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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Eisav ran to meet him, and he embraced him and fell on his neck, and kissed him. (33:4)

The word "vayishakeihu," "and he kissed him" is marked with dots over every letter. Rashi cites one opinion in Chazal that contends that the Torah emphasizes Eisav's kiss to teach that he did not kiss him wholeheartedly. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai disagrees, asserting that Eisav would have preferred to eliminate his nemesis. In support of this idea, he cites the axiom, "It is a well-known tradition that Eisav hates Yaakov." At that moment, however, Eisav felt compassion towards Yaakov. He was moved, so he kissed him whole-heartedly. Whether Eisav's kiss was sincere or not, we are compelled to remember that Eisav's innate hatred is directed at us.

Nachlas Tzvi determines from the text of the phrase that Eisav's hatred is focused at "Yaakov." If an individual is one of Yaakov Avinu's children or their descendants, Eisav hates him. The reason is simply that he is a "Yaakov." If we were to accept this reality, we would be certain of its truth. Regrettably, some of us would rather delude ourselves than confront the truth. Nachlas Tzvi cites a story that occurred concerning Zundel Hagadol, who was appointed by Horav Chaim Volozhiner to represent the Jewish community to Czar Nikolai's court in St. Petersburg. When he was a young boy, his father had owned a tavern which catered to the gentile community. One day the son of the "poritz," major landowner and strong man, who was a non-practicing Christian entered the tavern. He did not believe in the Christian messiah or religion. Yet, he had no compunction about going over to the young Zundel who was assisting his father to demand, "Why did the Jews kill the messiah?" The young boy wisely responded, "Look how your deep hatred for us has captivated your mind. While you state that you do not believe that the supposed Christian messiah ever existed, you do believe that we killed him!" This is so true. We are surrounded by self-righteous, moralistic gentiles, of whom many are neither religious nor ethical. Yet, when it comes to attacking or slandering the Jewish people, they discover their heritage. How hypocritical it is that those who throw the largest stones at us demonstrate as much respect for their own religion as they do for ours. If we acknowledge the preordained natural order of life which protects us from getting too close to these people, then we might learn to "appreciate" this hidden gift.

Alternatively, along the same lines, we suggest that the hatred is truly directed only at Yaakov. The name Yaakov implies weakness, ambiguity, lack of self-respect, and underhandedness - all the things that a Jew should not epitomize. Eisav hates the Jew that has no self-respect, who is weak and pitiful. He scorns us when we accept ourselves as losers. He envies us when we achieve the name Yisrael. He respects us when we act as the Chosen People, the nation that received the Torah, the People of the Book. He admires us for using the gifts that Hashem has endowed us with for the betterment of mankind. The name Yisrael implies strength and domination. Our ancestor earned this name, and we should continue to deserve to carry this name.

Eisav ran to meet him, and he embraced him and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And they wept. (33:4)

In one opinion, Chazal comment that Eisav did not come to kiss Yaakov, but, rather, to bite him. Miraculously, Yaakov's neck turned into marble, blunting Eisav's teeth. This is the meaning of the words, "and they wept:" Yaakov cried because of the pain in his neck, Eisav cried because of the pain in his teeth. We may wonder why Yaakov's neck turned to marble and not one of the usual array of hard substances, such as iron or brass. Why was it a stone rather than a metal? In responding to this question, the Shem Mishmuel first looks at the context of the Midrash. There appears to be a dispute regarding the sincerity of Eisav's love when he met Yaakov. After careful examination, he suggests that the Midrash is presenting a discussion regarding two distinct perspectives on Eisav's meeting with Yaakov.

Originally, when Yaakov prayed to Hashem he had pleaded, "Save me please from the hand of my brother, from Eisav (Bereishis 32:12)." The commentators explain that the apparent redundancy of "my brother" and "Eisav" refers to two "hanhagos," directions, of Eisav's relationship with Yaakov. In one approach, he acts as Eisav, the enemy, determined to destroy Yaakov physically. In the second avenue of "attack," Eisav acts as "achi," a brother, who seeks to come close to Yaakov, to defile him with his perverted philosophy, to destroy him spiritually. The latter is more harmful than a physical attack. A relationship with Eisav, drawing near to his evil, could have catalyzed the end of Yaakov's spiritual mission. It could have meant the end of Klal Yisrael. Is it any wonder that we are taught that Yaakov's greatest fear throughout the generations has been primarily from "his brother" and only secondarily from "Eisav?"

