november 2nd 2013
Heshvan 29th 5774
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The Tzaddik Perishes, But No One Takes it to Heart
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Jacob cooked a stew, and Esav came in from the field and was exhausted. Esav said to Jacob, ‘Please pour some of that very red stuff into me, for I am exhausted.’ … Jacob said, ‘Sell me, as of this day, your birthright.’ Esav said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so why do I need this birthright?’ … He swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. … [Esav] ate and drank, and arose and left. Thus Esav despised the birthright” (Bereshith 25:29-34).
Let us consider a few things that require further explanation in the story of Esav selling his birthright to Jacob. Esav returns from the field exhausted and starving, and he asks Jacob to give him something to eat. Why does he ask in such an odd way, requesting that Jacob feed him as one feeds an animal? As Rashi explains on verse 30, Esav said: “I will open my mouth, and you will pour a lot into it.” Why did he not just eat it by himself?
We also need to understand why our father Jacob, the chosen one among the Patriarchs, decided to act with such indifference towards his twin brother, his closest relative, when he was starving. Instead of demonstrating kindness to Esav, he took advantage of his weakened state to take his birthright by means of a coerced sale. Furthermore, Jacob should have been afraid that Esav would die of hunger while they were still agreeing on the terms of the sale, as we read in the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu: As he was traveling on the road with three donkeys loaded with food, a poor man stopped him and asked for something to eat. While still unloading food from his donkey, the poor man died of hunger (Taanith 21a). That said, why was Jacob not afraid that this would happen to Esav?
Furthermore, why was Jacob so attached to Esav’s birthright that he tried to buy it from him? Commenting on verse 31, Rashi states that Jacob thought: “Since the sacrificial service is performed by the firstborn, this evildoer is not fit to perform the sacrificial service for G-d.” It still remains difficult to understand Jacob’s reasoning, for it is clear that Esav was wicked, meaning that he would never bring offerings to G-d. Furthermore, Esav committed five sins on that day, including the sin of denying G-d (Bava Batra 16b)! Since it is clear that he even denied G-d, he would never have brought Him offerings. Therefore what did it matter if Esav was designated as the firstborn, since it meant nothing to him? In the end, Jacob and his descendants would be the ones standing before G-d to serve Him and bring Him sacrifices and offerings.
We can understand all this by the words of our Sages, which Rashi cites: “Avraham died on that day in order to prevent him from seeing Esav, his grandson, taking to the wrong path, for that would not be ‘the good old age’ which G-d had promised him. It is for this reason that G-d shortened his lifespan by five years.... Jacob cooked lentils as a first-meal for mourners” (Rashi on Bereshith 25:30). Now five years of a tzaddik’s life represent an entire world, and we have no idea of the eternal benefit that Creation draws from each instant in which a tzaddik lives on earth. This applies even more to the life of Abraham our father, for he radiated faith in G-d and spread it throughout the world at every moment of each day, laying the foundations of faith in the existence of G-d and in His providence. It is certain that with five more years, he would have done incredible things to further increase faith in the world. The tzaddik also draws an immense benefit from each moment in which he lives and serves G-d here in the world of action. As G-d answered King David when he asked Him to remove him from this world on the eve of Shabbat, not during Shabbat itself (which was His intention): “Better to Me is one day in which you sit and engage in [Torah] learning than the thousand offerings which your son Solomon is destined to offer before Me on the altar” (Shabbat 30a). Despite all this, G-d wanted to keep His promise to Abraham and allow him to live out his final days in joy. He therefore shortened his lifespan by five years in order to prevent him from seeing his grandson Esav taking to the wrong path.
We need to understand just how wicked Esav was: He became such a sinner that it was preferable for Abraham to forgo five years of his life than to be disturbed by the sight of his grandson distancing himself from G-d’s ways, denying his faith, the resurrection of the dead, and so on. As we read in the Gemara, “Bad upbringing in a man’s house is worse than the war of Gog and Magog” (Berachot 7b). Furthermore, Esav’s deeds and wickedness led to Abraham’s death five years early, and all the detrimental effects which this had on the world and his personal development must be imputed to him.
