Thursday, Dec 9, 2021

Who We Are

Every generation has its tests. Every generation is confronted with challenges unique to its period. Every generation thinks that the things it has to deal with are tougher than anything their forbears were forced to confront. Many of the challenges we are currently faced with involve matters of self-control and discipline in a time of plenty and easy access.

Not that long ago, nobody dreamt of communal wealth to the extent that we have today. There were some people who were blessed with wealth, but almost everyone was living paycheck to paycheck. Life was much simpler back then, as were the temptations and the ability to deal with them.

In the generation prior to that, as the community was basically comprised of immigrants who came to this country escaping hunger and death, they were confronted with a weak religious education system, meager employment opportunities for a shomer Shabbos, and a real fear of starvation. They were forced to make do with little. Only the strong and faithful were able to transmit their mesorah to their children. Many millions were lost to assimilation. It took strong doses of courage, strength and fortitude to remain loyal to Torah.

From where did they, and from where can we, derive the determination and resilience to see past the adversity of various predicaments? It was and is by studying the examples of our parents and grandparents who preceded us, back to the avos and imahos, whose experiences are recorded in the Torah to inspire and guide us.

The past few weeks, we have been studying the different nisyonos that Avrohom Avinu faced and how he was able to surmount them with steadfast emunah and bitachon. Avrohom was faced with challenges large and small, from being thrown into a furnace, exile, and hunger, to his wife being taken from him and being barren. In this week’s parsha, he’s forced to contend with a lying schemer to bury his wife in the land that had been promised to him.

He withstood them all and continued his growth because he had fortified his faith and was uncompromising in his observance of Torah. That may sound cliché-like, but it was what empowered Avrohom to survive and flourish. Those who follow in his ways until this day enjoy the blessings of Hashem and are able to persevere and endure. Faced with setbacks large and small, despite all the hurdles, Avrohom is prepared for whatever comes and is never blindsided, stymied, or led astray. He overcomes all.

His trusted servant and the one who spread his Torah and ruled over Avrohom’s holdings was Eliezer. The Torah hints to us the secret of his strength and ability. The posuk (Bereishis 24:2) depicts Eliezer as “avdo, zekan baiso hamoshel bechol asher lo, his slave, the senior member of his household, who ruled over all of Avrohom’s possessions.”

But Chazal see a deeper portrayal of Eliezer here. They saw in the words “hamoshel bechol asher lo” that Eliezer ruled over his yeitzer, which was why Avrohom trusted him with everything and why he succeeded in rising to his high position. To make it in this world, to really make it, a person must be able to conquer his yeitzer and control it instead of allowing the yeitzer to control him.

At the root of man’s foibles, mistakes, and errors in judgment and action is the yeitzer hora. At the core of every machlokes, once you peel everything away, is the yeitzer hora. Much of human failure can be clearly placed at the feet of the yeitzer hora. Ego, jealousy, bad middos, poor decision-making, and lack of faith and belief in a brighter future are due to people allowing themselves to be taken over by the yeitzer hora, which poses as a best friend but is, in truth, man’s worst enemy.

Study of Torah and mussar provides the ability to recognize the yeitzer hora and appreciate his attempts to mislead us and cause us to fail. Avrohom paved the path for all to follow. Eliezer was his premier student, and through the portrayal in this week’s parsha of how he went about finding a suitable spouse for Yitzchok, we see a prime example for us to follow when we are in the parsha of shidduchim and every day, from when we awaken and recite Modeh Ani until we recite Krias Shema Al Hamitah and go to sleep.

The posuk (24:22) relates that when Eliezer determined that Rivkah was the girl who was destined to marry Yitzchok and become a mother of Klal Yisroel, he presented her with golden jewelry, which weighed a beka, and two bracelets, which weighed ten zohov.

Rashi explains that the beka hinted to the shekolim of Klal Yisroel, regarding which the posuk says “beka lagulgoles.” The two bracelets hinted at the two Luchos, and the “asarah zohov mishkolom” alluded to the Aseres Hadibros.

Rashi is teaching us that in life, things are often not the way they appear to be. Nobody who was watching the interaction between Eliezer and Rivkah could have understood what was going on. It is only years later, in hindsight, with the aid of the Torah and its meforshim, that we are able to comprehend the shlichus and the manner in which Eliezer went about finding Yitzchok’s basherte.

Rivkah’s older brother, Lovon, the paragon of chicanery to whom we are introduced in the story of Eliezer’s visit with his family, became enamored with Eliezer, the gold he presented his little sister, and his retinue of camels. Most people are like Lovon, seeing what is transpiring in a strictly superficial manner and not bothering to comprehend the depth of what is really going on. Most people fail to recognize that everything that happens is from Hashem and, therefore, what occurs in this world is often not what it appears to be.

Nothing happens without a reason. Although we are not always privy to understanding why we are placed in certain situations, we must know that Hashem caused those experiences to happen to us. As maaminim and children of Avrohom, we have to recognize that we have the strength to overcome everything. We can’t let ourselves become broken or overwhelmed. It happened for a reason, and with faith and the inner strength we are blessed with, we can overcome all, just as Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov did.

There is always what we see and experience on a superficial level, and then there is a deeper level, which we cannot always see or appreciate.

In last week’s parsha, we read that after the destruction of Sedom and Amora, Avrohom looked out at the smoldering cities, “vayashkeif al pnei Sedom” (Bereishis 19:28). It is interesting to note that the posuk uses the term “vayashkeif” to describe Avrohom Avinu’s gazing at the cities. Lehashkif denotes a deep, penetrating gaze. It implies looking and contemplating. He didn’t go there to glance indifferently as a tourist would. He stood there beholding the scene.

