Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Chanukah – The Connection Between Schechem And Yavan

Iyov, 3:26: “I did not get serenity, I did not get quiet, I did not rest, and anger came.”

Bereishis Rabbah, 84:4: “I did not get serenity from Esav, I didn’t get quiet, from Lavan, I didn’t rest, from Dina,and anger came – the anger of Yosef came upon me.”

Shemos Rabbah, 26:1: “I did not get serenity, from Bavel, I did not get quiet from Madai, I did not get rest, from Yavan, and anger came with Edom.”

A verse in Iyov is interpreted by two Midrashim in different ways.  In Bereishis Rabbah, it refers to Yaakov’s various tzaros – the third example, expressed by ‘loh nachti’ – ‘I didn’t rest’ – alludes to the incident with Dina and Shechem.  In Shemos Rabbah, the Midrash interprets the verse as referring to Klal Yisrael as a whole and the various Exiles that we endured.  The third example here, also expressed by ‘loh nachti’, is that of the Greek Exile.  The commentaries[1]understands that these two Midrashim complement each other, and they come to allude to some kind of connection between the Maaseh Dina and Galus Yavan.

The Ohr Gedaliah suggests a number of connections.[2]  One is that of all the tzaros that are alluded to in the Midrashim primarilytook place in Chutz L’Aretz, whereas the episode of Dina and the Greek galus took place in Eretz Yisrael themselves.[3]  This explains why the term used in the Navi to refer to these troubles is ‘loh nachti’.  The Ohr Gedaliah explains that Eretz Yisrael and the Beis HaMikdash are described as Menuchah[4].  Thus, the Midrash is teaching that Yaakov had reached a potential state of Menuchah, but he could not enjoy it because of the tribulations of Dina, and the Jewish people had also reached a state of potential Menuchah in the land with the Beis HaMikdash but the Greek Exile prevented the Menuchah from being attained.

Another similarity between the two events was the nature of the danger posed by the enemy.  In both instances, the enemy’s primary threat was not physical destruction, rather it was to cause spiritual damage, particularly in the realm of Kedushah.  The Ohr Gedaliah writes that the intent of Shechem and his father, Chamur was to uproot the holiness of the nascent Jewish nation, and to impurify Dina.  Likewise, the Greeks decreed that every Jewish bride had to give herself to the Greek hegmon first.  The purpose of these actions was to defile the Jewish people spiritually.

Yet another comparison is with regard to Bris Mila.  The Greeks banned Bris mila in an attempt to eliminate the separation between the Jews and Greeks.  Indeed, the Hellenist Jews tried to bring back their Orlah in order to undo the separating effect of Bris mila.  The people of Shechem were willing to do Bris mila, but not as a way to elevate themselves to the level of the Jews, rather to nullify the differences between them.

Rav Yerucham Olshin adds that there is an uncanny connection between the reason that the Jewish people had to endure these two trials.  With regard to the Maaseh Shechem, he cites Rashi who explains that Yaakov was punished with what happened to Dina because he was not sufficiently zariz in fulfilling a vow he had made when he left Eretz Yisrael.  He had promised that he would make an Altar in Beis-El but he had still not done so upon his return.  As a punishment, Dina was abducted.[5]  Thus, the cause of this suffering was his weakening (hisrashlus) in his Avodas HaShem.  So too with regard to the Greek oppression, the Bach writes that it came as a punishment because, ‘hisrashlu b’Avodah’ – they weakened in their service of HaShem in the Beis HaMikdash.  Because they weakened in their Avodah, they were punished that the Greeks forbade their Avodah and defiled the Beis HaMikdash.

Happily, there are positive connections as well between the two events.  This is dramatically brought out by the Midrash Chanukah that recalls the details of the rebellion against the Greeks.  It began whenthe daughter of Mattisyahu married one of the Hashmonaen, Elazar.  She was soon to be taken by the Greek hegmon as per their evil decree.  She suddenly got up and aroused the Hashmonaen to fight backShe said: “You should learn from Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina, who were only two, and they were zealous for their sister and struck down the whole city of Shechem, and they risked their lives for the oneness of the Makom (HaShem), and HaShem helped them and did not let shame them…place your trust in the Makom and He will help you…”  This was the catalyst for the rebellion.  In both instances, the situation was redeemed by Mesiras nefesh.  Needless to say, that the Hashmonaen were direct descendants of Levi himself, and their emulation of his Mesiras nefesh merited the Siyata Dishmaya that Mattisyahu’s daughter predicted.[6]

One practical application of these ideas is that hiSrashlus in Avodas HaShem can open the way for external threats to weaken us spiritually, and the rectification of this threat is mesiras nefesh for Avodas HaShem.  In the two episodes discussed, the manifestation of the mesiras nefesh was to physically fight those who were threatening the spiritual integrity of the Jewish people.  In our situation, it may require a far less dangerous approach – making efforts in the spiritual realm, and to be willing to make sacrifices on our level.  Whether it be, to avoid certain pleasures that are not forbidden, but not necessarily ideal, or to get up earlier to get to shul on time.  Each person can make his own Cheshbon hanefesh to see where he is weakening in his efforts and where he can extend himself.  By doing this, in some small way, he can emulate the great Jews who merited the miracle of Chanukah.

