talmidimare considered poor, because the real poverty is in the realms of Torah knowledge, and more than a talmidwants to learn, a teacher wants to be gomel chesedand teach.6

הַגוֹמֵל: Gomel

One who has survived a dangerous situation, like a car accident, traveling overseas, a life-threatening illness, or even giving birth,blesses Hashem with the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’,אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,הַגּוֹמֵל לְחַיָּבִים טוֹבוֹת,שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָל טוּב

Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, who bestows to the obligated goodness, who bestows to me all good.

The explanation of the blessing given in the Shulchan Aruch is that this blessing thanks Hashem for bestowing upon us kindness even though we are not necessarily worthy of His kindness.7What does it mean that we are not worthy? To try and get a better understanding, let’s take a look at the following pasukin last week’s parshah:

וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַיִּגָּמַל וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְרָהָם מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל בְּיוֹם הִגָּמֵל אֶת יִצְחָק
And the child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned.8

גָמַלin this pasukmeans “weaned.” Rashi says that it was after twenty-four months, when a baby is no longer interested in its mother’s milk. Just like a baby has done nothing to deserve such kindness yet for two years has been nourished by its mother’s milk, so too all the time we are in this world we are sustained by Hashem’s kindness even though we are not yet worthy. The whole purpose of this world is to get to the point where we become worthy to eternal life in the World to Come, so, by definition, as long as we are still in this existence, we have not yet proven ourselves worthy enough.

In the Shemoneh Esrei, we say that Hashem is גוֹמֵל חַסָדִים טוֹבִים,and with this in mind we can get a better understanding of the Mishnah inPirkei Avosthat says that the world stands on three things, one of which isגְמִילַת חַסָדִים,9because for the very reason that we are not yet worthy of standing up on our own two feet, we are in need of Hashem’s kindness without which our world would literally not stand. More than we want to receive chesed, Hashem wants to be gomel chesed.

לְהִגָמַל: To Wean

In this instance of גָמַל, of weaning a baby, we see that bestowing kindness upon a person is to get him to the point where he is self-sufficient, where he can stand up on his own two feet. The greatest tzedakahis to set someone up in business. This concept can be seen in the letter gimelitself — it has two feet: ג!

וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת רִבְקָה אֲחֹתָם וְאֶת מֵנִקְתָּהּ
And they sent Rivkah their sister and her wet-nurse.10

Later in Bereishis, it mentions the death of Rivkah’s wet-nurse Devorah.11The Targum Yonasantranslates the word מְנִקָתָה/wet-nurse as פֵּדְגוֹג/pedagogue, someone who raises and leads someone. Perhaps the mentioning of Rivkah’s wet-nurse was to hint to us that she played a key role in raising Rivkah to be a ba’alas chesed, that she was appropriately named Devorah, symbolizing the bee who has the ability to produce something sweet and whose honey is somethingטָהוֹרborn out of something טָמֵא. So too it was Devorah who was responsible for producing Rivkah who was טָהוֹר, born out of the house of Lavan, which was very much טָמֵא.

So too we, who are born into a world of tumah, can only come out sweet and tahorif we are יוֹנֵק/nursed and sustained and led by the devorim, the holy words of Hashem’s Torah.

In the Gemara in Brachos, King David sings shirah/song for the kindness that Hashem bestowed upon him when he was nursing from the breasts of his mother.12On a deeper level, the Gemara explains that King David is thanking Hashem for placing the breasts near the heart, which is the place ofbinah/understanding, unlike the animals whose breasts are in the same place as theirervah/nakedness and their excrement.

This fits very nicely with the Gemara in Shabbosquoted above regarding the Hebrew letters, where Aleph Beisstands for aleph binah. First (aleph) is binah/understanding, understanding of the Torah, then comes Gimel Dalim, teaching the poor in Torah knowledge. So too the breasts are in the place of binah; in other words, just like a baby nursing from its mother’s milk is being given life until it can be weaned off and stand alone, so too we are nursing from the breasts of the Torah, the place of binah, and drawing down the life-sustaining waters of the Torah until we reach the point where we can be weaned, where we can stand on our own, where the waters well up from within, where we ourselves become a life-giving source, where we become able to be gomel chesedto others and gomel dalim, teaching Torah to the poor in knowledge, as it says: תּורָה תְּחִלָתָה וְסוֹפָה גְמִילוֹת חַסָדִים/the Torah from its beginning to its end is gemilas chasadim,13where through the Torah the essential chesedis giving man the opportunity to attain eternal reward through his actions. What greater chesedis there than this?14

This is the point where one goes from being bestowed upon to bestowing on others, from being weaned off to being a גִימֶל, to becoming a גָמָל/camel, a nursing gamalwho is גוֹמֵל חֶסֶד like Rivkah Imeinu, and going beyond the call of duty.

1Bereishis 24:14.

2Be’er Mayim Chaim.

3Bereishis 32:16.

4Pesachim 112a.

5Shabbos 104a.

6Pesachim ibid.

7Orach Chaim 219.

8Bereishis 21:8.

9See Avos 1:2.

10Bereishis 24:59.

11Ibid., 35:8.

12Brachos 10a.

13Sotah 14a.

14Chochmah U’Mussar, see section Kaftor v’Ferach,b’MesivtaMishnas Rebbi AharonMa’amarim Sichos Mussar; see also Maharal, Chidushei AgadetostoSotah loc. cit.