In this week’s Parsha we meet Lavan, the father of two righteous daughters but himself the quintessential deceiver. There was nothing straight about Lavan. His name tells it all; he was “white” on the outside and black on the inside. He pretended to be an altruist, but in fact he lived only for himself.
Yaakov Avinu, on the other hand, was called “ish tam,” a straight person without subterfuge. His outside was like his inside. He never tried to disguise his nature or take advantage of another person.
We are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who tried to imitate Hashem’s midos. Hashem is “ma’le chessed … filled with chessed,” an outpouring of blessing for the entire universe. This is what good people strive to emulate. If we live for ourselves, then we have failed. The more we live for others, the more bracha we bring into the world.
My wife and I grew up in a world of self-hating Jews. How we escaped from this darkness is beyond understanding. Hashem rescued us as He rescued our ancestors from Mitzraim, but I will tell you where it started.
It started with our parents.
Yes, our childhood homes were devoid of Torah, but they were filled with midos tovos, the traits that we as Jews acquired from Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Our parents were paragons of integrity, who would never have considered cheating anyone else, uttering a falsehood or stealing a penny. I believe that we became observant because we saw this behavior in our parents’ homes.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz Shlita”h once said that baalei teshuva often try to distance themselves from their parents. They feel superior and are embarrassed that their parents do not keep mitzvos. What a mistake!
Where did these baalei teshuva become inspired to become observant? They saw certain traits in their parents, spiritual striving which implanted itself in their neshomas. As a result of the spiritual seeds which their parents implanted in them, they were able to become observant, and they owe it all to their parents!
Not only is it a mitzvah to honor one’s parents, but baalei teshuva should especially understand the tremendous debt they owe their parents. Instead of feeling superior, they should be filled with gratitude for the spiritual gifts which their parents gave them.
My father was a Wall Street legend who founded a famous firm (in 1939) which exists to this day. Never was there a whisper of scandal or wrongdoing attributed to this business. My father never tried to grab what was not his and in fact he went out of his way to help others. He built his firm into a great business by attracting brilliant partners and he never skimped on giving them a share in the business which was as big as his. This way he attracted the top people and formed a partnership built on the foundation of brotherhood, integrity and trust.
He used to say, “I love to pay taxes.” Where have you heard that before? Never! Well, he meant it. Why did he feel that way? He wanted to express his gratitude by supporting a country which had given so much to him.
My friends, this is the Jewish attitude: brotherhood, fairness, giving to each other, lack of jealousy, refusing to touch that which is not ours. This is how we have survived as a holy nation. Achdus … unity is the mida through which we received the Torah, and the lack of it – G-d forbid – is what has caused our troubles throughout history. In two weeks we will B”H read Parshas Vayeishev, which describes the jealousy among Yaakov’s sons which led directly to Golus Mitzraim, the quintessential exile from which all future exiles came to be.
Our parents, although they did not know about Torah and mitzvos, lived by the precepts of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. “Derech eretz kadmah l’Torah … righteous behavior precedes the Torah.” (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3) With this foundation, we can acquire Torah. Without it, we are lost.
My wife’s mother, after she became a widow, spent Shabbos with us for many years until the end of her life. She became a new person. She died on Shabbos night. We were with her in the hospital. We had finished the Shabbos meal in her hospital room and had just finished bentching (out loud so that she could hear), after which her soul ascended to the Upper World.
She left this world as a tzadekes.
My friends, this is phenomenal. Anyone can do this, but how many people actually do it!
All we have to do is follow the holy words of our sages. At the end of Shacharis, it says, “Hashem n’chaini … Hashem guide me in Your righteousness … make Your way straight before me….” A person who desires righteousness can acquire Eternal Life. It is all up to us. As it says, “Yaakov lo mais … Yaakov did not die.” (Taanis 5b) The righteous live forever.
May we soon see the Final Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach and techias hamaisim, when the world is restored to perfect purity. By following the example of our holy parents, we can bring it about!
Baalei Teshuva: People who return to the Torah way of life
Bentching: Reciting the blessing after a meal
Golus Mitzraim: Egyptian exile
Lavan: The father of Yaakov’s wives Rachel and Leah. His name means “white” in Hebrew
Mida: Character trait
Midos tovos: Good character traits
Mitzraim: Ancient Egypt
Parsha: Torah portion
Shacharis: Morning prayer
Techias Hamaisim: Resurrection of the dead
Tzadekes: Holy woman