Friday, November 5, 2010

Toldos: The Only thing To Fear Is Fear Itself

The most implicit theme of any given Parsha is revealed to us through it’s name. The title of the Parsha is the common denominator that ties all of it’s various components together.

With this in mind, what is the meaning behind the name of this week’s Parsha, Toldos? The word ‘Toldos’ is translated as ‘Offspring’, ‘Legacy’ or ‘Life Story’. The obvious logical conclusion would be that this week we should see the unique narrative of Yitzchak Avinu play out. The problem is that the total opposite seems to be true. Let’s explore.

The first Passuk reads, “V’Eileh Toldos Yiztchak Ben Avraham, Avraham Holid Es Yitzchak.” – ‘And these are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak.’

A person’s legacy is what he brings into the world, not that which came before him. If this is so, why in the very first verse, when introducing the concept of Yitzchak’s legacy, do we backtrack and start the whole thing off by saying who his father was?! That’s not his legacy, that’s not his mark on the world - that’s his prequel! Why are we starting his legacy by telling us who is father was? Let’s get to his kids were!

This question permeates the entirety of Yitzchak’s recorded life. On almost every level, Yitzchak’s experiences in the Torah are clear re-enactments of stories we read about Avraham.

We find out that Yitzchak’s wife was barren, as was Avraham’s. Two distinctly different children eventually are born, just like we saw by Avraham. A famine strikes and forces Yitzchak to leave his home, just like Avraham had to. Upon arriving at the new, safer Gerar Yitzchak attempts to save his own life by convincing the locals that his wife is really his sister. He is eventually found out, and subsequently leaves, becoming tremendously rich in the process – a story that happens twice with Avraham once in Mitzrayim and once in Gerar. Avraham digs wells, which are subsequently covered by the Plishtim and then re-dug by none other than Yitzchak, who calls them by the same names that Avraham did. They both feud with local shepherds. They both make treaties with Avimelech, and they both receive almost identical blessings from God.

This is the Toldos of Yitzchak Avinu? This is his great legacy? It seems as if his life is a re-run.

In order to answer our question we to take a detour and analyze some other themes.

In his discovery of Hashem, Avraham becomes the first Kiruv-success story. He’s the first Ba’al Teshuva, the first ‘flip-out.’ Therefore, we learn from Avraham all the lessons we need to know about getting started in Avodas Hashem. It’s explained that Avraham’s attribute was Chessed, which means loving-kindness, the extension of one’s self. Joy and colorful self-expression was the mode of his closeness to God. He built a warm, loving relationship with the Creator.

And this is how we see all Ba’alei Teshuva pitches work. A warm Shabbos table, good singing, excited prayers, a meaningful Havdalah and inspiring moments and are all necessary ingredients in attracting Jews to come closer to their heritage. All beginnings in Avodas Hashem start with this Ahavas Hashem. ‘Judaism is fun, this lifestyle will make you truly happy, etc.’, are the type of things that need to be said to start anyone on the path of closeness to Hashem. We learn this from Avraham.

But there is a second side of the coin, the attribute of Yitzchak: Yiras Hashem - Fear of God. This subject is spoken about much less. It’s more taboo to speak about fear as a positive trait. No one likes to be afraid. It sometimes seems that in some cultures Ahavas Hashem is put on a pedestal and Yiras Hashem is put in the corner. No motivational Kiruv speech revolves around the topics of trepidation andhell.

The consequences of this imbalance can be destructive. While Ahavas Hashem can inspire me to have a profoundly moving prayer, if I’m buddies with God, then maybe He won’t care if I rush through a different prayer tomorrow. If my entire Judaism revolves around Ahavas Hashem alone, then I’ll have rousing moments, but I’ll also find excuses to cut corners; because after all, I can get away with it – me and God are cool.

Ahavas Hashem is a beautiful start, but it is not enough on it’s own.

Perhaps we can make Yiras Hashem more approachable through the following explanation: The Zohar brings down that true Ahavas Hashem produces Yiras Hashem. Why? The answer comes through a close understanding of the nature of fear.

Fear means I’m insecure about losing something. Stage fright is panic of losing one’s dignity. A fear of heights is rooted in the desire not to splatter on the ground below and lose health. A fear of the dark is an insecurity rooted in losing control.

It’s true, walking around in dread and apprehension of incoming lightning bolts is not a pleasant existence, but it is also not the Yiras Hashem that Judaism believes in. As we explained before, my Yiras Hashem, like my Yirah of anything has to be a fear of losing something. This becomes very well understood in the light of the Zohar that we mentioned that Yirah is an outgrowth of Ahavah not merely an entity of its own.

So what am I afraid of losing? After I build a warm relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu I’m going to be walking on eggshells trying to maintain that level! I’m afraid of losing that warmth! Therefore, on the exterior level I look like I’m still holding by pure Ahavah, my Tefilos are excited, my learning is more intense, I’m simply more joyous, but now that I feel a certain inner Yirah of losing it, the whole Avodah of Ahavah becomes deeper and a level more real.

The Sfas Emes explains that this concept is the inner meaning of Avraham Holid Es Yitzchak. Avraham’s attribute of Ahavah ‘gave birth to’ and produced Yitzchak’s attribute of Yirah. And this is Yitzchak’s whole life. He is going through every Avodah that Avraham did, but now he is doing them with one more level of Kavanah deeper.

This is Yitzchak’s Midah of Gevurah. Gevurah is my ability to withhold, to grip tightly to my current position. And this is the Toldos, the legacy of Yitzchak. The fact that the verses show that he carries out the same actions as Avraham shows not only that he is doing them, but that he is doing them with this deepened understanding.

We don’t need to be afraid of Yiras Hashem. Yiras Hashem doesn’t mean that I’m buckling at the knees out of terror. I’m not walking around afraid that some Grand Puppet Master is going to smite me. Yiras Hashem means I’m constantly trying my very best to hold onto every achievement I have.

We should be Zoche to both of these levels. We should have inspiring moments and also have the dedication to engrain them into ourselves. We should be meritorious enough to feel both Ahavah and Yirah. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will live full, balanced lives, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah!

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