Sunday, November 30, 2008

indelible impressions

I am not a big fan of Slabodka style mussar, but if you go for that sort of stuff: Rashi explains that Yitzchak's eyesight became poor in his old age (27:1) due to his exposure to the irritating fumes of burning incense offered by Eisav's wives to worship their avodah zarah (parenthetically: this suggests that avodah zarah was taking place right under Yitzchak's nose -- did this not reflect on Eisav and warrant a reaction of some sort?) But why did these fumes only affect Yitzchak's eyesight? Would they not also have affected Rivka's eyesight as well? The Sifsei Chachamim answers (citing Maharashal) that Rivka was less sensitive to the fumes and smoke because she grew up in a house where she had been exposed to avodah zarah and was used to its affects.

Let's put this in context (my wife gets credit for this observation): Rashi tells us that Yitzchak was 123 when he decided to bless Eisav. Recall that according to Rashi (25:20) Yitzchak was 37 years older than Rivka, meaning Rivka would have been 86 years old. Furthermore, according to Rashi Yitzchak married Rivka when she was just three years old. So here we have an elderly Rivka, a woman who has spent the past 83 (!) years wed to a tzadik like Yitzchak, a woman who abandonded her own home with its idolatry at the tender age of only three, a woman who was observed by Yitchak to have the same midos and purity as his mother Sarah before marriage. Yet because she "grew up" more than 83 years ago in a house where avodah zarah was worshipped, she had a lesser sensitivity to avodah zarah than Yitzchak! How could that be?

The Slabodka mussar ending: we see from here how deep and indelibe every impression is, how what we expose even a little child to can leave a mark that years of tzidkus and taharah cannot completely undo. Etc. etc. (Sorry, I have no aspirations to be a mashgiach. My son has asked me why in yeshiva he has to give up time from learning to listen to the mashgiach's shmooz -- I told him he should ask his rebbe.)

8 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:26 PM

    Rav Chaim,
    Query: would 3 years of kedushah also make the same indelible mark? After all, one's yetzer hara starts working at birth, but the yetzer tov comes only at Bar Mitzvah. Is the ko'ach of tum'ah stronger in this world, anyway? Keep sending Eliezer to the schmooze!

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  2. Avraham according to most opinions recognized HaShem when he was 3 but according to the Medrash, he was still concerned about the Avodah Zara he had worshipped in his previous life.

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  3. >>>according to the Medrash, he was still concerned about the Avodah Zara he had worshipped in his previous life.

    What Midrash are you referring to?

    >>>would 3 years of kedushah also make the same indelible mark?

    Why not - that would make for a chassidishe vort.

    >>>After all, one's yetzer hara starts working at birth, but the yetzer tov comes only at Bar Mitzvah.

    A greater shiur in kamus of zman does not necessarily outweigh a greater qualitative edge - R' Yosef Engel has has an essay discussing which is better - wrote about it once before, so check the archives.

    >>>Is the ko'ach of tum'ah stronger in this world, anyway?

    There must be a balance or there would be no bechira.

    >>>Keep sending Eliezer to the schmooze!

    He has no choice - school rules. But I do tend to see his point - this morning he gave up part of his morning seder to hear about...dedicating one's time to learning. Ironic, isn't it?
    The real problem is that when your regular seder includes Ketzos and R' Shimon Shkop, you are not going to be impressed with the mashgiach saying a "how can it be?... Is be!" type Slabodka vort or other superficial torah. But that's a whole different discussion.

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  4. Ummm.... why are we discussing a sipiritual roshem? The immunity here would be a biological one (smoke in the eyes). If so, it makes sense that Rivka would have developed an immunity in her formative years that would hold up the rest of her life.

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  5. Because I have never heard of a biological condition that would parallel this one. It sounds like a simply eye irritation -- do people become immune from eye irritations? This is not like a vaccine.

    The Rashi reminded me of way back when I went to KBY, which is situated alongside kibbutz yavneh, which has herds of cows for a milk farm. Being city boys, most of us were not used to the smell of the country, especially the smell of cows which was noticable even from a distance. One day someone got up the gumption to ask the yeshiva posek if it was permissable to daven in the presence of the cow odor, to which the yeshiva's posek, a man who had lived on the campus for years, simply replied, "What odor?"

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  6. "the yeshiva's posek, a man who had lived on the campus for years, simply replied, "What odor?""

    I was in my mid-teens, after my parents seperated and I moved to the city, before it really occurred to me that you could smell cigarette smoke on people's clothes, house or car. Until then not only my home, but basically any home I was ever at had at least one smoker.

    I wouldn't be suprised at all if someone where to demonstrate that I am still less sensitive/aware of tabacco odor that someone who never had such regular exposure.

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  7. It makes sense to me... I would assume that the eyes someone who works in a kitchen would eventually grow more and more tolerant to chopped onions for instance. The body has a way of being trained to tolerate things... it would make sense that this is especially true in the formative years...I'll do some searching online to check it out.

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  8. On the topic of shmuessim from Mashgichim I'm curious of your reaction to my post:

    http://elomdus.blogspot.com/2008/12/akeidas-yitzchak-rambams-unique-pshat.html

    - isn't this Rambam I bring totally against every shmooze you have heard on the Akeidah? I found it interesting. What's your take?

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