VOLUME 53 NUMBER 6
November 14th, 2010
6 Kislev, 5771
Super Duper Jews
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
In the few brief moments before I am overcome with sleep, I occasionally dream of creative little money-making ventures. Perhaps an electric converter which transforms X-mas lights into Chanukah decorations or a Jewish mother doll—you pull the string and she says, “Again with the string?”
Recently I thought of another kind of doll—a family of Jewish superheroes: *Midosman, Wonderfulwoman and The Marvelous Kinderlach. They wouldn’t be known for their super strength, just for their super strength of character. They may not bring me the big bucks, but they might garner a dusty shelf in the synagogue gift shop.
Jewish heroes are champions in the race to the ultimate perfection of the human personality. Able to leap over tall insults without responding in kind, faster than a speeding bullet at spotting an opportunity to help someone in need, more powerfully responsible than a locomotive. These are the people we look up to—the most gracious, the humblest and the most considerate of others. Not the most popular, the prettiest or the most athletic.
In this week’s parsha is a larger than life portrait of one such superhero, our Foremother Rachel.
As Jacob approaches his uncle Laban’s house, he first meets Rachel. Destined for one another, two halves of the same soul, they know instantly that they will marry. However, they also know that Rachel’s father Laban must agree.
In the Jewish superhero product line, Laban is the archenemy. He is the greedy, deceitful trickster who will try everything in his power to cheat Jacob for all he can get. Knowing this, Jacob and Rachel devise a plan to prevent Laban from spoiling their intended marriage. Jacob gives Rachel a special sign. With the sign, she will be able to identify herself to him despite any attempts by Laban to trick them.
Sure enough, after Jacob works seven years as Laban’s shepherd for Rachel’s hand in marriage, the big day approaches. And sure enough, Laban plans to pull a fast one, just as they feared. Instead of Rachel marrying Jacob, Rachel’s older sister, Leah, would be substituted in her place.
At that moment, Rachel ran into the nearest phone booth and changed into Ms. Super Compassionate. With her x-ray vision she saw into the future, deep into her sister’s heart, and she realized that on her sister’s wedding night, after the great feast was over, in the intimate darkness alone with Jacob, she would be asked for the sign. She would not have it, and she would be utterly humiliated.
Our Super Foremother then sacrificed (as far as she knew) the love of her life, her betrothed, Jacob. She would not be a Foremother of the Jewish People, she would give up her destiny, she would watch as her sister married her husband.
To prevent her sister from such embarrassment, Rachel gave Leah the sign. “And it was in the morning, and behold, it was Leah!” The rest is history.
As a reward for her incredible, superhuman self-sacrifice to shield her sister from humiliation, Rachel was also able to marry Jacob. It even earned her an extra measure of love and respect from him. (See Kli Yakar 29:30) And it earned her an eternal place in the midos hall of fame, as the Jewish superheroine who taught us how to place other people’s feelings before our own.
*Midos are character traits.
One For All and All For One
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
The parsha begins with Yaakov’s departure from Be’er Sheva and subsequent journey to Haran. Rashi cites the Midrash that when a righteous person lives in a city, he elevates the entire populace with his piety. He brings luster, majesty and brilliance to the place. When he leaves, all of that disappears with him. Thus the Torah tells us that Yaakov left Haran so that we will understand that his departure had a tremendous impact on those he left behind. Why is this important to the average person? After all, most of us are not on a level of righteousness like Yaakov that we affect others so significantly.
Perhaps therein lies the flaw of our logic. Even if we are not people of such great stature, we can still influence others. Although the effect of our inspiration may be limited, nonetheless, it is not necessarily insignificant!
The Talmud espouses a principle which states that ‘the jealousy of Sages increases wisdom’. This means that if someone sees another person constructively improving his service of Hashem, it inspires the observer to emulate that person and improve his own service of Hashem. Even if the person who is seen performing the mitzvah is not otherwise worthy of emulation, to the extent that he does an inspiring act, others could be motivated to imitate that act as well.
This concept is also found in the ethical teachings of the ‘Rosh’, an early commentator on the Talmud and codifier of Jewish law. He writes that a person should aspire to be like those who are greater than he in Torah and fear of Heaven. In order to encourage others to improve their own personal lifestyle, one doesn’t need to be inordinately great or awe-inspiring. Rather, one just needs to be better in any given area than the person observing him.
Indeed, we are taught in Pirkei Avos that one should make for himself a ‘Rav’. Rabbeinu Yonah, another of the premier earlier commentators, explains that even if another person is on the same level of wisdom as you are, nonetheless accept him as your Rav. The benefit is that sometimes when a person tries to understand a passage in the Talmud, he may learn it incorrectly. However, if he is willing to accept an explanation of his ‘Rav’ which is accurate, he will avoid such errors.
There is another benefit of trying to influence others to improve their lives. We ourselves also stand to gain. When we realize that other people are observing our actions and may be motivated to improve their lives because of us, we will strive to set a good example. Parents must appreciate this concept as well. Children attempt to mimic their parents’ manner of speech and behavior. This realization should prompt each and every parent to be cautious about how they speak and interact with others. The Chofetz Chaim wrote that the best way for a parent to train his children to be careful about slander and improper speech is to set an example by only talking about others in a positive and affirmative way.
Byte for Shabbos
When Lavan pursued Yaakov and finally overtook him, they had a heated exchange. Lavan charged that Yaakov had ‘kidnapped’ his daughters and grandchildren. Furthermore, he wrongly accused him of stealing his idols. Yaakov was incensed by the accusations leveled against him. However, his only response was to ask ‘What have I done wrong’? displaying incredible care in the way he expressed himself, even under the most trying of circumstances.