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Parshas Toldos - Yearbooks                                  1 Kislev 5780

11/28/19 22:01:15


The Jewish people are known as the ‘People of the Book’, due primarily to our everlasting connection to the Torah, studying and applying its wisdom to life and learning day and night for centuries. Even with the advent of the Internet and the availability of vast resources and texts online, we nevertheless prefer swaying back and forth, immersing ourselves in the traditional study method of learning from an actual sefer in front of us. Books serve many different purposes. They are a source of reference, deepening our knowledge, provide information, give us pleasure and enjoyment and even help us to improve our memory. Two stories, one related to me and the other to my wife, were recently told to us about a former classmate.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from someone in my past, and although I knew the name I could not place where I had known him. This individual let me know that was going to be in San Diego on business. He had the typical questions about davening times, food and lodging options. During the call, I gathered up the courage to ask the uncomfortable question of where we know each other from. He answered, that we went to high school together. My high school class had about one hundred twenty guys; we were not in class with every student. I don’t recall if we were ever in the same class, but I have no doubt that we were in the same grade. I could not picture what he looked like, and the picture I saw of him on his website did not help to connect me to his name. So, I thought to myself, “Hey, let me check our graduation yearbook!” Immediately, I reminded myself (as I’ve done for the past 38 years) that my class never published a senior yearbook, and therefore I could not look anything up in order to put a name together with the face.

A few days later a young man in his early twenties arrived in Shul on a business trip. He explained that he would be here for a few days . Something about him intrigued me. I am always cordial and welcoming to all of our guests, but rarely do I offer them more than a morning cup of coffee. In his case I felt a little different and knowing he was alone, I invited him for dinner. After Mincha /Maariv we walked home and had some small talk before sitting down to eat. The conversation turned to dating as we saw in him a potential shidduch for someone whom we know. He said that he is actually currently dating a girl and it was going well. He mentioned the high school she attended, and my wife exclaimed, “I went to that high school too!” Immediately the young man curiously responded that his mother also went to that same high school. He sheepishly asked my wife how old she was, and my wife keenly asked, “Well, how old is your mother?” At which point he stated his mother’s age, and my wife replied, “So am I,” and continued to ask what his mother’s maiden name was. Before he could even finish responding, my wife told him her first and last name. What were the chances of such a coincidence! Our guest then showed my wife a current picture of his mother, but it did not really look like her old self. At that, my wife jumped up, retrieved her high school yearbook, and lo and behold showed him his mother’s picture. My wife recognized an uncanny resemblance of this young man to her visual memory of his mother and was able to connect his facial features to those of his mother’s. At that point she was able to put a name to the face. 😊

The benefit of having a yearbook versus not having one was so striking to me as these two incidents occurred a week apart. The resemblance of mother and son were prominent and gave cheer to him. It is a great feeling to see the resemblance in siblings, of children to their parents and to other relatives as well. At times, it’s even necessary to prove that some are related to each other. This notion is can be seen in no greater place than in the Torah.

In this week’s parshas Toldos the Torah states in Bereishis 25:19 "ואלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהם, אברהם הוליד את יצחק": “These are the chronicles of Isaac, son of Avraham: Avraham was Isaac’s father”. Rashi’s famous comment regarding the text “Isaac the son of Avraham,”reiterated,, “Avraham begot Isaac”, for the scorners of the generation were saying, “From Avimelech did Sarah conceive, since for many years she tarried with Avraham and did not conceive from him.” What did the Holy One Blessed Be He do? He formed the features of Isaac’s face to be similar to Avraham, causing everyone to attest, “Avraham begot Yitzchok”. And that is why it is written here, “Isaac was the son of Avraham,” for there is testimony that “Avraham begot Isaac.”

Harav Yerucham Asher Warhaftig zt”l explains the words of קלסתר פנים: a similar face of Yitzchok to Avraham not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. The spirituality of Yitzchok was on the same level of his father Avraham. There were no differences in their hashkafa/outlook and in their understanding of the Torah/God/and the world. They were on the same page in all areas of Jewish and secular life. A person was able to have the same, identical conversation with Avraham and then with Yitzchok, and vice versa. When someone spoke to one of them it was equivalent to speaking to the other one; that’s how similar they were.

In the name of a great Gadol, HaRav Dovid Solomon, this Rashi is quite difficult to understand. Avraham was called HaIvri because the entire world stood on one side of belief while he stood on the other side in belief of Hashem. Avraham fought with Nimrod, the most powerful man on earth, battled against the major kings of the world, fought against all of the idolatry and practices of the world and emerged victorious. Now Avraham faced scoffers and needed the help of God to come to his rescue and make his face like his son’s in a miraculous way. Why did Avraham need Hashem’s help? Why was it necessary for Hashem come to his aid? The answer is, even the best firefighter needs help against a raging fire. The sad truth is, the power and strength of Leitzanus, of mockery and joking about things, is so powerful it can even strip away Avraham Avinu’s impeccable record of chessed, emes and greatness to the extent people would accuse Avraham of not being the biological father of his son Yitzchok. The power or influence of Leitzanus, mockery, is so strong that even a great warrior and man of unbelievable chessed such as Avraham Avinu needs help to defeat it. Therefore, Avraham needed Siyata Dishmaya - Heavenly assistance - to repeal that kind of rhetoric that spreads like wildfire.

Today, we face a scourge of leitzanus not only from outside the Jewish camp but even from within. Leitzanus is a tactic to shrug off and throw down our responsibility to the learning of Torah andto fulfillment of Mitzvos. It’s a tactic a person uses to make himself feel better by mocking those who are committed to learning and fulfilling mitzvos. We need the spirituality and hashkafa of the previous generations coupled, with heavenly assistance, to eradicate the midda of leitzanus in order to allow each and every one of us to serve HaKadosh Baruch Hu, looking in the Yearbook of our fathers and mothers, modeling and living life as they did.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780