Thriving With Differences


Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Rav Chaim Brisker once quipped to his students, “I don’t want you to learn and to think the way I learn and think. I want you to develop your own way of thinking and learning.”

His disciples include some of the most prominent scholars, including Rav Shimon Shkop ztl, Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz ztl, Rav Naftali Trop ztl, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztl, and Rav Elchonon Wasserman Hyd. They all learned Torah from Rav Chaim. Yet each forged his own unique pathway and methodology of Talmudic learning and Torah outlook.



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Rav Avrohom Pam ztl would give a parsha schmooze each week in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. The schmooze before Parshas Chayei Sarah was always about shidduchim. The parsha which contains Eliezer’s search to find a worthy wife for Yitzchok, Rivka and Yitzchok’s subsequent marriage, as well as Avraham’s marriage with Ketura, is a most opportune time to speak about marriage and promoting marital harmony.

My rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, notes that when he first moved to Boro Park many decades ago, each Shabbos morning as he walked to shul with his children, they would hear the church bells ringing. Saturday was wedding day in the non-Jewish world.

These days, however, the church bells are quiet. It’s not because there are less non-Jews living in the surrounding areas. Rather, sadly, people are choosing not to get married. They don’t feel the need to overburden themselves with the commitment and responsibilities that marriage imposes and today’s secular society doesn’t put any pressure on you.

The challenge of marriage is that it is literally the merging of two different worlds. The very title of the New York Times bestseller speaks volumes: Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus – or as I once heard someone quip, in our circles the title should be, “Men are from Lakewood; Women are from Flatbush.”

The pasuk says, “Yitzchok then brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother, and she was for him for a wife, and he loved her, and Yitzchok was consoled after his mother” (Bereishis 24:67).

Yitzchok was the paragon of the attribute of justice. The sense of intense awe of G-d that he felt when he was laid upon the altar at the akeidah was with him throughout his life. Rivkah, on the other hand, was the paragon of chesed. The kindness she displayed for Eliezer and his camels demonstrated her incredible selflessness.

Their marriage was the fusion of two opposite attributes. It reflected the ultimate purpose of marriage – the synergy of two different personalities with the common goal of building a home that promotes being mikadesh shem Shamayim.

When Avrohom Avinu begged Hashem for children he said, “Hashem, my G-d, what will you give me when I am childless and the one in charge of my household is Damesek Eliezer? Behold, to me you have not granted offspring, and behold the steward of my home will inherit me” (Bereishis 15:2-3). The Gemara (Yoma 28b ) explains that he was called Damesek Eliezer because he was “doleh umashkeh – drew and irrigated” from the Torah of his master Avrohom. In other words, Eliezer transmitted the lessons of Avrohom to the masses.

The commentators note that here Avrohom was telling G-d that all he has in life was Eliezer. If he wanted to demonstrate how unfulfilled his life was, why does it make sense to praise Eliezer. Why would Avrohom refer to Eliezer as Damesek, which alludes to his scholarship and teachings as he pleaded before God to give him generations?

The Me’or Vashemesh explains that Avrohom’s complaint was that Eliezer taught exactly what Avrohom taught. There was no novelty, added insight or perspective. Avrohom wanted a child who would forge his own path in serving Hashem, who would seek his own unique connection with Torah, and wouldn’t just repeat whatever he was taught.

Yitzchak indeed fulfilled that dream. His approach to serving Hashem was starkly different from that of Avrohom. Each one is called Avinu – our patriarch, for each invested in his progeny a different vital modality in the service of G-d.

This also explains why the masses who learned from Avrohom seemed to fade into oblivion. After Avrohom’s death they are never mentioned again. They may have learned faithfully from him, but they never sought to internalize his teachings and develop them within themselves. Sadly, as soon as Avrohom was no longer there, they lost their spiritual standing.

Our goal in raising children is not to produce machine-like people who do as we did, and faithfully go through the motions. We seek to cultivate and develop within our children a deep connection with Hashem based on the unique capabilities and personalities that Hashem invested in them.


As the end of their forty-year sojourns in the desert approached, Moshe Rabbeinu, knowing that he would not lead the nation into Eretz Yisroel, requested that Hashem help him appoint a worthy successor. “Moshe spoke to Hashem saying: Let Hashem, the G-d of spirit for all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly. Who will go out before them and come before them… and the assembly of Hashem should not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Bamidbar 27:15-17).

Commenting on this verse, the Medrash discusses a law connected to it: “A halacha – if one saw a multitude of Jewish people he says – Blessed are you Hashem… sage of the secrets. For just as their faces are not similar to one another, so are their thoughts not identical to one another. Rather, each one has his own thoughts… for the individual spirit of each and every person. You know that this is so, because Moshe asked of the Holy One, blessed is He, before his death saying before him, ‘Master of the Universe! The thoughts of each and every individual are revealed and known before You. You know that the thoughts of children are not similar to one another. Thus, when I depart from them, I beg of You, appoint over them a leader who will bear each and every individual according to that individuals’ way of thinking…’”

Hashem created every person with a unique DNA. No two people have the same face or fingerprints. Rav Dovid Povarsky zt’l explained that the fact that each person is physically different is to symbolize that each person’s soul is unique, and therefore the way every person thinks and views the world is different as well.

Moshe implored Hashem to seek out a leader who could relate to the individual personalities and needs of each person, and yet to fuse them together and relate to them as a nation as well.

Our society is facing an insidious danger. It is the result of the proliferation of reliance on the web and social media that is rapidly deepening the divide in western society.

In the words of Rabbi Jonathon Sacks: “When we rely exclusively on smartphones, algorithms and filters, we find ourselves fed with the news we want to hear, interpreted in a way that confirms our prejudices. This fragments society into a series of sects of the like-minded, and as Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard has shown, when we associate exclusively with people who share our views, we become ever more extreme…

“The “selfie” culture is harming us… Hyper-individualism has had its day. We need a new code of shared responsibility for the common good.”

America was founded on the principles of democracy. For a democracy to flourish, dialogue is one of its most important components. That is the only way for every opinion to be heard and counted. When dialogue is stifled because of inability to understand or even listen to another perspective, the whole basis of democracy is in jeopardy.

The Jewish people’s strength lies in our ability to unite. It is incumbent upon us to forge and promote national unity. We need not agree – and in many instances we are permitted to not agree, such as when halacha is being violated – but we need to love! We are a nation composed of many views and strong opinions. Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for a leader who could unite all of those differences for the greater good.

The strength of a good marriage, of a kehillah, and ultimately of Klal Yisroel, lies in our ability to synergize our greatness, and respect the contribution of every one of our fellow Jews.


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