The Long Lasting Impact Of Childhood Memories
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 833, Six or Ten People For Chazoras HaShatz? Good Shabbos!
When Eisav was 40 years old, he married two idolatrous Chitite women — which caused grief to Yitzchak and Rivka. They were upset at his choice of mates. The Medrash asks why Yitzchak is mentioned first in the pasuk, as it says, “And they caused bitterness of spirit to Yitzchak and to Rivka” [Bereishis 26:35]. The Medrash answers that this was because Rivka herself grew up in the home of idol worshippers, so she was not as concerned about such practices. Yitzchak, who grew up in the holy family of Avraham and Sarah, was more upset by the actions of his daughters-in-law.
Let us remember that at this point Rivka was over sixty years old. (Eisav was 40 and Rivka was childless for 20 years after she got married.) Rivka had been out of her childhood home for more than half a century. We would think that at this point in time, after being the wife of the righteous Yitzchak for so many years, the thought of idolatry must certainly have been abhorrent to her. And yet, it was less of an abomination to her than it was to Yitzchak, based on those childhood memories of Avodah Zarah practiced in her own home!
At one time Rivka her life, she witnessed Avodah Zarah. It is the nature of people that once they see something, they become accustomed to seeing it, developing a certain tolerance for it. A certain Gadol came to America from Europe in the 1920s. The first time in the Gadol’s life that he witnessed a Jew desecrating Shabbos, he fainted. We on the other hand, or even people of that era who were used to seeing desecration of Shabbos, are not moved by witnessing Chilul Shabbos. It is something we have become used accustomed, for better or worse.
The Medrash is saying a fantastic thing. Of course Rivka was upset by the Avodah Zarah. Of course it was an abomination. Of course it gave her grief. But it did not give her as much grief as it gave Yitzchak. Why? Yitzchak never witnessed Avodah Zarah. Therefore, the thought of his daughters-in-law worshipping Avodah Zarah was anathema to him.
The lesson of this Medrash is that after a while, whatever we are exposed to stops bothering us to the same degree. It is no wonder that in the United States of America, there is a certain tolerance for violence. The typical American kid who watches an average of 3 hours of television a day in the course of his youth sees thousands of murders. Granted, he only sees it on television rather than in “real life”. But it does not matter. The specter of murder is just not the same for such a child.
“Yosef Meshisa Moments”
The flip side of this Medrash is another Medrash, which I have spoken about previously, but which I would like to share with you again, coupled with two different stories.
Towards the end of the Parsha, the pasuk says “and he smelled the aroma of his clothes (rayach begadav)” [Bereishis 27:27]. The Medrash makes a play on words and says there is an allusion here to “rayach bogdav” — the aroma of his traitors. Yitzchak sensed people in future generations of Klal Yisrael who were traitors to the faith and yet Yitzchak received satisfaction of spirit (nachas ruach) from them. Although this seems paradoxical, the Medrash gives two examples of such individuals: Yosef Meshisa and Yokam Ish Tzeroros.
Yosef Meshisa was a wicked Jew. When the Roman enemies came into Yerushalayim and were about to enter the Holy Beis HaMikdash, they were afraid to enter. They asked for a Jewish volunteer to enter first, to prove that no harm would befall them. Yosef Meshisa volunteered. They told him, “You go in first and whatever you want take for yourself.” Yosef Meshisa went in and came out with the Golden Menorah. When they saw what he took, they told him, “It is not proper for a commoner to use such a utensil. This is over the line. Such a magnificent artifact is fit for a king, not a simple person.”
The Romans told him to go back and chose something else. However Yosef Meshisa refused. He said “I cannot go back in.” They offered him the income for 3 years of tax revenue collection if he went back in, but he still refused. He said, “Is it not enough that I angered my G-d once, you want me to anger Him a second time?” The Romans enslaved him as punishment for his disobedience to them.
What happened to Yosef Meshisa? He abandoned his people. He was a traitor. So then what happened to him that caused him to be able to defy the Romans? He had an epiphany of sorts. He realized that he had gone too far, that he had sunk too low. When even a Gentile told him “You have taken something that is inappropriate for you to have,” he realized that the Gentile was right. He realized that he went too far and had crossed the line.
So often in life, something happens to people that becomes a “wake-up call.” The people suddenly realize how far they have gone.
I would like to share with you two examples I have collected this past year of what I like to call “Yosef Meshisa moments,” – when someone realizes “look how far I have sunk.” This is a story about a Jew named Shlomo Mordechai Sobol, who died about two years ago. He was born and raised in Russia. He was orphaned at the age of 7. He was raised in a religious home, but being orphaned and being drafted into the Russian army pulled him away from Yiddishkeit.
During the war, food was very hard to come by. He was in the Russian army. The Russian soldiers had it relatively good because when they would invade a town, they would have free reign of the town and could seize whatever they wanted in terms of food and provisions. Mr. Sobol, who by then was not very religious, walked into a bakery and took two loaves of bread.