If we are to assume that seeing Yaakov calmed Eisav's murderous intent, that being face to face with his brother aroused his feelings of mercy, then it was only the "Eisav" aspect that yearned to inflict physical harm upon Yaakov. This is consistent with the opinion of the Tanna who contends that Eisav set out with hatred and changed his mentality midway. The other Tanna feels that while his desire to destroy Yaakov physically was quelled, his inherent, immutable desire to contaminate Yaakov with his warped, malignant lifestyle was not altered one iota. He still planned to destroy Yaakov; he just changed his approach. He did not seek to eliminate Yaakov; he sought to unite with him. Thus, both Tannaim in the Midrash are in agreement: Eisav simutaneously wanted to make peace and to attack, albeit on two different planes.

When Eisav attempted to inject his baneful beliefs into Yaakov, to lure him toward the iniquitous life that he exemplified, Yaakov's neck immediately transformed to marble. A vessel made of stone -- of which marble is an example -- does not contract tumah, ritual contamination. It is unlike its metal counterparts that are vehicles for contracting tumah. The message is simple: Yaakov is impervious to Eisav's advances. He will not be influenced by his allure, by his inauthentic friendship, by his proclamations of unity.

How was Yaakov able to resist Eisav? What inner strength did he possess that helped him to overcome Eisav's enticements? The Shem Mishmuel suggests that the answer lies in Yaakov Avinu's attitude. The fact that he was more concerned with his spiritual than physical well-being protected him. When Eisav challenged his spiritual strength, Yaakov was able to conjure his spiritual adrenaline to help him to confront Eisav in a constructive manner. He was able to succeed because it meant so much to him.

This idea is equally relevant to us. When we are unsuccessful on the spiritual front, it is because it does not mean as much to us as it should. If we would care about our spiritual well-being as much as our Patriarch did, we would likewise succeed in this realm.

The men were distressed, and were fired deeply with indignation, for he had committed an outrage in Yisrael by lying with a daughter of Yaakov…And they said, "should he treat our sister like a harlot?" (34:7,31)

The incident concerning Dinah and her brothers' reaction to the outrage is considered one of the tzaros, anguishing experiences, to which Yaakov Avinu was subject. Yaakov criticized his sons' response in strong terms. Yet, if we think about it, were they wrong? Should they have sat by idly as a pagan defiles a Jewish girl? Are Jewish girls to be like hefker, as ownerless property? Bnei Yaakov were making a statement -- a strong one perhaps -- but a statement nonetheless. If someone attempts to take advantage of a Jewish girl, the response will be immediate and devastating. Why, then, was Yaakov upset with them?

We suggest the answer may be implied in the double meaning of the phrase "He had committed an outrage in Yisrael, by lying with a daughter of Yaakov." The Baalei Tosfos interpret this to mean that he had committed two wrongs: First he had defiled a Jewish girl, a member of Klal Yisrael; second, he had taken advantage of Yaakov's daughter, a member of a distinguished family. What was their real impetus; what really angered them? Was it the fact that she was a Jewess or that she was Yaakov's daughter? Was it the Jewish people that concerned them -- or was it their personal humiliation that provoked their anger? When they said, "Should he treat our sister like a harlot?" it seems they were overly concerned with their self-image: their sister had been violated.

Yaakov tells his sons, "Had your provocation been the same for any Jewish girl, I would have been accepting. But, I decry, however, the reality that you were influenced, by the fact that it was your sister that was hurt. A ben Torah reacts the same for all Jews, regardless of their family background or religious orientation. Whether it was their sister or another Jew's sister, it should effect an equivalent response. We are all one family.

We suggest that this may be Chazal's fundamental critique of Yaakov: Denying the marriage of Dinah to Eisav. Chazal tell us that a major catalyst for the tragedy that befell Dinah was that Yaakov hid Dinah when he met Eisav. He ineffect was "told," "You refused to show kindness to your brother, she will be taken instead by an enemy. You refused to permit her to marry a man who is circumcised; she will instead marry an uncircumcised infidel. You refused to allow her to marry in a permitted fashion; she will instead be married in a forbidden manner."

How are we to understand Chazal's critique of Yaakov Avinu? Was he expected to give his pure and innocent daughter in marriage to Eisav ha'rasha, a man who set the standard for evil? Chesed, kindness, ends at one point and foolishness begins! The commentators offer a number of explanations for this critique. Probably the most common p'shat is given by Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, who says that while Yaakov certainly had to protect his daughter from marrying Eisav, he should have done it with extreme reluctance. It was something that he had to do - not something he wanted to do. Perhaps when he hid Dinah, he closed the chest just a bit more forcefully than was necessary. This slight deviation from perfection, on Yaakov's lofty spiritual plane, is viewed as sinful. Hence, we understand the punishment which he incurred.

