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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to Eisav, his brother. (32:4)

The contrast between Yaakov Avinu and his brother, Eisav, as was evidenced on the day of their confrontation, continues to this very day. The dichotomy between these two brothers is a chasm that is as wide today as it was then. In his inimitable style, Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, paints a picture of these two brothers that aptly describes the observant Jew's encounter with the secular, materialistic society which surrounds him. Yaakov is the family man, blessed with children, a hard-working supportive husband and father, whose family ordeals weigh heavily on him. In contrast, Eisav is the accomplished man of substance. While it is true that Yaakov received his father's blessing, it took him over twenty years of toil and struggle to achieve what he considered his greatest prize, his tour de force: to be the independent father of a family.

Eisav, as well as those who ascribe to his way of life, take this blessing for granted from birth. Indeed, Eisav, the accomplished man of substance, already possessed it in full measure before Yaakov left home. Eisav had his family. Yaakov toiled for his family. The difference is in the happiness Yaakov felt with his achievement. His family was his goal, his raison d'?tre, his crowning achievement in life. To Eisav, and those like him, family is a part of life, it is a means, but certainly not a goal. Eisav had become a political personality, a leader of an army, a general who stood at the helm of his troops.

This confrontation between the Eisavian way of life - and the society it spawns - and Yaakov's Torah-oriented way of life - with its focus on family, the future, the spiritual dimension - has continued throughout the generations. The struggle between them and the outcome of this external clash is among the forces that have shaped world history. Yaakov represents family life, inner and outer happiness, with the goal of making others happy. Eisav requests the glitter of political power and false might. The eternal question that sparks and continues to fuel this dispute is: Whether it is sufficient to be merely a human being; or whether all social organization and political power have significance only when it serves to promote the objective of attaining this lofty goal of all human endeavor. Alternatively, is it the other way around, with everything that is human in mankind and in family life existing for one purpose: to serve as the underpinning for the prizes of politics, power and material success?

Rav Hirsch was up against a solid brick wall, as he attempted to infuse German youth with the significance of family and community, Torah and scholarship. They had been exposed to the glitter of politics, secular scholarship, with its concomitant laxity in morals, ethics and virtue. The Haskalah, Enlightenment movement, preached that it was about time that the "Yaakov" left his proverbial tent. He was getting nowhere in the world. They did not understand that the world is there to serve Yaakov in his tent - as long as he remains there. The world is a means, not an end.

It is, therefore, remarkable that shortly after our Patriarch's meeting with his brother, Yaakov's maxim for Jewish life came under attack - when his own sons acted in a manner which was incongruous to his family-oriented, laid-back perspective on life. Yaakov's daughter, Dinah, "went out" for a stroll among the daughters of the land and fell into the hands of Shechem ben Chamor, a pagan prince, who was obsessed with her physical appearance and demeanor. Rather than acting with respect and dignity by asking for her hand, he violated her, thereby tainting the chaste Dinah forever.

Shimon and Levi were angry beyond reason. Two words are used by the Torah: etzev and nevalah. Etzev is sadness, a reference to the pain of being forced to give up something precious, a painful sense of loss. Dinah was no longer the same. In addition to their personal feelings of sadness, the wicked deed fired them with anger over the nevalah, scandalous/abomination, against the family of Yaakov. To defile a daughter of Yaakov was a defamation of a Jewish maiden and a calumny of the entire family. It was a tragedy of epic proportion, because it drove home a frightening message: the goyim out there neither respected nor feared the Jew. Why? The Jews were outwardly a physically weak group. They had no visible means of protection. Thus, they could be secure only when others recognize their moral and spiritual nobility. In other words, when Jews act as Jews are supposed to act, we get respect! It is in our material weakness that we reveal our true strength, the Divine element which transforms "Yaakov" into "Yisrael," the name of strength. The brothers reasoned that Shechem would not have dared to do this to a native pagan daughter. It occurred because she was a "weak" Jewess. Thus, they were prepared to take the "sword of Eisav" into their hands and mete punishment where necessary.

