Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Game Theory - Respectful Rebuke
Yitzchak's love for Eisav is a matter that has given commentators no
small amount of difficulty. The Torah describes it thus: "Yitzchak
loved Eisav, for there was game in his mouth. (25:28)" Rashi offers
two possible interpretations: 1) Yitzchak's love for Eisav was due to
the fact that Eisav supplied him with food (game), and was swayed by
his partiality to the one who fed him. 2) Eisav "hunted" Yitzchak with
his mouth, asking him seemingly pious questions such as, "How does
one tithe salt and straw?" (which are not tithed at all).
Both explanations leave us wondering: Was Yitzchak really taken in by
Eisav's superficial ploys? Was he so shallow as to be persuaded by
Eisav's feeding him, or so foolish as to be convinced of Eisav's piety
because of a few strategic questions? We have all met insincere
people in our lives. Many of us would pride ourselves in our ability to
see through their contrived sincerity, and recognize them for what
they truly were. Was the patriarch, Yitzchak, not capable of identifying
Eisav's childish "games" as such?
Possibly these questions are based on our lack of understanding of
the true cunning of Eisav. Perhaps he was exceptionally good at what
he did; so good that even the penetrating gaze of Yitzchak was
unable to see through his masquerade. Or maybe Yitzchak knew what
was happening all along, and it was Yitzchak who was playing the
In his younger years, the holy tzaddik R' Naftuli Tzvi of Ropschitz zt"l
studied under the famed tzaddik Rav Mordechai of Neshchiz zt"l.
Recognizing the potential of his young disciple, R' Mottele, as he was
known, took R' Naftuli under his wings. He quickly became a member
of R' Mottele's household, eating at his table regularly, and at times
sleeping under his roof. R' Mottele gave away much of his precious
time to R' Naftuli, teaching him the hidden secrets of the Torah, and
guiding him to serve Hashem with greater intensity and depth.
One day, unexpectedly, this all came to a sudden stop. R' Mottele
called R' Naftuli over and extended him his hand, blessing his journey
home with blessing and success. R' Naftuli was devastated. He had
no idea what he could have done to be banished from before his
rebbe so suddenly. He pleaded with R' Mottele to let him stay - there
was so much more to learn! - yet R' Mottele didn't flinch. Without
offering any further explanation, he cut off the conversation.
R' Naftuli was not to be put off so quickly. He decided to turn to R'
Mottele's rebbitzen (wife), who was renowned for her piety and
wisdom, not to mention her substantial influence over the rebbe. She
listened carefully to R' Naftuli's story, and agreed to plead his case
before her husband.
The tzaddik listened to his wife's impassioned appeal. "You know, my
wife," he began, "that I am not a stubborn man. Indeed, because you
have asked, I will grant your request. Naftul'che stays. I only hope that
I will not regret having changed my mind..."
The ominous implication of his last words frightened the rebbitzen.
She tried to rescind her request, but R' Mottele wouldn't hear of it.
"You've already interceded on his behalf, and 'an advocate cannot
become a prosecutor,' (Talmud, Berachos 59a). Go and tell him he
may stay; I, however, will have to take great caution..."
One day, weeks later, it was mid-afternoon and R' Naftuli sat alone in
the beis midrash of Neshchiz studying Torah. A well-dressed stranger
suddenly appeared, and, after wiping the sweat off his brow,
approached the young man who sat bent over his sefarim. "Young
man, is it possible to see the rebbe now?" he asked.
R' Naftuli raised his eyes and gazed intently at the man standing
before him. Suddenly, as if gripped by a spasm, R' Naftuli shivered.
He straightened up. "You - see the rebbe?"he asked incredulously.
"I wanted to know if it's possible to see the rebbe now," he said.
"You - see the rebbe?! To enter into the holy of holies with your soul
so filthy with sin?"
The stunned villager retreated backwards. R' Naftuli's entire being
seethed. "You are full of sin - not only old ones, but even over the last
few days, you continue to sin. Like this you wish to encounter the
pure countenance of the holy rebbe?!"
"I knew it! I knew that's how it would be!" the man blurted out as he
fled the shul.
R' Naftuli sat back down, still trembling with indignation. Soon
afterwards, he heard the familiar footsteps of his rebbe approaching.
