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6 Kislev 5762 - November 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Emulating the Ovos -- That Rings a Bell

by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Chazal teach: "One is obligated to say: `When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov?'"(Tana Devei Eliyohu Ch. 25). We are obligated to strive for greatness and not be complacent in this endeavor. Therefore we aspire to emulate the superlative example set by the Ovos.

One might ask, "Why don't we try to model ourselves after the great leaders of our times or of the past generation, for example, the Chofetz Chaim?" The answer given is that it is not enough to try to emulate great people. Our yearning should be to reach the level of the greatest of the great.

The obvious implication here is that the Ovos were indeed the greatest. But is this actually true? Certainly they were greater than the Rishonim, the Tanaim, Amoroim and even most of the Nevi'im. However, were they greater than even Moshe Rabbeinu?

The Torah concludes with the verse: "There will never be another Prophet who will reach Moshe's stature" (Devorim 34:10). Moshe was the greatest Novi there ever was, past and future -- including the Ovos. This is one of the Rambam's thirteen Principles of Faith. Moshe is also called "Servant of Hashem" (ibid. 34:3; see also Bamidbar 2:7).

Not only was Moshe greater than the Ovos in prophecy but he was also more advanced in character development. We find that Moshe surpassed Avrohom in the trait of anovoh, humility. The gemora states that while Avrohom regarded himself as "ofor vo'eifer dirt and ashes" (Bereishis 18:27), Moshe and Aharon said "venachnu moh? what are we?" (Shemos 16:8). Even though Avrohom was extremely humble, nevertheless he considered himself to be dirt and ashes, which is still something tangible. Moshe and Aharon went further: they did not consider themselves to be anything at all (Chulin 89a). The Torah also testifies, "And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any man on the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). Why then are we not obligated to use Moshe Rabbeinu as our role model?

In the last century and a half there have been great advances in technology. Let us focus on two: the telephone and videoconferencing. The first allows two individuals in different locations to speak to one another. The other not only lets them speak, it actually lets them see each other in living color. Obviously the latter invention is greater. There is no comparison between a simultaneous videoconference of three individuals on separate continents, and the first telephone that probably did not work over great distances and produced only poor reception.

Yet if I would ask you who invented the first telephone, you could quickly answer that it was Alexander Graham Bell. While if I asked you who first developed the technology for videoconferencing, you are unlikely to know; and chances are you probably do not care either. Why do we know more about an obsolete instrument invented more than a century ago than technological breakthroughs of our own times?

The answer is that the telephone came first. Before we had the telephone, we were just as technologically distant from talking to someone far away as we were from being able to see them. They were both just dreams. The invention of the telephone was the start. Using that technology we were able to advance and improve what Bell started until today, when we have videoconferencing. He did something no one thought possible and made it a reality and we built on it. Now every telephone and videoconference is a testimony to Bell's invention.

Herein lies the answer to our question. Even if Moshe was actually greater than Avrohom and reached higher levels, Avrohom's achievements have a different significance. He challenged accepted beliefs and found Hashem in a world far removed from G-d. Believing in G-d at that time was probably just as outrageous as speaking on the telephone!

Through reflection Avrohom saw many different ways of serving Hashem: the 613 mitzvos and all the future rabbinical decrees. He stood up to his attackers and spread the message. No matter how great his successors were, it could only ever be a case of building on Avrohom's great legacy. Even if Moshe Rabbeinu is considered greater than Avrohom, his greatness was built on Avrohom's previous efforts.

This is the significance of the Ovos. Since they were the first, they are regarded as the founders. Therefore we strive to emulate them.

And there is another lesson we can learn from them as well. They were successful despite all the challenges they faced. They realized that each test was an opportunity to attain greatness. We also need to persevere in the face of our daily challenges and utilize them to achieve greatness.


Perhaps this teaching of Chazal contains a deeper insight. Let us examine Avrohom's title, Avrohom Ovinu, Avrohom our forefather. When did he receive this title and how did he merit this name? Logic would dictate that when Yitzchok was born, Avrohom could be accurately referred to as Ovinu.

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin zt"l has a different answer to this question. In his commentary on Pirkei Ovos, he contrasts two Mishnayos which mention Avrohom. The first Mishna states that there were ten generations from Noach to Avrohom. The next Mishna teaches that Hashem gave Avrohom Ovinu ten tests (Ovos 5:2,3). Why does the first Mishna refer to him simply as Avrohom, while the following Mishna refers to him as Avrohom Ovinu?

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin states that we see from here that Avrohom isn't our forefather solely as a result of being our physical ancestor, but also as a result of being our spiritual forefather (Ruach Chaim 5:2).

It says in Mishlei, a tzaddik can toil with great effort to reach his goals and his descendants will then carry on his ideals with relative ease. The tzaddik plods to make the path, and then his children simply walk through on the well-worn trail. What one attains becomes part of himself; it is in his genes, so to speak, which pass on to the next generation.

This was Avrohom Ovinu's avodoh, to toil and pass the ten tests, to ingrain them in his being so that the lessons gained would become imprinted in the following generations. Reb Chaim says that if one looks at the tests and looks at the many traits of the Jewish people, they will be very similar. This is because Avrohom lived through these tests to give us these traits. Let us examine a few.

Jews of every era, no matter what their station in life and level of observance, have always been ready to give up their lives al kiddush Hashem. From what inner source does this derive? From Avrohom Ovinu who jumped into the kivshan ho'aish -- a fiery furnace. And who was it that was ready to give up his son's life in Akeidas Yitzchok?

Jews throughout the ages have voluntarily gone up to Eretz Yisroel, abandoned their often comfortable lifestyles, risked dangerous journeys to get there, without so much as a worry as to how they will make a parnassa. Even people brought up in Western society with all its comforts and financial security pick up and go, not worried about how they will survive materially, forsaking many values with which they have been imbued since childhood.

This level of commitment (that even apparently secularized Jews have "acquired") comes from Avrohom Ovinu. When Hashem said "Lech lecho," he went immediately without any questions. Many of Avrohom's children do just the same.

A fundamental belief is that whatever happens to one is for the good. From where does this lofty trait come? Again from Avrohom Ovinu.

After going to Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of Hashem's will, there was a famine. Avrohom accepted this without complaint, without even once questioning G-d. He passed these traits on to us.

Whatever greatness we can attain springs from the seeds that Avrohom planted. Directly from his tireless efforts in a world where everything was set against him, we now have the potential to become whatever we desire. Every great act that any Jew does bears Avrohom's signature, and is a testimony to his great achievements.

We mentioned above that we must strive to emulate the Ovos. We aim to be the greatest and since they were the first we consider them the greatest.

R' Chaim Volozhin adds another dimension in our quest to follow their lead. We can say that we strive to emulate the Ovos in order that our deeds should be akin to their deeds. Avrohom's whole life was in preparation for building Klal Yisroel. He implanted in our innermost recesses everything we can achieve.

We should also consider our lives as a time of preparation. Even before we dream of having children, our experiences and actions are penetrating our beings. They make us who we are and enable us to mold our own children. We should perform our actions with so much enthusiasm and dedication in order that they should be ingrained in our beings as well as in those of the next generation! This is our hope: that we should be Ovos for our children and that our actions will be worthy to be deemed ma'asei Ovos, deeds of the Forefathers.

The author is an avreich in Kollel Beth Hatalmud, Melbourne Australia, and is the editor of the Kollel's publication "Moadim" which appears before each of the Chagim.

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