Who Are You?


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we study the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we must learn to develop proper perspectives. At the outset of the stories that are told regarding our forefathers, the Ramban (Bereishis 12:6) reminds us of Chazal‘s admonition: “Ma’aseh avos simon labonim.” Seemingly regular occurrences are painted with the brush of eternity. The Torah’s recollection of stories that took place during the lives of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov reveal layers of significance in ordinary encounters.

In this week’s parsha, we read that Avrohom Avinu sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find an appropriate match for his son, Yitzchok. The journey and its subsequent lessons guide us, until this very day, through the daunting path of shidduchim.

The posuk (24:22) relates that when Eliezer determined that Rivkah was the girl who was destined to marry Yitzchok and become a mother of Klal Yisroel, he presented her with a golden nose ring, which weighed a beka, and two bracelets, which weighed ten zohov.

Rashi explains that the beka hinted to the shekolim of Klal Yisroel, regarding which the posuk says, “beka lagulgoles.” The two bracelets hinted at the two Luchos, and the “asarah zohov mishkolom” alluded to the Aseres Hadibros.

Rashi is teaching us that very often, things are not the way they appear to us at first glance. There is no way any person watching what was transpiring between Eliezer and Rivkah could have understood what was going on. It is only years later, in hindsight, with the aid of the Torah and its meforshim, that we are able to comprehend the entire shlichus and the manner in which Eliezer went about finding Yitzchok’s basherte.

Rivkah’s brother, Lavan, saw what Eliezer had given his sister and ran towards him, for he was impressed by the gold jewelry and the possessions with which Eliezer traveled. Most people are like Lavan, only seeing what is transpiring in a superficial manner and not thinking into the depth of what is going on. They don’t realize that everything that happens is from Hashem and therefore what occurs in this world may not really be what it appears to be.

Nothing happens without a reason. Although we are not always privy to understanding why we are placed in certain situations, we must know that Hashem caused that experience to transpire. It is our duty to be strong enough to withstand it and accept faithfully what comes our way. We must always use the strengths we are blessed with to fulfill Hashem’s will and to encourage and assist others to do the same.

There is always more going on than what meets the eye.

In last week’s parsha, we read that after the destruction of Sedom and Amorah, Avrohom looked out at the smoldering cities, “vayashkeif al pnei Sedom (Bereishis 19:28). It is interesting to note that the posuk uses the term “vayashkeif” to describe Avrohom Avinu’s gazing at the cities. Lehashkif denotes a deep, penetrating gaze. It implies looking and contemplating. He didn’t merely go there to glance indifferently as a tourist would. He stood there beholding the scene.

To most onlookers, the city was nothing more than a bastion of hedonism and immorality, inhabited by sadistic and selfish people. They were so vicious, they would kill a girl for the sin of offering hospitality to strangers. It was a place whose destruction most people would view as a cause for celebration.

Yet, our forefather Avrohom had a deeper perspective. He gazed into the town’s innermost soul, and what he saw there caused him to beg Hashem to have mercy upon them.

What did he see? The posuk states in Tehillim, “Motzosi Dovid avdiI have found My servant Dovid.” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 41:4) ask, “Heichon motzosi? Where did I find him? B’Sedom.” The roots of Dovid Hamelech were found in Sedom.

Dovid Hamelech descended from Rus, a daughter of Moav, one of the lone survivors of the destruction of Sedom. Moshiach ben Dovid emerged from Moav, a fulfillment of Avrohom Avinu’s vision and conviction that there was something good and holy in Sedom.

Rav Shlomke Zviller was well known as a holy person, detached from his surroundings and living on a different plane. Yerushalayim, where he resided, is a city with a tremendous number of stray cats. Old Yerushalayimers say that the rebbe would feed cats and display great kindness toward them.

The rebbe’s custom aroused the curiosity of many, but no one made anything of it. One day, his gabbai decided that he had to understand why the rebbe, whose time was so precious and who was only involved in holy acts, spent time with the cats. He began pestering the rebbe about his habit until the rebbe revealed his secret.

“I feed the cats because they have holy neshamos,” he said. “They are the gilgulim of chassidim who were involved in a certain bitter machlokes many years ago. They are sent here to achieve a tikkun for their neshamos.”

