Friday, May 17, 2024

Kol Yaakov

In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to Yaakov and Eisov, whose struggle endures until the End of Days.

The differences between them were apparent already prior to their birth. One sought to escape to the bais medrash and the other was interested in avodah zorah. Yaakov was a tzaddik tomim, while his wicked twin brother, Eisov, couched his behavior and presented himself as an upright person.

Yaakov distinguished himself through speech. He spoke softly, with respect, humility and empathy, as did his father, Yitzchok, and grandfather, Avrohom. Eisov had no use for anything holy and glibly sold his bechorah to Yaakov for the symbolic price of some lentil soup. He lived a heathen life, though he conducted himself virtuously around his father.

After selling the bechorah, Eisov did not regret his action. The Torah informs us, “Vayivez Eisov es habechorah – And Eisov mocked what had been bequeathed to him.”

Baalei mussar say that this is indicative of the reaction of people whose silly actions set them back. When a child loses a game, he invariably says, “I don’t care that I lost. It was a dumb game anyway and I didn’t even try to win.” Bad people find excuses for losses and always attach blame for their miscues to others.

An intelligent person regrets his mistakes and admits that he missed an opportunity. Eisov lacked the capacity for introspection. Instead of pondering what he had done, he mocked the whole thing, quieting whatever soft voice of sincerity he had, before it could lead him to repent for what he had done.

The parsha tells us that while it appears that Yitzchok appreciated Eisov, the difference in speech and manner between his two sons was obvious to him. When Yaakov came to receive the brachos of “Veyiten lecha,” Yitzchok was confused because he discerned a sincerity and heart in the voice. Although Yaakov was wearing the coat of Eisov, he spoke in the manner of Yaakov. “Hakol kol Yaakov.” Eisov, while begging his father for a brocha, was plotting Yaakov’s murder. His words were superficial, and not reflective of what lay in his heart.

Words are everything to the offspring of Yaakov. Our manner of speech defines us. How we speak, the words we choose, and our tone of voice all matter. We are to be refined, disciplined and respectful. We respect people whose words are soft and thoughtful, not brash and irreverent. We respect and promote men and women of truth, whose fidelity to honesty and tradition grounds them.

We should not follow loud bullies, those with the quick put-downs and glib tongues. Negativity and cynicism may sound shrewd and bring popularity to the one who uses his intelligence to mock others, but the one worthy of our respect is he who labors, speaks from the heart, and seeks to find and do good. His life is one of accomplishment. It is he and people like him who embody the ideals of Am Yisroel.

This country just experienced an election in which one party made it seem as if they were the party of virtue, values and honesty. They bashed the other for incivility, as they called for the masses to taunt politicians of their opposition wherever they can be found. They colluded with their media allies to make it appear as if a wave was afoot, hoping that enough people would accept the lies and bluster and give them their vote.

Pollsters who had one party ahead throughout the campaign, suddenly saw many races tightening and too close to call as decision day approached.

Politicians speak words of compassion, justice and law, but use their power to further their own agendas and lull the populace into accepting the abrogation of trust.

While living in the golus of Eisov we must ensure that we do not adopt his perfidious and disrespectful nature. Though we are under the heel of Edom, we have to distinguish between authenticity and fiction and remain loyal to the truth. We should not become like those who suppress the truth for ulterior motives. We should never support immorality, even when that approach seems expedient.

In this week’s haftorah, the novi Malachi repeats to the Jewish people Hashem’s words, “I love Yaakov and Eisov I hate…” As for the kohanim, “Amar Hashem Tzevakos lochem hakohanim bozei shemi,” they failed to demonstrate proper respect for Hashem and the Mikdosh (Malachi 1:2-6).

Underpinning the reprimand, and perhaps the connection to this week’s parsha, is the fact that the kohanim earned their role and mission as a result of Yaakov’s purchase of the bechorah. When the bechorim did not conduct themselves properly, kohanim were chosen to replace them as attendants to Hashem.

