Lech-Lecha: Avraham – Public Figure vs Private Family Man.

31 10 2014


The Torah says that Avraham had already left to go towards Eretz Yisrael for personal reasons, before Hashem had commanded him to.

The Sfat Emet comments that even though Avraham did have personal reasons to leave, once Hashem commanded him to, he did so as a result of Hashem commanding him, with a different emphasis. His journey was now a spiritual journey and quest.

Indeed, throughout the life of Avraham we see that he managed to balance the national and domestic and didn’t neglect either. He is a national leader and teacher of monotheism and faith, but never neglects his private, personal life.

The Torah at the end of Parshat Noach describes him in perek 11,in the context of a private, family man. As a son and husband. Then, from Parshat Lech-Lecha he becomes a public figure spreading monotheism and faith – his role changes – he becomes a national leader and his persona changes. Hashem appears to him, he fights wars and teaches the masses. He is thrown into the public limelight. But how does this affect him? Does he neglect his family and himself?

The pinnacle or climax of this balance Avraham strives to maintain, between the public man of faith and the private, family man is the Akeidah. Would Avraham be willing to sacrifice his son for whom they had waited so long, at the bequest of Hashem? We know he was, although in the end Yitzchak is saved. Although Rashi says at the beginning of Chayei Sarah that Sarah dies as a result of hearing of the Akeidah episode. When it came to the crunch listening to the will and call of Hashem took precedence over everything else.

Like at the beginning of the way the Torah describes him, towards the end of his life the Torah also portrays him as a family man- he focuses on the private, personal aspects of his life. At the beginning of Chayei Sarah he goes to great lengths to find an appropriate burial place for Sarah, he takes care of finding a shidduch for Yitzchak, he remarries Keturah with whom he has 6 sons.

So, we see Avraham never neglects the private, personal aspects of his life, even though he is a national leader and public figure.

Furthermore, he maintains his sense of humanity throughout. In Parshat Vayera he welcomes the 3 men and treats them with the utmost chessed and hospitality and then tries his best to save the people of Sodom from destruction.

So, as well as striving to balance between the national/ communal and personal/ domestic responsibilities, he remains a mensch and baal chessed throughout.

A worthwhile message for us all,

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Noach, Avraham and the ”Shabbos Project”

24 10 2014


There is an often quoted debate as to the righteousness of Noach in comparison to Avraham which Rashi quotes.

Was it only in his own generation that he was truly righteous, but in Avraham’s he just would have been one of many. Or no. If he was able to go against the tide and be righteous in his immoral and wicked generation how much more so, he would have been righteous in Avraham’s generation.

Putting aside the question of how and whether one can truly judge another person’s righteousness and level of Yirat Shamayim, I actually think this debate should be seen differently.

I would like to suggest that Noach and Avraham reflects two stages and levels in Avodat Hashem.

First you need to be like Noach – you need to be strong and sure in what you believe in. In doing so, you need to go through a period of turning inwards and recoiling. But, that’s the first stage, the means. The next stage, the ends, is becoming an Avraham like character. Being able to leave your spiritually safe and easy cave and sharing your knowledge, insights and wisdom with others.

The Sfat Emet says that Noach represent, ‘Sur Meyrah’ – rejecting or turning away from immorality and evil, but Avraham represents,’Aseh Tov’ – actually doing good and being productive and constructive. Noach was passive, Avraham was active.

Being a Tzadik is nice and easy and it makes you feel good too. It’s much harder to go out and try to share your wisdom and faith with others. But that’s the mission that Avraham leaves us with.

After the flood Noach gets drunk and doesn’t make a long lasting impact, unlike Avraham whose influence and impact lives on for eternity.

This Shabbat throughout the Jewish World they are celebrating the, ‘Shabbat Project’. Yes, it’s easy to be cynical and lazy and not bother to do anything. It takes more effort to host meals, go out and get involved. But the comparison between Noach and Avraham teaches us that we should be taking part and sharing what we have with others.

Shabbat Shalom!

Benjy Singer.

Parshat Beraishit: Man is G-d’s partner in Creation.

17 10 2014


Man is created on the 6th and last day. Why?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that man wasn’t just another creation, but he was a PARTNER with G-d in the creation of the world. G-d needs man, just as man needs G-d in order to actualize the purpose of creation and fully being into fruition all the potential good that G-d created.

How does man become a full partner with G-d? Through having children. That’s why the Mitzvah of populating the world is inextricably linked with the creation of the world and Sefer Beraishit.

The Gemarah in Yevamot says that in the tragic case where a person is childless, he is ‘dead’. This does not mean literally, as he breathes and functions. But rather I would suggest it means he is spiritually dead as he cannot join G-d in continuing and perpetuating the creation of the world and ensuring it continues to develop and evolve.

Shabbat Shalom!

Benjy Singer.

Rav Soloveitchik: Teshuva = Facing Reality.

1 10 2014

reality check

In the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, in 1967, Rav Soloveitchik was asked by his students what Teshuva is all about, what its purpose is and what difference it should make to our lives. The Rav didn’t respond with a Rambam, a Reb Chayim or piece of Mishna or Gemarah. Instead he answered with a reflection from his own life experience.

The Rav described a scene that had taken place a few months earlier, in his home in Boston, during Chol Hamoed Pesach.It was the middle of the night and there was a storm raging outside. It was very rainy and windy, everything seemed to be rattling and shaking in his house. The Rav got out of bed and shut all the windows upstairs.

Then he noticed that the windows downstairs had been blown open and he ran downstairs to close them, as he thought his wife, who was too ill and weak to walk upstairs, was sleeping there. When he closed the windows he went to his wife’s bed to check she was warm and comfortable. When he reached her bed and looked at the pillow she wasn’t there and the bed was made.

Then the harsh reality hit in, that she had died a month beforehand and he had been living a dream, an illusion. He wanted her back so much. The Rav described how he couldn’t stand being alone, but she was gone and however much he wanted to change his new life, he couldn’t. He had to face life alone again as he had done in the earlier stages of his life until he married. The Rav’s wife had died of cancer a month beforehand. The Rav said he simply could not comprehend living without her-he was living in denial.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that this is what Teshuva is all about. Teshuva has to make us jump out of the reality that we create for ourselves based on our wants, desires and needs and to face the real, objective reality of life itself. The purpose of the Shofar is to wake us up- yes, to literally wake us up from our slumber as the Rambam describes in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4 ‘Uru Uru Yesheynim Mishinatchem’ and to make us face reality and to deal with it in a responsible and mature way. Just like the Shofar during Biblical times was a tool used to warn people that war was about to break out, Teshuva is there to shake us up and warn us to stop fooling and deluding ourselves and to see things how they really are.

Gmar Tov and fast well,

Benjy Singer.