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16 Kislev 5761 - December 13, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Greatness In Righteousness, Greatness In Wickedness: A Shmuess for Parshas Vayishlach

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

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 be?

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 to them.

" . . . 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."

Precious Money

"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 Kislev.

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