Friday, November 14, 2014
Chesed Muscles, Dating, And Spiritual DNA By: Shaya Winiarz
There is a popular Jewish joke which says that the way the present “shidduch system” is set up, nobody would ever have agreed to go out with our great forbearers: Avraham’s father was an idol worshipper, Yitzchak and Yaakov both had brothers off the derech, and Rivka, Rachel and Leah all suffered from the shame of having an insatiably greedy lying cheat in the family – Lavan. But seriously, there are not too many places where the Torah offers guidance on the topic of shidduchim. However, as the Torah is the instruction manual for our lives, let’s take a look at parshas Chayei Sarah and see if we can’t glean some Torah wisdom about seeking a mate, and perhaps, by extension, wisdom for how we live our lives in general.
Try to imagine the scene. Avraham Avinu – the sole believer in Hashem, surrounded by a world of pagans – needs to find a match for his son. The stakes are incredibly high. Will this new religion to which he dedicated his life to teaching and spreading simply die out, or will his son raise a family of believing Jews who will create the Jewish People? His most trusted servant – Eliezer – is entrusted with the mission. Eliezer’s wisdom is indisputable. This Chief Steward doesn’t just run the household and estate; he is a very learned man and the primary disseminator of his master’s teachings. Indeed, we see that Eliezer, of his own initiative, decides to settle for nothing less than the greatest baalas chesed. What detailed directions does Avraham give him before he leaves? Just one single command. “Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan. Rather, you shall go to my birthplace and take a wife for my son from there.” This seems like a reasonable demand. The Canaanites were a pagan people, the antithesis of all that Avraham stood for. None of the local Canaanite girls would be a match for Yitzchak. Thus, the search must begin elsewhere.
But here is where it gets puzzling. When Eliezer arrives in Aram Naharayim, he picks out a girl from an idolatrous family! Granted, she was a gem of a girl. Baalas chesed to the nth degree. But how can you take a girl from a family of idolaters? Even if she rejects the foreign gods, why would you risk taking a girl born into such a family? Aren’t you worried that she might be somewhat more benevolently disposed towards idol-worship? Is the fact that she is an amazing baalas chesed enough to make it a worthwhile deal?
The Kli Yakar asks this question and answers as follows. “[Avraham’s concerns were based on his understanding that] the child’s nature is drawn from that of the parent. However, this is only true with regard to material things such as the desire for food, immorality, stinginess, etc. The desire for idolatry, on the other hand, is rooted in the intellect. Thus, the partners that contribute the material (i.e. the parents) pass on only their material traits. The intellect, however, is rooted in the soul – which is contributed not by the parents, but by G-d.” What this complex Kli Yakar means is as follows. It’s true that idolatry was the opposite of everything Avraham stood for. But the inclination towards idolatry is not inherited. So it didn’t bother Avraham if his future daughter-in-law’s family were idolaters. It would be enough for her to reject the foreign gods. But what was indispensable to Avraham, as his loyal servant understood, was that she be kind and caring. These traits, when learned through constant acts of giving, become part and parcel of a person’s make-up. Avraham refused to consider the girls from Canaan not because of their belief in idolatry, but because of their moral decadence. The stinginess, immorality, gluttony and entirely material outlook which reigned supreme in Canaan precluded any possibility of having a matriarch of the Jewish People being chosen from there.
This idea should speak to those of us who would like to build a Jewish home, or even to those of us who have already begun the process. There is something called spiritual DNA. The more mitzvosyou do, the more you become a good and holy human being.Mitzvos don’t just earn you points up in Heaven to be collected at a later date. Mitzvos actually change who you are. The person you are before an act of chesed is not the person you will be after the act. You are, rather, a more kindly person than before – “Man is changed by his deeds.” By logical extension, if you are a different person now, then your children will be different people too – “The child is an extension of the parents.” Parents dream of raising loving, caring children. But it is more in their control than they realize. Just as a child will resemble the parents physically – as he has inherited theirphysical DNA – a child’s temperament will also resemble the parents’ – as a result of spiritual DNA.
Thus we find in this parsha an undercurrent of one of the most fundamental tenets of the Jewish worldview. In this world we find ourselves in a constant battle. There are times we want to follow Hashem’s commandments; we want to be kind and giving. Then there are days when we feel like being self-serving and indulgent. How is it possible that we so often feel such contradictory feelings? Are we all schizophrenics? No. However, we are made up of two parts: the material body and the holy soul. Each one has a certain amount of strength and each struggles for supremacy. Sometimes the body gains domination and sometimes it’s the soul that wins out. That’s the way it is. But the goal is to keep flexing those spiritual muscles. Every time we do something good we get a little stronger and holier. And every time we transgress Hashem’s command it’s our body that gains a little more strength.
Avraham knew this. He understood that what he wanted to find for his son was someone who had flexed her soul’s muscles so often that she was a chesed heavyweight. Avraham wanted somebody with DNA encoded to be compassionate and giving. Only such a person would have the genetic capacity to be the mother of the Jewish People.
Let’s learn from Avraham’s example. We must understand the power and impact of our actions. We can make ourselves into G-dly people. We can make ourselves into kinder and more compassionate individuals, and by extension we can affect our children as well. Through our deeds we can actually create generations of righteous men and women. May Hashem bless us with the strength to grow and make ourselves and all those around us into the greatest people we can possibly be.
About the Author: Shaya Winiarz is a student of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (a.k.a. Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim). He enjoys public speaking and writing Torah articles and essays. He can be reached for speaking engagements or freelance writing at firstname.lastname@example.org.