In this week’s parshah, we are introduced to the father of the Jewish people, Avraham Avinu. Since he is our founder, we can derive many fundamentals of Judaism from his behavior.
The Torah says about him and Sarah, “V’es hanefesh asher asu b’Charan – And the souls that they made in Charan.” Rashi explains that “souls” refers to the men and women that Avraham and Sarah respectively brought under the wings of Hashem. Avraham and Sarah thus teach us that it’s important to m’zakeh harabim, to influence and improve other people.
The Gemara relates that when Elkanah traveled to Yerushalayim to fulfil the mitzvah of aliya l’regel, he would lodge on the road along the way. Passersby would ask him where he was going and he would reply, “To visit the Lord” and exuberantly encourage them to join him.
The Gemara reveals that it was in the merit of him encouraging others to ascend to Yerushalayim that Hashem blessed him with his great son Shmuel, who was equal to Moshe and Aharon. Again, we see how worthy and valuable it is to influence others.
There is a beautiful story of an elderly man who would walk every day along his city’s main thoroughfare carrying a large heavy Gemara to his Daf Yomi shiur. A good friend approached him one day and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while. I noticed you carry a heavy Gemara to shul every day. You’re getting on in years and, in the heat, it can’t be easy. Why don’t you just leave the Gemara in shul instead of lugging it around every day? If it’s because you need it at home as well, why don’t you get a second Gemara for the house or at least a smaller one to carry each day?
“Also, I noticed that you take such a long route to walk to shul. There are three different shortcuts from your house that will get you to shul faster. Why do you choose the main thoroughfare when it’s such a long and circuitous route?”
The old man smiled and replied, “Do you know how many people stop me and ask me about my Gemara? Do you known how many people notice me lugging around my big tome while walking on that street? Over the years, I’ve convinced many people to try out Daf Yomi with my advertising. That’s why I carry such a heavy Gemara and that’s why I don’t go by way of the back roads. I deliberately want to be very conspicuous.”
This man is an ambassador of Torah walking in the footsteps of Avraham and Elkanah.
But we can all mimic this behavior – in whatever we’re doing. When I start playing a game of doubles in tennis, I say to the foursome before hitting the first serve, “It’s a pleasure.” That kind of friendship is infectious and people learn to copy it.
When you walk out of shul on Shabbos and see your wife exiting from the women’s section and you say, “It’s so nice to see you, I’m so happy to walk home with you,” people take note and learn to do the same.
When you answer a thoughtful “Amen” with feeling, people notice and imitate you. When they see you walking over to the pushka at “Va’yevorech David” to put in a coin as is customary, they might be motivated to do so as well. And when they hear you go over to the chazzan and say, “What a nice davening that was! I appreciated the effort, and it really inspired me to daven better,” people will learn to take the time to give a compliment as well.
There is no end to the opportunities to m’zakeh es harabim. Let’s remember that doing so was the practice of our father Avraham, and let’s look for opportunities to model good behavior and make an impact on those we come across. It can be backing out of shul instead of turning our backs on the aron kodesh, it can be kissing the mezuzah (when Covid-19 finally departs), and it can be keeping our children sitting next to us in shul instead of letting them run all over the place.
Remember, we get credit for the actions of all those we influence by our example. In the merit of acting as Hashem’s ambassadors, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.