Toldos: Conform and Rebel!
Rabbi Yonah Burr
ויהי יצחק בן ארבעים שנה בקחתו את רבקה בת בתואל הארמי מפדן ארם אחות לבן הארמי לו לאשה: ויעתר יצחק לד' לנכח אשתו כי עקרה הוא ויעתר לו ד' ותהר רבקה אשתו
Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivka- the daughter of Besual the Aramean from Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean- for himself as a wife; and Yitzchok davened to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem listened to him, and Rivka his wife conceived.
Rashi questions the posuk: Do we not already know that Rivka is the daughter of Besual and the sister of Lavan? It is to teach us that although she was raised by a wicked family, in a wicked hometown, she did not learn from their ways and grew up to be righteous.
Rashi is telling us that Rivka’s righteousness was not to be taken for granted. She had no one to learn from -- on the contrary -- she was only surrounded by negative influences. But, she still had the strength of character to rise above it all and become the great matriarch of the Jewish People.
One who finds the right path on their own is clearly deserving of tremendous praise. Without the benefit of a righteous upbringing, this person has demonstrated the commitment and effort necessary to become truly great. This person surely serves as a role model for the rest of us, showing how much we can accomplish and how we can reach our own potential. By contrast, someone with a religious upbringing didn’t have those challenges. They haven’t demonstrated that their Avodas Hashem is truly their own. They might have ‘coasted’ and complacently arrived at where they are today. It was "easy" for them and perhaps more credit is due to their parents than to themselves.
However, in the very next posuk, "And Hashem listened to him", Rashi seems to say the opposite. Although both Rivka and Yitzchok were davening, he explains, Hashem listened to Yitzchok because he was both righteous and the son of righteous parents. While Rivka was certainly righteous, she was from wicked parents. Growing up in a Torah environment affords an experiential and deeply-rooted relationship with a Torah life and role-models who personify that lifestyle.
Who is more praiseworthy? According to Rav Dessler, it can be both.
There are unique individuals who -- in "spite" of their yichus and religious background -- clearly have risen to greatness on their own. These special people have carved out their own paths, applied themselves well, and expended their own efforts. Such people have the best of both worlds: Their foundations are built upon great role models, and they also wear the supreme lapel of choice, sacrifice and personal commitment!
We all experience periods of both. At times, we struggle and strive. At others, we coast and rest on past accomplishments. With this in mind, let us try our best to take ownership of our Avodas Hashem to truly be, always, at our very best!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!