Who Will Be Our Gedolim?
In the past week we have said goodbye to two more Gedolei Olam – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Dovid Feinstein. This compounds the loneliness, the pain and the isolation we have all felt in the past nine months. But in the wake of their passing, we are left asking the same painful question yet again: Who will replace them?
Of course, no one is ever replaceable. The candle might burn from one shabbos to the next. The challah might, once again stay fresh all week long. But for Avraham Avinu, Rivka will never replace Sarah. How could she?
But in the wake of her passing, Avraham knows that his and her legacy must continue beyond their lifetime. Avraham slowly, tragically comes to terms with his own mortality. And the reality that the task of bringing the entirety of humanity to a recognition of Hashem is bigger than one lifetime.
And so his goal, and the goal of every Jewish parent since, is to perpetuate this truth by cheating death – by having children.
For Avraham, the stakes are incredibly high. If Yitzchak fails, then the world fails. In no uncertain terms, humanity depends on Yitzchak finding a Shidduch that will partner with him in this mission.
And so the Torah describes how Eliezer, the faithful servant of Avraham journeys to find a wife for Yitzchak. He travels to Avraham’s homeland to find this bashert. Arriving at the well, Eliezer devises a test, and asks from Hashem:
The girl who I will ask to give me water and she offers water for myself and for my camels will be the girl for Yitzchak.
Indeed, Rivka presents herself as such a girl; giving water to the camels and Eliezer.
Rashi famously quotes the Medrash:
וירץ העבד לקראתה – לפי שראה שעלו המים לקראתה He ran towards her because he saw that the waters rose in the well when she approached it (Genesis Rabbah 60:5).
Wow! Eliezer must have been duly impressed. She must be an incredibly special person – the water rose miraculously to meet her!
The Divrei Yisrael of Mozhitz asks a piercing question: If Eliezer saw that she was such a tzadekes, such a בעלת מופת – a miracle worker – why did he need to go through with his test?! Right then and there he should have known that Rivka was the right shidduch!
He explains: There is a world of difference between being a בעל מופת and a בעל מידות. Eliezer was not looking for a miracle. Miracles tell you how great Hashem is. Middos tell you how great a person is.
Another Kind of Gadol
I do not know who will fill the shoes of the Gedolim we have lost. There is no one alive who can issue a psak Halacha with the depth, breadth and sensitivity of Rabbi Dovid Feinstein. There is no one in the wings that can represent our nation, our Torah and our message with the erudition and accessibility of Rabbi Sacks. We all have a lot to learn to begin to fill such shoes.
But there is another kind of Gadol. Really, the basis of all Gadlus: And that is Middos Tovos. This kind of greatness is readily accessible to each of us. Having good middos does not depend on intelligence, skill, aptitude, education or upbringing. It simply depends on the time and work invested into becoming a Baal Middos.
Chazal tell us that both Yitzchak and Yaakov spent decades learning in the Yeshiva of Shem Va’ever. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein notes there is barely a hint of all this Torah learning in the Torah itself! He explains: If a person that has the capacity to learn, they should learn. That doesn’t require a lot of explanation.
But to become a real Baal Middos – that is the mission of each and every one of us. The Torah spares no words in emphasizing the value of being an elevated, refined, considerate person.
What Do We Want Our Children to Become?
There’s a frightening study from 2014 that examined the priorities of kids and the messages their parents are teaching them. In short, the study asks parents, teaches and kids to rank their value system: Is it better to be happy, smart, successful or kind?
Amongst the key findings is: “When it comes to the child-raising priorities of their parents and teachers, a majority of youth say these adults are more concerned about achievement than caring.”
Perhaps even more concerning: “The “rhetoric/reality” gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and what kids are hearing is profound. The power and frequency of parents’ daily messages about achievement and happiness are drowning out their messages about concern for others.”
Avraham and Eliezer knew that’s not how we will perpetuate Klal Yisrael.
How Can We Change?
A while back, Country Vues, published a “Fun Question of the Week” poll that asked the question “If You Could Have 3 Dinner Guests – Anyone from the Beginning of Time – Who Would You Invite?”
There were some very special people answering the question – some of the highlights included the Avos, Moshe Rabbeinu and dear family members.
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein answered simply: I would find 3 Aniyim (poor people.)
It takes a unique person to hear “You can take three people to dinner” and not even consider that he should use this opportunity for his own gain.
This middah was the result of a lifetime of learning, davening, and Mitzvos. But it was also the result of constant tikkun hamidos.
He once remarked about his father, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: “The world will gain nothing by knowing how many times my father finished Shas, or that he was fluent in all of Torah shebe’al peh, like Rabi Akiva Eiger or the Chasam Sofer. When people speak of my father, they speak of his compassion, how he had time for children, for brokenhearted individuals. The bigger a person is, the more chesed he must do, and that’s how we know who the true talmidei chachamim are.”
Hashem should help us to learn – as much as we all can. But more so, to work on filling the gaps in our world with Middos Tovos; with care and concern and sensitivity and chesed and ma’asim tovim.