Abraham died and everyone was mourning, grieving over his death. It was now time for people to do some soul-searching, to examine their deeds. At that point everyone related to the deceased had sudden bursts of repentance, especially since Abraham was a great man. The greater the loss, the greater the interest in knowing who can replace him. Yet the wicked Esav, who was the cause of all this, went out into the field to quench his desires on that very same day. At that point he fulfilled the verse, “The tzaddik perishes, but no one takes it to heart” (Isaiah 57:1). Not only that, but when he returned and saw Jacob preparing lentils for the meal of mourners – whose objective is to awaken in the mourner’s heart the realization that the wheel of life turns – Esav’s soul was unmoved. On the contrary, he rejected from his mind any thought of mourning and had no desire to think about his mission or the day of his death. All that mattered to him was quenching his desires and eating. In fact he asked Jacob, “Please pour some of that very red stuff into me.” He did not even want to make visual contact with the lentils, nor did he mention them by name, since to him it was just red food. Esav also did not want to let himself be reminded of, or to think about what the lentils alluded to, which is why he asked someone else to cram this food into him, a very unusual way of eating! Let the lentils reach his stomach alone, not his mind or thoughts.
When Jacob saw Esav’s indifference to the mourning of their family, not sharing in their pain, but rather disdaining his grandfather and father, he responded in kind by showing indifference to his hunger, refusing to feed him “for free.” Jacob thought, “This evildoer, who ridicules everything that’s holy, isn’t worthy of being called the firstborn, whose holiness is tied to being the ‘first born.’ ” Even if it was clear that this rebel, this heretic, would not stand before G-d to bring Him offerings, the fact that he was designated as the firstborn – which in principle implied the offering of sacrifices – was a great sacrilege. Stripping him of the birthright would therefore be a good thing. Hence Jacob attempted to take it from him in exchange for a meal of lentils. It was also for this reason that Jacob was not afraid that Esav would die of hunger, for if Esav really felt that he would faint, he would have eaten anything to regain his strength. However he stubbornly insisted on gulping down his food, like an animal, for he sought to ridicule the mourning of the tzaddik. Jacob therefore concluded that Esav was not in danger, and as mentioned earlier he demonstrated his indifference towards Esav by stripping him of his birthright, since he was not worthy of being shown kindness or benefiting from being the firstborn.
The Words of the Sages
Removing Sin Without Anesthesia
It is written, “It happened that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see” (Bereshith 27:1).
In the Midrash we read, “Isaac demanded suffering…. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ‘By your life, you have asked well, and I will begin with you.’ Thus suffering is not mentioned from the beginning of the book until here: ‘It happened that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see’ ” (Bereshith Rabba 65:9).
In tractate Semahot, the Sages also say that pious men in the early generations mortified themselves before their deaths. This is why, in regards to Isaac, it is said: “You have asked well.”
The Chafetz Chaim once visited someone who was sick. He spoke to those accompanying him, telling them that when he thought about the suffering of the sick, he derived an instructive conclusion, one that carries a great moral lesson:
When a human king wants to punish a subject who has sinned against him, he places that person in prison. However it is clear that it is not enough to imprison someone. The king must ensure that the bars and bolts of the prison’s gates and the prisoner’s cell are sturdy, and that nobody attempts to damage them.
He also has to appoint professional guards to protect the prison on all sides, and to watch everything that is happening inside so as to prevent any prisoner from escaping.
However when the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, wants to punish someone who has sinned against Him, He does not need a prison or guards. All He needs to do is prevent one of his organs from working properly, in which case that person will be confined to bed, in a wide open place, without guards or policemen inside or out. The patient will be lying in his bed, unable to flee. He will be incapable of moving or getting up.
Nevertheless, the Midrash teaches us that suffering is a “good thing”!
In the context of tzaddikim accepting suffering, the book Barchi Nafshi recounts that after the return of the great gaon Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman Shlita from his first trip abroad with the Rebbe of Ger Shlita, he was overcome by a violent toothache. He therefore went to see his regular dentist.
Upon examining him, the dentist concluded that he had to extract a tooth, which as we know is a very painful procedure that requires anesthesia.
When Rav Steinman heard the diagnosis, he said that he didn’t want any anesthesia.
The dedicated dentist was stunned to hear this, telling the Rosh Yeshiva that it would be extremely painful. “I’ve never performed this procedure without anesthesia, even on the young, so how can I allow the Rosh Yeshiva to do this?” he said with surprise.
However the Rosh Yeshiva’s decision was firm, meaning that the dentist had no choice but to agree to his request.
Now to his great astonishment, not a sound emerged from the Rav’s mouth during the entire procedure, not even a sigh. It was truly impossible to know whether he was undergoing such a painful procedure.
