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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayishlach

And his eleven children. (32:23)

Rashi notes that Dinah, Yaakov Avinu's daughter, is apparently not included in the count. Where was she when Yaakov presented his family to Eisav? Chazal say that Yaakov hid Dinah in a box, so that Eisav should not lay eyes on her. The Patriarch was punished for his actions. Dinah might have had a positive influence on Eisav, so Yaakov was punished by seeing his pure daughter defiled by Shechem, because he had deprived Eisav of a potential kindness. Chazal's words are compelling. Are we to expect Yaakov to place his daughter in a situation in which she might fall into the clutches of the man who redefined evil? Leah cried bitterly for quite some time, when she feared that she was destined to be joined in matrimony with Eisav. Yet, Yaakov is criticized, and even punished, because he did not make Dinah obvious to Eisav. Perhaps she could have saved him from iniquity. Where was Yaakov's sense of chesed, kindness, for his brother?

There are a number of explanations for Yaakov's attitude and the critique against him. Probably, the most well-known explanation is that of the Alter, zl, m'Kelm who said in Yiddish, Ehr hot gedreit de shlissel tzu shtark, "He twisted the key too tight" or "He closed the door too firmly." There are things in life which we are compelled to do. Closing the door on Dinah to prevent Eisav from seeing her is an example of one of those necessary actions we must take to uphold the sanctity of our home. We should do such things, however, with regret, with contrition, with conscience and with sensitivity towards another human being - albeit one who is wicked.

Horav Yeruchim Levovitz, zl, explains that this was the reason that the great Tanna, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the codifier of the Mishnah, a man who gave up his entire essence for Torah, suffered bitterly and painfully for thirteen years. It was all because of a young calf who, when he was about to be slaughtered, ran over to him seeking compassion. He said to the calf, "Go, for this was why you were created." Indeed, he was correct. The greatest tikkun, rectification, occurs when an animal is ritually slaughtered and is able to sustain a human being who will study Torah. He should have, however, commiserated with the calf; he should have demonstrated a bit more compassion.

There is no question that Yaakov could not permit his child to be exposed to Eisav ha'rasha, but he should have felt bad that he could not give his daughter to his brother in marriage. Yaakov had already made up his mind. All avenues toward reconciliation with his brother were sealed. It was a hopeless endeavor. While this was certainly true, it nonetheless should have hurt.

Horav Nossan Wachtfogel, zl, adds that there are times when we triumph over those who would undermine the integrity of Torah. Without any doubt, this is something for which we strive with all of our might. Yet, it should not stimulate joy within our camp when we best our alienated brethren. It should hurt us that circumstances have reached such a tragic juncture that brother is pitted against brother. Rav Wachtfogel relates that when the venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Kelm, Horav Daniel Moshowitz, zl, was asked to sign a letter of approbation for a group of secularists, he refused. Afterwards, he was saddened by the fact that circumstances had deteriorated so much that he could not perform a favor for another Jew.

Rav Nosson adds that Horav Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor, zl, the Rav of Kovno, was well-known for relentlessly waging battle against the secularists who undermined Torah authority. Yet, when compared to another member of the Kovno Bais Din, judicial system, who was similarly inclined, he was considered placid. Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, applied an analogy to differentiate between the two. A homeowner, whose home was inundated with mice, brought a large cat to rid his home of the little pests. Rav Chaim explained that while both the homeowner and the cat seek to eliminate the mouse problem, the homeowner simply wants to be rid of them, while the cat enjoys killing and eating them.

Two people can perform the same maneuver, but there can exist a very wide gap between their respective attitudes. Rav Yitzchak Elchonon was compelled to battle to uphold the sanctity of the Torah, but he received no joy in having to place sanctions against other Jews who, to his chagrin, had strayed from the path of Torah Judaism.

Perhaps we might be able to expand on the above. Sensitivity towards another Jew is a definitive character trait. We have just shown how important it is to maintain another Jew's dignity and to regret when one must constructively criticize his friend. This idea likewise applies throughout one's interrelationships with his fellow man. There are times when people come knocking at our door, seeking funds for a host of worthy causes. They come in all manners of demeanor. Most are legitimate; a small minority, regrettably, are not. To some, we give a sizable contribution; to others, it is much smaller. How often do we pause to talk to them, to inquire about their welfare, to show that we really care about them as people, as human beings, as Yidden? Or, do we simply dismiss them with a check, making them feel like they are disturbing us?

In 1952, Eretz Yisrael was undergoing great economic hardship. People had no jobs and no money. The yeshivos suffered, as rebbeim were not paid on time. Under these conditions, poor people went from door to door begging for alms just to eat. Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, the Michtav M'Eliyahu, was the Mashgiach in Ponevez, and many of the city's poor would knock on his door, hoping that the compassionate Mashgiach would give them a few coins. Rav Dessler gave whatever he could, but this was simply not enough. At one point, he also had no money in the house. How could he turn away a broken Jew? He would invite the man in for a glass of tea. He would sit down and talk to him, reassure him, make him feel good. If Rav Dessler could not provide money, he could at least infuse the man with hope.

He would make the poor man comfortable and draw him into conversation. Mostly, these people were Holocaust survivors who yearned for their destroyed homes. The Mashgiach would inquire about their origins. They would begin to talk about the various Torah scholars in the many communities from which these people hailed. Usually, the poor man would leave Rav Dessler's house comforted, in good cheer, feeling far more dignified than if he would have been given a few coins. Rav Dessler recognized the Divine component in every person and catered to it. The world would be a better place, and we would be happier people, if we would follow his example.

Yaakov was left alone. (32:25)

Rashi cites Chazal, who explain that Yaakov Avinuhad forgotten some pachim ketanim, small earthenware pitchers and returned to retrieve them. From the fact that the Patriarch returned for some small pitchers which could not have had any great value, Chazal derive that "to the righteous, their money is dearer to them than their bodies." They explain that a tzaddik's possessions have greater significance and value because their owners meticulously avoid any hint of dishonesty. Every cent they earn is done with consummate integrity. Money that is derived under such scrupulous standards has intrinsic spiritual value and meaning. Hence, Yaakov returned to fetch the small pitchers.

In the book, "Forever His Students," a collection of essays based upon the teachings of Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, the author, Rabbi Baruch Leff, renders a deeper explanation into the philosophy of possessions. Ownership of an item grants one control over that item. There is a certain sense of domination that one has when he acquires an object. Even if he never uses it, the mere fact that it is his to do with whatever he pleases, is sufficient to catalyze a feeling of power. Ownership is power; ownership is control; ownership is domination.

He explains that our obsession with possession and power reverts back to the early days of mankind. After being banished from Gan Eden, Chavah bore a son whom she named Kayin. This name represents possession, kanisi, "I have acquired a man with G-d" (Bereishis, 4:1). She emphasized her acquisition, her part in the creation of a human being. This declaration has great significance in the post - Gan Eden period. It is a name that Chavah wanted to engrave in her psyche as she named her child Kayin. Why?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that in Gan Eden, the concept of possessions did not apply. There was a boundless supply of everything. Nobody lacked anything. After being banished from this idyllic world, Chavah now realized that human beings will have to possess things in order to function in the world. Their possessions will identify who and what they are. She understood that in the new world, the drive for possessions will be obsessive. Thus, she wanted to set the tone for all possessions - it should be an acquisition with G-d. There has to be a higher purpose for ownership. The raison d'etre of possession should be of a sublime nature.

Yaakov Avinu took great pride in his possessions because they were all consecrated for a spiritual purpose. Nothing is to be wasted; nothing is to be discarded. It has spiritual as well as material value.

We can now posit a new dictum, "We are what we own." This means that what we possess, its purpose and use, defines us. Are we driven to amass more and greater materialistic possessions? Owning something that has no spiritual value, that in fact is spiritually harmful, makes a powerful negative statement about us. In contrast, possessions that increase our spirituality, that engender positive spiritual growth within our homes, speak well of us.

Therefore Bnei Yisrael are not to eat the sinew of weakness. (32:33)

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, translates nasheh as submission or lack of resistance. A nasheh is a creditor, which seems to have the underlying meaning of having given oneself - or something of one's own possession - into the power of another person. By tearing it, Yaakov Avinu's opponent had rendered the muscle of the hip attached to the bone powerless to control the leg. The loss of control which Yaakov sustained from his opponent left him, in this respect, powerless, or without resistance. The tendon was there, the muscle was there, the leg was there, but its use was hampered. This loss, however, was only temporary, since once again the word nasheh came into play. Yaakov was a creditor. He had a large account to settle with Eisav, who owed Yaakov a great debt, one that Yaakov's descendants shall never forget to settle. Exactly how and for what purpose we are to commemorate this debt is a separate issue upon which Rav Hirsch comments. For now, I would like to go off on a tangent and focus on another aspect of the word nasheh, one that Rav Hirsch also mentions.

