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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


We came to your brother, to Eisav; moreover, he is heading towards you, and four hundred men are with him. (32:7)

Rashi comments on the above pasuk, "You might think that he comes toward you as a brother. He is not. The four hundred men that he has gathered together are a war party, and you are to be the victim. Eisav is coming as Eisav!" Yet, despite Eisav's deep-rooted enmity toward Yaakov Avinu, when they met, Eisav embraced and kissed Yaakov Avinu. Was this accidental - or manipulative? Rashi cites the Midrash, that says that while it is a known axiom that Eisav despised Yaakov, at that moment, his feelings of brotherly love were stirred and, therefore, his embrace and the kiss were sincere. What brought about this total change of heart? Eisav left with one objective - to exact vengeance and kill Yaakov. Suddenly, his emotional disposition reversed and reconciliation was in the air. What happened? Rashi explains that when Eisav saw Yaakov bowing to him so many times, his compassion was moved. There is no question that if someone bows down to us a number of times, it leaves a strong impression. Was Eisav not above this? In the wake of a personal experience, Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, gave rationale to Yaakov's demonstration of reverence and Eisav's consequent transformation.

The old Orthodox Jewish community in Yerushalayim was boldly independent of the secular Zionist movement that viewed itself as the sole representative of the Jewish people inhabiting Eretz Yisrael. The Zionists harbored no love for the Orthodox Jew. More than once, the antagonism led to blatant physical hostility. Once, a group of thugs barged into Rav Yosef Chaim's house as he was studying with his grandson. They shouted all sorts of threats at him as representative and leader of the "traitors" who dared to undermine the leadership of the Jews of Palestine. Rav Yosef Chaim did not budge. Instead, he sat calmly staring at them, with pity and sorrow for those who had estranged themselves from their noble heritage.

They became so unnerved by Rav Yosef Chaim's response, that they began to make physical threats. The aged rav arose from his chair and began to unbutton his shirt, until he bared his chest. He looked them defiantly in the eye and said, "I am prepared to give up my life to sanctify Hashem's Name. Shoot me - right here and now. I promise not to resist! We are not afraid of you or your threats. We seek only peaceful coexistence. As we have no influence on your sphere of activities, we ask of you that you not interfere in our matters of religion and permit us to operate independently. No threats will defeat us!"

It appeared as if they were about to attack the rav, when suddenly, they turned around and left. What happened that changed their minds?

Some time later, Rav Yosef Chaim explained that it was Yaakov Avinu and his behavior toward Eisav that inspired the way he acted toward the thugs. "Chazal tell us that it is axiomatic that Eisav hates Yaakov, but we must also remember that Yaakov hates Eisav as well." This is to be gleaned from the pasuk in Tehillim 139:21, "Those who hate you, I hate." Yet, when Yaakov saw Eisav coming towards him with four hundred men, he reacted by bowing down to the ground seven times. Yaakov acted wisely. He repressed his feelings of animosity toward Eisav, focusing instead on the positive aspects and character traits that Eisav possessed. He did this until he "reached his brother," translated figuratively, that he overcame his feelings of hatred until he could feel a true sense of closeness and brotherhood with Eisav. This genuine attitude of brotherly love that emanated from Yaakov transformed Eisav's hatred into love.

This is how we must relate to our brethren that have alienated themselves from the Torah way. Look for their positive traits; seek out the good in them. By judging them favorably, we will dispel their animus toward us. When I look at those men as brothers, it compels them to change their attitude toward me. It is difficult to hate someone who loves you. Let us learn from our Patriarch Yaakov how to deal with those who demonstrate malice toward us.

Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with himů he struck the socket of his hip. (32:25,26)

The confrontation between Yaakov Avinu and the Sar Shel Eisav, angel of Eisav, is a seminal event in the history of our nation. This is the foreshadowing for the many confrontations, trials and tribulations we have undergone throughout history. Yet, throughout the many persecutions, we have survived and even thrived. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, observes that there are three levels of Jewish status in galus, exile. The first is analogous to the status of Avraham Avinu. "You are a prince of G-d in our midst." The world respected him. He was free from jealousy, discrimination or harm. Not only was his Jewishness not a liability, it was actually beneficial to his maintaining a revered status in society.

