October 17, 2014
This year I have chosen the Netziv, the famous Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhyn, whose commentary Ha’amek Davar is popular in the Torah world. For a short biography see Netziv on Wikipedia.
In his introduction to sefer Bereishis, the Netziv notes that Sefer Bereishis is called Sefer HaYashar (lit. book of the upright/righteous ones), for the Avos were ‘yesharim.’ How so? For, as the Netziv writes, the Avos acted with love and chesed to members of other nations. He cites the fact that Avraham Avinu prayed for Sodom not to be destroyed, Yitzchak’s appeasement of Avimelech, and Yaakov’s soft treatment of Lavan despite the latter’s constant attempts to trick Yaakov, as examples of this great attribute.
Indeed, the Rambam writes (hil. Melachim 10:12) that Chazal commanded us to visit the sick of other nations, to bury their dead, and to provide money for their poor. This, understands the Rambam, is referred to in the psukim ‘HaShem is good to all and has mercy on all his creations,’ and ‘her ways (of the Torah) and all her paths are shalom. ’ Either way, we see the great levels of our Avos in that they managed to treat all people with the utmost care and sincerity – despite the fact that these peoples’ world views and goals in life were completely different to theirs.
The comment of the Netziv is based on the Talmud Avodah Zarah 25a Rabbi Yochanan explains that this is the book that deals with the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are called upright, as we see that the wicked Balaam said, “Let my soul die the death of the upright“
Why did Balaam call our forefathers specifically “upright ones” and not “righteous ones” or “pious ones” or any other appellation? Why did Balaam pray for himself, wishing that his end would be as these upright ones?
Who was Balaam? He was non other than the great- great-grandson of Lot. Who were Moshe and the Jewish people? Non other than the great-great grandchildren of Avraham.
How did Avraham treat his nephew Lot? What was Avraham’s attitude towards the non-Jews of his generation? Avraham risked his life to save Lot. Avraham prayed even for Sodom & Gemmorrah!
What was Lot’s descendant Balaam attitude towards the Jews amongst whom he could find no fault ( How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel)
He took money to curse them!
Bilaam couldn’t or rather wouldn’t live the life of the upright but he prayed that he would at least die the death of the righteous ( he didn’t!) Unfortunately, many co-religionists don’t want to live Jewish but want to die and be buried Jewish, though even this is weakening nowadays!
Even the wicked Bilaam acknowledged that our patriarchs Abraham, Issac and Jacob were upright and set the standards for humanity to follow.
Let us, their direct descendants, live up to their standards, with a year full of Torah study and the practice of its mitzvot, so that we merit being called “upright” by Jew and non-Jew alike.