Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Connected and Charged

We read in this week's parsha about Rivka's difficult pregnancy. She is informed that “shnei goyim bevitneich,” she would be giving birth to two distinct personalities, Yitzchok and Eisov, who would lead two separate nations.

Yaakov was the epitome of goodness, while Eisov is always pointed to as the embodiment of evil. The pesukim describe their differences somewhat cryptically, and Chazal expound upon what took place.

Eisov is described as an “ish yodeia tzayid, ish sodeh,” a hunter, while Yaakov was an “ish tam yosheiv ohalim,” a fine person who spent his time in the tent of Torah.

On the day that Avrohom Avinu passed away, Yaakov prepared the customary “nozid” of lentils for the mourners to partake of when returning from the cemetery. Eisov returned “oyeif,” tired from committing sins and murder in the fields. He asked Yaakov to let him eat the red mix, “ki oyeif anochi,” because he was tired. The posuk concludes, “Al kein kara shemo Edom — Therefore, they called him Edom.”

While it is commonly understood that he was given the name Edom because he preferred to partake in the red soup than serve as a bechor in the Bais Hamikdosh, we must understand why the posuk interrupts the discussion of his desire for the red food to tell us that he was oyeif, tired.

Yaakov responded that he would serve him the red soup if he would give his bechorah to Yaakov in exchange. The posuk describes this with the words, “Vayomer Yaakov michra kayom es bechorasecha li.”

Eisov was overjoyed by the deal. He mocked the bechorah and noted that he would die anyway, so it was of no use to him.

The exchange between Yaakov and Eisov contains the ideologies that would separate the two until this very day. In their dialogue and subsequent barter, the lines that separate the nations for eternity were drawn.

To Eisov and his progeny, life is temporal and fleeting. The goal towards which they expend their energy is maximizing physical enjoyment. They think that nothing is more valuable than fleeting pleasures. Eisov tires himself working for those momentary splashes of joy. However, when it comes to matters of lasting value, he is lethargic and uninterested because they do not grant instant physical pleasure.

A person is referred to as an oyeif when he becomes tired from engaging in idle pursuit — or worse — and his energy is spent when it comes to doing real stuff. A student who spends the night playing silly games instead of studying and sleeping, is too tired the next day to study and conduct himself properly.

Thus Eisov was named Edom, and his nation is referred to as Edom for all time, because his desire for the red soup – and the lopsided barter he agreed to in order to obtain it – express his essence; Eisov and the Edomites trade the holy and eternal for temporal pleasure.

The opportunity of bechorah was an investment that would offer future spiritual benefits. The inherent gifts of avodah and closeness to Hashem, serving as the nation’s representatives in the Mishkon, were in the distance. Eisov didn’t possess the energy to see that far. He saw the soup, he smelled it, and he quickly enjoyed it as he moved on to fulfill his next temptation.

To Eisov, something that cannot be immediately touched and tasted has no value. The subtle and the sublime are traded for that which is here and now. Eisov lives only in the moment for the moment.

We now understand the adjectives in the posuk as laden with meaning and significance. When the posuk states “vehu oyeif,” it means more than the fact that Eisov was tired. His essence was such that when it came to matters of importance, he had no patience. He was exhausted and he was drained. He lacked in spirit and in verve.

This is reinforced by the phrase used in the posuk to describe the sale: “michra kayom.” It was a sale for today, because Eisov’s vision was limited to that which fit with his need for immediate gratification.

Yaakov was never tired. He remained vibrant, fresh and young, with the feeling that a person has at the dawn of a new day, when he is just getting started, aflame with the sense of possibility and optimism that comes with the start of a project or endeavor. He saw far into the future. He visualized the fires of the mizbeiach, the joy of a korban being accepted, and the sanctity of the makom haMikdosh. He was able to “taste” it right then. He felt it. He saw a bigger picture than “kayom.” When he realized the value of every moment and every mitzvah and every word of Torah, he was energized.

In making that decision, he invested us, his children, with the ability to stay young – ki na’ar Yisroel ve’ohavehu – and to remain fresh.

Imagine a marathon runner nearing the finish line. He is sapped, drained, thirsty and hot. But he sees the finish line and his spirits are up. He looks ahead, more excited and energetic, as his eyes behold his goal.

A nation of people who had the strength to walk into fires in Spain and gas chambers in Germany, and face the less glorious mesirus nefesh of turning their backs on the world, ignoring the call of the street and the lure of the outside culture each day, draw their strength from that vision. They embody the rush of power that comes from visualizing a goal.

Thus, the posuk states, “Vekovei Hashem, those who hope to Hashem, yachalifu koach, are constantly re-energized.” Their hope and faith invest them with life, spirit and stamina.

Being a Yid means being connected and charged. That is the legacy of Yaakov Avinu.

One morning, when Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was reciting the Birchos Hashachar, one of his chassidim noticed that Rav Levi Yitzchok waited a long time before reciting the brochah of “shelo asani goy.” He asked the rebbe about this. The rebbe explained that when he awoke that morning, something was lacking. He didn’t sense the same burst of energy and joy that he did every morning upon arising. His eagerness and excitement about the new day were lacking. He therefore needed increased meditation to attain the level necessary to recite the brochah.

Rav Mordechai Zuckerman was a humble tzaddik with a glowing countenance and unassuming ways who lived in Yerushalayim not long ago. A talmid of Kelm, he sought to hide his greatness and act as if he was a regular, simple person. He would go to the local makolet – grocery to purchase his food and would stand on line with everyone else. Once, as he stood on line waiting to pay for his items, a fellow customer held up a bag of milk he had taken from a box on the floor and asked the makolet owner, “Zogt mir Reb Pinny, is the milk fresh?”

