This group of people, Bnei Cheis, is mentioned ten times in the parsha. The Torah is frugal with words and does not use an extra word unless it teaches a lesson or has unique significance. Therefore, the ten-time redundancy of Bnei Cheis (nine times in this parshah and once in Parshas Vayechi) begs elucidation. Chazal explain that these ten mentions correspond to the Ten Commandments, in order to teach the lesson that whoever assists in the business dealings of a tzaddik, righteous person, it is considered as if he carried out the Ten Commandments. This is a powerful statement. We have no question that assisting a tzaddik is laudatory, but that it is compared to fulfilling the Ten Commandments seems a bit “over the top.”
In “Wisdom For Living,” Horav Noach Weinberg, zl, explains (taken from his weekly shmuess, ethical discourse) that Chazal are teaching us that one act can make history, one achievement can alter a person’s life trajectory and transform him into a different person. Bnei Cheis, the Chittim, were a fierce nation, the name Cheis derived from the Hebrew word for fear. These Bnei Cheis, who were feared by everyone, were responsible for helping Avraham Avinu, our Patriarch, purchase the Meoras HaMachpeilah from Efron. One good deed for an individual whom they considered to be a Prince of G-d, is equal to their having fulfilled the Ten Commandments. By performing this singular act, they gave value to their life. One deed can make a world of difference. Once act can alter the course of one’s life, thus elevating the value of his benefactor’s life. By helping someone change, one can create and concretize his place in history. This does not mean that he can now sit back, retire and rest on his laurels (like so many do). On the contrary, once he makes such an impact, he has elevated himself to the point that more is expected of him.
Life is about achievement. Life is about making an impact that lasts for eternity. Imagine changing the life of a fellow Jew – physically, emotionally, spiritually. To the naysayers, I say: We do not measure our impact by the beneficiary’s sense of gratitude. Just because he might be unable to acknowledge his debt of gratitude to you does not mean that it does not exist. We know whether we have succeeded and what change we have effected in another person’s life. He may not know how – or he may be too small of a person – to acknowledge it, but we know and Hashem knows. One act changes two lives: the life of the beneficiary and the life of the benefactor.
In the Musrai Ha’Shlah, the Shlah HaKadosh writes, concerning Avraham Avinu’s ba’bayamim, “well on in years” (24:1), literally translated, “came with his days”: Avraham lived a full life; every day was purposeful and filled with acts of chesed or Torah study; he actually came with his days.” Tzarich adam liros she’b’chol yom v’yom mimei chayav yaaseh bo tov v’lo ra, “A person should see to it that every day of his life he performs good, not bad. Only then does that day maintain its existence. A day has value and life from the good that is performed on it. Thus, a person who has wasted his days and not performed good deeds is considered to be deceased (even though he is alive).” Every day of life receives its value and designation as a day of life by virtue of the good that one generates on that day.
We are able to transform a potentially bad situation into a good one, thus elevating it and ourselves. That one act can alter our own life’s trajectory. Once, the anteroom outside of the Chiddushei HaRim’s office was filled with Jews who had traveled from all over to petition the Rebbe for a brachah. A man entered the waiting room and proceeded to cut the line. The gabbai, Rebbe’s sexton, who was in charge of all comings and goings with regard to the Rebbe, explained to the newcomer that there was a system in force, and a person was to enter the Rebbe’s office when the gabbai signaled that it was his turn. The gabbai’s explanation only served to enrage the man even more, to the point that he slapped the gabbai across the face.
The gabbai entered the Rebbe’s office and reported what had happened, without divulging the incident of the outrageous slap. (The Rebbe did not require the gabbai to inform him of every detail that happened.)
Finally, the man’s turn arrived, and he went into the Rebbe’s room and burst out in copious weeping: “Rebbe, I need a brachah. My wife and I have been married for years and have yet to be blessed with children.”
The Chiddushei HaRim immediately recognized from the gabbai’s relating of the events that this man was the one who had disgraced his gabbai and said, “I will not listen to your request until you apologize to the gabbai.” (The Rebbe was acutely aware that the man’s actions were the result of his anxiety over not having children. Nonetheless, one’s anxious tension, however justified, is not an excuse to disparage or physically impair the victim of his ire.)
The man broke down and apologized profusely to the gabbai. “I am so distraught over the situation that I do not know what I am doing.”
The gabbai heard this and said, “Rebbe, I will forgive him, but only on one condition. The Rebbe must grant him a brachah to have children.” The Rebbe was impressed with his gabbai’s request, and he gave the brachah. One year later, the man and his wife were blessed with a child. The gabbai transformed a bad situation into one of hope and, ultimately, joy. One act changed many lives.
Horav Chaim Kreisworth, zl, was a brilliant Rav and Rosh Yeshivah. His encyclopedic knowledge of Torah was equaled by his sensitivity to people and their mitzvah observance. By this, I mean that he cared deeply that they act appropriately as observant Jews and not fall prey to societal trends that were distasteful both morally and spiritually. The following is one instance which demonstrates how a Rav’s thoughtfulness can have a major impact.
A member of Rav Kreisworth’s kehillah, congregation/community remarked to him that he spent too much time at weddings. (The idea that a lay person has no business criticizing or making “suggestions” to his Rav – in and of itself gross chutzpah – is not addressed here.) “Other rabbanim stay a few minutes and then leave to return home to their Torah study,” the man said. “By remaining so long at weddings, you intimate to people (as if it is their business) that your time is not that important.”
Rav Kreisworth replied, “There is a considerable amount of pritzus, unrestrained, amoral, behavior at the weddings (behavior that is neither Jewish in nature, nor belongs at a wedding). It is, sadly, a sign of the times. As long as I am at the wedding (out of respect), however, the people behave with a modicum of restraint. Therefore, I remain for the entire wedding to prevent this misconduct.” This one act was an indication of his greatness.