The sale of the bechorah was rooted in the fundamental difference between Yaakov and Eisov. Yaakov was a man of respect, while Eisov epitomized ridicule and scorn. As the posuk says of Eisov, “Vayivez Eisov.” His personality was one of derision. Thus, if the kohanim had fallen to the level that they became “bozei Hashem,” embodying Eisov’s characteristic of the middah of bizayon, they were demonstrating that they were no longer worthy of inheriting the gift bequeathed by Yaakov to serve in the Bais Hamikdosh.

We are identified by three traits. We are rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim, people of mercy, bashfulness and kindness. We are invested with sensitivity and compassion, and the words we use, our tone of voice, and our approach have the ability to awaken those traits.

Good parents, friends, mechanchim and communicators appreciate words and the difference between a soft, gentle tone and an angry one.

The secret of using words well is believing in the intrinsic holiness of the people you are speaking to. As the wisest of men wrote, ma’aneh rach, soft words, have the potential to be meishiv cheima, turn away anger, because they open the heart of the antagonist and allow the message to enter.

People of sensitivity see this. Eisov doesn’t see past the surface. He sees a red soup and refers to it by its color, saying to Yaakov, “Haliteini na min ha’adom ha’adom hazeh… Al kein kara shemo Edom” (Bereishis 25:30). Eisov and his offspring are referred to as “Edom,” because he referred to the lentil soup as “edom.”

By referring to the soup by its color, he exposed his own superficiality. He didn’t know anything about the soup other than that it has an appealing color. That was enough for him. He forsook his future for the momentary pleasure of something superficially appealing.

Edom, as a nation, fails to perceive beyond what it can touch and feel. Hence the fascination in our world with looks, color and presentation. There is no depth that’s meaningful to them beyond the surface image.

As we live in Golus Edom, it behooves us not to become enamored with the external, but to be sensible, careful and have depth. We mustn’t be misled by empty rhetoric and half-baked theories. We have to be honest with ourselves and others in all we do.

As children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we are all shluchim to continue their mission. We are to care about each other and speak with love and soft words people can understand and accept. We should never speak with animosity, hate or sanctimonious judgmentalism, no matter what it is that we are discussing. As believers, we must be positive and hopeful, treating all people the way we want to be treated, no matter the occasion of our interaction.

Let us not be influenced by the dominant lies of the day. Let us use the yardstick of Torah to assess the prevailing trends around us and find the moral courage to stand up for the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Let us purify ourselves so that we are worthy of living lives of truth. We need not fear speaking the truth about what is right.

Just last Shabbos, the world was reminded of the evil that lurks in hearts of hateful men. Ever since we have become a people, we have been mocked, vilified, chased from place to place, hunted and killed. America is a kind golus and our people have been accepted and treated quite well. It wasn’t always this way, and there are notable and numerous exceptions. The outpouring of condemnations of what took place in Pittsburgh and the national expressions of support for the Jewish people offered measures of comfort. But the culture of hate being purveyed by people who profess to be lovers of all people does not bode well for us.

We need to treat each other better. We need to be respectful when dealing with people with whom we come in contact. We need to act as our avos did. We need to study the parshiyos of Bereishis with the depth they deserve and not be content with a superficial reading. There are many lessons there to enhance our lives.

The Mishnah in Maseches Peah states that the reward for performance of mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro is delivered in this world as well as the World to Come. The Rambam in his Peirush HaMishnayos explains that when one person helps another, he makes the world a better place. Not only has he helped that person, but at the same time he has shown the beauty of benevolence, inspiring that person to be kind and gracious with others. The baal chesed has thus not only improved one person’s life. The impact of his action will help many more, and he will have made the world a much better place in which to live.

His reward is that he will have a better place in which to live.

We can all make our block, our school, or our community a much better place. Instead of complaining, if we would treat other people the way our avos and imahos did, we would improve ourselves, our communities and our world.

Let’s start with proper speech and respect. Let’s behave in a way that demonstrates that the Kol Yaakov defines us.


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