שבת טעם החיים תולדות תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Toldos 5771
Fearing Hashem Means Seeing HaShem
וישב יצחק ויחפר את בארת המים אשר חפרו בימי אברהם אביו ויסתמום פלשתים אחרי מות אברהם ויקרא להן שמות כשמות אשר קרא להן אביו, and Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father and the Philistines had stopped up after Avraham’s death; and he called them by the same names that his father had called them. (Bereishis 26:18)
Now that the American elections are over, it is time to reflect on how the successors can achieve more than their predecessors. In this week’s parasha, Toldos, we find that Yitzchak dug the wells that his father Avraham had dug previously. It is said (Bereishis 26:18) vayashav Yitzchak vayachpor es bieiros hamayim asher chafru bimei Avraham aviv vayistamum Plishtim acharei mos Avraham vayikra lahen sheimos kasheimos asher kara lahen aviv, and Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father and the Philistines had stopped up after Avraham’s death; and he called them by the same names that his father had called them. Regarding the wells that his father Avraham had dug, Yitzchak gave them the same names that Avraham had given them. Yet, when his servants dug new wells, the Torah states that Yitzchak gave the wells new names. Why did Yitzchak need to provide new names to the new wells? Would it have not been sufficient to append the original names to these new wells? Furthermore, the Torah does not record the names of the original wells that Avraham had dug. It appears that Yitzchak only named the wells because of the quarrels that occurred between his shepherds and the shepherds of Gerar. Alternatively, if not for the shepherds’ quarrel, Yitzchak would have named the wells but apparently the Torah would not have recorded the names. Why, then, does the Torah not record the names of the wells that Avraham had dug and why does the Torah informs us of the names that Yitzchak gave to the wells that resulted in a quarrel?
Fearing HaShem means seeing Hashem in every aspect of our lives
In order to understand what occurred with the wells, we must examine the life of Yitzchak and what he represented. We are told by the commentators that Avraham reflected the attribute of kindness whereas Yitzchak symbolized the attribute of strength and fear. We can understand how Avraham symbolized kindness, as his entire life was devoted to hosting guests and helping people come closer to HaShem. Where, however, do we see that Yitzchak was the epitome of strength and fear of HaShem? To understand the attribute of Yitzchak, we must look at the seminal event of Yitzchak’s life, which was the Akeidah. After HaShem informed Avraham that he was not to slaughter Yitzchak, Avraham found a ram and slaughtered the ram in Yitzchak’s stead. It is said (Bereishis 22:!4) vayikra Avraham sheim hamakom hahu HaShem yireh asher yeiameir hayom bihar HaShem yeiraeh, and Avraham called the name of that site “HaShem Yireh,” as it is said this day, on the mountain HaShem will be seen. The Sfas Emes writes that the word yireh, translated as seen, is associated with the word yirah, which means fear. What does it mean to fear HaShem? We would be hard-pressed to say that fearing HaShem means standing in awe of HaShem. Rather, we use the term yiras shamayim, fear of Heaven, which means that one is cognizant of HaShem just as one is aware of the heavens above. Thus, one who fears Hashem is one who sees how HaShem interacts with our world.
Digging wells was parallel to the Bais HaMikdash
Avraham dug wells, and a well symbolizes a deeper understanding of this world. The Plishtim, however, sought to negate Avraham’s ideology which was fear of Heaven, which he achieved through the Akeidah. Yitzchak came and redug the wells that Avraham had dug. This act was reflective of the fact that Yitzchak saw HaShem in everything that he did. Redigging wells is symbolic of bringing the light of HaShem into the world. Proof of this is that the Ramban writes that the Torah recorded the digging of the wells to allude to the three Batei Mikdashsos that would be built in the future. The Bais HaMikdash was the source of light in the world, so it follows that digging wells alludes to the Bais HaMikdash. Thus, Yitzchak, who was prepared to give up his life at the Akeidah, reflected fear of HaShem, because everything he did in his life was to bring light and clarity into the world. It is noteworthy that when Avimelech arrived to forge a treaty with Yitzchak, it is said (Bereishis 26:28) vayomru rao rainu ki hayah hashem imach vanomer tihi na alah beinoseinu beineinu uveinecho vinichrisa vris imach, and they said, “We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you, so we said, “Let the oath between ourselves now be between us and you, and let us make a covenant with you.” Rashi writes that the repetition of the words rao rainu, we have indeed seen, refers to what they saw by Avraham and what they now saw by Yitzchak. We can suggest that the repetition of these words alludes to the idea that Yitzchak demonstrated fear of HaShem at the Akeidah and redigging the wells was further evidence of this attribute.
