The Symphony of Tradition

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



The Symphony of Tradition

Summarized by Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon


"All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve of them; ...each according to his blessing he blessed them." (Bereishit 49:28)

Two factors combine to form a person's character. On the one hand, "All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve of them" - the individual must see himself as part of the community. On the other hand, "each according to his blessing he blessed them" - each individual has his own destiny, his own personality. There is no standard model that applies to everyone.

The Or Ha-Chayim explains that Yaakov blessed his children each according to his innermost spiritual characteristics. Early psychologists and the deterministic psychology that they expounded, following the French Revolution, held that we are all born equal - each like a blank page. Chazal never accepted this theory, and believed that each of us is born with his own personality and destiny. Modern psychology, too - le-havdil - agrees with this assessment.

A person needs to recognize what is special about himself and to develop himself accordingly. At the same time, he needs to remember that he is part of a society, and therefore if he is capable of several different things he should choose his direction based on the needs of society.

An orchestra is made up of violinists, pianists, a percussion section, etc. If all the musicians had chosen the same path for themselves and all ended up, for instance, in the strings section, the strength of the orchestra would be greatly diminished.

The same applies to learning. The Jewish world would not have been any the richer if the Radak had been another Rabbeinu Peretz. The Radak specialized in Tanakh, and his teachings are very valuable to Am Yisrael. It must be remembered, though, that the basis must always be retained - "all these are the tribes of Israel;" in our case - the tradition of Abbaye and Rabba. All the gedolei Yisrael, whether they specialized in Tanakh or in Philosophy, were great also in their study of Gemara.

It is only once a person has built his foundations that he can branch off onto the route for which he is destined.

(Originally delivered Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5753.

Translated by Kaeren Fish.)



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