Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breisheet/Genesis: Parshat Lech Lecha

G-d has told Avram and Sarai (their names haven't been changed yet) to travel to the land of Canaan. The Torah then gives us the details of their journey into the land of Canaan. Avram goes to Schem (today Nablus). G-d then promises to Avram that his descendants will be given the land. Avram builds his alter to G-d then moves on to pitch his tent between Beit-El and Ai. He then goes down to Egypt with Sarai because of a famine in the land.

If every letter and word in the Torah is significant, why does G-d bother to go through a whole detailed description of where Avram, Sarai and their group traveled? Why is this information we need to know?

The Ramban states a principle that we are supposed to learn from our patriarchs and matriarchs. This is a concept called: Ma'aseh Avos, Siman L'Banim - The actions of the fathers are a sign to the children. We learn from Avram and Sarai's actions that they were preparing for the future of the Jewish People.

Avram stopped in Schem to pray for the future battle between Jacob's sons and Schem (the leader of that city)... Avram also stopped to camp in Ai, one of the first cities to be conquered by Joshua. And of course we know all about the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt.

What can we learn from this principle of Ma'aseh Avos, Siman L'Banim? We can see this when parenting children. Children watch everything that their parents do and say.

We have to ask:
* How is conflict resolved in the home? Is it through quiet discussion or yelling and screaming?
* Do both parents speak with the same voice? Do the parents override each others opinion when a child asks something of them?
* Are both parents expressing the same values to their children?
* Are the parents consistent with the rules of the house? Consistent with reward and punishment?
* How is Judaism being portrayed in the house? Is it an annoyance or something to be enjoyed?

All of these things are very important to keep in mind. Parents have been entrusted with young minds to guide and mold in the right way. Keep away from - do as I say, not as I do. Children watch and emulate even the smallest action. Even what parents may consider insignificant. What are your actions that are signs for your children?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Breisheet/Genesis: Parshat Noach

There are two different ways to look at the quote "Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation". The first according to Rashi (a commentator from the Middle Ages), Noah was only righteous in comparison to his corrupt generation. The other perspective is that Noah was righteous in spite of his generation and how much more righteous he could have been if he would have been born into a righteous generation.

Keeping this point in mind, if Noah would have been a neighbor to Abraham (who was born 10 generations later), how much more Noah could have learned from even just observing Abraham's actions. Each and every word that a tzaddik (a Torah scholar) says and the actions they take is a reflection of the Torah perspective of the world.

What we learn from this is the major importance of surrounding yourself with people you can learn from and and putting yourself in situations that are conducive to Torah learning, personal growth and refining your character. To sculpt yourself into the person G-d wants you to become.

The first verse in the book of Tehillim (Psalms) gives clear direction about who not to associate yourself with.
Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the path of sinners, nor sat in the company of scoffers.

This one verse covers all the possible variables: don't walk with them, don't stand with them, and don't sit with them. Any association with them will take you away from the right path.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:6, Hillel tells us that " a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader." What we can see is that if the proper way is not being followed, if there is no real Jewish leadership, it is up to each individual to stand up and be the one to set the example. This is what Noah did. While he did not go out and convince the people to change their ways (which is something that Abraham tried to do), he perhaps tried to lead by example.

This is a lesson we can all learn from. To do the right thing even if in the most extreme example, the entire generation has been completely corrupted to the core. Not a simple thing.