Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Inner Peace

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we learn of Rivkah’s concern during her much-anticipated pregnancy. She sought out great men to explain to her why her unborn child was exhibiting tendencies toward kedusha and tumah. The posuk (Bereishis 25:22) states that she said, “Im kein, lamah zeh anochi,” and went to seek Hashem.

Why was she so bothered that she went to Sheim to find out what Hashem had planned for her?

Perhaps the language of the posuk provides us with a hint. The words “Lamah zeh anochi,” commonly translated as, “If so, what am I doing this for? Why did I pray for children?” can be understood allegorically a bit differently. Rivkah was perturbed, as the Medrash states, by the fact that when she passed the bais medrash of Sheim and Eiver, the baby kicked as if trying to exit, while when passing a place of avodah zorah, the same thing would happen.

When Rivkah said, “Lamah zeh anochi,” perhaps she was referring to the Aseres Hadibros that her offspring were to receive, commencing with the commandment of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.”

She was concerned, for she knew that someone who pretends to be a proponent of opposing sides cannot be the progenitor of the Shivtei Kah, the chosen people who will receive the Torah. As the ultimate truth, Torah is not the domain of those who are all things to all people. Hashem is uncomfortable, kevayachol, with someone who presents himself as a holy person when that is advantageous to him, while he poses in a different fashion when he deems that to be more beneficial.

Rivkah knew that as the child of Yitzchok and grandson of Avrohom, the offspring she was to give birth to would have to be a leader, setting a standard of virtue as the epitome of goodness and G-dliness in this world. She was worried that the child she was carrying was demonstrating symptoms of being unprincipled. Since such a child would not be a worthy heir to Avrohom and Yitzchok, she thought that she would have been better off remaining barren.

Thus, she was relieved when Sheim informed her that she would give birth to twins, one righteous child and the other evil. Although she would have been happier with two righteous children, she was comforted with the knowledge that she would be giving birth to a worthy progenitor to Avrohom and Yitzchok.

Not only in her day, but in ours as well, there is a shortage of leaders. In every society, in every country, and in every industry, people are disconcerted as they seek leadership in a drifting world. People look for someone trustworthy to rally around, searching desperately for a person who can put their feelings into words and give voice to their concerns. There is a dearth of leaders who act in the best interests of the people they are supposed to serve.

The Torah is not some esoteric book available only to the smart learned. The Torah is for everyone, at every time, and in every period. It is neither in the heavens nor available only in some remote region. It is for anyone who dedicates himself to its study and acquisition.

As we sit by the feet of good teachers and imbibe the lessons that were inculcated in them by their rabbeim, our minds are opened, our souls are purified, and our sensitivities are awakened to the needs and aspirations of our people.

To find answers in a confounding world, we should follow our grandmother, Rivkah, and seek the word of Hashem in the bais medrash. Only those who study the word of Hashem are equipped to guide us in times of disillusionment and confusion. It is only with the Torah’s perspective that we can appreciate what is going on around us and find direction and purpose in our world.

This week, as we enter the month of Kislev, we begin thinking about the story of Chanukah. We realize that the Bnei Chashmonaim were neither warriors nor leaders. They were people in whose hearts burned an insatiable desire to rid the world of evil. As we say in Al Hanissim, they were few and they were weak. But they were righteous. And they had the courage of their convictions. They refused to subjugate themselves to the profane practices and worldview of the Hellenists.

Under the leadership of Matisyohu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol, the handful of die-hard tzaddikim and oskei Torah arose to provide leadership for a dejected, subjugated people. Hashem took note of their courage and self-sacrifice, and empowered them with the ability to rally the bnei Yisroel and to emerge victorious over a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.

The leader is not the one who cheats his way up the political ladder. The true leader is not the one who repeatedly lies to his people and engages in subterfuges in a desperate bid to maintain a hold on power. He doesn’t just pontificate and blame the consequences of his ineptitude on someone else. The proper leader doesn’t hold on desperately to an outdated and disproved ideology. He is not crippled by arrogance and ignorance.

The Jewish leader spends his time bent over a sefer, teaching and helping people. He imparts his knowledge to others with love and devotion. He parcels out his advice and guidance with humility. People flock to him and follow him. We have an inbred sense of where to go for leadership and whom to follow.

A radio call-in show was playing in the background as I was writing. I wasn’t paying attention until I heard someone who identified himself with a Jewish name from a frum town ask a question. The host is retiring after a few decades of broadcasting. The listener called for advice.

“As you plan to retire, can you give me some advice?” the caller asked. “I want to be a success. How do I go about that? You are successful. How can I be successful?” he questioned with a tone of desperation.

The host asked him what his goal is.

“Goal? I want to be successful. That’s my goal,” was the response.

The host went on a rant, educating the caller that success is not a goal.

“A goal is something you want to reach. Do you have interests? Do you have any talents? Is there anything you care about? If there is something you can do and want to do, you work hard at it, set a goal, and aim towards it. Reach your goal and you’ll be happy, satisfied and successful.”

What struck me most about the conversation was that the caller was asking this person in the first place. Why would he turn to a radio talk show host? Is he the person best qualified to answer the question? If you don’t see yourself as succeeding in life, why would you call this fellow? Why wouldn’t you reach out to people known for their success in Torah and other areas of pursuit?

If this caller would be satisfied with his heritage and spend time each day learning Torah and mussar, he wouldn’t have to contact a radio show for tips. The Torah and sifrei kodesh are replete with lessons guiding a person to reach success. They teach what life is about. They teach us to set goals and what those goals should be. When confused, the bais medrash and its leaders offer care and concern, as well as proven advice on how to overcome dissolution and achieve success.

Yaakov and Eisov were born to the same parents, and had the same chinuch and upbringing. One grew up to be a tremendous success, while the other may have succeeded financially but is remembered for all time as an evil loser.

One spent his time in the bais medrash, studying Torah and seeking to establish a life predicated upon the values of his father and grandfather. The other spent his days hunting, acting as a ruffian and tough guy in the street, and putting on a show for his father, presenting himself as a holy and learned person.

Rav Reuvein Dov Dessler of Kelm would say that the way Eisov presented himself was dependent on his wants on that particular day. On the day of Avrohom’s passing, Eisov’s goal was to gulp down the bowl of adashim Yaakov had prepared for the seudas havra’ah following the funeral. He decided that in order to procure the adashim, he would present himself as a person of mussar, remembering the yom hamisah and broken over the loss of the tzaddik Avrohom.

In truth, he was moved by neither. His sole motivation was the sweet-smelling pot of beans. And so is the way of man, Rav Dessler would say. He has different masks, depending upon his specific wants. We have to be careful to be true to ourselves and not project ourselves as people we are not.

Which brings us to the age-old question of why Yitzchok wished to bless Eisov, and not Yaakov, with the blessings of Veyitein Lecho.

Let’s go back to Rivkah seeking out Sheim’s guidance regarding her troubling pregnancy and her statement of “Im kein, lamah zeh anochi – If this is the child I will be giving birth to, why do I need this?”

Rivkah knew that Avrohom had more than one son. She also knew that Hashem promised (Bereishes 17:21) to honor the covenant He had made with Avrohom through Yitzchok. She knew that following Avrohom’s bris, Hashem said (Bereishis 18:18), “Avrohom will give birth to a large nation… For I know that he will command his sons and household to follow the ways of Hashem, to engage in charity and justice, so that Hashem will bring upon Avrohom (and his children) all He promised.”  

In order for the son of Yitzchok to merit being the inheritor of the brachos and for the bris to continue through him, he would have to be someone who would follow in the ways of his father and grandfather.

