Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

The Evil Angel's Omen

Alone. All alone in the middle of the night. That was the dangerous situation that Yaakov Avinu found himself in when he was unexpectedly attacked by an intruder, a malach, the sar shel Eisav. Perhaps this malach thought that he was the favorite in this contest. After all, he was a supernatural force catching a mere mortal by surprise. But in the end, it was the angel who was surprised, as he got more than he had bargained for. Somehow, some way, Yaakov was not unnerved by this sudden assault. He persevered, courageously garnering the strength to fight his daunting assailant until daybreak, when it became clear that he was victorious in this battle. The mighty celestial combatant was vanquished and Yaakov Avinu cleared another hurdle in his nisayon-filled life.

Maaseh avos siman labonim. Yaakov’s progeny throughout the generations would find themselves in the same predicament. They, too, would be alone in the darkness of golus facing their own sar shel Eisav when things were bleak, with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight. They, too, would be besieged by forces with super strength and no one to come to their aid. Sometimes it seemed that their very existence as a nation was threatened. But they, too, were resolute to go on as Hashem’s chosen nation. They turned to their Creator for help and inspiration, enduring the onslaught of their adversaries, and today they continue to thrive while their foes have been relegated to the dustbins of history.
The same is true of individuals. In this temporal world of trials and tribulations, where we navigate our ships on choppy waters, we can sometimes be hit with a sudden storm, a nisayon, which pounces upon us unexpectedly. The initial reaction is: “How can I face this overwhelming force all by myself?” Thick clouds are formed before our eyes, with no salvation in sight.


But Yaakov Avinu passed down to us the ability to gather inner strength to survive. He prepared a present: our power of tzedakah. He davened, and that is our force of tefillah. And he was ready to physically battle his opponent. That is hishtadlus in Olam Hazeh, the requirement to invest effort by natural means. This is the recipe to be successful in times of nisayon.


However, there is one aspect of Yaakov Avinu’s conduct during this encounter that must give us pause for thought. The malach told him, “Let me go, for dawn has broken. And he said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Bereishis 32:27). Rashi explains that he was saying, ‘Admit to me that the blessings bestowed upon me that Eisav is protesting are really mine.” Undoubtedly, this angel, the source of power for his hateful brother, was not desirable company. Why didn’t Yaakov just send him off quickly? Why the insistence of the malach’s admittance? Did he really need his consent after having been blessed by Yitzchok and Hashem? And what would happen if the malach did not consent? Would the brachos not have taken affect?


 Chazal tell us that in the future,when Klal Yisroel receives its reward in Olam Haba,the nations of the world will request payment as well. Hakadosh Boruch Hu will tell them that only Yisroel, who kept the Torah, receives this remuneration. As is their wont, the nations will claim that we aren’t worthy of this bounty, for although we accepted the Torah, there is no proof that we actually kept the mitzvos. Hakadosh Boruch Hu will say, ‘I will testify that they fulfilled the entire Torah.’


They will then say, ‘Can a father testify on behalf of his son?’ Hashem will then say, ‘Let those amongst you step forth and affirm that Yisroel kept the entire Torah. Let Nimrod relate that Avrohom Avinu refused to serve idols. Let Lavan hear testimony that Yaakov is not suspected of stealing. Let the wife of Potifar declare that Yosef is not guilty of immorality. Let Nevuchadnetzar tell how Chananya, Mishoel and Azarya risked their lives in order not to bow down before the idol’” (Avodah Zara 3a).


Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that we see from here that our good deeds can only be rewarded when the forces of evil admit that we are good. As long as they don’t concede, it does not suffice, even though Hashem knows the truth. The nations of the world must agree that Klal Yisroel is special, and outstanding, and that they kept the tenets of the Torah.


This is a very fundamental principle. For the final tikkun of the world, the evil must submit to the good. This is what a nisayon is all about. As long as the good within the righteous is only in its potential stage, the forces of evil can be mekatreig that the good has not yet been actualized and does not deserve accolades. It is only when he is tested that the tzaddik receives a unanimous approbation with the koach hara included. That is when his ultimate success is established. This is why Yaakov insisted on the malach conceding that the brachos really belonged to him.


When those who harm me rise up against me, my ears have heard” (Tehillim 92:12). Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that Dovid Hamelech said that when I hear my enemies saying bad things about me, my ears perk up, because it is very pertinent to me. As long as my enemies find fault with me, it is a sign that I have not perfected my ways. I am obligated to reach a level of impeccability so that the other nations capitulate from their gripes against us and are forced to admit that we are worthy of special reward.


Chazal also say that two malachim escort a person home from shul on Shabbos night, one good and the other bad. When he comes home and finds the candles lit, the table set, and the beds made, the good malach says, ‘May it be Hashem’s Will that this should repeat itself next Shabbos.’ And the bad malach answers, ‘Amein’” (Shabbos 119b). Here, too, we find this rule that for the blessing to take effect, the side of evil must submit to the side of good.


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How beautiful it is when we see with our own eyes or hear how we are admired by the secular world for our righteousness and that the other nations recognize that the Torah way elevates us and refines us.


Russia. Never has a name been so befitting for its nation, for it was a country of true rishus. It was the evil empire. Siberia is where the enemies of the government were relegated under harsh conditions. Most of the people were innocent victims unjustly punished because of fabricated accusations. There they were engaged in forced backbreaking labor in freezing cold weather while being fed minimal rations.


That is where Rav Yaakov Galinsky found himself during World War II. Oh, how he longed to be in the tents of Yaakov in his beloved Novardoker Yeshiva, but instead, Hashgachah decreed that he find refuge from the Nazi beast among another of Eisav’s cronies, the Communists. These wicked people derived special pleasure from oppressing their sworn Polish enemies. It was most gratifying for them to have under their power anyone who served in the Polish government. They would do their best to subject these former officials to harassment and to give them the most demeaning jobs.


One day, two gentlemen approached the bochur, Yaakov Galinsky, with a strange request. One of them was the former Polish Minister of Justice and the other was the Minister of Education. They wanted him to judge an argument between the two of them and decide who was right and who was wrong. They explained that even though he was much younger than them, they recognized in him good middos, straight thinking, and the ability to decide the case. The bochur was not really interested in getting involved, but they didn’t give him much choice.


The Minister of Education accused the Minister of Justice of stealing his pair of pants. What? The Minister of Justice who enforced the law in Poland should pilfer someone else’s pants? How could this be? But it was true. The Justice Minister did not deny it. He only offered the feeble excuse that he needed the pants to bribe a worker in the kitchen so that he would give him an extra spoonful of soup. He had no extra belongings of his own to bribe him with, so he stole his friend’s pants.


The young Novardoker yeshiva bochur, inspired with Jewish pride, started screaming at the culprit: “How did you have the audacity to commit such a crime? You, once an official to enforce the law, have now sunk to a low of committing a crime yourself. Do you want to hear the way to treat another human being? Listen to this story.“Just recently,” said the bochur, “I woke up in the morning and found under my pillow a plate with a piece of herring and a biscuit. At first, I thought someone was playing a joke on me, but then, the next morning, I again found the same treasure. This repeated itself for a few days. I felt that I had to find out who was willing to give his portion to me, such a valuable commodity under those dire conditions. But all my attempts at discovering the donor’s identity were unsuccessful.


“So I decided to stay up one night to see who the benefactor was. This was not easy after a hard day’s work and knowing that the next day’s labor would be just as hard and I needed the sleep. I lay in bed trying to fight off the sleep when, at three in the morning, I felt someone trying to pick up part of my pillow to put something under it. I looked up and saw an old man in his eighties holding a piece of herring and a biscuit.


“‘What is this?’ I asked him. ‘Why are you giving me your portion of food?’


“The octogenarian, although caught by surprise, did not get nervous. He answered me calmly: ‘I was once a very wealthy man lacking for nothing. But now, after facing such hardships, I came to realize that money is worthless. Man does not live by money alone.’ After a lengthy talk on this topic, he continued: ‘The reason I bring you this portion is because I am old and to me it will no longer make a difference. I get by with a little bit of black bread that I am allotted every day. But you are yet young, with your future still ahead of you. If you eat this herring and biscuit, it will strengthen you and it will help you survive this harsh and bitter life.’


“This was the epitome of one Jew sacrificing for another.”


Rav Yaakov then turned to the two ministers and said, “Do you see how people must interact with one another? They must do their utmost to help one another and not to do the opposite.”


The two litigants stood there humbled, realizing what supernatural kochos it took for the elder to give up his valuable portion. It taught them a valuable lesson and was a kiddush Hashem (Aleinu Leshabayach).


– – – – –


The anti-Semites of the world don’t need reasons to despise us. Halacha hee beyoduah Eisav sonei l’Yaakov. But we must be extra careful not to fuel them with rationale to hate us. Every time a Yid is in the news regarding some scandal, the sonei Yisroel rear their ugly head and chatter about our faults.


It is our obligation to live a life of integrity to be a mekadeish Sheim Shomayim. And when the geulah comes and we receive our reward, our detractors will be forced to admit that a Torah life is a superior life and that our accolades are justified.



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