Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Brotherly Concern

As we continue learning Seder Bereishis, we learn more of the immense stature of the Avos. Parshas Vayeirah is replete with vignettes of the life of Avrohom Avinu, one of the greatest people to ever walk this earth. From his devotion to the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim to the way he dealt with the nisayon of the akeidah, every nuance of his demeanor, speech and actions personified the values he sought to instill in his descendants, which continue to guide and inspire us to this day.

The stories of our forefathers retold in the Torah are not simply fantasy tales written for inspiration, but are benchmarks we can all reach and live by.

“Maaseh avos siman labonim;” the actions of the fathers serve as signposts to their offspring, pointing out the path to self-perfection in this world.

Some of the stories seem plausible only in relation to someone of Avrohom Avinu’s caliber. We wonder if we are really expected to reach the levels of chesed and kedusha that he attained. Yet, if the Torah recorded these spiritual milestones, it was unquestionably for our edification.

Sometimes we need reminders to prod us into doing what Avrohom did naturally.

A story was recently told to me by a dear friend about an 82-year-old woman who was traveling to Eretz Yisroel. She refused to let her advancing age, aging legs and worsening arthritis stop her from her visiting her family and spending time in the Holy Land.

As she made her way to the airplane, an airport security officer insisted that the old woman, who could barely hobble along, remove her orthopedic shoes for inspection, to ensure that there were no bombs in them. Her protests brushed aside, it was an understandably distraught elte bubba who settled herself on a bench in security without a clue as to how she would manage this ordeal. Suddenly, a 70-something chassidishe Yid approached her.

“Allow me to help you”, he graciously offered. “Oiy, Reb Yid, how could I allow you to be zich matriach?” the woman replied, convinced that there is no way a chassidishe Yid is going to bend down to help an old lady remove her shoes.

“Please,” the man persisted, “I was ten years old when they took mein mama off to Auschwitz. Whenever I see a regal Yiddishe bubba like yourself, I think that this is how my mother would appear today had she not been murdered. Please allow me to assist you and pretend that I am helping my old mother!”

Tears streamed down both their faces as he gently undid her laces, sent the shoes through the x-ray belt and after they passed inspection put them back on her feet.

“Thank you”, the old woman managed, after regaining her composure.

“No”, the man replied simply. “Thank you.”

This precious Yid poignantly exemplified the legacy of Avrohom Avinu. To our forefather Avrohom, every woman in need of help was his mother, every woman in need of a meal was his mother. Whenever anyone who needed aid crossed his path, he saw them as his own family. And what don’t you do for family!

Rav Yaakov Neiman, the rosh yeshiva of the Petach Tikvah yeshiva, entered the home of the mashgiach, Rav Moshe Rosenshtien, one Shabbos afternoon, and saw him sitting and studying Chumash with a young child. Certain that it was one of his grandchildren, and wondering which of his children the ainikel belonged to, Rabbi Neiman asked the aged mashgiach with whose child he was spending his precious time on Shabbos afternoon. He answered that it was “Der Ribbono Shel Olam’s ah kind,” a child of Hashem.

If we looked at every Jewish child who wants to learn as if he were the child of G-d, we would be able to make time for them. If we recognized that every Jewish child is a yachson, we’d have patience to spend a Shabbos afternoon learning with them. If we remembered that every Jewish child is der Ribbono Shel Olam’s ah kind, we would treat them the way we wish we were treated - with love and care.

The greatness of Avrohom Avinu was that he didn’t need little mayselach to remind him of the importance of every individual. He didn’t need to imagine that a little old lady who needed help was his mother. He helped anyway. We need these little reminders. We need to have it drilled into us to be kind. Avrohom was so perfect in his beliefs that there was no gap between comprehension and performance. He didn’t need to process the situation in his mind and conclude that positive action was called for. The chesed came reflexively.

These parshiyos of Bereishis are intended to inspire us to train ourselves to do chesed until it becomes second nature, as Avrohom did. These parshiyos remind us that it is indeed possible for us to judge people favorably and to deal forthrightly, honestly and charitably with everyone.

