Learning from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
By Nachum Mohl
We sometime wonder what the best approach to life is. How can I live to my fullest? Not just me, but what about other people, are they fulfilling themselves? How can we fulfill ourselves?
It is interesting to note from the story of the three patriarchs of Judaism, the three men who were responsible for giving birth to the Jewish nation, just what did they do with their lives?
If we peek a bit into the life of Abraham, the first of the three patriarchs, we are told that Abraham at an early age discovered the existence of the Creator of the universe. According to legend, he was brought up in a house that believed in idolatry and that his father sold idols. Abraham at an early age realized that there was no divinity or power in idols and shortly thereafter discovered the true G-d, the G-d that all Jews and most of mankind accept as being the Divine Being.
After leaving his father's house and traveling to ancient Canaan (the fore runner to Israel) he began a lifetime of spreading the word of G-d to all he encountered. In all of his chance encounters with people he would explain to them the folly of idolatry and the truth in realizing that there is only one G-d, the G-d that was then referred to as the G-d of Abraham. He and his wife, Sarah, spent their lifetime educating the masses of people as to the essence and greatness of G-d. They went out of their way doing kindness only that people should come to the realization that there was only one G-d.
Isaac was their son. You would think that their son would follow in his parent's footsteps, but Isaac had his own direction in life. Instead of working to bring people closer to G-d basically by bringing the concepts of one G-d down to the simple level of people, Isaac worked to elevate himself. He was not concerned about other people's opinions neither of G-d nor of himself. His chosen path in life was basically to live a separate life, bringing himself up spiritually and to ignore the common people thwarted beliefs preferring to draw himself closer to G-d.
So what was the direction taken by his son, Jacob? Did Jacob choose the path of Abraham or that of Isaac? In reality Jacob chose a third path, the path of bringing the extremes together. He chose the path of balance; a balance between dealing with the world and one of serving G-d.
If we were to analyze the diverse life styles of the three patriarchs and evaluate their three lifestyles we would see that Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac went on to become a righteous man but Ishmael had difficulties in life although he tried to succeed and be righteous also he was not so successful. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau became a very hateful and wicked man, whose descendants have become the enemy of the Jewish nation whereas Jacob became the righteous man of his generation. Jacob had twelve sons. You might think that from twelve sons, six would go off the deep end and not be righteous but that is not the case. All twelve sons of Jacob were righteous and from them began the twelve tribes of Israel.
So let us ask the question: If the path of Jacob was so successful, why didn't Abraham and Isaac chose that path in life? The answer is that the question is not a question. Each person is born with his own personality and with those characteristics he must live his life. Each person must be true to himself first before he goes out into the world. Abraham's personality was such that he was a very outgoing and intellectually challenging person. Isaac was a inward seeking person who valued personal development over the challenges of convincing others.
Jacob also had his personality. His life was such that he had to work extremely hard in the world just to exist. He later became rich but he valued his family over all. He understood that all persons have their own personalities with their own different abilities and deficiencies. He was able to relate to all of his sons even though each one was different than the next. He knew the importance of balance in the world and to relate to each person required a special scale to balance the individual and his particular personality with the reality of the world. Because he accepted each person as a person to himself, he was very successful in the material world and in dealing with people.
We too have much to learn from this. Each person is an individual with his own definite personality patterns. We must learn first to realize who we are and what are our G-d given personality traits. Only once we know who we are and realize our specialness can we be true to ourselves whether in dealing with our own personal needs, or in dealing with others or even in approaching G-d. Just the opposite is true when we simply things by relating to every person as if every one is the same. In doing such we do not recognize the special qualities that each person possesses. By simplifying situations and people, we put ourselves at a disadvantage.
Life means being with people and dealing with challenges. To deal with the challenges and people in these situations we must be able to realize who we are and that not all answers that work for others will work for us. We must realize that other people have their personalities with their specific and individual needs and we can not deal with them and the connected problems on a simplified basis rather we must take each individual person's specialness into account.
This applies not only to people and situations but also applies to choosing a mode of serving G-d. Just because one person's or (worse) many people follow one mode of worship, does not mean that we must follow it exactly. The Torah was given to all Jews to enable us to draw close to G-d. It must be followed as it is suitable for all divergent personalities. However individual leeway is given within the context of the Torah.
Success in life is dependent on knowing yourself just as success in drawing close to G-d is dependent on a true recognition of our own personal merits and lackings.
from the January 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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