Friday, October 11, 2013

The Danger Of a Birthday Gift

So, Avraham wins the war (between the four kings and five kings) and as a due and just reward, he's offered to take whatever he desires from the booty. Surprisingly, Avraham turns everything down. I cannot believe I´m actually related to him. Who turns down free stuff?

He said ¨Im michut v´ad seroch naal¨, not even a string or a shoelace.

I don´t understand. These gifts technically belong to him. He could take and use anything he wants. And yet, he declined. If the Torah had not documented the explicit details of his bris milah, I would have serious doubts about his Jewishness right now...

What´s even more peculiar, is that there's a very wise man who believes Avraham´s actions are an ideal to strive towards. Actually, he´s the wisest man that ever lived. Shlomo Hamelech tells us in his classic sefer, mishlei:
¨Sonei Matanos Yichyeh¨, he who hates gifts, shall live. 


What?!?! No more Chanukah presents? No more birthday gifts? (Don't show this to grandma!)

What does all this mean? What's the connection between receiving gifts, and living?
There must be a difference between what we know as being alive and living.

Avraham has a few nicknames. Avraham Avinu, Ish  Hachessed, and Avraham Haivri.

The first two are clear. But what does Ivri mean?

Rashi helps us with that. ¨Shehu meever echad, v´kol haolam kulo meever hasheni¨, he stands on one side, and the whole world stands on the other.

No, he was not in New Zealand while the rest of mankind was in Alaska.

He was independent.

Are you Independent? Am I independent? 
What does independence even mean? Does it mean living in America? Staying out late without a curfew? Dying your hair purple?
If you consider yourself independent, you're entitled to understand the true meaning of INDEPENDENCE.

There are two types of independence.
#1- Physical Independence. Ex: A slave, or a prisoner who is freed.
#2- Independence of mind. Ex: The freedom to think.

The Gemorah in Brachos describes a conversation between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. In this discussion, we're admitting that our main desire is to serve Hashem and do His will, but there are two obstacles which interfere and block us from doing Ratzon Hashem:

EXTERNAL INFLUENCES- The influence that seeps in from the other nations, due to our close living quarters and sharing boundaries with them.
INTERNAL INFLUENCES- The monster  inside of us. For those of us who are on first name basis with him, he's the Yetzer Horah. Our passions, desires...

Who was Avraham? He, alone, after contemplating, rationalizing and analyzing, resolved the ultimate: He discovered God. He founded Monotheism. He revolutionized the world.
 He threw away his emotions, his philosophies, his dreams, to fulfill the desire of God. And all this, by going completely against the rest of the world. Defying all his neighbors, all his friends, all his teachers... for what? To pursue the truth. He was able to stand up with confidence to make, what he believed, were the right choices.

True Independence means The ability to do the right thing. No matter what.

Defying your family, community, or friends by "doing my own thing" is, ironically, contrary to what we believe it to be.

A teenager seeking independence who rebels by pursuing dangerous activities, by getting hooked on norcotics, body piercings, tattoos, or by any other attempt at being ´different´, is, in essence, completely dependent on his desires, on his drugs, or on the need for others´approval and acceptance. These pursuits are based on precisely the two obstacles preventing true independence, and therefore causing true dependence:  Internal desires, and external pressures.

Doing my own thing and doing the right thing, are actually two very different statements.

Avraham displayed a life of independence. He succeeded in conquering both obstacles:

EXTERNAL- He searched for the truth, analyzed it, and had the courage to say NO. Amidst tremendous opposing forces, he established Monotheism.
INTERNAL- The extent of his love for his son Yitzchok is unfathomable. And yet, he freed himself from his emotions and brought him to the Akaida.
Avraham reached the highest possible level of spiritual independence.

Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us that, INDEPENDENCE IS LIFE!  
Life is, The power of doing what you want to do.

Ok. You can stop scrolling down now, you've reached the part that interests you.

When given a gift, the receiver becomes enslaved to the giver. Henceforward, he is obligated to him. He owes him. And therefore, he loses his independence.

To be alive, is to be independent.

Had Avraham accepted the gifts, even though he was deservant of them, he would have lost his independence. By becoming obligated to them, he may have to repay the favor to them eventually. That pay-back might cause him to have to go against his ideals or lower his standards in some way. Avraham Haivri just couldnt do that. It's not worth it. He wants to live.

The Gemorah in Sota writes that the reason we were given the two mitzvos of tefillin and tzitzis, is because of the words Avraham used: michut- a string, (tzitzis) and seroch naal- a shoelace, (tefillin).
Because Avraham is fighting for independence, Hashem gave us the power to be independent.

How do tzitzis and tefillin assist in our quest for independence?

I'm sure you've all been in the airport and seen a Jewish man swaying in talis and tefillin, causing not such silent whispering by every Asian and Hispanic traveler. 
I'm sure you've all passed a basketball court and seen Yeshiva bachurim dribbling away with tzitzis  flappin in the breeze.

The tefillin will "be seen by the nations and fear you". The wearing of tefillin portrays independence against the external influences.

The tzitzis are to remind us "not to pursue the desires of our hearts...".  The wearing of tzitzis portrays independence against the internal influences.

Being Jewish means being independent.
Being independent means being alive.

"You need to stand for something, or you'll fall for everything".

Have a beautiful shabbos!