Many ask what the great nisayon of the akeida was. Hashem commanded Avrohom to bring up his son Yitzchok as an offering; how could Avrohom have been expected not to comply?

Rav Shach answers that the only novi to whom G-d appeared b’aspaklarya hame’irah was Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was told exactly what G-d wanted him to do; all other prophets saw their prophecy in a dream and in a moshol. When Hakadosh Boruch Hu appeared to Avrohom and told him regarding Yitzchok, “Vehaaleihu shom l’olah,’ Avrohom would have been justified in interpreting the command in numerous ways, none of them involving the death of Yitzchok.

After all, G-d had promised Avrohom that his name would live on through his son Yitzchok. It would have been perfectly reasonable to assume that Hashem had something else in mind and that “Vehaaleihu” didn’t mean to sacrifice his beloved son but rather to raise him.

But Avrohom didn’t take that approach. He removed all negios from the equation, he analyzed G-d’s words as if they were referring to someone other than his son, and thus he reached the conclusion that Hashem wanted Yitzchok for a korban.

There is always the urge to wiggle out of doing good things. Too often, we look for a way to get ourselves off the hook of having to perform a chesed that was dropped in our lap. We say, “It’s not for me to do. I don’t have a big enough car. I don’t have enough strength. They don’t need my money; they only need my advice.” If we are asked to make a phone call to raise money for a needy person, we often procrastinate and offer excuses as to why we are the wrong person to make the call.

We say that the person who needs help looks different than us, wears a different kind of yarmulke, or maybe even, G-d forbid, a light-colored suit. We may see someone who needs help but pass them by because we aren’t in the mood to be bothered.

Not so Avrohom. He didn’t make any excuses, he didn’t make any rationalizations. He didn’t look for a way out. Every Jew was his brother. He taxed himself to the utmost to understand the word of G-d and then he ran to fulfill it.

When we have a mitzvah to do, when we have obligations, we shouldn’t seek the easy way out. We shouldn’t look for excuses to shirk our duty; we should seek to carry it out to the fullest, with all hiddurim. Exactly as Avrohom would have done.

The posuk states, “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker, and Avrohom awoke in the morning.” Many explain that the posuk is teaching us the greatness of Avrohom. Even though he was going to shecht his son, he still awoke at the crack of dawn to fulfill the word of Hashem.

The Brisker Rov offers another fascinating insight. He says that the chiddush is not that Avrohom awoke early. One who is going to fulfill the word of Hashem would naturally wake up early to go do it. The chiddush here is that Avrohom was able to sleep the night before! Even though he knew that he was going to shecht his beloved son in whom all his dreams for the future were invested, he was able to sleep peacefully until morning.

One who is sure of himself, one who has no doubts as to the ways of the L-rd, one who doesn’t question but serves with complete faith, sleeps very comfortably at night. One who deals honestly with his fellow man; one who hears the pleas of the hungry, the desolate and the poor; one who rises to every occasion and doesn’t turn a deaf ear to the cries of the abused and afflicted; one whose life isn’t a string of excuses and half truths, is a son of Avrohom Avinu and can sleep comfortably at night.

There are people of such nobility in every neighborhood. They are the people who are active in bikkur cholim; the Hatzolah men; the menahel who takes in children others would ignore; the mechanchim and mechanchos who care more than anyone will ever know about their students; the doctor who is truly concerned for his patients and goes beyond the call of duty in caring for them; the people who quietly raise and donate money on behalf of those too embarrassed to ask; the people who empty the trash pails in shul when no one is looking; and all those who do all the little things which help out so many people in big ways.

Let’s say thank you to them this week and every week. They are the people who keep the spark of Avrohom Avinu alive and make our people great.

This column was written in honor of Rav Yaakov Bender who embodies so many of the positive attributes of Bnei Avrohom and who is a constant source of support and inspiration to many.


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