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The courage to be traditional - The Weekly Shiur – Parashat Toledot 5780

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Translation to English: Yehoshua Siskin

Welcome.  This week’s Torah portion is “Toledot.” 106 verses, Yitzchak, Rivka, Yaakov, Esav, zero positive mitzvot, zero negative mitzvot, but numerous matters that we can learn from the parasha.We call the parasha “the generations (or chronicles) of Yitzchak” and so we will learn the history of Yitzchak.

וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם הוֹלִיד אֶת יִצְחָק. וַיְהִי יִצְחָק בֶּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֶת רִבְקָה בַּת בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם אֲחוֹת לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה

And these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham. Avraham begot Yitzchak.  And Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivka the daughter if Betuel the Aramean of Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean, to himself for a wife.  (Genesis 25:19-20)

The parasha tells us that “this is the history of Yitzchak.” That is, his history begins here, at the age of 40, with his marriage to Rivka. But what is going on here?  After all, Yitzchak had a history before this: his childhood by the side of Yishmael, his experience of the akeidah, the death of his mother Sarah. But despite all of this, his history begins now. The Rebbe from Lubavitch says that the emphasis on Yitzchak’s life starting now is “to teach you that the purpose of life is not to be a martyr (the akeidah) but to refine  and improve the world.”  What is more dramatic? The binding of Yitzchak or going on a date to find your match? The binding of Yitzchak or, after finding your match, getting a bottle for your baby in the middle of the night? The Rebbe says that our mission is to refine and elevate the world through everyday acts.

Let’s continue:

וַיֶּעְתַּ֨ר יִצְחָ֤ק לַֽה' לְנֹ֣כַח אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה הִ֑וא וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ ה' וַתַּ֖הַר רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ

And Yitzchak prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rivka his wife conceived. (Genesis 25:21)

And Rashi comments: "He (Yitzchak) prayed much and entreated G-d with prayer. Yitzchak was standing in this corner and praying and Rivka was standing in that corner and praying. And G-d accepted his prayer but not hers, for the prayer of a righteous man, the son of a righteous man, does not compare to the prayer of a righteous man, the son of a wicked man. Therefore, [He accepted] his prayer and not hers".

This sounds like an insult. Why is the child of a tzadik more important than the child of a rasha, of an evil person?  Rivka has become religious, has worked on herself and changed herself, why discriminate against her? We will answer this a little later on. Meanwhile, let’s define what we mean by “a tzadik who is the son of a tzadik,” enlisting the events of the parasha, accompanied by a feeling of déjà vu, to do so.

1. “That had been in the days of Avraham”

וַיְהִ֤י רָעָב֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ מִלְּבַד֙ הָֽרָעָ֣ב הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן אֲשֶׁ֥ר הָיָ֖ה בִּימֵ֣י אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֵּ֧לֶךְ יִצְחָ֛ק אֶל־אֲבִימֶ֥לֶךְ מֶֽלֶךְ־פְּלִשְׁתִּ֖ים גְּרָֽרָה

And there was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Avraham, and Yitzchak went to Avimelech the king of the Philistines, to Gerar.  (Genesis 26:1)

This sounds very familiar. Famine again. Avimelech again.Wandering again. The Torah even says “that had been in the days of Avraham.” It’s like when you copy and paste. But if this is not enough to evoke past events in the life of Avraham, consider the verses that follow:

וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ ה' וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תֵּרֵ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יְמָה שְׁכֹ֣ן בָּאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיך

And the Lord appeared to him, and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)

And Rashi comments: (do not go down to Egypt) “since you are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you.”