Were Rivkah to give birth to a son who served avodah zora, he would not be able to continue the chain and would be rejected, just as Yishmoel was.

Rivkah feared that since the baby was exhibiting dangerous tendencies, he was evil, and when that would become evident, she would be scorned as Hagar was and would be evicted from the home of Yitzchok along with her son.

“‘Im kein,’ if that is to be my fate, worried Rivkah,lamah zeh anochi,’ I will not merit to be the mother of the Jewish people, so what will be of me?

“Eliezer came to my area and devised a test to see who would be the worthy wife for Yitzchok, carrying on the traditions established by Avrohom and transmitting them to future generations. Perhaps, although Eliezer was impressed by my acts of chesed, I was not the girl who was bashert for Yitzchok. ‘Im kein,’ if it is true that my son will be an unworthy heir, ‘lamah zeh anochi?’ What am I doing here? I am the wrong wife for Yitzchok and my shlichus is not to be the mother of the third av.

Sheim informed her that while one son would be unworthy, his twin would be the third of the avos, and through him the Jewish nation would begin to take shape. Rivkah was satisfied with that and happily returned home.

Apparently, Rivkah never shared that information with Yitzchok and never let him in on the fact that Eisov was an evil imposter, who succeeded in fooling his father with respect to his degree of religiosity. Explanations for Rivkah’s behavior are set forth by the Zohar, Rishonim and Acharonim and are beyond the purview of this article.

When it came time to transmit the brachos, Yitzchok planned on giving them to Eisov. However, Rivkah, who knew the truth about Eisov, worked to ensure that Yaakov, the worthy heir, would be blessed, and the chain would be transmitted through him and his children.

Im kein, lamah zeh anochi?” She learned that her shlichus, her mission in life, was to give birth to the third of the avos hakedoshim and ensure that he would be the heir who would give birth to the Shteim Esrei Shivtei Kah, the progenitors of Am Yisroel.

This is the meaning of the posuk which tells us (Bereishis 25:28), “Yitzchok loved Eisov and Rivkah loved Yaakov.” Yitzchok was unaware of Eisov’s true nature. Therefore, he loved him, because he would constantly seek to impress his father about his knowledge and frumkeit. Rivkah was aware of the truth and knew that the golden chain would carry on through Yaakov. Therefore, she loved him and dedicated herself to his welfare, though he was “ish tam yosheiv ohalim” and not one to brag or put on a show to impress anyone, including his father.

We all have our missions in life. We all seek to be worthy links in the chain going back to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We face many financial pressures just to be able to maintain a stable family life. We feel pulled from all sides. The yeitzer hora is ever-present, seeking to ensnare us. He has many vises, some of which allow us to maintain our outward appearance of frumkeit and yashrus. He causes us to fool ourselves and think that we are engaging in mitzvos, when what we are really after is the nezid adashim.

We have to be honest not only with others, but also with ourselves. We have to understand what we are doing and what our motivations are. If the cause is not as holy as we think, or if we are doing something that we can’t really afford, we should not let ourselves be fooled into something improper or unrealistic.

Flee from an overtaxed life and carve out moments of silence to hear your heart and soul, ensuring that they are focused on proper goals. Escape the noise of the world and find a tent, as our grandfather Yaakov did.

Eisov was a man about town, making deals, rushing, always on the move. He wanted to be successful. Yaakov, the ish tam yosheiv ohalim, was neither a participant in the rat race nor seeking to impress anyone. He set goals for himself and attained them.

In our day, as well, if we want to benefit from the brachos reserved for the Bnei Yaakov and not fall prey to the vicissitudes of life, we have to set goals for ourselves. A simple drive to succeed leads to bogus figures, dishonest dealings, deceitful relationships and false impressions, coupled with increased pressures and many dead ends. Eisov sought to succeed at all costs. Unprincipled and deceiving, he has been remembered throughout history as the epitome of fallaciousness.

Get away from the noise, frustration and pressure. Find a seat in the ohel of Yaakov. There you will find yourself and the elusive commodity of inner peace. You will become motivated to achieve a good life, and merit calmness and happiness as a worthy heir to Yitzchok and Rivkah.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Never Get Lost

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha, Chayei Sorah, speaks of historical underpinnings of our people as we read of Sorah’s death and Avrohom’s search for a proper burial place for her. That is followed by the search for a wife for Yitzchok and ends with the passing of Avrohom. As happens in Jewish life in the exile, there are obstacles and setbacks along the way. People who profess honesty and statesmanship turn out to be neither honest nor statesmen.  

Following the passing of Sorah, the Torah elaborates on how Avrohom reached out to the people of Cheis regarding a kever for her. The people of Cheis treat Avrohom with great respect, referring to him as a G-dly king and offering him any grave he chooses. Instead, he asks to speak to their distinguished friend, Efron, and offers him a high price for the cave at the end of his field. After first proffering the field and cave as a gift, Efron demands a very high price, telling Avrohom that he’s giving him a good deal.

Avrohom happily paid for the Me’oras Hamachpeilah and buried Sorah there without a complaint.

Avrohom Avinu paved the way for us in golus. So many times, we are lied to and played for fools. In the name of justice, good people, such as our friend Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, get locked away for years. In the name of fairness, the Balfour Declaration is mocked and vilified in honor of the 100th anniversary of the document that led to the founding of Israel.

The New York Times honored the centennial with an article wondering whether the document was “the original sin in which Israel was conceived.”

The paper of record reports, “The Balfour Declaration, the pivotal, 67-word assurance by the British foreign secretary that promised support for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,’ turned 100 on Thursday…

“Dated Nov. 2, 1917, the letter was delivered to the leaders of Britain’s Jewish community at the height of World War I, when Britain was driving the Ottomans from Palestine and seeking Jewish support in the United States to spur the American war effort. It did not gain the force of international law until 1920, when the remains of the Ottoman Empire were divided into mandates by the League of Nations, and the British inserted the Balfour Declaration into the text for their mandate for Palestine.

“The Arabs of Palestine were overmatched in the diplomatic realm, offering only feeble attempts at rolling back the declaration,” said Mahmoud Yazbak, a history professor at the University of Haifa.

The document was not fair, reports the Gray Lady. “Dueling academic conferences at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in central Jerusalem and at the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem offered sharply different takes on the document’s meaning, genesis and historical consequences,” continues the Times. “The former emphasized World War I-era geopolitics and international law, and the latter keyed on imperialism and racism.”

More, “In an interview, MK Zouheir Bahlool spoke of the Balfour Declaration as if it were a fresh wound. ‘This declaration virtually buried the existence of the Palestinian people, which I am a part of,’ he said. The document, he said, promoted self-determination for the Jewish people ‘while completely ignoring the fact that there were Palestinians here.’”

One hundred years later, after all the crimes against humanity committed by Arabs in the name of a fictitious people they invented, the Palestinians, the world is still upset about the lack of fairness in returning the Jews to their ancestral home following two thousand years of being chased from place to place, pariahs wherever they were.

It is interesting that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 79:7) comments that there are three places in Eretz Yisroel that the nations of the world cannot contend to have rights to: the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, Har Habayis and Kever Yosef. Symbolic of the perfidiousness of the nations of the world, davka these three places are depicted most often as Muslim holy places where Jews should have no rights.

Such is the way of the nations.

Republicans were swept to power with promises of healthcare and tax reform. There was no healthcare reform, and now that they have presented their plan for tax reform, it seems that nobody will gain from the changes. More likely than not, you will pay more taxes if the bill, as it is proposed, is approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president.

