Tuesday, May 28, 2024

One Amongst Many

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchok, the son of Avrohom, Avrohom fathered Yitzchok.” So begins the parsha that describes the birth of Yaakov and Eisav, the major personalities who would shape history for the ages. It speaks about the struggle between the two brothers, Yaakov who represented everything good and holy and would elevate the world to lofty spiritual levels, countered by Eisav who was occupied with the mundane, using his gifted talents to gratify his personal desires and in the process be a hindrance to people connecting with their Creator.

The struggle between these two forces began when the two were still in their mother’s womb. This conflict was, of course, a major disturbance to Yaakov as it would be to his progeny throughout the generations. But despite the difficulties it would pose, it helped him become closer to Hashem and a much greater tzaddik. Resistance makes a person work much harder. Not only did it help elevate Yaakov’s level of avodah, but throughout time would do the same for his descendants until the coming of Moshiach. Throughout the sedrah, there are hints of the difficulties we would face and the inner strength we were given to survive.

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchok the son of Avrohom, Avrohom fathered Yitzchok.” The posuk begins with Yitzchok being the son of Avrohom. Why, then, did it have to repeat that Avrohom fathered Yitzchok? Rashi explains that the cynics of that generation were saying that Sarah might have conceived Yitzchok from Avimelech, since she and Avrohom had been married for many decades without a child and she had given birth only after being taken in by Avimelech Therefore, Hashem made Yitzchok look exactly like Avrohom so that no one could deny that Yitzchok was truly the son of Avrohom.

That Avrohom and Sarah had a child together at such an advanced age was truly a great miracle. Yet there were scoffers. Rav Shlomo Wolbe points out that this is the way of the world. Where there is kedusha, there is always that opposing side of tumah. Wherever there are tsaddikim, you will always find the opposition, the leitzonei hador. Even Moshe Rabbeinu in the Dor Deiah, who experienced the greatest revelations of any generation, was opposed by a side of tumah, the opposition represented by Doson and Avirom (Maharal).

This has been the case throughout our history. Klal Yisroel was meant to be a beacon of light in a dark world, showing the nations the way mankind must conduct themselves. But we always had our detractors, those who refused to acknowledge our exceptionalism. The leitzonim refused to acknowledge that Yitzchok was special, claiming that he might have come from Avimelech. The successors of those leitzonim refuse to admit that our way of life is special, because that would require them to follow our lead, something they adamantly refused to do. So instead, they ridicule us for being connected to Hashem.

The redundancy of the statement “Avrohom fathered Yitzchok” has another very important connotation. At the Bris Bein Habesarim, Hashem told Avrohom, “Your children will be strangers in a land not their own…” (Bereishis 15:13). This golus began with the birth of Yitzchok, who felt like a stranger in Eretz Yisroel as it was occupied by the Canaanim and Pelishtim. How did Yitzchok maintain his kedusha despite being surrounded by these goyim? Because Avrohom was his father. Avrohom Avinu, who stood up as an individual against the entire world, fighting for his values, passed on this attribute to Yitzchok not to be impressed or influenced by the world despite their overwhelming majority.

“And Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivka, the daughter of Besuel the Arami from Padan Aram, sister of Lavan the Arami, as a wife for himself.” Did we not already know that she was the daughter of Besuel and sister of Lavan from Padan Aram? Rashi explains that this comes to tell us Rivka’s praise that she was a daughter of a rasha, a sister of a rasha, and hailed from a place of reshaim, yet she was not at all influenced by their wickedness. Yitzchok Avinu, who would live as an individual surrounded by the goyim, would need an eizer kenegdo with the same qualities he had to complement him and help him in his avodah. She, too, had this attribute of not being influenced by reshaim, and this was a most suitable shidduch. But wouldn’t it be more appropriate to mention this fact in last week’s sedrah, when the Torah tells us of the shidduch between Yitzchok and Rivka? Why is this fact emphasized over here? Obviously, it has a connection with the toldos Yitzchok, his progeny.

This is meant to give us chizuk. We, too, live in a world surrounded by an overwhelming majority who do not follow the ways of Hashem. How do we survive and maintain our identity? The Torah tells us the answer at the outset of Yaakov Avinu’s struggles in golus and the story of his survival. For we are all descendants of Yitzchok and Rivka, who possessed the attribute of being able to stand up against a rabbim. And they passed this on to us. We have the natural ability to carry on their legacy, as we have it in our genes. If only we are careful to maintain our purity and not actively stray into foreign pastures.

This is so important to know, especially in today’s day and age. In previous years, even the goyim had standards and boundaries regarding basic family values. But in today’s society, where liberal and so-called progressive ideas have become pervasive, we can easily become affected. Today’s news is filled with these ideas, both overtly and subtly, and if we are not careful about where we get our news from, we can easily become desensitized and even tolerant of their alien and poisonous ideas. Newscasters routinely speak of alternate lifestyles, as if that is the norm, and those who wish to eschew those ways are considered archaic and intolerant.

