Monday, November 15, 2010

250 - Vayeitzei

When Yaakov Avinu ran off with his family and possessions without telling Lavan, Lavan gathers a few of his men and proceeds to chase after Yaakov. When he catches up with Yaakov, an interesting conversation ensues. Lavan accuses Yaakov of stealing his idols, Yaakov denies the accusation and allows Lavan to search all his possessions. When the search bears no fruits, Yaakov vehemently protests Lavan's unscrupulous behavior:

"You have searched all my possessions, what have you found from the possessions of your house; place them between my brothers and your brothers, and they will decide between the two of us. I have been with you for twenty years - your sheep and goats did not miscarry, and I did not eat any rams of your flock. I did not bring you killed animals, rather I took the loss; from my hand you claimed it whether it was stolen by day or by night. During the day the heat devoured me as did the ice by night, and sleep was held back from my eyes. I have spent the past twenty years in your house: fourteen years I worked for your two daughters and six years for your sheep and you changed my wages one hundred times!" To which Lavan responds, "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, the sheep are my sheep and everything that you see is mine."

Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash) that one cannot help but be amazed at Lavan's response. Yaakov just gave a lengthy explanation of how everything was rightfully his down to the very last penny, and Lavan makes no mention of anything Yaakov said. He simply states that everything in sight belongs to him and not to Yaakov! The Mashgiach explains the rationale behind this behavior. There are times when there is a conflict between what logic dictates and what one desires (i.e. his negative middos). In such a situation, it is useless to try to argue logically with such a person. Explanations aimed at the seichel will not succeed in changing preconceived notions that are a product of one's faulty middos. Lavan simply "didn't hear" what Yaakov said, because he didn't want to hear. His lust for money wouldn't allow him to understand that all the possessions were rightfully Yaakov's.

This is the danger of bad middos. When one is entrenched in a mindset that is borne out of his negative desires, even a completely logical argument might not succeed in causing him to change that mindset. However, if we are interested in improving our middos, we will be granted siyata dishmaya, and we will surely succeed in rectifying them.

249 - Toldos

After Yaakov succeeded in obtaining the brachos that Yitzchok had intended for Eisav, Eisav planned his revenge. The Torah tells us, "When Rivkah was told the words of Eisav she called her younger son Yaakov and told him, 'Eisav intends to kill you'" (Bereishis 27, 42). Rashi explains that Rivkah was informed of this information through ruach hakodesh. Nevertheless, notes Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash), when Rivkah wished to send Yaakov to safer pastures, she told Yitzchok that the reason for her decision to send him off was because it was time for him to get married, and she was disgusted by the local prospective wives. She made no mention about the spiritual revelation that was the real impetus for her actions.

From this incident, we can perceive the amazing quality of tznius that characterized Rivkah's actions. She attained a level of spirituality that most people in the history of the world could only wish for, and she didn't let anyone in on the secret - even Yitzchok. Additionally, from this story we can deduce another trait that is attributed to great people. Though the real reason for her sending off Yaakov was for his own safety, she gave a totally different reason to Yitzchok.

Rav Wolbe continues, that many times gedolim mention one reason for a specific decision, while there are really more factors that contributed to the decision. Moreover, it may very well be that they didn't mention the main reason for their coming to their conclusion. There are people who for one reason or another decide that the reason given by the gedolim doesn't strike their fancy or simply does not apply to them. However, had they known everything behind the remarks of the gadol, they would not be so quick to act differently. This is one of the reasons that we have a concept called emunas chachomim. We act in accordance to what our gedolim tell us, regardless of whether we understand the reason or not.

A talmid once asked Rav Yeruchom Levovitz for permission to leave Yeshiva to travel somewhere. Being that it was Wednesday, Rav Yeruchom told him that there is a principle that one is not supposed to start something new on Monday or Wednesday. However, at a later date, Rav Yeruchom was giving a Chumash shiur and mentioned that the above concept does not apply to traveling. Rav Wolbe deduced from this incident, that the explanation Rav Yeruchom gave the talmid who requested permission was not the true reason for his decision. Either he didn't wish to reveal the true motive, or he was concerned that the bachur was planning on traveling regardless. Since he did not want the talmid to be guilty of defying his Rebbi, he gave him a reason that had no personal rationale.

Some people think they know better than our leaders. However, as seen in the story of Rivkah, emunas chachomim dictates that we listen to our gedolim even when we fail to understand the rationale behind their words.

Monday, November 1, 2010

248 - Chayei Sara

After Eliezer returned with Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchok, the Torah tells us, "And Yitzchok brought her to his mother Sarah's tent; and he took Rivkah as his wife" (Bereishis 24, 66). Targum Unkelos explains that Yitzchok saw that Rivkah's behavior paralleled his mother's behavior and only then did he take her as his wife.

In the previous pasuk the Torah states that Eliezer told Yitzchok everything that occurred to him. Rashi explains that Eliezer related the numerous miracles that had occurred in the course of his finding a mate for Yitzchok: the earth contracted to allow him to arrive at his desired destination quickly, and immediately with the conclusion of his tefillah his prayers were answered in the most amazing manner. If so, asks Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) quoting the Brisker Rav, what more was needed to prove that Yitzchok and Rivkah were literally a match made in heaven? After hearing about the miracles that brought about his prospective match, why did Yitzchok feel compelled to also examine Rivkah's actions before agreeing to marry her?

The answer is that even if there are earth shattering events that all point in the direction of a specific match, nevertheless, the deciding factor must be the woman's middos. Likewise, in the beginning of the parsha when Eliezer wished to find the proper wife for Yitzchok, he prepared a test to determine the quality of her middos. The Torah true way of checking into a shidduch is by determining the manner in which the prospective spouse conducts himself/herself.

There are many things - and maybe even miracles - that have the ability to make us lose focus of what is truly important. However, we must always bear in mind that "derech eretz kadma l'Torah" - good middos preceded and are the foundation for the Torah. Moreover, they are the foundation of the entire Jewish Nation, because our Patriarchs looked for good middos when choosing a mate to build their families and all future generations.