He was one of the giants of spirit, a hero amongst his people. Like Avrohom Avinu, he had the letter hey added to his name. Like Dovid Hamelech, he was a fearless warrior who had total faith in Hashem. Once, he single-handedly defeated an entire garrison of enemies. He was an av bais din capable of questioning and clarifying the most intricate halachos. He was the son of a king, possessing the characteristics of royalty, yet he never sat on a throne. He is listed as one of the three most humble people in our history for yielding the kingship to Dovid Hamelech. His bond with Dovid is cited by Chazal as the quintessential friendship, a love not depending on a specific cause. He is Yehonason, son of Shaul Hamelech.
What a great sacrifice it was on the part of Yehonason to Dovid: “You will reign over Yisroel and I will be second to you” (Shmuel I 23:17). What inner strength it took for him to give to Dovid all of his own royal vestments – his robe, his battle garments, his sword, bow and belt (ibid. 18:4). He incurred the wrath of his father and endured insults for supporting Dovid. And oh how much this meant to Dovid and for the welfare of Klal Yisroel.
As it was, there was a chasm in Klal Yisroel because of the rift between the House of Shaul and the House of Dovid. Due to this, there was a tragic loss of precious lives. Had Yehonason been a competitor for the malchus, the situation would have been exacerbated, the strife much more intense, and the loss of life considerably greater. Klal Yisroel had its share of civil wars over the years that caused much damage. But instead, Yehonason chose to protect Dovid from Shaul’s pursuit and ensured his escape to safety.
When Dovid found out about the tragic death of Shaul and Yehonason, he and all the men with him tore their garments in mourning. In his lamentation over his cherished friend, Dovid said, “Tzar li alecha achi Yehonason… I am distressed over you, my brother Yehonason. Your love was more wondrous to me than the love of a woman” (Shmuel II 1:26). This statement is a rather curious one. What could the holy Dovid Hamelech have possibly meant with this?
The Rama MiPano explains that Dovid Hamelech was describing the love that Yehonason had for him and how it defied logic. It was in the power of Yehonason to ascend to the most coveted position in Klal Yisroel, the malchus. What a promising future he had in store for himself. He was most capable, up for the challenge, and beloved by his people. Yet, he willingly gave all of this up for his friend, Dovid. This love was astounding to Dovid. Where could such self-sacrifice come from? Mei’ahavas noshim, from the love of two great women, the love and caring that Rochel Imeinu – the matriarch of shevet Binyomin from whom Yehonason hailed – had for her sister, Leah.
Rochel Imeinu was designated to marry Yaakov Avinu. Through this marriage, she would be the only spouse of the chosen one of all of the avos, Yaakov Avinu. In addition, her progeny would eventually have the malchus and kehunah. But she gave all of this up so that she wouldn’t cause any embarrassment to her sister, Leah. She gave over the simanim that Yaakov gave her so that Leah could marry Yaakov instead of her. At that time, Rochel did not yet know that Yaakov would eventually marry her as well and that she, too, would merit to give birth to shevatim in Klal Yisroel. But she was willing to give up her entire future for the sake of her sister.
This is what Dovid meant in his hesped on Yehonason: You’re from shevet Binyomin and your grandmother was Rochel. I am from shevet Yehudah and my grandmother is Leah. Your ability to forfeit the kingdom on my behalf was bequeathed to you by your grandmother, Rochel, who did the same for her sister.
Rebbi Elazar said: “In the merit of tznius that Rochel showed, she was rewarded by having Shaul Hamelech as her descendent. And as a reward for tznius, Shaul had Esther Hamalka as a descendent. What was the tznius of Rochel? That she gave over the simanim to her sister Leah” (Megillah 13a). Why is Rochel’s passing on the simanim considered a middah of tznius, chastity? A great chesed, yes. An act of selflessness, most certainly. But how is it associated with tznius?
Our understanding of tznius is very superficial. We usually associate tznius with a mode of dress. But dressing in a humble way, while of great importance in and of itself, is merely one aspect of tznius. Keeping one’s good deeds hidden is another aspect of tznius, but it is not yet its essence. The source of Rochel’s act of chesed and the root of all good middos is the middah of tznius. How, then, do we define tznius?
The source of tznius is penimiyus, living in the inner world together with Hashem. The greatest force in the makeup of a person is love of himself. This is what motivates him in his various pursuits. If one does not work on his penimiyus, his relationship with Hashem, then his love of himself can carry him in all the wrong directions. One who lives in the inner world strives to please Hashem, and this is his primary goal. One who strives to develop his penimiyus recoils from standing out or impressing others with his conduct, for he is worried that revealing his deeds might lead to external gain, approval and honor from others, and this is the antithesis of penimiyus.