גּ֚וּר בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את וְאֶֽהְיֶ֥ה עִמְּךָ֖ וַֽאֲבָֽרֲכֶ֑ךָּ כִּֽי־לְךָ֣ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֗ אֶתֵּן֙ אֶת־כָּל־הָֽאֲרָצֹ֣ת הָאֵ֔ל וַֽהֲקִֽמֹתִי֙ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖עְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם אָבִֽיךָ: וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֤י אֶת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְזַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הָֽאֲרָצֹ֖ת הָאֵ֑ל וְהִתְבָּֽרֲכ֣וּ בְזַרְעֲךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ: עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַ֥ע אַבְרָהָ֖ם בְּקֹלִ֑י וַיִּשְׁמֹר֙ מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֔י מִצְו‍ֹתַ֖י חֻקּוֹתַ֥י וְתֽוֹרֹתָֽי

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your seed will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Avraham, your father. And I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your seed all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed, because Avraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions.” (Genesis 26:3-5)

This is the revelation of G-d to Yitzchak, yet the word “Avraham” appears in these verses three times. Avraham Avinu – personal “father Avraham” to Yitzchak – has passed away but he is still present, as memories of him are constant and obligating. It’s as though everything is in Avraham’s merit, that everything that happens now is about his legacy. Still, Yitzchak is different from Avraham. Avraham is identified with the quality of chesed, of showing kindness and hospitality while Yitzchak is identified with the quality of strength, of restraint, continuity, but also of a certain passivity. G-d tells him here: in order to continue the legacy of your father, do not leave Eretz Yisrael. And so he does not leave Eretz Yisrael, not to search for a bride – who is found by Eliezer and brought to him – and not to find sustenance during a famine, not to seek the good (a wife), and not to avoid the bad (a famine). He does not wander like Avraham but establishes himself in Eretz Yisrael. The following verse reads:

וַיֵּשֶׁב יִצְחָק בִּגְרָר

And Yitzchak dwelled in Gerar. (Exodus 26:6)

And Ibn Ezra comments: “He did as HaShem commanded him.”

How simple, how unglamorous. He does what he is told to do.  The more we read, the more we begin to wonder if “these are the chronicles of Yitzchak” are actually “these are the chronicles of Avraham.”  Do you remember how last week’s parasha ended?  Let’s read it again:

וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק, אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ  

And Yitzchak brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Yitzchak was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.  (Genesis 24:67)

And here is another  parallel verse from our parasha:

וַיִּשְׁאֲל֞וּ אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ לְאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֑וא כִּ֤י יָרֵא֙ לֵאמֹ֣ר אִשְׁתִּ֔י פֶּן־יַֽהַרְגֻ֜נִי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ עַל־רִבְקָ֔ה כִּֽי־טוֹבַ֥ת מַרְאֶ֖ה הִֽוא

And the men of the place asked about his wife, and he said, "She is my sister," because he was afraid to say, "[She is] my wife," [because he said,] "Lest the men of the place kill me because of Rivka, for she is of comely appearance." (Genesis 26:7)

The words “my sister” were already said by Avraham regarding Sarah. And this parallel history continues with a challenge faced by Yitzchak, but it is not a new challenge. We already encountered it. Later on, Avimelech blesses him and comes to establish with him a covenant of peace out of respect and admiration for Yitzchak.

2. To Dig the Same Wells

Yitzchak Avinu enjoys success and harvests “a hundredfold” more than usual, and then we read:

וְכָל־הַבְּאֵרֹ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר חָֽפְרוּ֙ עַבְדֵ֣י אָבִ֔יו בִּימֵ֖י אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֑יו סִתְּמ֣וּם פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים וַיְמַלְא֖וּם עָפָֽר

And all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the days of Avraham his father the Philistines stopped them up and filled them with earth. 

(Genesis 26:15)

What a despairing verse. The servants of his father had worked hard in excavating wells and finding water, and now the Philistines have plugged them up. Here, we should stop and reflect for a moment since this is a tactic employed by our enemies until today.

Rav David Kimchi, known as the Radak, comments on the senselessness of plugging up the wells:  “No water for him (Yitzchak) and no water for us (the Philistines)” And Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes: “They plugged up the wells out of sheer spite.” And the commentator Rav Ovadiah Sforno explains: “They plugged up the wells out of jealous hatred.” Jealousy, hatred, spite. A lack of willingness to share. Tunnel vision that destroys what someone else toiled to create. Does this sound familiar? Up until today, unfortunately, our enemies often choose to behave in such a manner. They send over incendiary balloons, kites, fire, rockets; the main thing is to destroy and not to build.