To most onlookers, the city was nothing more than a bastion of hedonism and immorality, inhabited by sadistic and selfish people. They were so vicious, they would kill a girl for the sin of offering hospitality to strangers. It was a place whose destruction most people would view as a cause for celebration.

Yet, our forefather Avrohom had a deeper perspective. He gazed into the town’s innermost soul, and what he saw there caused him to beg Hashem to have mercy upon them.

What did he see? The posuk in Tehillim states, “Motzosi Dovid avdiI have found My servant Dovid.” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 41:4) expound and say, “Heichon motzosi? Where did I find Dovid? B’Sedom. I found Dovid in Sedom.”

And we wonder what that means.

He looked out at Sedom, and where everyone else saw only destruction and a pillar of salt, He saw Dovid Hamelech, who descended from Rus, a daughter of Moav, who was born out of the destruction of Sedom. He saw Dovid Hamelech emanating from there, as well as Moshiach ben Dovid, whose origins lie in the devastation of the infamous city.

Sometimes, a person experiences terrible hardships and begins wondering what he did to deserve such punishment.

A person in difficult straits approached Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach and shared his tale of woe. Rav Shach took out a Shabbos zemiros and turned to the zemer of Koh Ribon. He read aloud the words, “Lu yichyeh gevar shenin alfin lo yei’ol gevurteich bechushbenaya.”

Rav Shach explained that these words mean that even if a man were to live for one thousand years, he would be unable to comprehend the cheshbonos of Hashem and the constant chassodim being performed for him.

To emphasize his point, Rav Shach began a discussion about Akeidas Yitzchok. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer states that Yitzchok Avinu’s neshomah left him at the Akeidah. The Zohar states that when Yitzchok was revived, Hashem sent him a different neshomah. He explains further that Yitzchok’s initial neshomah was one of bechinas nukvah, and had it remained, Yitzchok would not have been able to have children. The neshomah that Hashem sent him following the Akeidah was bechinas duchrah and was able to give birth.

Rav Shach told the broken man, “In other words, what the Zohar is saying is that if not for the Akeidah, Yitzchok would not have had children. It was due to the experience of the Akeidah that the bechinas nukvah was removed from Yitzchok and Klal Yisroel sprang forth from him. It is impossible for us mortal beings to understand why things are happening to us, to others and to the world, but we must know that everything that occurs is part of a clearly designed Divine plan.”

We are each here for a reason. We were not created and brought into this world simply for personal, selfish enjoyment. Everyone has a mission and a job to do. We should seek to do what we can to bring light into this world and make the world a better place. Every person can make a difference.

When Rav Yaakov Galinsky, the renowned maggid, was imprisoned in Siberia during the period of the Second World War, he noticed that one of his cellmates would awaken every night. Upon awakening, the man would reach under his bed and pull out some clothing, which he would put on and then stand ramrod straight for a minute or two. He would then remove the garments, return them to their hidden place, and go back to sleep.

Rav Galinsky pressed the man for an explanation.

“In Poland,” the man told him, “I was a general in the army. Here, as a prisoner of the Russians, they attempt to break and dehumanize me. I won’t let them. I need to remember who I really am, what I represent, and that one day I will get out of here and return to my position. So, under the cover of darkness, I take a few moments each night to put on my military uniform and contemplate what it means to be a general. They won’t break me if I can remember who I am.”

The parshiyos we study these weeks inspire us to recognize who we are: bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok v’Yaakov. They remind us of what that means to us and what we must do to succeed in our roles. We each have a mission, and even when things that were not part of our plan happen, they are part of Hashem’s plan. With emunah and bitachon, we can maintain our pride and self-respect. We may be down, we may have losses, wounds and battle scars, but we must never become disillusioned, no matter how bleak things appear.

Our confidence in a better tomorrow must never be shaken. We cannot allow the yeitzer hora to depress us and our ambitions. We should never permit anyone to get us down. We have an inborn strength that nobody can take away from us. No matter what comes down the pike, and as difficult as things appear, we must be as resolute as our grandparents were when they arrived in a strange country with a strange language and customs. As far as they veered from home, they never forgot their roots. Every day, when they arose in the morning, they thought of their great heritage and obligations in this world. Sometimes they faltered, as life was tough and temptations were aplenty, but they always had a Chumash, a Gemara, a Tehillim, and a siddur to remind them of who they are and to look past the ailments, setbacks, and threats of the day.

They left a legacy to us. They bequeathed to us the ability to be strong and have the proper perspective on life, an immutable perspective based on Torah and emunah. When things happen to us or to the world, when we don’t understand what is going on or what to do, think about what Avrohom would have done. What would Eliezer have done? What would our grandfathers and grandmothers have done? What would our rabbeim and their rabbeim have done?

Study Torah. Study the parsha with the meforshim. Study the seforim hakedoshim, Chovos Halevavos, Mesilas Yeshorim, the Gr”a on Mishlei, the works of the Chofetz Chaim, the Sefas Emes, and the like. The list is virtually endless. Find some seforim that you can understand. Learn them and review them. Learn with a chavrusah or a rebbi. Phone a rebbi or a rov and seek guidance. There is no reason to get lost.

If we keep ourselves inspired by constantly learning and growing and reaching higher, we will have the strength and fortitude to persevere and carry on, overcoming all obstacles that come our way, earning untold zechuyos in the process.

May Hashem bentch us to maintain our grip, to hold fast to our heritage and mesorah, and do what makes Him proud each and every day.

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