A Measure of Greatness
"And Yaakov sent mal'ochim to Eisov his brother . . .
" (Bereishis 32:4). Rashi explains, "They were actual
mal'ochim." (Although there are two opinions among
Chazal whether these were real mal'ochim or human
emissaries, Rashi concurs with the first opinion.) We, of
course, have no idea what mal'ochim are. Even if we
think of the closest thing we can imagine, some kind of holy
flaming beings, we are nowhere near the truth, for
mal'ochim are wholly spiritual. How can we, as flesh
and blood, comprehend them?
We can however gain a very rough idea from learning what
happened to Dovid Hamelech, who saw a mal'ach with a
drawn sword. A consequence of the dread of seeing a
mal'ach, whose height extended from the ground until
the sky, was the chilling of his blood, the effects of which
remained with him for the rest of his life. How and what can
we possibly imagine a mal'ach as being? And these
were Yaakov Ovinu's mal'ochim.
A mal'ach is created from every mitzvoh that a person
does, as the Mishnah (Ovos 4:11) says, "One who does
a mitzvoh acquires one defendant for himself." In a
shmuess entitled, "For He will command His
Mal'ochim for You" (Tehillim 91:11), HaRav
Eliyohu Lopian zt'l explained that this defendant is
the mal'ach that is created from the mitzvoh. If the
mal'ochim formed from the mitzvos of ordinary people
defend them, how much more is this true of the
mal'ochim formed by the mitzvos of Yaakov Ovinu!
How can we comprehend Yaakov Ovinu sending mal'ochim -
- whole camps of them! -- to Eisov? How did they enter
Eisov's home? Through the doorway or through the window?
They are wholly spiritual and walls of stone do not impose
any limitations upon them!
At any rate, the mal'ochim certainly did enter
Eisov's home. It is reasonable to expect that he would have
fainted from fright upon seeing Yaakov Ovinu's
mal'ochim, but he didn't. How could that be? The
posuk tells us, "The mal'ochim returned to
Yaakov saying, `We came to your brother, to Eisov, and he is
also on the way to meet you . . .' " How indeed can this
The answer is that Eisov the rasha was not as we
picture him as having been -- [a hooligan] running through
the streets of the town holding a stick to beat the dogs
with. Although Eisov was certainly a rasha, he was
not a small-minded person, according to our ideas. The Torah
does not speak about small people, only about people whose
good deeds were great, like the holy ovos, or about
people whose wickedness was great, like Eisov, so that we
can contemplate the difference between a great
tzaddik and a great rasha.
And although Eisov was a great rasha, he was the son
of holy people. As the chassidim say, "He had an
excellent pedigree; he came from good stock." He was the son
of Yitzchok Ovinu and the grandson of Avrohom Ovinu a'h.
The holy Zohar says that Eisov's heart was no
good although we know that his head was buried in the Cave
of Machpelah. This means that Eisov's being the son
of Yitzchok was recognizable from his head, therefore that
part of him merited burial there. However, from his heart,
he could be recognized as Eisov the rasha. It is said
in the name of the Baal Hatanya that there used to be
mal'ochim under the benches in the homes of the
ovos [so common was their appearance]. That is why
Eisov was not afraid of seeing mal'ochim; he was used
" . . . He is going out with four hundred men." Chazal say
that these were the heads of four hundred battalions.
According to this, there were entire divisions and camps
coming to fight the mal'ochim. The mal'ochim
told Yaakov, "We came to your brother, to Eisov," meaning,
"You think that he is your brother but it is really Eisov;
Eisov the rasha, who is coming to meet you!"
"And Yaakov was very afraid and it troubled him . . . " Why
was he afraid? the commentators ask. Hashem promised him,
"And I will be with you . . . " and Yaakov was sure of
Hashem's protection. After receiving all the blessings and
assurances, how could he be afraid? He was nevertheless
worried in case he had sinned in his thoughts, as the Ibn
Ezra writes. Yaakov Ovinu was not afraid of Eisov's physical
might. [He himself possessed great strength.] When at Har
Gilod, "Yaakov took a stone and raised it as a monument,"
(31:45). The medrash (Bereishis Rabba 74:13),
comments that the stone was the size of the "tooth-like
rock" of Tiveriya, which was very high.
Why wasn't Eisov concerned that his sins might lessen his
prospects of emerging unscathed from a confrontation with
Yaakov? Only tzadikim are wary of themselves.
Reshoim have no pangs of conscience or doubts about
the things they do, as the posuk (25:34) says, "He
ate, he drank and Eisov scorned the bechoroh."
"And Yaakov remained alone and a man wrestled with him . . .
" Who was this man? It was Satan, Eisov's mal'ach. I
would like to explain to you in passing, what the reason was
for Yaakov's leaving his entire encampment on the other side
of the river and returning to fetch some small jars. Chazal
tell us that his return for the jars teaches us that "the
money of the righteous is more precious to them than their
bodies." We need to understand why this is deemed such a
praiseworthy thing. We also value our money more than we
value our physical well being. Each day, we throw all our
energies into working for money and more money, toiling and
laboring, and ruining our physical and mental health. We
enslave ourselves for the sake of money, turning night into
day in its pursuit.
