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Parshat Vayeira (5770)
This week's Torah portion ends with the story of the Akaida ('tying up') of Yitzchak by his father Avraham. Surprisingly this weird story of attempted murder instigated by 'a heavenly voice' is the basis of Judaism!
Not only that, but the Torah tells us almost nothing about the Judaism of Abraham; its rituals, principles or beliefs. But it DOES tell us almost every detail of this Akaida that he did!
What is so important about this deed?
To understand this, here is a story (HaYdion Kfar Chabad #537).
The year was 1950 in Russia. Communism was ready to conquer the world with its bold ideas of equality, opportunity, hope and freedom from economic oppression. Russia was excited and inspired with hope and vision but perhaps the most excited were the Jews.
They threw away their Judaism by the millions. Religion was a thing of the past, a vestige of the dark ages. Now Marx, Lenin and the great light; Stalin (may his name be cursed forever) would illuminate the world! Communism would end the worries of mankind!
No one believed this more than Abrasha Yafe.
His father, Reb Avraham, had been a religious Jew; a Chassid and follower of the Fifth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch. But Abrasha was a card-carrying totally devoted Communist with a high party position and aspirations even higher and NO time or place in his heart for religion.
He hadn't done anything Jewish for over ten years, since he was fifteen years old; Judaism was simply OFF his agenda.
Abrasha married a girl that was also a communist official, perhaps not as high up in the ranks as he, but one that shared his ideals totally. By 'coincidence' she also had Jewish parents. Her grandparents had been observant. Her parents were only marginally so, but she was totally communist through and through.
So it was no surprise that when their first child, a boy, was born, the thought of circumcising him never entered their minds. As far as they were concerned he was a Russian and potentially a good party member.
But Abrasha's mother, whose name was Chaya Basha, would have no part of it. She confronted her son; her grandson would be circumcised and that was all there was to it!
Abrasha tried to ignore her but she refused to be ignored. He tried arguing that it was foolish, old fashioned, dangerous, superstitious, against the law, but she refused to listen to reason.
Then, when he simply put his food down and said 'no'! She stared at him in a way he had never seen before, put her hand on her heart and said, almost in a whisper, that if he refused she would commit suicide!
Abrasha began to shake! He couldn't even look her in the eyes! He cleared his throat a few times, and immediately agreed. But only on two conditions.
First that the 'Brit' (circumcision) would be in total secrecy so NO ONE would know. Secondly, that neither he nor his wife would be present. That way if they got caught he could claim that his old mother took the child when he wasn't looking.
Chaya Basha knew exactly what to do. She went to a Chassid by the name of Chanuch Hendel Galperin, who was a Mohel (circumciser) and asked him to arrange the brit for the day that the child would be eight days old.
He agreed on the condition that only on that day would he divulge where the brit would be. When the day arrived, late in the afternoon just a half-hour before the occasion, he notified Chaya Basha (she brought the baby) and nine Chassidim who, with the greatest secrecy, speed and efficiency made their separate ways to a small inconspicuous third floor apartment. The door was locked, the window shades were drawn and closed, the child was circumcised and given the name Yisrael (after Yisrael Baal Shem; the Baal Shem Tov) everyone said 'Mazal Tov' quietly and then came the meal! (After a brit a festive meal is made.)
Chaya Basha produced a few small loaves of bread a bottle of vodka, some herring and some salad and the meal began! L'chaims were poured and soon the Chassidim were singing a merry 'nigun' (Chassidic song) on the verge of standing up and dancing.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door!
A deathly silence fell over everyone. Chaya Basha waited a moment, put her finger to her lips that no one should talk and called out, "Who's there?"
No reply. Just more knocking!
She approached the door and again called out, who is there!? The person on the other side mumbled something she couldn't understand. "Who?" She repeated. Again mumbling.
Could it be the KGB? Was it a trick? She had no choice. If it was KGB and she didn't open they would break it down and arrest everyone.
Cautiously opened one latch after another, opened the door and there stood her son, Abrasha!
Without saying a word he entered, looked around, closed the door behind him, approached the table where everyone was sitting, pulled out a chair and sat down. Someone poured him a L'chaim. He took the glass and raised it but before he could drink, one of the Chassidim produced a yarmulke, put it on his head and said, "maybe make a blessing" (it is a commandment to make blessings to thank G-d before eating. The yarmulke is worn to enhance the fear of G-d).
He made a blessing and downed the small cup. The Mohel put his hand on Abrasha's shoulder and said, "Tell me, have you ever heard of a Chassid by the name of Avraham Yafe?"
When Abrasha heard the name of his departed father he began swaying slightly back and forth, closed his eyes and sang a slow beautiful 'nigun' that his father used to sing. Everyone joined in.
After a few more l'chaims, he began reminiscing warmly, how his father would pray for hours, the songs he sang when he prayed, the stories he told etc. And so it continued until sunrise. As the sun's rays shone through the window shades, one of the Chassidim suggested to Abrasha that he make a resolution. Abrasha just shrugged his shoulders as to say, 'what's that?'
But the Chassid didn't give up. "Abrasha!" he said warmly. "I knew your father well. He was a very genuine and honest man. He really believed in G-d and in you, Abrasha. He believed that you both wouldn't let him down. I'm sure that in heaven your father has no rest until you do what the Creator wants! Abrasha! Put on Tefillin, keep the Shabbat, eat only kosher food. Only then will you and your father be happy.
Abrasha thought for a moment and...agreed!
The next day he told his wife that he decided to turn over a new leaf and a few weeks later he miraculously found some excuse to leave his political position and get a more normal job where he wouldn't be observed constantly and could become an observant Jew.
It seems that the circumcision of his son removed the spiritual 'foreskin' of his heart as well.
This answers our questions.
The Mishna (Avot 5:3) tells us that Abraham was tested ten times by G-d.
But, although the last and most difficult test was the 'Akeida' the only one called 'the covenant' (Brit) was the circumcision.
Because the Circumcision stressed the purpose of all the other tests: to change 'human' nature, remove the 'spiritual' foreskin covering the heart, and bind it to the Creator. Namely to value truth more than success.
This is what happened to Abrasha in our story. Suddenly he changed his nature and became devoted to the truth rather than to his high rank in the party.
And this is the essence of Judaism.
But no where was this essence demanded more than in the Akaida. There was no greater success story than Yitzchak's miraculous birth and upbringing. He was the ONLY person in the world that really could continue Abraham's message of truth! So, when G-d told Abraham to sacrifice him He was really telling Abraham to destroy with his own hands, his past, future and everything he had worked for all his life!
But Abraham was willing to do it! He tied up his son because he valued truth more than success. (of course, in the end G-d promises success as well)
And THIS is the 'essence' of Judaism; G-d is the Creator of all being and we should be concerned only with doing what He wants.
It is this 'essence' that has enabled us to not just withstand the worst tests of almost two thousand years of holocausts, pogroms and expulsions but even to grow and flourish despite (or perhaps because of) them!
And it is this devotion to the truth that will bring Moshiach and the final redemption!
This is our job today. The Lubavitcher Rebbe stressed many times: we have had enough tests and difficulties, today we must direct all the devotion that we inherited from Avraham to do EVERYTHING we can to improve the world. Even one good deed, word or even thought can bring....
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