Incidentally, the chasidim say that “satmu” (stopped up or plugged) comes from the word “stam,” and is related to “stamiut,” a word that implies arbitrariness, superficiality, and lack of meaning. The power of “stam”

today is enormous. There is a tendency to stop up the wells of deeper meaning in what we see around us and to say that “everything is nothing,” everything that happens is arbitrary and meaningless.

But after this despairing verse, comes another that, in my humble opinion, is one of the most heart-wrenching in the Torah:

וַיָּ֨שָׁב יִצְחָ֜ק וַיַּחְפֹּ֣ר | אֶת־בְּאֵרֹ֣ת הַמַּ֗יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר חָֽפְרוּ֙ בִּימֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יו וַיְסַתְּמ֣וּם פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים אַֽחֲרֵ֖י מ֣וֹת אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א לָהֶן֙ שֵׁמ֔וֹת כַּשֵּׁמֹ֕ת אֲשֶׁר־קָרָ֥א לָהֶ֖ן אָבִֽיו

And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Avraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Avraham's death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them. (Genesis 26:18)

And immediately afterwards, we read:

וַיַּחְפְּרוּ עַבְדֵי יִצְחָק בַּנָּחַל וַיִּמְצְאוּ שָׁם בְּאֵר מַיִם חַיִּים

And Isaac's servants dug in the valley, and they found there a well of living waters. (Genesis 26:19)

I have a question. Who wants to dig up wells that his father had already dug before him? Who wants to remove sand and dirt and stones that his father already removed? And if we finally did all this, who among us would want to call the wells exactly as our father called them? And yet, this is Yitzchak.

(Today, in modern Hebrew, the word “chofer” does not only mean someone who digs but has come to mean nudnik, someone who bothers and annoys).

Yitzchak is the classic “chofer” when it comes to digging, This is his life’s work: to dig up again, to repeat what has already been done, to persist. This is what he teaches us. His life’s work is not to innovate. He does not move from side to side and does not leave Eretz Yisrael, but stays where he is and digs deeper for that is where he discovers the roots of his soul and the underlying meaning of life. He is not searching for something new but is deepening his understanding of what already exists. And what do you discover the deeper you dig? When do you not change the name of anything? When do you not wander in and out of Eretz Yisrael? When your most important quest is not to discover something outside, but something within - to discover yourself, as Yitzchak sought to do. Take a look at this midrash:

Come and see: A man buys a house and gives it a name.  When he renews and renovates the house a little -- he already calls it by another name. But Yitzchak Avinu was not like that.  All the wells that Avraham Avinu excavated and named, even though the Philistines plugged them up, and Yitzchak had to go back and dig them up again -- Yitzchak did not give them new names but continued calling them by the names his father gave them. And why? Because of his humbleness, and because of his respect for his father. And what is the reward he received for this? The other forefathers changed their names: from "Avram" to "Avraham", from “Yaakov” to “Yisrael.” But the name “Yitzhak” -- even before he was born, G-d called him “Yitzchak” --  was never changed throughout the generations!

There is another advantage in this perseverance, in digging wells: Yitzchak brings back to the land its lost honor. In the Garden of Eden, the land was dishonored. Cain killed his brother in a field and the blood was absorbed there into the earth and Cain began to wander over the face of the earth, and then Noah planted a vineyard and he drank wine made from its grapes and got drunk, and now Yitzchak removes the curse and demonstrates devotion, love, and perseverance where the earth of Eretz Yisrael is considered.