Penimiyus also means to nullify one’s own desires for the ratzon of Hashem. It means not allowing one’s personal interests to come to the fore, as they impede his personal relationship with Hashem. This is what Rochel Imeinu did. She thought of what Hashem would want her to do in this situation and she acted accordingly. Despite the fact that with her act she was harming her own personal interests, forfeiting a special husband and a special family, she gave it all up for the ratzon Hashem. This is true penimiyus, the essence of tznius.
One act of selflessness on the part of Rochel Imeinu and what an effect it had for generations! In addition to the impact it had in the times of Dovid Hamelech, it brought out the middas harachamim from Hakadosh Boruch Hu at the time of churban Bayis Rishon. Because of our sins, the middas hadin had been aroused and things looked very bleak for Klal Yisroel. The avos hakedoshim pleaded with Hashem to have mercy on His people. Avrohom Avinu reminded Hashem of how he sacrificed his own son on the mizbei’ach. Yitzchok Avinu reinforced this by relating how he went willingly as a korban at the Akeidah. Yaakov Avinu recalled his loyalty to Hashem throughout the twenty years he spent in the house of Lovon and Moshe Rabbeinu spoke of his work as a faithful shepherd of the Jews in the midbar. But their words did not move Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
Finally, Rochel Imeinu stepped before Hashem and reminded Him of the seven years of work put in by Yaakov in order to marry her. Instead of her going to the chupah, she gave over the simanim to Leah to save her from embarrassment. She reasoned, “If I, a creation of mere flesh and blood, dust and ashes, did not display any jealousy for my sister, how could You, Master of the Universe, because of vengeance for avodah zarah, exile my children and allow their enemies to kill them and do with them as they please?”
Immediately, the mercy of Hashem was aroused and He said to Rochel, “Because of you, Rochel, I shall have compassion on My children. I will watch over them and guarantee that they eventually return to Eretz Yisroel.” “There is hope for your future, the word of Hashem, and your children will return to their borders” (Yirmiyahu 31:17; Pesikta Eichah Rabbah 24).
As mentioned before, Rochel Imeinu’s altruistic deed was responsible for the reign of Shaul Hamelech, who brought salvation to Klal Yisroel by defeating the Pelishtim who oppressed them. Shaul was by nature a very humble person, one who fled from honor and shunned the limelight. The last thing he wanted to do was become the king. But he used this quality of his matriarch Rochel to negate his own personal feelings and interests to do the ratzon Hashem and to benefit His people.
It was the same with his descendent, Esther, who together with Mordechai did everything in her power to evade Achashveirosh’s gathering of women to find a suitable wife for himself. Even after she married the king, she initially refused Mordechai’s request to go to the king uninvited to plead on behalf of her people. Finally, she annulled her own interests and went to the king, saying, “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 5:16). And what a yeshuah she brought to her people! She saved them from annihilation. The neis of Purim led to a reaffirming of kabbolas haTorah and the commencement of binyan Bayis Sheini. Yes, one act of Rochel Imeinu and how astonishing its results for the ages…
The world is a theater and the events that play out before our eyes should serve as lessons for us of how to lead our lives and what sort of behavior we must avoid at all costs. In these past couple of months, we have witnessed the worst in human conduct displayed by political figures in Washington who are supposed to be role models for their constituents. The nomination proceedings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed that there is no limit to how low people can stoop in pursuit of their own selfish interests, To say the least, it was not one of America’s prouder moments.
And of course, this was all a continuation of the constant barrage of liberals and the news media against President Donald J. Trump. As soon as the circus with Judge Kavanaugh was over, Americans focused on the midterm elections, a campaign that featured viciousness on both sides. And the losers are the citizens of the United States, for when there is division amongst leaders, when they are more interested in maintaining their seat of power than doing what is logical and correct, then the ultimate losers are the people they represent. When politicians are stuck on their party’s ideology, nothing gets done. And where there is no fear of Hashem, people can display the worst of middos without any shame.
What are the chances of a newly-elected politician leaving an impact for generations? They are quite minuscule. For selfish interests are alive for the moment and change rather quickly. Not so the precious legacy left to us by the avos and imahos. Their purity of spirit and their clarity of thought live on with us for eternity.