I once met a plumber, a man of simple ways, who sighed and
when I asked him why, told me, "My back is hurting me. There
is almost no part of my body that I haven't experienced
illness in, and the doctor tells me that it is the result of
having worked hard to earn money all my life; the machinery
simply breaks down . . . What I mean is that throughout my
youth, I sacrificed my health for money and now that I am
older, I'm running to doctors and paying that money to them
in order to obtain health . . . "
How dreadful! How fearsome! But why is it only said that
tzaddikim cherish their money when everybody does?
Chazal's meaning can be explained through the following
parable. One man said to another, "I like you very much and
I think of you very highly because you are a faithful friend
to me. The proof of how true you are to me, and of how close
and special a friend I consider you, is that I'm looking for
another hundred friends like you!" The end of such a speech
contradicts the beginning! "If I'm such a true and special
friend," the listener might retort, "why are you seeking
further? It sounds as though exactly the opposite of what
you are saying is true!"
This explains the difference between tzaddikim and
ourselves. Chazal don't say that, "Tzaddikim love
money" -- meaning all and any money -- "more than
themselves." They say that they love "their money . .
. " Who knows exactly how other people obtained their money,
and whether or not they came by it in a totally
unimpeachable manner? A tzaddik knows that what is
his is completely his, with no strings attached.
Kosher money is precious to him, whereas we simply
like money, any money. And chas vesholom, the more
money, even without knowing that it is of unquestionable
ownership, the dearer it is R'l.
There is a well known incident with the Chofetz Chaim, whose
reaction on being given an expensive device was, "Where does
one get so much kosher money from?" On the other hand, when
as a Cohen, he would receive the five selo'im
of pidyon haben, he would dance in joy and exclaim,
"This is kosher money!"
We however, seek company for our own money from among that
which belongs to others. Tzaddikim, whose own money
is precious to them, do not seek to obtain more from what
others have. The reason for this is, Chazal conclude,
"because they do not stretch their hand out to rob." They
are careful to avoid robbing or swindling, interpersonal
sins which the gemora at the end of Yoma (85,
87), tells us are not atoned for by Yom Kippur unless
the wrongdoer has appeased his victim. Who knows the number
of prohibitions one can transgress by robbing and
overcharging?! It's fearsome and dreadful! It is said the
Beis Halevi once remarked, "I have been rov in Brisk for
twenty five years and nobody has yet come to ask me about
the kashrus of his rubles."
I heard the gaon HaRav Isaac Sher zt'l, ask
what great praise it is of tzaddikim to say that they
do not put their hands out to steal. Ordinary people are
also not robbers. He pointed out that it doesn't simply say
that they are not robbers. It says, "They do not stretch
their hands out to steal," meaning that even when there is
only a remote possibility of a transaction's being
dishonest, even if it is by no more than putting one's hand
out, tzaddikim keep their distance, lest they stumble
into transgressing the aveiro of stealing. We, on the
other hand, find all kinds of rationales for permitting this
type of thing, assuring ourselves and others that there is
no question of there being anything wrong with it.
Concerning tzaddikim, it says in Tanna Devei
Eliyohu that they prefer to refrain from one hundred
measures of what is permitted, in order to avoid even a
single measure of something forbidden.
I heard the following story from the gaon and
tzaddik HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt'l, who heard
it from the Alter of Kelm zt'l, who heard it from Rav
Yisroel Salanter zt'l, to whom it came via a chain of
firsthand listeners from Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l.
I would like to tell you the following story, which
illustrates the greatness of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, which I
heard from HaRav Zelig Reuvein Bengis zt'l, rav of
Yerushalayim. Whenever Rav Chaim needed to make a
brochoh, he would make sure that there was someone
with him who would be able to answer omein. (His
reason for this was that the Zohar writes that a
brochoh to which no omein was answered is like
a letter that has not been opened.)
It was once after midnight and Rav Chaim, who was learning
at home, felt a tremendous thirst, How could he make a
brochoh and drink though, when there was nobody to
answer omein? He suddenly heard knocking on his door
and a bochur from the yeshiva came in to ask him a
question on the gemora. Rav Chaim was very glad at
being able to make a brochoh and drink. After he had
answered omein, the bochur left.
The following morning, Rav Chaim went over to the
bochur and thanked him for having helped him by
answering omein, enabling him to drink. The
bochur was at a loss and did not know what Rav Chaim
was talking about. He knew nothing of having come to the
Rosh Yeshiva's home the previous night . . . In other words,
apparently, an emissary had been sent from Heaven, or
Eliyahu Hanovi, to answer omein so that Rav Chaim
could quench his thirst.
This demonstrates Rav Chaim's greatness, while in addition,
the fact that the emissary assumed the form of that
particular bochur shows what a tzaddik this
talmid of the holy Volozhin Yeshiva was . . .
End of Part I
The yahrtzeit of HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt"l is 22