FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"He saw that he could not overpower him"
What exactly did the angel see during his wrestle with Yaakov? The Midrash
comments that the angel beheld the Shechinah, and thus recognized his
inability to defeat Yaakov. The Midrash compares the angel to one who
wrestles with the prince and suddenly sees the boy's father - the king -
standing nearby. He immediately gives up the match and withdraws from the
fight. Similarly, once the angel saw the Shechinah hovering near Yaakov, as
it were, he gave up.
We may learn from here that when one wrestles with his evil inclination,
even when he feels weak, that he lacks the wherewithal to overcome his
temptation, the Shechinah is with him, and his victory is therefore guaranteed!
"He saw that he could not overpower him"
The Ramban zs"l writes: "This entire incident [of Yaakov's wrestle with
the angel] is a symbol for Yaakov's descendants, that there will come a
generation among his progeny whom Esav will overpower almost until the point
of destruction. This occurred in one generation during the time of the
Mishnah, in the time of Rabbi Yehudah Ben Bava and his colleagues. As Rabbi
Hiyya Bar Abba said, 'If someone would tell me, give your life for the
sanctification of the Name of God, I will consent, so long as they kill me
immediately. But during a time of persecution, I cannot tolerate the
suffering. What would they do during these periods of persecution? They
would bring blocks of iron, heat them over a fire, and put them under the
victim's armpits, thus burning their souls...'"
The Ramban concludes, "There were other generations when they [our enemies]
did even worse, and yet we endured it all and it passed, as the pasuk
alludes, 'Yaakov came complete...'"
"He saw that he could not overpower him"
Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno zs"l explains that the angel was unable to overpower
Yaakov as a result of the latter's constant attachment to his Creator, in
both thought and speech. Indeed, one who attaches himself to the Creator
genuinely and sincerely is guaranteed protection from harm, as the pasuk
states (Tehillim 16:8), "I place Hashem opposite me always - for from my
right I will never falter."
"He saw that he could not overpower him"
Rabbi Yaakov Hayyim Sofer zs"l cites the comment of the Midrash that the
angel wanted to let Yaakov know with whom he was wrestling. He therefore
stuck his finger into the ground, and the ground was suddenly set ablaze.
Yaakov challenged his competitor, "You're trying to frighten me this way? I
am made entirely of fire, as the pasuk states, 'The house of Yaakov will be
like fire!'" He explains, that the enemy nations attempt to threaten us
with a flood of blood of fire, meaning, through external forces or wisdom.
But none of these forces can overpower us, for we are endowed with a unique
inner protection, the fire of faith which burns strong inside us.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
The Saintly Poet, Rabbi Yisrael Nagara zs"l
There is a well-known story of the great singer and poet, Rabbi Yisrael
Nagara zs"l (who composed, "Y-ah Ribon," and his name - Yisrael - is formed
by the first letters of each stanza) who was sitting as his Shabbat table
singing, as was his want, and at that moment the Ar"i zs"l was sitting with
his students. The Ar"i beheld tens of thousands of angels gathering in the
house of Rabbi Yisrael to listen to the sacred prayers, as all his songs
were song with "ru'ah hakodesh." Suddenly, he saw one angel come and
scatter the crowd of angels, because Rabbi Yisrael sung with his arms
uncovered. The Ar"i immediately sent two of his students to inform Rabbi
Yisrael. Upon hearing what had happened, Rabbi Yisrael was gripped with
fear and immediately covered his arms. The angels once again joined his
table to listen to his beautiful, soul-stirring song.
When Rabbi Yehudah Gizfan zs"l, the author of "Minhat Yehudah" and one of
the great leaders of the Jewish community in Yemen around two hundred years
ago, heard this story, he could not believe that it actually happened as
recorded, "For it is impossible to say about such an individual that he
would make this grave error, especially at a moment when the 'ru'ah
hakodesh' rested upon him!" He explained the concept of the "outstretched
arm" with which Hashem smote the Egyptians on the basis of Kabbalah. The
future redemption is to unfold in a similar manner, as the prophet promises,
"Like the days when you left Egypt, I will show you miracles." Therefore,
Rabbi Yisrael Nagara zs"l most likely wanted to hasten the arrival of the
ultimate redemption, the period of great wonders, and, in this way, revealed
his arm of sanctity in order to arouse this attribute of the Almighty.
