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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the ball of his thighbone; and the ball of Yaakov's thighbone became dislocated as he wrestled with him. (32:26)

Obviously, the dynamics of this "wrestling match," this spiritual struggle between the forces of evil and falsehood and the forces of good and truth have created powerful, esoteric implications and ramifications for generations. Chazal shed some light upon this struggle and the meaning of Yaakov Avinu's "limping" afterwards. Sforno presents an interesting rendering of the pasuk: "He could not overcome him." Eisav's angel - who represented him in this struggle to overwhelm Yaakov's middah, attribute, of emes, truth, and in his clinging to Torah - fought in vain to weaken Yaakov's resolve. He clung so tenaciously to Hashem in thought and speech that the angel could not diminish him in any way. However, "he struck the ball of his thigh bone"; he was able to make an incursion. He discovered an area which Yaakov dreaded, and there he struck. He informed Yaakov of the sins of the Jewish nation's future leaders. This troubled the Patriarch, so that he momentarily hesitated in clinging to Hashem. This is the meaning of his limping.

It is an insightful exegesis, but can we say that the sins of Klal Yisrael's leadership are worse than: the churban Batei Mikdash, destruction of the two Temples; the Spanish Inquisition; the Chemilnicki pogroms of Tach V'Tat, 1648-1649; the European Holocaust? Are these tragedies not worse? If so, why did Eisav's angel not notify the Patriarch of our national tragedies? That should have troubled him significantly, so that his connection with Hashem would have dwindled.

Apparently, these national tragedies would not have diminished Yaakov's concentration. Why? Are the sins of Jewish leadership that much worse? Horav Henoch Leibowitz, zl, derives from here that nothing frightened Yaakov as much as the awareness that one day Jewish leadership would sin. This befuddled his ability to think clearly, thereby momentarily crippling his connection with Hashem. This provided Eisav's angel with an unprotected area in Yaakov's defenses. He struck, injuring the Patriarch.

But why? Why should faulty leadership reflect a greater tragedy than the cataclysmic tragedies that have physically, emotionally and spiritually decimated our People? The Rosh Yeshivah explains that as long as we have strong leadership, the national tragedies will take their terrible toll, but we will rebuild; we will rejuvenate and return to become the Klal Yisrael that we once were. When the einei ha'eidah, the "eyes" of the Jewish assembly, the leaders of the generation, have distorted their minds and perverted their actions, we have no hope of regaining Jewish consciousness. Resuscitation cannot work if the patient has no pulse, if his heart has stopped working. The foundation upon which the Jewish nation rests - and will rise again - has crumbled. When the leaders falter, the nation crumbles.

The erosion of Jewish values, the implosion of our national religious persona, follows closely after our relationship has abnegated their own spiritual destiny. It happened in Germany 150 years ago, when a group of misguided leaders felt that Orthodoxy was too stringent and restrictive. The people needed to "breathe," to move about, to imbibe the secular culture. They chopped away at the mitzvos, until they no longer believed the Torah to be Divine. They created their own seminaries, founded on the principles of heresy which they expounded. What should the people do? If the leadership has deviated, the people have no hope. The people followed, and this is why millions of alienated Jews have no understanding of the meaning of being Jewish, or how to find out. Their leadership continues to mislead them. Eisav's angel knew exactly where to strike. He knew how to get Yaakov's attention.

The Rosh Yeshivah quotes the Talmud in Arachin 17a, which relates a dispute between the sages concerning the interpretation of the pasuk in Tehillim 24:6,"This is the generation of those who seek Him, those who strive for Your Presence, (the nation of) Yaakov, Selah." Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah explains that this verse seems to be comparing the people of a generation to its leaders. It attributes the character of a generation to its leaders, positing that the character of a generation is parallel to that of its leader. In contrast, the Rabbis maintain that the character of a leader parallels that of his generation. The Talmud asks to identify the specific issue of the disagreement regarding the character of a generation and its leadership. They respond that Chazal have stated their specific opinion in reference to the traits of anger and the likelihood of being appeased.

Rashi explains that, according to the view that a leader parallels his generation, Hashem installs an insolent leader when the generation is brazen in nature and a temperate leader when they are amiable to one another. According to the alternative view, the people of a generation are influenced by their leader.

