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The Critical Balance - Life's Challenge

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Many commentators and historians point out that the bible was written with an unparalleled level of objectivity. The faults of the greatest biblical figures are written bluntly for all to see. The bible writes that Moses and Aron did not merit to enter the land of Israel because “you (Moses and Aron) did not believe in me…” (Numbers 20:12) Their lack of belief was probably on a subtle level, nonetheless the bible boldly records it. Other ancient man-made documents simply lack this objectivity. The leaders were perfect and never erred. The objectivity of the bible demonstrates the truth of the biblical narrative.

The sages of the Midrash similarly analyze and criticize the behavior of biblical figures. Abraham is partially blamed for Yishmael straying into the world of idolatry. Our sages say that Abraham showed too much kindness and understanding towards Yishmael, and gave him too much freedom. He should have set more boundaries, discipline and consequences for Yishmael.

Similarly, our sages partially blame Isaac for the fact that Esau went on the path of evil. The verse states “And the youth grew up together…” (Geneses 25:27) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that Isaac gave both his children, Jacob and Esau, the same education. Both of them were brought up with strict discipline and were probably forced to sit down and study for hours on end. For Jacob this was a pleasure. Jacob was a studious and intellectual person who would have naturally spent his time in this way. Esau on the other hand was by nature a worldly person. He was full of energy and needed to spend more time in physical activity. Isaac’s strict disciplinary approach was a contributing factor in Esau’s rebellion and choice of a negative lifestyle.

Abraham’s core attribute was kindness. Isaac’s core attribute was strength. While both kindness and strength are virtuous qualities, too much of these attributes can have disastrous effects. Abraham’s inappropriate kindness towards Yishmael and Isaac’s inappropriate strength towards Esau both had tragic consequences. Our sages are teaching us that the art of life is to combine kindness and strength in the right proportions depending on the specific situation. This is the critical balance of life and indeed a life-long challenge. We pray that God helps us to balance kindness and strength in our lives. The correct balance leads us to our goal which our sages call tiferet, a beautiful and balanced life!