When it was over, the tooth having been removed, the gaon said to the dentist: “I wanted to be treated without anesthesia because of something that happened to me on a trip abroad.” The dentist raised his eyebrows, like someone who couldn’t understand the connection between the two. The Rosh Yeshiva explained:
“In all the places and centers of Torah that I visited, I was received with great honor. Since I know very well that I do not deserve such honor, I felt the need to redeem myself. I thought that the pain I would experience here would serve as a kind of atonement for all that honor.”
This story will certainly not lead us into making a similar decision, namely to get a tooth extracted without anesthesia. However we can still learn several things from it.
First, we learn that the Rosh Yeshiva was a tremendously humble man. Second, it demonstrates his great stature and astounding ability to endure suffering, and in ways that we cannot comprehend, for the dentist stated that it was an exceedingly painful procedure. Third, we learn that it is necessary to atone for the honor that we have received. Finally, we learn that suffering has the power to atone.
All of Sudden, We Heard a Beep
During this journey abroad by the gaon Shlita, he experienced another incident that we shall recount, as well as the ethical lesson that comes from it.
For security reasons, travelling by airplane in Israel and around the world is closely monitored, and every passenger is subjected to rigorous screening processes. One such process takes place at the boarding gate, when all passengers are thoroughly examined by walking through a metal detector to verify that they are not carrying any explosives or sharp metal objects.
When our teacher the gaon Rabbi Aharon Steinman traveled to the United States, he was certain that since there was no metal objects in his pockets, the metal detector would not beep, meaning that security personnel would allow him to immediately board his flight.
However as he walked through it, it began to beep. Everyone was certain that the metal detector had made a mistake, and he was asked to walk through it again.
It then beeped a second time.
Finally, the Rosh Yeshiva remembered that several years earlier, he had undergone an operation to repair a broken leg. The surgeons had attached a metal bar to his bone, which had remained in place.
He therefore turned to those accompanying him and said, “Let us draw a lesson here: This is what will happen to every Jew when he reaches the gates of Gan Eden. Some people will arrive there with a great deal of confidence, certain that the good deeds they performed in this world will open every door before them. Yet suddenly, they will hear a beep!
“Suddenly, it will turn out that not everything was as perfect as they thought.”
Guard Your Tongue
Atoning for the Sin of Accepting Rechilut
If a person has already transgressed by accepting Rechilut as being true, then to redeem himself he must strive to remove this belief from his heart and never again believe it. Even if he finds it difficult to think that the speaker of the Rechilut made everything up, he must realize that perhaps the speaker exaggerated and added information, or put things in a negative light. Perhaps the statement in question was originally said with another tone, one that completely changes its meaning. He must take it upon himself not to accept Lashon Hara or Rechilut about any Jew ever again, and he must confess that he did so. As such he will rectify his sin, but only if he did not repeat what he heard to others.
– Chafetz Chaim
At the Source
To Know and Recognize
It is written, “Isaac entreated Hashem for his wife [Rebecca], for she was barren” (Bereshith 25:21).
Why were the Matriarchs barren?
It is because young Gentile women worshipped idols, and when they were young, their fathers devoted them to the priests. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “If I give them children immediately, their fathers will glorify themselves in their idols, saying: ‘They are powerful, for my daughter had children because of them.’ ” He therefore said, “Let them agonize and pray with all their might. Then I will give them children, so that people may know that their idols are completely worthless.”
– Bereshith Rabba
The Prayer of the Tzaddik
It is written, “Isaac entreated Hashem for his wife [Rebecca], for she was barren” (Bereshith 25:21).
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shimon said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar: Why was Rebecca childless for so long? So that Gentiles should not say, “Our prayer was effective,” since they said to her: “Our sister, may you become thousands of myriads” [Bereshith 24:60].
Hence she did not bear until Isaac prayed for her. She was then visited, as it is written: “Isaac entreated Hashem for his wife.”
– Shir HaShirim Rabba 2:41
Hunting With the Garment
It is written, “Esav was a man acquainted with hunting” (Bereshith 25:27).
Rabbi Yehudah said, “The garment that the Holy One, blessed be He, made for Adam and his wife were with Noah in the Ark. When they left the Ark, Noah’s son Ham stole it and bequeathed it to his son Cush and to Nimrod. When Nimrod wore it, all the beasts and birds came and fell at his feet.”
Rabbi Meir said, “Esav saw the garment on Nimrod, and he desired it. He killed him and seized it, and when he wore it, he also became a great hunter.”
– Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer
Trial and Blessing
It is written, “Isaac sowed…and Hashem blessed him” (Bereshith 26:12).
