Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei| 5770
Ein Ayah: The National Inheritance of Good Traits(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:55)
Gemara: When telling Moshe that He planned to destroy Bnei Yisrael, He offered Moshe: “I shall make you a great nation” (Shemot 32:10). Rav Elazar says: Moshe responded as follows: “If a chair with three legs (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) cannot stand, how much more so is this true of a chair with one leg (Moshe).”
Ein Ayah: The foundation of zechut avot (the merit of the forefathers), which helps the offspring, is that the forefathers inculcate their good traits into their offspring’s nature. If enough goodness is passed on, then even if the children, in actions, leave the straight path, their spiritual inheritance suffices to prevent them from reaching a level of spiritual hopelessness. It may take brilliant moral lessons or afflictions to which Hashem may have to subject them, but they will be able to return to the good nature they inherited.
The effectiveness of this spiritual “trait transfer” depends on the degree to which the traits were entrenched in the forefathers. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were so connected to their attributes that they could serve as the source of a holy nation that bears Hashem’s Name. The nation acquired the traits on an eternal basis, to the extent an entire nation can. When a specific good trait becomes the trademark of one individual, its impact becomes very strong. While a person is more complete if he excels less spectacularly but at many positive characteristics, the strength of the particular characteristic he represents is weakened because each trait has its own impact on the spirit.
The gemara (Yevamot 79a) says that Bnei Yisrael excel at three basic characteristics: rachmanut (compassion), baishanut (shyness), and gemilut chasadim (helping one’s counterpart). Possibly, these traits were more strongly infused into the national fabric because each of the forefathers took a single trait as the main part of his life. Avraham adopted chesed; Yitzchak epitomized tzni’ut/ baishanut, evident from his behavior during his marriage; Yaakov excelled in rachmanut, which finds particular expression in parents’ love for children.
It pays for a leader to have a combination of several good traits. However, as a forefather who wants to pass on traits to his offspring, especially a whole nation that stands out for outstanding characteristics, it is better to be focused on a single trait and thereby strengthen the impression. Only Hashem knows to what extent the inherited strengths will be able to overcome the corruptive potential of man’s free will.
As a result of the sin of the Golden Calf, where promiscuousness and murder were included in the overall activity of idol worship, Bnei Yisrael lost much of its special status. These sins are the opposites of rachmanut, baishanut, and gemilut chasadim. Murder is the opposite of compassion; promiscuity is the opposite of shyness; idol worship is the opposite of kindness to others. The reason for the opposite connection between idol worship and gemilut chasadim is as follows. Chesed comes from the total recognition of Hashem’s unity, which makes all people want to unite to improve the lot of the community. Idol worship, in contrast, ruins the focus on unity by focusing on separateness and on how to increase one’s physical enjoyment.
Although Bnei Yisrael temporarily lost their level, Moshe’s efforts helped them recover the light from their souls’ present darkness and uncover the innate, hidden spiritual powers. Moshe argued that if all hope was lost and they should be destroyed despite the inherited potential, who is to say their replacements will be able to preserve the traits? Bnei Yisrael, who descended from the three forefathers, were more likely to have the traits in their stronger form than those who would descend specifically from Moshe. Moshe had already combined the characteristics, making him a great leader. However as a “chair,” able to support his offspring as a forefather, he was “one-legged,” i.e., less likely to leave the impression that could be passed on to future generations.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
Yitzchak Eliezer ben
Avraham Mordechai Jacobson
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