With the dry wit unique to the Yerushalmi Yid, Reb Pinny responded, “It was fresh when it arrived here.”

Rav Zuckerman lit up. He turned to his friend, Rav Avrohom Sh’or Yoshuv, who was next to him on line, and said, “Reb Avrohom, did you hear what he said? That is our story too. We arrive in this world fresh. It is our job to do what we can to remain fresh. Just like the milk is refrigerated at a low temperature to maintain its freshness, we must likewise do what we have to in order to remain ‘frish.’”

The tafkid of creation, summed up in a single sentence.

Rav Elyokim Shlesinger was a close talmid of the Brisker Rov and other gedolim. One chol hamoed he brought his young sons with him as he went to visit the Chazon Ish. The boys were unable to follow the scholarly conversation, and as children are wont to do, they began to jump around. As there were no toys in the Chazon Ish’s humble room, the boys jumped from the bed to the bench, and back on to the bed, without landing. Whoever could jump the most times without falling would be the winner

Their father was embarrassed by their behavior and apologized for their rambunctiousness. The Chazon Ish smiled indulgently. He watched them with obvious joy, and then blessed them.

“Kinderlach, azoi vi ihr shpringt fuhn tisch oiff’n bank, un fuhn bank tzum beht, Just as you are jumping from the table to the bench, and from the bench to bed, so too, one day you should jump from the Gemara to the Rif, and from the Rif to the Rambam!”

The Schlesinger children grew up to become respected talmidei chachomim, who ignite a beis medrash with a kushya and enliven those near them with a he’ara on the Rambam.

And the secret of their chiyus might well lie in the vision of Rabbon shel Yisroel, who understood that spirited natures are a gift; energy is a tool of growth.

Last week, while visiting Toronto for a simcha, I met Reb Avrohom Shmuel Gross, who told me that a rebbi in the local cheder asked him for a story that he could tell his class in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rav Zuckerman, which was last Thursday. Reb Avrohom Shmuel told the rebbi about the time Rav Zuckerman addressed a group of bar mitzvah-aged boys and told them that they must always be frish. Reb Avrohom Shmuel was astounded that a ninety-year-old man was speaking to young boys in that fashion. At his advanced age and at their young age, the most important message he could impart to them was to remain fresh and vibrant.

Indeed, it is a most important message for us all, no matter our age or our physical condition. A person who is alive, who appreciates the gifts Hashem has given him, and who understands “mah chovaso ba’olamo” never tires or tarries. Every moment is an opportunity for nitzchiyus, not to be wasted or squandered. Adrenaline kicks in every time they do a mitzvah, take a step, daven and learn. They are alive.

Reshoim, who by definition lack this appreciation, are kruyim meisim. Even when they are alive, they are dead. They are spent, lethargic and burnt out.

Anyone who attended Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv’s shiurim in his later years felt that spirit of life, as the man who could barely walk even when aided, would sit down in his chair and come alive as he delivered his shiur, quoting from sources throughout Shas, Rishonim and Acharonim. People would fire questions at him, and he would rapidly respond. He was the “youngest,” most vibrant, and frish person in the world.

Many talmidei chachomim with whom we are familiar can become overwhelmed by the day’s activities and pressures, yet when they sit down in front of a Gemara, they come alive. They are energized and electric with anticipation and joy as they study the word of Hashem. They are the offspring of Yaakov, who didn’t sleep for the fourteen years he studied in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver.

Rav Aharon Paperman, an American-born talmid of the Telshe Yeshiva in Europe, served as a chaplain during World War II and was part of an army unit that liberated one of the concentration camps. When he entered the camps, he saw emaciated Jews who were more skeletons than human beings. When he met one of those human skeletons, Rav Paperman’s heart filled with rachmanus. The man was wearing nothing other than the striped uniform that hung loosely on his emaciated figure. Rav Paperman approached him and asked, “Reb Yid, what can I get for you? Perhaps you want a sweater to protect you from the cold, a pair of shoes, or maybe something to eat?”

“No,” replied the man. “I don’t need any of these things.”

Rav Paperman persisted, “Can I get you something? Anything?”

Looking at him, the Yid said, “Do you really want to get something for me? What I really need is a Gemara Bava Kama!”

Rav Paperman was stunned at the purity of this Jew. He had just been through the seven levels of Gehennom, but the only thing he wanted was to once again embrace a Gemara Bava Kama and learn from its life-giving words. He understood that the ultimate elixir that would make him better was learning Hashem’s Torah.

As a captain in the army, Rav Paperman commandeered a jeep and procured a Bava Kama for this starving neshomah. The simcha on the man’s face energized Rabbi Paperman as he continued his life-sustaining efforts.

That’s staying frish.

No matter what our surroundings are and no matter what challenges are thrown our way, Hashem has blessed every one of us with the ability to keep our internal fire of Torah burning, ready to burst into a glowing flame at any moment. Let us do what we can to grow that fire, day after day, week after week, and year after year, expending our energies on matters of substance and meaning.

Let us endeavor to always remain focused on a goal, ambitious and driven, young and vital as long as we are able to on this earth. If what we are doing is worth doing, then it is worth doing right and energetically, and giving it all we’ve got.

Let us never become lazy, lethargic or tired, focusing on mere momentary impediments.

We are charged with completing a mission.

Let’s do it.



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