Thursday, November 26, 2009

203 - Vayeitzei

After Yaakov Avinu married whom he thought was Rachel, the Torah tells us, "And it was inthe morning and behold she was Leah" (Bereishis29, 25). Rashi notes that at night he was not able to distinguish that she was Leah. He explains that Yaakov gave Rachel signs, lest Lavan try to switch her with another girl. When Rachel realized that Lavan was planning to substitute Leah for her, Rachel gave over the signs to Leah so that she not be embarrassed.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) suggests that we take a minute to appreciate Rachel's greatness. She knew good and well that Yaakov would father all the shevatim and hence the entire Jewish Nation. Additionally, she had no idea if Lavan would also agree to marry her off to Yaakov, nor if Yaakov would agree to marry another wife. By giving over the signs to her sister, she was in essence giving up an eternity that was rightfully hers. She was giving up the chance to mother the chosen nation: the purpose behind the creation of the world.

Although Chazal tell us that it is better for one to throw himself into a fiery furnace than to embarrass his friend in public, this refers to one who actively embarrasses his friend. This was not the case with Rachel, since even with her playing a passive role Leah would have been embarrassed. Therefore, Rachel was in no way obligated to do what she did, and with superhuman strength she overcame all her emotions and saved her sister from disgrace. While she understood the enormity of the significance of giving birth to the Jewish Nation, she also understood that it is impossible to build upon someone else's humiliation.

Later in this parsha we find a similar level of consideration on Leah's part. "Afterwards she [Leah] had a child and named her Dinah" (ibid. 30, 21). Rashi tells us that Dinah was so named because Leah, so to speak, made a "judgment" (din) with herself. She calculated that if she would have a seventh son, Rachel would not even have as many sons as each of the two maidservants, so she prayed to Hashem, and He changed the child into a daughter. Leah wanted to mother as many shevatim as possible. However, since her intentions were entirely l'sheim shamayim, when this desire would have contributed to someone else's embarrassment, she did everything in her power to prevent her ambition from coming to fruition.

The extent of one's actions l'sheim shamayim can be defined by how he acts when his actions might hurt another person's feelings. If he refrains from his course of action, he has not only proven that he acts truly for the sake of Heaven, he has emulated our matriarchs in conquering his negative middos in a superhuman fashion!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

202 - Toldos

Rashi tells us that during Rivka's pregnancy she felt conflicting movements within her womb. When she passed by a place where Torah was studied, she would feel sensations as if the baby wanted to leave her stomach indicating that he was interested in spending his time learning Torah. On the other hand, when she passed by a house of idol worship, she would feel the very same sensations - implying a dramatically different way of life. Unsure of what to expect, Rivka went to the beis medresh of Sheim to find out what Hashem had in store for her. Hashem told Sheim to relay to Rivka that she is expecting twins, one will be righteous and the other wicked. Hence, the conflicting messages she has been receiving, since some of the movements are by one child while some are by the other.

After this inquiry we find no mention of any concern on Rivka's part. It would seem that she was reassured by Sheim's explanation. Rav Wolbe asks, shouldn't she have had more reason to be concerned, for now she knew that one of her children was going to grow up to be wicked? He explains that originally Rivka thought she was expecting only one child and she was afraid that he was schizophrenic - vacillating between serving Hashem and idol worship. Once she was informed that in reality she was expecting two children, one righteous and one wicked, she was able to come to terms with this knowledge because it is the normal way of the world - a constant struggle between good and evil.

The Mashgiach elaborates, when good and evil are mixed up into one entity, it is very difficult to overcome the evil. Even if one refrains from sinning for one reason or another, in most instances he has merely pushed the desire into his subconscious, only for it to resurface at a later date. When the evil is defined and isolated, one knows his enemy. It is easier to subdue his negative desires because he has a clear picture of what he is fighting. Hashem created the world in such a way that there is always a balance between the forces of good and evil and it is incumbent upon each person to choose good and overcome evil. However, if one is not sure as to what is really good and what is evil, he doesn't know what is expected of him, and he lacks the assertiveness to truly overcome those things he suspects are bad.