So much of what is said and promised turns out to be less than truthful. More often than not, politicians, upon being elected, turn their backs on their constituents and seek to benefit themselves.

Witness the trial of Senator Bob Menendez and the news about Mrs. Clinton and how she and her husband used their charity foundation to enrich themselves and collude with Russia on a deal giving them control of 20% of America’s uranium. Read the recent revelations of how she corrupted the Democrat Party to fix the primaries to guarantee her victory, while she continuously lied throughout the campaign about her handling of classified information.

As bnei Avrohom v’Sorah, we place our faith in Hashem, for we know that He is the One who guides us through our days.

This week’s parsha opens with the passing of Sorah Imeinu at the age of 127 years. We are all familiar with the Rashi that states, “Kulan shovin letovah – All her years were equally good.”

We have learned that Rashi repeatedly since we were youngsters. What does it mean?

There must be a deeper meaning to Rashi’s comment. If we are to understand his lesson as stating that all her years were good, we know that, in fact, they weren’t. The day she was snatched from her husband and brought to Paroh certainly wasn’t a good one. The day she was kidnapped by Avimelech was surely terrifying.

The day she saw Yishmoel being metzacheik with Yitzchok cannot be described as a good one. The days that Hagar caused her pain were not good ones. Of course, she accepted whatever came her way, but that alone does not turn bad days into good days.

The explanation may be that Sorah Imeinu was the personification of goodness. She was so good and so concerned about other people and the welfare of the world that she seized every opportunity to do good. Her days were filled with chesed and tzedakah.

Sorah didn’t just sit by and say, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” When she sensed an opportunity for improving the world, she grabbed it. When she saw someone who needed help, she didn’t just offer them advice about where to go and what to do. She brought them into her tent and took care of them herself, just as her husband did.

Because she was so intrinsically good, she spent her days and years doing good. She spread goodness and G-dliness wherever she went. In every situation and in every predicament, she discovered a way to increase goodness in the world.

When Rashi describes Sorah’s years as “kulan shovin letovah,” the word tovah is not only a noun and an adjective, but a verb. All her years were consistently spent performing good. That is the mark of a person whose essence is goodness.

She didn’t bother with the sheker of the outside world. She ignored it, as she worked on strengthening and improving people, one at a time.

As bnei Avrohom v’Sorah, we need to find the good in everything and seek to create goodness in every situation in which we find ourselves.

The Torah goes into extensive detail about Avrohom’s search for a mate for Yitzchok. Feeling himself growing old, Avrohom entrusted his servant Eliezer with finding a girl suited for his holy son.

The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 60:8) states, “Yofoh sichoson shel avdei botei avos mitorasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.

The purpose of the Torah relating the episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters in the primary grades. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as practical guides in our own lives.

When a talmid’s first daughter was entering shidduchim, he traveled to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach for guidance on what they should be looking for in a boy.

Middos,” the sage responded.

“But what about yichus?” asked the father. “Is that something I should be looking for in my prospective son-in-law?”

“No. Middos,” repeated the rosh yeshiva.

“And what about excellence in other things?”

Again, the answer was, “Middos. The most important thing to look for is good middos. Only after you have ascertained that the boy is of fine character and middos tovos, then you can look into the other important attributes. 

Rav Shach may have reached that conclusion after a lifetime of observation and he may have learned it from this week’s parsha.

The Drashos Haran writes (Drush 5) that Avrohom sent Eliezer to search among his family members for a mate for Yitzchok and warned him against searching among the Canaanites, because the members of his family were blessed with a fine nature, while the disposition of the offspring of Canaan were not. That way, the girl’s children would also be exceptional. (See also Kli Yokor Bereishis 24, 3.) 

Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos. He devised a test for the girl he would meet to ensure that the one who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled in dealing with people.

Eliezer’s dedication to Avrohom was reinforced with deep faith in Hashem to lead his way. Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope that he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu haya me’ir lo bezikim ubevrakim.” When the believer appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem bursts forth as lightning through the darkness and dread.

In Parshas Vayeira (21:14), the posuk recounts that Hagar was sent from the home of Avrohom and Sorah. The Torah states, “Vateilech vateisah.” Targum Onkeles translates the words to mean that she went and became lost. Rashi says that they mean that she returned to serve avodah zarah.

The Brisker Rov explained that Rashi saw in the word “vateisah” that she had left the path of Hashem, because anyone who has emunah and bitachon knows that they are never lost. They know that they didn’t end up in their situation by mistake, for everything that happens is Divinely ordained. Hashem declared it so for reasons not always evident at the moment.

A person who feels lost and aimless is lacking in their belief. Hagar was forlorn in the desert. She was confused, broken and lost. If she was feeling forsaken, Rashi reasoned, she must have left the path of Avrohom and drifted back to the ways of her family.

Sometimes, people involved in shidduchim become despondent and give up hope. This week’s parsha and its Medrashim can help instill the faith people need to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times.

We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. We mustn’t lose our faith and optimism. When we lose hope, we have lost everything.

When the Brisker Rov was trying to escape from Europe during World War II, he spent a night in war-torn Warsaw. There was a debate among the residents of the apartment building he stayed in whether it was safer on a higher floor or a lower one. The higher floors carried a danger, since if the area was bombed and the building would topple, they would most certainly not survive. But others argued that being higher up was safer, since at least there was no danger of the apartment being buried under the rubble, whereas on lower floors, although they might withstand an attack, they would be crushed by the building collapsing on them.

The Brisker Rov recalled that the night he slept in that building was more restful than his other nights on the run. He explained that as he moved from place to place, he would worry about whether what he had done and where he had gone was the proper halachic way to seek protection.

On that awful night in Warsaw, he felt that the question of where to take refuge in the building was a “safeik hashakul.” Since there was really no clear answer to the quandary, because both options were equally valid, he knew that his actions were correct.

And what about a fear of dying that night in a bombing attack? He said that he was not worried, for he had bitachon. He did what was incumbent on him to do for his safety and went to sleep with equanimity, for he knew that Hashem was watching over him.

A person like that is never “teisah.” He is never lost and never forsaken.

Eliezer found Rivka and was introduced to her family. Lavan saw Eliezer approaching his home and ran towards him (Bereishis 24:29), apparently to welcome the guest. Rashi informs us that Lavan observed the new jewelry his sister was wearing and sensed that the guest was financially blessed. He ran to him to seek some riches for himself.

The Torah describes the encounter between Eliezer and Rivka’s family, leading up to when Rivka took leave of them to travel with Eliezer to meet and marry Yitzchok. As she left, Lavan gave her a parting brocha: “Achoseinu, at hayee l’alfei revovah…”

Rashi states that Lavan repeated the brocha that was given to Avrohom at Har Hamoriah following the Akeidah. That indicates that Lavan possessed ruach hakodesh, for how else would he be aware of what Hashem told Avrohom?

So, was Lavan a good guy or a bad guy?

The Alter of Kelm writes that Lavan was a gadol hador, but his drive and passion for money led him astray. If someone were to analyze the major failings of our generation, at the top of the list would be the worship of money.

People forsake everything in their eagerness to become wealthy. They wear themselves down, can’t maintain relationships, forego family and friends, and forsake common sense and beliefs in the pursuit of the deal that will take them over the top.

People drive themselves into depression over their jealousy of the money other people seem to have. Their envy leads them to be spiteful, hateful and bitter, oftentimes leading others to be repelled by their behavior.

