The founder of the Jewish people was the extraordinary Avraham Avinu. While he was unquestionably a great and unique person, we need to understand why Hashem skipped over other perfect people before him. For example, nowhere in the Torah do we find such eloquent accolades as Hashem gives to Noach. He was a mentch, righteous, whole, walked with G-d, found favor in the eyes of G-d, and yet he didn’t earn the right to father our people. Nor did the saintly Mesushelach. The great heads of the first yeshiva, Sheim and Eiver, were also passed over. So too, the righteous Chanoch and the humble Yaktan did not fit the bill.
What did Avraham have that all of these others were missing, that made him ‘the man’ to begin G-d’s chosen people?
We cannot say that it was Avraham’s expertise and devotion to the attribute of kindness, for that trait he himself learned from Noach who, as the connoisseur par excellence on chesed, took care of the entire animal kingdom with unbelievable devotion and love. One might also surmise that the reason Avraham was chosen was because he passed the ten nisyonos, those ten incredible tests and trials — spanning from the courageous act of stepping into the furnace of Nimrod to the awesome feat of the Akeidas Yitzchak. While this would be a good suggestion, it is not the reason why Avraham was chosen to father our people.
The Torah states, in black and white, what was so special about Avraham Avinu. In a vital verse, the Torah emphasizes the very lifeblood of the Jewish People and tells us why Hashem handpicked Avraham Avinu. “Ki y’dativ l’maan asher y’tzave es bonov v’es bnei beiso acharov — For I have loved him, since I know he will instruct his children and his household after him.”[18:19] Herein lies the secret of Avraham’s special prowess: The talents of passing on the mesorah, the unique heritage and traditions of Judaism, to his descendants.
To demonstrate how important this quality is, let me illustrate it with the following question. We know that, at the time of our Avos, there was a great Torah academy headed by the legendary giants, Sheim and Eiver. We know that Yitzchak studied there. That’s the reason why he missed Sorah Imeinu’s funeral – he was far away studying at the academy. Yaakov too learned with Sheim and Eiver. In the famous verse, “Yaakov ish tam, yosheiv ohalim – Yaakov was the perfect man, dwelling in tents,” the commentators explain that these tents were those of Sheim v’Eiver. We know that Yaakov spent a legendary fourteen years in that famous academy without sleeping. And yet, we also know that we went down to Egypt with just seventy souls, the totality of the Jewish people – and all of the student body of the yeshiva of Sheim v’Eiver was lost.
What happened to them? Why weren’t they absorbed as part of our nation? We asked this question to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Zt”l, Zy”a. He explained that it was because Sheim v’Eiver did not have the talent of the mesorah and therefore their talmidim did not perpetuate themselves.
This is why Avraham Avinu was chosen and, as his descendants, this is the focus we must always have: An utter devotion towards inculcating into our children the tenets and uniqueness of Judaism. Those who stray from educating their children properly in Yiddishkeit find that, before long, their families assimilate and their Yiddishkeit is lost. Thus, entire grand Jewish communities, like ones in the Bronx and in the Catskills, withered away largely due to the lack of yeshiva systems in their environment. It is the natural course of events that, when children are raised without a proper yeshiva education, they see no reason to desist from following their hearts in marriage – and marrying out of the faith.
For lesser extremes, we need to realize that we have to review the basics of our faith with our children even if we think it is unnecessary. Thus, I will speak to my daughters about modesty in dress even though, to them, it might seem superfluous. But, this will assure that they, in turn, will talk about modesty with their children – when it might be more necessary.
Before September 11, did we think about talking with our children about bitachon, faith, in Hashem? Perhaps not, for we felt smugly secure. But, a proper devotion to mesorah would have ensured that we would speak about it anyway for trusting Hashem is something that has been handed down largely from father to son, mama to daughter throughout our bloody history.
The sefer Tuvcha Yabi’u makes another fascinating observation. Despite the Torah pointing out that Avraham’s specialty was giving over the heritage to his family, the author shows that, wonder of wonders, only eight words between Avraham Avinu and his son Yitzchak are recorded in the Torah. The Tuvcha Yabi’u proposes that this is to deliberately demonstrate that the best method of education our young is through personal example. Even more important than what we tell them, it is crucial how they see us behave.
Thus, in a world ripe with divorce, the best way to achieve that our children will have domestic harmony and tranquility is to let them see necessary talents by us. When we act gently and G-dly, even on erev Shabbos, we are paving the way for such behaviors in their future homes. When a father helps in the kitchen, and mother warmly greets her husband with a big smile at the end of the day, a legacy is passed over to our children that is priceless. When they see compromise and flexibility by us, and witness that we have the guts to say “I’m sorry” without a need for having the last word in an argument, we are giving them a PhD in a happy marriage.
Similarly, the best way to get our children to learn is to open a sefer at home, especially when they see we’re tired. The most certain way to teach them most proper behavior in shul is to have them view us saying the prayers smilingly and sincerely, sometimes with a little nigun and chant. The surest way to get them to be charitable is to demonstrate our willingness always to extend a generous hand at the ring of the doorbell – even when it rings one time after another on a busy Sunday morning.
In the merit of our following in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, may we have healthy nachas from many generations, and see the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our day.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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