Shimon and Levi's motivation, its propriety or lack thereof notwithstanding, is expressed with their reply to their father after the fact, Ha'k'zonah yaaseh es achoseinu, "Shall he treat our sister as a harlot?" They felt that Shechem would never have taken such liberties if the girl in question had not been some foreign girl, some friendless "Jew." They felt that while "Yaakov's" place is in the bais ha'medrash, sometimes even the family of Yaakov must raise the sword in defense of their purity and honor. Regrettably, the men that roam this earth respect only one code: the law which condones and protects violence. Yaakov will have to know how to wield the sword, even though he will hopefully rarely need to do so.

We now come to a new concept: the Yaakov/Yisrael Jew. From the brief phenomenon of the sword of Eisav being used by Yaakov, we learn a clarification of the perspective for the future. In the course of time, we have developed a reputation as a gentle, family-oriented, tender-hearted, non-violent people. This, however, in no way bespeaks cowardice, weakness or insecurity on our part. When necessary, we have displayed bravery and military prowess in such an awesome manner that Eisav's minions have cowered like the true cowards that they are. We can, if we must, wield the sword, but it is not part of our nature. Our gentleness and humanness are the products of our spiritual education and relationship with the Divine. These are our hallmarks and should always be our most distinguishing characteristics.

I have sojourned with Lavanů I have acquired oxen and donkeys. (32:5,6)

Rashi quotes the Midrash which notes that the gimatria, numerical equivalent, of garti is 613, the same as taryag, which is the number of mitzvos we have. This implies that Yaakov Avinu was intimating to Eisav, "Yes, I did live in Lavan's proximity for quite some time. Nonetheless, I did not falter in my commitment to Hashem. I observed all 613 mitzvos. I was not adversely influenced by Lavan." Eisav got the message: Yaakov had not changed. He was as righteous now as he had been when he was forced to leave home, due to Eisav's murderous hatred for him.

Let us attempt to analyze Yaakov. He lived his entire life in kedushah, holiness. He was forced to leave Yitzchak and Rivkah's home, a home suffused with sanctity. On his way to Lavan, he stopped off at the yeshivah of Shem and Ever for fourteen years to do "a little learning." He then went to Lavan's home, where he married and raised his family. Clearly, Lavan's home must have been a culture shock. To descend from the sublime level of Yitzchak's home to the depravity of a Lavan, the man who redefined the meaning of swindling, was quite difficult for Yaakov. How was he able to maintain his spiritual status quo in such a base environment? How as he able to ignore Lavan?

The Brisker Rav, zl, quoted that he had once heard from a rav in Germany that the key to Yaakov's success lay in the words, "I have acquired oxen and donkeys." This is not a reference to material wealth but, rather, to his opinion of Lavan! He viewed the evil Lavan as being nothing more than an ox or a donkey. In Yaakov's opinion, Lavan did not rate human-being status. He was nothing more than a crude animal in the guise of a human! Will a person act like a cow if he lives in a barn? Certainly not! A cow is a cow - and a person is a person. Animals do not influence humans.

The Brisker Rav added, that while this Rav's exegesis is not p'shat, the explanation of the pasuk, it is, however, a proper perspective to maintain vis-?-vis a wicked person. When we face-off with an individual whose lifestyle is reprehensible, whose demeanor is reproachable, whose ethics are scandalous and whose morals are non-existent, we should view them as a sub-human. To acknowledge such people as having equal status with us is a travesty and an insult. This is not meant to promote elitism but, rather, to encourage us to maintain a semblance of dignity and common sense.

Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him. (32:8)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu was frightened for himself, lest he be killed, and distressed that, in defending his family, he might kill others. Rashi's commentary is well-known, but when we think about it, as pointed out by Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, it teaches us a powerful lesson about our Patriarch. How often do we think about the damage we might do to others? We get into a car, and we are in a rush. Do we think of the repercussions to others if we do not apply ourselves carefully to the road? Do we bother to look at the speedometer - if we are in a hurry? In short, we rarely think about anyone but ourselves.