One must see HaShem’s hand even in events that are perceived in a negative light
We can now return to our original questions regarding the naming of the wells. A Name is reflective of the subject’s function. Avraham represented the attribute of kindness, which even one who is not a believer in Divine Providence can relate to. Thus, Yitzchak did not feel a need to rename the wells that Avraham had dug. Fear of Heaven, which we are now defining as being cognizant of HaShem’s Presence in every aspect of one’s life, is much harder to discern and experience. Although Yitzchak’s shepherds quarreled with the shepherds of Gerar over the wells, Yitzchak was able to see HaShem’s hand in that too. For this reason Yitzchak named the wells according to the experience he had, and the Torah recorded the names to demonstrate how HaShem is involved in every matter of our lives. While at times we may tend to take a negative view of events that occur, we must know like Yitzchak that ultimately we will not be faced with any struggles. It was for this reason that Yitzchak named the third well rechovos, and he explained, “For now HaShem has granted us ample space, and we can be fruitful in the land.” Similarly, the eras of the first and second Bais HaMikdash were periods of strife for the Jewish People, whereas the third Bais HaMikdash will usher in peace for eternity.
The Shabbos connection
Throughout the week we struggle with various forces that at times we perceive as harmful to our existence. With the arrival of Shabbos, however, HaShem sheds His infinite light on the world and we can readily perceive that everything that HaShem does is for our good. We should merit the day when our entire life will be a day that is completely Shabbos and a day for rest for eternity.
It pays to be Curious
Rabbi Yisroel Brog relates this story from his childhood that illustrates this point:
Rabbi Brog’s father was a man with an enormous heart. He would regularly invite people into his home to share meals, even offering them a place to sleep if need be. Even when a person was a bit eccentric, rude, or demanding, he continued to care for them with patience, kindness and love.
One day, Rabbi Brog’s father brought an elderly, apparently homeless Jewish man home for breakfast. The man asked for two eggs cooked for exactly two minutes. When the eggs were done, he asked for another set – the first two had been cooked longer than his required two minutes! By the end of the week, not only was this man having his “two eggs cooked for two minutes,” he actually moved in – and ended up living with the family for a number of years!
Every day, this old Jew would leave the house at five in the morning. For large parts of the day, he was gone. No one knew where he went or what he did. Rabbi Brog, then a youngster, was curious. One day, he worked up the courage to ask him what he did. The man told him that if he wanted to know, he should join him. The next morning, the young Yisroel was up and ready at five a.m., and together, he and the old man left the house.
That day turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the young boy’s life. For an entire day, he watched as this elderly Jew went from hospitals to old age homes to individual homes, helping people without let-up. They visited the elderly and the infirm, bringing them various things they needed, helping them put on Tefillin, cheering them up, and raising their spirits. The whole neighborhood felt the impact of this man and his good deeds.
It turned out that Rabbi Brog’s eccentric house guest was a survivor who lost everything in the Holocaust. Now, his only wish was to help others as much as he could. Imagine what the young Rabbi Brog would have grown up thinking had he never bothered to draw closer to this hidden treasure! (Rabbi Leiby Burnham www.partnersintorah.org)
Every Mitzvah lasts for Eternity
This past summer 30,000 Boy Scouts joined together in Virginia for a national Boy Scout Jamboree. Among the myriad groups of scouts who attend this event that occurs every four years are many Jewish Scouts as well. Mike Paretsky, a Vice Chairman of the GNYC Jewish Committee on scouting, was the kosher food liaison to the jamboree. Special food was ordered from O’Fishel caterers of Baltimore, so that the Jewish scouts would be able to nourish their bodies as well.
One of the scoutmasters, a Jewish man caught a glimpse of the kosher offerings. He had never eaten a kosher meal in his life, yet when he saw the special meals, something stirred. He and his troops were being served pork-this and bacon-that for breakfast, lunch and supper, and all of a sudden this man decided he was sick of the monotonous treif stuff. He wanted to eat kosher. Scoutmaster Paretsky gladly let him partake in a meal, but that was not enough for the fellow. The man decided to keep kosher during the entire jamboree!
Mr. Paretsky agreed to accommodate the neophyte kosherphile, but a skeptic approached him. “Mike,” he said, “why are you wasting your kosher food on this fellow? He is not going to eat kosher after this is over, and he observes absolutely nothing! Why waste the food on him?”
Mike answered with an amazing story of the Chafetz Chaim. When Russian soldiers entered the town of Radin, Jewish townsfolk prepared kosher meals for the Jewish soldiers in the Czar’s army. Soon their acts of charity seemed to fly in their face as they saw the soldiers devour the food and then stand on line to receive the forbidden Russian rations.