Apparently, according to one view, a leader can positively inspire the people of his generation - and can also negatively influence them. This teaches us the enormous responsibility vested in a leader. If he is arrogant - so will be his people. If he is quick to anger - so will be his people. On the other hand, if he is temperate - so, too, will be his people. Accordingly, a congregation, institution, assembly are all mirror images of their leadership - or is it the other way around?

And he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but rather Yisrael, for you have striven, im Elokim and with people, and you have prevailed. (32:29)

In defining the phrase, im Elokim, which should be translated, "with G-d," we find a difference of opinion among the commentators. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel defines the word Elokim as referring to angels of G-d. Thus, Yaakov Avinu fought with an angel. Targum Onkelos explains that the term Elokim refers to Hashem Himself, while the word preceding it, im, has the meaning of "before," rather than "with." Thus, the pasuk is translated such that the word im has two meanings: "You have striven before G-d and with people, "and" you have prevailed."

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, applies both of the aforementioned explanations to the relationship the Jewish People should maintain with the secular and non-Jewish society outside of the Torah camp. From the interpretation offered by Targum Yonasan, we can deduce the proposition that the name Yisrael was conferred upon Yaakov as a result of his successful contention against the forces of nature and against people. To put it succinctly, the essential quality of Yaakov was his unique ability to counteract both a hostile physical environment and a social climate that was antagonistic to his way of life. Yaakov was willing to contend when necessary, when his Torah way of life was threatened.

Targum Onkelos seems to find Yaakov in contention only with those forces which struggle with him "before G-d" in matters of theology and spirituality. When it comes to our ruchniyos, spirituality, he has no room to brook compromise. A Jew cannot adapt to the prevailing spiritual environment. Concerning matters of ethics and religion, a Jew does not countenance any path other than one prescribed by the Torah. Just as our Patriarch, Avraham Avinu, we stand as an Ivri, one who remains on a different side, while the rest of the world is on the "other" side.

Concerning secular matters, completely unrelated to theology or religion, a Jew may assume a different approach. He should pursue a policy of peaceful coexistence, harmony and respect. In civic, scientific and economic matters, he may integrate into the existing society - as long as he experiences no threat whatsoever to his religious standing and views. At this point, Rav Soloveitchik takes his thesis one step further. The mandate of religious segregation implied by the name Yisrael applies to any potential religious or spiritual association with any group, regardless of its non-Jewish or Jewish background. If its religious doctrine runs counter to the Torah way, then religious affiliation is to be negated. While the Torah requires us to show love and friendship toward anyone who was created b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d, Jew, Gentile, religious or non-observant, it still exhorts us against fellowship of a religious nature with non-religious groups. This is the mandate that accompanies the name, Yisrael.

The question which now confronts us is how the struggle "before G-d" is to be realized. This is where Rav Soloveitchik teaches us how a Torah Jew contends with forces that are either antithetical to - or undermine - religious life. Yes, even in "struggle," there are two ways: the "wrong" way, and the Torah way. We must note that the Torah does not use the word, nilchamta, "for you have fought," as in milchamah, war. It uses instead the word, sarisa, "you have striven", as in sar, officer, leader. We can draw a clear distinction between nilchamta and sarisa. Nilchamta, "you have fought", implies involvement in a conflict which entails physical force and verbal strife, which is carried on with a single aim: vanquishing the opponent. A war is a battle in which two sides contend, with one emerging the victor and the other the vanquished.

The term sarisa, though, implies striving for leadership, as it is derived from the word sar, leader. A leader does not really involve himself in fighting. He prevents the battle. He is one who perseveres in attempting to arouse the latent good and noble qualities inherent in each person. A leader continually seeks to resolve conflicts that arise among his people. He also endeavors to calm and soothe the inner conflicts within the depths of the human soul. A leader is one who aspires to recapture the true personality of the individual by inspiring and stimulating the maximum spiritual potential in that person. To put it simply, nilchamta, "for you fought," seeks to focus on the negative, finding a way to overpower it. Sarisa, "for you have striven," does not imply a fight. On the contrary, it focuses on the positive, finding a way to build it up, so that there can be a meeting of the minds, with respect and dignity.

