TOLDOS (Genesis, 25:19-28:9) — “An ‘FFB’ Marries a ‘BT'”

(Every generation creates its own lexicon of relevant terms and phrases. Events of recent years have added a few new terms to the Jewish vocabulary. At a rate that is perhaps unparalleled in Jewish history, we are seeing non-observant Jews returning to their roots. There are special Yeshivas that are designed to assist “late starters” in reaching their goals for Jewish scholarship. This concept is often referred to as the “Baal Teshuva Movement.” A Baal Teshuva, now commonly known as a “BT,” a “returnee,” is a person from a nonreligious background who has chosen to become religious. So, if we have now given a special designation to those religious people who weren’t always religious, what do we call everyone else? That need has been now met with another new expression — the “FFB” — Frum [“religious” in Yiddish] From Birth!)  

They were an unusual couple. Their backgrounds could not have been more different. She was a “BT.” He was an “FFB.”

His father was a respected scholar. Her father was known to his neighbors as a degenerate. He had attended the finest Yeshiva. She was self-taught. In his youth, he had been insulated from the evils of the outside world. She had lived in the outside world.

His family welcomed her. Her family wasn’t thrilled about the marriage. She had told them that she was marrying him whether they liked it or not.

Could this marriage work?

She had one thing going for her. She had decided to be Frum, no matter what. She had made the uncompromising decision to live as a religious Jew.

Her name was Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel. He was Isaac, son of Abraham.

The young couple began their life’s journey, looking forward to building a Torah home. They wanted to raise children who would follow the teachings of Abraham and Sarah. There was one problem. Rebecca was barren; there were no children for them to mold into Torah personalities.

They prayed to G-d for a child. Isaac and Rebecca stood in their tent and begged G-d to give them the opportunity to build a family. He prayed for a child. She prayed for a child. G-d accepted the prayers of one of them, and allowed Rebecca to conceive.

Whose prayers did He accept, his or hers? The BT or the FFB? Did G-d listen to the prayers of the Tzaddik ben Tzaddik, the righteous child of a righteous parent? Or did He pay closer attention to the Tzaddik ben Rasha, the righteous child of a wicked person? Who had worked harder to achieve spiritual greatness?  Isaac, who had been born and raised on Kosher food and Kosher values?  Or Rebecca, who had pulled herself away from the decadent values of her family and had embraced a Torah lifestyle?  Who was more deserving of a Heavenly response to their prayers?

You may be surprised by the answer: . . . and G-d answered him, and his wife Rebecca conceived. (Genesis, 25:21) 

The Talmud (Yevamos, 64a) explains that the prayers of a Tzaddik ben Tzaddik, the righteous child of a righteous parent, carry more weight than those of a Tzaddik ben Rasha, the righteous child of a wicked person. Just the opposite of what one might have thought.

Why should that be? Doesn’t G-d reward according to effort? Shouldn’t Rebecca get more credit than Isaac? Isaac grew up in a Torah home; he knew what was expected of him. It was easy for him to be religious. Rebecca, on the other hand, had to struggle to release herself from the bonds of negative influence. Hadn’t she worked much harder to achieve her goals?

The answer is that being a Tzaddik ben Tzaddik is not as easy as it seems.

I used to attend services in a Yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva. I met fellows who, at the age of twenty-five, decided that spending Friday nights in the bar was not giving meaning to their lives. They have walked away from their old lives and have immersed themselves into Torah study. And they do it with a thirst for knowledge. Every new Halachah (law), every new Torah concept, is a new and exciting revelation. Every blessing and prayer in broken Hebrew is an uplifting spiritual experience. It is stimulating and it is exhilarating. It is new!!

Contrast this with the student who has been in Yeshiva all his life. He knows about all the complex rules of Shabbos and Kosher laws. He can tell you what blessing to say when you eat ice cream and when you hear thunder. He knows how to check the house for Chometz before Passover and whether his family custom is to wear Tefillin on Chol Hamoed. He knows all the prayers by heart and can recite the Grace after Meals while driving around a traffic jam. For those who have been raised in the religious community, religious observance can sometimes become rote.

Isaac’s greatness as a Tzaddik ben Tzaddik was not because he already knew it all. His greatness is that he was able to be a Tzaddik IN SPITE OF THE FACT that he already knew it all! He was able to serve G-d with the eager excitement of a newcomer to Judaism.

Every evening and morning we read the words of the Shema: Let these words that I command you today be on your hearts. (Deuteronomy, 6:6) The Sifri interprets the word “today” as indicting that “every day you should view these words as new.”

Every Mitzvah that we do should uplift us. Every prayer we complete should transform us into a more spiritual person than we were before we began. Every favor we do, every dollar we give to charity, should make us into better people.

