Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A Great People

As we continue studying Seder Bereishis, we learn more of the immense stature of the avos. Parshas Vayeira is replete with stories from the life of Avrohom Avinu, one of the greatest people to ever walk this earth. From his devotion to the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim to the way he dealt with the nisayon of the Akeidah, every nuance of his demeanor, speech and actions personified the values he sought to instill in his descendants, continuing to guide and inspire us to this day.

Maaseh avos siman labonim.” The actions of the fathers guide their children, as they point out the path to perfection in this world.

Some of the stories seem plausible only in relation to someone of Avrohom Avinu’s caliber. We wonder if we are really expected to reach the levels of chesed and kedusha that he attained. Yet, if the Torah recorded these spiritual milestones, it was unquestionably for our edification.

We cannot say that we are not on the level of Avrohom and cannot be expected to act as he did. The Torah records his actions to show us that we can all achieve greatness if we cared as much as Avrohom did. The people all around him were dopey idol worshippers. Sedom was an influential metropolis, where deviancy and selfishness were rewarded.

Avrohom stood out, self-made and selfless. He educated masses and wrote books to spread the notion of a merciful G-d. His life’s mission was to spread goodness throughout the world, and upon the birth of his son, he worked to ensure that Yitzchok would follow in his ways.

I just completed shivah following the passing of my father, whose life’s mission was to pass on to his children the traditions of his parents and see to it that we excel in Torah and mitzvos.

In his sefer on Chumash, my father writes concerning what transpired as Avrohom and Yitzchok set out to fulfill Hashem’s commandment to Avrohom to offer Yitzchok as a korban. As they approached Har Hamoriah, the posuk says, “Vayar es hamakom meirachok.” Avrohom recognized from afar that this was the appointed place. He asked Yitzchok what he saw up ahead and he also recognized the holiness of the mountain. He asked his assistants and they didn’t see anything.

Before offering Yitzchok as a korban, Avrohom wanted to ensure that he properly trained him and brought him up well. “My son, do you see what I see? Do you see the kedusha? Do you perceive what is up ahead? Do you have the same vision that I have?” If so, Avrohom could be satisfied that he had fulfilled his obligation in raising a son who appreciated holiness and could recognize it even from afar. He was able to recognize on his own that Har Hamoriah was his goal.

When he saw that he had successfully inculcated this into his son, Avrohom was then able to continue on together with him to fulfill Hashem’s commandment on Har Hamoriah.

We, too, in our day, must recognize that our primary obligation is to raise our children in the traditions of our forefathers. We must teach them about Torah and holiness and their importance in our lives until the children are able, on their own, to recognize what is holy and what is profane. They will then be able to separate the two and concentrate on reaching and attaining the points of holiness.

We must provide our children with the intelligence and vision to live lives of kedusha.

And it works both ways. The children are also obligated to follow the teachings of their parents and act the way they did. This is clearly stated in the Tana Devei Eliyohu (25), which says, “Kol echod m’Yisroel chayov lomar mosai yagiu maasai lemaasei avosai.” Every Jewish person is obligated to work to attain the level where their actions are on the level of their forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

This is the greatness of our people and what separates us from others, guaranteeing that our traditions and passion for kindness live on.

The parshiyos of Bereishis are intended for us to be inspired by Avrohom’s example and for us to work to train ourselves to do chesed until it becomes second nature. We study these parshiyos and note that we are expected to judge people favorably and to deal forthrightly, honestly and charitably with everyone, no matter who they are and whether we agree with their actions and philosophies.

All too often, we refrain from helping others because they are from a different camp; they were brought up differently than we were and serve Hashem differently than we do. We divide people into groups and label them. Studying this week’s parsha should demonstrate to us that this is not the way of our fathers and forefathers. Just because we disagree with someone does not mean that we cannot help them.

It is interesting to note that Avrohom Avinu interrupted his conversation with Hashem to help three strangers. He davened on behalf of the evil city of Sedom, but went ahead with the Akeidah, because Hashem had so commanded. The mitzvos of Hashem must be followed, whether we understand them or not. Avrohom felt that the mitzvah of chesed obligated him to help everyone.

Many of us rationalize. We see ourselves as big tzaddikim. But when it comes to performing mitzvos that are more difficult or expensive than others, we find excuses not to perform them or we do them on a minimal level. Those who act that way should not consider themselves as worthy heirs to Avrohom Avinu.