"Naftuli, who was here?"
"Some man had come to see you."
"And where is he now?"
"I couldn't bear the thought of such a disgusting person approaching
the rebbe. Even being in his presence was too much. He fled."
"Oy vey!" exclaimed R' Mottele, "this is exactly what I was afraid of!
What have you done? Go - now - and find him and bring him back
here! I warn you - don't come back without him!"
After many hours, and a great distance from Neshchiz, R' Naftuli
finally caught up with the man. It was only with great effort and
persuasion that he convinced him to return.
"Shalom aleichem," R' Mottele greeted him when he saw him
approaching. "It's been so long since you came to see me. I hope all
is well. How is business?" After talking privately for a long time, R'
Naftuli overheard the man promising the rebbe that from now on he
would come to see the rebbe regularly.
After the man had left, R' Mottele had R' Naftuli call the rebbitzen.
"You see - R' Naftuli almost cost us a Jewish soul." The man, it
seems, had once been a regular visitor to R' Mottele. While he was a
simple villager, R' Mottele inspired him to serve Hashem with all his
heart, and he looked forward to his visits with the rebbe, which would
refresh his soul.
One day, the man fell prey to sin. From that point on, things went
downhill. The more he sinned, the further he fell, until he completely
gave up keeping Shabbos and kosher. His times with the rebbe faded
and became a distant memory. Ultimately, he even considered
conversion, and spoke with a local priest about the prospect. "You
know that over the years, I had succeeded in kindling a Jewish flame
in the man's heart. As he spoke with the priest, he began to
reminisce about times we spent together. He decided he could not
go through with it without travelling to see me one more time,
despite deep shame and fear over how I would react, and if I would
somehow realize all that had transpired. 'Perhaps,' he thought, 'the
rebbe can rekindle that flame.'"
"Since then, I've been waiting every day for his arrival. The thought of
a soul so lost has given me no rest these last months. I feared,
however, that our Naftul'che here would meet him first. I knew his
penetrating eyes would not be fooled by the man's outward
appearance, and that he would be repelled by his sins and
transgressions. 'Why do I have to worry so much,' I said to myself.
'Let Naftuli go home in peace, and let the man come to me in peace!'
That's why I sent him away. At any rate, my deepest fears were
confirmed. R' Naftuli lambasted the man, and banished him from the
shul. Thankfully, I realized what had happened, and managed to
catch him and bring him back. Naftuli almost cost us a Jewish
"Do not rebuke the scoffer, lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man,
and he will love you. (Mishlei/Proverbs 9:8)." The holy Alshich zt"l
explains: There are two ways to rebuke the sinner: One way is to
reprimand him by calling him a fool and a sinner. While your words
will surely ring out with the unadulterated truth, they will likely only
cause him to hate you, thereby distancing him even further from the
path of the Torah. The other way is to admonish him by telling him
how much you respect him, and how shocked you are that a person
as wise and thoughtful as him could make so fatal a mistake. By
showing him respect, while at the same time expressing surprise that
someone like him could act in a manner so unbefitting, he will love
you, and will almost surely accept your rebuke.
The Alshich thus explains the above verse: Do not rebuke the
scoffer - by calling him a scoffer, for he will [only] hate you - as a
result of your harsh rebuke. Rebuke a wise man - by telling him how
wise he is, and how inappropriate his actions were for a person of his
stature, and he will love you.
Yitzchak saw through Eisav's superficial piety from the onset, explains
Ruach Eliyahu. The "game" was upon Yitzchak's lips, not Eisav's.
Yitzchak was glad, because Eisav's feigned tzidkus gave him the
opportunity to show Eisav some (undeserved) love and respect, which
Yitzchak hoped would keep their relationship stable, so that perhaps
a time would come when Eisav would change his ways and live up to
the expectations his father had been showing him all these years.
While, sadly, it seems Eisav never did live up to Yitzchak's
expectations, he taught us an exceptional lesson when dealing with
others: Show a person respect, and they will love you; scoff at them,
and you will have made a lifelong enemy.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored in memory
of Pessel bas R' Bunim Dohan, by her son. May her
memory be a blessing.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.