Imagine our People standing at Mt. Sinai. They had just received a brand new list of commandments. It was so different; it was so unique. That is how we are supposed to view the Torah every day of our lives. It is not an easy thing to do. That is why Isaac is praised for having been able to do it.

Regardless of whether we are BT’s, FFB’s, or Soon-to-B’s, we should constantly strive to look at Torah and life as a daily opportunity to do something new and special. Do you remember the first time you realized that you love your wife/husband? Do you remember when your child was born? Do you remember when you walked away from that fender-bender that could have been a tragedy? How about the first day on your new job? How about the first day of your diet?!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Savor it. Value it. Enjoy it. Make it count.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“The So-Called ‘Rabbi’” 

I don’t look down on people who don’t share Torah Judaism’s view of our obligations to G-d.  I try very hard not to put down Jews who believe differently than I.  I believe, quite simply, that in most cases, they have not had the opportunity to learn and to come to understand what Torah is really all about.

But one thing that really bugs me is when people misrepresent Torah Judaism.

Perhaps you read about the travesty that took place in  Washington,  DC last week.

Read More.

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“Something Smells Rotten in the State of Beersheba” (2009)

… The blessing of a holy man like Isaac carries a great deal of weight… Esau no longer possessed the legal status of the firstborn.  He was not entitled to Isaac’s blessing.

 … Rebecca set out to save Isaac’s blessing for Jacob … She placed goat hides on smooth-skinned Jacob so he would feel like his hairy brother if Isaac touched him.  She dressed him in Esau’s special garment, which had once belonged to Adam.

 The ruse went well…

 when he realized that he had blessed the “wrong” son, he saw Gehinnom (loose and largely inaccurate translation: “hell”) open up under Esau…

Read more.

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“Like Father, Like Son” (2008)

…  Abraham had been married to Sarah for decades without children.  Then she was abducted for a short time by Abimelech, the Philistine king.  A short time later, Sarah was pregnant.  It didn’t take much for the “Yentahs” in the neighborhood to start spreading nasty rumors as to the paternity of Isaac.

In order to stop the rumors…

Read more.

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“Closed Eyes and Closed Mouths” (2006) 

Abraham had a total of eight sons.  However, most of them did not represent the future of Israel.  Abraham passed his legacy on to his second son Isaac …

Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob.  Who would be the standard bearer of the descendents of Isaac?

Esau was perhaps the greatest con man who ever lived.  He managed to pull the wool over the eyes of his father Isaac … his mother, however, was not impressed…

Read more.

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“Red Beans and Redskins” (2003) 

… In my 20+ years as a rabbi, I have learned that there are certain “safe” topics. (E.g., loving your fellow man and giving charity) Some topics are more “iffy,” (Sabbath observance and Kashruth) while others are downright volatile (intermarriage and “terminating” pre-born children). Many listeners and readers want a rabbi to inspire and uplift them, but only as long as he minds his own #$%&*#@*! business.

… there have been times that I’ve managed to get lots of people upset with me. Today’s topic fits into that category. So, I hope you’ll read this with an open mind. If you agree, that’s great. If you disagree, there’s always next week! 🙂 …

Read more.

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“An ‘FFB’ Marries a ‘BT’” (2002)

… They were an unusual couple…

His father was a respected scholar. Her father was known to his neighbors as a degenerate. He had attended the finest Yeshiva. She was self-taught. In his youth, he had been insulated from the evils of the outside world. She had lived in the outside world.

His family welcomed her. Her family wasn’t thrilled about the marriage. She had told them that she was marrying him whether they liked it or not.

Could this marriage work?…

Read more.

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“Walking the Talk” (2001)

In an unprecedented act of “Divinely endorsed deception,” Jacob embarks upon a mission to fool his father. Jacob is an honest and gentle man, while his brother Esau is a rogue and a fraud. Esau has managed to fool his blind father Isaac into thinking that he is worthy of receiving his blessing…

Rebecca understands the true nature of her wicked son Esau. She has been given the prophetic message that this miscarriage of justice cannot be permitted to take place. She places goatskin on Jacob’s smooth-skinned arms so that he will feel like his hairy brother Esau. She assures him that under these unusual circumstances, it is permitted to mislead his father into thinking that he is Esau…

Still, Jacob was uncomfortable with the ruse. He understood that this was necessary. His mother was a prophetess, and she said that this had to be done… Yet, pretending to be someone he wasn’t didn’t sit well with Jacob…

Read more.

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“Double Trouble” (2000) 

…One Mitzvah that was very important even to a scoundrel like Esau was honoring his father; he would never do anything to hurt Isaac. He would wait patiently for his father’s death before murdering his brother. But why did he say, “The days of mourning for my father are coming”? Why didn’t he just say, “When my father dies, I’ll kill Jacob?” Why the emphasis on mourning?…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 7, 2002 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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