Parshat Vayetse: Seeking Truth, Filled With Jewish Pride

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14 Nov 2007

Parshat Vayetzei 5768

Part One: Mi Lashem Aylei

We are a nation steeped in the search for truth.

There are billions of people in the world who are satisfied with believing in lies, regardless of how absurd or ludicrous, because its convenient and because their fathers did it.

If one’s conception of religion is the belief in “the immaculate conception”, so be it. If one believes that Muhammad wrote the Koran (not an easy trick for someone known to have been illiterate) and that he took a midnight ride to Jerusalem on his faithful steed “Al Burak”, and after tying the beast to the Kotel ascended to heaven, so be it.

Not so the Jewish people. Our classical writings are replete with controversy, quarrel and disagreement, not because we are aggressive and uncompromising, but because we seek out the truth.

We are a nation steeped in the search for truth.

This week was the Yahrtzeit of David ben Gurion. In his lifetime he could have been considered an apikoros (heretic). He did not believe in the G-d of the Torah. He was better versed in Buddhism than in the Shulchan Aruch. Yet this man, so far from Torah and mitzvot was RIGHT, the time for the redemption of the Jewish nation had begun.

In contrast the Satmar Rav ZT”l, and many who follow his teachings to this day, are G-d fearing Jews and scholars. They pray, teach shiurim, author Torah books and mekarev (draw near) those who have slipped from the Torah. Yet these people, so steeped in the Torah were and still are WRONG as they preach that Medinat Yisrael is an act of the “satan”.

The number 6,000,000 is proof that they are so wrong. For that is the number of Jews who were murdered by staying in the galut of enlightened Europe, and it is also the number of Jews in Eretz Yisrael today. How can any rational person dismiss the presence of six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael and claim that the redemption process has not yet begun!

The difference between Ben Gurion and the Satmar Rav and his disciples can be reduced to one word which is the subject of a midrash in this week’s parsha.

The midrash states that in Yaakov’s dream, the angels who were ascending and descending the ladder to heaven represented the major empires in history. Ya’akov sees these great empires rising to the heights of power and influence, only to eventually descend into oblivion.

At one point Ya’akov hears the voice of HaShem instructing him to ascend the ladder. But Ya’akov hesitates because he fears that if he ascends, then he and his children will also eventually descend into oblivion. HaShem promises Ya’akov that if he ascends the ladder, the Jewish nation will forever remain on top.

Ya’akov is afraid to ascend and remains at the foot of the ladder, and for that reason, the midrash concludes, we were condemned to the tragic events of Jewish history.

The phrase that explains the conduct of Ya’akov is “LACK OF COURAGE”; that is, fierce, uncompromising, irrational dedication and determination to achieve a goal against all odds of success.

Ya’akov was not yet called “Yisrael”, the man who fought and vanquished human and spiritual adversaries. He was still Ya’akov who ran away from the threatening Esav. Yaakov was not yet the man to ascend the ladder in search of greatness.

It was the trait of courage which made HaShem choose David ben Yishai to be the king of Israel and the future moshiach. David who fought the lion and bear in protection of his flock. The same David who went out against the giant Goliat (Goliath) with no more than a sling shot and five stones.

Ben Gurion was all the negative things I stated above. But he was infused with the G-d given gift of courage! The United States warned him not to declare a state which would be destroyed by the armies of seven Arab nations. And as a means of showing its displeasure, the USA placed an arms embargo on the newborn Jewish state. But Ben Gurion was adamant that the time had come for the return of the Jewish nation to our ancient homeland, and he acted with courage.

There were many rabbanim who encouraged the creation of the state, which they believed would survive through the miracles of HaShem. They too were imbued with the courage of David ben Yishai. Religious Jews swelled the ranks of the two underground organizations, the Etzel and Lechi, whose aim was to rid the British from Eretz Yisrael. Dati’im (religious) served in the hagana in every area of the country. The blood of Bar Kochba flowed in their veins.