Some have such a craving for money that they assume crushing debt to create an impression and illusion that they are affluent. They struggle mightily to maintain that image, crushing their hearts and souls in the process.

Lavan was a gadol, and he could have remained a great man had he not craved wealth as he did. We need to take that message to heart and not be obsessed with money.

Like our avos, we are meant to be a people of character, who endeavor to raise our children to be kind, thoughtful and considerate. We seek to do what is right, in all situations. We are contemplative, intelligent and strong in the beliefs handed down for millennia. We are smart, strong and fearless when necessary. We live with faith, emunah and bitachon, and appreciate the calmness and happiness this engenders.

We inculcate in our children and ourselves a love for Torah and mitzvos. We don’t force children to learn by rote without understanding what they are learning. We explain to them the words of Torah and tefillah, and ensure that they understand and thus appreciate what they are saying and studying.

Recognizing that we are bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we have our priorities in order and aren’t led astray by feeble pursuits. We appreciate our lives, and if something is amiss, we daven and seek out good people to guide us.

We learn the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis and gain perspectives on life and direction in a floundering world.

We say, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu,” understand it, mean it, and feel it every day of our lives.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Peaceful Tranquility

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

At times, people feel that they are stuck in a rut. They are lacking money or something else they feel they need and deserve. They are unable to overcome the gaping feeling that life has wronged them and therefore become anxious and depressed. They are overwhelmed by feelings of emptiness and suffering.

Rav Elimelech Biderman recently told the story of Reb Nisson Shtitzberg. One of his daughters married a fine young man. In the middle of sheva brachos, tragedy struck and the chosson suddenly died. Imagine the sadness that gripped the kallah and both families. The great simcha was turned into tremendous sadness. 
Not only that, but they found out that the new wife would be an agunah for the next eight years, as the chosson’s only brother was but a five-year-old lad. He wouldn’t be able to partake in chalitzah, which would enable the poor kallah to remarry, for another eight years, when he would become a bar mitzvah.
Reb Nisson was a chossid of the Yesod Ha’avodah. In utter dejection, he turned to the rebbe to find out what they had done to deserve such a tragic situation.
The rebbe said to him, “Look at what is happening and you will realize that it was decreed in Heaven that your daughter wouldn’t have children until eight years from now. Now, if this would not have happened, she would not have gotten engaged until now. You would have spent your days and nights trying to find a shidduch for her, and rightfully so. As time went on, without success, you would have undertaken various segulos, davened like you never had before, and begged any rusty shadchan to come up with someone normal for your daughter.
“And what would people say? They’d no doubt say that your daughter hasn’t found a shidduch yet because there must be something wrong with her. You would have been going through torture until finally finding her zivug after eight aggravating years.
“Hashem had mercy on you and saved you from all that. In eight years, the brother will come of age and she will perform chalitzah. She will then immediately marry and give birth to a beautiful family, all in the preordained time.”
One who trusts in Hashem knows that whatever happens to him is for the good and is brought on by Hashem. We don’t always understand what has befallen us or why. Sometimes it can take years until the reason becomes evident. Sometimes it becomes clear sooner and other times we never figure it out.
We read in this week’s parsha (18:10) how Hashem appeared to Avrohom and told him that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would be their heir and carry their mission forward. Why did Avrohom Avinu not rush to tell his wife that Hashem promised that they would have a son? The elderly couple had unsuccessfully sought a child for many years. How could Avrohom not share the great news with his wife?
Avrohom and Sorah had worked to bring Hashem’s message of G-dliness to the world. They set out on their path alone, and were successful in drawing many followers, until they had a wave of maaminim following them.
They were blessed with much wealth and fame, and had everything a couple could desire, except for a child. When Avrohom Avinu found out that he and Sorah would soon have a son, he kept the promise from his wife. Wouldn’t you imagine that this was the happiest moment in his life? How could he not tell her that their prayers have been answered and she would soon be a mother? 
The Ramban (Bereishis 18:15) writes that Avrohom waited for Hashem to let Sorah know the good news. Sorah actually found out the wonderful news from the malachim
He suggests, as well, that Avrohom was preoccupied with performing the mitzvah of milah on himself and his household as he had been commanded and didn’t have the time to tell Sorah. When he finished fulfilling Hashem’s commandment regarding milah, he was weak and sat at the entrance of his tent to recuperate. Before he had a chance to get back to himself and tell Sorah, the malochim came and told her themselves.
Even after studying the words of the Ramban, the question still bothered me. How can it be that Avrohom didn’t run to tell his wife that the one thing they were lacking in their lives would be granted to them? Wouldn’t doing so bring much happiness to his wife? How could he postpone bringing her that joy?
Perhaps the question is based on a mistaken premise. A believer knows that everything that happens to him in life is for the good. A person who lives with bitachon understands that Hashem’s purpose in creation is to bring about goodness and kindness.
We don’t always understand what is going on, but we know that there is a greater purpose for what is happening. Nothing that happens is haphazard and nothing happens by itself. 
People want children because they have been conditioned to expect to give birth to a child. Children bring joy, enrichment, and meaning into your life. 
But, in fact, we are all here because Hashem willed it so. Everything we have - or don’t have - is because Hashem willed it to be that way. We all have a mission in life. We are given what we need to be able to fulfill our mission. 
Some people need a large home in order to accomplish their shlichus, while some don’t. Some need a nice car, while for others a small jalopy suffices. Some people need a lot of money in order to carry out their mission, while some can be most successful in their shlichus without a dime in their pockets. 
A maamin and baal bitachon doesn’t look at what other people have and complain about why he is lacking in those blessings. He knows that Hashem chose this situation for him. He is not jealous of others and does not view himself as lacking in anything. He is happy with what he has, because he knows that his loving Father provides for him what he needs.
He is never jealous of other people, asking, “How come they have what I don’t have?” A familiar refrain is that life is unfair. Why don’t I have all that I want, just like the person across the street? Why is he so smart, yet as hard as I try, I can’t remember a thing I learn? Why does he always find the bargains, while I pay full price for everything? Why do their kids dress in designer clothes, while mine make do with end-of-season sale items? 
So many of our complaints are brought on by jealousy.
Rav Yecheskel Sarna, the Chevron rosh yeshiva told the Chazon Ish that during the Second World War some rabbis had a debate. A certain tyrant who persecuted Jews died. The question was, should they be happy now that he was gone, or should they worry that perhaps his replacement would be even worse. 
The Chazon Ish told him that “they could have simultaneously celebrated his departure and worried about the future. It is possible to be happy and apprehensive at the same time.” 
He proved his point. “Yirmiyohu Hanovi wrote Megillas Eicha, a mournful dirge of tragedy. We know that he wrote it with ruach hakodesh, and we also know that in order to merit ruach hakodesh, you have to be besimcha
“You see that it is possible to mourn and weep over the destroyed beis hamikdosh and to be besimcha at the same time.”
The depth of his message is that while a person is suffering from a calamity or loss, the knowledge that it did not happen by itself, but rather was orchestrated by the Creator for a higher purpose, is comforting and allows the person to be content.
People who trust in Hashem know that He oversees all. As the Gemara states (Chulin 7b), “a person doesn’t even get a small wound on a finger without it being decided so by Heaven.” If a person receives a setback of any kind, he should know that it didn’t happen by itself, but was decreed by Hashem. 
The Ribnitzer Rebbe was walking with Rav Eliyohu Tabak, when the elderly rebbe tripped and fell. Rav Eliyohu rushed to lift the rebbe off the ground. The Ribnitzer told him to wait. “Eliyohu, before I get up, I have to make a cheshbon hanefesh. If I don’t know why I fell, I will fall again.” The rebbe remained on the floor for a minute before allowing Rabbi Tabak to raise him.
People who live with emunah are that way. When something doesn’t go their way, they try to figure out why. They search their souls to find what is lacking and they seek to rectify it. Otherwise, they understand that Hashem brought it upon them for reasons they do not know. They accept it and move on. 
Avrohom and Sorah were maaminim. They understood that Hashem did what was best for them. Before they had a child, they were not overcome with grief. They didn’t view their lives as lacking. They viewed their lives as full and blessed. They perceived their mission to be bringing the knowledge of Hashem to the world. If they didn’t have a child, then apparently Hashem felt they didn’t need one. Their good acts would live on some other way. They would attain joy, happiness and fulfillment without giving birth to children together. 
Since they didn’t view the lack of a child as a tragedy, when Avrohom heard from Hashem that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would be their heir and carry on their mission, he didn’t feel the need to rush and tell his wife. 
In last week’s parsha (15:4-5), Hashem told Avrohom, “Ki im asher yeitzei mimei’echa hu yiroshecha - The one you give birth to will be your heir.” The posuk says that Hashem took Avrohom outside and told him, “Look up to the sky and count the stars. If you are able to count them, so will you be able to count your children,” for they will be so plentiful that it will be impossible to count them.
The posuk then states (ibid. 6), “Vehe’emin baHashem vayachsheveha lo tzedakah,” Avrohom trusted Hashem and Hashem looked upon Avrohom’s faith favorably.
What was the big deal about the fact that Avrohom trusted the promise of Hashem? And why did Hashem consider it a major act? If Hashem appeared to anyone, wouldn’t that person trust Him to keep His word? 
If we continue with our line of reasoning, we can answer that the big deal was that Avrohom was the paradigm believer in Hashem. He believed in Hashem when he didn’t have a son as much as he believed after he was promised the son and multitudes of offspring. 
As such, when Hashem promised that he and Sorah would give birth to a child who would continue their mission, Avrohom was not so overjoyed as to interrupt the mitzvah he was doing in order to tell Sorah.
This is what the Ramban means when he says that Avrohom was occupied with carrying out Hashem’s commandment regarding milah. Avrohom was fulfilling his mission of following Hashem’s word. That is what his life was all about. He was the consummate servant of Hashem, whether he had a child or not, so his first obligation was to finish doing what Hashem asked him to do. Sorah wouldn’t expect anything different.
We tend to plug our emotions, perspectives and reactions into stories of the avos. Thus, we have questions. We understand the burning desire for a child, the ache of loneliness, and the frustration of unanswered tefillos. 
But there is a level beyond ours, the level of tzaddikim. Yes, a child is a hemshech, a continuation of all man’s accomplishments, and a means of ensuring that the chain goes on. A child affords us the mitzvah of chinuch, the joy and fulfillment of seeing a new generation growing in Torah and avodah, and the nachas of transmitting eternal values. But there is a backdrop to all this: The only reality that counts and exists is that which Hashem desires.
To us, a husband and wife longing and yearning for something for so many years and then receiving it is a happy story. To tzaddikim, before they are answered, it is viewed as the ratzon Hashem, and after they are answered, it remains the same ratzon Hashem.
To Avrohom Avinu and Sorah Imeinu, the desire for a child was in the context of that reality. Since Hashem hadn’t blessed them with a child, they were content. They existed serenely within that reality. The news that they would have a child meant, in their terms, that the ratzon Hashem now was different than it had been before.
Their lives had been in concert with Hashem’s will all along, and so would it continue.
Similarly, the nisayon of the Akeidah was a test of Avrohom’s bitachon. Now that he had been blessed with a son, were he to learn that it was the will of Hashem for him to return that gift, would he happily comply with Hashem’s wish or would he question the command?
The posuk (Bereishis 22:3) relates that Avrohom passed the test. “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker.” Without delay, he hurried to fulfill Hashem’s wish. He had wanted a son in order to perform his shlichus in this world. If Hashem wanted him to have a son, he was thrilled, and if Hashem did not wish for him to have a son any longer, then he would rush to fulfill the will of Hashem, fully accepting the decision.
The Chazon Ish wrote poetically, “Ein kol etzev ba’olam lemi shemakir ohr ha’oros shel ha’emes. There is no despair in the world for one who perceives the light of lights of the truth.” Rav Yitzchok Hutner pointed out that the Chazon Ish, who was childless and experienced the same struggle as the avos, was expressing that there exists an “ohr,” a light, of ratzon Hashem that is more obvious. There is also an “ohr ha’oros,” a less obvious but deeper light, that of amitas retzono Yisborach. For those who perceive the deep light of Hashem, there is no depression, for they recognize the truth that all that transpires is for the greater good.
On Shabbos, we do not wish a sick person refuah sheleimah. Instead, Chazal tells us, we say, “Shabbos hi milizok.” On Shabbos, we don’t cry out in pain.
Perhaps we can understand that pain and pity are appropriate when one is somewhat removed from the ohr ha’oros. On Shabbos Kodesh, our proximity to the Borei Olam makes such reactions inappropriate. Shabbos is the day when the ohr of sheishes yemei bereishes shines through and we appreciate that if things are a certain way, it is because that is what Hashem wants. During the yemei hama’aseh, things are less clear, and we cry, but on Shabbos, when the light is evident, we refrain from sadness.