Rav Shimshon relates an incident in which this dichotomy was readily apparent. Shortly after he received his driver's license he was driving down the highway, when he lost control of the car and flipped over. He was taken to the hospital for observation. Other than some cuts and scratches, he was fine. A policeman "visited" him in the hospital to get a statement about the accident. Rav Shimshon explained that he was a relatively new driver, and the car was hit by a wind shear, causing him to lose control. The officer wrote this down and bid him farewell.

A week later, he related the same incident to his Rebbe, Horav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zl, who, upon hearing the story, gave a loud groan and said, "Oy! You could have hurt someone!" This is the difference between a "person" and a gadol, Torah leader. When the policeman heard that the driver was not at fault, he was done with the incident. Next case. When Rav Yosha Ber heard the exact same incident, he looked at his student incredulously as if to say: "How could a Jew ever be in a situation where he might maim or kill another person?" This is the perspective of a gadol.

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

Yaakov Avinu seems concerned specifically as a result of his filial relationship with Eisav. The Chida, zl, explains that this is because of Eisav's z'chus avos, merit of his ancestors. After all, Eisav had the same yichus, pedigree, as Yaakov. When we think about it, Yaakov had some reason to be concerned. Perhaps some insight into the concept of z'chus avos will help us to explain this.

What is the secret of z'chus avos? Is it some form of protectzia? Hashem's decision cannot be swayed. He cannot be bribed. "Favorites" do not play a role before Him. In an unrelated shmuess, ethical discourse, Horav Shabsi Yudelevitz, zl, quotes from the Radal, an understanding of the meaning of z'chus avos, which can be applied to Yaakov's prayer.

In the Midrash Eichah, Chazal relate a dispute that took place between the wise men of Athens and a young Jewish boy. The wise men of Athens were considered the smartest people of that generation. This indicates how obtuse the people of that generation were. The story goes that one of the wise men placed two slices of cheese in front of the young boy and asked him, "Tell us which slice of cheese came from a white goat, and which slice came from a black goat." In response to this impossible question, the young boy placed two eggs in front of the wise men and asked, "Which egg came from a white hen and which came from a black hen? When you answer my question, I will answer yours." Certainly, this Midrash has some metaphorical undertones. The wise men of Athens must have been capable of a greater display of acumen than a dialogue about cheese and eggs.

HoRav David Luria, zl, explains that, indeed, their dialogue had profound meaning. When the wise men of Athens presented the cheese and asked if the child could detect from what color goat it was derived, they were alluding to a powerful question: How does Hashem distinguish between people, in the sense that Yehudim are granted a preferential relationship with Him due to their z'chus avos? While a great difference does exist between a black goat and a white goat, it surely is not discernable in the cheese that is produced. The cheese has the same outward appearance regardless of its source. Thus, what difference should there be because the Patriarchs of the Jewish nation were true to Hashem? In the end, their conviction is not noticeable in their progeny. Who cares who the ancestors were, what were their beliefs, and to whom they were committed? We are far-removed from yesterday. Today is today - a new generation - a new world!

The question made sense, but the young Jewish lad was wise beyond his years, and his response indicated a profound understanding of the principles of Judaism and what it means to be a Jew. The young boy presented the wise men with two eggs that appeared to have similar external features, except that one was the offspring of a white hen, while the other was the product of a black hen. "Clearly, you see no difference between these eggs," the boy said, "but you know quite well how we can determine the origins of each egg: Allow the mother hens to rest on top of the eggs until they hatch, and then we will see the stark difference that exists between them. One egg will produce a white chick, while the other egg will produce a black chick."