The Holy One, blessed be He, does not give a person heavy responsibilities before He has tried him. When he demonstrates resolve during this trial, He raises him to a high position.
We find this idea in the story of Abraham and the story of Isaac. The Holy One, blessed be He, tried him [Isaac] during the time of Avimelech [through the famine He created, by prohibiting him from going down to Egypt, as well as by the fear of being killed on account of his wife Rebecca, such that he was forced to say “she is my sister”], and he overcame these trials without protesting against how Hashem treated him. Hashem therefore blessed him afterwards, as it is written: “Isaac sowed…and Hashem blessed him.”
– Tanchuma 141
Out of Respect
It is written, “[Isaac] called them by the same names that his father had called them” (Bereshith 26:18).
When someone purchases a home and gives it a name, and his son changes something in it, he usually gives it another name.
Such was not the case with Isaac. All the wells that his father Abraham had dug and named – although the Philistines later filled them and Isaac had to dig them again – he did not rename, but instead he used the names that had been chosen by his father. Why? Because of his humility, and out of respect for his father.
What reward did Isaac earn for this? That the names of the other Patriarchs changed – Abraham having first been called Abram, and Israel having first been called Israel – but Isaac’s name did not change. In fact Isaac’s name had been given to him by the Holy One, blessed be He, even before he was born, and his name never changed.
– Midrash Hagadol
The Royal Treatment
It is written, “Rebecca took the choice garments of her oldest son Esav, which were with her in the house” (Bereshith 27:15).
Did Esav not have wives who could keep these garments for him?
These were the garments in which he used to serve his father. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “I served my father all my life, but I did not serve him in one hundredth the way that Esav served his father. I served my father in dirty garments, and I went into the street in clean ones. Yet when Esav served his father, he served him in royal robes.”
Thus it is written, “The choice garments of her oldest son Esav, which were with her in the house.”
– Bereshith Rabba 65:16
In the Light of the Parsha
Never Take a Blessing Lightly
It is written, “Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall be like a mocker in his eyes. Then I will bring upon myself a curse, and not a blessing” (Bereshith 27:12).
The Ramban is surprised by this, stating: “I wonder why Jacob was not afraid of vocal recognition, for all people are recognizable by their voice.” Why did Jacob have no fears at all in regards to his voice?
He told his mother, “I am a smooth [chalak] man,” and the term chalak is formed by the same letters as lekach, as in the verse: “For I have given you a good teaching [lekach, which here designates Torah]” (Mishlei 4:2). In other words, he studied Torah continually, meaning that he had no need for additional blessings. Our Sages have said, “How do you know that even if a man sits and studies Torah, the Shechinah is with him? Because it is said, ‘Wherever I permit My Name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you’ [Shemot 20:21]” (Berachot 6a). Since the Holy One, blessed be He, was blessing Jacob, he didn’t need other blessings. Now his brother Esav was a sa’ir (hairy) man, and the word sa’ir is formed by the same letters as rasha (evildoer).
What answer did Jacob’s mother give to him? “Although you study Torah and cleave to the Shechinah, do not take the blessing of a tzaddik lightly, especially the blessing of your father. Every blessing we receive gives us extra strength to serve Hashem and study Torah.”
This is why Jacob did not mention the subject of his voice, but only said: “I shall be like a mocker in his eyes.” He did not need the blessings of his father – since he studied Torah – but it appeared as if he were deceiving his father. He was not afraid that his father would recognize him; he only feared that he would be deceiving his father and receive a curse, not a blessing.
What is the Value of Prayer?
The marvelous writings of our teacher the gaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in his book Orchot Yosher are profuse with instructions. This book opens the door and lays out the path to follow for anyone who wants to understand the universe of prayer. He writes the following:
“Prayer is only valuable if it emanates from the depths of the heart of the one reciting it. In fact prayer recited without concentration is like a body without a soul. Conversely, one who prays with diligence and fervor will attain the conviction that all which happens in the world comes from Hashem. Obviously, G-d knows the thoughts of man and his hidden desires. However in wholeheartedly expressing his requests with his mouth, a person creates an extra connection and link between himself and G-d, Who desires the prayers of the righteous, as it is written: ‘Hashem admonishes the one He loves’ [Mishlei 3:12]. He puts the righteous to the test in order for them to address Him, for He desires their prayers”
The Walls Danced
When Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, the Rebbe of Sanz and author of Divrei Chaim, prayed Shacharit, the cries emanating from his torn and pulsating heart filled the synagogue. His cries resembled the roaring of a wounded lion, which sent shivers down everyone’s spine. Everyone in attendance was stunned, trying to understand how a human being could reach such an elevated level, experience such enthusiasm, feel such strong emotion, and reach the very depths of his soul.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Chaim himself once declared with admiration: “One who never heard or saw the prayer of the Chozeh [Seer] of Lublin has never witnessed good or heard prayer worthy of the name. In his synagogue, when people recited Hodu LaShem Ki Tov, the floor shook and the walls danced – they truly danced!”
