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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayechi: Be like the beloved angels
In order to acquire Torah a person must be "beloved", an expression that is used in regards to angels. We must try to understand how the angels sanctify G'd's name in order to emulate them. The employee who is loyal to the company will always make sure that the job gets done by the most competent employees, and will not necessarily try to include himself. Every married couple has the ability to build their home as beloved friends exhibiting the same unity and harmony as the angels. "We were not created just to take care of ourselves. Rather, we were created to benefit others." A person should seek to be beloved both by G'd and by his fellow beings. The Talmud relates about a certain rabbi who delivered a lecture and was ridiculed for what he said. "Whoever is occupied in Torah study for its own sake merits many things."
Angels are beloved
The Mishnah continues and says that in order to acquire Torah a person must be "beloved." This is an expression that is used in regards to angels. Every morning in the first of the two blessings before Shema we describe the angels and say, "They are all beloved. They are all pure. They are all mighty. They all do the will of their Maker in awe and reverence." Later, during the repetition of Shemona Esrei when we say Kedushah, we express our longing to emulate the angels. We say, "May we sanctify Your name in this world, just as they [the angels] sanctify it in the exalted Heaven."
Obviously, we must try to understand how the angels sanctify G'd's name in order to emulate them. Like the angels are beloved to G'd and to each other, without any jealously or competition, we must strive to be so as well. A little further in the first blessing before Shema, we seem to find the formula how the angels reach such a lofty level. It says, "And they all accept upon themselves the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom, one from another, and they give permission to each other to sanctify their Creator." This is the secret of the angels that we have to live up to. The angels are pure without any evil inclination and they are mighty when they embark on their Divine mission. We humans have to overcome our evil inclination and choose to follow our personal Divine mission to fulfill our purpose in life. But in order to be beloved to G'd and each other, we must, just like the angels, care about each other and give others the opportunity to fulfill their obligations.
The loyal employee
An employee who is always trying to do any job by himself may well be doing so for his own personal benefit and promotion. The employee who is loyal to the company will always make sure that the job gets done by the most competent employees, and will not necessarily try to include himself. In a company where this is the general attitude, everyone will get along with each other and enjoy the common benefit. This is how the angels function, as we say, "They all do the will of their Maker in awe and reverence." In this way, they focus to sanctify G'd's name without any personal interest. And they do so in perfect unity and harmony.
When a couple gets married, seven blessings are recited under the Chupah and throughout the seven days of celebration. In the fifth blessing, we pray to G'd and say, "Bring joy and happiness to the beloved friends [i.e. the groom and the bride] as You made happy the one You created in the Garden of Eden." Every married couple has the ability to build their home as beloved friends with the same unity and harmony as the angels. Here again the secret formula is to care about each other and to see to the common benefit rather than focusing on "what is in it for me?"
Rabbeinu Yonah (Gates of Repentance 1:31) quotes from Mishlei (18:1) and explains that people who always seek to satisfy their own interests and cravings will eventually separate themselves from other people. This is especially important in marriage. If each spouse is looking for their own satisfaction and benefit, sooner or later they will go their own separate ways. On the other hand, if their ambition is to care for and satisfy each other, they will grow into one unit. As it says, (Bereishis 2:24): "Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (see Ramban's commentary). In a broader sense, this also applies to every community and to the entire Jewish people. As my late father used to say, "We were not created just to take care of ourselves. Rather, we were created to benefit others."
Beloved by G'd and fellow beings
The Maharal, in his commentary on this Mishnah, explains that a person should seek to be beloved both by G'd and by his fellow beings. He quotes an earlier Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:13) where it says that a person who is well liked by his fellow beings, is well liked by G'd as well. Many people seek to be popular amongst their peers, and will compromise on what they know to be right in order to achieve their goal. The Torah teaches us to first of all make sure that our conduct is acceptable and beloved by G'd. And at the same time, one should seek to do what has to be done in a way that other people will be pleased with. As the Talmud (Berachos 17a) says: "A person should always conduct himself in such a fashion that he should be beloved Above and well-liked below." This is what we express towards the end of the Grace After Meals: "And may we find favour and good understanding in the eyes of G'd and man."
The ridiculed rabbi
The Talmud (Beitzah 38a) relates a story about a certain rabbi who delivered a lecture and was ridiculed for what he said. The Talmud concludes that he deserved no better. The famous Rav of Pressburg, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, better known as The Chasam Sofer, asks, why would the Talmud relate a derogatory story about anyone? He answers that this story has an important lesson. The Talmud mentions that the rabbi, prior to giving his lecture, prayed to G'd and said, "May it be Your will that I deliver a lecture that is acceptable to my audience." This is not the right way to pray, says the Chasam Sofer. As mentioned in last week's Torah Attitude (Parashas Vayigash: Give credit where it's due), Rabbi Nechonya ben Hakanah would say a special prayer before starting to study Torah and after he finished his daily studies. The Talmud (Berachos 28b) says that in his prayer, Rabbi Nechonya asked, first of all that he should not make any mistakes in his rulings and lectures; and secondly, that his colleagues should be happy with what he taught. Our primary concern should always be, that whatever we say and whatever we do, it shall make us beloved by G'd. If we manage to do it in a fashion that people like as well, that is a most desired bonus, but it should never be our main focus. This, says the Chasam Sofer, is the lesson our sages wanted to relate to us by sharing with us the story of this rabbi who was only concerned that his lecture should be popular and well received.
Torah for its own sake
In the beginning of the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avos, it says, "Whoever is occupied in Torah study for its own sake merits many things." One of the things mentioned in this connection is that he is referred to as "a friend and beloved person". From this we learn that when a person is ready to study Torah just because this is what G'd wants him to do, that readiness in itself makes him beloved Above. And such a person for sure will also be popular among his peers as he is happy to share his Torah wisdom with others. If we attempt to study Torah in this fashion, we are at the same time making an effort to become beloved both Above and below. And in this merit we will acquire Torah for ourselves and for those we will be able to teach in a way that is both acceptable to G'd and to our peers.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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