Incidentally, the names of the wells, according to Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg in his book “HaKtav VeHakabalah,” are holy names given by Avraham and they carry a message. These are names associated with faith, monotheism, and prayer. Since Avraham was involved, above all, in teaching people to know G-d and in instructing them that there is no reality to idols, he devised a wonderful scheme for bringing people under the wings of the Divine Presence… He would call the well a name that reflected the truth of G-d’s existence. In this manner, he accustomed people, when drawing water from such a well, to be reminded of G-d whenever they spoke the well’s name. For example, (a well would be named ‘Lord, G-d of the universe’ and) they would say “Let’s go and draw water from ‘Lord, G-d of the universe.’” Here we have a lesson in holy advertising, holy marketing, and holy branding. A holy message is slipped into the name of each well without anyone noticing. The names of the wells are: HaShem sees/appears, HaShem is my miracle/banner, the well of the One Who lives and sees:

ה' יראה, ה' נסי, באר לחי רואי

Rav Mecklenberg continues to explain the greatness of Yitzchak: "And when a well went out of use, so did its name.  And the Torah comes to tell us that Yitzchak grasped on to the deeds of Avraham and exerted himself to dig up the wells and return their names to them, in order to return the crown of true faith to its place".

Yitzchak educates, and brings people close to G-d, once again, after they had lost their faith. Our commentators also draw a parallel between the three wells and the three holy temples, two that were destroyed and one that will be built.

One of the strange things in America is that street names have no significance or perhaps I simply to do not understand them. Streets have numbers for names, with no special meaning. My children do not understand why there isn’t any Rav Kook Street or Jerusalem Boulevard.  Just the other day we found a street with meaning – Church Street…

But digging wells has even more significance, everyday significance, according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This week the annual gathering of Chabad emissaries took place in Brooklyn. It was very emotional to see the group picture. Thousands of emissaries from around the world crowded into a single picture. This annual picture always gives me a sense of proportion regarding politics and other news. Here we see the mission of Yitzchak Avinu and, in his footsteps, that of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, come to life.  This was explained in a speech delivered by Shalom Hurwitz, the son of Rav Yitzi Hurwitz, an emissary in California. Rav Hurwitz has ALS, a neuro-degenerative disease which has resulted in his paralysis. With the help of eye-tracking technology, he wrote the words of Torah that his son would read.

“This is what my father wrote,” Shalom began.“In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Toledot, it is written that Yitzchak Avinu dug wells. The Rebbe explains that digging wells is very important work and is, in fact, our mission: to remove the dust and the dirt and go deep until we reach the sweet waters hidden below. He said that this is our objective in relation to every Jew – to dig conscientiously, not to pay attention to the external layers blocking the way, and to find the divine spark within. This is true not only regarding every person, but regarding every situation, too: we need to find the meaning that lies within every difficulty and challenge. During the last few months, I have learned that not a person exists who does not struggle.  My struggle is simply more obvious, more on display, but everyone struggles. The goal is to dig wells in order to discover the message from HaShem – that we can reach heights never before imagined and, in so doing, elevate those around us, too. We have no concept of the incredible treasures hidden within every one of us.”

The Rebbe was one of the great well diggers of our generation, who was able to find the beauty and the goodness inside of each person. To discover the full potential in every human being, you only need to dig diligently and eventually you will reach it.

Here’s a pertinent and charming story that I heard from Rav Moshe Kotlarsky, who plays a vital role in Chabad educational institutions. “On one of my trips to New Orleans, I received a telephone call from Rav Hodakov who directed me to return to New York immediately. I took the next flight to New York and as soon as I arrived I was told to fly that same day to the island of Curacao.  Curacao is one of a group of tiny islands in the most southern part of the Caribbean Sea, near Venezuela. We landed there and asked the taxi driver to take us to the synagogue, where we were greeted by a Jew named Chaim Grossman. He approached me and said, “It’s a miracle that you are here.  This is a Catholic country and the educational system is Caatholic but for years when the Catholic children went to pray, during school, the Jewish children went to play soccer. But this year on March 4th when school began, the Jewish kids were compelled to go with the Catholic kids to pray. My son refused to go and, after being threatened for refusing to pray, he was expelled from the school. I don’t know what to do with him.  When we arrived here in the 1940’s, my grandmother called and said, ‘Chaimi, there are two things that I can tell you: one, promise me that you will marry a Jewish girl.’ I was a little boy and I did not know what it meant to get married or what a Jewish girl was. And then she said, ‘This is the second thing: if you ever have a problem in life, turn to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he will help you.’ Last night I did not know what to do with my son and I had a dream, and in the dream my grandmother came to me and said, ‘Chaim, why are you so upset, I told you that if you have a problem, go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.’ And look, all of a sudden, you are here.” I met his son, Eli Grossman, and that summer he attended a Jewish camp in New York. Afterwards, he began to study in a yeshiva high school. His father was quite excited by this. He asked to send a letter to the Rebbe through me and wrote as follows: ‘Please tell the Rebbe that he touched the heart of a little Jew who lives on a little island.’ The Rebbe answered him in a letter containing a very important message: ‘I was happy to receive your letter. However, I must comment on the description of yourself as a little Jew.  There is no such thing as a little Jew. Everyone, whether man or woman, has a G-dly soul, an actual part of G-d inside of them, as explained in Sefer HaTanya.  A Jew should never diminish his value and write about himself in the manner that you did.’”