Yaakov struggled against Eisav before G-d: not with brute force or verbal dissension, not with bans and the masses; not with denouements and interdiction; and certainly not with curses and other inflammatory remarks aimed at the non-Jewish and non-religious world. Rather, Yaakov struggled against Eisav with the medium of sarisa, with courage and sincerity, with dignity and firmness, with dedication and piety, and with a love for all people and a burning desire to sanctify Hashem's Name.

Yaakov was not looking to put Eisav down, but rather, to raise himself up. He endeavored to be a leader over people and a ruler over the various forces in the world. He did this: by asserting his own uniqueness, by reconciling and unifying the various conflicting forces that wreak havoc on the human soul; by harmonizing the earthly with the Heavenly, the Yaakov with Yisrael. Our Patriarch was a diplomat - not a rabble-rouser. This does not mean that it hurt him any less when he observed a desecration of Hashem's Name. He just had a different, more refined, way of dealing with the issue. We see now why Yaakov epitomizes the attribute of tiferes, beauty.

The parsha commences with Yaakov's dream of a ladder that was set on earth, with its head reaching Heaven, with Heavenly angels ascending and descending upon it. The ladder represents the connection between Heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical, Yaakov/Yisrael. Consistent with this idea, every Jew who earns the name Yisrael represents the ability to counteract the environment by sublimating its conflicting factors into one harmonious entity. This is our raison d'etre. By acting like Yisrael, we create the opportunity for kavod Shomayim, whereby Hashem's Name is glorified, revered and loved.

And Dinah, the daughter of Leah who bore her to Yaakov, went out to be seen with the daughters of the land. (34:1)

Rashi notes that Dinah is called the "daughter of Leah," as opposed to the "daughter of Yaakov." He explains that her maternal pedigree is underscored due to her "going out," which mimicked the "going out" of Leah, as it is written, "And Leah went out to greet him (Yaakov)." Rashi suggests that Leah's "going out" to greet Yaakov Avinu was also not fitting for her. As a result, her daughter, Dinah, had her own "going out" that ended in tragedy. When we peruse the pesukim and the various commentators, we find nothing inappropriate about Leah's informing Yaakov that he would be spending the evening with her, rather than with Rachel.

Indeed, Rashi points out, citing the Midrash, that the phrase ba'laila hu, translated as, "that night," does not simply mean, "that night." Had that been the pasuk's intent, it would have written, ba'laila ha'hu. Instead, the word hu stands alone, with the phrase now reading, ba'laila - at night; hu - Him, which alludes to Hashem. The pasuk is intimating that on "that night" when Yaakov was with Leah, Hashem Himself was also present and helped to bring forth Yissachar, who was conceived from that union.

This wonderful child, Yissachar, who was granted to Leah for her yearning to increase her share of the Shevatim, Tribes, became the symbol of the ultimate ben Torah. Her "going out" that evening could not have been inappropriate if "that night" brought about the son who was destined to be the pillar of Torah. The heads of the Sanhedrin, Supreme Judicial Court, were descendants of Yissachar. The responsibility of calibrating the Jewish calendar and deciding leap years was placed in their erudite, capable hands. That "going out" was no act of flagrancy. It was pure and holy. Yet, in Dinah, her daughter, it expressed itself in a manner smacking of impropriety.

Let us take this further. The Arizal teaches that the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs, were killed to atone for the sale of Yosef Hatzadik by his ten brothers. Each one of the martyrs possessed the neshamah of one of the Shevatim, with each of the neshamos of the Shevatim considered to be offshoots of Yaakov Avinu's neshamah. Since Yissachar was the personification of Torah study, he was linked most with the neshamah of Yaakov. Rabbi Akiva was granted Yissachar's neshamah. This is why he achieved such an unprecedented plateau of Torah knowledge. This is hinted by their names - Akiva and Yaakov - whose Hebrew letters coincide. All this took place as a result of "that night." Is there still room for debate concerning the purity of Leah's "going out"?

Last, Radak goes so far as to say that Leah's "going out" was proper. Since Yaakov was unaware of Rachel's agreement with Leah, he would have naturally gone to Rachel's quarters. Once there, it would have been entirely inappropriate for Leah to take him away from Rachel. So by "going out" to greet Yaakov, she was circumventing any later issues. Leah wanted so much to increase and build Klal Yisrael. Should she be condemned for this?