When they complained to the Chafetz Chaim and threatened to stop preparing kosher food, he reflected with an insight that must be passed on to generations.
“Every mitzvah that a Jew does, every good deed and every bit of kosher that he eats is not a fleeting act. It is an eternity. No matter what precedes or ensues, we must cherish each proper action of a Jew.” (www.Torah.org)
Sensitivity beyond belief
Rabbi Paysach Krohn writes:
The following is one of the most remarkable stories I have ever heard. It is especially striking because of the era in which it occurred – our own time!
Nowadays, we often hear people described as self-centered and selfish products of the “Me Generation,” in which one’s own whims and wishes take precedence over anything else. It is reassuring to know that there are still people who act in extraordinary ways under extraordinary conditions.
It was the summer of 1992 and several yeshivas (academies of Torah study) had arranged for their students and rabbis to spend the summer learning at Camp Harim in Greenfield Park, a town in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
One of those yeshivas was the Yeshiva Gedolah of Montreal, whose dean, Rabbi Mordechai Weinberg, was a renowned Torah scholar and one of the founders of the camp.
On the 15th day of Tammuz (July 16, 1992) he had yahrtzeit (memorial day) for his mother. He had felt back pains the night before but was not concerned. At the morning service, however, as he stood leading the prayers, he suddenly felt severe chest pains.
After services, Rabbi Weinberg walked directly to the bungalow of Rabbi Yoel Silverberg, head of the volunteer Hatzalah Ambulance Unit in the area. Rabbi Weinberg told him about his symptoms. Within minutes it was apparent that he’d suffered a severe heart attack.
Rabbi Weinberg was rushed to Sullivan County Community Hospital in Harris, New York, where emergency treatments were begun. As Rabbi Silverberg attended to Rabbi Weinberg, camp officials immediately called his wife, who was away in New York City, to notify her of the situation. Rebbitzen Esther Weinberg dropped everything and headed directly for the hospital in Harris, a two-hour drive from the city.
Rabbi Weinberg’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and by the time his wife was able to get to the hospital, the situation was critical. The entire camp was reciting Psalms for the stricken rabbi, and as news about the perilous situation spread in camps and bungalow colonies throughout the Catskills and elsewhere, many others recited Psalms and studied Torah on his behalf.
In Sullivan County Community Hospital, Rabbi Silverberg stood next to Rabbi Weinberg’s bed in the cardiac intensive care unit, as cardiologists worked continuously, doing everything possible to save his life. Rabbi Silverberg was at his side when Rabbi Weinberg said that he was feeling more pain. Rabbi Silverberg walked around behind the bed and when he looked down, he saw that Rabbi Weinberg had expired right before his eyes!
Rabbi Silverberg began to tremble as he realized that now he had the terrible, frightening task of bringing the horrible news to the Rebbitzen, who was outside in the waiting room with her daughter.
What would he say! How could he face her? How does someone tell a woman that her husband is no longer alive? He dreaded this situation as he had never dreaded anything before.
Slowly he walked to the waiting room, his head down. As he came into the lobby, he could see the Rebbitzen sitting with her daughter in the distance. He instinctively looked away to avoid making eye contact with her. Hesitantly, he made his way to where she was sitting. He fought to hold back his tears and swallowed to muffle his sobs. Almost inaudibly, Rabbi Silverberg said, “Rebbitzen, I am so sorry to tell you – your husband didn’t make it.”
At first Mrs. Weinberg didn’t say anything. As the impact of the catastrophe sank in, she sat quietly for ten long seconds, without uttering a word. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she looked up at Rabbi Silverberg and, with sensitivity beyond belief, said, “It must be so hard for you to have to tell me that.”
That night as the family was packing to leave the camp and head for the funeral the next morning in Montreal, Mrs. Weinberg said to her children, “Let’s not forget to tip the waiters.”
I have thought about these two comments dozens of times. How is it possible for someone at the most tragic moment of her life to retain the strength and presence of mind to be concerned about someone else’s pain and discomfort? How can one who is suddenly shattered with the wrenching grief of the loss of her partner in life remain sensitive to another person’s burden, when that burden is minuscule in comparison? Are there really people who can think of tipping waiters while packing for a funeral?!
Obviously such extraordinary people do exist among us, people so refined in their behavior towards fellow humans that their pristine character sets the standard for their generation. In this case – our generation. (http://www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Toldos 5771
is sponsored by Moshe and Betty Gasner in loving memory of Betty’s mother Tova bas Yaakov, Mrs. Tonia Gelber, whose yahrtzeit is on the 28th of Cheshvan
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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