Parshas Vayechi - Plan To Be Spontaneous!
Our patriarch Yaakov passes away in this week's parsha. Before he dies,
Yaakov gathers his children, the twelve tribes, and blesses each one with a
unique blessing which suits each one.
It is notable, however, that realizing the blessing one receives requires
personal input from the receiver. A blessing is no guarantee. It is a
prayer to G-d that everything contained in the blessing should fall into
place if the receiver does his part in being a fitting receiver. What is
the input required to live up to one's potential? Perhaps Rabbi Samson
Raphael Hirsch can help us understand.
In Rabbi Hirsch's 19th century Germany, one of the raging issues facing
Jews was as follows. Many Jews began to espouse the popular view of life
based on the philosophical views of Immanuel Kant, which was that of moral
self-legislation, the paradigm for much of modern society today. It is the
approach that one develops personal and social convictions from within
oneself and within society, as opposed to those extrinsically imposed, such
as those borne out of Torah.
Rabbi Hirsch, who occupied a position in Frankfurt at that time, rigorously
made his argument for the submitting one's will and morality to the
dictates of Torah. Many of Rabbi Hirsch's contemporaries wished to cast off
the Torah approach which distinguished them from the society which opened
its arms to them after the Napoleonic era. The theory of self-legislation
was a perfect moral stepping stone to satisfy their ends, and open the
doors to full acceptance in secular society.
It is reasonable to argue that the theory of self-legislation, as noble as
it was, has the pitfall of only being as exalted as the society in which it
is applied. Consequently, in a free society, almost everything can have its
justification as long as everyone agrees. Nothing is absolute.
Rabbi Hirsch taught that a consistent and noble morality is borne out of a
steady diet of Torah ideals through diligent study until a student of Torah
manifests the Torah ideals spontaneously and naturally.
If it strikes you as unnatural to "program" oneself through study, and that
it limits spontaneity, I will show you by analogy with sports that it
actually enhances our spontaneity, and our effectiveness.
An athlete, in order to be good, must train. Through practice, exercise,
and constant repetition, he develops and refines his performance in all
possible circumstances that may arise in a game. He must be prepared to
perform at his best under pressure. Training involves "walking through" all
kinds of offensive and defensive moves, and rehearsing repeatedly, until
the required behaviors are natural. Effective training will even enhance
the athletes ability to react properly in an unforeseen circumstance.
Through training it becomes natural.
The same is true in life, only more so. Life is where it really counts. In
order to realize our greatness, we must also train, and cultivate desirable
traits in ourselves. These are the tools which we use when interacting with
the world. The traits of generosity, compassion, sharing each other's
happiness and pain, being charitable, and countless more, all have their
source in Torah. The people who study and practice Torah come to embody
Consequently, Torah study and observance is a discipline, in some ways like
other disciplines. Every person is unique, and has great potential to bring
out. However, it must be coaxed out. It takes training, refining the raw
materials, and only after that can we hope that the end product will be
worthy of great favor and blessing.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.