Vayeira 5759GOOD MORNING! The other day it happened again.
An elderly man felt the compulsion to tell me that he was brought up Orthodox, but that he was no longer Orthodox because when he was a boy in cheder (religious school) the rebbie hit him with a ruler.
I said to the man, "You know, it is ironic. I was brought up in a secular environment and attended Beaverton High School in Oregon, a public high school. My English teacher, Mrs. Farrin, was a real character. She was about 5 feet tall, had a raspy cigarette-voice and was a tough disciplinarian. One day I fell asleep in her class. Mrs. Farrin continued her lecture as she walked back to my desk and whapped me across the wrist with a ruler. I jumped out of my seat, hauled back my fist ready to deck my attacker, when I realized who had struck me. At that moment, I said to myself, 'If that's the way secular people are, I want no part of secularism! I want to be religious!!'"
The man replied, "That's ridiculous! Just because you had a teacher who hit you, you're gonna become religious?"
And I responded, "Ah-hah .... do you hear that what you're telling me applies to you, too?"
We have to be careful to know the difference between truths and excuses. The head of a yeshiva once ran into one of his former students who was no longer Torah observant. In response to his rebbie's question as to what happened, the young man replied, "Rebbie, so many questions, so many questions." And his rebbie responded, "Chaim. Which came first? Your laxity in observance or the questions?"
Why do Jews go away from Torah observance? Firstly, we are influenced by our environment. Where you live is the second most important decision after who you marry. If you live with tzadikim (righteous people) you will be influenced to model their behavior. If you live in a secular, materialistic environment, you will be drawn to "keep up with the Joneses." It is a reality.
Secondly, unless one studies and makes an effort to understand, then ill-ease, and even embarrassment, build up from living a lifestyle that is different from others. There are NO empty rituals in a Torah way of life! Every mitzvah (commandment) comes to teach a lesson about life. If we fail to investigate or think about it, then we are the ones making it empty.
Why do Jews choose to opt for a Torah way of life? They find meaning, fulfillment, happiness, values and even truth through the lifestyle. The Jewish people undertook at Mt. Sinai to uphold the Torah's commandments for all generations. As the generations descended from Mt. Sinai until today, the closeness to the event, the level of learning and observance have decreased as we are influenced by our surroundings.
The ultimate question for each individual is: "Am I facing towards the Torah or away from the Torah?" Do I want to grow in my understanding and fulfillment of the Torah or do I want to assimilate and disappear as a Jew? Do I have a heritage and a treasure to be enjoyed and shared with my children or do I choose to ignore it? One has to make conscious, real decisions about what it means to be a Jew, how to ensure that one grows and understands Torah, how to ensure that the next generation will be a continuing link in the 150 generations of the Jewish people!
By the way, the story is true about Mrs. Farrin disturbing my slumber. However, I really didn't decide to lead a Torah way of life at that moment. That story is for a future edition!
Portion of the Week
Avraham, on the third day after his brit mila, sits outside his tent looking for guests to extend his hospitality. While talking with the Almighty, he sees three visitors (actually angels of the Almighty). Avraham interrupts his conversation with the Almighty to invite them to a meal. One angel informs him that in a year's time, Sarah, his wife, will give birth to a son, Yitzhak (Isaac).
God tells Avraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of its absolute evil (the city is the source of the word sodomy). Avraham argues with God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people in Sodom. Avraham loses for the lack of a quorum. Lot (Avraham's nephew) escapes the destruction with his two daughters.
Other incidents: Avimelech, king of the Philistines, wants to marry Sarah Avraham's wife), the birth of Yitzhak, the eviction of Hagar (Avraham's concubine) and Ishmael. Avimelech and Avraham make a treaty at Beersheva. Avraham is commanded to take up his son, Isaac, to sacrifice him (Akeidat itzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.
Want to know the reward for listening to the command of the Almighty?
This is what the Almighty told Avraham: "... I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My voice."
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "And (Avraham) lifted up his eyes and he saw. And behold three men were standing near him and he saw and he ran to greet them from the entrance of the tent" (Genesis 18:2). From verse 2 until verse 8, the Torah details each specific act of Avraham's hospitality towards his guests -- "he lifted up his eyes," "he saw," "he ran to greet them." Why does the Torah spend seven verses describing the details of Avraham's kindness?
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented on this with an analogy. When a person inherits a house, he will usually just say, "I have a house." He will not elaborate on all of the details since he received everything at one time. However, a person who builds a house for himself will talk about every detail from the beginning until the end. He will describe how he purchased the land for the site of the house, how he bought the material that went into building the house, and so on. Each aspect is very dear to him. The more effort he put into the house, the more he will talk about it.
Similarly, said Rav Yeruchem, the actions and behavior of the righteous are like a building. With each action, a righteous person is building a great edifice. For this reason, the Torah tells us about each detail of Avraham's chesed (kindness). Every movement was another stage in the building of a righteous person.
When you view yourself as building a great person, every detail of what you do is invested with meaning and importance. Every positive action you do is creating a great human being. Keep this in mind when you do an act of kindness for others. Every movement you make is a necessary part of the entire construction. Don't wait for the end to appreciate what you are doing. Rather, feel the joy of growth in even the smallest act of kindness that you do.
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"It doesn't matter what you can do,
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by Roy Liemer &
Vista Satellite Communications
Rabbi Kalman Packouz