The second type of status was that of Yitzchak Avinu. While he had great influence and was able to live a Jewish life among the pagans that surrounded him, he was nonetheless subject to envy, harassment and blatant bigotry - both economic and social. Yet, Yitzchak maintained his dignity. He continued prospering, but his profile was lower than that of his father. He saw the storm clouds of anti-Semitism gathering. He was acutely aware of what the future had in store for his descendants.

The third status is that of Yaakov Avinu. He suffered overt persecution, physical threats to his life, demeaning and derogatory remarks. He worked as a despised and lowly servant whose work was denigrated. Yaakov suffered, but persevered. He was obsequious, but persistent. He could not change the situation, living with enmity and derision all his life. What kept him going was his tenacity and faith. Indeed, the more he was hated, the more he was compelled to turn to his Jewishness for solace and strength.

We ask ourselves: Where are we today? We live sixty years after the perpetration of the greatest act of blatant anti-Semitism, the Holocaust. Regrettably, all too many of us tend - or seek - to forget that an entire world stood silent as we were brutally and mercilessly slaughtered. Our own host country, the United States, along with its president, turned a deaf ear to the pleas. The murder of the Jews elicited no sympathy in the media. There is no room in this paper to record the many omissions that would have helped our people. Moreover, we are discovering now that those, such as President Truman who seemed to be our friend, really viewed us as parasites.

Interestingly, the liberal New York Times, a paper not known for its support of the Jewish cause, some time ago ran an editorial that addresses the crux of German anti-Semitism. The editorial was entitled, "One Little Boy." It began by posing a series of questions: "Why the search for Nazis twenty years after World War II? Why does bitterness still burn as a hot coal in the hearts of millions throughout the world? Why are so many decent human beings unable to manage to find in their hearts the capacity to forgive and forget?

One of the reasons may be a story that ran in this newspaper. A book has recently been published, documenting the fate of the one and one-half million Jewish children under sixteen years of age in Hitler's concentration camps. The following few sentences from the story are sufficient:

"Then the guard ordered the children to fold their clothes neatly and march into the gas chamber and crematorium. One little boy, less than two years old, was too little to climb the steps. So the guard took the child in his arms and carried him into the chamber." There is the reason - one little boy.

Six million is a figure that is incomprehensible. While we say it in one breathe, we really do not fathom the enormity of the statistic. One and one-half million children under the age of sixteen is a staggering figure, but it does not really tug at the emotions in the same manner that one little boy under the age of two who could not climb the stairs does. He was lifted up by the guard. This statistic bespeaks the fiendishness of the Nazis, the enormity of the outrage, the unspeakable magnitude of the disaster. If we are seeking insight into the hatred toward the Jews that embodied the Nazi, we have found it in the above article.

Today in the western world, this form of malignant hatred does not exist. Bnei Yishmael, the Arab nations, harbor a venomous hatred for everything Jewish, but "officially" they are not supported by the western world. Where does that leave us today? We might be tempted to say that we have achieved "Yitzchak" status. Some might even hypothesize that we are approaching "Avraham's" position. Time will tell whether this is true, or whether today is just another calm before the storm. The Bais HaLevi draws a parallel between assimilation and anti-Semitism. In other words, the more we attempt to acculturate and decrease the distinction between Jew and gentile, the more Hashem will turn the nations against us. We have the prescription for success. We now have to adhere to it.

What happened to the yerech Yaakov, the socket of the hip, where the angel seemingly bested Yaakov? What does that represent? Perhaps it refers to another form of enmity that is just as virulent and equally destructive - the hatred among brothers. The friction that exists between frum and non-frum, chiloni and chareidi, especially in Eretz Yisrael, is a new form of antagonism that has emerged. Moreover, the antagonism that reigns even among the various camps of the observant community is not only a chillul Hashem, it is delaying Moshiach Tzidkeinu's arrival. Regrettably, we have learned to cope with the external aggression, but the internal conflict seems to be eating away at the very core of our nation. Eisav's angel knew exactly where to strike to prevent Yaakov Avinu from moving forward. Throughout the darkness of night/galus, we prevailed - as Yaakov did. As light was approaching - as the light of Torah becomes stronger and begins to illuminate the world - we become bogged down with petty machlokes, controversy, which prevents us from moving forward and reaching out to the wider community. Yes, Eisav's angel knew exactly where to strike.

