“And these are the generations of Yitzchak, son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak”
Once the Torah refers to “Yitzchak, son of Avraham,” isn’t it obvious that “Avraham begot Yitzchak”?
Rashi explains that the cynics of Avraham’s generation insinuated that Sarah had conceived from Avimelech, for she’d lived with her husband many years but became pregnant only after her abduction by Avimelech. Hashem, therefore, made Yitzchak resemble Avraham, proving that indeed “Avraham begot Yitzchak.”
Chazal (Bava Basra 165a) say that the majority of people sin with theft, and the minority with forbidden intimate relations, but everyone is guilty of some form of lashon hara.
Unfortunately, people make themselves feel better by speaking ill of others. Rather than truly building themselves up, they put others down. And they bring the whole community down with them. As Rabbi Yissocher Frand writes, cynicism leads to the belief that everything is worthless. It’s a slippery slope that plunges us into the abyss. One wisecrack, one raised eyebrow, can undo countless sincere efforts to do good. The cynic is immune to inspiration, and he seeks to make sure no one else is inspired either. (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Listen to Your Messages)
Rabbi Moshe Young notes that cynical parents do perhaps the greatest damage because they poison the next generation. Whenever someone comes to the door collecting charity, they snort. Their children then dismiss these solicitors as beggars, not as worthy representatives of important institutions raising funds for good causes. These kids learn to trivialize this type of tzedakah.
When parents ridicule those stricter than they are about kashrus, justifying their own laxity in such matters by dismissing their fellow Jews as extreme, their children will be even less conscientious in their observance.
When parents disparage scholars and teachers or ridicule the study of certain subjects, their children will show even more contempt for these figures and studies.
Cynicism is the essence of Amalek. Because Amalek mocks everything sacred and considers the truth as nothing, he too will end up as nothing: “his fate will be everlasting destruction” (Bamidbar 24:20). (Rabbi Moshe Young, Apples from the Tree)
To overcome cynicism, says Rabbi Frand, we must train ourselves to be positive instead of negative, to see good instead of bad. We have to raise our consciousness, squelching those almost involuntary little snide remarks that escape from our mouths.
As we come to see the world in a positive light, we’ll be immeasurably enriched both by our own happiness and by seeing our children blossom into the kindhearted and enthusiastic people we want them to be.
Question for Discussion
Cynicism is rampant in our generation, but we can undo its influence. What’s something you’re no longer cynical about? What changed?
I used to be cynical about charity collectors. I remember one man who still collects in Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s main marketplace. Skeptical about his needs, I never gave him. Eventually, I found out that he was incredibly righteous and honest and was collecting for two very poor families, not for himself. He even studies at a very high level in a very respectable yeshivah. Seeing how I’d misjudged him, and how cynical I’d been, has changed my perspective on collectors.
Max, studying in Ohr Somayach:
I used to be very cynical about various Chassidic groups, especially the Toldos Aharon sect. These Chassidim dressed strangely and were totally foreign to me. Then I attended a Toldos Aharon wedding, and everyone was incredibly friendly and interested in me. That turned me around. Now when I see them in the street, I view them as brothers.
Elkana of Manhattan, learning in a yeshivah in Jerusalem:
I used to think that reviewing my learning wasn’t important and would only slow my progress. But I now see that reviewing is much more important than covering new ground, because that’s how we remember what we’ve learned. In fact, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook said one shouldn’t begin a new chapter until he has reviewed the previous one at least ten times!
Seth, learning in Ohr Somayach:
I used to be very cynical about exercise. It bored me, and I was skeptical about its benefits. Then somebody bet I couldn’t run a ten-kilometer race. He lost the bet, but it was the worst race of my life. I felt terrible afterward.
Despite my cynicism, I decided to build up my endurance. Each time, I ran a little farther and faster. I ran a half-marathon, then kept pushing myself until I managed a full one.
From this experience, I learned that we can work harder and be better than we imagine. I’ve applied that lesson to my Torah studies as well, trying to exceed my expectations just as I did in racing. I think it’s an important message to apply throughout our lives.
By Rabbi Ari Wasserman