When my wife gave birth to twin girls 20 years ago, we did not realize what pattern she was setting in motion. Baruch Hashem, my twin daughters both got married this past year. The oldest twin just gave birth to twin boys last week! We believe that this week’s parsha provides us some guidance regarding our future relationship with our new grandsons.
In Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham and Sarah travel to Egypt. Avraham tells Sarah he is worried that since she’s so beautiful, people there may kill him so they can marry her. He asks Sarah to tell everyone she is his sister (not his wife). Further, Avraham adds on another reason for the request: “In order that they should be good to me and I will live on your account.” Rashi says this means “they will give me presents.”
Could it be that at this dangerous time, Avraham is thinking about what he can do to receive presents?? Indeed, this is what happens! Pharaoh gave Avraham massive amounts of presents.
Why did Avraham want presents?
Here, Ramban lays down the fundamental principle of “ma’aseh avos siman lebanim”—the actions of the Patriarchs were models for their children. All the actions of the patriarchs were not just occurrences and challenges for their own personal lives but were enabling and empowering all klal Yisrael to be able to endure and overcome various challenges. Avraham went into exile in Egypt, and later so did the Jewish nation. In his exile, Avraham was preparing for his future generations to be able to withstand and endure their enslavement.
The presents Avraham was attempting to receive were for the purpose of gaining esteem in the eyes of the Egyptians as head of a special people that is unlike those found in Egypt. Rav Isaac Sher explains Avraham was interested in bringing people closer to Hashem. Yet, how could he be credible as an outsider, a foreigner? He realized his success lay in his being a respected man of means. Hence the need to receive presents. Similarly, in Tehillim (76:12) it says the nations of the world will give presents to Moshiach. Why does Moshiach need presents? Rav Sher says by giving Moshiach presents, the nations will connect to him and they will respect him. Moshiach will then be able to influence them positively.
Rav Yaakov from Lissa cites another example of “ma’aseh avos siman lebanim.” Avraham realized Egypt was an immoral society. Rashi points out that in the plague of the “first” born, many people died in each home! Why more than one? Rashi explains that the first born from each union of the wife in a household died. In order to protect his children from this decadent and licentious influence, Avraham told Sarah to pretend she was not married. When Egyptians, including Pharaoh himself, would offer to marry her, she was to withstand the challenge and maintain firm boundaries no matter what. By following through in maintaining those boundaries, Sarah gave the strength to her descendants to live in purity throughout their challenging years in Egypt.
Avraham and Sarah had a profound impact on the souls of their millions of descendants. We can do the same. Every day, as parents, we are modeling for our children. Every test we pass, every temptation we pass up, strengthens our children…and all their generations to come!
Just recently, my sister-in-law found a letter my wife and I wrote to my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Singer, a”h. When our twin daughters were born, some 20 years ago, Rebbetzin Singer came to Eretz Yisrael for three weeks to help us. This letter was a thank you note to her. As I read it, I could not help but feel deep emotions, thinking of my own children who will be moving into our home for a month with their twin boys.
With an almost prophetic pen, my wife wrote, “Baruch, the girls and myself are so grateful for everything and I really don’t know how to thank you. All your future great, great, great-grandchildren will thank you because you just taught me what it means to be a mother! If only I can follow in your footsteps. Mommy, thank you for being a role model for me and my girls.”
May Hashem give us His blessing to be proper role models for our children (and my new twin grandsons!).
The Ra’avad points out a contradiction in the Rambam (hilchos Melachim) which is connected to this week’s parsha. In one place the Rambam says that Avraham Avinu came to a recognition of Hashem at age three, while in another place, the implication is that he came to realize Hashem’s presence at age forty-eight. What could be the explanation to these Rambams?
Rav Wolbe in his sefer Alei Shiur is medayek the Rambam and comes to the following answer. At the age of three, Avraham had already started asking questions about the world which led him to realize that the world has a Creator. However, the knowledge he possessed at this time remained as a mere intellectual knowledge of Hashem. Rav Wolbe calls it a “yedia b’mocho,” that is, “a knowledge of the mind.” When he became forty-eight years old, this knowledge went through a maturation process and entered his heart.
A common theme when learning Sefer Bereishis is to realize that the foundation of our neshomos and who we truly are today are found in our Avos (Drashos Ha’Ran on Parshas Toldos). Therefore, when we learn about Avraham and the rest of the Avos, we’re really opening up a portal of understanding about ourselves. The question then becomes, what point is there to take out of this yesod of Rav Wolbe that we can relate to?
One thought came to mind when I saw this piece in the Alei Shur. The Ramban says on the pasuk of “v’kedoshim tiheyoo” that even after a person does all the mitzvos, he still has an obligation to become kadosh. Meaning, there could exist people in the world who fulfill all the mitzvos in the Torah yet are still considered a “neveilah” (carcass). Achronim say that the Ramban could mean people who live lives of Halacha yet whose hashkafa stands diametrically opposed to da’as Torah. I think the pshat could be a little different. The wording of the Ramban, is that someone who performed the mitzvos can still be considered a neveilah. What’s the connection to a neveilah? There are many people who believe that fulfilling the action of a mitzva suffices to fulfill our obligation, but it’s not true. People could do the mitzvos and still be considered dead. Why? Because the mitzvos are supposed to accentuate a change. They’re supposed to make a person feel differently than he did before. Doing the mitzvos out of rote and habit, without any feeling whatsoever is considered doing the mitzvos; however, the person doing them is still considered dead. We are required to infuse our mitzvos with feeling and without that, we’ve done the mitzvos, but we’re still so far from being kadosh (which is a tachlis of yidden, as the pasuk says –You should be a goy kadosh…).
I think this may be the point of the Alei Shur. Avraham achieved a level of recognition about Hashem as early as age three, but it wasn’t enough. It’s not enough to just know about Hashem. We have to feel it.
Additionally, we see from Avraham that it took him forty-five years to come to this type of knowledge. Forty-five years! It’s possible this is coming to teach us that feeling the Ribbono shel olam’s presence is not just something that happens overnight; rather, it’s an avodah. It’s not something that just comes about if you happen to know Hashem exists. Rather it’s an avodah to work on- to repeatedly realize and recognize shvisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid. Only by doing that can one really feel Hashem’s presence.
The truth is, that we inherited this gift from Avraham. It’s in our genes to be able to constantly live with Hashem. But living with Hashem like Avraham doesn’t just mean knowing He’s there. It means feeling He’s there. It means not just saying words of Tefilla as fast as we can, but to realize that we’re actually speaking to Someone. There’s Someone on the other end of the line! I once spoke to a Rebbe of mine about this. He said that this avodah takes a lifetime. To feel as if one is doing a mitzvah right in front of Hashem is no small feat. To not just understand that we’re talking to someone during tefillos, but to feel it? It’s a lifetime of work. But that’s what we’re here for. So, we have a lifetime to achieve it.