29 Dec The True Litmus Test of Our Spirituality
At the end of Yakov Avinu’s life, he revealed to Yosef, “Re’o fonecha lo filalti, v’hinei her’ah osi Elokim gam es zarecha – To see your face I had not prayed, and behold Hashem has allowed me to even see your children.” On the simple level, this means that Yakov was expressing that he never prayed even once to again meet-up with Yosef. This was because he was told by his sons that Yosef was torn asunder and one is not allowed to pray a tefilas shav, a meaningless prayer to Hashem.
The Toldos Chaim digs deeper into the meaning of this posuk. He asks, Why does it say “Re’o fonecha lo filalti – To see your face I did not pray?” Would it not have sufficed to say, “Re’oscha lo filalti – To see you I did not pray?” Why the addition of fonecha, your face? He explains that Yakov reasoned to himself that even if by some miracle Yosef had in fact survived, after all of this time – growing up in a foreign culture – it is likely that he would have assimilated and fonecha, his penimius, his spirituality would likely have been destroyed. But now, Yaakov continued, Hashem showed me your fine children, Efraim and Menasha, who are also walking in the ways of true Yiddishkeit, and there is no better proof of the inner makings of a person than how their children turn out. Concludes the Toldos Chaim, if a person practices superficial Judaism – only doing the rituals to be accepted by others or because they have to, that kind of robotic Yiddishkeit doesn’t pass very successfully to the next generation.
In this vein, Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, zt”l, zy”a, the famed Kovno Rav, explains the verse from our Shabbos maariv liturgy, “V’shamru B’nei Yisroel es haShabbos, la’asos es haShabbos l’dorosom – The Bnei Yisroel should keep the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos for their generations.” The Rav questions why it repeats itself, “To keep the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos.” He observes that the posuk is informing us what kind of Shabbos we should keep. A Shabbos that will ensure that the Shabbos will stay with your generations. Shabbos should be so full of warmth and inspiration that your children should feel that they can’t do without it.
I believe that this is also a homiletic understanding of the Talmudic dictum in the second perek of Masechtas Shabbos. “Haragil b’ner havyon, lo banim talmidim chachamim – If someone is careful with the candles (of Shabbos and Chanukah), they will have children who are Torah sages.” This can be explained as follows. If someone’s Judaism is full of a fire, is done with hislahavus, with a passion, then they will have children who are Torah scholars. On the other hand, one whose ritualistic practices are lackluster, robotic and passionless, will not inculcate a deep sense of feeling into their descendants.
The Vishnitzer Rebbe, zt”l, zy”a, once told a chosid who had sent his children to the gymnasium in pre-war Europe, “During the winter when the trees are barren, only a dendrologist (a specialist in the study of trees) would know what type of tree it is. But, when the spring comes and they see the fruit, everyone knows whether it’s an apple or pear tree. So too, the character of a person can be discerned from their fruits.” The man took the subtle hint and removed his children from the gymnasium.
May it be the will of Hashem that we serve Hashem with passion and gusto, and in that merit may we be blessed with long life, good health and happiness to see many generations of Torah success.