Food For the Soul
Different but identical
We’re taught that Abraham’s primary mode of service was via the attribute of loving kindness (chessed). This was repeatedly and poignantly demonstrated by his incessant acts of hospitality, compassion and benevolence. Isaac’s primary service, on the other hand, was via the attribute of severity and restraint (gevurah). He was a much more demanding sort of fellow. Indeed, everything we learn about Abraham and Isaac seems to cry out: Different! That if ever there were a father and son who seemed so unlike one another, it was these two highly individualized personalities. Yet the Midrash states that, in fact, Abraham and Isaac resembled one another—in every way!
Within this paradox, seen at the inception of the family of Israel, lies the true beauty of our people. Different situations require different solutions. In the days of Abraham—during which unawareness of a divine presence was rampant—the world needed an Abraham-like personality. In the days of Isaac—especially with hostilities looming on the horizon—the world needed an Isaac-like personality. Yet, these very different individuals, firmly embarked on their very different missions with their very different methods and characteristics, are deemed spiritually (and essentially) identical, because their ultimate focus and goals were one and the same. Their core principles, values and underlying devotion to G-d were completely indistinguishable from one another. They blazed different trails, but both trails led to the same place: toward making their environment a more holy and moral place to live.
Judaism, and the Torah way of life, celebrates individuality. We are each endowed with our own gifts and talents, our own passions and modes of expression. In terms of personality and character, none of us are truly alike. This is the way G-d created us, for it is only through the diverse expression of the multitudes that His true intent in creating this world can be realized.
Each and every Jewish man, woman and child plays his or her own special instrument within the symphony that is Judaism. Yet let us make certain that we are playing the same piece of music—as guided by that one and only Conductor—so that rather than a cacophony of disjointed noise, we have a beautiful symphony of harmonious diversity.
From an article by Rabbi Moshe Bryski
Connecting with the Divine
The Sabbath is not only a time of rest from the physical world, but a day to actively engage in higher matters. It is a day to enjoy time with family and friends without all of the worldly distractions. It is a time to reflect on relationships with others, with G-d, and re-establish commitment to a purpose-driven life. For this reason, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, used to say that the word Shabbat is related to the Hebrew world shov, to return, as it is an opportunity to remove from one’s mind all worldly concerns and return and reclaim the self. Any area where a person may have veered from the path during the previous week, the Sabbath is the time for realignment. The Zohar, the seminal work of Jewish mysticism, refers to Shabbat as yoma d’nishmasa, the day of the soul. Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, the Mitteler Rebbe of Lubavitch, explained that a professor testified that there is a great change even in the pulse of a Jew on the Sabbath, due to the great pleasure that the soul is experiencing. On this day every week, the Jewish people are given the opportunity to tear down any spiritual blockages that hinder their connection with the Divine.
From an article by Rabbi Pinchas Taylor
Mind Over Matter
To really trust
Each of our forefathers is known for a particular occupation or activity: Abraham fed wayfarers, Isaac dug wells and Jacob herded sheep. My favorite is well-digging. There is nothing like digging till you drop, seeing little in the way of evidence, and still trusting that the spring is there. With just a little more effort, you will reach it. But here is the deeper part. There is nothing more liberating than placing your trust in something higher than yourself. Knowing that you don’t need to create the water—you just need to trust that it is there and keep digging till you find it. Isaac was free of worry. The primary paralysis that grips our spirit is the paralysis of fear. Fear for the future. We are rarely worried about the present. In almost every situation, we can handle the present. We are alive, breathing and surviving. Well, guess what? I am surviving today even though I had no idea yesterday how I would get to today. And so, I have good reason to place my trust in the power that brought me to today. That power is certainly able to bring me to tomorrow. Knowing that lifts the burden of fear. Now I am free to put the pedal to the metal and move forward.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
The word eikev also means “heel.” The implication is that Abraham listened with his total being. The word of G-d penetrated even the lowest and most material part of his body. When the service of G-d penetrates a person’s totality, even his “heel,” one can be assured that he will have the fortitude to overcome whatever challenges lay before him. This offers an important lesson and encouragement to our generation which is called ikveta deMeshichah, the generation that is the “heel” of Moshiach, i.e., the “heel” (lowest and last part) of the stature of all the generations preceding Moshiach. Indeed, in relation to our predecessors, we are the “heel.” This may cause one to wonder why it is precisely our generation that shall merit the coming of Moshiach. However, it is precisely our service of G-d, the very end in the process of preparing the world, that will complete the necessary steps to bring about the redemption.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Here in South Africa, there is a popular soap opera called “Generations.” While the subject matter of the parsha Toldot is indeed rather dramatic, its significance goes way beyond the stuff that “soapies” are made of. It deals with the burning issue of Jewish continuity.
These are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham, begins the Parsha. We learn of the birth of Jacob and Esau, how they go their different ways and how, rather circuitously, Isaac bestows the all-important blessings on Jacob. The commentaries explain that this was not merely a blessing but the symbolic handing over of the Jewish legacy to the next generation. Isaac was passing the baton of destiny on to Jacob.
Long ago, one of the sages of the Talmud said he had “learned much from his teachers, more from his colleagues, but the most from his pupils.” I can go along with that. Some time back, a man for whom I had great respect came to see me to discuss certain issues he wanted his rabbi to clarify. This was a gentleman who had reached the apex of his profession, a highly intelligent and sensitive human being—and amongst other things, he said he had a confession to make. Now we rabbis have no experience at taking confessions—we refer people directly to G-d for that sort of thing. But this man voluntarily wanted to share his most personal disappointment in life with me and I was profoundly flattered to have been found deserving of his trust.
This was his story. He came home from the wedding of his eldest daughter and, inexplicably, found himself crying. His wife said, “Why are you crying? You should be bubbling with joy.” He answered, “I’m crying because I have just given away a daughter I don’t know to a man I don’t know.” It had suddenly struck him with the force of a ton of bricks that he’d spent years and years building up his business but he had neglected his family. And suddenly the daughter he didn’t really know was leaving the family home forever. Thank G-d, this man resolved to rectify the situation and went on to succeed admirably. But his story made a deep impression on me.
It is not only from a family point of view but also from a Jewish faith perspective that we need to know our children well. We tend to mistakenly assume that whatever positive feelings of faith, morals and yiddishkeit we imbibed as children from our parents will somehow automatically be transmitted to our own children. Wrong! It does not happen genetically. It takes lots of hard work and years of intimate, personal guidance by dedicated parents.
It’s a new generation, folks. The influences on our kids’ lives today are dramatic, powerful and not always pleasant. Internet, television, movies, computer games and even cell phones are making our children more sophisticated and grown-up at increasingly younger ages. If once upon a time young people were spared the test of assimilation by staying in a secure social circle, today one can get chatted up by anyone in the whole wide world right in the family study on the computer through the internet.
Tragically, children from the finest homes have gone terribly astray. If we don’t transmit a healthy value system to the next generation, the vacuum will very likely be filled with other willing teachers, many of whom we may not approve of. The good news is that our kids actually do want our guidance. As autonomous as they may appear, they actually crave direction in life. And at the end of the day, what they learn at home will make a far more lasting impression than what they pick up at school, or dare I say, even at shul.
Let my friend’s story serve notice. Don’t wait until after the wedding. Jewish continuity and future generations depend on it. G-d bless you with success and lots of yiddishe nachas.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman