“As a muddied fountain, and a blocked spring, is a righteous man bending before a Rasha” (Mishlei 25:26)
“….just as it is impossible for a fountain to be muddied or a well to be blocked, similarly, it is impossible for a Tzaddik to bend before a Rasha.”
“Said HaKadosh Baruch Hu [to Ya’akov]: he was going his own way, and you sent messengers to him, saying: This is the word of your servant Ya’akov?”
“….One who takes a dog by the ears is one who meddles in an argument that is not his own.” (Mishlei 26:17)
“A parable: a gangster chief who is sleeping at a crossroads. A passerby begins to wake him, warning him: arise, there is evil present here! He says to him: you have awakened the evil! He was sleeping, and you awakened me! Similarly, G-d says to Ya’akov: he was going his own way, and you sent messengers to him, saying: this is the word of your servant Ya’akov?” (Midrash Rabbah, 75:2)
Our Sages find fault with Ya’akov’s submission before his evil brother. A Tzaddik represents the presence of G-d on earth, and undue humility denigrates His honor in the face of evil.
This idea is a bit puzzling.
The actions of Ya’akov in this week’s Parsha are a lesson for the ages. Throughout the years, Jewish leaders have referred to this fateful meeting, taking guidance from Ya’akov’s every move as they prepared for their own dealings with the non-Jewish world.
In fact, the actions of Ya’akov are seen as an omen for the ages. The tumultous relationship of these two brothers is paralleled by the historic enmity of the Bnai Yisrael and their worldly neighbors, as the eternal truths expressed by these two brothers plays itself out in real life.
So, which is it? If the subservience of Ya’akov was unjustified, why have our mentors followed his lead? If his actions were proper, why is the Midrash so critical?
In our shiur this week, we will learn of Ya’akov’s true intent, an instruction manual for his wayward children.
Ya’akov Avinu is the image of the perfect man, his countenance engraved upon the heavenly throne, in the very likeness of Adam HaRishon, G-d’s own handiwork.
Ya’akov remains alone, apart from worldly concerns, his life perfect and self-contained.
Years later, his descendants form a nation that dwells alone, heirs to an eternal heritage, an inner dimension separating them from the Gentile world.
Their subservience to nations that mock His word is a mark of shame, a blot on G-d’s name, a stain that minimizes His glory.
Let us explain.
Among the sinners who lose their lot in the world-to-come is the man who disgraces Torah scholars.
Certainly, this is not a deed to be proud of, but why does it deserve such harsh punishment?
“…one who shames Torah scholars cheapens the word of G-d, and has no share in Olam HaBa….the way of Kiddush Hashem is to express with every utterance, with every hint of the eye, with every movement and action, that the foundation of man’s life, his greatest glory, his good, his essence, his benefit, and his worth, is the service of G-d, His fear, and His Torah….This is the honor of G-d.”
“And those who defame Torah scholars, and His fear, negate this idea, and demonstrate the opposite with their conduct, as if to say that Divine service is not essential, but honor and glory are due to success in worldly affairs, and fundamental things exist other than the service of Hashem. They desecrate the Torah….” (Rabbeinu Yonah, Sha’arei Tshuvah, 3:143-8)
Torah study is the basis of all existence. The primacy of Torah above all else finds expression in the Talmid Chacham, whose every word and deed demonstrates subservience to the will of G-d.
This commitment to Torah is more than religious piety. It reflects the basic truth of existence: only the Torah has true purpose. Though the physical world may serve as a means towards the attainment of a higher goal, it is itself devoid of independent substance.
This concept should give pause to those who criticize the diligent Torah students who dedicate their days to learning. Yes, Kollelim do depend on the community for support, but the moaning one hears from certain quarters betrays more than a reluctance to give charity. It contains a subtle reproof, ‘Why aren’t they doing something more productive?’
Let’s be perfectly clear: resolving a difficult talmudic problem is more important than discovering life on Mars, or winning the Super Bowl, or conquering the stock market.
Man’s priorities are judged by the amount of attention he devotes to each task. Many are those who worry about next week’s salary, or last night’s boxscore, but how many people are concerned about understanding Tosafos?
It is around this question that Ya’akov and Esav meet once again.
“VaYikra’u Shmo Esav – This is the ‘Shav’ (worthlessness) that I have created in My world.” (Midrash Rabbah, 63:12)
Esav, and his world, don’t count.
The Torah has it all, it shouldn’t need to beg.
Ya’akov has no business bending before Esav.
After bringing his family across the river, Ya’akov returns for the small jars he has left behind, careful that his possessions not go to waste.
It is at this point that the angel of Esav, man’s evil inclination, attacks.
The Yetzer HaRa descends upon man at moments of vulnerability, and despite his righteousness, Ya’akov has allowed an opening for evil to enter.
In a life of otherworldliness, a dimension where Klal Yisrael resides alone, the Yetzer HaRa has no function. But, when just for a moment, Ya’akov becomes distracted by physical concerns, legitimate as they may be, the angel of Esav siezes the opportunity. ‘Ya’akov too, is just like me.’
The Avos don’t make mistakes.
Their words and actions are Torah.
Ya’akov understands this: though he may be absorbed in celestial spheres, his descendants will someday be embroiled in the turbulent lifestyle of Olam HaZeh, and by what merit will they survive? It is for their sake that he chooses to confront Esav and his entourage. Though he comes out limping, he emerges alive, vanquishing the power of evil, and protecting the Jewish future.
This is the dual message of Ya’akov’s fateful meeting. For a Tzaddik of his measure, this surrender is an unwarranted gesture, elevating Esav to a status he does not deserve. But, in the generations to come, the people of Israel will have all too frequent contact with a vindictive world, and Ya’akov accounts for that too, teaching his children to know their place.
Sometimes, it is best to bend.
For sixteen hundred years, the Jewish people followed this lesson well, resigning themselves to degradation and shame, forced into submission by a hostile world.
But, about a century ago, certain elements came to the conclusion that the tme was ripe to recapture lost ‘Jewish pride’. Refusing to capitulate to the demands of the nations, they foisted their definition of the ‘new Jew’ upon an unsuspecting people, capturing the hearts and minds of their generation.
They made one mistake.
The Jewish people never lacked self-respect.
Though pushed to the ground, and kicked while he was down, the Jew always laughed inside, spitting upon the image of Esav and his world. Ready and willing to concede physical defeat, the Jew eyed a different sort of prize, the joy and inner peace of a nation that dwells alone.
But, when powerful forces shattered the sanctity of Jewish life, besmirching the Torah and its scholars, the values of yesterday were turned upside down. Dignity was redefined as surrender, while physical prowess was suddenly held in high esteem.
When the Torah is abandoned, Jewish pride is suddenly lost, and Klal Yisrael travels to foreign lands in a vain attempt to revive the dignity of a mighty nation. So, while throughout the country, thousands of men joyfully sacrifice their youth at the fountain of Torah, many more hope in futile desperation that Israeli soccer will finally succeed upon the world stage, salvaging their faded dreams.
A number of years ago, I traveled with a group of educators to visit a secular Kibbutz. After being given a tour of the grounds, a Kibbutz leader spoke to us about their basic values.
“We have left behind the Galut mentality”, she declared, “we have created a society of our own, a new and independent culture.”
I raised my hand.
“Tell me”, I asked, “Can you explain why the walls of the youth lounge are adorned with pictures of Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, and the stereo is playing the latest American hits? I have visited numerous Charedi homes of the so-called ‘Galut mentality’, but I have never seen any posters of non-Jews, or any hint of foreign culture!”
“L’Tza’ari HaRav”, she admitted, “you are one-hundred percent correct.”
When the Torah is substituted for interests of dubious distinction, the people of the book become a lost and wandering nation, searching desperately for a last vestige of the pride they left behind.
And still, Ya’akov struggles for the life of his children, wrestling the angel of Esav in a battle to the end.
“VaYomer Shalcheni, Ki Alah HaShachar!”
“VaYomer, Lo Ashalechacha, Ki Im Beirachtani”
“VaYomer Eilav, Mah Shemeicha? VaYomer, Ya’akov”
“VaYomer, Lo Ya’akov YeiAmer Od Shimcha, Ki Im Yisrael, Ki Sarisa Im Elokim, V’Im Anashim, VaTuchal”
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.