By Rabbi Maury Grebenau
No matter how many times I go over a parsha I always see new questions which I don’t recall thinking of before. This week was no exception as I noticed an oddly placed phrase in a pasuk which seemed so familiar. It is contained in one of the climactic scenes of the parsha, the angels giving Avrohom and Sarah the long awaited prophecy of the child in their future.Immediately afterwards we are told that Avrohom and Sarah were advanced in age and that Sarah laughed when she heard the prophecy. The problem is two short words which are inserted between these events, “והוא אחריו”. We have two issues, one the meaning of these words which would seem to be translated along the lines of “and he after him” and secondly we would imagine that anything inserted at this climactic moment would have to be critical to be inserted at this juncture.
The Midrash (Berieshis Rabbah 48:16) offers two options to explain this phrase. The first is that it refers to Yishmael who situated himself as to avoid a possible yichud issue. The second, adopted by most rishonim, is that it refers to a thing, rather than a person. The meaning is that the tent opening where Sarah stood was behind the angel who was speaking. Either way, it seems anticlimactic to tell us this information right now. This bothered me and it also bothered Rav Meir Simcha M’Dvinsk, author of the Meshech Chochma. Rav Meir Simcha writes that we could explain that these two words were said by the angel, directed to Sarah. This was actually an integral part of the angel’s message. They were being told that the new child would go in the ways of Avrohom. As opposed to Yishmael and the bnei Ketura, Yitzchak would be Avrohom’s true heir and son. He (Yitzchak) will go after him (Avrohom).
This truly is the message that all parents want to hear, that their children will share their most cherished values and carry on in their path. Unfortunately we do not have an angel to guarantee this but I will present a toll for reaching this goal which is clearly shown from a story. I moved to an out of town community and met two young boys, ages 7 and 9. I was impressed with their desire to be involved in learning, chessed and davening in the community in a way which was very different than their peers. They always seemed eager to help, always looking for an opportunity to grow. I wondered what the parents had done to have such well mannered and wonderful children. When I got to know their father the answer became clear.
Here was a man who grew up entirely irreligious. He had slowly become more acquainted with Judaism as an adult and began to go to classes and learn individually with rabbis in his community. In his mid-forties he decided that he finally wanted to have a bar mitzvah. However, unlike most, he wasn’t satisfied with just getting an aliyah in shul. He spent two years learning how to lead davening and lein from the Torah. All the while finding the time to continue learning and attending classes. That Shabbos was amazing for all who watched this man and appreciated the time and effort he had put into preparing for that day. There is no question that his two sons who watched this process were very affected by it as well. There is a saying that if a person drops his son off at synagogue and goes to play golf, he is teaching his son to play golf. There is great truth in this, our children learn by the example we set, more than by the lessons we preach. These two boys watched as their father continually searched for opportunities to grow and develop in his spirituality and Judaism. Their passions were also ignited by his excitement to keep reaching for more. This is our best tool for achieving “V’hu Acharav”. If we can set the example of constantly striving to do better and more then we have the best chance of our children following after us.
Originally appears on YUTorah