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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS VAYISHLACH

"Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." (32:12)

We know that Eisav is the brother of Yaakov Avinu. Why, then, does the Patriarch emphasize his name and his relationship to Yaakov? Rashi explains that although Eisav was Yaakov's brother, he certainly did not treat him as such. In other words, Yaakov was underscoring the rift that existed between the two siblings. The Zohar HaKadosh derives from here that when one prays, he must be very explicit, articulating the name and his relationship to the petitioner, so that there can be no question concerning about whom he is praying. These two explanations notwithstanding, the Torah could have simply written: "Rescue me from my brother, Eisav." Why does it split the two: Rescue me from "my brother" - "from Eisav"?

The Bais HaLevi explains that Yaakov feared two distinct threats: the clear and defined threat of Eisav, the wicked, who was bent on destroying him physically, and the "loving" brother, who would surreptitiously destroy his spiritual dimension. Yes, Eisav as a brother could be very dangerous, in many ways creating greater danger than the physical pogrom. Yaakov had greater fear of sharing a Shabbos meal with Eisav than of battling with him in war. He, therefore, articulated both of his concerns distinctly.

Yaakov's concern was realized when, soon after they met, Eisav suggested that they travel together. The Patriarch gave all kinds of excuses for demurring. He was not spending any time in the company of his brother; it would have a deleterious effect on his family; Eisav's "love" for Yaakov was more dangerous than a sharp sword. Surprisingly, Yaakov did not manifest a similar attitude when his father-in-law, Lavan, caught up with him. Then, they sat together and broke bread, and Lavan even spent the night. Was Lavan any less evil than Eisav?

Horav Yerachmiel Krohm, Shlita, explains that the difference lay in the appearances, or, as we might assert, how each one presented himself. Lavan was not putting on a show. He dressed the part, presenting himself as an assimilated, secular person who was into contemporary pagan society. He painted himself as one who respected Yaakov, his family and the way of life that they had chosen for themselves. He, nonetheless, did not personally ascribe to it. He and Yaakov were clearly different - something which Yaakov's impressionable children were able to perceive. Eisav, however, dressed as Yaakov, and - except for certain "subtle," carefully maneuvered deviations - "talked the talk and walked the walk." He portrayed himself to his brother as one of "us," suggesting the two brothers were one and the same. True, Eisav had made "slight" adjustments and improvements to meet the perceived "challenges" of contemporary society's new moral sensitivities, but there must be room for Jewish law to "evolve" with the times. Eisav was dangerous, because he presented a challenge which, for the most part, to the unerudite and unprepared eye, defied detection. No, Yaakov could not tarry for a minute with Eisav. His menace was much more hazardous.

This concept is ratified by the Chafetz Chaim, zl. He cites the famous exhortation of Eliyahu HaNavi to the Jewish People who had been supporting the neviai ha'baal, false pagan prophets: "How long will you dance between two opinions? If Hashem is the G-d, go after Him! And if the baal, go after it!" Make up your mind. Decide whom you want to serve - either Hashem or the pagan idol. You cannot have it both ways. The Chafetz Chaim asked, "Why? What is wrong with a dual allegiance - tradition and modernity; old world convention with contemporary morals; religion and spirituality with a "dab" of secular materialism? After all, why not lead a "balanced" life? Is it better to be a complete believer in the pagan idol?

Yes! One who is playing both sides of the field is in a far worse situation than he who is totally subversive and adherent to the baal. One who is unabashedly off the derech, path, who is totally estranged from the traditional observance knows what he is, where he is and what lies in store in the future for him and his family. He knows that he has nothing, and he apparently does not care. The one who is poseiach al shtei ha'seifim, "dances between two opinions," erroneously and foolishly thinks that he is still connected to the Torah camp, that he has not relinquished his relationship with Hashem, that he is still an observant Jew, but with "modifications." The reason that he must be repudiated is because unknowing, trusting souls who look at the superficial and have difficulty seeing beyond themselves are susceptible and will be negatively influenced by his hypocritical behavior. These might be strong words, but when one plays with spiritual lives, there is no room for error.

