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.