On Shabbos, as well, we do not engage in obvious acts of mourning. On the six days of the week, we cry over the passing of loved ones. When Shabbos arrives, there is no sadness. On Shabbos, we proclaim that the world was created by the Creator. We receive a neshomah yeseirah, which allows us to comprehend concepts that we can’t understand during the week. On this day, we do not mourn or engage in sadness, for we recognize that Hashem created the world to do good and all that transpires is for the good. 
It’s all ratzon Hashem.
Such is the way of the avos, tzaddikim and maaminim, and that is the way we should try to live our lives. 
We see treachery and evil rising. We see morality under attack, as laws that promote deviancy are enacted. We see dishonest people prosper and corruption entrench itself.
Our personal lives are tumultuous. Life is not going as planned. Everyone has a share of heartache and problems. We wonder why we have to work so hard and why we can’t attain our goals with less aggravation. It takes so much money to make ends meet. We can’t take the constant pressure to stay above water. There are so many things we wish were different. Should we be overcome with sadness? Should we give up? Should we feel alone and forlorn? 
We have to do our best to live besimcha. We have to recognize that what happens is His will and ratzon hatov leheitiv. We should have no doubt that what happens is good and is the right thing for us, whether or not we easily understand it. We must know that those who see the ohr ha’oros recognize the good nature of everything that transpires. We have to do our best to rise to that level.
The connection to the Ribbono Shel Olam means that we know that He who created us and gives us life also knows what we need. At times, we wish for things to be different, for a lack to be filled, or for a situation to be changed.
So we daven and hope, but always with the confidence that He knows how things ought to be. Avrohom Avinu prayed for the people of Sedom, pleading for Heavenly mercy on their behalf. He was turned down. How did he respond? The posuk says that Avrohom returned the next morning “el hamakom asher omad shom es pnei Hashem” (Bereishis 19:27). He went back to the same “place,” with the very same submission, humility and faith with which he had offered his tefillos and been turned down the day before.
“Yes” and “no” are but two expressions of the same ratzon. They are thus not different. As Hashem’s children, we have the ability and unique attitude to recognize that everything is from Hashem. So ein kol etzev. We don’t become dejected. We continue to hope, certain that one day, may it be very soon, we will rejoice when it all becomes clear just how good it has been all along.
What seems to us as reality is only a façade. One who seems blessed may in fact be cursed. One who seems poor may actually be blessed.
Let us learn from Avrohom and Sorah to look at the world properly, envisioning things as maaminim and baalei bitachon.
Let us live with faith and confidence, recognizing that we have a calling and mission in life. Let us do what can to accomplish our goals without jealousy or sadness. Let us concentrate on our own lives, on our own improvement, on what we must do to achieve happiness and wholesomeness. Let us take the steps which will enable us to attain the peaceful tranquility we all yearn for.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Avrohom’s Grandchildren

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We were introduced to Avrohom Avinu in Parshas Noach. Last week, Avrom was mentioned in passing regarding his lineage. This week, the Torah simply tells us that Hashem appeared to Avrom and told him to leave his birthplace, to uproot himself from his ancestral home and to move to the land Hashem would show him.