He would often say, “It would be normal for someone who lives a difficult life on earth to feel overwhelmed. However if he remembers that, as a Jew, he has merited – be it only once – to turn to Hashem and pray to Him, then what does he lack?” (Marbitzei Torah MeOlam HaChassidut).
Another story is told in regards to the great and holy Rebbe of Sanz:
During a certain time in his life, he suffered from kidney stones. One Friday afternoon, he was suddenly overtaken by unbearable kidney pain. The Rebbetzin begged him to welcome Shabbat at home, not to go to synagogue in his painful state. However the Rebbe did not agree. “At least don’t prolong the service,” she said to him, justifiably worried about her husband’s health.
The Rav left for the Beit HaMidrash and began the prayers with his customary fervor and sacred enthusiasm. When he reached Boi BeShalom, the Rebbe stood up, as was his custom, and began dancing enthusiastically. He danced for 45 minutes, dancing and dancing…surrounded by his stunned chassidim. He then recited Mizmor Shir and extended it for another half-hour.
Once the service ended, the Rav returned home. The Rebbetzin was waiting for him at the door, looking none too pleased: “Why?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” was his response. “As soon as I began praying, the pain vanished as if it had never existed.”
“It’s interesting,” he added. “Apparently just singing Boi BeShalom is a remedy for pain!”
Willing to Lose it All
Rabbi Khalifa Malka (who diligently studied Torah with the tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Pinto, the father of Rabbi Haim Pinto Hagadol), owned many ships. With them, he would transport merchandise from city to city and from country to country. Nevertheless, Rabbi Khalifa did not devote much time to his business, for he devoted himself entirely to the study of Torah. In fact he authored many explanations on texts of Torah and Halachah, and he also composed songs and poems. Most notably, he wrote Kaf Venaki and Kol Zimra.
In his book Shem HaGedolim, the Chida mentions the works of Rabbi Khalifa and praises him: “Kaf Venaki was written by a perfect sage – a pious man accustomed to miracles – the venerable Rabbi Khalifa Malka from the holy community of Agadir. He wrote a commentary on the prayer book, as well as hymns and other subjects. This book is composed of five parts, like the five fingers of the hand [kaf].” Rav Enkaua also praised his writings.
The extraordinary story that we shall relate is famous among the Jews of Agadir, who recount it with admiration. One Yom Kippur, as Rabbi Khalifa was in synagogue immersed in fasting and prayer, several of his ships filled with merchandise arrived at port.
The Rav was afraid that non-Jewish merchants would come to bother him, thereby disrupting his concentration on this sacred day given to the Jewish people. He therefore immediately strengthened himself and asked the almighty Creator to sink his merchandise-laden ships into the sea, thus preventing the sanctity of the day from being desecrated.
The tzaddik’s request was heard! Before the stunned eyes and cries of the dock workers and merchants of the port, all his ships sunk into the sea, as if by themselves. Things changed for Rabbi Khalifa on that day. Upon his own request, all his wealth was submerged into the sea, and he became a very poor man.
This story from the Jews in the port city of Agadir is very interesting. According to them, under certain conditions (low tide and weak winds), the masts of Rabbi Khalifa’s sunken ships can be seen pointing from the bottom of the port, as if to testify to the power of the tzaddik’s prayers.
I Am Prayer
Praying at Every Opportunity
There is no issue (important or not) that does not deserve to be addressed to Hashem in prayer.
If a person is looking for a shidduch for himself or his children, he should pray to Hashem for it. In business, a person should also address Hashem. As a general rule, there is no area in which praying to G-d for success or to lead us in the right path does not apply. It goes without saying that if a disaster strikes, G-d forbid, we should pray. Likewise in a time of joy, it is our duty to pray that we should not come to sin, even in the midst of such joy. Thus we should personally pray about every issue that we are occupied with.
We will necessarily benefit as a result, for this prayer will be voiced with sincerity. It will not be formed of words spoken by rote, in a routine manner and without conviction. Rather, it will constitute prayer par excellence, for it will emanate from the depths of the heart.
– Netivot Emunah