However, the time for the redemption had not yet arrived. The Creator
therefore sent an angel to scatter the other angels from the table. The
Ar"i saw all this in his ru'ah hakodesh and sent a messenger to inform Rabbi
Yisrael that he should cover these proverbial "arms," for the time of
redemption had not yet arrived. The story nevertheless assumed a more
simple, straightforward form, in order to teach, quite simply, the proper
respect and decorum with which one must sit at his Shabbat table.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Collection of Laws According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on
the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at
The Laws Involving Wearing Clothes
continued from last week
One should not walk four cubits with his head uncovered. This is
particularly relevant today, when a head-covering is a sign that one
observes the Torah and missvot and accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven.
In this way, the covering of the head distinguishes between those who serve
Hashem and those who don't, and thus every God-fearing individual should
cover his head to show that the fear of Heaven is upon him.
As an added measure of piety, one should cover his head even when walking
less than four cubits. Even when not walking, but sitting in a moving car,
train, etc., one should be stringent and cover his head. Even when standing
or sitting, one should not go too long without his head covered. The custom
is be stringent in this regard both outdoors, under the sky, and indoors,
under the ceiling of the house. It constitutes an added measure of piety to
sleep with one's head covered, as well. Nevertheless, there is no need to
be concerned should the covering fall off during the night.
One should wear a hat or "kippah" which covers the entire head, or at least
most of the head, when reciting shema, tefilah, and certainly when reciting
A hat made with many holes, such as one made with straw, is sufficient for
a head covering, and one may even recite a berachah with such a hat on his head.
Regarding one who wears a wig, without a hat, and the wig contains a layer
of material which cannot be seen, the authorities dispute whether or not
this constitutes a proper head covering. One should be stringent and wear a
covering over the toupee, especially when praying or reciting berachot, for
this is the generally accepted custom.
Placing one's hand on his head suffices for a head covering. Nevertheless,
one should not recite a berachah or mention Hashem's name when only his hand
covers his head. However, one may even recite a berachah and Hashem's name
if another person places his hand on his head. Similarly, one may recite a
berachah and God's name if he places his sleeve over his head.
If one's covering fell off unknowingly during the recitation of a tefilah
or berachah, one has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation and does need to
recite a new berachah/tefilah.
One may go without his head covering in the bathhouse, in the inner room
where people wash, even when not actually washing his head. One whose head
is uncovered, such as in bed, by the beach or a pool, may think to himself
matters of Torah learning, and there is no need to be concerned in this regard.
It is proper to cover the heads of children, as well, so as to instill
within them the fear of Heaven.
The custom is that single girls do not cover their heads. Nevertheless,
they should be trained to cover their heads at least during the recitation
of Shemoneh Esreih. However, single women who don't cover their heads even
during Shemoneh Esreih, the recitation of berachot or Torah study should not
be reprimanded, for they have authorities on whom to rely.
Even though "Shalom" is considered a name of the Almighty, as it says
(Shoftim 6:24), "He called it, Hashem Shalom" (see Shabbat 10), it is
nevertheless permitted to say "shalom" to a Jew walking without a head
covering. Even though this person would then answer, "shalom," there is no
need to be concerned of leading him to recite God's name with his head
uncovered. (It is, however, forbidden to say "shalom" to one in the inner
room in the bathhouse.)
In Masechet Berachot (15a), Rabbi Yohanan is cited as saying that one who
wants to properly accept upon himself the yoke of heaven should, in the
morning, first perform his bodily functions, wash his hands, lay tefillin,
recite shema and pray. This constitutes a complete acceptance of the yoke
of heaven. Rabbi Hiyya Bar Abba continued in the name of Rabbi Yohanan that
one who does this is considered as having erected an altar and offered
sacrifices upon it. Therefore, a person should first check to see if he
needs to use the washroom before praying, in order to ensure that his body
is clean during shema and tefilah.
"ONE WHO TAKES ADVICE FROM THE ELDERS DOES NOT FAIL"
The Midrash tells that when Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi had to travel to Rome, the
capital city of the empire which ruled the entire known world ruthlessly and
continued to tighten its grip on the Jewish people, he would first study the
parashah of Yaakov's meeting with his brother. He knew full well the
eternal nature of the Torah, its function as a guide for all times, for all
circumstances. He most likely resorted to the same three tactics as Yaakov:
a gift to appease the rulers, prayer and, finally, battle. Once, however,
he did not go through this parashah thoroughly before his journey. He was
greeted honorably by the Roman authorities, he reached favorable agreements
on every issue and, upon his departure, a legion of Roman soldiers came to
escort him. He forgot that when Yaakov was departing from Esav, he refused
Esav's offer to supply him with accompanying guards. The Midrash says that
by the time Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi reached Acco, he was forced to give up all
the possessions which he had with him, including his cloak and horse.
Perhaps the officials in the current government also forgot to consult this
parashah before travelling to the present-day "world leader." For if they
had, they would have taken advice from the Torah leaders who follow the
light of the Torah, they would not have agreed to the protection offered
from the other side of the ocean, armed escorts not just to Acco but for the
long-term, involving joint participation. How sad it is, that although we
have such a brilliant Torah, a Torah of life full of sound advice, but we do
not consult it...
THE WAY WE GO OUT INTO THE STREET
Each parashah in the Torah was written for the lessons contained therein.
The story of Yaakov's encounter with his hostile brother also presents us
with a critical and relevant lesson. On the national level, the Midrash
tells us that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi would study this parashah before each of
his meetings with the Roman dignitaries. But on the individual level, as
well, this parashah serves as a source of guidance and direction. As a
person sits in the Bet Kenesset or Bet Midrash, he resembles Yaakov, the
"simple man, a dweller of tents." When an individual spends time at home,
involved in the education of his children along the path of our national
heritage, he once again follows his patriarch Yaakov, each person according
to his own level and capabilities. But when he leaves the security of his
home, and embarks into the street, working for his livelihood and taking
care of his needs, he runs the risk of encountering "Esav." This Esav can
often be found in the common culture, in the environment of the "man of the
field" (as Esav is described), in the rampant, unrestrained permissiveness
of society. Esav comes "with four hundred men with him," as he in manifest
in hundreds of different ways - the immodesty portrayed in public signs,
dress and behavior, inappropriate speech - a combined attack against all
that is sacred, from all directions. Not to mention the pictures and
stories in the press whose standards are brought down to the lowest common
denominator and which strives to arouse the most basic, animalistic drives
within people. And how about the television broadcasts which threaten the
soul and have the capacity to destroy all that is good within a person?
"Hashem has made one against the other." The more Torah has spread its
light within the study halls of the yeshivot and kollelim, the more the
power of purity and spiritual growth blossoms, to that same extent the
darkness tightens its grip outside the Batei Midrash, the waves of impurity
grow stronger and weigh heavier. "Esav, with four hundred men with him."
So, what is the solution? How can one deal with this crisis? How can one
adequately prepare for this ever so dangerous encounter? One needs to study
this parashah and draw the relevant conclusions. Yaakov prepared in three
ways for his meeting with Esav: a gift, prayer and battle. The tactic
described most elaborately in the Torah is the gift, Yaakov's attempt to
appease his brother, to find favor in his eyes by bowing down seven times
and hugging and kissing his brother - during which Esav tried to dig his
teeth into his brother's neck, as Chazal describe...
Is this really the way to greet the culture of the street, with all its
corruption and impurity? Through appeasement and a feeling of closeness?
The heart refuses to accept such a notion, but this is what the Torah
writes. Careful, though, for in this regard the heart's intuition is
correct. True, the Torah describes such an encounter, but this parashah
requires some further analysis. Rabbi Yisrael of Salant zs"l has taught us
that only the saintly Tannaim were capable of learning straight from the
pesukim. We, however, must look to Hazal's interpretations in the Gemara
and Midrashim for guidance how to correctly understand that which is written
in the Humash.
The Zohar (end of Parashat Mikess) tells the story of Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi
Yossi who were walking together and came across a man wearing a tallit and
girded with a sword. Rabbi Hiyya wondered, is this man a ssadik or a
bandit? Rabbi Yossi responded, "We are commanded, after all, to judge
everyone favorably. As we know, when a person goes out he must prepare
himself in three ways - a gift, prayer and battle. This person is probably
travelling, so he took with him his tallit for prayer and his sword for
battle. Since he has done these two, as we can tell, there is no need to
check if he has done the third." As he passed them by, they said hello but
he failed to respond. Rabbi Hiyya remarked, "You see that he does not have
a gift, he is not interested in appeasing, as evidenced by the fact that he
did not even say hello!" The two rabbis began conversing in Torah issues.
As soon as the stranger heard that they were discussing matters of Torah, he
went over to them and answered their greeting. He asked them curiously,
"When I did not respond the first time, what did you suspect?" Rabbi Yossi
said, "We thought either you were praying or involved in Torah thoughts."
He answered, "The Almighty should judge you favorably just as you judged me.
The truth is, however, that a man once greeted me as I was travelling, but
when I answered he began fighting with me. Eventually, he tried to kill me
and steal everything I had, because he was a bandit ambushing unsuspecting
travelers. If not for my strength, he would have left me penniless or dead.
>From that day on, I promised myself I would never answer a greeting unless I
knew he was a ssadik and a Torah scholar, as the pasuk states, "There is no
peace, says Hashem, for the wicked" (Yeshayahu 57:21).
How does the message in this story conform to Yaakov's behavior in our
parashah, to his kind offering of gifts and words of appeasement to his
brother? Our conclusion must be that true, since Esav wanted to kill
Yaakov, the latter was forced to cool down the anger through appeasement.
It was impossible to avoid the confrontation. But this man was walking
along the road and feared from bandits dressed as innocent passers-by. In
such a situation, one must equip himself with the necessary weapons to fight
back, as well as pray to the Almighty for assistance. But a gift,
appeasement - impossible.
This is the guidance and direction to which we must look.
THE STORY OF THE FOX, THE SON OF A DONKEY
If a person would come along and say, "I've got a great business
proposition for you. It will cost only a thousand shekels - a great
opportunity!" What would you say? Sure, what kind of question is that?
You would want to hear more details. The thousand shekels is a brokerage
fee, a reasonable charge for such a great venture, certain to succeed.
There is a Jewish community in the United States - you would visit there
soon, most likely. Well, they are offering a house exchange. You and your
partners would allow them to use your homes in Israel whenever they arrive.
In exchange, you would be allowed to live there, in the homes of the
American participants. Sounds good, no? Nevertheless, you must pay the
money immediately, and, of course, there is a chance that you will soon have
to evacuate your home. And how many homes are available for all the
participants in America? The one offering the deal answers quite frankly,
"There is but one home there, and I already reserved it for myself..."
So, what are the chances that you would be convinced to join??
Yet, he won the jackpot. This is exactly what Shechem, the son of Hamor,
did - he convinced his entire city to circumcise themselves! What did he
say, how did he persuade them? He explained to them why this business
arrangement is most worthwhile: we, the city of Shechem, will give our
daughters to them as wives, and, in exchange, we will receive their
daughters for our sons. In other words, we will get their one, single
daughter - who was already taken. Yet, the people of the city agreed to the
idea. They didn't ask any questions - they picked up and waited on line to
But wait - before we laugh at them, let's take a closer look at ourselves.
Unfortunately, we will probably end up laughing at ourselves first. Shechem
was, in actuality, the father of modern marketing, and his students are
those who control all the major economic systems in contemporary society.
They turned the planting of a trap into an ideal, ruining the other into a
top priority and goal. When they can sell refrigerators to Eskimos,
convince the wicked in gehinnom to buy electric heaters with credit cards -
they consider themselves successful, arousing the envy of others. When a
person returns from the store carrying packages full of merchandise he never
intended on buying, he resents the fact that others have manipulated him,
have attracted his interest through a sophisticated system of advertising.
Everything was taken into consideration: the location of the demand, the
form of packaging, the color of the labels, the lighting and background
music in the store. In light of all this, the need for the item has become
just a side point.
Advertisers have invested millions in order to leave us poor, as we are
expected to pay back these millions by purchasing that which we really don't
need. This advertising occurs publicly, against all conventional rules of
ethics, against all protocol of proper competition. It leaves no possibility
of being saved by exercising caution. There is no warning sounded in
advance. Let's take one concrete example. The Reform and Conservative
moments have no following in Israel, period. The community in Israel lives
fine and happily without them, sense no need for them, and senses the
forgery and falsehood latent in their position, i.e., that it is "possible"
to be religious and eat pork, it is "possible" to be married to a gentile by
a "rabbi," it is "possible" for a "rabbi" to be a heretic (in fact, a
sizable percentage of Reform "rabbis" declared that they do not believe in
God!). In Israel, nobody buys that. What has that handful done with the
funds collected from communities across the globe? They bribe members of
the Israeli parliament and members of the press with free trips abroad,
including free housing in luxurious hotels. Then, surprisingly, every
argument contains some "balance": we will hear the position of the Chief
Rabbi, and then we will hear that of the Reform rabbi, as if there was some
equivalence between the two. And, of course, the journalist covering the
event had his entire trip paid for by them.
Of course, this is just one example, but let's remember the main point -
all advertising is but a trap, and underneath lies nothing but the mirage of
Measure for Measure (18)
Flashback: A wealthy but stingy man caused the death of an impoverished
Torah scholar by insensitively neglecting his needs. The poor man's soul
was denied entry into Gan Eden because the wealthy man was destined to be
punished on his account. He was therefore given the opportunity to appear
to the wealthy man to instruct him along a path of repentance. He ordered
the wealthy man to wear tattered clothing, dress up as a peasant, and study
Torah day and night. He was not to ask anything from anyone until he was
absolutely famished, at which point he was allowed to go to his own home and
ask for some food. He did so only to be met by beatings and insults from
his servants and family, until they finally allowed him to eat some of the
bread crumbs reserved for the chickens...
After he finished eating, he returned to the Bet Midrash and continued his
learning. Various people, including those who learned and prayed there,
invited the man into their homes to eat and sleep, but he refused. They
even brought him fresh, wrapped food and pots just off the fire, but he did
not accept their offers. His vision became blurred and his head started
spinning from the aroma coming from the inviting meals, but he shook his
head in refusal and moved the food to the other side of the bench. People
looked and shook their heads. They shrugged their shoulders and took the
food away. Other passed by and dropped some coins, figuring that he
preferred money over food. "You shall be blessed, compassionate Jews," he
muttered, but he would then move the coins away to the corner, forbidding
himself to take them. He was enveloped in hunger and studied Torah until
after the last student left the Bet Midrash and the final candle was
extinguished. Only then he recited "keri'at shema" and slept on the hard
bench. His bones continued to ache from the beatings which he suffered, and
his soul ached even more. As morning broke, he woke up dizzy and joined the
"vatikin" prayer service. Afterwards, he tried to continue his studies but
his hunger did not allow him to concentrate on his work. His knees
trembling with hunger, his heart trembling with fear, he dragged himself
back to that ever familiar home. He knocked on the door, and once again the
maid opened it. "You again! You have come back!?" she called. Her voice
was answered by the sudden appearance of the other servants, as well as the
wife and children. "Go, get lost!" they shouted in unison. He responded
desperately, "Have mercy, please give me something to eat." They gave him
not food, but punches and kicks. "Oh!" cried the woman bitterly. "The
trouble of my missing husband was not enough - I now have to deal with this
beggar. Go wherever you want, but here we don't give out donations. Just
wait until my husband comes back, then you will see what anger really is!"
"But Madame," warned the maid, "he will just break more windows."
"Then let him take the crumbs for the chickens and leave us alone," she
declared, turning her head away from her husband...
to be continued...
FROM THE WONDERS OF CREATION
We generally think that salt is merely a substance which adds taste to
foods. Although this is of course true, salt contains far more significance
than that. In fact, no living creature can live without it, and thus its
importance matches that of water and air. Salt is one of the minerals which
allow the body to survive and function properly. After all, the living
organism is a complex, chemical machine which could be created by no one but
the Almighty Himself and, as stated, salt is one of the chemical elements
critical for the operation of the human body as well as other living
organisms. How much salt does the human body need? Quite frankly, not
much. Human blood is composed of 92% water and just .9% salt. This small
quantity must be distributed precisely throughout the body. This is one of
the critical functions of the kidneys, to ensure that the salt in the blood
is divided accordingly throughout the different parts of the body. For the
same reason, the body requires the right amount of water. Salt is dissolved
in water, and therefore the quantity of salt in the body depends upon the
salt concentration in the body's water. When a person loses too much water
by sweating, for example, there results a higher-than-normal concentration
of salt in the body's water, which causes thirst.
One of the great qualities of salt is that it never goes bad; it stays
forever. It therefore serves as a symbol of the eternal covenant between
the Almighty and His people, a covenant which is never ruined - "An eternal
covenant of salt" (Bemidbar 18). Since each sacrifice offered in the Bet
Hamikdash strengthens the bond between Hashem and the penitent Jew offering
the sacrifice, every sacrifice must be salted (Vayikra 2:13). Another
reason for this requirement relates to the fact that salt adds flavor, thus,
in effect, sweetening and improving the food. Similarly, repentance
purifies a person from all spiritual defects. The custom has thus developed
to leave salt on the table and dip the bread into salt prior to the berachah
of "hamossi." The table of a Jew must resemble an altar, and just as a
sacrifice was never offered on the altar without salt, so do we add salt to
our bread. Taking this concept to a deeper level, the Jewish soul may be
considered the "salt" of the body. When the soul lies within the body, the
body is complete and functional. But once the soul has departed, then the
body becomes like a piece of meat which has not been salted, and it becomes
ruined. Our souls originate from the Divine Throne, and we must therefore
take good care of it, by providing it with the necessary nourishment - Torah.