Without being told anything about Avrom, who he is or why he merits for Hashem to speak to him, the parsha continues, telling us that Hashem promised Avrom that in the land in which he was currently living, he would not merit children (Rosh Hashanah 16b, Rashi ad loc), but if he would follow Hashem’s directive and move, he would be blessed with children and wealth, and his offspring would develop into a great nation.

We still don’t know anything about him, but we assume that he must have been a great man, for why else would Hashem appear to him and bless him with so many brachos?

In order for Avrom to merit being blessed, it was not enough that he was the first person who recognized on his own the existence of the Creator. He would have to separate himself from the heathens with whom he lived and grew up.

That theme seems to flow through the pesukim of the parsha. “Lech lecha, leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s home.” To merit blessing, he had to escape the society that surrounded him.

Lot left his ancestral home along with his uncle, Avrom. It would seem that Lot had good intentions, casting his lot with Avrom and Sorai, setting out for parts unknown. His allegiance was rewarded, as the posuk relates (12:5) that Lot was blessed with material wealth. Rashi quotes the Gemara which states that this was a result of his accompanying Avrom. 

When the land of Canaan was plagued by hunger, Lot went with Avrom and Sorai to Mitzrayim. When Avrom was blessed with livestock and riches there, Lot benefited as a consequence of his attachment to his uncle.

A rift developed between the shepherds of Avrom and the shepherds of Lot. Without searching for compromise or peace gestures, Avrom suggested that they separate. Lot looked towards Sedom, attracted by its lush vegetation. Without putting up an argument, he contently offered to move there, while Avrohom settled in Eretz Canaan.

Lot, the talmid and relative of Avrohom, ended up in the city whose very name until today is synonymous with sin.

It took much determination and intelligence by Avrom to chart the course of his life. Although Noach was alive when Avrom was born, the world had already forgotten its Creator. The people worshipped the moon, stars, sun and idols they fashioned. Avrom recognized that the world had to have been created by a Higher Being and spent the first years of his life seeking Him out.

There was much opposition. Avrom was vilified by those around him for violating the doctrines of his day. Worse, he became a threat to his father and the ruling powers. They conspired to kill him and put an end to his dangerous influence. 

It would have been much easier for Avrom to play along with them as he pursued his own agenda. His life would have been smoother had he not antagonized the powerful as he went about his personal search to understand how the world came into being.

But Avrom fought for the truth. He discovered the Ribono Shel Olam and shared his finding with the world. He was not deterred by the powerful or by friends, and not even by his own father. He was not enamored by the trappings of pagan life. Their way wasn’t his. Their lifestyle wasn’t his. As soon as Hashem told him to leave, he was gone.

When Hashem’s blessing came to fruition and he was showered with wealth by Paroh, he remained the same person he was in Choron. As he returned from his adventure in Mitzrayim that led to the accumulation of his great fortune, the Torah says that he returned to the same tent in which he had previously lived. He did not permit his material success to give rise to pride, arrogance and gluttony. He returned to the mizbeiach he built prior to leaving the Holy Land.

Lot was close to Avrom for many years, but when he returned from Mitzrayim, the money had changed him. The pesukim (13:3-5) that speak of Avrom’s return to his previous home and mizbeiach are followed by the posuk that states, “Lot who traveled with Avrohom also had sheep, cattle and tents.” Avrom used his newfound wealth for good things. Lot did not.

Sending Lot away, Avrom finalized his separation from the people of his past. The posuk (Bereishis 13:14) relates that after Lot had parted from him, Hashem told Avrom to take a sweeping view of the land, for it would all be given to him and his plentiful offspring. “Walk its length and breath, for I will give it to you,” Hashem says.

Avrom’s separation from Lot was required in order to merit that blessing (see Rashi, ibid.).

Later in the parsha, Avrom went to war to defend Lot and his Sedomites. When the king of Sedom attempted to gift Avrom all the captured wealth, Avrom declined. “Harimosi yodi el Hashem konei shomayim va’aretz. I will not take from you even a thread or a shoelace.”

Once again, following that mark of separation, Hashem appears to Avrom and says, “Al tira Avrom, Anochi magein loch, sechorcha harbeh meod,” issuing him monumental brachos, culminating with the Bris Bein Habesorim (Bereishis 15:17-21).

Separation leads to brocha.

Towards the end of the parsha, Hashem tells Avrom to be a tomim in his service. Hashem changes the names of Avrom and Sorai to Avrohom and Sorah and offers his bris to Avrohom. A covenant is formed between them: Avrohom and his offspring will follow the word of Hashem and separate themselves from everyone around them by performing bris milah, and Hashem will give them Eretz Yisroel and be their G-d. Avrohom will be “av hamon goyim,” our father, and Sorah will be a mother, soon to give birth to Yitzchok, despite her old age and condition.

We are identified as bnei ubenos Avrohom v’Sorah. What does that mean? What does that say about us? What do we do to earn that appellation and maintain it?

Do you want to be My people? Lech lecha. Hishaleich lefonai veheyei somim. Separate yourself from the hedonistic culture that surrounds you.

Avrohom realized that there is a Creator and spent his life spreading the message of truth and following His path with temimus.

The Torah doesn’t tell us more about Avrohom than the directive of “Lech lecha,” for that was his essence - distancing himself from those whose lives are about temporary, fleeting pleasures.

Avrohom arrived at his level of avodah through giving much thought to the world and his place in it. Not only that, but before performing an action, he contemplated whether it would increase or decrease kevod Shomayim. When commanded to perform bris milah, he consulted with his friend, Mamrei (Bereishis 18:1, Rashi) about which venue for the procedure would maximize his ability to bring people to serve Hashem.

This is the foundation of Avrohom’s greatness. As the Ramchal writes in Mesilas Yeshorim, man must think daily about what he is doing, just as storekeepers review their inventory and weights to ensure that they will not err and cause themselves great losses. Someone who fails to do so is enslaved by his yeitzer hora, which causes him to become blinded to the truth. He walks blissfully, thinking that he is safe and secure in his blissful path, only to stumble and fall.

A ben Avrohom must realize that he is here for a higher purpose and ensure that his actions are furthering that goal.

Many of the crises people discuss are symptoms of what ails us, and of the generation in which we live. There are many issues to discuss, and many things that are bringing us down and then there is our terrible image in the press. What are we doing about them? How badly does it bother us when our people are portrayed negatively? What do we do to rectify this?

It seems as if we hear the same speeches repeated over and over again about symptoms and dealing with symptoms. Somehow, however, the heart of the issues that plague us is not addressed. We aren’t reminded that we are the nation of Avrom.

