By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
So much in the world is not what it seems. When we were young and naïve, we accepted everything at face value, but the older we get and the more we experience, the more we recognize that too often, our eyes deceive us. Too often, what appears to be good is not and what gives a bad impression can really be something good.
We have to develop methods to protect ourselves from people who seek to do us harm behind a guise of friendship and kindness. Our avos were surrounded by such duplicitous characters.
In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to some classics. When Sarah passed away and Avrohom sought to bury her in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, he encountered Efron Hachiti. Presenting himself as a philanthropist, Efron announces that he wouldn’t be charging Avrohom for the coveted burial spot. However, when Avrohom insists on paying, the generosity evaporates and a very high price is demanded and paid.
Through it all, Avrohom was the consummate gentleman. Even while Efron was insinuating that he would give the land for free, Avrohom was insisting on paying for the property. Avrohom knew the psychology of his neighbors and understood how they operated. He didn’t want their favors and didn’t permit them to create the impression that they were respectful to him. He knew the malice that lay in their hearts and headed them off.
His disciple, Eliezer, learned the lessons of Avrohom, and when he came upon the arch-phonies Besuel and his son Lovon, father and brother of Rivkah, the girl who by dint of tefillos and tests he determined was the basherte spouse for Yitzchok, he did not permit himself to get involved with them.
When Lovon began negotiating with Eliezer over Rivkah (Bereishis 24:55), he did not engage him. He requested, “Al t’achru osi v’Hashem hitzliach darki – Hashem has helped me succeed until now. Don’t try to hold me back from completing my mission” (ibid. 24:56). With that, Rivkah was summoned and was soon on the way to meet Yitzchok.
In last week’s parsha, when Avrohom learned that Lot’s shepherds were feeding their flocks in private lands not owned by them, he told Lot that they must separate. Avrohom could not countenance dishonest behavior.
Avrohom didn’t bargain with Lot or Efron. Eliezer didn’t negotiate with Lovon and Besuel. And we learn from them to do the same.
When encountering those who seek to undermine us and push us from the path of Hashem, we don’t debate or negotiate. With strength bequeathed to us by the avos, we insist on doing what is proper, and separate ourselves from them.
Maskilim presented themselves as our brethren motivated by a sense of responsibility to help the backward ones adapt with the times and advance. Secularists founded schools in religious areas to lead children astray. They vowed that they had come to help and educate, to feed and dress the poor shtetel residents.
Singular rabbonim gedolim and dedicated askonim saw through the ruse and took them on, saving many innocents, as thousands were lost, swept along in a sea of inequity presented as halachic modernity.
Conservative Jewry presented itself as the future of Yiddishkeit. Essentially, what they did was rob hundreds of thousands of Jews of their future and cut them and their offspring from the path that they thought they were following. Jews across this country switched from Orthodox to Conservative thinking that it was no big deal and that by doing so they would keep Yiddishkeit alive in the new country.
Musmochim of yeshivos took positions as rabbis in Conservative “shuls.” The pay was better, the buildings were nicer, and the future was seemingly brighter. Their compromise cost them their children and afflicted their lives, in this world and the next.
The allure of Efron and the sweet talking of the house of Besuel and Lovon blinded them. They didn’t learn the lesson of Avrohom and Eliezer, who avoided anything that was out of line with an honest, meticulous, inflexible adherence to words of Hashem.
As I was sitting shivah for my father two weeks ago, I received a call from someone he knew in Massachusetts. She said, “I am 99 years old, so I have to be menachem avel you on the telephone.” We began speaking and she said something in Yiddish, to which I responded in Yiddish. She became emotional. “Fun vanen kenst du redden Yiddish? How do you know how to speak Yiddish?” she asked.
It was so surprising to her that an American like me would understand and speak the language of her parent’s home, with which she had grown up.
And then it hit me. Her world was lost. In her mind, Orthodoxy was lost. She had believed the people when they told her to give up the Orthodoxy of her parents. Although she kept a kosher home, she became removed from the Yiddishkeit of her parents. She thought that it is all gone.
I said to her, “Is there a shul near you, a Chabad house or anything like that?” She responded that “the Chabad is too far away, but right around the corner is Temple Beth El, so I go to the Conservative shul.”