Let them settle in the land and trade in it. (34:21)

It seems like a simple vocation: settle in the land and apply yourself to commerce. It seems simple, but - as we may note from the following narrative - there is a profound lesson to be derived from every endeavor in life. To those who view the various occurrences in their lives as "simple" happenings, they present nothing more than the perspective of a "simple" person. We can and should learn a lesson from everything that occurs. Otherwise, we continue to remain "simple."

Prior to his being revealed as the great tzaddik and rebbe, Horav Moshe Leib Sassover, zl, lived with his wife and children in abject poverty. One wealthy person in the town provided his family's support. One day, his benefactor asked Rav Moshe Leib, "Is this going to go on forever? Do you really think that an individual of your scholarship should live from week to week from my support? I will give you a sizable amount of venture capital to go to the market and try your luck. Hashem will surely bless your endeavor, and you will succeed financially."

Rav Moshe Leib took the advice and went to the market together with all of the other businessmen. Each individual businessman sought out the wares that he would purchase for resale, while Rav Moshe Leib went to the bais hamedrash to study Torah. At the end of the day, as everyone was packing up their wares, Rav Moshe Leib returned and wanted to purchase some commodities for resale. "Now you come," they exclaimed. "The market hours are over. We are packing up to return home. You are too late." Rav Moshe Leib had no recourse but to return home - empty handed.

When he arrived at home, his children ran out to greet him, asking, "Father, father, what did you bring us from the marketplace?" As soon as Rav Moshe Leib heard this, he fainted and became ill. He was taken to bed to recuperate. The benefactor who had originally given him the money came to visit him. Noting Rav Moshe Leib's despondence, he asked, "Rebbe, what is wrong? Did you lose the money? Perhaps you gave it all away to the poor? Tell me, and I will give you more money." After awhile, Rav Moshe Leib's color came back and he was ready to speak. He looked at his friend and said, "A person travels away from his home to the market for a day or two at the most. When he returns, his children ask him, Father, father, what have you brought for us? I had nothing to respond. How much more should I fear the day when I will have to go home to my final judgment, to the World of Truth where I will stand before the Heavenly Tribunal and be asked, 'What did you bring with you?'

What will I answer then? Has my life been that replete with Torah and mitzvos that I am able to take off more time to spend in the market? What will I have to show for my stay in this world?"

"Rebbe, you are correct," said the man. "It is far better that you should spend your time immersed in Torah." It was soon after this incident that Rav Moshe Leib's reputation as a tzaddik began to spread and he became the famous Sassover Rebbe. He taught us not to ignore a simple occurrence. Furthermore, he immediately applied the lesson he gleaned to change the course of his life.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tziunei Derech explains the meaning of gomeil l'ish chesed k'mifalo, nosei l'rasha ra k'rishaso in the following manner: A person may give a meager donation to a poor person and can unknowingly save his life. For example, a poor person in dire need of a meal goes around seeking alms. He is almost there, as he only needs a few more cents to purchase the meal that he so urgently needs. The one who gives him the last few cents actually saves him, since he has provided him with the final necessary funds for purchasing his meal. Although, as far as the donor is concerned, the contribution is paltry, Hashem views it from the poor man's perspective, so that to him, it is a lifesaver. Thus, the benefactor will be rewarded by Hashem, k'mifalo, in accordance with the effect of his deed. His donation saved someone; he is credited as a lifesaver. On the other hand, while a wicked person's evil actions can have a far-reaching harmful effect, Hashem will punish him only commensurate with k'rishaso, the immediate wickedness. Every day in the Yigdal hymn, we affirm Hashem's benevolence in meting out reward and punishment.

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