If we would act as Avrohom did, with thoughtfulness, so many people would be helped, so many problems would never have been created in the first place and those which confound us would be more easily corrected.

Learn what life is really all about. Set goals for yourself. Be ambitious. Don’t be superficial. Have some depth. And thought. How does a Jew act in such a situation? How would Avrohom act? How would Sorah? Do that and then you will live. Your life will be fulfilling. And real.

A talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro was experiencing marital difficulties. He called his rebbi, “I need to speak to you, my wife wants a get, I am distraught.” Rav Moshe told him, “Stay where you are. I’ll get back to you.”

Fifty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was Rav Moshe. He dropped what he was doing and came to help the couple.

They went into the study. Pain and tears poured out, as the accusations flew.

Rav Moshe sat quietly and then asked, “Have you learned Iyov?” Without addressing any of the issues so emotionally discussed, he launched into a comprehensive shiur on Iyov. When he finished, he gave the couple a warm brocha and got up to leave.

“But rebbi, you didn’t address any of our issues. You didn’t help us,” the talmid questioned.

Rav Moshe said to him, “Do you really think that I came here to judge who said what, when and how?

“The story between you and your wife, and the story between people, and between people and themselves, has nothing to do with who raised their voice, and who said what, and who cleaned the floor.

“The deeper story is all about how we look at life, how we understand our missions, the meaning of our actions and what Hashem wants from us.

Sefer Iyov teaches how to live, how to view the world, how to view our existence. It teaches how to ride the waves and not let the waves ride us; how not to fall into ruts that are difficult to climb out of.

“Don’t fall into ruts. Stop waiting for others to lift you from them. Learn how to live.

“Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn Iyov. Learn it with your wife. Learn it.”

Besides being invigorating and inspiring, daily study of Torah and mussar reminds us how to think and conduct ourselves in a tumultuous world.

We have definitely been blessed. We live better than Jews ever did throughout the exile. Do you think that Hashem has blessed us so in order for us to become self-indulgent pleasure-seekers, so self-absorbed that we should become oblivious to the concerns and needs of other people? Do you think that He intends for us to become a people corrupted with an entitlement mentality who engage in pursuits that are of momentary enjoyment, as fleeting as the interest people have in their selfies? Do you think He is happy when we inconsiderately inconvenience people? How about when we demean people who need something from us?

If the glamour and glitz of the very world we seek to separate from appeal to us, it becomes tough to engage in the “Lech lecha” of our time, turning our backs on that realm. If vapid popularity is important to us, we risk eroding our eternal values to find favor with the “in” crowd. If the “good life” attracts us, it becomes difficult to smash the pagan idols of our time.

Avrohom and his offspring will forever be sealed with brocha - “becha chosmin” - as long as we remain loyal to what is true and good. When we follow the ways of Avrohom and consider our actions and words, and we raise our children with Torah values and teach them to be considerate of others, kind, good and honest, we will continue to merit the brachos reserved for the offspring of Avrohom. People who are not seduced by the blandishments of Sedom are deserving of the Divine brachos.

Avrohom Avinu delved into the intricacies of this world and mastered the underlying truth of creation and man’s purpose in this world. Society’s delusions and icons held no appeal for him. As children of Avrohom, we need to be reminded that our path is the correct one. The most rewarding and eternal blessings are reserved for those who know that all else is fleeting.

Let us study the parsha and grasp its inherent lessons. Let us think before we speak and act, always endeavoring to remain loyal to our appellation as bnei Avrohom, ne’emomim to Hashem and his Torah.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Make A Difference

