The Torah has already stated (in last week’s Torah portion) that Rivkah was the daughter of Besuail, the sister of Lavan, and was from Padan Arom. What do we learn from this seemingly superfluous information?
Rashi asks this question and answers that the Torah is emphasizing the praises of Rivkah. She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person and lived in a community of evil people. Nevertheless, she did not learn from their behavior!
Many people try to excuse their faults by blaming others as the cause of their behavior. “It’s not my fault I have this bad trait, I learned it from my father and mother.” “I’m not to blame for this bad habit since all my brothers and sisters do it also.” “Everyone in my neighborhood does this or does not do that, so how could I be any different?” They use this as a rationalization for failing to make an effort to improve.
I’ve had the displeasure of reading two very vitriolic and venomous blog posts written by a single individual (with comments, some of which were equally virulent) this week (no, not in my “morning meditations,” fortunately). I have to remind myself that online attack dogs are often really victims in a real or perceived sense (even if you misinterpret what is going on around you as “victimizing,” the emotional distress is still the same).
In this week’s Torah portion, we see some rather disturbing behavior by Isaac, his wife Rebecca, their son Jacob, and particularly Esau. Esau thinks so little of his birthright that he sells it to the rather clever Jacob for the price of a meal (it’s unlikely Esau was literally starving on that occasion). Both Isaac and Rebecca play favorites among their children, though Rebecca has some “inside information” about Jacob from God to guide her reasoning. And his two apparent acts of deception force Jacob to abruptly leave home and seek out the relative safety of the ancestral home of Paddan-aram and the house of Beuthuel.
Isaac is the son of Abraham, who walked with God, and yet he and his family, who should have known better, would be called “dysfunctional” in our day and age. But what does the Dvar Torah say of Rebecca (Rivkah)? She was raised in an environment of evil and you would expect that she’d emulate her family, including her father Laban.
We see from Rivkah that regardless of the faulty behavior of those in your surrounding, you have the ability to be more elevated. Of course, it takes courage and a lot of effort to be different. The righteous person might be considered a nonconformist and even rebellious by those in his environment whose standard of values are below his level. However, a basic Torah principle is that we are responsible for our own actions. Pointing to others in your environment who are worse than you is not a valid justification for not behaving properly.
Here we see that pointing the finger at others, even if the others are “worse” than you (or you only believe them to be worse) is no excuse for what you do or fail to do. Yes, it takes courage to walk the moral high road, to show compassion rather than negativity, to offer friendship rather than rejection, but how often is this kind of courage displayed by those people in the Bible who were closest to God?
Although Sodom was unspeakably evil, Abraham pleaded with God to spare the city if it contained just ten righteous people (Genesis 18:16-33). After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was intent on destroying the Children of Israel and ready to start over by making a great nation of Moses, but Moses begged God to relent (Exodus 32:11-14). Even the Master, suffering on the cross, spoke no curses against those who were killing him but instead said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).
If you ever find yourself saying, “It’s not my fault I did this. It’s because of the way I was raised or because I learned it from so and so,” change your focus to, “I’ll make a special effort to improve in this area to overcome the tendency to follow in the footsteps of others.”
Blaming others for your faults and saying that you cannot do anything to change them will be a guarantee that they will remain with you. Make a list of the negative traits you picked up from your early environment. Develop a plan of action to improve in those areas!
Even if someone wrongs you, even if someone disappoints you, even if someone you trusted seems to have betrayed you, how you react to them tells the world more about you than any flaw another person may have or display (whether that flaw is real of just imagined by you).
There’s no excuse for playing the victim card in order to express hostility, maliciousness, malevolence, spitefulness, viciousness, vindictiveness, or any other harsh or savage behavior or speech (and “speech” includes what you post in the blogosphere, in discussion forums, and on websites).
As a disciple of the Master, you have a responsibility to represent him in this world. So do I. So do all of us. We can either exalt or denigrate his name by our behavior. Provocation is no excuse. Any sense of victimization by others (real or imagined) is no excuse. Rachel didn’t use that excuse. Abraham prayed for Sodom. Moses pleaded for the Children of Israel. Our Master asked that the Father forgive his executioners.
Look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What am I supposed to say and do?”
Be careful of the words you say. Keep them soft and sweet, because you never know, from day to day, which ones you’ll have to eat.