I think the answer is basic. Leah meant well and acted correctly and properly - from an esoteric, spiritual perspective. To the eyes of a young spectator, however, the message that she was sending was quite different from the intentions that she had. It happens all of the time. Our intentions are noble. Our actions do not necessarily scream propriety, but we must do it this way. The problem is that innocent spectators - most often our own children and those closest to us - neither understand our intentions, nor are they aware of all of the circumstances involved in a given situation. Suddenly, they think that what we are doing is right; in fact, it is the way to act, when, in effect, it is something we were compelled to do. Whenever we act publicly, regardless of our noble intentions and the pressing circumstances, we must take into consideration that someone is watching - and they will one day do the same - stripped of the noble intentions.

Eisav took his wives, his sons, his daughters…and all the wealth that he acquired in the land of Canaan and went to a land because of Yaakov, his brother. (36:6)

Little things make a difference. It is striking, however, how these seemingly little things affect various people differently. We will present two examples of how little/minor actions had a negative effect on Yaakov Avinu, while a little act of decency on the part of Eisav earned him incredible reward. When Yaakov met with Eisav, the Torah relates that he presented his family, consisting of his wives and their eleven children. Something is wrong. Yaakov had twelve children. Although this took place before the birth of Binyamin, what about Dinah? She should have made the total equal twelve children. Chazal teach that Yaakov hid Dinah in a box, lest Eisav behold her and seek her hand in marriage. Yaakov was not planning to have that rasha, wicked person, as a son-in-law. It was bad enough that he had him as a brother.

One would think that Yaakov's act of sparing his child a confrontation with Eisav was laudatory. Chazal do not seem to think so. In fact, Hashem punished Yaakov for this. We are taught that, since he prevented his daughter from possibly marrying Eisav legally/permissively, he, instead, saw her fall into the hands of Shechem ben Chamor. His daughter was violated by this creature, because Yaakov hid her from his brother. Clearly, Chazal's statement begs elucidation. Is Yaakov to risk his daughter's spiritual and physical future by allowing her to fall into the clutches of an Eisav ha'rasha? Is this type of parenting to be expected of the Patriarch - or of any person, for that matter? One might suggest that Dinah might possibly have had a positive impact on Eisav. Never! Eisav was evil incarnate. Dinah was not going to change that. So, what did Yaakov do that was so bad?

The Slabodka Mashgiach, Horav Avraham Grodzenski, zl, explains that, unquestionably, Yaakov was not expected to give his daughter to Eisav. That would have been ludicrous. Did he, however, have to press down so hard on the top of the box in which she was hidden? In other words, while it goes without saying that Yaakov had to prevent Eisav from laying eyes on Dinah, in preventing this from taking place did Yaakov have to revel in his success in outsmarting Eisav? We are compelled to do certain things for our own protection. This does not mean that we have to enjoy the course we must take. We separate from harmful environments, people, etc., because we must - not because we enjoy it.

Another example of a "little thing" that made a compelling difference, that had ramifications which we are still experiencing today: Timna was the pilegesh, concubine, of Elifaz, Eisav's son. They had a child whom they named Amalek. Yes, our archenemy, who has been slaughtering us for thousands of years, was the product of that union - Elifaz and Timna. How did this take place? Could it have been prevented? Whose fault was it?

It all happened because of little things, but apparently, there are no "little things" when it involves tzaddikim, righteous persons. Timna originally approached the Avos, Patriarchs, requesting to convert. She wanted to be a Jewess by choice, reflects how much she loved Judaism and the esteem she exhibited for the Avos. They rejected her. It is not as if she was not sincere. She was both sincere and very nice. She just was not Jewish material. The Avos detected a faint odor of middos ra'os, negative character traits. Thus, they decided that she could not "cut the mustard"; she was not a candidate for acceptance in Klal Yisrael. Yet, Hashem judged them on the Heavenly scale of justice reserved for such righteous persons. The scale of chut ha'saarah, hairbreadth, is a demanding one, especially reserved for the righteous. The Avos were considered guilty of distancing Timna. Therefore, when she said, "I would rather be a maidservant to this people than a matron to another nation," she became Elifaz's concubine, setting the stage for a son like Amalek - all because they should not have distanced Timna. While we may not consider this distancing - in Heaven they did. "Little things" become quite large under the surveillance of the Heavenly microscope.

