Special Souls

The following speech was given by my son Izzy (ישראל זרחיה) at the party we made to celebrate his becoming a bar mitzvah:

It says in this morning’s parashah [Toledos], “וַיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵרְאֹ֑ת – and it was when Yitzchak got old, and his eyes weakened so that he could not see…”

There is a famous medrash about how Yitzchak became blind. Bereishis Rabba on the Akeidah tells how the angels cried over what they thought was about to be Yitzchak’s death. As they looked down at the scene, some of the angels’ tears got into Yitzchak’s eyes, and this caused his blindness.

My great-great-grandfather, Rav Yisrael Avraham Abba Krieger, asked about this. The Akeidah was a long time before Yitzchak actually became blind. In fact, our pasuk says he didn’t lose his eyesight until he was old, when it would be almost normal. If their tears caused his blindness, why did they take so long to have an effect?

Second, our pasuk has an extra word. If it would have just said “his eyes weakened” we would know that he couldn’t see. What is added to the meaning by adding the word “מֵרְאֹת – from seeing”?

His answer in Divrai Yisrael is rather long, eleven pages. But here is one idea that my great-great-grandfather raises along the way.

Rashi repeats another medrash that gives a reason for Yitzchak’s blindness. Right before we are told about his becoming blind, the Torah mentions the heartache Yitchak has from his son Eisav. Against his father’s wishes, Eisav married local Canaanite girls, who worshipped idols. From the smoke of the incense and the tears of pain that idols were brought into his own home, Yitzchak was made blind. And that is why the blindness happened just now, at this point in his life.

But these midrashim don’t have to be arguing. It could be that it took both events for Yitzchak to lose his sight. It was because Yitzchak once saw into heaven and experienced the tears of the angels that he was unable to handle his daughter-in-laws’ idolatry. The gap was just too big. Hashem saved someone that holy from having to fully relate to idol worship in his own home, The pasuk therefore says that his eyes were weakened not just “from seeing”, but “מֵרְאֹת – to keep him from seeing.”

We can learn from today’s parashah that much of what we call “being handicapped” is actually Hashem protecting one of His more holy souls.

There is a famous story about the Chazon Ish. In the beis medrash that the Chazon Ish would often go to, one of the regulars at minyan was a man with Downs Syndrome. When the man entered, the Chazon Ish would stand, the way we do for a rabbi or another great person when they enter the room. One of his students asked why. The Chazon Ish explained that Hashem makes some souls too special to relate to this world, so they are kept from being fully in it. Hashem instead gives them challenges that the rest of us do not have to face.

In a way, their handicap serves like Yitzchak’s blindness.

This is one of the nicer things I’ve learned volunteering and being my school’s representative for Friendship Circle, and by having Shuby as my roommate. Even though they don’t understand as much about what’s going on around them as we do, or maybe because they don’t, they face the world and deal with the really basic problems we usually ignore.

We just had a small party for some of the children for Friendship Circle and Count Me In, so that I can celebrate my bar mitzvah with them too. I hope it helps me take with me gratitude for everything Hashem gave me, and an appreciation for all the little steps to holiness that we so often take for granted.

At this point I would like to thank…

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