Looking For Permanence

Oct 31st, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
[/caption] My wife and I were driving my father zt”l to a wedding in Monsey. As usual, whenever we had an opportunity, we peppered him with questions on all sorts of issues. We knew that every response would be direct, honest and an expression of well thought out ideas.

We asked my father whether he regretted taking such a broad approach in raising his children to be thinkers and choosers. “I would make the same decisions again. Each decision was correct and should not be evaluated based on the results not being exactly what I expected.”

I often think of that conversation. For example, I was dealing with a difficult situation in a Chassidic community and found myself wondering whether the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, would recognize the Chassidim of today. He focused his teachings on finding the joy in serving God. He spoke to every Jew, from the most simple to the greatest scholar. He often spoke of the importance of the heart, more than the details of observance. The Baal Shem Tov was criticized for not sufficiently stressing meticulous observance of Halacha.

How would the Baal Shem Tov have reacted to his followers being known for their incredibly high level of observance?

I then remembered my father’s words and realized that the Baal Shem Tov would make the same decisions again. I suspect that he knew exactly how his movement would develop, and although it may have evolved beyond his original goals, the Baal Shem Tov would not have hesitated to do as he did, even if the long-term results were not exactly his original expectations.

How many people hesitate to move forward because they fear that the long-term results will differ from their original objectives? My father did not. The Baal Shem Tov did not hesitate. However, Eisav, did, and lost everything.

Rashi offers two explanations for Eisav’s surprising willingness to sell his birthright to Jacob for a pot of porridge: The Birthright was originally the position of Kohen – the one who would lead the Temple Service of God. Eisav knew that a priest could easily err and be punished with death. “Why would I want a “right” that comes with so much risk?”

Eisav wasn’t concerned about himself. The laws of Offerings, purity and impurity, did not yet apply. However, he felt that since in the long-term, the job would entail so much risk, it wasn’t worth more than a bowl of red beans.

Rashi offers a second explanation: Eisav foresaw that the firstborns would lose the right of being Kohen to the Tribe of Levi. “Well,” he said, “if the Kohen job will, 300 years from now, not go to the firstborn, why do I need the job now?”

Eisav viewed his role as having meaning only if it had permanent effect according to his wishes. If something would turn out differently centuries later, it wasn’t worth the current effort.

He was tortured by needing everything he did to be permanently according to his plan and desires. There is no such guarantee in life, so he simply devoted himself to doing what he immediately desired: “If it isn’t permanent why bother with spiritual efforts that demand so much?”

Eisav could never have produced a Baal Shem Tov. He would not have been able to father a family of Jews who have been able to thrive as they were exiled from one country to the next without any sense of permanence.

Eisav forfeited everything in his insistence that his accomplishments be permanent. Was it worth it?

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