Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Overcoming the Evil Partners



In the past few weeks, we have discussed the current situation in Eretz Yisroel in light of the Torah’s teachings about Yishmoel. However, as we have mentioned, the shidduch between Yishmoel and Eisov added a new even greater evil to Klal Yisroel. The sword of Eisov when combined with the arrows of Yishmoel is even more deadly than either of them by themselves. Since this week the Torah begins to focus upon Yaakov Avinu’s dealings with Eisov and the maaseh avos siman labonim they represent, let’s explore a bit of the special relevance to our most recent nisyonos in Gaza and beyond.

An extraordinary and cryptic Yerushalmi (Nedorim 3:8) teaches that “the wicked Eisov will eventually put on a tallis and sit with tzaddikim in Gan Eden, but Hashem will remove him from there.” It sounds as if Eisov somehow initially “makes it” to paradise, but it takes the Creator Himself to remove him. Now that we know that our current troubles are doubly sourced in the “son-in-law and his father-in law” (Selichos for Behab), let us see if we can surgically pry these two barbarians apart and see which one of them has caused which one of our troubles.

We know from the posuk (Bereishis 21:12) that Yishmoel was ejected from the holy family of Avrohom Avinu in a very specific way. Hashem tells Avrohom Avinu in no uncertain terms, “Yitzchok will be your child,” meaning clearly that Yishmoel is not. However, when it comes to Yaakov versus Eisov, the Torah is more circumspect. The letter “bais” ofb’Yitzchok indicates that only one of these two brothers will be considered Avrohom’s progeny. But which one? The Rambam, upon clarifying that it is Yaakov and not Eisov, adds the cryptic phrase, “Hamachazik bedaso uvedarko hayesharah – Who cleaves unto his teachings and righteous ways.” These are frightening words, especially from one of our primary halachic works by a major Rishon.

It seems that we were unsure which one is the true heir of Avrohom Avinu until Yaakov proved himself to be the final one of the avos. The Brisker Rov (Haggodas M’Bais Levi) and my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, both teach that this distinction between Yishmoel and Eisov has long-range ramifications for Klal Yisroel. I would like to suggest that one of the most recent of these consequences for us is the current war and its horrific aftermath of anti-Semitism. Whereas Yishmoel is painted by the Torah as the pereh adam he has clearly become, Eisov presents himself as the pretender to the legacy of Avrohom by his protestations of piety. He asks sweetly how to take maaser off of straw and salt, where it is unnecessary, and over the centuries, in his guise as the villain of the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, he presents a religious fervor to his villainy.

We are all shocked, as are many decent gentiles, by the spectacle of college students, so-called intellectual leaders and others blaming the victim and glorifying the aggressor. There is no question that some of this is classic anti-Semitism, as has been practiced by “the oldest hatred.” But one element of this phenomenon is surely also the deceitful and duplicity of Eisov. Yishmoel is what he is and this is dangerous enough. But when Yishmoel also wields the sword of Eisov, he wraps himself in the flag of victimhood (“he stole my birthright”) and tricks a willing world.

After some of the Vatican files on Churban Europa, the Holocaust, were recently opened to the public, the perfidy of Pope Pius the twelfth has been exposed for all. Not only his papal name, but all his actions were couched and enveloped in the Eisov protestations of helping the Jews. Yet, all the while, he was selling us out, helping the Nazis, revealing his own deep-seated antipathy for the Jews. For us, this was no surprise, since we had already seen the seeds of his treachery in the bitter saga of Eisov. The Arizal is said to have explained what seemed to be Yitzchok Avinu’s affinity for Eisov in the fact that (see Ovadiah 1:11) some holy souls belonging in Klal Yisroel had become lost in the vast nefarious territory of Eisov. These eventually emerged in the form of tzaddikim such as Shmaya, Avtalyon, Onkelos and Ben Hey Hey. For us, the extra danger is the seemingly positive light in which the Yishmoel/Eisov partnership is now being presented.

One of the antidotes to this horrific situation must be a greater separation between ourselves and the nations that are against us. The posuk makes clear that it is only when we are totally distinguishable from our enemies that we will triumph. Let us indeed hope that the religious revival, what seems to be a true teshuvah movement in the Israeli army and greater Israeli secular society, will help this happen and in turn bring us the relief and victory we seek and need. But let us first dig a bit deeper.

The Sefas Emes (Toldos 5662) reveals that Yaakov and Eisov both had tremendous potential to improve the world. Initially, Yaakov’s role was to improve the inner world of the home and Eisov’s to change the outside world (the field). Yaakov stayed the course and became the greatest of our avos (Yaakov shelimta), but what happened to Eisov? The Sefas Emes’ son, the Imrei Emes, once explained as follows. Someone once commented to the rebbe that the time just before Moshiach’s coming is called ikvesa deMeshicha. The man pointed out that the eikev – heel – is the lowest part of the body, and that generation will also be extremely lowly. The rebbe, however, responded that “it is true that the heel is at the bottom of the body, but the entire body rests upon that lowly limb.”

The rebbe went on to explain that the Eisov (not Achilles) heel is the concept of kadeish atzmecha b’mutar loch – sanctifying ourselves with what is actually permissible. It is this, said the rebbe, that separates us from Eisov and distinguishes Klal Yisroel. As a matter of fact, Eisov’s head rests in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah with the avos because his problem was not intellectual. On the contrary, he was able to rationalize any infraction and even atrocity by “proving” how right he was in doing the evil. A good Yid asks a shailah to make sure that something is not forbidden. Eisov performs the act and later, through casuistry and self-delusion, convinces himself that he has done no harm. The frightening situation we are now watching unfold before our horrified eyes is of a world of Eisov falsehood defending the Yishmoel pereh adam. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous sight being played out on the world’s stage. Chazal (Bava Basra 16b) tell us that the day Eisov sold his bechorah for some soup, he committed five cardinal sins, including murder and atheism. Today, also, we are watching the naïve but willing world falling for the easy seduction of the Eisov sweet-talking with the barbarism of Yishmoel.

The Ramban (Bereishis 25:34) explains that the essence of Eisov’s colossal error was that after he sold his birthright, he simply returned to the field to eat and drink and thought nothing of the World to Come. Eisov is the man of the moment, seeking instant gratification, whereas Yaakov sits in the tent learning steadily, uninterested in worldly pursuits. His eye is on the future building of his holy family and Olam Haba. Chazal (Yerushalmi, Brachos 1:5) teach that the heart craves what the eye sees and is instantly in trouble. We know that even when we have a time of profound trouble – eis tzarah hee l’Yaakov umemena yevosheia – the panacea will come from the trouble itself. Hopefully, we are witnessing the birth of the yeshuah from the tragedy, with soldiers and the Israeli public alike seeking Hashem everywhere. Eisov never searches, but Yaakov is always mevakeish Hashem.

Let us hope and be mispallel that as Klal Yisroel moves ever further from the miserable partnership of Yishmoel and Eisov, it will soon lead to the ultimate yeshuah of the fall of both of them bemeheirah beyomeinu.



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