A really fine woman she is, but her story is the tale of too many American Jews lost to the hypocrisy of Conservative Jewry. Unable to resist those who pretend they are something that they are not, so many fine people from the best families drowned in the swamp of assimilation.
Today, there are groups who suck our young from us and others who aren’t particular and rob Jews of their birthright. They present themselves as halachically observant, and people who don’t know better fall for their deceiving moniker of Open Orthodoxy. Selling plain old apikorsus, they gain adherents, bribing shuls to hire their graduates as clergy and selling a supposedly “kinder” and “gentler” Torah.
As many times as we are warned that they are a growing menace, our people shirk the responsibility of exposing the Open Orthodox as anything but and working to shut them down. It is grueling, politically incorrect and unpopular work, but as children of Avrohom, who dedicated his life to spreading the truth, we must do it anyway.
Hypocrites abound wherever we go in the world around us. Just take a look at the news and see how the media is filled with reports of the impeachment show going on in Congress. A majority of Americans see through it and believe that journalists slant their reporting of the impeachment hearings to help impeach the president.
Every day, Democrats lob new bombshells at the president, yet none of them stick and no one really believes the claims or takes them seriously. Yet, the Democrats and their media acolytes speak with straight faces about the pain they feel as their constitutional duties force them to undertake the investigation into the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors. First it was allegations that Trump colluded with Russia. It felt as if Trump’s days were numbered and the evidence was about to be released, forcing him to resign. When that was proven untrue and investigator Mueller was shown to be a bumbling, incoherent fool, the Democrats didn’t run away. They simply came up with another reason for Trump to be expunged from the job he was democratically elected to perform.
We stopped hearing about Russia collusion and new words were added to the daily conversation. He made a quid pro quo with Ukraine, we were told. They would get money if they would investigate the Bidens’ corrupt dealings in that corrupt country. When it was shown that Ukraine got their money without bothering to investigate the Biden corruption, those three words, quid pro quo, exited the lexicon as quickly as they had entered.
Turning on a dime, Democrats came up with a new poll-tested crime for which to impeach the president, and so the congressional so-called investigation continues. Despite the fact that they cannot come up with anything substantial, the headlines continue to ring out and pontificators proclaim that impeachment is around the corner.
Witnesses come forth and testify to matters that are not illegal or are hearsay and not admissible in a real court. The bureaucrats are upset that the president, uninterested in their arrogance and pomposity, has charted a new course in foreign policy, as he promised he would throughout his campaign. He has no use for the Never-Trumper State Department anti-Semitic swamp and has made that obvious, but there is no crime in a president choosing his own people to advise and guide him.
You would never know this if you would depend on the mainstream media and Democrats for your information. Up is down and down is up. The economy hums along, stronger than ever. The stock market hits historic highs and record percentages of citizens are employed. Yet, the president is mocked and vilified as an out-of-control crazy man who must be stopped.
Is this the way the world always operated? Was everything always presented in a backwards manner? Were quotes edited and pictures photoshopped to convey a certain opinion? Or did that only take place in communist and tyrannically-run countries? We aren’t sure anymore.
Too often in life, we encounter little despots, people who think they represent virtue and all must follow and bow to them. We come across hypocrites, who present themselves as friends, as holy people, only to be revealed as charlatans when pressed to perform.
As children of Avrohom, our mission is to spread goodness and G-dliness in this world. We are not to engage with those who deceive, defraud and portray themselves to be something they aren’t. We are to go in the way of Hashem with decency and without causing contention and quarrels.
At the end of this week’s parsha, the posuk states that Avrohom was niftar, and Yitzchok and Yishmoel buried him. Rashi (ibid. 25:4) quotes the Gemara in Bava Basra that says that we see from here that Yishmoel did teshuvah, as he permitted Yitzchok to go before him.
From the fact that Chazal derive that Yishmoel did teshuvah from the way he conducted himself with Yitzchok indicates that a person’s middos stem from his yiras Shomayim. If Yishmoel practiced anovah and derech eretz, it is because towards the end of his life, he repented for all the evil he had done and returned to the ways of Avrohom and Yitzchok.
Let us infuse ourselves and our children with the mesorah of honesty and fidelity to the word of Hashem and to each other in all we do. We do that by studying Torah and by increasing our yiras Shomayim.