Torah Portion of the Week – Vayera – How Deep Emotions can Overcome Deep Contradictions – A Powerful Parable about Being Higher the the Angels – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Focusing on the Good
The Torah Podcast Transcript
032 The Torah Podcast – How Deep Emotions Can Overcome Deep Contradictions
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayera
The Parsha ends off with the Akeida, the sacrificing of Yitzhak. Rabbeinu Bachye explains that this was the most difficult test that Avraham Avinu had. This was the tenth test. He says, “It bears no resemblance to all the other tests. Avraham was on such a high level.” He says, “Our imagination is quite inadequate to grasp the enormity of what was demanded of him.” In other words, this test was on a totally different level, and three days were given so the people shouldn’t say it was just an impulsive act, but rather it was a deep reflection from Avraham’s feelings.
Rav Dessler explains that this went against everything that Avraham was teaching. Avraham was trying to fight the avoda zara, the idol worship of his day, where they were offering up children. He was trying to fight them. This went against everything that Avraham Avinu believed in. He says, “Not only would it cause confusion to the outside world to all of his followers, but also inside of Avraham’s heart it would cause confusion.” The Malbim explains the reason why he left Eliezer and Yishmael to the side and he went off in private to do the act, was because he was embarrassed. He couldn’t even bring himself to do it in public. It went against his entire belief system. And not only that, the Midrash explains that this was a pure contradiction. The contradiction was that Avraham was promised that from Yitzhak would come all of his generations and all the Jewish people. Now all of a sudden, God turns around and tells him to sacrifice him. It was a contradiction. Where did Avraham find the strength to pass this test?
The Midrash explains that he did it with such purity of heart that he didn’t even question God. This is what the Midrash says – Avraham said, “When you said to me Hashem, please take your only son, I could have answered you. Yesterday you told me that all my descendants would come from Yitzhak, and now you told me to offer him up? But I didn’t say anything. I suppressed my mercy in order to do Your will.” In other words, the mercy that he had on his own child, he could have questioned God, and he could have expressed, “Please God, don’t let me kill my only son,” and he kept quiet. On this he says, “Hashem may it be Your will that in the future when the children of Yitzhak fall into sin, please remember this Akeida, and act towards your children with mercy.” This is why the Akeida, this act of Avraham Avinu, protects the Jewish people for all of history. On this merit, the Jewish people are protected even when they sin, because Avraham Avinu didn’t even question God. So where is Avraham coming from? How can it be, it’s a contradiction to everything he stood for, for his entire life. And not only that, it’s a contradiction of what God said to him, and he doesn’t say a word? He just does God’s will? The Malbim explains it gets even worse, because God was trying to pull out Avraham’s feelings towards Yitzhak before he did this act. Avraham was told, “Please take your son, the only one who you love.” Here we see that Avraham’s feelings are being addressed, that he should feel love and at the same time, sacrifice his son.” The Malbim wants to explain, it wasn’t just a question of listening. He brings the Midrash Tanchuma that quotes Yirmyahu saying, “The Akeida is an act of God that he did not command.” In other words, the commandment to sacrifice his son was not clear.
Rashi explains that Hashem didn’t say that he should slaughter his son, but rather bring him up. The Bereishis Rabba says, “Now that you’ve brought him up, so bring him down.” Really in a certain sense, God only told Avraham to bring him up to the Altar. He didn’t tell him to actually sacrifice him. What was Avraham doing? What was the test? He wants to explain that the test was – how was Avraham going to interpret what God was telling him? Really, God left it open. We see he wasn’t very specific – he didn’t tell him to slaughter his son. He told him to bring him up. So, Avraham at that point could have said, “Listen, God. You told me that Yitzhak is going to be the one who all the Jewish people come from.” But he didn’t do that. He acted in a way of the utmost purity, to serve God to the best of his ability which meant to him, to sacrifice Yitzhak. This demonstrated his deepest love for God. Since there were two ways to interpret what God was saying to him, and Avraham chose to clearly demonstrate his love for God – that was the passing of the test.
Rav Dessler explains that he didn’t want to ask God about the contradiction between what God said before, “How all the Children of Israel would come from Yitzhak”? Because he was afraid that it was his love for Yitzhak that was motivating the question. He accepted the commandment totally without questioning it. And Avraham’s son Yitzhak had no power over him. His love for his son had no power over him for his love for God. This would silence the voice of the Accuser for generations against the Jewish people, because we see that Avraham came from such a pure place that he didn’t even question God when he had a chance to. Rav Dessler goes on to explain, “The inner point with which one merits spiritual power is the ability to recognize the truth. There is an inner point in the Jewish heart which is ready to suppress personal desires in favor of God’s will, even though the person may not understand the reasons why God did something and His qualities of chessed, kindness, are completely hidden.” In other words, where’s God’s chessed? What is God doing? He’s going against everything Avraham Avinu believed in. He’s killing his son. What is he doing? The answer is he had such a love for God that he knew that God was totally good, and God could only be good and I must do what God’s telling me to do. Even though he had a way to interpret it in a different way, he wanted to do the maximum. He didn’t care about his own personal desires.
Rav Dessler brings an example. We know that the Gemara says that if a Jew gives tzedakah, charity, and he says, “With this tzedakah my son should be healed,” that’s still considered tzedakah, because even if the son is not healed and God-forbid, even if the son dies, the Jew doesn’t care. He doesn’t look back and say, “Hey, I shouldn’t have given tzedakah.” No, he’s giving tzedakah because it’s a commandment to give tzedakah. It’s a mitzvah to give charity. He doesn’t care about the results, of the charity. The Midrash says, “I could have challenged this command, but I didn’t do so. I pretended to be deaf and dumb. Therefore in the future, God please – when the accuser comes against the Jewish people, pretend like you’re deaf and dumb. And in this zechus, merit, the Jewish people are protected.”
The mussar, the character development, that we get out of this, is to serve God with a pure heart and do not question God. Even though things seem to be a contradiction and we may have bad things happening in our life, but it’s kulo tov, it’s only good and God knows what’s right. A person has to go forward and do the mitzvos with a purity of heart, and knowing that God is good, even if we don’t understand it.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim has a parable about being higher than the angels. We know in Devarim it says that the Jewish people are God’s children. They rank higher than the angels even though really on one side the angels are higher. Why? They’re pure spirituality. They’re in the highest heavens. Human beings are flesh and blood, bones living on the earth. How could it be that we’re higher?
He gives a parable like this. A king has a scribe and he has soldiers. One serves him with the pen, and the other one serves him with guns. The scribe sits in the palace, dressed very nicely with clean garments. The soldier is dressed in armored clothing, all dirty and full of mud and filth – maybe even blood and perspiration. He looks horrible. Surely, if an outsider would meet a soldier or meet a scribe, he would give more honor to the scribe. He looks more mechubad, more honorable. But the king really has a greater affection for the fighting soldier. Why? Because the soldier is battling day after day on the field. He risks his life every day. His filthy clothing is like 100 witnesses to the sovereignty of the king, because he’s protecting the king and going against the enemies of the king. This is why the Jewish people are higher than the angels, because here on this earth, we’re battling for the sanctification of God’s name. We’re fighting against our evil impulse. We’re trying to do good deeds, and stop ourselves from doing bad deeds. The angels, even though they’re in heaven, they have no evil impulse. Man has to withstand temptations and every time he does so, it brings God into the world. People see it and say, “Wow, that guy’s a mentsch, a good person.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
In this week’s Parsha it says that Avraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey. From him, we learn zerizus. It’s a mitzvah to do mitzvoth with energy and enthusiasm. The story with Rav Shach goes like this. One time a man came from Petach Tikva to ask Rav Shach about a certain shidduch, a certain boy in the Yeshiva he wanted for his daughter. Rav Shach said, “Fine, I’ll find out the information for you and clarify the points.” The man went back to Petach Tikva. That evening Rav Shach got the information, and first thing in the morning as soon as the buses started running, Rav Shach traveled to Petach Tikva. It was two buses. He realized he got there early, so early that he didn’t want to disturb him, so he wrote down the answer and put it in the man’s mail box. Then he headed back to Bnai Brak. He was already back in the Yeshiva by 7:00 o’clock in time for the morning prayers. From here we see how the Gedolim acted with zerizus, speed, and did mitzvos with energy and love.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament talks about focusing on the good. He has a story of a man who divorced his wife and they remarried, four years later. What happened was, his second wife got killed in a car accident, and then he remarried his first wife. Why did he remarry his first wife? Because after he married his second wife, he realized in hindsight how good was the first wife. But when he got back with the first wife, he started fighting with her again. And then they got divorced a second time. The question is – what happened?