A dispute arose between two of the great third generation Admorim, chasidic leaders. It occurred during Napoleon's war with the armies of the Russian Czar. The issue: For whom should they pray to succeed - Czar Nikolai or Napoleon Bonaparte? The Czar was a violent despot who persecuted his citizens, with the Jews suffering more than others. Napoleon was known to be a liberal who promoted emancipation and the rights of the people. While this was wonderful for a democratic country, equality for the Jews could create an environment which would encourage assimilation. This dispute revolved around the two approaches of Eisav - as Eisav himself or as a brother. Over the last few hundred years, we have experienced the tragic consequences of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment during which the brotherly love exhibited by the secular world served as an open invitation for so many of our brethren to join. Regrettably, they did, and the results have been disastrous. The Czar might have destroyed us physically, but we would have at least died as Jews.

And he (Yaakov) said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (32:27)

Yaakov Avinu and the angel representing Eisav contended throughout the night. Our Patriarch bested the angel, and the angel was ready to return to Heaven. Apparently, it was his turn to sing Hashem's praises as part of the Heavenly chorus. Yaakov was not prepared to let the angel leave. He wanted a blessing - but not just any blessing. As Rashi explains, Yaakov wanted an acknowledgment that he - not Eisav - was entitled to the blessing of Yitzchak Avinu. We wonder why Yaakov found it necessary to demand Eisav's angel's approbation concerning the blessings. Once Yitzchak Avinu gave his blessing to Yaakov, it should have sufficed to allay any anxiety he harbored regarding the blessings. Yitzchak was a Navi, prophet. What more did he need? Should Yaakov have been bothered by Eisav's discontent? If he was the rightful owner, then who really cared what Eisav thought?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, derives from here that if somebody has a taaneh, claim, concerning something that one has; if there is a dispute regarding something in one's possession - even if it is erroneous - it impedes one's ability to maintain a sense of achievement, to experience a feeling of entitlement. If Eisav was complaining, then Yaakov had not prevailed. This is why the Patriarch could not rest assured until his rightful ownership to the blessings was acknowledged and confirmed.

The Midrash teaches us that when Yaakov received the blessings from his father, Eisav gave forth a loud cry, Vayitzaak tzeakah gedolah u'maarah ad meod, "He (Eisav) cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry" (Bereishis 27:34). Eisav was "reimbursed" for his anguish when Mordechai, upon hearing the news of Achashveirosh's decree, also gave forth an exceedingly great and bitter cry. The Midrash adds that Eisav allowed three teardrops to descend from his eyes: one from the right eye; one from the left eye; and the third one remained in his eye. These three tears have catalyzed oceans of tears to fall from the Jewish People's eyes. Why? Because when you cause someone to cry - even if it is not your fault- and it was not intentional - you are held accountable for causing pain to another person.

The hallmark of a Torah leader is not only his encyclopedic knowledge, but also his immaculate character traits. The care that some took in order not to cause any ill feelings inadvertently to any Jew, regardless of his position, background, or religious affiliation, is legend. I take the liberty of citing two vignettes. The great Gaon, Rav Akiva Eiger, zl, possessed an unprecedented knowledge of Torah. As great as he was, his humility overshadowed his brilliance. In the area of anivus, humility, he was without peer. His distinguished son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, said the following about him: "When the Torah writes that Moshe Rabbeinu was anav mikol adam asher al pnei ha'adamah, 'the most humble person on the face of the earth,' we really do not know what that means. How are we truly able to estimate Moshe's anivus? Nonetheless, if we gaze at my father-in-law, Rav Akiva Eiger, and delve into his middah, attribute, of humility, we will have some idea of the Torah's perspective on anavah. Only then, can we begin to fathom Moshe's true distinction concerning this character trait."