And Rav Kotlarsky then concluded his story with these words:  “This is the great gift which the Rebbe gave us – to value ourselves, to value every single person around us, and to value the divine spark that exists within everyone. There is no such thing as a little person and we should approach, appreciate, and connect with every Jew in the way that the Rebbe did.”

This quality brings Yitzchak to mind, who made every effort to connect with his son Esav and help him change. Ha’Or HaChaim HaKadosh, Rav Chaim Ben Attar, who had no children of his own, explains Yitzhak’s relationship with Esav as a digger of wells, as someone who is always searching for what is good: “Yitzchak desired to bless Esav, the evildoer, because he thought that by means of blessings Esav would be transformed and the evil in him would be turned into good and he would change his ways. It hurts tzadikim when their children do evil and so Yitzchak did all he could for Esav to improve, hoping his efforts could possibly be of benefit.”

Notice the words “possibly be of benefit.” This leaves an open question: Was it possible to transform Esav into the son who would carry on the legacy of Avraham and Yitzchak?

Why does Yitzchak love Esav? Because his job is to remove layers of dirt and trash in order to find water, the goodness that must reside deep inside Esav, too.

3. Prayer

This is not the entire history of Yitzchak. What else does he do in our parasha? What is another important part of his history? Prayer.

How much time does he spend engaged in prayer? One day? Two days? We learn that “Yitzchak was 40 years old when he took Rivka (as his wife)” and then “and Yitzchak was 60 years old at their (the twins’) birth.”

20 years of prayer. Yitzchak does not make a revolution in the world; he makes a revolution inside himself. In the words of Rav Kook, “The prayer of tzadikim brings about a great revolution.”

Chanan Porat explains: “Yitzchak Avinu, quiet and passive on the surface, is actually a great revolutionary and his prayer is a quiet, but steady revolution, with devotion and with persistence, going on for 20 years until it bears the fruit of a twin birth. ‘And Rivka his wife became pregnant.’ Here, too, there was no external drama but, if we read carefully, we see a story of 20 years’ persistence unfold: Yitzchak does not budge from Eretz Yisrael, he does not budge from the ancient wells, and he does not budge from prayer.”

So we have here the challenges of a tzadik ben tzadik, a tzadik born to a tzadik.  Avraham had his challenges but Yitzchak has challenges, too.  Avraham spread the word of HaShem wherever he wandered, while Yitzchak stays in the same place and focuses on digging deep and on praying with intensity for many years.

I saw a speech that Rav Adin Steinzaltz delivered to a group of young people when he said this: “The problem with everyone who grew up in a religious home is the routine. Whoever digs new wells lives in another world – of awakening, of being uplifted. But for those like Yitzchak, it’s difficult. Just think about this physically. They already dug wells here, you can see the signs, why dig again? It’s like a lecture that you wrote, was deleted, and now you have to write it again. It’s depressing. Where is the feeling that comes with doing something new? Where is the vitality? All beginnings are hard, but all continuations are hard as well.

In this sense, Avraham does not only create Yitzchak, but Yitzchak creates Avraham.  Yitzchak gives Avraham validity and perpetual existence. Without Yitzchak, what would Avraham have been? The capacity to create continuity is not only important for the future but also changes the meaning of the past, and will determine whether Avraham succeeded after all.