"A similar idea applies with regard to z'chus avos, notes Rav Shabsi, "Although it is regrettably true that the Jewish People today have the same outward appearance as members of the gentile nations, it is evident that the sublime spiritual levels achieved by the saintly Patriarchs is not readily noticeable in the present Jewish countenance or demeanor. Internally, however, they are suffused with a national heritage that stems from the Patriarchs. Their DNA is patriarchal. A white hen will always produce a white chick, and a black hen will always produce a black chick. There will always be a distinct dichotomy between the Jew and gentile. At first it might not be evident, but when the Jewish neshamah, soul, is 'warmed up', when it is placed in a spiritual incubator, its real colors emerge and shine. That Jewish spark within must be ignited, and the difference will become readily apparent. The gentile, on the other hand, will remain a gentile forever. The 'warming up' process will be to no avail, just like the cheese; there is no way of discerning from which color goat it is derived."

Returning to our original question concerning Yaakov Avinu's entreaty, Hatzileini na mi'yad achi, "Rescue me, please, from my brother." Our Patriarch was anxious; Eisav was Yitzchak Avinu's son - just as Yaakov was. The fact that Eisav was no ordinary stranger to the Jewish People was disconcerting to Yaakov. Perhaps he had z'chus avos. Perhaps his neshamah could be "warmed up."

The answer to Yaakov's question is in the continuation of the pasuk - mi'yad Eisav. True, that he is Yitzchak's son, but, at the end of the day, he is still Eisav. From the earliest moments in his mother's womb, Eisav was showing his true "colors." As the archetype of evil, the ancestor of most of our enemies throughout history, Eisav showed that he did not have an iota of Jewish DNA. In order to have z'chus avos, one has to be part of the "family." Eisav excluded himself, dating from the time he shared his mother's womb with his brother, Yaakov. Thus, he received no opportunity to share in their merit.

And he bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother. (33:3)

Yaakov Avinu completed his preparations. He was now ready to confront Eisav, not knowing what the result of this encounter would be. Would it be a bloody battle, or brotherly reconciliation? Despite all of his military stratagem, when Yaakov came towards Eisav, he bowed down seven times and referred to Eisav as adoni, my master, the same number of times. He was later chastised for referring to Eisav as "master," since a Jew has only one master: Hashem. Bowing down does not seem to be a problem. Indeed, if this could in some way play to Eisav's perverted ego, he did the right thing. A Jew must be prepared to fight - when absolutely necessary - but he must do everything to circumvent any physical confrontation.

It is not as if we do not acknowledge the ghetto fighters, the partisans, and all those brave Jews who have taken up the sword to protect our people. There is, however, another form of bravery which transcends that of the fighter: the silent soldier who is willing to die quietly, so that others shall live. While the plaudits are given to the heroes of the ghetto, the courageous commandos and guerillas who risked their lives to save others, we tend to ignore the other, often ignored, heroes of the ghetto, the individuals that had the burning desire, the opportunity and the ability to cause physical damage to their oppressors, but at what expense? How many other Jews would die as a result of their act of vengeance? These people died quietly so that others could live, who would rather be shot than give up the names of Jews in hiding.

In a halachic treatise, Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, author of the Seridei Eish, cites Rabbi Akiva, who opines that Chayecha kodmin l'chayei chaveirecha, "Your life takes precedence before the life of your friend." In other words, if one's life is threatened unless he gives up or kills another Jew, his life takes precedence. This law is only a r'shus, discretionary. If he was machmir, stringent, and gave up his life to save another Jew, he is considered a chasid, pious. These are Klal Yisrael's true giborim, strong ones. If by bowing down and deprecating oneself we might save another Jew, if by acting obsequiously it might spare a Jew pain, we do it. We circumvent confrontation. We do not seek it.

Having said the above, I will be bold and tread upon sacred ground in order to offer the Torah world's response to comments made years ago by secular Zionists in reference to the way the martyrs of the Holocaust died: "like sheep to the slaughter," or "like rags - not men." These are charges and accusations that paint observant Jews as enslaved to an "exile mentality," an ingrained spirit to gentile mastery. Regrettably, such harmful diatribe leaves its influence on secular youth, who make a point to distinguish between Yom Hasho'ah v'hagevurah, between those who died in the Holocaust, and those who were the "true heroes," who fought back, regardless of the toll - both personal and collective.

