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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Toldot

Parshat Toldot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


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Toldot Newsletter                                                                                    Print Version
2nd of Kislev, 5780 | November 30, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Reuven Epstein
Looking Past Intentions

It was Saturday night, just a short while after Shabbos had finished, when I received a phone call from a man with a dilemma. “Rabbi,” he said, “here’s the situation. I was thinking that I have some spare time tonight and it would be nice to get together with a few friends. I asked my wife about it, and she responded by saying, ‘Okay.’ I continued to put on my coat, yet I then began wondering what exactly my wife meant. I know that sometimes ‘Okay’ means that she is really fine with it, but it can sometimes mean that she is not okay with it. So I turned to my wife and asked for clarification. ‘Which one is it? Okay yes or okay no?’ ‘If you want to go,’ she replied, ‘you can go.’ But now I am only more confused. What does she mean? Should I stay home or go with my friends?”

“Well,” I said, “did you spend time with your wife over the last week? Do you feel that she would appreciate if you stayed home rather than went out?” The man thought for a minute, after which he answered, “To be honest, I probably should stay home. My thinking, though, was that I had a hard week and I could probably use some down time with my friends to let some steam off.” Hearing the man clearly articulate what he deep-down believed he should do, I suggested that he stick to that decision. “I think it’s worth if you stay home tonight,” I said.

Five minutes later, my phone rang again. This time it was the man’s wife. “Listen, I am not interested in my husband staying home tonight.” I paused for a moment, and said, “Let’s be honest. You probably could use a little more time with your husband, and he decided to stay home. Why all of a sudden do you not want him there?” “I’ll tell you why,” she explained. “If he is not staying home because he wants to, but because you told him, I don’t want him here. Let him go out with his friends.”

As I listened to the wife express her line of reasoning, I understood where she was coming from. Essentially, she was echoing the voice of many married women for generations. “If you are doing it for me insincerely, don’t do it at all.”

To a very large degree, this woman is absolutely correct. She is in the right for telling her husband, “Don’t do me any favors and show that you love me when someone else told you to act that way. I want it to come from you alone and be something that you genuinely mean.”

But notwithstanding her point, there is something else to consider, which I communicated to her.

In Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah relates how a fugitive from the war between the Five Kings and Four Kings approached Avraham Avinu with urgent news. “Lot has been captured,” he relayed, “and you must save him!” Taking heed, Avraham immediately raced into battle, and successfully rescued Lot.
Yet that is not the entirety of the story. Rashi cites the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:8) which identifies this so-called fugitive who reported Lot’s captivity as none other than Og, King of Bashan. And in fact, in lieu of informing Avraham of this vital news and facilitating the rescuing of Lot, Og was rewarded with long life.

On the surface, the story makes sense. Og reports Lot’s capture, Avraham rescues him, and Og is rewarded. But Chazal relate that Og’s intentions were in fact less than noble. Og anticipated that Avraham would embroil himself in battle and die, and thereby leave Sarah available for him to marry.

Think about it for a moment. Og had the worst motivation for helping Avraham, and yet he was handsomely rewarded. But why? It is akin to someone intending that you invest money with him, yet his real plan is to bankrupt you and steal all your clients. As it happens, you make money through the deal. Would you thank such a person? His intent was malicious and in no way focused on your best interests.

In truth, however, the Torah redirects our thinking in this situation. Despite Og’s nefarious motives, he was rewarded, because ultimately Avraham and Lot benefited from his actions.

After relating this idea from Chazal to the wife, I got to my point.

“Your husband deep-down wants to make the best decision for both you and himself. Therefore, even if it may seem that he does not have the best intentions and may not value how much you need his time, affection and attention, he should still be appreciated and respected. If, however, you dismissively tell him to go with his friends and remain frustrated at him, you will likely find yourself angry when he returns and get into a disagreement.
“You have two options now. You can either use this opportunity to spend quality time with your husband, despite his decision to only remain home because he was told. Or, you can remain angry and highlight your husband’s faults and disinterest in you. As we both know, though, marriage is about bringing two people closer to one another, not further.