We suggest that on some level, Chazal note Yaakov was acting on behalf of his daughter, but had this been someone else he might not have acted so decisively. Chazal detected a slight tinge of personal interest, a taint of nepotism - an attitude totally unbecoming Yaakov Avinu. The Avos were to be above acting on behalf of themselves. They were manhigim, leaders, who must remain objective at all times, under all conditions. The scales of justice for judging the righteous are on a completely different plane. What might be viewed as simple fatherly love for us is considered a lack of objectivity for Yaakov Avinu.

Timna was a concubine to Elifaz the son of Eisav. And she bore to Elifaz, Amalek. (36:12)

Chazal tell us that Timna was a "bas melachim" princess, who descended from an "illustrious" pagan lineage. Yet, she sought to convert. She came to each of the Patriarchs with her request, but they each refused her. She then went to Elifaz, the son of Eisav, and became his pilegesh, concubine. She said, "I would rather be a maidservant to this nation than be a queen by another nation. The product of this union was Amalek, the archenemy of the Jews. Why? Why did we deserve to have AmaZlek descend from her? It is because the Patriarchs should not have distanced her. They should have brought her under the wings of the Shechinah by converting her. Imagine the depth of judgement to which Hashem subjects His devotees. Hashem takes the Avos to task for a decision that was probably justified because the Avos certainly saw Amalakean middos, character traits, within Timna. Perhaps, however, they could have worked on purging those negative character traits. They could never find out who she might have become if they did not try. For this, we have suffered over the millennia at the hands of Amalek and his descendants. We still have a question that should be addressed: What was so bad about Timna that they refused to try - to attempt to set her straight, to have the light of Torah reach into her innermost being and illuminate the darkness? Is that not the essence of Torah? What was there about Timna that precluded all attempts at saving her?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, cites a story that occurred concerning the Chafetz Chaim that gives insight to the Patriarch's decision. The Chafetz Chaim permitted a student who was suspected of transgressing a number of sins to remain in the yeshivah. A short time later, a woman came to complain that one of the yeshivah students who ate his meals at her house was a mechutsaf, insolent. The Chafetz Chaim immediately had the student dismissed from the yeshivah. When asked why he kept a student whose shortcomings amounted to much more serious sins than chutzpah, the Chafetz Chaim responded by citing the Mishnah in Avos 5:20 that says, "Az panim, the brazen-faced is headed for Gehinom; boshes panim, the one who is a shame-face will go to Gan Eden." What is the Mishnah teaching us? If the az panim does not repent, he will certainly be punished; if he performs teshuvah, why should he not be accepted in Gan Eden? Furthermore, why does the Mishnah emphasize the "az-panim" in this case more so than any other sinner? Does not anyone who sins go to Gehinom? The Chafetz Chaim explained that while teshuvah ostensibly "works" for every sin, the chances are that one who is brazen will probably not repent. This is indicated by the text that stresses the az panim, one who is brazen, as opposed to azus panim, brazenness. The person who is brazen, who is steadfast in his brazenness, will not repent. In order to perform teshuvah, he must purge himself of brazenness and arrogance.

Veritably, the student whose sins go far beyond chutzpah might presently be faced with a formidable challenge in his quest for teshuvah. There is, however, hope. The one who is an az panim, whose brazenness is uncontrolled - will not repent. He will continue along his negative path, arrogantly doing whatever he wants, unconcerned with the people he is hurting. Undoubtedly, if the "az panim" repents, his teshuvah will be accepted. Unfortunately, such a person rarely repents. He sees nothing wrong with what he is doing. Even if he were able to be introspective, his arrogance would never permit him to acknowledge the reality.

Amalek's most significant negative character trait is chutzpah. He is not "nispael", impressed, by anything. He fears no one and constantly demonstrates his insolence. The entire world feared Klal Yisrael when they left Egypt. Yet, Amalek was the first to challenge them. The Avos perceived in Timna, his mother, this tinge of "azus panim." They understood that one who possesses this middah will not repent; she will not be able to conform sincerely to Judaism. Thus, they did not accept her.


1.) Where was Dinah during Yaakov's encounter with Eisav?
2.) As a result of Yaakov's encounter with Eisav's angel a mitzvah was introduced to Klal Yisrael. What was it?
3.) How long did Yaakov stay in Succos?
4.) a) What happened to Eisav's men?
b) When were they rewarded for this?
5.) Shimon and Levi attacked the people of Shechem, secure in their ability to succeed. What was their source of self-confidence?


1.) Yaakov hid her, so that Eisav would not see her and want to marry her.
2.) Gid Hanas'he.
3.) Eighteen months.
4.) a) They left him.
b) During the time of David Hamelech.
5) Rashi says they relied upon the prayer of the "zakein," "elder," which -- according to the Sifsei Chachamim -- means either Yaakov or Avraham.


In memory of our beloved parents and grandparents:
Rabbi Louis Engelberg z"l
Mrs. Hannah Engelberg z"l
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen and Family


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