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Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
"These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Noach walked with G-d." (Bereishis, 6:9 )
After reading the opening phrase, "These are the offspring of Noach", one expects the passuk to continue with a list of his progeny. However before doing so, the Torah informs us that "Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations." Rashi offers two explanations for this interjection. He first explains that after mentioning Noach's name, the verse relates his praise, as it states "zecher tzaddik l'vracha" (Mishlei, 10:7) - when we mention a tzaddik's name we should bless him. Alternatively, says Rashi, the Torah is not interrupting the discussion at all. The passuk does indeed go on to list his offspring, namely, his ma'asim tovim, good deeds. We learn from here that the ma'asim tovim of tzaddikim are their progeny. The fact that the Torah mentions this before the names of Noach's children teaches us that good deeds are the primary offspring of tzaddikim (See Midrash Tanchuma).
Why does the Torah consider the mitzvos of the righteous to be their offspring and why are these regarded as their primary offspring? Rabbi Avraham Yaffen zt"l of Novardak answers the first question, based on a famous teaching of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt"l. R' Salanter writes that our actions are governed by both our conscious and subconscious minds. There are many factors that we are aware of that cause us to act as we do. Although we assume that these are the motives for our behaviour, there are also subconscious reasons for our actions. Ultimately, these are our true motives. Some explain that this was why Yaakov was punished for concealing Dina from Esav (See Rashi below 32:33). Yaakov was right for not wanting Dina to marry Esav lest she be influenced by his evil ways. Nevertheless, subconsciously he felt some joy from denying her to his wicked brother because of all the suffering that Esav had caused him. Often we believe that we are acting with noble intentions, but buried in the recesses of our minds are selfish motivations.
R' Yaffen writes that while Rav Salanter's theory is generally correct, there is an exception to this rule. Our love for our children is complete; it is embedded both in our conscious and subconscious minds. Whenever we do something for them we do not look at the hardships or difficulties involved. This is because we are driven by a tremendous love that is in every fibre of our being. Our desire to help them is an expression of this love.
The same can be said about the ma'asim tovim of tzaddikim. Their love for Hashem and desire to do His will are complete. They have no ulterior motives. Every action they make is an expression of their love for the Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe. Therefore the Torah refers to the good deeds of the righteous as their offspring, testifying to their complete dedication and loyalty to Hashem. The Malbim explains that this idea is reflected in the word tamim, perfect and complete, meaning perfect in motivation. They are guided solely by their love of the Creator.
Now we can also understand why the Torah regards their ma'asim tovim as their main offspring. All of us want to see our children become parents with children of their own. However we ourselves cannot ensure the perpetuation of our families. Even when the family line continues, we cannot guarantee that our children and grandchildren will follow in our ways. However a tzaddik who performs ma'asim tovim purely lishma, for the sake of Heaven, can be sure that these offspring will father more good deeds. All who witness the tzaddik's good deeds will be inspired and perform good deeds of their own. They in turn can then be a positive influence on others. It is written in Mishlei, "The fruit of a tzaddik is a tree of life (11:30)". The impact of a tzaddik's ma'asim tovim live on long after the deeds were done. We can see this from the following episode.
A non-observant Jew, named Lenny approached an Orthodox rabbi in his hometown of Dallas, Texas and informed him that he wished to donate two thousand dollars to the rabbi's Shul. Amazed, the rabbi asked, "Why are you willing to contribute a substantial amount to a synagogue that you have just visited for the first time?"
" 'Well rabbi,' Lenny said with a smile, 'I just returned from a tour in Israel. In Jerusalem, I was amazed by the intensity of a man dressed in a long black frock, sporting ringlets of hair by his ears, whom I saw praying by the Wall. I was so moved by the depth of fervour that he displayed as he swayed back and forth thatů I decided that when I return to Dallas I would find a temple where this man would be likely to pray, and make a contribution in his merit. When I got home, I went to the kosher bakery where I buy rye bread, and the owner told me that the chassid I saw would feel at home in your synagogue - so I came here to honor my pledge.' "
Lenny started to attend shiurim (Torah classes) and grew in Torah understanding. He also continued to donate large sums of money to the Shul and even raised more from his friends. Tragically, he passed away and when his mother learned of her son's philanthropy, she continued his tradition.
After 120 years, when this chassid appears before Hashem and learns that he has been credited with causing a Shul in Dallas, Texas to receive tens of thousands of dollars and bringing a Jew closer to a Hashem, what will he say? He might react incredulously with "Dallas? Vos iz Dallas?" (Jewish Observer Oct.1997)
Let us strive to emulate the tzaddikim and perform ma'asim tovim purely for the sake of Heaven and love of Hashem. Then we too might be surprised when we find out where our offspring turn up.
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