There is not enough space allotted to give this subject the necessary treatment. I will, however, share some thoughts as expressed by Horav Yoel Schwartz, Shlita, in his perspective on tragedy in the context of the Holocaust. First, the faintheartedness of some - or the helplessness of others - was in itself part of the terrible curses enumerated in the Tochachah, Rebuke, both in Bechukosai and Ki Savo. According to Ibn Ezra, the Jews' fear of the Egyptians, the fact that they did not fight for their and their children's lives, resulted from the decree of galus Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exile, declaring that the Jews would feel subservient to their masters. It was not as the secularists opine an outgrowth of the exile but, rather, part of the exile. This was the pronouncement only an individual who has no inkling of Torah, who lives by the superficial faith in kochi v'otzem yadi, "My strength and might of my arm," can utter, reflecting a ludicrous understanding of the "exile mentality."

Let us continue. Even if the martyrs could be accused of timidity, is this to be considered a character flaw? Perhaps by those whose adulation of heroism is postulated on cultural values totally alien to Torah Judaism. Today's culture deifies physical strength; so did the Nazis'. Timidity is not a moral failing. It is a character trait like any other. The Torah acknowledges that some people are just plain fainthearted. They are not flawed. Regrettably, today's secularists would rather determine the moral fibre of the Jewish martyrs through the lens of Nazi-oriented morals.

Chazal teach us that a strong man is one who controls his desires (Pirkei Avos 4:1). His might is not an external, but an internal, strength. He does not use force unless absolutely necessary. Physical prowess belongs in Eisav's domain. He does not fight terror with terror, murder with murder; for fear that he might lose his own sensitivity to human life. In addition, the desperate clarion call to "die with honor" is one that is very distant from Torah dictate. We believe in life. We believe in hope until the very last second. The call to "die with honor" is a desperate attempt that indicates a lack of hope. To lose hope is to lose one's conviction in Hashem. In the darkest moments in the death camps, Jews did not lose hope. Jews who stood before the firing squads, who were shoved into the gas chambers, did not lose hope. I know. My father was one of those Jews. In the merit of this enduring hopefulness, many Jews survived the clutches of death, which only moments earlier appeared imminent.

The true Jewish hero is the master of internal fortitude. His ability to persevere with patience and calm is the mettle through which true bravery and courage are manifest. Knowing that by killing one Nazi hundreds of Jews would die a brutal death as payback, was a powerful deterrent for those true "strong ones." "They" ask where G-d was during the Holocaust. The question that should be asked is: "Where was 'man' during the Holocaust?" The answers are all there for those who are interested, but those people do not have any questions. On the other hand, for those who question and accuse, no answer will suffice.

Va'ani Tefillah

Az yashir Moshe u'Bnei Yisrael. Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang.

The Midrash teaches us that whoever recites the Shirah will have his sins forgiven by Hashem. Sefer Chareidim adds that this applies only under such circumstances that the person senses himself standing at the banks of the Red Sea and experiencing Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea. As he "stands there," he is amazed by the incredible miracles and wonders which Hashem has wrought for the Jewish People. Then, his sins are forgiven.

Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, takes it to the next level. In order for one's sins to be expiated, he must understand and apply himself to the text of the Shirah. He must cogently be able to interpret into his heart and mind the depth of the meaning of the miracles described in the Shirah. He must sense the meaning of "Pharaoh and his riders drowning in the Sea." Why was Pharaoh not overcome with fright? How could a sane man, knowing what Hashem had done to Egypt, allow his army to go into the sea - and he with them?! This teaches us about Hashem's Providence, how He watched over us and made miracle after miracle for us. Hashem relieved Pharaoh of his bechirah chafshis, free-will, so that he would defy Him and be punished. All this was done for us. If we acknowledge and think about this during our recitation of the Shirah, Hashem will forgive our sins. It is as simple as that, because we are thereby establishing a bond with the Almighty.

in memory of
Rabbi Louis Engelberg z"l
niftar 8 Kislev 5758
Mrs. Hannah Engelberg z"l
niftar 3 Teves 5742
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen
and Family

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