Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Leitzonim and Links

From the early periods of history, there have always been disbelievers. They could have the truth staring them in the face and would just ignore it. They could witness the most amazing miracles, yet find some lame excuse as to why it wasn’t convincing.

Can you imagine witnessing the miracle of Avrohom Avinu emerging unscathed from the flaming furnace? Even the wicked Nimrod was forced to admit defeat, and he bowed down to Avrohom and gave him presents. But there were scoffers who claimed that this wasn’t a miracle from Hashem, but rather sorcery performed by Avrohom (Ramban, Bereishis 11:28).

Then there was the astounding news that Sarah Imeinu at ninety years old had given birth to a boy. What a neis! But there were those who refused to accept this as a proof that this was a special gift from Hashem, so they started a rumor that this was an abandoned baby that she found outside (Rashi, Bereishis 21:7).

Hashem took care of this as well. On the day that Yitzchok was weaned, Avrohom made a great feast to celebrate the event and thank Hashem in public. There were many dignitaries there. Thirty-two monarchs came to the seudah, including Avimelech king of Grar. Sheim and Eiver arrived, as did Terach all the way from Choron. Above all, Hakadosh Boruch Hu came to grace the seudah. It was there that Sarah nursed all of the babies born to other barren woman in her merit. What a kiddush Hashem! Now this great miracle was undeniable. And yet there were still some cynics.

“Yes,” they said, “Sarah indeed merited a miracle. But who says that the child was fathered by Avrohom? It was her contact with Avimelech that brought her this child.” Hashem took care of this as well. “And these are the offspring of Yitzchok, the son of Avrohom, Avrohom begot Yitzchok” (Bereishis 25:10). The posuk seems repetitious. Rashi explains that there were scoffers of the generation who said that Sarah’s child came from Avimelech. Therefore, Hashem made Yitzchok look exactly like Avrohom, so that even the cynics had to admit that Avrohom begot Yitzchok.

What did these disbelievers stand to gain by saying that Yitzchok came from Avimelech? Did that in any way lessen the miracle of Sarah giving birth in her old age?

Numerous answers have been given to this question. The renowned maggid from Bnei Brak, Rav Yaakov Galinsky, answers that the scoffers were not really bothered so much by the miracles. They could come to terms with that. What bothered them was the connection between Avrohom and Yitzchok – the continuity, the mesorah, the links in the chain connecting to one another.

And he elaborates: The Mishnah (Avos 5:3) says: “There were ten generations from Adam to Noach to show the degree of Hashem’s patience. For all those generations angered Him increasingly until He brought upon them the Mabul. There were ten generations from Noach to Avrohom to show the degree of His patience. For all those generations angered Him increasingly until Avrohom Avinu came and received the reward of them all.”

How can the Mishnah say that all of these generations angered Hashem when there were tzaddikim amongst them? There was Chanoch and Mesushelach and Sheim and Eiver.

The answer to this is that, indeed, there were individuals who were the righteous ones of their generation, but there was no continuity. Until the arrival of Avrohom Avinu, the first twenty generations in general angered Hashem. Yes, there were pockets of righteousness in between, but they were enveloped by the generations that preceded and followed them. Until Avrohom Avinu arrived. Avrohom begot Yitzchok. There was continuity. The long chain of our illustrious mesorah began.

This is what the scoffers of that generation could not accept. “No, no,” they protested. “Avrohom has no successor. And if you claim that he has Yitzchok,” they said, “you are mistaken. He is really the son of Avimelech.” It wasn’t the miracle that bothered them. It was the mesorah. And Hashem made it clear that, indeed, Avrohom begot Yitzchok. The mesorah had begun.

The war against the scoffers has continued throughout the generations. There were the Tzedokim and Baysusim. Later came the Karaim and the Jacob Frank movement. They were followed by the Haskalah, Reform, and later Jewish communists and Zionists. They all wanted to disconnect the long chain of our hallowed legacy to break that continuity. They pompously declared that the past is gone and now new and better times have arrived. A new day is dawning “to be free people in our land.”

No, the nation is not new. We are linked to a chain going back to Har Sinai, bound by our proclamation of naaseh venishma. We march with pride under the banner declaring that we are the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. This is our energy and strength. “Avrohom begot Yitzchok” (Lehagid).

Our gedolim throughout the generations fought hard to silence the scoffers. And just as Hashem made it clear thousands of years ago that there was continuity, He continues to do so today. Where are the Maskilim, the leaders of Reform Jewry, the Jewish Communists, and the rest? Where are those who espoused the secular Zionist dream? They have created self-hating Jews who sorely lack direction and purpose and are rapidly, tragically, fading into oblivion.

On the other hand, see the beautiful kehillos around the world that have fastidiously held to our noble mesorah. See how they are growing by leaps and bounds, bli ayin hara, with their vast array of mosdos and a quality of living that the freethinkers can’t even fathom. We try to maintain the likeness of the avos and imahos thousands of years later. What a miracle!

The Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chaim 208) asks: Why is the Akeidah associated more with Yitzchok than with Avrohom, as it is called Akeidas Yitzchok? In the pesukim of Zichronos in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah, we say, “And Akeidas Yitzchok for his progeny You shall remember.” Why is it not called Akeidas Avrohom?

The Chasam Sofer answers in short. Avrohom heard the command of sacrificing his son directly from Hashem, but Yitzchok accepted this from Avrohom without hearing it firsthand. Rather, he was willing to give up his life because of his emunah from Avrohom Avinu. This took more mesirus nefesh, and so we recall this zechus for ourselves on Rosh Hashanah.

Throughout our history, simple Yidden who did not know much about halacha were willing to give up their lives al kiddush Hashem. They were not great thinkers who recognized Hashem through philosophy. They had emunah peshutah that they received through mesorah from their parents, who received it from the previous generations, all the way back to the avos and imahos.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, related a very moving tale. The last Shabbos in Klausenberg before thousands of Yidden were tragically taken to Auschwitz, a most simple Yid, a member of the kehillah, told the rebbe matter-of-factly that his gentile neighbor made him an offer. He was willing to hide his three daughters and take care of them until the war was over.

“I know,” said the Yid, “what will soon await me. I will be sent to a place from which no one returns. I have therefore decided not to take him up on his offer. I’ll take my daughters wherever I go. It is unfathomable to me to keep my children alive so that they will change their religion and live as goyim.”

“I tried convincing him,” said the rebbe, “that it is advisable to accept the offer. First of all, it isn’t at all certain that they will give up their Yiddishkeit. Furthermore, they are already old enough to be strong in their convictions and maintain their Yiddishkeit. But the Yid remained steadfast. ‘Rebbe,’ he said, ‘I will listen to anything that the rebbe tells me…except for this. I can’t! I am not capable of this! I cannot be moser nefesh, to die al kiddush Hashem with a full heart, as long as there is worry gnawing at me that my daughters would shmad themselves chalilah and be lost among the gentiles, Rachmana litzlan.’ He asked me mechilah for not listening to me.”

After the mabul of blood, years passed and the rebbe settled in Eretz Yisroel in Netanya. He repeated the story and concluded: “Rabbosai, you should know that this simple Yid received his reward. Hashgocha guided him, and miracle of miracles, he and his three daughters were all saved. And even more, he was zoche to marry off all of them to talmidei chachomim and see from them generations that followed the ways of the Torah.”

This was pure mesirus nefesh based on mesorah that goes all the way back to Avrohom Avinu. Such emunah and devotion are immovable, no matter what the hardships are (Chaim Sheyeish Bohem, Avos 1:1).

We live in a country where there are voices for the people to abandon ideas of the past. They are not the majority, but a rabble of so-called progressives who scream louder than the rest of us. Unfortunately, they have infiltrated the news media and the educational system. They topple statues of men who were always known as American heroes and in essence want to topple the structure of the entire country. People from all over want to emigrate here, yet to these instigators, the country is based on evil. Politicians, big business, sports teams, and the entertainment industry all tremble before them. How repugnant and how self-defeating.

Ashreinu. How fortunate are we who have a mesorah. How enriched we are by looking back at the previous generations and trying to emulate them. If the world considers this being old-fashioned, so be it. While they are busy toppling statues, we are building people, families, and communities. In the darkness of golus, this is the only way to go. “Follow the footsteps of the sheep” (Shir Hashirim 1:8), the avos hakedoshim who paved the unswerving path after Hashem’s Torah.

But just feeling pride about our precious legacy isn’t enough. It places a great responsibility on us. We must live the part. We must constantly use the measuring stick of Avrohom holid es Yitzchok. Does Yitzchok still look like Avrohom? Can we, their progeny, say that it is obvious to all that we are children of Avrohom Avinu? Of course we are shomrei Torah umitzvos, and of course we want to raise children who are talmidei chachomim and neshei chayil, but what does our inner tzurah look like? Do we possess the three traits of Avrohom Avinu to be considered his disciple – a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul (Avos 5:22)?

A good eye means not to envy someone else and to honor our friends (Rashi). It means to be satisfied with what we have and not to desire physical acquisitions (Rambam). Not to be influenced by the bombardment of advertisements that scream, “Buy me! Eat me!” To live a simple life, for our main objective is to serve Hashem. To fargin yenem and to be mekarev others. And to stand tall and strong in eschewing the foreign influences of the outside world.

The letzonei hador will never be silenced until Moshiach comes, may it be soon. But if we try hard to emulate the avos hakedoshim, we can have the satisfaction of knowing that when the geulah comes and we finally meet them, the entire world will testify that we are their children and the chain is as strong as ever. Avrohom holid es Yitzchok.



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