“I encourage you to choose the former option. Recognize that even though your husband may not have had the greatest intent to remain home and spend time with you, at the end of the day, he is a good husband and cares about you. See the good in that which he is doing and channel the moment to enjoy a great night with one another. Use this opportunity to grow closer to each other and solidify your marriage.”

We all have moments in our marriages where something like this or similar plays out. “Don’t do me any favors! You are only doing this because…” And yet, while it may be true that our spouse is not on their game at the moment, that should not take away from the closeness that can be reached by recognizing their inner goodness and desire to create a wonderful marriage.

Despite the perhaps misguided and misplaced intentions, focus on what good can be generated from the present situation and use it to enhance your love for one another. It is precisely those moments which can go left, and you turn them right, wherein great opportunities await ahead. It is right then and there that you and your spouse can turn a good marriage into a great marriage.

Mr. Charlie Harary
Know Who You Are

Let me tell you a little bit about how I got my first job.
The way it works in the world of law firms is straightforward: after receiving your first grades during your first year of law school, you begin searching for a position. And so, after my first year at Columbia University, it was my time. But considering the overabundance of students, it would not work to simply let everyone run to find jobs at the various law firms. Nor would it be respectable for the firms to come visit the law schools and look for suitable candidates for a job. What is therefore done is “off-campus interviewing.” All the law students and all the law firms gather together for three days of intensive interviewing.

In my case, the Double Tree hotel in Times Square, New York was the chosen venue. In general, for all young, aspiring lawyers, it becomes a question of where to place your focus on when looking to land a job. Which firm should you attempt to can get into? If you apply to a firm way above your paygrade, you will never get in; yet if you apply somewhere below your standards, you may be selling yourself short.

I will never forget it. I was well into my year in school, and I had been doing quite well. I set my sights on getting into my dream firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell. I had my doubts if I would make it as far as landing a job with them, but I would give it a fair try. I spent the entire three days at the Double Tree hotel, until the very end. It was at that point that just about everyone had gone, except me and a small handful of others.

I stood in the main massive room looking at the huge board on the wall. All the interviews currently going on and those with openings were flashing. To both my shock and excitement, the last interview of the day was with Davis Polk & Wardwell, and there I noticed the board light up with the word “open.” My heart fluttered. “Should I do it?” I thought to myself.

A few minutes later, there I was heading down to Davis Polk & Wardwell. “Here goes nothing,” I said to myself.

I walked into the suite, though I almost immediately realized that this would be the worst interview ever. The interviewer they sent in was a partner they had just brought in from China. He spoke no English, and I spoke no Chinese. This would make for a great interview.

“What’s your name?” he asked me as soon as I stepped foot inside. Not having heard him correctly due to his Chinese accent, I asked him to repeat the question. Great way to start off an interview. “What’s your name?” he repeated. “N-a-m-e.” Now I understood. “Charles Harary,” I answered. He then continued. “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” Unfortunately, all I heard was, “Do you want to be a lawyer?” The conversation thus sounded like, “Why do you want to be lawyer?” “Yes.” I was doing great answering his questions.

At this point, I realized that there was a significant language barrier. He then put down his paper and remained silent for twenty minutes. For twenty minutes it was unbearable. He was studying my resume intently with as much eye for detail as he could. After twenty minutes of painful silence, he looked up at me with a surprised look on his face. “Talmud?” he said. I immediately did a double-take. “Talmud? Did he just say Talmud?” I quickly began thinking if any other words rhymed with Talmud. “You know Talmud?” he asked. All I could think is that he imagined I was some advanced Talmud expert. I wasn’t sure where he was going with this. “Yes,” I replied.

“I just got to America,” he said. “My first week here, I was taken throughout all the different departments, one of them being the tax department. I went in to meet a Jewish man, who had a beautiful bookcase situated behind him and filled with all the tax codes. In the corner of the bookshelf, I noticed something with a different binding. “What is that?” I asked. “That’s a Talmud!” he said. “If you think the tax codes are hard; this is ten times harder.”

The Chinese interviewer now looked at me with an incredulous stare. “You must be really smart!” I didn’t want to brag, though I let him in on a little secret. “I have been studying the Talmud since fifth grade!” “It’s an honor to meet you!” he exclaimed. At this point, I felt as if I was redeeming myself from the initial mix-up I had when introducing myself. I walked out feeling great. The next stage was the firm taking me out to lunch for a final interview.

