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Thought for the Day: Learning from the Avos In One's Daily Life

More on what I learned from/with R' Moshe Soloveitchik on Shavuos night this year.  As usual, mistakes are mine.

There are three Avos: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.  Ignoring for the moment that the Avos lived (and died) long before the Torah was given, Chazal tell us that the Avos kept all the mitzvos -- even the d'rabanans (which shouldn't bother you so much, since we don't seem to even have d'oraisos yet).  Yet, with even a cursory reading of those beloved Bible stories, we see instances of the Avos violating the Torah.  (Not Yitzchak, by they way; he never violated the slightest detail.  We'll come back to that, b'ezras HaShem.)  Avraham did not perform the mitzvah of bris mila until he was 99 years old.  Yaakov married two sisters.  Heck, as long as we are going down this path, let's stop ignoring the fact that the Avos lived and died long before the Torah was given; what about that?!?

None of that is a question on Chazal; instead, they are questions on our understanding of what Chazal is telling us.  There are answers to those questions, but those answers do not negate the fact that questions are real.  One might ask why the Avos had to be put into a defensive position in the first place.  Said another way, why it is important to reveal to us that the Avos kept all the mitzvos -- even the d'rabanans -- if it is only going to make us look like apologists, chas v'shalom, to explain the contradictory evidence?  Said yet another way: What are we supposed to do with the knowledge that the Avos did all the mitzvos?  The Torah is not a history book; each and every event, each and every situation, each and every bit of contextual meaning that comprises the Torah HaK'dosha is wholly and only to have an impact on each and every moment of your life as a Jew today.

One more interesting quirk in the lives of the Avos.  Avraham started life as Avram.  Once HaShem gives him a new name, it becomes assur to refer to him by the old name.  Avram went from "the leader of Ram" to "The Father of Many Nations"; to this day, therefore, geirei tzedek take Avraham Avinu as our father -- Ploni ben Avraham Avinu.  Yaakov began life as simply Yaakov; a name that connotes trickery.  At a certain juncture in his life, though, he was given the title of Yisrael/"One Who Strives and Rules with G-d"; a name of royalty.  Yitzchak started as Yitzchak and lived as Yitzchak; a name that connotes a certain amusement at the vanities of this world.

Obviously Avraham Avinu was not born one of the Avos; he had to grow into that position and the name change denoted his promotion.  The Zohar HaKodesh says that either Yaakov or Eisav could have become the third of the Avos; Yaakov embraced that opportunity, while Eisav disparaged it.  The awarding of the title of Yisrael to Yaakov was the sign of his promotion to the third of the Avos.  From the point where each became an Av of Klal Yisrael, each voluntarily took on the responsibility to fulfill the entire Torah.  Each dug deep into his holy n'shema to find the Truth implanted by their beloved Creator.  The became wellsprings of Torah and lived up to its demands.

One lesson for us (that is, after all, much too big an idea to have only a single lesson) is that we are Jews, and as such we carry the responsibility to represent HaShem Yisbarach in this world.  That is, we have the deep honor and heavy obligation to keep HaShem's holy Torah in all of it's details; both those revealed at the mass prophecy of Matan Torah at Har Sinai, and also those revealed through the intellectual delvings of our Sages.  It is all Torah Achas from HaShem Echad, to be fulfilled and infused into the world by Am Echad.

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