Don’t look for secrets in the position advocated by the Satmar and those who follow his ways to this day. They don’t know anything we do not know. The plain reason for their opposition to the State is simply a character trait less than “courageous”; camouflaged over by halachic dialectic which was the life raft of generations of Jews who did not have the self character to take the extra step called “emunah”.

Now, If it is disturbing to think that such a great Torah giant can be wrong, turn to the book of Vayikra chapter 4 which discusses the process of “kapara” (forgiveness) if a kohen gadol (high priest) should erroneously permit an act which the Torah rules to be punishable by “karet”. If this is insufficient to prove that even great Torah personalities can err, the chapter discusses the events when the Sanhedrin itself erroneously permits such a prohibition and a majority of the people act on their error.

As the days of Chanukah approach, everyone should ask himself; “Had I lived at that time would I have joined in the ranks of the few against the many, of the weak against the powerful?”

Today’s challenges are less formidable than having to fight the mighty Greek army. Yet when HaShem provided us with the “ladder of Ya’akov” by giving us control over Shomron, Yehuda, the Golan, and Azza, we did not act with the courage needed to ascend the ladder. The temerity of our political leaders and, in many cases religious leaders, blocked the gate leading to greatness. For this we might, HaShem forbid, have to pay the price which all cowards must pay when faced with their own phobias.

The call of Moshe Rabbeinu, “Mi Lashem Aylei” (Whoever is for God, stand with me) was heard by many of our ancestors when it again rang out to join the ranks of the Chashmonaim. And it reverberates today; calling every one strong of heart and with emuna to return to Eretz Yisrael, to complete the process of Jewish redemption began on the 5th of Iyar 5708.

This is the truth we as a nation seek.

Part Two: Eretz Yisrael, the Ultimate Jewish Pride

At the request of his parents, Yaakov makes his way to his uncle Lavan’s home in search of a wife; but, unlike Eliezer, who showered Rivka and her family (including her money hungry brother, Lavan) with exquisite gifts, Yaakov arrives penniless at the home of Uncle Lavan.

Rashi, in chapter 29:11, explains that, in fact, Yaakov was sent away with lavish gifts, but was “relieved” of them in a very interesting manner.

When Esav learned of his brother’s intended trip, he sent his loyal son, Elifaz, to search out Yaakov and kill him. Elifaz, the hit man, upon reaching Yaakov, apologizes for what he was about to do, but Kee’bood Av (honoring one’s father) is a mitzvah, which, in his evil mind (Elifaz was the father of Amalek), takes precedence over the murder of his uncle. Yaakov, when seeing that his nephew was taking this “mitzva” seriously, suggested that they “talk things over”. Yaakov suggests a way that Elifaz could fulfill his father’s wishes and yet permit Yaakov to remain alive: Yaakov brings out a Yalkut Shimoni Midrash Beraysheet 82, which states, “Ani Chashuv Ke’mayt” – an impoverished person is considered as dead. Yaakov offers Elifaz all his money and the gifts, which he had intended to give to his future bride. This rendered Yaacov a penniless pauper, who, according to the Midrash, is considered as dead. Elifaz accepts the offer and returns home, happy in the knowledge that he fulfilled his father’s wishes. What transpired in the home of Esav, upon the arrival of Elifaz?

Esav: “Did you kill your uncle as I directed you?”

Elifaz: “Dear father, yes, and no”.

Esav: “This is a matter too serious for sophistry; he is either alive or dead – which is it?”

Elifaz: “He is dead; and alive.

At this point, Esav’s hand are around his son’s neck, shaking him violently while screaming , “Dead or alive?”

Elifaz, always the good son, goes to his father’s library, pulls out a Yalkut Shimoni, and says, “I took all his money. And look for yourself, the Midrash says here that an impoverished person is considered as dead”.

This incredible story is what Rashi is telling us regarding the empty-handed arrival of Yaakov at Lavan’s home.

At first glance, Elifaz appears to be dysfunctional if he believed that his father would accept this; in fact, Elifaz was a genius that knew very well the workings of his father’s evil mind.

Let us return to the dialogue between Esav and Elifaz.

Esav: “Elifaz, tell me, how is it that the grandson of Yitzchak, and great-grandson of Avraham, can be so stupid! Yaakov fooled me twice in the past, now he is doing it to my son!”

