Thursday, October 10, 2013

"toras rabbo" vs. personal development

(If you only want to read one point here, I would say jump to #4.)

1) Rashi comments on “Eileh toldos Noach” that the toldos, the offspring or fruits of a tzadik, are his torah and good deeds.  Now we understand, writes the Shem m’Shmuel, what we mean in our musaf for Rosh Chodesh when we say it is “zman kaparah l’chol toldosam.”  We need a kaparah even for our toldos, our good deeds and Torah, that may have been done in a rushed, careless way.  (I meant to post this earlier in the week around Rosh Chodesh, but better later than never.)

2) I wrote earlier in the week that sometimes an individual may find that a specific mitzvah resonates with him/her.  By “coincidence” this week my daughter’s H.S. distributed an information packet about various seminaries and I noticed that R’ Copperman from Michlala refers to this idea in his letter.  He quotes the Netziv’s Harchev Davar at the end of P’ Shelach who explains the Mishna in Avos, “Eizehu derech yeshasah she’yavor lo ha’adam,” as meaning that an individual has to choose their own direction in avodas Hashem.  Aside from that path being “tiferes lo min Shamayim,” pleasing in G-d’s eyes, it also has to be “tiferes lo min ha’adam,” something that appeals to him/her as an individual, something that resonates with his/her neshoma.  Some people are drawn to chessed; some people are drawn to learning; some people are drawn to other good deeds.  We each have our own task to fulfill.

3) In our parsha we read that Hashem struck Pharoah “al dvar Sarai eishes Avram.” (12:17)  From the emphasis placed on Sarah’s being “eishes Avram” it sounds like Sarah was spared from harm only because she was Avraham’s wife.  The Netziv asks: did Sarah not have zechuyos of her own ?  Is it only her being Avraham’s wife  -- Avraham’s merits -- that earned Hashem’s intervention?

The Netziv answers by setting down a yesod that runs though his commentary in many places and something worth keeping in mind in looking at the upcoming parshiyos.  Just as each of us has our own path in avodas Hashem, the same was true of the Avos, each of whom excelled at a particular aspect of avodah: for Avraham it was Torah, for Yitzchak it was avodah/tefilah, for Ya’akov it was gemilus chassadim.  In turn, each of the Avos received a different type of reward/merit and faced different types of challenges.  The reward for Ya’akov’s chessed was shalom; that’s where he ran into challenges and that’s where he would ultimately find the greatest success.  The reward for avodah is wealth, and we that Yitzchak instituted ma’asros as a means of thanking Hashem for his enormous fortune.  Torah is compared to a sword, and Avraham’s success was in waging war against anything that stood in his path, whether it be an internal or an external enemy, e.g. Avraham’s war against the kings mentioned later in our parsha. 

The miracle of Avraham being saved from the furnace of Nimrod is never mentioned in the Torah (a question raised by the Rishonim) according to Netziv because at the time that miracle happened Avraham was not yet the master of Torah that he would later become.  Avraham was saved from Nimrod, but Nimrod was not defeated – which is what would have happened had Avraham been able to invoke the sword of Torah that would later characterize his behavior.  The Torah is not a story book, it’s not a history of the Avos, it’s not a book of miracles that happened to tzadikim.  The Torah relates events that help portray the Avos as archetypes, not every biographical detail of their lives. (We need to look at the later parshiyos and see how this thesis fits – I am sure questions spring to mind.)  

Sarah certainly could have been saved from Pharoah in her own merit, independent of Avraham’s zechuyos.  However, the Torah calls our attention to Avraham’s merits because Sarah was not only saved, but Pharoah was struck down in the process.  That’s the sword at work, the merit of Torah – that was Avraham’s unique hallmark.
4) All this talk about individuality is warm up for an amazing Maor vaShemesh: Avraham beseeches Hashem for a son (15:2) and complains that the only one who he has to pass his legacy on to is “Damesek Eliezer.” Chazal interpret the word Damesek not as the place Eliezer came from – why would that be relevant to mention here? – but rather as an abbreviation for “doleh u’mashkeh toras rabbo l’acheirim.”  Eliezer faithfully passed the teachings of Avraham to others like a person drawing from a well so others could drink.  It’s a wonderful description of Eliezer, but, asks the Maor v’Shemesh, doesn’t it undermine Avraham’s point?  Doesn’t Avraham weaken his case for needing a worthy heir by mentioning that Eliezer is such a faithful student, someone who spreads his Torah everywhere? 
We have to read Chazal carefully.  Eliezer was “doleh u’mashkeh toras rabbo,” he spread his rebbi’s Torah to others – Eliezer was a duplicating machine who saw his mission as getting others to be little Avraham Avinus.  It’s like the story of the Rosh Yeshiva who moved the broom away from his doorway to get to his Chanukah menorah and made sure to tell his students that it’s not a minhag, only to see them year after year move brooms away from their doorways and say it’s not a minhag.  Avodas Hashem is not about being a mimic.  It’s not about copying “toras rabbo,” but about taking its lessons to heart and developing **your** torah.  Avraham wanted an heir that would internalize his teachings and make them into something of their own, not simply copy them and force themselves to conform to his model. 
Hashem’s response to Avraham is to lift him above the Heavens to see the stars, each of which is its own source of energy and light.  So too, each one of us brings our own light, our own unique, individual perspective, into the world.


  1. I agree #4 is great, yashar koach.

    Regarding #3: I'm surprised because I feel like I've heard/read many many times that Avraham = Chesed, and Ya'akov = Torah. Before this I don't think I've ever heard someone say the reverse, Avraham = Torah and Ya'akov = Chesed. Very interesting. Do any other sources map the avos in that way?

    We could perhaps have said just as well that God intervened against Pharaoh on behalf of Avraham and Sarah in reward for Avraham's chesed, famously hachanas orchim. They were guests in Egypt, and Pharaoh's mistreatment of Sarah was the complete opposite of hachnasas orchim. So it is poetic justice that Sarah, Avraham's wife, be saved dramatically from such abuse.

  2. Ditto paragraph two.

  3. I don't know anyone else who sets it up exactly like the Netziv, but that could just be because I don't know enough. Your explanation fits too.
    One other point the Netziv makes: Avraham gets a free pass, secharcha harbei me'od, no loss of zechuyos for fighting the kings, but ya'akov says "katonti m'kol hachasadim" after dealing with Lavan. He writes that the difference stems from the midos. Avraham = sword of Torah which keeps the enemies at a distance. Ya'akov is playing defense; the enemy is upon him and he is struggling to survive. That is more of a drain on merits.

  4. I think Netziv says Yaakov's midah was shalom, but I guess it's one and the same. I suggested that this is how Yaakov justified telling Esav, "es taryag mitzvos shamarti," because by doing chesed and being connected we all fulfill the 613 together.

    regarding the Maor Vashemesh, I also had this question and I like his answer (similar to the taana on Hevel, "viHevel heivi gam hu, he copied Kayin) but don't we find that Rabbi Eliezer never said anything over that he didn't hear from his Rebbe and didn't Reb Boruch Ber burn his kesavim when he went to learn by Rav Chaim?

  5. R' Chaim Shmuelivitz (and R' Kook says this as well) asks a stira because in Avos d"R Nosson it says that R' Eliezer darshened things that no one had ever heard before. The answer is that R' Eliezer so internalized his rebbe's approach that everything he was mechadesh it was as if he had heard it. He was not a mimic -- he was a big mechadesh, but he was a mechadesh within the derech he received. Yitchok Avinu was a big mechadesh -- but still the Torah says he followed Avraham Avinu's path.