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The Shock Factor

By: Mrs. Dena Terebelo

In this week's parsha, Parshat Chaya Sara, we see vastly different reactions to the exact same scenario. While Avraham responded happily when he heard what was expected of him in Akeidat Yitzchak (going so far as saddling his own donkey, thereby showing his enthusiasm), Sara died from shock upon hearing the news. Their respective reactions were diametrically opposed; why the difference in response?

The answer given in Sichot Mussar (Rav Chaim Shmulevitz) is that Avraham was given time to process the information. He was made aware gradually, which enabled his mind, feelings, and emotions to adapt. We see this based on a Midrash which explains the command originally given by Hashem concerning the akeida. Hashem told Avraham: "kach nah es bincha", to which Avraham responded "which son?" "et yichidcha", replied Hashem. "From which marriage?" "Asher ahavta" "But I love both my sons?" "Et Yitzchak". 

The passuk begs the question: why didn't Hashem tell Avraham that Yitzchak would be the sacrifice from the very beginning? Why the necessity of this long-winded description? Rashi explains that the purpose of the dialogue was to give Avraham the opportunity to slowly absorb the message, so that he would not be suddenly shocked and lose his mind. We see from here that if Avraham hadn't been given time to gradually adapt, he too would not have been able to absorb the information that he was given. 

We find a similar idea later on in Parshat Vayigash, when we learn in the Midrash that Bnei Yisrael send Serach bat Asher to Yaakov in order to reveal to him that Yosef is still alive, in a gentle manner. They did this in order to gradually acclimate him to the wondrous information about Yosef. Here too, we find that it was necessary to impart crucial information in a gradual manner, lest the shocking information overwhelm him.

While sometimes it is the case that a "shock factor" can be helpful in jolting us back into reality, helping to re-align ourselves and set our priorities straight, more often growth is achieved through a slow and steady ascent. While this trait of humans to adapt and adjust gradually to their surroundings can be a positive thing, we must be aware that it can also serve as a detriment to us. Although we can be influenced slowly for positive change and sensitized to higher levels of learning about G-d, ourselves, and others, the same holds true for negative things, which can dull our senses and slowly lower our standards. We should be careful to insure that the people and ideas we surround ourselves with slowly and gradually influence us to be better, stronger, and more spiritual individuals.

Shabbat Shalom





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