Elifaz: “Dear Father, listen a moment. Had I killed Yaakov, it would have been a great time for celebration, but for how long? A week? A month? A year? But after a while, you would have gotten used to the new reality in your life, and the thrill would be gone. What I have done will be a constant source of simcha for you. Just think: every time you sit down to a sumptuous meal, you will remember that Yaakov is scrounging in the garbage dumps for a potato peel (picture a scene from Auschwitz); every cold winter night, when you are warm under your thick down feather blanket, your brother, Yaakov, is searching for a street grating to keep warm from the escaping heat of the subway below; when you are surrounded with your 400 loyal men, your brother, Yaakov, is a social reject, living the life of a recluse.

Dear father, to disgrace, degrade, demoralize and degenerate Yaakov, until his dying day, is so much more pleasurable for us than the fleeting thrill of Yaakov’s death.”

Esav hears this,and realizes that he had succeeded in the education of his son Elifaz, who is now properly prepared to be the father of Amalek. Esav closes his eyes in deep satisfaction in the knowledge that the lessons will be handed down, faithfully, to all his generations, that Yaakov is to be forever degraded.

The thrill of degrading Yaakov and his family explains Esavs behavior in next week’s parsha. Yaakov and Esav prepare to meet after an absence of 22 years. The Torah relates that Esav ran to Yaakov and the pasuk “va’yee’sha’kay’hu” – and he (Esav) kissed Yaakov. The word has small dots over it, and Chazal explain that the Torah is alluding to what was going on in Esav’s mind: Esav intended to run to Yaakov in a gesture of love, and he would then bite Yaakov’s neck and kill him; but, at the last moment, Esav kissed Yaakov.

What made Esav change his mind?

The Torah relates that upon seeing Esav, Yaakov’s entire family, wives and children, all came forward and bowed down on the ground before Uncle Esav. At that moment, Esav experienced the delight and gratification on seeing his brother stretched out prone on the ground before him, in total submission. The precedent begun by Elifaz, son of Esav and father of Amalek, that it is far, far better to degrade Yaakov before killing him, was experienced by Esav.

The lesson of Esav and Elifaz, the thrill of degrading the Jew, was incorporated in the psyche of their descendants, and passed on to others, until this very day.

The German murder machine could have done the job more simply and probably more cost-efficiently had they used different methods. Rather, the descendants of Amalek chose to first bring the Jews into the squalor of the Ghetto, where we lost our respectability (I use the word “our” because had we been in Europe at the time, we too would have been victims). Cattle cars then transported us, and after days and weeks of thirst, hunger, and disease, we were taken down by whips and dogs to the tens of camps dispersed over the length and breadth of Europe. We were reduced to sub-human levels by medical experimentation and the branding of numbers on our bodies. And when the gentiles had had their fill of our degradation, we were gassed and thrown into huge pits.

We cannot fathom the immense implications that the emergence of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael has upon the Esav world. The gentiles can “forgive” the Jews everything, except for one thing: they will never be able to bear a Jew piloting an F16 fighter plane. The Esavs of today scheme and plot how to eradicate the Jewish state, the existence of which threatens the veracity of all their beliefs.

Esav, to this day, seeks to degrade us through censures in the UN; by pointing an accusing finger at us for daring to defend ourselves before murderous Islam: “Don’t build a protective wall; don’t use helicopters; spare the lives of the poor people of Jenin so that they will be able to blow themselves up in your markets and buses.

Our answer to the Esavs of the world is “Jewish Pride”.

We have arisen from the dead. God has resurrected the dry bones of our nation after 2000 years of persecution, not to become equals to the other nations of the world, but to lead them from their false beliefs, to a new world under God.

“Jewish Pride” means the creation of a perfect society, under Torah law, in Eretz Yisrael; a nation which serves as an example of what it means to be a nation of Kedusha; a nation where the young man, after learning in a yeshiva for years, pilots an F16 in defense of Jewish lives; a nation where we walk with our heads high, never again to bow down to any human being.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.