Elster's World

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Lesson From Our Forefathers?

Chana had this post a week or so ago and it got me thinking.

Throughout Sefer Bireishis, each of the central figures of early Jewish history displays certain behavior, or patterns of behavior, which indicates major flaws in their personalities. While we have always been taught that the Avos, the forefathers, were extremely righteous people, consider the following:

Off the top of my head - Eve eats from the tree of knowledge after she and Adam are specifically warned off of it by Hashem himself. Eve then "tricks" Adam into doing the same. One of Adam's son's kills his brother.

Noah, after saving mankind from the flood, immediately gets himself drunk and passes out. At least one of his sons is punished for taking pleasure in his father's embarrassment.

Abraham lies to a king about his marital status. According to Medrashim, he also commits acts of destruction against his father's personal property and then lies about it. His son, Yitzchak, also lies to King Avimelech about his marital status. Yitzchak also completely missed the boat on his older son - thinking a killer worthy of his berachot. His wife, Rifka, spurs on her son to commit an act of treachery against her husband (his own father).

Yaakov uses his brother's appetites to blackmail him into selling Yaakov the right of first born. Yaakov, on his mother's advice, tricks his blind father into thinking he was his older brother, thus securing the aforementioned berachot.

Yaakov's beloved, Rachel, commits an act of deceit against him by giving her older sister Leah the passwords to their marriage bed, thereby tricking Yaakov into marrying her first. Rachel also steals her father's property and lies to him to keep the property hidden.

Leah is extremely jealous of her sister despite the fact that Rachel gave her the passwords earlier.

Yehuda sleeps with a prostitute. Reuven, according to at least one interpretation, sleeps with his father's wife. Yosef acts with great arrogance towards his older brothers. Levi and Shimon wipe out an entire city of people. The brothers as a whole plan to kill Yosef, instead simply kidnapping him and selling him into slavery.

All in all, Sefer Bireishis is loaded with some sordid tales of lies, deceit, prostitution, murder, debauchery, drunkenness and sexual misconduct. What makes this all so especially troubling - that these tales are recorded in the Torah regarding our forefathers - those people who we are taught all of our lives were the epitome of how we are all supposed to live and behave.

So the question I was pondering this weekend was - what is the lesson learned from this? And, humbly, I set forth this - perhaps the lesson is, that while are forefathers were indeed the epitome of how to live, they were also something else. They were human. And they made mistakes. And sometimes they let their emotions and their own weaknesses get the best of them, just like us regular people.

And maybe that's the lesson to be learned by us all fro their seeming misdeeds. The Torah contemplates that we are all human. While certainly it is incumbent on us all to live out our lives as best we can within whatever halachik framework we live in, we need to also understand that we, as humans, are going to make mistakes - that we are not going to be perfect all the time. And if we do err, we are able to, perhaps, look to the Avos and understand that just because we have fallen, perhaps all is not lost for us. Just like they erred, we can too. The key is to try and lift ourselves back up, just like they always tried to do.


  • I was thinking about this recently too. I wish I could comment more, but I think you've said it best. All I can really say is, "agreed". Nice blog.

    By Blogger Jessica, at 2:10 PM  

  • Thanks Jessica. I will catch your blog now that I know it exists.

    By Blogger Elster, at 3:55 PM  

  • wow good stuff...deep...something to think about

    By Blogger Open Up!, at 3:08 PM  

  • Thanks Open. I'm glad I made you think.

    By Blogger Elster, at 3:25 PM  

  • Can I now start sending AO to you for his DTs?

    By Anonymous DB, at 11:36 PM  

  • His DT's?

    By Blogger Elster, at 1:19 AM  

  • LOL OHHHHHHH. Um, I have about one insspiration every 2 years D. That may not do the trick.

    By Blogger Elster, at 1:20 AM  

  • completely agree. this is what i try to do with some of my poetry- humanize ppl of the bible. while i believe the torah is divine, i also think it is a brilliant piece of literary work, and there are deliberate holes in stories and details of focus that davka allow us to insert our own subjective understanding of the stories. the struggle i have is reconciling the stories of authors like anita diamont and milton steinberg with the traditional accounts of midrashim...

    By Blogger Lana, at 3:15 AM  

  • oh one more thing- one of my favorite verses from proverbs is "sheva yipol tzaddik vakam"- a righteous person falls 7 times and gets up. meaning that a tzaddik isnt someone who never sins/falls- its someone who falls and picks himself (or herself) up again

    By Blogger Lana, at 3:24 AM  

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