Sometimes, a person experiences terrible hardships and begins wondering what he did wrong to deserve such punishment. In the times of the Arizal, people who were facing adversity would approach the Arizal for assistance. Sometimes he would tell them that the torment they were living through was connected to their neshamos in a previous life and not brought on by anything they had done.

The Arizal was able to see beneath the surface and perceive the reason for people’s misfortune. He saw the blemishes on their soul that needed to be rectified.

A person in difficult straits approached Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach and shared his tale of woe. Rav Shach took out a Shabbos zemiros and turned to the zemer of Koh Ribon. He read aloud the words, “lu yichyeh gevar shenin alfin lo yei’ol gevurteich bechushbenaya.”

Rav Shach explained that these words mean that even if a man were to live for one thousand years, he would be unable to comprehend the cheshbonos of Hashem and the constant chassodim being performed for him.

To emphasize his point, Rav Shach began a discussion about Akeidas Yitzchok. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer states that Yitzchok Avinu’s neshomah left him at the Akeidah. The Zohar states that when Yitzchok was revived, Hashem sent him a different neshomah. He explains further that Yitzchok’s initial neshomah was one of bechinas nukvah, and had it remained, Yitzchok would not have been able to have children. The neshomah that Hashem sent him following the Akeidah was bechinas duchrah and was able to give birth.

Rav Shach told the broken man, “In other words, what the Zohar is saying is that if not for the Akeidah, Yitzchok would not have had children. It was due to the experience of the Akeidah that the bechinas nukvah was removed from Yitzchok and Klal Yisroel sprung forth from him. It is impossible for us mortal beings to understand why things are happening to us, to others and to the world, but we must know that everything that occurs is part of a clearly designed Divine plan.”

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo instructs us to appreciate each event and every moment of each day for the miracles they are and to realize the cosmic significance of whatever happens to us:

“In fact, this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. Hashem has no desire except that man should know and acknowledge the Hashem Who created him… Through recalling the great revealed signs of Yetzias Mitzrayim, a person acknowledges the concealed signs of everyday life, which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.”

The worst mistake we can make when we wake up in the morning and begin our day is to think that our actions, and our very being, don’t make a cosmic difference. A person’s most serious error is the belief that he isn’t part of a bigger picture. We may look at our friends and ourselves as being small and insignificant, however, we must be confident in the belief that our words and actions have unseen and untold affects on the world.

Reading and internalizing these parshiyos should invest us with a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The Kletzker Yeshiva was experiencing great financial difficulties and the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, thought that there was a ray of light to rescue the yeshiva from its dire straits.  The great yeshiva of Volozhin was closed by the government and the building sat empty. Rav Aharon had an idea to move his yeshiva to that building.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach was then serving as a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. Rav Aharon sent him to Volozhin to see if he could obtain permission from the roshei yeshiva to move the Kletzker Yeshiva to their empty building.

Rav Shach returned from his mission on a Friday, just prior to the onset of Shabbos. He quickly prepared himself for Shabbos and made his way to the home of the mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, to hear the weekly shmuess he delivered at that time.

When Rav Shach entered the room, Rav Chatzkel turned his attention to him and said, “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Rav Shach and everyone else who was listening to the shmuess looked at Rav Chatzkel in wonderment, trying to understand why he welcomed Rav Shach back with the words that Eliezer articulated in this week’s parsha.

The famed mashgiach explained: “Reb Leizer has just returned from performing a shlichus on behalf of the rosh yeshiva. Let me tell you what happened. He reached his destination and said, ‘I came to find out if it would be possible to transfer the yeshiva of Kletzk to here.’ The people asked him if he is the rosh yeshiva, but since he is an ish emes, he said, ‘No.’ They asked if he is the mashgiach, and again, he said, ‘No.’ ‘If so,’ they asked, ‘what is your role in the yeshiva?’ He answered, in his humility, that he is merely a maggid shiur in the yeshiva and that the rosh yeshiva sent him [to inquire about the building, but by then, it was too late. He hadn’t made the right impression.]”

Rav Chatzkel continued: “We see from the parsha that we should say right way, ‘Eved Avrohom anochi,’ as Eliezer presented himself in Besuel’s house. This is the greatest honor. ‘I am a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. I am a shliach of the rosh yeshiva.’ It is a mark of pride. Reb Leizer ought to have said, ‘Rav Aharon Kotler sent me!’ Then he might have been successful.”

