Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Hands On The Heel

A young man once came to the Chofetz Chaim asking him for a bracha. After introducing himself as a grandson of Rav Dovid der blinder (the blind one), the tzaddik's face illuminated and he said, “An ainikel of Rav Dovid does not need a bracha from me. He is automatically gebentched.” Who was this Rav Dovid der blinder whom the Chofetz Chaim so revered? He was known as the blind one, for in his trepidation of seeing something lacking in tzniyus, he would walk in the streets with his hands over his eyes, just barely able to see right ahead of him. But this was just one of his many zechuyos. Rav Dovid was a melamed par excellence for young boys in Russia during the mid-19th century. This was during the period of the barbaric Cantonist decree, when the cursed Czar's henchmen would snatch young children away from their families and take them for service in the Russian army. There, they were stripped of their Yiddishkeit, indoctrinated with the tenets of Christianity, and transformed into loyal soldiers of the Czar. They would be away from their families for over thirty years. Needless to say, by the time they returned, they were totally alienated from their relatives and co-religionists. Many of them remained ignorant of Yiddishkeit and broken in spirit for the rest of their lives.

Well, Rav Dovid guaranteed that any boy who learned by him would not be taken away, an incredible promise in and of itself. At one point, the Bais Halevi, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, sent his son to learn by him. One day, Rav Dovid was busily involved in teaching a sugya, with his talmidim listening attentively. While learning a Tosafos, he encountered a difficulty. He strained and he probed as the boys sat there silently.


All of a sudden, the door of the bais medrash opened and there stood an official agent of the Czar ready to round up the boys and deliver them to their purgatory on earth. The boys froze, gripped by terror. They understood what awaited them. But Rav Dovid was oblivious to all that was going on. He was enraptured by the sweet melodious sounds of the Tosafos. After clarifying the difficulty, he began explaining it to the talmidim.


But he sensed that something was amiss. He didn’t have the attention of the talmidim. He looked up, and there he saw the Sar Shel Eisav ready to pounce on his prey. The frail elderly man jumped up and landed a couple of slaps across the face of this tyrant, who stood there red-faced and in shock. In the interim, the boys ran out and escaped, saved by their rebbi.


Needless to say, the repercussions were quick to follow. A couple of hefty policemen arrived and arrested Rav Dovid. He was to stand to trial for assaulting an official of the Czar and impeding him from fulfilling his duty. But the members of his community did not stand by idly. They did everything to have him released from prison, pleading, cajoling and bribing. Miraculously, after a relatively short period of time, Rav Dovid was released from prison.


Upon his return, he went to visit the Bais Halevi. The Bais Halevi asked him, “Rav Dovid, I understand that you guaranteed the safety of all the boys under your charge, but where did you gather the courage to slap an official agent of the dreaded Czar? Weren’t you afraid of punishment? What were you thinking?”


“I must tell the rov,” answered Rav Dovid in all candor, “that it wasn’t courage on my part nor did I give it much thought. It was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction. Here I was in middle of a geshmake Tosafos with my talmidim, and this rasha was here to take its pleasure away from me. All I could do was jump up and slap him across the face…and Hashem did the rest.”


– – – – –


This has been the way of the world for many centuries. While the gentile derived his fulfillment by tormenting the Jew and subjecting him to all sorts of vicious decrees, the Jew found his comfort, his solace, his life support, sitting under the branches of the Eitz Hachayim, our holy Torah.


This line of demarcation was first drawn with the appearance on the scene of Yaakov and Eisav. At birth, he was called Yaakov, the root of the word meaning heel, because he emerged from his mother’s womb holding on to the heel of his brother Eisav. Isn’t this somewhat strange? There is a question as to who named him Yaakov. Was it Hakadosh Boruch Hu or was it Yitzchok Avinu? Undoubtedly, then, the name carries with it a deep connotation, one of eternal meaning. What possible everlasting significance is there in the fact that the second child held on to the heel of the first? And what special message is there for us, the Bnei Yaakov, that should resonate for us throughout the generations? 


A Roman governor once asked Rabbon Gamliel, ‘Who will take over the kingdom after us? Rabbon Gamliel took an empty piece of paper and wrote on it, ‘And his hand was holding onto the heel of Eisav’ (Bereishis 25:26)” (Yalkut). What is the meaning of this cryptic Medrash? What was the governor’s question and what was Rabbon Gamliel’s answer? And why does the Medrash stress that he took an empty piece of paper?


Rav Mordechai Rogov explains that this governor felt that during his reign, the Romans acted in a most civilized manner toward the Jews. They didn’t pass many decrees against them and generally allowed them to survive. He thus asked Rabbon Gamliel: “How will you Jews survive in a later generation when the rulership will not be tolerant and civil, and when you will be at the mercy of those who can easily uproot you from the face of the earth?”


In response to this, Rabbon Gamliel took an empty piece of paper, signifying that many in the past have tried to pass decrees against us, but they turned out to be nothing more than an empty piece of paper, for Hakadosh Boruch Hu abolished the decrees. The key, wrote Rabbon Gamliel, is that Yaakov’s hand holds on to the heel of Eisav. When Eisav rises out of control and with his violent nature tries to flex his muscles and harm us, it is in our hands to stifle him. How? By utilizing the voice of Yaakov.


When the voice of Yaakov is heard in the botei medrash and botei knesses, the hands of Eisav cannot rule over them” (Medrash). It is totally in our hands to stifle the power of Eisav. When a Yid learns in the bais medrash, he is firing a salvo against terrorists who try to destroy us. When we daven our regular tefillos, we help annul the schemes of enemy regimes that constantly plot against us. When we do chessed and live Torahdike lives ingrained with Torah values that emanate from the bais medrash, we are ensuring the safety and survival of Klal Yisroel.


This was the message of Rabbon Gamliel. We are not at the mercy of degenerate rulers. It is in our hands to curtail the enemy’s damage through our avodah, which places our hand on his heel with the ability to pull him down. And this is inherent in the name Yaakov. Yaakov, the complete man who sits in tents of Torah, is in total control over his enemies who try to destroy him with his hands on their heel.


Of late, we hear of ill winds blowing. The news coming from Eretz Yisroel is not very encouraging. Despite the world seeing clearly that Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, we are despised. The United Nations openly shows their disdain for us. The countries around us want to swallow us up. The precarious economic situation around the world raises anti-Semitic voices. “It’s all the fault of the Jew.”


It is precisely during these times that we must take heart in the name of Yaakov. If only we live by the tenets of our forefather Yaakov, we are capable of restricting the forces that try to destroy us.



My Take On the News

  Elad Katzir Murdered in Captivity It’s hard to know where to begin. Should I start with the news of another hostage who was found

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated