Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Who We Are

As we study the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we develop proper perspectives. At the outset of the stories that are told regarding our forefathers, the Ramban (Bereishis 12:6) reminds us of Chazal’s admonition: “Ma’aseh avos simon labonim.” Seemingly regular occurrences are painted with the brush of eternity.

In Parshas Chayei Sarah, we read that Avrohom Avinu sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find an appropriate match for his son Yitzchok. The journey and its subsequent lessons guide us through the daunting path of shidduchim.

The posuk (24:22) relates that when Eliezer determined that Rivka was the girl who was destined to marry Yitzchok and become a mother of Klal Yisroel, he presented her with a golden nose ring, 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 to the two Luchos, and the “asarah zohov mishkolom” alluded to the Aseres Hadibros.

Rashi is teaching us that things are often not the way they appear to us at first glance. No observer to what was transpiring between Eliezer and Rivka could have understood the deeper meaning in 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.

When Lavan saw what Eliezer gave his sister Rivka, he ran towards him, impressed by the jewelry and the possessions with which Eliezer traveled. We must not be like Lavan, understanding life in a superficial manner without grasping the depth of it. Lavanites don’t realize that since Hashem causes all that occurs in this world, there is deeper significance to our daily encounters and challenges.

Nothing happens without a reason. Although we do not always understand why we are placed in certain situations, we know that Hashem caused that experience to happen. That knowledge provides us the strength to withstand and accept faithfully what comes our way. We use the strengths with which we are blessed to fulfill Hashem’s will and encourage and assist other people to do the same.

There is always more going on than what meets the eye.

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 merely 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 states in Tehillim, “Motzosi Dovid avdi – I have found My servant Dovid.” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 41:4) ask, “Heichon motzosi? Where did I find him? B’Sedom.” The roots of Dovid Hamelech were found in Sedom.

Dovid Hamelech descended from Rus, a daughter of Moav, born to one of the lone survivors of the destruction of Sedom. Moshiach ben Dovid emerged from Moav, a fulfillment of Avrohom Avinu’s vision and conviction that there was something good and holy in Sedom.

Sometimes, a person experiences hardships and begins wondering what he did wrong to deserve such punishment. In the times of the Arizal, people who were facing adversity would approach the Arizal for assistance. Sometimes he would tell them that the torment they were living through was connected to their neshamos in a previous life and not brought on by anything they had done.

The Arizal was able to see beneath the surface and perceive the reason for people’s misfortune. He saw the blemishes on their soul that were being rectified by the suffering they were enduring.

A person in difficult straits approached Rav Elazar 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 la yei’ol gevurteich bechushbenaya.”

Rav Shach explained that the 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 with a discussion about Akeidas Yitzchok. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer states that Yitzchok Avinu’s neshomah left him at the Akeidah. The Zohar says 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 sprung 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.”

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo instructs us to appreciate every day and everything that happens to us in that day, realizing its significance:

“In fact, this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. Hashem has no desire except that man should know and acknowledge the Hashem Who created him… Through recalling the great revealed signs of Yetzias Mitzrayim, a person acknowledges the concealed signs of everyday life, which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.”

We are mistaken when we misjudge our abilities and think that what we say and do don’t make a difference. When Chazal say that a person is to think, “Bishvili nivra haolam,” included in that is an admonition that a person shouldn’t view himself as insignificant, but should rather be confident in the knowledge that his words and actions have unseen and untold effects on the world. A person should know that he possesses the ability to bring about change. We have seen how one person, running against all odds, can overcome obstacles and naysayers and make a big difference to many people.

Take, for example, an organization like Shuvu, founded by one person and basically led by one person since its inception. Because of those two people, thousands of children have received a Torah education.

Think of Adopt-A-Kollel and the revolution spawned by a couple of individuals who saw a problem and stepped in to fill a vacuum.

Think of Hatzolah, Bikur Cholim, Chaveirim, and all the other organizations that save lives and are the products of the thoughts of one man. Think of Zvi Gluck and Avi Fishoff and the work they do, one-man shows putting lives back together again, changing minds, focusing attention on problems formerly swept under the rug. And think of the people who support them.

People who care enough become resourceful and energetic as they work towards their goal to help others. But there are other ways to help improve the world. When we study Torah, we affect change in the world. We introduce more holiness to a suffering world, and the merit of our Torah and mitzvos are a source of zechuyos to our entire nation and make the world a better place. The more time and effort we devote to Torah, the better people we become. We are happier, healthier and more fulfilled, because that is who we are and what being a Jew is all about.

Learning and internalizing these parshiyos should invest us with a heightened sense of self-value.

To be successful on a mission, the shliach must appreciate his own significance and worth. He has to announce himself appropriately, as did Eliezer. “Eved Avrohom anochi.”

Rav Shach’s messages after he assumed the role of leader, captain and steward of the olam haTorah indicated that he was imbued with a shlichus. As we discussed in the paper last week, he understood his role as the transmitter of the path of the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. He understood that he was an heir to his rebbi, the Brisker Rov, and his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. All his drashos, shmuessen and directives were delivered against a backdrop of “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Like Eliezer, Rav Leizer Shach was charged with a mission and he recognized it.

Every one of us is charged with a shlichus. There are so few of us and so much darkness to dispel. We all have our jobs and missions. No matter what they are, we should perform them with great pride.

The parshiyos we study these weeks inspire us to recognize who we are, bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They remind us of the implicit obligations in our lofty status.

The Gemara teaches that Shlomo Hamelech experienced suffering at the hands of Ashmedai, king of the demons, and for a short time was alone and anonymous. The Gemara recounts that Shlomo went from being ruler of the universe, to ruling over people, to ultimately only ruling over his staff and cloak. He was reduced to knocking on doors, insisting that he was a king.

The baalei mussar point out that throughout all his travails, despite all that he had lost, Shlomo remained a king. Molach al maklo. He never lost the self-perception of his own royalty.

We sometimes forget who we are, our innate value, and the inherent holiness we possess. We are good people. We are kind. Honest. Generous. Thoughtful. Caring and giving. Because that is who we are. Because we are the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

Everyone has the ability to improve the world. Each one of us can reach out and help people who need a handout of time, money or sympathy. We can help others get through the day. We can bring meaning and warmth to the lives of others. We can learn with them. We can befriend them. We can be problem-solvers.

We can rise above pettiness and be great.

May these parshiyos educate us and enable us to become more introspective; motivated and capable of recognizing who we really are.

Eved Avrohom anochi.



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