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv writes in his book “Chochma UMusar”: “Avraham found a world that had gone astray with idolatry and he understood that people were mistaken and he began to search for the truth, plumbed the depths, and found it.  But Yitzchak Avinu was a tzadik ben tzadik, the son of a tzadik who already had a path laid out for him by his father, Avraham Avinu, o.b.m, a tried and true and old, established path and yet, despite this, Yitzchak dug deep as if for the first time, and toiled hard to find faith.  He was like someone who had gone down the wrong road and now had to find the right, true road even though he did not need to do this since his father had already found that road.  But Yitzchak wanted to establish for himself the foundations of belief, like any person who discovers something on his own, since what he finds on his own will have more reality to it.  He will also enjoy an expansion of mind and have a greater desire for happiness as a result of his efforts.  Besides, Yitzchak Avinu reached a level that Avraham Avinu could never reach since Avraham started something new but did not have the challenge of renewing something old.”

To change the old into the new – this is the goal of everyone born into a religious home. To take your heritage and make it relevant to you.

The Israeli songwriter and musician, Yochai Ben Avi, wrote a song about this that’s called “Religious from Birth.” He touches here on a valid point.  We appreciate and admire those who are newly observant, the “Avraham Avinus,” and fail to appreciate those who grew up in observant homes, the “Yitzchak Avinus,” the tzdikim born to tzadikim. As he sings:

“I am religious from birth. What, that’s bad?  I never tasted pig, I didn’t learn to deny G-d, I didn’t wander from cult to cult, I never searched for myself in other religions.

No, I didn’t suddenly wake up after the army and see the light, I have no light of the newly observant, but I’m religious from birth and I’m happy! Hear, my brother, here I am singing!

I pray regularly in a minyan, under my clothes you won’t find a tattoo, I have no story to tell the world, I am just a simple person, exactly like everyone.

I will reveal a little secret if you want to hear, that also the religious from birth know how to cry, that they fall down and find it hard to get back up. In their eyes, the world is also a little twisted out of shape. I am familiar to Hashem, sometimes confused, and feel estranged, go away and then get close again, come and go. Even those religious from birth are newly religious.”

I thought I would end here but then Nir Manusi sent me a chapter from his new book: “Mi Zot Olah” or “Who is she who ascends?”. It’s a book about women in the Bible, from a Chasidic perspective, that helps us to see everything in a more balanced way. It’s not a case of Yitzchak versus Rivka and we need to determine whose prayer is more important. This is a matter of one completing the other. Yitzchak prays and Rivka prays and Rashi comments: “This one (Yitzchak) was standing in this corner and praying, and that one (Rivka) was standing in that corner and praying.” This is a hint that there are two perspectives, two outlooks on life.  Both are needed for a prayer to be complete. In Chasidic works, it is brought out that a complete prayer consists of two types of prayer. The first admor from Amshinov, Rav Yaakov David Kalish, in his book “Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh,” explains how both Yitzchak and Rivka prayed that their own prayer should be answered in the merit of the other:  “Righteous Rivka prayed that her prayer would be answered in the merit of Yitzchak, and Yitzchak prayed that his prayer would be answered in the merit of righteous Rivka.”

On Shabbat, in the morning prayer, we list 4 types of prayers, and the names of Yitzchak and Rivka are hinted in them.

בפי ישרים תתרומם

ובשפתי צדיקים תתברך

ובלשון חסידים תתקדש

ובקרב קדושים תתהלל

The first letters of the people who pray (Yesharim, Tzadikim, Chasidim, and Kedoshim) spell Yitzchak and the first letters of the types of prayer (Romem, Barech, Kadesh, Hillel) spell Rivka. The conclusion drawn from this is that the complete prayer which emerges from the couple is a combination of the prayers of both Yitzchak and Rivka.

I am not objective in this matter since I was not born into a religious family and my husband was. However, I think that making connections between the newly observant and those who come from observant homes can enrich both sectors.

Thanks very much to all of you and, G-d willing, we will meet again next week.


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