The plural of the word ishah, woman, is nashim, a word which has nasheh as its root. This would imply that women are creditors, having given something of themselves over to another. The change of ishah in the singular, to nashim, in the plural, is explained by Rav Hirsch as defining the singular woman's relation to her counterpart, the man, as that of a wife to a husband. She is then an individual unit, not something given over to the power of another. She is a co-worker, a full partner, placed equally opposite the man to complement him. In the plural, however, in the public relation of the female gender, her rights are represented together with that of her husband. Only in public life do women appear as nashim, the creditors of men, who have given over their power to them.

Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, elaborated on this theme. One Erev Shabbos he remarked to his son, in regard to the work his wife was doing in preparation for Shabbos, "In the next world, the women will be our creditors. We will have to give them spiritual remuneration for all the strenuous physical work which they did in the home - and we will come up short!" The Rosh Yeshivah would often expound on the incredible debt of gratitude a man has to his wife. He would cite Chazal, who comment that all the songs in the Torah are kadosh, holy, and Shir HaShirim, Shlomo HaMelech's Song of Songs, is Kodesh Kedoshim, Holy of Holies. Rav Mendel explained that Shir HaShirim is an allegory based upon the relationship between a man and a woman. A woman achieves the status of holy of holies because her entire nature, her very essence, is to do for others. A woman submits her entire being, both physically and emotionally, for her husband and children. All she asks in return is a little recognition.

The Mirrer Mashgiach, Horav Yeruchim Levovitz, zl, would say that man is like someone who plants seeds: he does not expect his action to produce immediate fruit. He knows that, in time, he will eat the fruits of his labor. In this world, we do nothing more than plant the seeds. We eat the fruits in the next world. Iyov said, "Man is created for toil" (Iyov 5:7). He works, but does not see the fruits of his labor.

Women exemplify this form of toil. They are committed to a form of labor that seems menial, such as maintaining a home and childrearing, activities which do not produce immediate fruits. They understand that their toil will ultimately make the difference in the way their children will blossom, as well as in the sanctity and serenity of their home.

Rav Mendel Kaplan was the product of a different generation. He would make a point of teaching his talmidim, students, lessons that were integral to life. He would constantly reiterate that "a woman's whole life is her husband, and, therefore, one must indicate his appreciation for whatever his wife does for him." He would often cite the Rambam who says that a woman determines the value of her life commensurate with what she feels she is worth to her husband. "A wife is not a chavrusa, study partner!" Rav Mendel declared. "Thinking in such terms can create problems and strife. One must maintain that whatever his wife does is good and nice - period. One who repudiates his wife, diminishing her feeling of importance, has robbed her of her life!"

And he (Eisav) asked, "Who are these to you?" He (Yaakov) answered, "The children whom G-d has graciously given your servant." (33:5)

Children are a blessing from Hashem, a natural blessing - a gift which we often take for granted. We have gotten accustomed to a natural course of events whereby a young couple marry and are "expected" to, in the course of a short while, have children. Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, observes from Yaakov Avinu's words that one must always recognize that whatever he has, regardless of its natural genesis, is a gift from Hashem. When Yaakov is asked, "Whose children are those?" he does not simply reply, "They are mine." He says, "These are the children that Hashem has seen fit to give me." Yaakov is acutely aware that if he has children, it is by design and a special gift from Hashem. He adds that they are his by the grace of Hashem. It is a matnas chinam, free gift, which he does not deserve.

This is so different from today's prevalent attitude, reflected by people expecting Hashem's gifts because they feel they deserve them. Yaakov Avinu sets the standard by which we should live. This principle should apply to every endeavor: from having children; to earning a livelihood; to success in Torah study. It is all the result of Hashem's graciousness. The sooner we recognize and appreciate the Source, the quicker and more stable will be the result.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'tigmaleinu chasadim tovim. And bestow upon us beneficient kindness. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, explains that v'tigmaleinu is derived from the word, gemul, which means reparation/reward. Hashem bestows great kindness upon us as reward for our positive activities in serving Him. What makes this chesed especially tov, inherently good, is the fact that Hashem does not grant this kindness as a matnas chinam, free gift. It is instead a reimbursement for serving Him. In this manner, we are not subject to receiving nahama d'kesufa, bread of shame, an allegory for an undeserving gift, bread given to a poor man who has not earned it. No, Hashem bestows chassadim tovim by being gomeil, repaying us for what we deserve.

Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, zl, compares this to a wealthy man who went bankrupt and is now forced to go from door to door seeking alms. While this person is prepared to do what he must to sustain his family, he is overwhelmed with embarrassment. What does he do? He becomes a peddler selling trinkets in the market. He charges four times the going rate for his wares. The people accept this overcharge, knowing fully well that it is a form of charity which they are extending to the man. He no longer feels a sense of shame; he is in business. Hashem does the same for us, by allowing us to earn the kindness He bestows upon us.

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