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13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Chazal Tell Us How to Overcome Yishmoel

by Rabbi Mordecai Plaut based on a shiur of a rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim

In view of the threats faced by those living in the Middle East and around the world from those of Arab extraction, the following penetrating analysis sheds light on important characteristics of the struggle with Yishmoel as described by Chazal. This is not to suggest that every Arab is as detailed here, but that the essential features of the contest are as explained, and the steps we must take -- which are matters of our personal and private avodoh -- are as outlined here.

The following is based on a tape of a shiur that was delivered more than six years ago.

Part III

The first part described several important points that are part of the background of Yishmoel and his relationship to us. One is that there a special middoh of hearing, on the part of Hashem, of our prayers in response to the awful things that Yishmoel does to us, and also that what Yishmoel does to us, comes from his essence. Yishmoel is a talker by nature and he uses his power of speech against us, in addition to his other attacks. Therefore our normal speech, the kol Yaakov that is adequate to respond to the hands of Eisov, is insufficient against the power of Yishmoel. We must have a deeper appreciation of the powers of Yishmoel in order to understand what we have to achieve to counter them.

The second part describes how Yishmoel subverts the Divine service. Everything Yishmoel does, he does in the name of Heaven, but he does what he wants and proclaims that such is Heaven's will rather than subjecting his will to the Will of Heaven. Yishmoel has the awesome power of chesed that he acquired from the house of Avrohom Ovinu, and at the end of the golus he will ally himself to Eisov. Yishmoel and Eisov are the leaders of all the nations of the world, each standing at the head of 35 of them. We must find the proper response to both.


A Different Shemi'a for a Different Tzoroh

It is clear that anyone who bows to the dust of his feet -- i.e., that every place that he goes he thinks that the Creator of the world has sent him there -- always presumes to speak in the name of the Borei Olom.

Such a person is called pere odom (Bereishis 16:12). A pere is one who breaks all order. A pere odom is one who cannot join with others. Everything is unraveled. He cannot tolerate any sort of organized living arrangement. This is the essential power of that nation.

He removes himself from all human settlement. Every settlement is a place where people live together. A desert is a place where each person lives alone, as a lone individual.

When that nation is present, no process is possible that involves joining with it. There is simply no possibility of coming together with it.

But it attacks us with an awesome power. We have never before faced this kind of hostile power, a power that is in some sense equivalent to ours in that Hashem's Name is incorporated in his name.

What is our greatest power? That we invoke Hashem's Name -- va'anachnu beSheim Hashem nazkir! But they do that all the time, from morning to morning, 24/7.

We need the voice of Yaakov, a special voice that can overcome an opposing voice, and not only the hands of Eisov. It has to overpower a voice that invokes the Name of Hashem all the time. This is a force that, kevayochol, Hashem set up against us.

The normal kol Yaakov can overpower the hands of Eisov. But when we have to overcome something like this, we need a special promise for a special response: Yishma Keil veya'aneinu. It is essential that the Borei Olom hear us (as He usually does), but this time with a special inyan. It is not the normal Shomei'a Tefilloh.

If we merely invoke Sheim Shomayim the way they invoke Sheim Shomayim, that is, if we utter it only superficially, then we are no better than they.

We must relate to the Sheim Shomayim in a different way, so that it can elicit a different kind of hearing, a different shemi'a.

This situation was completely anticipated by Chazal. It is written in the Torah. It was known that the situation would be as it is now, here, in Eretz Yisroel. It was called "that which Yishmoel will do to us at the end of days in Eretz Yisroel" by Chazal. (Eitz Hadaas Tov - on Tehillim 118-124 bekum oleinu odom azai chaim belo'unu ---- Maharal)

The pain is awful, really awful. For we are opposed by a force that is, to some extent, in one important aspect, equivalent to our normal strength. We must ourselves amplify our basic nature so that we can overcome it.

When we are opposed by Eisov, then as soon as we enter the mode of kol Yaakov -- when the voice of Yaakov is heard in the shuls and botei medrash -- right away we can prevail. As soon as the kol Yaakov rises, the hands of Eisov are no longer effective against us.

But here that is not sufficient. We must go deeper. We must do more. It is not enough to simply make our voice heard. We must find a voice that can prevail against an opposing voice that is, in some aspect, similar to ours.

That is the problem situation in which we are now. Everything is very clear. The Borei Olom shows us very clearly.

We must stand against this awful tzoroh which will bring us to a keening (ne'okoh) that will require a special middoh, a special revelation, a special promise that is called "Yishmoel:" Yishma Keil.

What must we do? If Chazal revealed the problem they must certainly have revealed the answer.

Of course, the first thing we must do is what it says in the gemora, that in the Ikvos Hamoshiach we must rely on our Ovinu Shebashomayim (Sotah 49b). That is certainly true, but what specific action must we take? How must we invoke the Sheim Hashem so that the sequel will be fulfilled: "They bowed and fell, but we got up and were encouraged" (Tehillim 20)?

Physical and Spiritual Propagation

Chazal say (Sefer Yetziroh I:3, and the last mishna at the end of the sefer): "Hakodosh Boruch Hu made a double covenant with Avrohom. He made a covenant between his ten fingers that is the covenant of the tongue, and He also made a covenant between his ten toes and that is the bris milah."

Everyone knows about the bris milah. There is also a bris whose focus is the tongue.

The two covenants have many parallels. There is a parallel in the locations, since the bris milah is located between the ten toes and the tongue is located between the ten fingers. In both cases there is a state of orloh in which the covenant is covered over and not revealed and there is a need for circumcision in order to bring out the full effects. More deeply, the subject of both is propagation: the bris milah is about producing children, and the tongue is about producing talmidim.

The Gra says that the two are really the same covenant, but that one is on the body and the other is on the soul; the one is in gashmiyus and the other is in ruchniyus.


In the case of the bris milah, as long as the orloh covers things up, the truth of what is supposed to come out of the system is not revealed. What is really supposed to come out, does not come out. The bris milah, when it is performed, reveals the true latent power, which is the power of propagation: lihiyos lecho le'Elokim ulezar'acho acharecho (Bereishis 17:7). The bris ensures that this will happen, so that what Avrohom has to give over, will in fact be carried over to the children that he will have.

The power of propagation, of giving birth, is found in two places. A man can have children and a man can have talmidim. Veshinantom levonecho -- eilu hatalmidim. The two powers are closely bound and have common features.

If one is an oreil, then the true power of propagation is not revealed. He does not produce proper descendants: lihiyos lecho le'Elokim ulezar'acho acharecho. The orloh covers up and prevents the revelation of what is truly there. That is why there is a bris, in order to ensure that the truth is propagated by children who follow in the same path.

When the tongue is still areiloh, before its orloh has been removed, then there is no possibility of revealing the power of the tongue that leads to the revelation that Hashem is our Elokim and ensuring that our talmidim follow after us.

End of Part III of IV

See Part 1

See Part 2

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