Our Glorious Avos Heritage

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This week we start the parchiyos of the lawyers. My RabbiRav Yitzchok Hutner, often taught that confusion arises when terms derived from kedusha seem identical to those used in the secular world. In the United States, we have founding fathers and Klal Israel, lehavdilhas lawyers. The difference between the two has nothing to do with the distinction between millennia and centuries or even Jews and Gentiles. The Rishonim (see for example, Kuzari 1:18) talk about the difference between a hevdel mikri (a superficial difference) and a hevdel mehusi (a key difference). Founding fathers such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin certainly left us with ideals and even laws. However, the lawyers changed our DNA, granted us eternal spiritual powers and granted us kedusha that we could never have achieved on our own. It is therefore incumbent on us to prepare for this time of year by reflecting on their legacy and the incredible gifts and blessings they have left us.

Let’s start with a definition of the role of lawyers as narrated by Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pashad Yitzchok in Yerushalyim, of his father-in-law, Rav Hutner. He quotes (kuntrus sukkos, Maamar 24, page 83) that “the essential characterization of lawyers is that they bequeathed to us the holiness of klal Israel and all the traits that are dear to us. These include (Yevamos 79a) being rachamonim (compassionate) bayshanim (shy and modest) and gomlei hasodim (generous and magnanimous people). We must understand that these middos are so crucial to our national identity that Rambam (for example, Hilchos Matnos Anim 10:1) in several places states that if someone lacks these personality traits, criticism can be leveled at their ability to be identified as a Jew. As we will see, although these characterizations are sometimes latent, they can emerge at any time.

Although it can be said that each of the lawyers contributed to the legacy of all these middossome suggest that every middah came from one of lawyers. For example, the Tide Yechezkel (Peninei Tide Yechezkelpage 465) teaches that gemillas chesed comes from Avrohom Avinu, the embodiment of this middah, bayshanim comes from Yitzchok Avinu, since his middah is pasha, which leads to being ashamed of sinning and Rachmanim comes from Yaakov Avinu, because he knew tsar gidul bonus, the pain of raising children, and gave us the compassion needed for good parenting. In any case, we see that the lawyers gave us valuable tools to cope and become incredibly righteous people.

To illustrate just a microcosm of what this entails, let’s share a famous anecdote. The Bluzhever Rebbe told the story of Schneiweiss, a brutal capo at Auschwitz. He would not hesitate to hit a fellow Jew to ingratiate himself with the Nazis he collaborated with and never showed mercy to his brothers. But one Yom Kippur, When long-suffering inmates attempted to fast while doing mandated labor for their oppressors, a Nazi realized what was happening. “Judishe hunt freshhe asked, brandishing his gun. The Nazis had no problem starving the Jews mercilessly as long as they weren’t fasting for religious reasons. Suddenly, Schneiweiss was standing between the yid and the Nazi declaring, “I too am fasting. Kill me first, if you want. The Nazis did, and as the Bluzhever Rebbe so poignantly stated, “gehaster Schneiweiss I am gevoren heiliger Schneiweiss – hated Schneiweiss became Saint Schneiweiss.

Where does this heroism come from and mesire nefesh come suddenly?

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (Mishtav M’Eliyahu 1:10) explains that every Jew walks with the genetic material we inherited from lawyers. The whole of the kedoshim who gave their lives and were horribly tortured by the Romans and the Spanish Catholic Church, by the Crusaders and our many executioners, were given the innate ability and power to be mekadeish Hashem under the most dreadful conditions by the inheritance of lawyers. On a much more optimistic note, the multitude of baalei teshuvah and the distant souls who suddenly awaken to their heritage are illuminated by the light of the lawyers and imahos in their bones and tendons.

Another absolute marvel of Jewish history has been noted by the Gentiles and lehavdil Jews the same. It is the fact of Jewish survival under the most terrifying conditions known to man. No other nation has ever been so persecuted, hated and tortured, yet survived and even prospered. Mark Twain wrote a famous letter about this and Rav Yaakov Emden writes in his commentary on the siddur that that in itself is the greatest miracle in all of Jewish history. Where indeed have we drawn this superhuman strength and resilience? Rabbi David Cohen (Sefer Knesses Israelpage 20) records an opinion that it is by avodah from Yaakov Avinu that we received this eternal spiritual endurance and the courage to survive until Mashiach arrived.

The Sefas Emes (bereishis 5631, page 5, and see also, Maamorei Pashad Yitzchak, Passover, Maamar 44, page 167) also uses this concept to clarify an old question. Rashi asks why the Torah did not begin with the first mitzvah in the Torah instead of creation. His famous answer is that it is to give us the answer when the nations come to accuse us of stealing Eretz Yisroel. The Sefas Emes’ question is: why, then, does the Torah add all the other parchiyos in Sefer bereishis? His answer is that “every action of the lawyers became Torah… Each person who understands this can become a partner in the creation of the world. One of the many meanings of this seminal Sefas Emes is that every action of the lawyers become part of our heritage and our essence. To the extent that we appreciate and make this an important part of our lives, we too play a part in the purpose of Hashem’s creation.

We are now able to understand a puzzling annual commentary from Rashi. At the beginning of Parshas Va’eirathe Torah lists Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov by name, on which Rashi explains “the lawyers.” Many commentators have sought an explanation for these enigmatic words. Rav Hutner (Maamorei Pashad Yitzchak, Passover, Maamar 3, page 31-33) responds that Rashi teaches us that the lawyers not only bequeathed to us Eretz Yisroel, but all the Madreigos and the tools we would need to arrive intact until Acharis Hayomim. As we discovered, this is what our revered lawyers has given us through their sacred labors and mesire nefesh.

We are about to enter the universe of lawyers. If we take the time and effort to learn more about them – their words, actions and thoughts – we truly can be the offspring they worked so hard to bring forth. It’s not just about giving them nachas. It is to discover and rediscover our link with their kedushawisdom and derech in life. Just like read other sedros fulfills many aspects of the Torah, reconnecting with the lawyers and imahos lifts us up and, by osmosis, makes us breathe their sanctified air again. Let’s take full advantage of the rest of Sefer bereishis and allow the lawyers to bring us ever closer to gueulah Sheleimah bimeheirah b’yomeinu.

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