A rebel or an archaeologist
RABBI SHMUEL BLOCH
Are you a rebel or are you an archaeologist?
When reflecting on whether we would want to be labelled a rebel, we would immediately rebuff such a notion because sadly enough, rebels do not enjoy a positive reputation.
History is replete with people who have caused havoc and destruction as a result of their rebellious activities. However, having a rebellious nature is a character trait. It does not have to be utilised in a negative way and when channelled correctly can bring enormous benefit to the world. Such was the case with Avraham.
Our Sages call Avraham with a unique title: “Avraham Haivri”. ”Haivri” translates as the one who is standing on the other side. The entire world was standing on one side as it were and Avraham on the other (Bereishis Rabbah chapter 42 explanation 8). At that time, humanity was steeped in idolatry and Avraham was the only individual who refused to accept the status quo. He repudiated idolatry and actively went out and taught monotheism. Through Avraham’s actions and deeds he ushered in a new era of real spirituality to the world.
A rebel can achieve great things in the world. Can the same be said about and archaeologist?
An archaeologist because of the nature of his work has a unique perspective which saturates all of his activities.
An archaeologist intuitively understands that something of real value is always buried under the surface. Such a situation almost always requires effort and toil to unearth it and reveal it. However the archaeologist will put in the work required because he has a certainty and clarity that something extraordinary is down there. The jubilation and euphoria that an archaeologist experiences upon uncovering a rare artefact after so much is exertion is beyond words.
The idea of both the rebel and the archaeologist feature in this week’s Parshah.
The Parshah opens with both Yitzchak and Rivkah praying for a child.
“Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed himself to be entreated by him (Yitzchak) and his wife Rivkah conceived” (Genesis chapter 25 verse 21).
The question arises that if both Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed for a child why did Hashem answer Yitzchak’s Prayer and not that of Rivkah.
Rashi quotes the Talmud in Yevamos (64A) which states that Hashem answered Yitzchak’s prayer because Yitzchak was Tzaddik (righteous man) who was the son of a Tzaddik, while Rivkah’s was a Tzaddeikes (righteous woman) who was the daughter of Reshaim (wicked people).
Rashi’s answer seems cryptic and requires elucidation.
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, in his collection of Torah insights “Taam Vedaas” notes that Rivkah grew up in a house of wicked, evil people and abandoned her family to marry Yitzchak.
In this sense, she should be considered greater than Yitzchak since Yitzchak was raised by Avraham, a righteous man himself, and all he ever wanted for his child was also to be righteous. So why does the Torah consider Yitzchak’s prayers more powerful and effective than Rivka’s? After all the trials and tribulations that she went through shouldn’t her prayers be more powerful?
Rabbi Shternbuch answers that Rivkah rebelled against her surroundings. She recognised the wickedness that pervaded her family for what it was and broke all links with her past. She forged her own new destiny based on her own free choice. Her rebellion propelled her into a new future and she created and sculpted a new self. She became a matriarch of the Jewish people.
On the other hand, Yitzchak became himself not because of any rebellion, but rather because of his intense and unrelenting effort to discover more about the spiritual path that Avraham travelled. Yitzchak never created his own upbringing and education. He was Avraham’s son who was born into a specific lifestyle. However, Yitzchak did not rely on his father’s achievements to define who he was or who he will be. He scaled incredible spiritual heights and revealed fantastic uncharted spiritual depths without rebelling or changing course from what Avraham initiated.
Yitzchak was like the archaeologist, constantly exploring deeper in his what he had learnt from his father. He recognised his tremendous obligation to grow and soar and become the person who he was meant to be.
Rebelling and turning away from a negative path is in a certain sense, easy. There is a certain newness and excitement in discovering the right thing to do. Every step is new adventure and different from the previous one. Rebelling for a positive cause generates passion, enthusiasm and zeal. Think about the first Shabbos you ever kept. It was magical and amazing. You were inspired, full of energy and never lacked motivation. After all, there is so much to see and so much to discover.
On the other hand, it is gruelling and arduous to maintain excitement and enthusiasm for a path chosen by your parents and not by you. It takes a tremendous effort to be motivated on a daily basis doing the same thing over and over again, enjoying it every time you do it and never being bored. After keeping Shabbos for a few years, it takes work to maintain the thrill of Shabbos week after week.
Rashi is teaching us an astonishing insight by Hashem answering Yitzchak’s prayer instead of Rivka’s. Rashi is educating us that having the ability to probe deeper in one’s Judaism and constantly be enthused and motivated is more powerful that rebelling from one’s old life and creating a new one.
Investigating further into what you already know does not contain the same degree of excitement as discovering it for the first time. The only motivation to search deeper is because of the absolute conviction that beneficial knowledge is hidden there and you have to make that effort to reach it. We learn from here the importance of constant and continual spiritual growth within our own heritage. Everything is there. We just need to discover it.
Being Jewish is such an amazing privilege. Even if one is knowledgeable, there is so much more to learn. Be the archaeologist, delve deeper and go beyond the surface of what you already know. For sure, you will most certainly find the greatest treasures in the world.