Shortly afterwards, he was walking in the town and he saw a Mezuza on the door of a little house. He knocked on the door. The woman, seeing a Russian soldier at the door, did not want to answer the door. He kept knocking. Finally she answered the door. Seeing the Jewish woman, the soldier offered her one of his loaves of bread. She refused to take it. He persisted in his request that she take the loaf from him to feed her family during this time of famine. She refused again. Finally, he told her in Yiddish “I am a Jew. I want to do a mitzvah. Please take this loaf of bread.”
The woman looked at him again and said, “It is Pessach!” Mr. Sobol was astonished. “It’s Pessach?” That very day, Shlomo Mordechai Sobol, realizing how far he had drifted made a vow to the Almighty. “G-d, if you get me out of this war alive, I promise You I will return to the ways of my parents. I will become religious again, I will raise my family religious and I will remain a religious Jew until the day I die.” And so it was. Mr. Sobol lived in West Hartford, Connecticut. He lived and died a religious Jew.
The next story is an essay written by a Mr. Brian Silvy. He was raised in a totally nonobservant home. He was brought up in a Reconstructionist Temple. He knew very little about Judaism. He knew that his family had a mezuzah on their door. He went to Hebrew school and could recite Shma Yisrael. That was about the extent of his Yiddishkeit. Obviously, he was one who did not leave Yiddishkeit — he never had it in the first place.
When I was in college, I joined a fraternity. I quickly became engaged in a typical fraternity lifestyle including many self-destructive activities and forms of self-gratification — alcohol, drugs, gambling, and licentiousness. The college I was in had fraternity houses located in Jewish neighborhoods.
One night, I was extremely intoxicated at a fraternity party held in an apartment with mezuzas on every doorpost. I became alarmed when I noticed two fraternity members prying mezuzas off the doorposts. I followed them around the house and I realized that they were collecting the mezuzas as they moved from doorpost to doorpost. I followed them to a room where they tried to remove the housing and take out the scrolls. They tried to read the writing on the scrolls and then crumpled them up and tore them in half when they were unable to do so.
I felt indignant and obligated perhaps by the small spark of Judaism within me to try to stop them. I confronted them with calmness and sensitivity. “What did you do with those things?”, I asked them. “I don’t know. It’s none of your business.” was the response. “You should have left them there. You are not supposed to take them down” I responded.
“Well what are they?” I was asked. “It’s called a mezuzah and they go on the doorposts of Jewish houses.”
“Why?” they wanted to know. I realized that I did not know the answer to their question. I could feel the strength of my position weakening. “Well, what is inside them?” they asked me. Again I could not answer. I could not answer any of their questions. They were looking at me with scorn. One of the collectors asked, “Well, if you are a Jew and you do not know the answer to these questions then why should we care?” They went ahead, took all the mezuzas they had collected and threw them into the fireplace where the fire was burning.
Perhaps it was because I was so drunk, but I walked out of the room dejected and heart-broken. I walked out of the house, found a remote place, and sat down on the snow. I began crying. I replayed the incident in my mind over and over, each time coming back to the same painful question: If you are a Jew and cannot answer these questions, why should we care? That was the catalyst that began my search for Torah Judaism.
This event occurred more than 10 years ago. Now, he writes, he has been learning in Ohr Somayach Yeshiva for the past two years. He is married to his wife Elisheva Rachel. They have a young daughter. They are raising a Torah observant family… all because of a “Yosef Meshisa moment” …because someone said “If you are a Jew and you do not even know, then why should we care?”
This is all the same concept. Someone slaps you in the face and says “Look how far you have gone!” A person then has the realization “I have gone too far.” Yosef Meshisa realized it. Shlomo Mordechai Sobol realized it. Brian Silvy realized it as well.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for this Parsha are provided below:
031 Marriage Between Relatives
073 Non-Kosher Medicines and the Birchas Hareiach (Scents)
122 G’neivas Da’as: Deception and Your Fellow Man
169 The Blind Person in Halacha
215 V’sain Tal U’matar
259 “Sorfin Al Hachzakos”: The Concept of Chazaka in Halacha
305 The Bracha of “Baruch Sheptarani”
349 Must Mincha Have a “Chazoras Hashatz”?
393 Neitz Hachama vs. Tefilah B’tzibur
437 Accepting Tzedaka from Women
481 Lying to Keep What’s Yours
525 Maris Ayin
569 Yichud With Relatives
613 Shiva and the Wayward Son
657 Fascinating Insights into the Tefilah of Mincha
701 Fasting on The Wedding Day
745 The Cost of Stealing a Mizvah
789 The Power of Your Own Words
833 Six or Ten People for Chazoras Hashatz?
877 Bar Mitzvah Sh’ailos
921 Accepting Someone Else’s Curse
964 The Non-Observant at Your Yom Tov Meal: Good Idea or Major Problem?
1008 I Don’t Want You to Marry Him – Must A Daughter Listen To Her Father?
1052 Seudas Hav’ra’ah and Sending Food During Shiva
1095 Fascinating Bar Mitzva Shailos
1138 Who’s Better For A Sh’liach Tzibbur – An FFB or BT?
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