It is becoming more obvious by the day that America is in the midst of a serious internal rift. It is one country with two clashing ideologies: those who practice religion or at least want to live by old-fashioned family values against those who want to erase all boundaries and not be constricted by any rules. This is the source of the volatility in the air like we’ve never seen before. Those who want to continue living a traditional lifestyle feel threatened by liberals who are out to change the moral fabric of the country. We possess a natural resistance to the spiritual disease as long as we maintain our distance from these alien ideas.

We have also been inoculated against a lifestyle where gashmiyus plays a major role in our existence. The avos and imahos, while possessing vast wealth, did not allow this to hinder their avodah. To the contrary, they used their wealth to do chesed for others. They were occupied mostly by learning Hashem’s Torah, davening and chesed, and this way has been passed on to Yidden from generation to generation. The true oveid Hashem was not distracted by material wealth; rather, it was used as a means of serving Hashem.

“And the lads grew up and Eisav became one who knows trapping, a man of the field, but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents” (Bereishis 25:27). The way of Eisav is to be engaged in matters of the field, the outside. He is occupied by matters of the physical world, external matters. But Yaakov is preoccupied with what’s inside the bais medrash. He is interested in penimiyus, the essence of life, Toras chaim, the purpose of creation. The true hashkafah of a Yid is that our calling in this world is to be preoccupied with the internal matters of ruchniyus. If someone is blessed with material wealth, it is to be looked at not as an end in and of itself, but rather a means of serving Hashem through supporting Torah and doing chesed.

In this long golus, we sometimes forget our calling. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements telling us how important it is to indulge in a new product or to go to some exotic resort area. They definitely influence us, or companies would not be spending money on this publicity. With the passing of time, people consider these excesses a necessity. In fact, even people who cannot afford them are pressured into having them or else, they think, they will be looked at as strange.

This can be especially stressful when a family makes a chasunah. Over the years, the standards of a vort (in addition to the lechayim), the aufruf (which has become a family convention that many cannot afford), the presents (which have gone through the roof), and other excesses make it difficult for a family of average means to enjoy the simcha. Have you priced a set of machzorim recently? The simple leather-bound set is no longer in vogue. You need cushioned covers with an array of various colors or other new styles at outrageous prices. And people of lesser means who cannot afford any of these meshugasin are forced to go along with them for fear of being looked down upon and risking losing the prospects of future shidduchim. This is exacerbated, of course, because of social media, where everyone gets to see the features of the other one’s simcha. And now they must have it as well.

Not being able to afford something is nothing to be ashamed of. We are who we are as determined by the grace of Hashem, and we should not attempt to be someone else by spending money that we cannot afford and having to come onto others to help us. Someone once approached Rav Yechiel Mechel of Zlotchov and said to him, “The rebbe recites a brocha levatalah every day.”

“Really? How so?” asked the tzaddik.

“The rebbe says the brocha of ‘She’asah li kol tzorki,’ thanking Hashem for providing all of his needs. But the rebbe doesn’t have a penny to his name, so the brocha is not the truth.”

“You’re making a mistake,” said the rebbe. The Ribono Shel Olam provides me with the exact amount of poverty that I need for the benefit of my neshamah. My financial situation is custom made for me.”

This is the hashkafah tehorah of a Yid of penimiyus. He is not interested in external matters. His identity is not shaped by keeping up with the Cohens and the Goldbergs. It’s shaped totally by the level of our relationship with Hashem. Survival as a Yid in golus is difficult enough. We don’t have to complicate it by bringing upon ourselves extra pressures to live up to high standards of gashmiyus that we cannot afford.

The need to be like everyone else is based on the idea that “all men are created equal.” This, of course, is not true if taken literally. We are created with different strengths, different talents, various challenges and imperfections that we must work on, and different purposes in life. We are all entitled to equal rights regarding freedoms within the parameters of Torah laws and values. But that we are equal in how we should lead our physical lives, that people of lesser means must have the same comforts as the more affluent, is ludicrous. This is a take-off of the progressive view that there should be equal distribution of wealth amongst everyone. The avos and imahos bequeathed to us the power of living as individuals. Not to be influenced by the outside world, not to be impressed by externals and allow ourselves to be identified by them. With clarity of vision and by discerning between what is a necessity and what is excessive, we will avoid distractions and be able to walk in the ways of our ancestors with confidence and peace of mind.

Can you imagine what pleasure Hashem had when looking down upon the avos and imahos residing amidst pagans who did not live spiritual lives? The nachas ruach Hashem had was great, and He bestowed tremendous blessings upon them, for they were the embodiment of Hashem’s middos down on earth. We, who follow in their footsteps amidst a culture where ruchniyus is scoffed at, bring that same nachas ruach to Hashem, and He bestows upon us tremendous blessings. We already enjoy these blessings in the present, in a hidden way. But the day will soon come when the entire world will realize how unique and refined we are and our blessings will be evident to all.



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