We should start by performing simple courtesies for each other and everyone with whom we come in contact. Letting people out of their driveways and parking spots and permitting them to make a left turn cost us mere seconds. It pains me each time I see pqeople rush with their cars to close the gap with the car ahead so that the poor trapped person shouldn’t even think of trying to get out. It is almost as if we act like people of Sedom, yet we consider ourselves as worthy heirs to Avrohom’s tradition.

Speaking of rationalization and justification of acting differently than Avrohom, many ask why we make a big deal of Avrohom following Hashem’s command to offer his beloved son at the Akeidah. Once Hashem issues a command, there is no way that anyone can ignore His order.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach, whose yahrtzeit falls this week, answers that the only prophet to whom Hashem appeared b’aspaklarya hame’irah was Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was told exactly what Hashem wanted him to do. All other nevi’im saw their prophecy in a dream and in a parable.

When Hakadosh Boruch Hu appeared to Avrohom and told him regarding Yitzchok, “Vehaaleihu shom l’olah,” Avrohom would have been justified in interpreting the command in numerous ways, none of them involving the death of Yitzchok.

After all, Hashem had promised Avrohom that his name would live on through his son Yitzchok. It would have been perfectly reasonable to assume that Hashem had something else in mind and that “vehaaleihu” didn’t mean to sacrifice his beloved son, but rather to raise him.

But Avrohom analyzed Hashem’s words as though they were referring to someone other than his son, and he reached the conclusion that Hashem wanted Yitzchok for a korban.

There is always the urge to wiggle out of doing good things. Too often, we look for a way to get ourselves off the hook of having to perform a chesed that was dropped in our lap. We say, “It’s not for me to do. I don’t have a big enough car. I don’t have enough strength. They don’t need my money; they only need my advice.” If we are asked to make a phone call to raise money for a needy person, we procrastinate and offer excuses as to why we are the wrong person to make the call.

Not so Avrohom. He didn’t make any excuses. He didn’t look for a way out. Every Jew was his brother. He taxed himself to the utmost to understand the word of Hashem and then ran to fulfill it.

When we have a mitzvah to do, when we have obligations, we shouldn’t seek the easy way out. We shouldn’t look for excuses to shirk our duty. We should seek to carry it out to the fullest, with all hiddurim, exactly as Avrohom would have done.

The posuk states, “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker… And Avrohom awoke the morning of the Akeidah and set out to find the appointed place.” Many explain that the posuk is teaching us the greatness of Avrohom. Even though he was going to sacrifice his son, he awoke at the crack of dawn to fulfill the word of Hashem.

The Brisker Rov says that it is natural that a person who is going to fulfill the word of Hashem would wake up early to perform the action without delay. He says that the lesson of the posuk is that Avrohom was able to sleep the night before setting out to shecht Yitzchok. Even though he knew that he was going to kill his beloved son in whom all his dreams for the future were invested, he was able to sleep peacefully.

He who is sure of himself, without doubting or questioning the ways of Hashem, serves with complete faith and sleeps very comfortably at night. One who deals honestly with his fellow man; one who hears the pleas of the hungry, the desolate and the poor; one who rises to every occasion and doesn’t turn a deaf ear to the cries of the abused and afflicted; one whose life isn’t a string of excuses and half-truths, is a child of Avrohom Avinu and can sleep comfortably at night.

There are people of such nobility in every neighborhood. During the period following my father’s passing and throughout the week of shivah, we got to meet Monsey’s best. The people of Hatzolah, Chaverim, and the chevrah kadishah were there to help. Anonymous people dropped whatever it was that they were doing and ran to be of assistance. They are worthy heirs to Avrohom Avinu and bring pride to our people.

For a week, our family was dependent on the chassodim of others for so many things and we got to see the greatness of our people. As a nation, we have been through so much, yet the middos of our avos and imahos still drive and motivate enough of us that Avrohom can be proud of us.

May Hashem spare everyone from tzaar and tzaros, and may we never need the favors of others. But when we do, it is comforting to know that armies of gutteh Yidden stand by, ready to perform chasdei avos, and many are out there daily doing all the little and big things people need to keep their feet on the ground, their kids in school, and the heat running in the homes of people who can’t afford it. Is there another people as active in hachnosas kallah, bikur cholim and gemillus chassodim as we are?

In their merit, may we be zoche to the realization of “umeivi goel livnei veneihem.”



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