Yaakov asked the angel “Please tell me your name.” “Why do you ask me my name?” replied the angel. (Bereshith 32:30)
The Torah’s words seem to indicate that the Divine emissary was trying to evade Yaakov’s question. In fact, he did answer the question, for this angel’s name was “Don’t ask.” Although we might consider this a rather peculiar name, it was actually a very appropriate one. Yaakov was fighting the guardian angel of Esav, the embodiment of the evil inclination, and one of its primary goals is to stop people from asking questions.
Preventing people from asking questions is very important to the evil inclination, for someone who does not ask any questions can be easily ensnared by his evil inclination. Once a person starts to ask questions, he will recognize the transient nature of falsehood, for he will see that the picture it painted was nothing but an illusion1.
On another level, one who does not ask any questions shows that he entertains no doubts, for he is certain that he is absolutely correct and that his motives are entirely pure. This is almost never the case. One must be especially wary regarding decisions that are ostensibly obvious, for such matters often turn out to be very far from the truth.
When he was young, in his great fervor to learn Torah the Chofetz Chaim immersed himself in Torah study around the clock, depriving himself of sleep to the point that he made himself ill and was bedridden for an entire year, during which time he could not learn at all. The Chofetz Chaim had truly believed that he was doing the right thing, because our whole purpose in life is to learn, yet he disregarded his human needs. Our Sages tell us that any falsehood that does not contain some element of truth will not be believed2. Only through constant inquiry can we arrive at the truth.
Since falsehood is the “foundation” of the evil inclination, it is sometimes necessary to take special precautions in dealing with it. When Avraham was on his way to the site of Yitzchak’s Akeidah the evil inclination confronted him and demanded to know where he was going. Recognizing that it was trying to thwart him, Avraham told him that he was going to pray3. We must not think that Avraham stooped to the level of the evil inclination, since the evil inclination is itself sheker, and the only way to deal with it is to fight it on its own terms.
1 Ohr Yahel, Vol. 2 p. 35.
2 Sotah 49a.
3 Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org