The following story substantiates R'Akiva Eiger's incredible humility and demonstrates the lengths to which he would go in order not to aggrieve another person. Even as a youth, R'Akiva Eiger's fame spread throughout Europe. Prospective matches were proffered to his family from the most distinguished European families. One such individual, who was quite interested in having the young genius for a son-in-law, sent two talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars of the highest caliber, who were counted among the elite of the city of Lissa. They were dispatched to spend time with the young man and test him thoroughly to see if he was really as "good" as everyone claimed. During the "test," R' Akiva Eiger's uncle, Rav Wolf, stood by the side listening. He was shocked to see his nephew remain silent for the questions. It appeared that he was unable to answer the questions posed by these two scholars. After a while, the two rabbonim gave up. There must be some mistake. This boy was certainly not qualified to bear the title of Gaon. He knew nothing.

With this in mind, the two scholars left clearly upset that they had wasted their time. Rav Wolf could not understand his nephew's behavior. It was not like him to be unable to answer a question. "Why did you not answer their questions?" he asked his gifted nephew. "Forgive me, but if I would have answered their questions they would have felt bad that they had erred. The first one asked me a question which happens to be an explicit Tosfos. The other one obviously was unaware of a discussion in the Talmud concerning the exact topic that he asked me about. I did not want to make them feel bad, so I remained quiet. Better they should think that I am unerudite, and cancel the shidduch, matrimonial match, than I should in any way cause them to feel bad."

The second story concerns the Chazon Ish, zl. He once was about to leave home, but was delayed by a number of petitioners, each one with his own personal tale of woe, hoping for the sage's listening ear, and, of course, a blessing that would make things right. Finally, the last one had left, and the Chazon Ish could leave for his very important meeting. He asked the driver to pull out very slowly, not in any way indicating that he was in a hurry. The people that had poured out their hearts to him should not think that he was in a rush, and that his meeting had taken precedence over their concerns. They had to know that the Chazon Ish experienced each individual's personal pain as his own.

And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had born to Yaakov, went out to see the girls of the land. (34:1)

Two distinct guidelines are presented in the parsha concerning how to deal with the outside world. In the first instance, we see Yaakov confronting Eisav - Jew living separately from the non-Jew - but, at certain times, it is necessary to come in contact, to relate to them. In the second situation, the Jew is living together with the non-Jew and must now raise his children in a society whose moral and ethical culture is different from that of the Torah. Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov Avinu, grew up under such circumstances. Surrounded by a house full of brothers, she had a natural desire to see and experience what the outside world had to offer. Regrettably, her experience was tragic, leaving her tainted for life. If it could happen to Yaakov's daughter, what should we say? How much more careful should we be with our children today?

Commonality has been a disease that has plagued the Jewish community since its inception. Avraham Avinu lived with it when he raised Yitzchak, the person who would succeed him as the next Patriarch. To paraphrase Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, "Our children must be given total, unequivocal protection. When we play games trying to satisfy their craving for a 'normal' social life, we take a great chance of losing them altogether to outside influences." Rav Belsky cites a powerful interpretation from Horav Shimon Schwab, zl. The Torah in Devarim 8:5 says: "And you shall know with your heart that as a man afflicts his son, Hashem, your G-d, afflicts you." Chazal teach us that this pasuk refers to Avraham who tormented his son, Yitzchak. In what way did Avraham, the amud ha'chesed, pillar of loving kindness, afflict his son - and why would he do such a thing? It was totally uncharacteristic of him.

Rav Schwab explains that one must first take into consideration the circumstances surrounding Yitzchak's upbringing. He was raised to be entirely different from everyone else. Thus, Avraham had to deny his son from having any contact with members of the prevalent culture in which they lived. The second Patriarch presumably grew up with no friends or neighbors with whom he could have social contact. Avraham was called the Ivri, "one from the other side," because the entire world was on one side, while he was on the other side. Veritably, it must have been a lonely existence, but Yitzchak received something that our children might find today to be at a premium: an abundance of powerful love from his parents to offset the pain of loneliness.