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Bereishis ends by stating that human behavior had degenerated to the point that Hashem reconsidered the creation of man. The parsha concludes by saying that Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. Parshas Noach continues this theme by describing Noach as a tzaddik tomim who walked with Hashem.
The Torah states that Noach was a tzaddik tomim in his generation. Rashi tells us that some interpret this posuk as laudatory of Noach and others interpret it in a critical vein. The detractors say that had Noach lived in the generation of Avrohom, he would not have counted for anything.
Since the Torah describes Noach as a tzaddik and a tomim, why must we pounce on him and minimize his greatness? Why can’t we take the posuk at face value? If the Torah states that the entire world except for Noach had become defiled, isn’t that enough to establish his spiritual grandeur? Does it really make a difference to us what level of greatness Noach would have attained had he lived in the generation of Avrohom?
The world was about to be destroyed, and the only people Hashem found worthy of being saved were Noach and his family. The future of mankind would be perpetuated through them. They must have been good and worthy people. If not, they would have been swept away by the flood along with the rest of humanity. Why does Rashi interject that some looked upon Noach unfavorably?
It is often noted that Noach was occupied with his own personal avodah and didn’t seek to improve people around him. 
Noach apparently felt that since Hashem had already decided to bring the flood, it would be futile to chastise his generation. The entirety of mankind of the generation in which he lived was depraved and unredeemable. Why waste time ministering to them and trying to assist them in rectifying their lives? There was clearly no interest. They had developed theories and philosophies to rationalize their hedonistic behavior and were not amenable to change. 
Noach’s existence was quite lonely. There were no people with whom he could carry on a conversation or take walks. 
“Es ha’Elokim hishalech Noach.” The humble tzaddik walked with Hashem. It is commendable that Noach, who lived in a deplorable time without role models or teachers to learn from and follow, raised himself to such a degree that G-d would speak to him, quite a noteworthy achievement. 
Yet, Rashi is quick to interject, “Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Had the tzaddik Noach lived in the time of Avrohom, he would not have been considered anything. 
Noach’s self-contained, self-oriented avodah would not have been considered great in the time of Avrohom, because Avrohom showed that it is possible to be a tzaddik, live among wayward people, improve them, affect their behavior, and earn their respect. The posuk of “es hanefesh asher asu b’Choron” (Bereishis 12:5) attests that Avrom and Sorai had established a following of people whom they influenced and brought “tachas kanfei haShechinah” (Rashi, ibid.).
Additionally, Avrohom pleaded with Hashem not to destroy the city of Sedom and its evil inhabitants. He never gave up on anyone and never perceived any person as being beyond salvation.
There are various derochim in avodas Hashem. Noach’s was acceptable in his generation prior to the birth of the derech of Avrohom. However, once Avrohom showed that we are not to give up on anyone, that became the path for his progeny to follow.
This is why Rashi takes pains to tell us that although Noach was a tzaddik tomim, we should not learn from him. His way is not our way. As children of Avrohom, we must follow the path that Avrohom Avinu hewed for us. We have to accept responsibility for those around us who are confused and lost. We have to be able to rise above the moral dissolution in which society attempts to drown us. We have to find the skills and the intelligence to effectively reach out and touch people.
We have to care enough to find the right words at the right time to let people know what they mean to us. If we cared about G-dliness and goodness as much as Avrohom did, then we would try as hard as he did to spread it in our world. We wouldn’t justify our inaction by saying that the people we could sway are too far gone. Parents who suffer with a child who has fallen under bad influences and is struggling with addiction never give up. They never stop loving their child and desperately seek ways to convey that love.
Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Although Noach was a tzaddik, found favor in Hashem’s eyes, and was chosen to have the world rebuilt through him, once Avrohom came on the scene, Noach’s greatness was eclipsed. It is now Avrohom’s path - his actions and example - that we must emulate.
In our own day, when we witness injustice and impropriety, we should not shirk the responsibility of intelligently addressing the source of these lapses. When we see bizayon haTorah, it should shake us to our core and we should not be too weak to express our indignation. Following Avrohom’s example, we must be engaged with others, not withdrawn from them.
When we see people wronged, we should not stand by apathetically. Rather, we should rise to the occasion. We should imagine that it is our family being wronged. We should imagine that the transgression took place in our teivah. We should raise our voices and use our abilities to attempt to right the wrongs.
We mustn’t content ourselves by only educating our children to follow in the path of the Torah and halacha. We have to at least attempt to enroll more children into religious schools. We mustn’t say that we are helpless to bring about change.
Why don’t we see full-fledged kiruv in this country as there is in Israel and other places? How can it be that there are millions of Jews being lost to our people and we don’t do anything about it? 
Decades after Hitler diminished the world’s Jewish population by at least six million, we are witness to the loss of many more, yet we do nothing - or little - about it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish kids who could be convinced to attend Jewish schools grow up oblivious to their heritage. We are glad when Reform temples close up shop and merge due to dwindling numbers, without realizing that their demise is an indication of more Jews being lost for eternity. Why the joy? At the very least, we should be pained and at least attempt to work to stem the awful tide.
There are remarkable groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to outreach and school placement, but despite their heroic efforts, they can barely make a dent in solving the problem. They need much wider communal support and concern in order to reach appreciable numbers. We have to genuinely care about our Jewish brothers and sisters and really want to save them from drifting from their heritage to points of no return. 
Noach was a great man. Undoubtedly, it required superhuman strength to withstand the temptations of his period. Certainly, he was outstanding in that he remained moral and honest despite the corruption of his time. The posuk testifies that Noach found favor - chein - in the eyes of Hashem. And the Gemara in Sukkah (49b) states axiomatically that anyone who has chein also possesses yiras Shomayim.
Yet, while Noach had yiras Shomayim and all of mankind is his offspring, he is not referred to as av hamon goyim, the father of the nations, although, in fact, everyone alive is a descendent of his. That appellation is reserved for Avrohom Avinu, who treated all of mankind as his children, as dwellers of his own ark, whom he was responsible to care for and love. He didn’t mock them; he sought to raise them. He touched their hearts, reached their souls, affected their psyches, and improved them to the level that they joined his flock.
Avrohom went further than Noach. Not only did he have yiras Shomayim, but he was also the first to convert to Hashem’s service. The Gemara in Sukkah (ibid.) expounds on the posuk, “Am Elokei Avrohom - shehaya techilah l’goyim,” which Rashi explains to mean that he was the first person in the world to convert.
Noach never took that step. He didn’t go around trying to straighten out the people he lived with, and he wasn’t mispallel for their salvation as Avrohom was. Noach didn’t sit out in front of his tent waiting to bring them under the canopy of G-d as Avrohom did.
Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.”
Let us not excuse inaction by contending that those around us are too far gone to merit our intervention. Let us not minimize our talents and abilities. Let us find the right words of reproach and outreach to express our love and determination, and may we merit for our actions to be judged favorably by G-d and man.
Rav Shlomo of Karlin told his students that following his passing, they should turn to the rebbe of Nishchiz for leadership and direction.  
Rav Uri of Strilisk followed Rav Shlomo’s advice and made his way to Nishchiz. As he waited his turn, he watched as a wealthy man was warmly received and blessed by the rebbe. Rav Uri was able to see that the man had recently committed a serious sin. He was horrified that the man his rebbe had sent him to for guidance was so welcoming to an evil-doer.
The rebbe of Nishchiz perceived Rav Uri’s anger and told him to immediately leave the room. Quite embarrassed, he did as he was told and headed for the local bais medrash
A short time later, the rebbe arrived at the bais medrash. He went over to Rav Uri and said to him, “I also know what you know. But do you know why Rav Shlomo Karliner sent you here? It is so that you should learn that a person without enough ahavas Yisroel to love a sinning Jew hasn’t reached the proper level of avodas Hashem, for if you would treat people like him with love, they can do teshuvah and return.”
The Jewish Week is happy this week, an indication that something is wrong. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, propagator of new roles for women in Orthodoxy, is preparing to hand off leadership of his Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, a YU executive and former pulpit rabbi. 
The Jewish Week reports, “The fact that he plans to head the Ohr Torah Stone network could bolster the notion here that empowering women as decisors of halacha, or Jewish law, is more mainstream than fringe, and well within the bounds of Orthodoxy.” 
The paper quotes Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who is ecstatic over Riskin’s chosen successor. She remarked, “It is significant and telling that one of the major rabbinic leaders of Yeshiva University, the flagship of Modern/centrist Orthodoxy, will be heading an institution that gives women semicha.” 
She added, “If you choose to write off Rabbi Brander’s appointment” at Ohr Torah Stone as not applicable to American Orthodoxy, “you are blind to where Orthodoxy and amcha [the people] are. This is huge.”
The article mentions that the OU organization of Orthodox synagogues is soon to vote on whether to expel from its group shuls that employ women. Jonathan Sarna, an oft-quoted Jewish expert, is trotted out. He says that “this is a plastic moment for the Orthodox community in the U.S.” The Orthodox synagogue group can take what he calls “the inclusive, big tent approach” or it can vote to maintain “ideological purity, which could result in a split” within Orthodoxy.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he averred, “for the OU to explain why Israel accepts Orthodox women leaders” and the U.S. shouldn’t.
So now, the idea of Orthodox women rabbis is perceived as a given. The only question is whether the OU will face the facts or not. 
We hate to say, “We told you so,” but when Avi Weiss began ordaining female clergy several years ago and the Yated undertook a lonely campaign against him and his practice, we were castigated for writing about topics that will never affect the majority of Orthodoxy. People said back then, and continue to contend when we write of the dangers of Open Orthodoxy, that it is a non-issue that does not and will not affect frum Jews. 
We have proven that Open Orthodoxy’s leaders are, in fact, not Orthodox, and have called for the rescinding the semicha of Ysoscher Katz, Chair of the Talmud Department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies.
We have written that the deviating actions of Open Orthodoxy will affect all of Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is coming to pass. An idea is born, then it is adopted, progressives swoon over it, people are loath to protest lest they be seen as unenlightened, and slowly it gains approval and becomes accepted. We see this with the moral climate of this country and others, and sadly the same is true with the innovations of Open Orthodoxy and people like Shlomo Riskin, who claims to be “Modern Orthodox.” 
Sarna can say that in Israel women are accepted as “leaders,” and it is accepted as fact. Riskin tells the paper that women can be “spiritual leaders and have the right to give halachic directions and make halachic decisions.”
The Jewish Week says Riskin told them that “he has received no negative reactions from Israeli gedolim (Orthodox rabbinic sages) regarding his positions on women’s roles.” It is a ridiculous assertion, but one that he gets away with. He knows the universal position of gedolim and Orthodoxy on the topic, and he is well aware of the stated positions of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the position of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the towering rabbinic figure of Modern Orthodoxy.
This issue is but one example of the result of adopting a position of not getting involved in issues affecting the larger community. There are many that come to mind. There is no one who is beyond reach and there is no one who is beyond reproach. We have a responsibility to be mochiach and set the record straight as to the proper path our people should follow. We have an obligation to other people. No one is ever that far gone that we give up on them. 
Like Avrohom Avinu, we are to express concern for others, seek to return sinners to the tent of Torah, reach out to wayward folks with love and care, and teach anyone who will listen the ways of morality and goodness.
Never perceive any issue as hopeless. View every person with merciful kindness, knowing that “betzelem Elokim bara osam,” there is spirituality in every living soul. 
May we be worthy inheritors of our grandfather, Avrohom.