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ב"ה

Uplifting

Friday, 6 November, 2020 - 11:26 am

I would not be exaggerating if I said that my wife’s older sister, Chani, may also be her best friend. Just a couple years apart in age, they are very close. Throughout their childhood, however, my wife was – and remains – taller than her big sister. So, Esther was the little-big sister.

But, regardless of physical height, Esther continues to look up to her big sister – to her sage advice, admirable devotion and tall stature.

This reminds me of a story from the youth of the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, whose birthday is tomorrow. He had an older brother, Zalman Ahron, who was shorter than him.

One day, their father came home to see the younger brother in a pit with his older brother watching guard to ensure he remained there. “What’s going on?” Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch demanded.

“It’s not fair!” retorted Zalman Ahron. “My younger brother is taller than me. I want to be taller, so I put him in a pit.”

Their father called them into his study and gently explained that if you want to be taller, you can simply stand on a chair. But there is no reason – and no excuse – to put someone else down in order to lift yourself up.

*

In this week’s parsha Vayeira we find another fascinating example of this lesson. Avraham learns that his older son Yishmael is a terrible influence on his younger son Yitzchak. His wife Sarah requests that Yishmael be sent away, in order to avoid a negative impact on the impressionable Yitzchak.

Avraham is devastated at the news. It’s a double whammy. His son is misbehaving. And, his wife is advocating separation. He is in a grueling dilemma. Do you satisfy the needs of your son by disenfranchising someone else? Do you sacrifice a secondary relationship in order to keep the peace with your primary relationships?

As the Torah tells it, Avraham balks.

Until Hashem steps in. G-d instructs Avraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice. But also the son of the handmaid I will make into a nation, because he is your seed.”

Yishmael is sent away.

The obvious implication is that Sarah was superior to Avraham – both in child-rearing intuition and in prophecy.

But, perhaps there’s also a deeper message being shared here. Avraham’s reluctance wasn’t because he had a shallower moral compass than Sarah. He was no less alarmed by Yishmael’s reckless behavior. And, he was equally worried about raising Yitzchak properly. Rather, he was distraught that the only way to preserve Yitzchak’s pure upbringing would be by causing harm to another.

Hashem – and Sarah – saw deeper. G-d recognized that this would not be demoting someone else. Yishmael would also become the progenitor of a great nation. He would be wildly successful. In fact, his separation would remove the potential tug of war that he did not seem capable of avoiding.

And Yitzchak – of his own accord – would reach even greater heights.

Avraham was rightfully concerned about the potential damage to Yishmael. But, he failed to realize that you don’t need to put someone in a pit in order to lift yourself up. You can simply stand on a chair.

*

As Americans try to sort out an historic election, we may be well served to look at the Torah for guidance on how we interact with each other.

Instead of putting others down, let’s focus on lifting ourselves up.

And, no matter how high we might be, there’s always room for improvement.

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