Roy Neuberger - Nov. 24, 2017
“Then Yaakov … raised his voice and wept.” (Genesis 29:11)
This is high drama. These are real people! They cry. They laugh. As it says, “Avraham threw himself upon his face and laughed.” (Genesis 17:17)
In this week’s Torah Portion, Our Father Yaakov travels alone to Haran. He is going to found the Nation of Israel. This is a central event in the history of the world. On the road, Yaakov “encounters” Hashem in a dream. In Haran, the founders of the tribes of Israel are born. What do we know about this unique family?
I have often mentioned my late father’s reputation for integrity, unusual in the world of big business. He was raised in a secular home, yet honesty was woven into his being. My mother of blessed memory was the same way. It was impossible for either of them to deviate from the truth. That is rare in this “olam ha sheker… world of lies.” They inherited this from their Jewish forefathers and mothers.
“Derech eretz … proper behavior preceded Torah by twenty six generations.” (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3) Before you can fulfill the Torah you have to know how to behave with respect toward other people. You can’t learn about “v’ahavta l’raiecha k’mocha … you shall love your friend as [you love] yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and then push someone out of your way. No, we are learning Torah to transform ourselves.
There must be an innate sense of humility. One has to understand how to subordinate oneself to Hashem. That humility also manifests itself in relations with other people. “Who is destined for a share in the World to Come? One who is modest and humble, who enters bowing and leaves bowing, who learns Torah constantly, but doesn’t take credit for himself.” (Sanhedrin 88b)
Here, at the birth of the forebears of the Tribes of Israel, we see the difference between those with proper behavior and those whose character traits make it impossible to keep the Torah. Yaakov is an “ish taam … a straightforward man.” (Genesis 25:27). The distinction between him and Lavan is totally clear. Yaakov is by nature incapable of lying; Lavan is by nature incapable of telling the truth.
Every day we say, “Baruch sh’amar … Blessed is He Who speaks and does.” Hashem’s actions are always in accord with His words. This is for us to imitate. The honest man does what he says he will do. We begin Rosh Hashanah with “Hataras Nedarim” and Yom Kippur with “Kol Nidre.” Doesn’t this tell you something about matching words with actions? The year cannot begin until we understand that we have to be straight, honest, “yashar.”
Malachim (angels) have a similar quality. We can learn from the angels, who “accept upon themselves the yoke of heavenly sovereignty from one to another and grant permission to one another to sanctify the One Who formed them.” (Shacharis/Morning Prayer) There is no jealousy among them.
Our task in life is to refine our nature so that we can become like the angels, the Forefathers and Mothers of Israel. In order to accomplish this, Hashem breathed into us a soul which is able to apply Torah concepts to our behavior, so that we can train ourselves to imitate Avraham rather than Lot, Yitzchak rather than Yishmael, Yaakov rather than Esav, Moshe Rabbeinu rather than Korach.
Last week, I mentioned a news story about the admission of a robot to citizenship in a certain country. I was trying to understand why I felt so strongly that this is a catastrophic sign for our generation, and then it suddenly became clear. A technician is soldering wires together, creating this robot in a laboratory. The robot can do many things I can do and maybe better. It has a face. It can move and talk. Yes, it needs to be recharged periodically, but, then again, so do I!
What is the problem with this robot? Why is it not human? Because a person made it!
And Who made us? “My G-d, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it. You fashioned it. You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me …. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who restores souls to dead bodies.” (Daily Prayer)
A person can cry. A person can laugh. “Al naharos Bavel … By the rivers of Bavel, there we sat and also wept when we remembered Tzion.” (Psalm 137) Because we can look at the world with eyes of Torah, we can feel the catastrophe when we are in Exile. We are filled with simcha when we anticipate the Final Redemption. A man did not create us; Hashem created us.
Can you imagine the chutzpa to equate a robot with a human being? The technician thinks he is G-d. Pharaoh also thought he was G-d. The direct result of his cosmic delusion was the destruction of Ancient Egypt. That is what happens when a man thinks he is Hashem. “Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man … Those who make them should become like them, whoever trusts in them.” (Psalm 115)
The point at which we equate the soul with electrical circuits is the point at which our claim to the right to live in this world comes into question. In the Garden of Eden, Eve made calculations. Maybe she could also “create,” or, at least, change the rules a little. Because of her “slight misunderstanding,” death, disease and tzouris entered the world. Every trouble we have today is because, at the beginning of history, mankind wanted to compete with Hashem.
Robots have no heart. “Hakodesh Baruch Hu liba bo’ay … Hashem desires the heart.” (Sanhedrin 106b) We first place the tefillin next to the heart, then the brain, then the hand. The path to proper behavior begins with the heart. “V’ahavta … You shall love Hashem with all your heart ….” The heart is the fountain of tears and laughter.
“In the evening one lies down weeping, but with dawn … a cry of joy!” (Tehillim 30)