Rav Chatzkel concluded, “Now ask him if that is what happened and you will see that it is.”

Rav Shach would repeat the story and say that everyone in the room was shocked at what Rav Chatzkel said, for he had depicted exactly what had transpired upon Rav Shach’s arrival in Volozhin.

“Rav Chatzkel didn’t arrive at his conclusion by way of ruach hakodesh,” Rav Shach would explain. “Rather, he arrived at his conclusion through chochmah derived from learning this week’s parsha and appreciating man’s kochos hanefesh.”

To be successful on a mission, the shliach must appreciate his own significance and worth. He has to announce himself appropriately, as did Eliezer. “Eved Avrohom anochi.”

Rav Chatzkel’s shmuess was one that found its mark. Anyone who listened to Rav Shach’s messages later in life, as he assumed his role as leader, captain and steward of the olam haTorah, saw that he was imbued with a shlichus.

He understood his role as the transmitter of the path of the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. He understood that he was an heir to his rebbi, the Brisker Rov, and his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. All his drashos, shmuessen and directives were delivered against a backdrop of “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Like Eliezer, Rav Leizer Shach was charged with a mission and he recognized it.

Every one of us is charged with a shlichus. There are so few of us and so much darkness to dispel. We all have our jobs and missions. No matter what they are, we should perform them with great pride.

Rav Yankel Galinsky was imprisoned in Siberia by the communists during the period of the Second World War. He related that one of his cellmates was a Polish national whom he noticed waking up in the middle of the night, every night. As he watched him in the darkness, he could faintly see the man bending down to reach under his own bed, putting on a set of clothing and standing immobile. After standing that way for a minute or two, the fellow would remove whatever it was he had put on, place it under his bed, and go back to sleep.

Intrigued, Rav Yankel asked the Pole what this strange custom was. The fellow prisoner wouldn’t answer, but the future maggid persisted and finally got an explanation.

“In Poland,” the man told him, “I was a general in the army. Here, as a prisoner of the Russians, they attempt to break and dehumanize me. I won’t let them. I don’t want to ever forget who I really am, what I represent, and what I will yet be. So, under the cover of darkness, I take a few moments each night to put on my military uniform and contemplate what it means to be a general. That way, they will never break me.”

Though we are in golus, each of us is a general. Every action has import and carries weight. Our words and deeds reflect our regal essence. The parshiyos we study these weeks inspire us to recognize who we are, bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They remind us of the implicit obligations in our lofty status.

The Gemara tells us that Shlomo Hamelech experienced suffering at the hands of Ashmedai, king of the demons, and ended up alone and anonymous. The Gemara recounts that Shlomo went from being ruler of the universe, to ruling over people, to ultimately only ruling over his staff and cloak. He was reduced to knocking on doors, insisting that he was a king.

The baalei mussar point out that throughout all his travails, despite all that he had lost, Shlomo remained a king. Molach al maklo. He never lost the self-perception of his own royalty.

We sometimes forget who we are, our innate value, and the inherent holiness we possess.

Rav Michel Shurkin recalled that when he was a bochur learning in Yeshiva Bais Hatalmud, there was a simple woman who worked in the yeshiva kitchen. Every time one of the yeshiva bochurim would walk into the room, the elderly woman would rise to her feet in deference to their status as bnei Torah. Her obvious reverence for the Torah and those who study it was a marked contrast to the prevalent attitude at that time, when yeshivos and yeshiva bochurim weren’t especially respected.

One day, Rav Shurkin decided to ask this woman where she had developed her refined value system. He writes that she told him one word and all his questions were answered.

“What town do you originate from?” he asked her.

The cook responded, “I am from Kelm.”

Kelm was a small hamlet, but everyone there appreciated the role and significance of a Yid, a mitzvah, and, of course, a ben Torah.

May these parshiyos open our eyes causing us to become more introspective and capable of recognizing who we really are.

Eved Avrohom anochi.

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  1. We caannot know the reasons why a person suffers. Perhaps Hashem wants the person to whom he turns to help him in some concrete manner. Giving him a platitude does not help. In fact, it only pushes people away.

  2. #3- What you say about people believing in tphemselves is something Rav Tzadok says. He says just like a person is obligated to believe in Hashem, so too afterwards he is obligated to believe in himself. If he didn’t say it, I don’t think many would think it’s proper hashkafa.