Our fight with the yetzer hara is a continuous and difficult battle. The very first step in this life-long struggle is defining the evil so that we have clarity in our mission. If one isn't sure when it is permissible to become angry and when it is forbidden, and in general has a hard time comprehending what is wrong with getting angry, he will have an even harder time overcoming this negative trait. The same holds true on all fronts of the war against the yetzer hara. The best way to defeat the enemy is to study a sefer that deals with the trait one wishes to rectify, thereby gaining the tools to define the enemy and vanquish him.

201 - Chayei Sara

Chazal tell us that the speech of the servants of our forefathers is 'superior' to the Torah that was given to the later generations. For we find that the Torah relates the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchok in its entirety twice, while many fundamental halachos of the Torah are conveyed through merely a subtle hint (Rashi, Bereishis 24, 42). Why is it that the Torah felt their speech to be of the utmost importance? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that the Torah uses the speech of our forefather's servants as a way of transmitting the guidelines of derech eretz. Each action and expression of Eliezer was rooted inderech eretz, and therefore a lesson for future generations that the Torah felt too crucial to ignore. Yet, we still must ask why derech eretz is of such great importance?

Chazal write (Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu 1, 1) "Derech eretz kadma l'Torah" - derech eretz precedes Torah. Rav Wolbe explains that when one goes shopping, he must take along a bag to hold the potatoes and a special container to hold the eggs, because without a proper receptacle it's not possible to bring his purchases back home. Similarly, this concept holds true with regard to spirituality. Torah must be placed in a proper vessel, and that vessel is derech eretz.

Derech eretz can be defined as those actions and behavior that every person should recognize to be proper without having to be taught. Before one starts learning Torah, he must first behave in accordance with the dictates of seichel i.e. a deeply perceptive intuition. Once that is accomplished, he has reached the level where he can be called human, because one who lacks basic derech eretz is referred to by Chazal as being worse than a dead animal. Only then can he hope to internalize Torah which brings a person to a level above that of a normal man, so to speak, above the laws of nature.

There is yet another aspect that falls under the category of derech eretz. The Medrash writes that Torah learning must be interspersed with acts of chesed, as the Mishna states, "It is good to learn Torah along with derech eretz, for both together eliminate sin." We see from here that chesed is also included in derech eretz. If we pay close attention to the story of Eliezer and Rivkah, we will be able to glean numerous insights into the way to conduct our lives with both forms of derech eretz.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

200 - Vayeira

"And Hashem said, 'Will I conceal from Avraham that which I am going to do? For I am fond of him because he will educate his children and household to follow the ways of Hashem, to perform acts of charity and carry out judgement'" (Bereishis 18, 17 - 19 as per Rashi's explanation). Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash) that it seems from this pasuk that Avraham's great righteousness and many acts of kindness were not a great enough merit for him to be worthy that Hashem reveal His plans to him. It was only educating his children to follow the ways of Hashem that earned him the extra fondness which in turn led to Hashem revealing His intentions with regard to the destruction of Sodom. From this we can deduce how great is the importance of chinuch and, therefore, we must make an effort to be sure that we are properly educating our children and pupils.

Chinuch must be carried out intelligently. This necessitates that the level of education be appropriate for the child's age. Chazal tell us, "A five year old begins studying Torah, a ten year old begins studying Mishna, a thirteen year old is required to keep the mitzvos etc." (Avos 5, 24). They determined specific ages for all aspects of Torah study and mitzvah observance in consonance with a child's natural growth process. If this holds true for learning Torah and performing mitzvos, how much more so does this apply to the areas of behavior and derech eretz. One cannot demand from a child to behave in a way that is way beyond his level of maturity; nor at every age is a child able or ready to understand that a particular action is forbidden. Every stage in a child's development requires thought as to the proper way of conveying messages in a palatable manner. This is the key to ensuring that there always remains a pleasant atmosphere between the educator and the one being educated.

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 379) that although the above idea might seem simple and self evident, nevertheless, it is the reason why many people do not succeed in chinuch. They do not pay attention to the stages of growth of the child and therefore, do not act in accordance with the child's level of maturity.

Although this idea is critical in the development of one's children, it also rings true in regard to each and every person's own growth in avodas Hashem. One must be objective in assessing his own spiritual level and act accordingly. Demanding from oneself more than he can handle, ruins the learning process and hinders spiritual growth. Taking a good hard look at oneself and one's children may change the way numerous things are done; bearing significant fruit in the long run.