[1] Ohr Gedaliah, Maamarim al Chanukah, written by Rav Gedaliah Shorr; Yerach Hamoadim, Chanukah, Maamar 21, written by Rav Yerucham Olshin.

[2] See there for an account of all the connections.  A number of them are cited in this essay.

[3] It is true that the clash with Esav was also in Eretz Yisrael but it was not a time when Yaakov was living in a state of Menucha in the land.

[4] Devarim, 12:9.

[5] Rashi, Bereishis, 35:1, Dh: Koom aleh.

[6] The commentaries note that the descendants of Shimon did not merit the same level of Mesiras nefesh, indeed, they were guilty for an act of immorality themselves, in Baal Peor.  This point is addressed in articles on Vayishlach and Pinchas.  Another question that arises is that Shimon and Levi were criticized by Yaakov Avinu for their actions.  One possible answer is that their zealousness to avenge the wrong done to the Jewish nation was praiseworthy, just that they should have consulted their father first.  Indeed, Rashi notes that the verse singles out Shimon and Levi ‘brothers of Dina’ as a praise because they risked their lives for her.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayishlach – Valuing A Mother’s Dedication To Her Family

Wednesday of this coming week is the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Ita Singer, a”h. Many of you who know my father-in-law, Rabbi Singer, his love of all klal Yisrael and the incredible vision he had many years ago of building a yeshiva for the working man. It all became a reality because of his dear wife, Rebbetzin Singer. She was the mother of our yeshiva and she encouraged Rabbi Singer to dream big in building our yeshiva. She is sorely missed. All those who knew her felt her true care and concern for each person’s well-being, whether to share a recipe, suggest a shidduch or just be a listening ear.

I can give you an insider’s view of Rebbetzin Singer. Stereotypical grandparents enjoy spending the day with their family and enjoy being able to leave at the end of the day, leaving the chores of parenthood to the parents. However, Rebbetzin Singer’s attention to her family did not stop with a visit. She would drive carpools, take them shopping, go to doctor’s appointments and give the little babies a bath. Raising a Torah-observant family was her focus and her greatest pride. Even dealing with the challenges and chores of her grandchildren were embraced by her as a mother, because that’s what being a Jewish mother/grandmother is about. Helping her family is what she lived for.

Raising a Torah-observant family is a major theme of Parshas Vayishlach. Yaakov met with Esav upon his return to Eretz Yisrael. Esav asked Yaakov, “Mi eileh lach,” who are all these to you (referring to Yaakov’s wives and children)? They were clearly Yaakov’s family, so what was Esav really asking? The Chofetz Chaim explains that Esav saw how much respect Yaakov’s wives and children had for Yaakov and how well-behaved the children were. Esav did not have a similar experience with his family. Yaakov replied, “This is my family, “asher chanan elokim…” that Hashem graced me with. The Hebrew word chanan is an acronym for the three special mitzvos of a Jewish mother: challah (separating dough when baking bread; ner (lighting Shabbos candles); and niddah (family purity). This is the secret of a Jewish home: When the mother is careful in carrying out her special mitzvos, a special blessing is given to the home, which results in the raising of a beautiful family.

The centrality of Jewish family is also seen when Yaakov sent a message to Esav, which included many presents and much livestock. Yaakov gifted to Esav the vast majority of the fortune he had amassed while living with Lavan in order to appease Esav. Wealth was not important to Yaakov; the survival of his family and the furtherance of Torah values were his primary focus.

When Rachel gave birth to Binyamin she called him “Ben Oni (son of my pain),” but Yaakov called him Binyamin (son of my right side—the last child of Rachel and the last of all his children). Why did Rachel call him “the son of my pain”? I believe the explanation is that the best praise of a Jewish mother is her dedication to her children. All the pain and suffering the mother endures to raise her family is worth it because that’s the main purpose of her life. Therefore, “son of my pain” expresses Rachel’s belief: “All my hardships were worth it to give birth to you.”

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz would often pray at Kever Rachel. He would plead, “Mamma Rachel, after you died and were buried along the side of the road, when the Bnei Yisrael were exiled you cried to Hashem because of your children’s exile. Hashem answered you, saying you should stop crying because Hashem will ultimately bring Bnei Yisrael back from exile because of your merits. But I, your son Chaim, am pleading with you to continue to cry!”

How was Rav Shmulevitz able to make such a request? If Hashem told Rachel to stop crying, how could Rav Shmulevitz ask her to do something against the wishes of Hashem? Rav Paysach Krohn gave the following answer: Hashem was like a father telling his daughter Rachel to stop crying, but Rav Chaim is a child of Rachel, and a child can always ask a mother to cry to his Father for help.