There I was seated across from a woman my age and a man who was a good ten years my senior at Prime Grill in New York City. The woman was sweet and gentle; the man, on the other hand, was rough, tough and intimidating. While the woman and I engaged in some light conversation, the gentleman didn’t utter a word to me.

Halfway through the meal, though, he finally opened his mouth. “So I see you are Jewish,” he says. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. I remembered how my initial introduction with their Chinese representative went, and I only hoped that this wouldn’t turn out the same way. “Yes, I am,” I said. “Well, it is an honor to meet you,” he replied. I was shocked to hear that.

“Before I went to law school,” he said, “I was a U.S. Marine. And we Marines respect nobody but Israeli commandos.” As he said that, I wondered if he thought I was an Israeli commando. Sure, I was an Israeli commando repelling off the Mediterranean with a Talmud in my hands. But he had a point to make.

“If I may ask,” I said, now getting more comfortable with myself, “why is it that the U.S. Marines respect no one else aside from the Israeli army?” That was a loaded question, which he went on to elaborately answer.

“I grew up breathing red, white and blue. My grandfather, uncle and father served this country. I too was a great Marine who fought for this country. I was free and believed in justice and freedom, liberty and equality. I was then selected to join an exercise program with the Israeli commandos for two weeks in Israel. I spent two weeks there, after which we all went to this hill called Masada. It was there that the main commando sat us atop the hill in a semi-circle and said the following words which I will never forget.

“Do you know why we are here? It is because many years ago we had a fort here, and it was destroyed. The Jews escaped, but you know what they ultimately wanted? They just wanted to be Jewish, but the Romans wouldn’t have it. They surrounded the mountaintop, and the Jews looked to the left and looked to the right, and there was no one to help them.

“Do you know why we are here today?” concluded the Israeli commando. “Because Masada doesn’t fall again. We are done asking others for help. We will never leave our country again.” The U.S. Marine then added his own few words.

“I always wondered about you Jewish people. As I sat in Israel with a number of Israeli soldiers, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, ‘Why are we learning from them? Why are we learning about their strategies and tactics of war?’ And then I realized. It is because you know who you are and what you are fighting for. You are not fighting for merely an ideal; you are fighting for your mother’s backyard. If you lose a border, you lose a country. And when you know who you are and what you are fighting for, you can accomplish anything.”

There is not a day that goes by when I don’t hear that voice. “If you know who you are and you know what you are fighting for, you can accomplish anything.”

A Short Message From
Mrs. Chani Juravel

In Sefer Yeshaya (33:13), we interestingly read how the Prophet Yeshaya cries out to the Jewish people to mend their ways in the hope that they will improve. “Hear, faraway people, what I have done; and you who are close by, recognize My might.”

It is noteworthy that Yeshaya divides the people into two such categories of those who are “far” and those who are “close.” If we would have to guess about whom Yeshaya speaks when addressing those who are “far” and whom he refers to when mentioning those who are “near,” we would likely argue that the former refers to baalei teshuva, those who have come close to Judaism later in life, and the latter refers to those who have always felt a closeness and personal identity to Hashem and Torah.

The difficulty with this, however, is the terminology used in the Pasuk. If the above were true, it would make more sense for those who are faraway to be depicted as coming to “recognize and learn” about G-d, while those who are close as those who are merely “listening,” as they already have knowledge of G-d. Yet the exact opposite words are used in the sequence of the verse.

Rav Shimshon Pincus explains that it is just to the contrary. With this Pasuk we are taught that those who are distant are those who have been doing mitzvos since their youth, and have since grown slightly stale and stagnant in their performance. Those who are close, on the other hand, refers to those who are coming closer to Hashem at a later stage in life.

In practical terms, this has significant application in our lives. Wherever we are in life – whether having grown up in a Torah-based home and always been familiar with Torah ideals and values, or having recently come close to a Jewish lifestyle – we must always incorporate freshness and newness into our service and connection to Hashem. We must be cognizant of how easy it is to allow our daily activities to become perfunctory and routine. If such thoughts constantly remain with us, we will be on our way of leading a life of genuine connection to Hashem every moment of our day.

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