Thursday, November 27, 2014

Parsha: When a Tzaddik Leaves - Three Lessons

Rav Turetsky

Rashi (Breishit 28:10) derives an important insight from the Torah’s description of Yaakov’s exit from Be’er Shevah. He writes that when a Tzaddik departs from a city, so does the city’s splendor, radiance, and glory.  A Tzaddik positively impacts his surroundings and elevates and enriches those around him. His exit negatively affects the city in which he dwelled.

Three lessons may be derived from this Rashi, each with an important message.

  1. Rashi’s idea reflects an important perspective about the impact of one’s Mitzvah observance and Torah learning. The Tzaddik is not to be perceived as one with minimal influence in this world, passively and quietly pursuing his life’s goal of holiness. Rather, Rashi underscores the impact one has on his community through living a life of righteousness. Rav Chaim of Volozhin develops a similar idea throughout Nefesh HaChaim. Relying at least in part on Kabbalistic ideas, he writes that Torah study maintains the entire world’s existence (Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar 4) and mitzvah observance allows one to “create worlds” above that influence our world (Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar 1).[1] For Rav Chaim, one’s righteousness influences the entire world.
  2. Rashi’s comment may also reorient one’s perspective as to where to find true beauty and splendor. The impact the Tzaddik has on the city’s glory and radiance is rarely clear to the outside observer. Rashi reminds us that true honor and beauty is often found around those whose holiness permeates their entire being; real honor often lies within those who are modest and unassuming.
  3. Several years ago, Rav Mayer Twersky [2] suggested an additional insight, one with increased relevance given current events. The Torah teaches the impact of the Tzaddik specifically when Yaakov leaves the city. It could have been formulated in the positive; when a Tzaddik enters a city, he increases the city’s honor and splendor. Rav Twersky explained that all too often we only completely appreciate the impact of the Tzaddik when he is no longer with us. When Tzaddikim are around, it is often easy to overlook their contributions and fail to be cognizant of their impact.

May we be Zocheh to appreciate their impact and contribution!
Shabbat Shalom!

[1]The precise meaning of that statement is beyond the scope of this brief Devar Torah.

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