In the Talmud it says that our Patriarchs did not depart from this world since they are brought back to life by the continuation of the mitzvoth performed from generation to generation. Being heirs to the legacy of Israel, the Jewish people have forever performed mitzvoth like Brit Mila, inviting guests in for the Shabbat meal, and other acts of reaching out to the needy, like what we read about in Abraham and Sarah. The values that our forefathers have passed down to us far surpass checking rice and legumes for bugs, going to shule, looking “frum” and all the typical mitzvoth we are so acquainted with. The stories of their self sacrifice go above and beyond setting another placemat or throwing in another pulky to the oven.
The gutsiness our forefathers demonstrated in the wars they fought showed no compromise with the faulty social norms of their time. The nerve, bravery and fearlessness that they had are what helped them overcome the tests that were given them time after time. It was not only Daniel who escaped the lion’s den but ALL of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were tested and time after time and “took the bull by the horns”. Their stories are the seeds that blossom into the tree of life that we eat from to this day. Their examples serve as an anchor when we sample desperate times, their characters a citation to emulate. The book of Bereishit is full of all kinds of their memoirs. There was active engagement (Abraham running to sacrifice all promised to him) and passive self sacrifice (Yitzchak on the altar). In this parsha we truly come to understand the nature of Avraham’s steadfastness, practiced in undoubted faith and devotion.
The Midrash Eliyahu Raba (23) says:”Ad matay yageeu maasay lemaasey avotay?”- “When shall my deeds be like my forefathers – Abraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov”? This midrash touches upon a person’s introspection into the deeds of the forefathers and his own tests in his own time. How can his kavana (intention) be perfected to the level of his forefathers? Kavana comes from the root word, keevoon- direction. The first stop on his path was where he was installed by his parents. But it goes back, to where their parents placed them, and their parents placed them to the first stop- to Abraham. There is a phenomenon today that many people are becoming “more frum” than their parents were. They are covering their hair, wearing black suits and eating only the strictest of hechshers. This goes in sync with the prophecy of Malachi (3:24) that states- “Veheyshiv lev avot al banim velev banim al avotam”- “The fathers hearts will return to the sons, and their sons to their fathers”- meaning that the sons will adhere even more strictly to the laws of the torah. (of the generation that was before.) The midrash of Eliyahu Raba humbles that and asks if we really are greater than our forefathers… It is asking, “Who is sweating over a Jewish cause? Who is being put through the fire? Who is going to fight the corrupt system? Who is going out to war against the enemies of Am Yisrael? Who is being thrown on the altar or down the pit and withstanding it in faith?”
During the holocaust, in one of the death camps there was a rare circumstance of a Jewish woman that had a baby. She approached a man she knew to be a great Rabbi back in the shtetyl. She asked him if he had a knife. He understood in her desperation that she wanted to kill herself and her baby because of the freezing, starving reality they had. As the Rabbi was about to teach her a torah about the sanctity of life, a Nazi officer walked by and heard her request. He happily handed her a knife in the hope of a sure suicide and murder. But this woman was not brash or reckless, that is not what an emissary of our Matriarchs does. To the amazement of everyone, she opened her new born’s son’s diaper and performed circumcision on him. THAT was self sacrifice.
There are times and there are times. The generations live through them. Some of them are rosy and red. Some are gray and black. In some we are actively fighting for our lives. In some we are “sitting pretty”. Am Yisrael is always on a mission though. The passuk “Maasey avot siman lebanim”- “All that happened to the fathers is a sign for the children” is the symbol of history always repeating itself. It is about sacrificing oneself for Israel. Our Rabbis tell us that there are 70 faces to the torah. Our fathers though, have only ONE FACE. Let’s strive to look like them.
Dear Readers, There is a new song out by The Muse. The words go like this-” They will not force us. They will stop degrading us. They will not control us. We will be victorious.” It’s kind of rock and rolley (and good!) but it is also our message to any foreign government that thinks it can decide what we will do, (as if it will not be in the way of our fathers!- Ha!) Avraham Avinu, the first Father was the first to return to the Land. Moshe and I had the merit of returning to the Land over 24 years ago. This week our mom, at the age of 78 made her way back to the Land on aliyah. Hashem has a plan and it’s a little different than what the foreign nations of the world want to dictate to us. If only they knew that WE WILL BE VICTORIOUS in the merit of our forefathers.
Shabbat Shalom, Leah Goldsmith