Monday, December 5, 2016

Turn off the Picture!

Rav Lipman Podolski z"l 

"Leah's eyes were tender, while Rachel was beautiful of form, and beautiful of appearance (Breishis 29:17)." It is difficult to fully appreciate why the Torah would criticize Leah's appearance, if not to convey some deeper message. Rashi explains, "For Leah thought that it was her fate to marry Esav, and she cried. For everyone was saying, 'Rivka has two sons, and Lavan has two daughters; the elder [son] for the elder [daughter], and the younger [son] for the younger [daughter]." Convinced that she would be forced to marry Esav, Leah wept constantly, her tears rendering her eyes permanently scarred. Thus, the Torah is not criticizing Leah; on the contrary, how many people would cry so extensively just to not have to marry a spiritually deficient -- albeit extremely materially successful -- spouse? Leah was indeed worthy of mothering the Jewish Nation.

But we may ask: What impelled Leah to feel that she would have to marry Esav? Should she refuse, no one would force her. "And they (Lavan and his mother) said, let us call the maiden (Rivka) and ask her decision (Breishis 24:57)," and Rashi comments: "From here we learn that it is forbidden to marry off a woman without her consent." Even the wicked Lavan would never have coerced his daughter to marry someone with whom she had no desire to live. So why was Leah worried? All she had to do was say "no".

A great man once lived in Eretz Yisrael. His name was Rabbi Avraham Baharan. An educator par-excellence, he taught many a wise thought. In his book, "Hachevra V'hashpa'asah -- The Society and its Influence", he posits a possible answer to our question. One must make a careful reading of the words of Rashi. The reason Leah cried was because everyone was in agreement that she would end up marrying Esav. Despite the fact that she had her heart dead set against it, nevertheless, society exerts an overwhelming influence. Leah wasn't worried that she would be forced into it -- she was worried that with the passage of time, she too would begin to cave in, to mouth and eventually embrace the words of all. She feared that she would ultimately actually desire to marry Esav.

"It is human nature for a person's traits and deeds to be influenced by his friends and acquaintances; he will act in the manner of the people of his region. Consequently, a person should bond with the righteous, and dwell constantly among the sages so that he learn from their deeds. And he should distance himself from the evil ones -- who walk in darkness [devoid of the light of Torah] -- so that he not learn from their deeds... (Rambam Hilchos Deyos 6:1)."

Inasmuch as Leah lived in a society where it was "plainly obvious" that she was destined for Esav, she knew that it was only a matter of time until she herself would inevitably succumb. She recognized that eventually she too would forget the Truth -- the vital need for Torah and spiritual life -- and would surrender to the mad passion for the pursuit (no promise of attainment) of material happiness. The only way for Leah to protect herself was to cry, incessantly. Through her tears, Leah prayed to Hashem to protect her, to insulate her in a cocoon of holiness, amidst a very hostile and puissant milieu.

Although the Greeks at first acted as our altruistic benefactors, Chazal revealed their true, hidden motives: Lehashkicham Torasecha -- To induce the Jews to forget Hashem's Torah. Thus, the Greeks enacted many decrees, all calculated to pierce through the Jewish armor of protection, and to inject a slow-acting venom, allowing the poison to gradually pervade the collective Jewish soul, culminating in total spiritual bankruptcy.

Of the Greek "Nuremberg Laws", one required the Jews to remove the doors to their homes (Otzar Midrashim). What was the intent of this strange law? What were the Greeks hoping to achieve?

The backbone of our nation is the Jewish Home. No matter what hostilities lurk outside, as long as a Jew has a home-base to which to return, a wellspring of strength and fortitude from which to drink, he is safeguarded. The Greeks understood this all too well. In a shameless plot to destroy the elemental unit of Judaism, the Greeks removed all barriers to the outside world. Now, endless episodes of immorality and amorality would penetrate the Jewish bastion, uncensored. No longer would the Jews be capable of shielding their virtuous, holy lifestyle from the bestial, unbridled ways of the Greeks. With no way of turning off the picture, the Jews became exposed to a lifestyle completely antithetical to the ways of Torah, to the ways of Truth. And the results were devastating.

With the unprecedented self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim (four of Matisyahu's sons were killed in the battles to preserve the Torah), a new holiday was established, a holiday celebrating the glories of the Jewish home, the holiday of Chanuka. On these eight days we perform a unique mitzva, unique because it does not pertain so much to the individual as it does to the entire home. Ner Ish U'veiso -- One candle for each household, is the minimal requirement (Shabbos 21b). The Greeks attempted to destroy the Jewish home; we invigorate our homes with a new mitzva.

In our times, when there is so much confusion, so many lost Jewish souls, let us ponder the centrality of the Jewish home. Is our home a fortress of Torah and Yiras Shamayim? Does our home reflect the lifestyles and self-sacrifice of the Maccabees, Jews who gave their very lives so that we may continue in their sacred endeavor? Does our home resemble the flask of pure oil, the one flask that escaped the vulgar touch of those savage philosophers, remaining holy with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, amidst a sea of broken and contaminated flasks? These are very relevant questions for our times.

May Hashem give us strength to turn off the picture.