Making room for individuals
By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
“Ah, back in the day” is an expression many run away from, whilst others are drawn towards it. When “old timers” start to reminisce about their younger days, many listeners quickly become bored, but some seem eager to listen. When I was a youngster “back in the day” meant one of two things: either Europe before the Churban- and the disastrous events that followed- or old-time America where to be frum was a real struggle. Either way, one thing struck the listener: the world back then was populated by people who had character, were not afraid to be different, and to live outside the box. In fact, there was no box; to be a Yied was to live in bold colours, seeking to connect with Hashem as individuals.
Now that I have joined the ranks of the “Old Timers” my reminiscences speak of the pioneers who rebuilt Klal Yisroel after the catastrophic events of the Second World War. Be it in America, Europe, or Eretz Yisroel, these builders were all filled with individuality, and their ability to overcome all circumstances flowed from their insistence in not becoming complacent. We were taught first-hand that true Yiddishkeit is lived in capital letters, with vibrancy, warmth and Ahavas Yisroel. When I look back to those sepia-tinted memories I realize just how colour filled our lives were.
“We each have a different tikun to fulfill in this world and Hashem has gifted us with unique tools to make this possible”
The Torah describes to us in this week’s parsha the events of Yitzchok Avinu’s life after the Akeidah. At first glance, it would seem that Yitzchok did everything his father did, down to the smallest detail. He is faced with a famine, so he tells his wife Rivka to say she is his sister, just as Avrohom had done years earlier. Then the Torah goes to considerable length describing how the Philistines sealed wells that Avrohom had dug, and how Yitzchok re-dug them, giving them the same names his father had.
Rabbenu Bachya tells us that from Yitzchok’s actions here, we derive the concept of Mesoras Avos, following in the traditions of our fathers for all future generations.
One small detail must be highlighted in this episode about the wells. After Yitzchok encountered strife and hatred from the Philistines, he dug a new well, over which there was no conflict.
Accordingly, Yitzchok called that well “Rechovos,” a name which connotes expansiveness and repose. Yes, his father’s wells were rededicated, using the same names as Avrohom had used, but then he dug a new one. The wells represented the fountains of Torah truth that Avrohom taught the world. The Philistines blocked these wellsprings of Torah truth with the crass materialism of their existence. Yitzchok cleared out this filth and allowed the Torah to flow once again. However, he went a step further; he was not just an imitator, but in his own way an innovator. He dug for fresh insights into the Torah, so as to draw a new generation closer to its truths.
We are far from those events, yet everything we do is built upon their foundations. Yitzchok had his own unique character, and although always focused on his father’s example, he was able to create a new fountain that would express his inner characteristics.
Our generation stands on the shoulders of the giants who rebuilt Klal Yisroel in what was a miraculous effort. They were tzaddikim who followed their mesorah, yet did so with their individualistic flair.
All too often we find ourselves stifling our young by forcing them to act in a way that runs contrary to their inner needs. To think that all our young can be shaped from one particular mold is ridiculous. We each have a different tikun to fulfill in this world and Hashem has gifted us with unique tools to make this possible.
It is almost axiomatic that mosdos today advertise themselves as following Shlomo Hamelech’s advice to “educate each child according to his own way”. May I suggest that everyone read the small print of the commentaries on that phrase and truly follow its meaning.
Please, listen closely when you hear the sigh of “back in the day”. Don’t run away; you may just pick up a sense of what individualism can mean in a growing Torah world, and perhaps, just possibly, we can save a few of our holy kinder.