"Little things" have a Heavenly effect when it comes to reshaim, wicked persons, as well. In fact, when a rasha performs the simplest of mitzvos, he will receive immediate great reward in this world - the world that he loves and cherishes. After all, what would the rasha do in Olam Habba, the World to Come? At the end of the parsha, the Torah enumerates the many alufim, princes who descended from Eisav, who were in place in their lands many years before the Jewish nation had its first king. One wonders what great mitzvah, what incredible good deed, Eisav had done to deserve such reward.

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, cites a Ramban who quotes Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer that illuminates the origin of Eisav's reward. The Torah writes that Eisav traveled with his great fortune; wives, children, servants, cattle, animals - all of his possessions. It seems like an amazing fortune. Where did he go with all of his wealth? Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer explains that when Yaakov Avinu informed Eisav that Canaan was his, so that he should go elsewhere, Eisav immediately complied with his brother's wishes! In reward for deferring to Yaakov's wishes, Eisav was granted one hundred provinces. All of these were the result of one grain of good that surfaced from amidst all of the bad. For this, he was repaid a thousand fold!

Rav Sholom now asks his pivotal question: Eisav did one "little thing," a hairbreadth of good, and he received such an incredible reward; yet, the righteous who live an entire life of piety and virtue do one "little thing" wrong - a hairbreadth - and are punished mercilessly! Why? The Maggid explains that, first of all, that which appears to be small is not necessarily small. Look at the stars. They seem tiny, but, upon closer inspection, they are big beyond our wildest dream! Likewise, people who might appear to be small in this world - in comparison to other physical entities - are actually quite large when viewed through the Heavenly lens which factors in their righteous, good deeds.

These righteous persons have no negative deeds to diminish their Heavenly size. They do have an avak, "dust," of critique against them, relative to their inner resolve and true character. When one achieves spiritual perfection, the slightest taint of imperfection can leave a spiritual blemish. Thus, even the most diminutive act is no longer tiny. It becomes magnified relative to the spiritual landscape against which it is positioned.

Rav Sholom adds another insight to explain why the righteous are so meticulously scrutinized. He cites Yirmiyahu 46:28, "You, do not be afraid, My servant, Yaakov, - the word of Hashem - for I am with you; though I shall make an end of all the nations where I have dispersed you, but of you I shall not make an end; I shall punish you with justice, but I shall not destroy you utterly." The last words of the pasuk, v'y'sarticha l'mishpat, which is translated, "I shall punish you with justice," seems to have the wrong prefix. L'mishpat means, "to justice." "With justice" is written, "b'mishpat." This question is addressed by the Zohar HaKadosh who explains that Hashem "provides" us with yissurim, pain, troubles, in order to lighten and decrease the judgment against us. The trouble which we experience; the pain which we sustain are l'mishpat, for the purpose of the mishpat. In order to lessen the punishment, Hashem "avails" us of yissurim, as Chazal say, "Hashem is makdim, precedes/prepares, the refuah, therapy/healing, prior to the makah, punishment."

We wonder why tzaddikim are scrutinized, why they suffer so. It is because Hashem is preempting their punishment in this world, so that they receive their full reward in Olam Habba. Why should they lose out "later," when they can get it out of the way now?

Va'ani Tefillah

Adon uzeinu, tzur misgabeinu, magen yisheinu.
Master of our strength, Rock of our security, shield of our salvation.

With the above praises, we acknowledge that whatever strength, security, salvation we might think we possess, we are acutely aware that Hashem is behind it. Whatever strength we possess comes solely from Hashem. He is Adon, Master, of uzeinu, our strength. He alone has strength. We understand that we have none. He is our strength. This is how a Jew should perceive himself. We think we are secure, but we know that, without Hashem, we are fodder for the elements - both material and human. The rock of our security is Hashem. A nation that believes this is strong. A nation that thinks it is all kochi v'otzem yadi, "My power and strength of my hand," is setting itself up for disaster.

Often the Jewish People are "saved" by intervention which has been catalyzed by human, natural resources. We understand that these shields of our salvation - who "just happen" to appear in the right place at the right time - come from Hashem. On our own, we do not stand a chance. With Hashem we have every reason to succeed - if this is His will. A Jew who does not maintain this perspective is in serious trouble.

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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