Rav Belsky notes that this was the case in many observant families growing up in America during the early part of the twentieth century. In many cities across America, the Jewish community consisted of no more than a handful of Jews. They lived alone within a sea of secular culture that could have easily drowned them had they attempted to swim in its current. These people "afflicted" their children, denying them the friends, parties and sleepovers that were a part of the social fabric of society. They went to public school, but that is where their social contact ended. The restrictions were definitely severe, but, as a result of these constraints - coupled with the unwavering love, understanding, devotion and care which they received - their grandchildren today are the pillars of Torah communities throughout the world. Rav Belsky adds that if a child's life becomes an endless array of harsh prohibitions, he may well become resentful, but if he experiences genuine love and sensitivity, then this approach will surely succeed.

The guile used by those who would subvert us from the Torah way of life changes with the times. The goal, however, remains the same: present filth and depravity in the most beautiful manner, making it appear appealing and even proper. Shechem and Chamor presented moral pollution though a fa?ade of acceptability and appropriateness. Shimon and Levi saw through the ruse, refusing to compromise on the Torah principles that they prioritized in their lives. We, too, must not only reject that which we know is wrong, but go so far as ensuring that the threat to our spiritual existence is totally expunged. This was the rationale of Shimon and Levi. They feared that one day in the future, the threat of assimilation would once again rear its ugly head. They prevented this danger from being realized.

You have discomposed me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land. (34:30)

Shimon and Levi were both involved in taking revenge against the city of Shechem. Yet, when Yosef had to incarcerate one of the brothers, he chose Shimon. Apparently, he was the one who might have instigated a revolt against him. Why not Levi? When we look down the road to the future we see that Zimri ben Salu, a descendant of Shimon, would be the individual who would lead a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. On the other hand, when the sin of the Golden Calf was perpetrated, we do not find that any of Levi's descendants were involved. On the contrary, they were the ones who took to the sword in support of Moshe.

An analysis of the reactions of Shimon and Levi to the violation of Dinah, could view the scenario from two perspectives: a sin was committed; and a disgrace against the house of Yaakov was carried out. One is personal; the other is national. There is also a feeling that Hashem's Name was besmirched. Horav Michael Peretz, Shlita, feels that Shimon and Levi understood the violation of Dinah from two distinct perspectives, and each had different attitudes toward the outrage. Shimon cared about the family, and the shame they would suffer. Levi was concerned about the actual sin. A Jewish girl had been defiled by a pagan. This is a terrible sin. It impugns the spiritual integrity of the Jewish People.

Rav Peretz asserts that their separate attitudes can be traced back to their births and the names that their mother, Leah, had given each of them. The names defined them and catalyzed distinct characteristics in them. When Leah gave birth to Shimon, she declared, "Because Hashem has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also, and she called him name Shimon," (Bereishis 29:33) which is a derivative of shema, to hear. Shimon represented Leah's response to what she believed was a negative situation in her life. Thus, Shimon's entrance into this would be from what one might view as a negative viewpoint. Levi, however, was named on a more positive note. "This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons," there He called him Levi (ibid.29:34). Concerning Shimon, Leah emphasized the negative, while regarding Levi, she underscored the positive.

Underscoring negativity can result in a child having a hidden agenda which germinates over time, producing the likes of Zimri. Emphasizing the positive, albeit in a negative situation, since Leah does not seem to have been more "loved," can result in descendants of the caliber of Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen, and Miriam HaNeviah. I think the choice is clear.