I would like to add that it is the essential right of Rachel Imeinu to cry for her children because the whole function of a Jewish mother is to provide guidance to her family, as well as beseech Hashem for the success of her family. The Almighty told Rachel to stop crying because He will ultimately bring the redemption, but until that time, Rachel may continue to cry.

Rebbetzin Singer’s life-long dedication to raising her family in the correct way was her biggest attribute and her biggest success. It is clearly no coincidence that her grandson, Dovid Yehuda Katz, will be getting married this coming Wednesday night, immediately following his grandmother’s yahrzeit!

Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Parsha Vayishlach – Esav’s Adaptable Angel

Bereishis, 32:30: “Then Yaakov asked, and he said, ‘please tell me your name’.  And he said, ‘Why then do you inquire of my name’? And he blessed him there.”

Rashi, 32:30, Dh: “We do not have a fixed name, our names change according to the current mission that we are sent on.”

After Yaakov was successful in his seminal battle with the Malach, the Malach asked Yaakov his name, and when Yaakov answered, the angel told him that his name would now be known as Yisrael. Yaakov then asked the Malach for his name, but the Malach refused to answer, and instead asked, why Yaakov was asking him his name. Rashi explains that the Malach was saying that Malachim have no set name, rather their names are dependent upon the current mission that they have been sent on.  There are two basic questions on this episode. Firstly, why was Yaakov asking the Malach for his name?  Secondly, we do in fact know the name of this Malach: Chazal tell us that Hewas the Guardian Angel of Esav, which is also known as the Satan and which represents the yetser hara.  If so, why, according to Rashi, did he say that his name changes according to his mission?

When Yaakov asked the Malach for his name, he wasn’t simply trying to ascertain a way to identify the Malach.  Rather, we know that that the name of something defines it’s essence.  When Yaakov asked the Malach his name, he was asking what was his essence?  In this way, he was hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the Satan and the challenges it would pose to his descendants.  When the Malach replied by telling him that it does not help to know his essence, because there is no one aspect of the yetser hara that he would have to conquer.  Rather, he was saying that his essence is that he adapts to the times and circumstances to pose the exact spiritual challenge that the Jewish people as a whole, and each Jew as an individual, will face throughout the generations[1].  Sometimes he would come in the form of false ideologies such as Hellenism or Communism, at other times, he will come in the form of challenges such as technological advances.

On a more individual level, the Gemara in Chullin[2] alludes to two different ways that the yetser hara works.  The Gemara brings a Machlokes as to the appearance of the Malach.  One opinion holds that he appeared to Yaakov like an idol worshipper, and the other holds that he appeared in the guise of a Talmid Chacham.  Rav Yissachar Frand, shlit’a explains that the yetser hara can be both; there is no one definition and no one battle plan.  Yet it needs to be understood on a deeper level, what these two manifestations represent.  The idol worshipper aspect of the yetser hara is not too difficult to comprehend.  He encourages us to weaken in our avodas HaShem by preventing us from doing Mitzvos, but what does the Talmid chacham aspect of the yetser hara do? 

Rav Frand answers based on the tefillah we say in Maariv: “May you remove the Satan from before us and from behind us”. “Before us” refers to how the Satan stands in front of us to block us from doing Mitzvos.  “Behind us” refers to how, on occasion, the Satan deems it necessary to stand behind us and actually pushes us to do Mitzvos.  What does that mean? It means that there are times when a person undergoes a significant, positive transformation and takes on new aspects of Torah observance. This is obviously a great thing, and the yetser hara is unable to prevent him from progressing, but it does not just stand idly by and let the person continue unimpeded.  Rather, it tries to make the person change too fast or take on too much in one go, instead of following the sensible approach of piecemeal growth.  Indeed, it is not uncommon for baalei teshuva to face the yetser hara of moving too fast and then at some point, feeling overburdened by their new commitments.

The yetser hara makes a particular effort to prevent a Jew from Torah learning as that is the basis of our whole avodas HaShem.  For some, it suffices to distract them in various ways, but it can also utilize the aspect of being “behind us” by pushing a person to overexert themselves in their learning to the extent that they burn out or become ill from not getting enough rest.  There were Gedolim who, at a young age, experienced this phenomenon to the extent that they needed a significant period of recuperation where they could not learn on the same level.  After this experience, they exhort their students to be careful to not push themselves too far[3].

We have learnt that there is no single approach of the yetser hara, rather it adapts to the times and circumstances, and according to each individual.  It is incumbent on each person to zero in on the particular areas where his yetser hara is strongest.

[1] The basis of this answer was heard from Rav Yissachar Frand shlit’a, in the name of Rav Chaim Dov Heller, shlit’a.

[2] Chullin, 91a.

[3] Needless to say, that the more relevant aspect of the yetser hara with regard to learning, is to reduce our learning, not to make us do too much.