Choosing a community - as a framework for continuous spiritual growth

The Parasha in the daily life - Parashat Chayei Sarah - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald- 5780

At his old age, Abraham merited seeing his revolutionary venture of faith being successful and blessed as well as merited a family and a son who would continue his faithful path in the world.

וְאַבְרָהָ֣ם זָקֵ֔ן בָּ֖א בַּיָּמִ֑ים וַֽה' בֵּרַ֥ךְ אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּכֹּֽל׃

"Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and Hashem had blessed Abraham in all things”. (Bereshit 24:1)

Around him congregated those who had joined on the way:

ילידי ביתו, שנולדו בביתו מהנפש אשר עשו בחרן ובארץ כנען

"people born in his household, to parents who had come with him already from Charan as well as those later in the land of Canaan”. (Radak Bereshit 14:14)

The continuity of his path and its destiny for the future depend on this son and his spouse. Therefore, Abraham needed to help find a suitable spouse for his son, Yitzhak. For this task he honors his servant Eliezer.

Abraham is well-acquainted with the neighboring Canaanite population and understands that their culture and ways are inappropriate and he can’t go there to choose a wife for his son. He therefore makes Eliezer promise to go to his family, to Aram Naharayim and from there, bring a spouse for Yitzhak:

וְאַשְׁבִּ֣יעֲךָ֔ בַּֽה' אֱלֹקי הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וֵֽאלֹק֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹֽא־תִקַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ לִבְנִ֔י מִבְּנוֹת֙ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָנֹכִ֖י יוֹשֵׁ֥ב בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ׃ כִּ֧י אֶל־אַרְצִ֛י וְאֶל־מוֹלַדְתִּ֖י תֵּלֵ֑ךְ וְלָקַחְתָּ֥ אִשָּׁ֖ה לִבְנִ֥י לְיִצְחָֽק׃

"and I will make you swear by Hashem, the G-d of heaven and the G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Yitzhak.” (Bereshit 24:3-4)

And that she shall come to live in Abraham’s house and not Yitzhak out to her father's house. This demand raises the Midrash’s question:" Go to the land of my birth! But they are all idol worshipers!? "(The Midrash Hagadol). And why would he insist on it? And why would he insist on not returning Yitzhak to Bethuel’s house in Aram Naharayim?

Abraham seeks to create the conditions for Yitzhak's continued spiritual growth, down the path, even after he is no longer alive. "In my humble opinion, I mean that if I were to sit in another country, and took a wife for my son from the Canaanite women into my home I could guide her in a straight way, but for which I am sitting in their country and she will always come with her relatives and family, and my guidance will not be beneficial" (Torat Moshe Bereshit 24: 3) .

Therefore, Abraham wants to make sure his son has the appropriate spiritual atmosphere, and the environmental and family conditions that will neutralize any environmental, problematic, and lasting impact on Beit Yitzhak: " Among whom I live- If Yitzchak lived near his wife’s family, either in Canaan or in Charan, he would be subject to their influence. But if he married a woman from Charan and they lived in Canaan he would not be influenced by them. (Kli Yakar on Bereshit 24:3)

An important and relevant principle can be learned from here. To what extent the community and the environment have a spiritual and moral impact on the individual. On the one hand, it might affect him negatively but on the other hand, it might allow him to have the conditions needed for growth and development: "It is a natural tendency of man to be influenced in his virtues and conduct by his fellows and associates, and to follow the usage of the people of his state. Because thereof, it is necessary for man to be in the company of the righteous, and to sit near the wise, in order to learn from their conduct..." (Mishneh Torah LaRambam Human Dispositions 6:1)

The community plays an important and necessary role in our spiritual world. The community is supposed to be the frame and the complementary casing that will create the social, spiritual atmosphere required by the individual and his family. To prevent negative social effects, and also to empower and grow spiritually.

For adults and family owners, the community should allow the building of a 'second floor' for spiritual development. After the initial stage was on the "first floor" - in the secondary or after secondary schools.

The spiritual ‘second floor’ is a very significant one, because it is built at an important and fruitful stage in life, at a more mature age, around the age of "wisdom", and therefore may lead to higher insights and spiritual achievements. This 'floor' should be built in parallel: professional and economic development processes and couple relationship and family. It is a challenging, difficult, complex and busy stage, but the need to engage in these areas may also enrich and strengthen the spiritual world. At this stage, the community has an important and crucial role to play. The community setting and its spiritual atmosphere may create the empowering mantle for deep and developed spiritual processes. In order for the community to fulfill its purpose in this area, it is necessary to build and structure its framework as an empowering and growing community and not just as a "synagogue community". The focus of the activity and its spiritual empowerment, lessons and activities will be aimed at parents as much as children and youth.