He tells another story about a widow who could not get over the fact that her husband passed away, and she mourned him and mourned him for 17 years until she passed away herself. You couldn’t even say a joke to her because she felt like a traitor to her husband. She didn’t let singing or any music into her house. Her whole house was covered with pictures of her husband, and she visited his grave twice a week. He says, “Listen, I know this couple because they came to therapy from me. She used to complain about her husband unbelievably.” He said, “Her husband had 400 good qualities, and 17 faults. But those 17 faults, she would never give in. She kept pounding away again and again about the faults the entire marriage.” What happened? Her husband passed away, then she forgot about the faults and she all of a sudden realized that, “Wow, my husband had 400 great qualities.” The same thing happened with the man that remarried his first wife. The second wife that he married had 40 bad faults, and she had 17 bad faults. But after he got back together with her, she started to focus on the faults again. When he was away from her, he was remembering what a great wife she was. Why do people act this way? Because they believe that they deserve 100%, and this is a mistake. There was one black dot and they focus and that, and it takes over their entire lives and it ruins their lives and their marriages.
You could have a case for example of a woman, a very popular woman, everybody loves her and her husband can’t stand her. Why is that? Because he wants 100%. Nobody else is expecting 100% from another human being. Everybody has faults. Why in our marriages and our relationships do we think that we should deserve 100%? We know there’s a machloches, argument between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, how do you dance before the kallah, bride? Beis Shammai says, “Describe the kallah the way she is,” and Beis Hillel says, “A beautiful and graceful bride, no matter how she looks.” You have to praise the kallah even if she’s crippled or blind. How can that be? Is that sheker, falsehood? No – you have to focus on the good. Everybody has good and everybody has bad. But if you focus on the bad you can destroy the marriage.
He gives an example of somebody who bought a small junky car. One guy told him what a horrible car; it’s going to burn out. How can you drive that far? He felt horrible. And another guy told him what a great car he had. “Wow, it’s small, it doesn’t use much gas. You can get into places where big cars can’t. You can park easier,” and he was happy. That’s the same car, and he knows that the car can’t go far, but so what? He’s happy with the car the way it is. You should always focus on the good points. No ben adam, no person, is an angel. If you look for weaknesses, you’re going to find them. But you’re going to ruin your life, and it’s a shame.
He tells one last story about a bochur, a single man, that went out with a girl and he wanted to marry her. He liked her very much, but she had crossed eyes. It was bothering him, he didn’t know what to do, so he had the chutzpah since he really like her, he said, “Listen, after we get married maybe you’ll get an operation,” and she said, “Fine.” What happened was that she got pregnant. They had their first baby, and she couldn’t do the operation. Time passed by, so she asked him, “Well, maybe you want me to do the operation now?” He says, “No, I like you the way you are.” He even said, “I feel that your crossed eyes are part of your charm.” Once you get to know somebody and once you connect with somebody, if you focus on the good, you’ll be happy with them. If we look for the good in others, the bad will fall away and we’ll see the good.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and leave comments on the website.