You have discomposed me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the landů I am few in number. (34:30)

Rashi explains that Shimon and Levi's actions had disturbed the presence of mind of Yaakov Avinu placing him in a potentially dangerous and vulnerable position vis-?-vis the Canaanite cities surrounding him. The calm that had until now prevailed in Yaakov's home had been disrupted. What is the meaning of l'havisheini b'yosheiv ha'aretz, "making me odious among the inhabitants of the land"? Why would Shimon and Levi's actions against Shechem have such a deleterious effect on Yaakov's reputation? It is not as if the surrounding people were cultured and civilized. Furthermore, why is Yaakov concerned about his family being limited in number? Clearly, their strength had nothing to do with their numbers, as we see the devastation wrought by Shimon and Levi, who were but two young boys. What did our Patriarch fear? Last, in Yaakov's blessings prior to his demise, he rebuked Shimon and Levi saying, Klei chamas m'cheiroseiham, "Their weaponry is a stolen craft" (Bereishis 49:5). Rashi explains that Shimon and Levi's preoccupation with the weaponry of violence was a trait borrowed from Eisav. It was Eisav who was supposed to live by the sword - not Yaakov. Rashi uses the word umnus, preoccupation or profession, as an acceptable way of life for Eisav, which they seemed to have copied from him. Why does Yaakov refer to it as an umnus, profession.

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, asserts that Yaakov's rebuke was not due to the actual killing, the punishment, which they had meted out against Shechem. His problem was with the umnus, aspect of violence. This belongs in Eisav's domain. Jews are not violent. They do not resort to murder and execution. That was Eisav's vocation. It was his pastime. After having convinced the populace to circumcise themselves, Shimon and Levi attacked them during the recuperation period and avenged their sister's name, and, for that matter, the name of the Jewish People. The manner in which they carried this out, however, was odious. It tainted the Jewish Name.

A Jew is considered strong only when he acts one hundred percent like a Jew. When we act like Eisav, we are outnumbered. This is what Yaakov intimated when he said, "I am few in number." Horav Ezrachi posits that this idea is the underlying concept behind the Al HaNissim prayer which we say on Chanukah: "You gave the strong into the hands of the weak; the many into the hands of the few; the ritually defiled into the hands of the ritually clean; the wicked into the hands of the righteous; the wanton into the hands of those who are involved in the study of Your Torah." This tefillah underscores the form of the miracle, its cause - not its distinction. The truth is that we are few, we are weak; from a physical standpoint, we have nothing to show for ourselves. In contrast, from a spiritual perspective, we are righteous, pure, and we study Torah. When we observe Judaism in its perfect form, when the people are on a spiritual plane which coincides with Hashem's expectations of them, then we are able to vanquish our enemies. We triumph over evil when we act as Jews.

There are times when our objectives are credible and praiseworthy, but our approach in carrying out our goals leaves much to be desired. That is acting like Eisav. Singing pesukim from Tehillim to music which would turn the stomachs of even the most addicted hard-rock enthusiast, does not constitute Jewish music. Dancing for a simchah to the choreography of the latest hip aficionado, is not Jewish dancing. The list goes on. The message is clear. We have our way. They have their way. When we try to emulate them, it is odious. We embarrass and demean ourselves,as well as the Jewish name. When we act as Jews are supposed to act, maintaining our holiness and purity, then we are a credit to ourselves, the Jewish People and Hashem's Name.

Lo asah kein l'chol goi, u'mishpatim bal yedaum.
He did not do so for any nation, such judgments, they know them not.

What is meant by this statement? Do gentiles not have laws? While their code of laws do not have the Torah as their origin, they nonetheless have laws. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that their laws do not bring them any closer to Hashem. They are not inspired by their laws to praise and give thanks to the Source of law and order. Klal Yisrael, however, are acutely aware of the origin of their mishpatim, and, thus, overtly express their praise and gratitude to Hashem. Our mishpatim are part of our Torah. They comprise life itself.

Veritably, without Torah, one can neither properly know judgment, nor is it truly possible to discern right from wrong objectively. Without Torah as his guide, one is capable of turning light into darkness and vice versa. Distortion has become a way of life in today's society, as those whose mission it is to adjudicate and legislate laws have no clue of the meaning of "true and false." Their attitudes are founded in their bias, and they are misdirected in accordance with their desires. We who have received this most precious gift - the Torah - have an obligation to praise Hashem for affording us the ability to maintain a clear sense of direction, an uncompromising pristine vision of right and wrong, true and false, so that justice will be executed efficiently and effectively.

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