Today, there are communities of this type and they will grow and multiply throughout the days. The dynamics and spiritual growth of the community will be a cornerstone for new members joining, radiating the environment and the entire community, and opening up to the outside population.

I believe that, there will be the day, when the individual or family need to choose their place of residence, the considerations will include not only the technical and social conditions that exist, but also the quality of the community there.


Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Chayei Sarah - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

In our Parasha, Abraham asks Eliezer to go out and find a suitable mate for his son Isaac: "And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had: 'Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh. And I will make thee swear by the L-rd, the G-d of heaven and the G-d of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son, even for Isaac.” (Genesis 24: 2-4). Choosing a partner is one of the most crucial choices in a person's life. The relationship affects all aspects of life and the future of the family. Therefore, the identity of the spouse; his/her world view and personality are decisive influences on the future of the family.

The construction of Isaac's home with his partner also depends on the continuation and continuity of Abraham's revolutionary spiritual enterprise. If the partner does not fit, all of Abraham's spiritual achievements may be lost.

The Torah gives great weight to a good relationship between the couple and love - "and she is your friend and the wife of your covenant" (Malachi 2:14).

The seventh blessing, which blesses the couple in the seven blessings at their wedding: "אשר ברא ששון ושמחה חתן וכלה גילה רנה דיצה וחדוה אהבה ואחוה ושלום ורעות". The absence of “Shalom Bayit” is a legitimate reason for forcing the couple to divorce.

However, the Torah sees the importance of building the house far beyond the framework that anchors the relationship between the couple. It sees it as the basis and the irreplaceable framework from which there is continuity.

Marriage is the complementary connection between the temporary and perishable present and the house of continuity and eternity, for future generations.

A few days ago, the marriage of a popular television host of Muslim origin to an actor of Jewish origin was on the public agenda. This is not the only case of 'intermarriage' at this time. But it attracted more attention because they are known and famous people.

Speakers with a religious and traditional worldview categorically and unequivocally disagree with the "mixed marriages" prohibited by Jewish law. It should be said that most of them, even those who are not so strong among them, did so in a gentle language. Speakers with a non-religious national outlook also expressed their opposition to intermarriage out of concern for the future and survival of the Jewish people. And the desire to preserve the Jewish people from the "white Holocaust" of assimilation and the vast scope of "intermarriage." There are those who even calculated with demographic tools that after the Second World War, the people of Israel lost more people as a result of assimilation than those who were murdered in the Holocaust.

On the other hand, broadcasters and spokespersons with liberal secular outlooks praised the "realization of love" that crosses the borders between different people who "listen to their love," the inner personal love, those who "found love" and do not consider any other kind of commitment. Some of them, as the bearers of the 'Enlightenment', scornfully referred to those who oppose 'mixed marriages' as 'dark' and 'racist'. And used the public microphone to greet and wish their best wishes to the famous couple. The groom himself responded to the critics: "Love won!"

The secular liberal view sees the establishment of the home as nothing more than the fulfillment of the couple's desires to institutionalize the connection between them. In a manner and format that they want without any obligation, moral or conscious, for what is outside them, and beyond their own lives. The main thing is the discourse of individual rights. Everything related to the whole is examined according to what it serves the individual and allows him to do as he pleases. As far as they are concerned, considerations relating to the fate of the Jewish people or some people in the present and in the future are not related to the very issue.

A fundamental principle in the liberal conception that everyone can do whatever he wants and no one has the right to criticize and express a position on his actions. And therefore, they believe that there is no right for others to criticize the wedding of those who have chosen to do so voluntarily and as individuals.

To these we wish to say that a 'home building' is not just a romance that serves the couple. It is a 'responsibility'. The members of the family unit, the couple and their descendants, what they give their offspring, emotionally and psychologically, and the clear identity and values ​​they impart to them. There are indeed those whose liberal, secular outlook also leads to an undermining of the status and need of the family. It is said that 'love' without responsibility may be eroded (as evidenced by the enormous extent of divorce among couples who loved each other at the beginning), and the continuity of the family and its heritage remains forever.

The superficial public discourse that takes place in the media revolves around the discourse and categorizes every item into "good and bad." Expressions of human emotion; Happiness, love, sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc., easily recruit human empathy and participation in joy, among those on the sidelines, who broadcast and watch. The happy lovers are certainly the "good guys" in the story. And thus, the critics who point out aspects of the event that are not so happy do the part of the 'bad guys', those who do not understand and are not empathic and 'spoil the celebration'.

And in general, in the spirit of "postmodern", anyone who raises a claim that sounds to the liberal ear as judgmental, is on the bottom.

As a result, the media discourse succeeds too easily, to embarrass those who are against "intermarriage" in general, and in the case in question. For, who wants to be in the place of the 'bad guys'?! All this despite the fact that the liberal approach was supposed to be consistent and pluralistic. And to treat with respect and legitimacy, ideological positions and values ​​that contradict their opinion.

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