Friday, December 2, 2016

Toldos: Yaakov and Eisav

I broke my wrist two weeks ago, and it was hard to type, but I'm better now. The Ribono shel Olam sent me to an awesome surgeon- a South African Litvishe Yid- that put in eight screws and a plate, but I have absolutely no pain and a great range of motion and with therapy, I hope to recover fully.  Putting on tallis and tefillin was not easy for the first week, particularly because of the broken wrist on the right and torn rotator cuff and fractured rib on the left side.

I was ten feet up a ladder, and the ladder slid off of the object it was propped up on. My roofer friend says that based on his experience, a fall like that ought to have broken either my back or my neck, so a mere broken wrist, rib, and rotator cuff is a great chesed.

No, it was not foolish to put the ladder on the piece of furniture. I did it cautiously and with careful thought, and what happened was simply something I did not anticipate, involving changes in leverage and center of gravity. But I admit that an observer would have been put in mind of Buster Keaton in his silent film comedies. One of my grandchildren asked me what I was thinking as I fell- and in fact, the mind manages to think many thoughts in what might be the penultimate moment. I was thinking that if I was found dead with the ladders, my grandchildren would think that I had been foolhardy and that all my lessons about being prudent and careful and planning out what you do were not true, that I myself did not practice that way of life. I survived, and that's good enough.

Writing at the end of December, I am adding the before and after x-rays- the left from the emergency room, and the right four weeks later, partially healed and with plates and pins.

In any case, back to Yaakov and Eisav.
This was my drasha at my great nephew's bar mitzva- Mordechai Gavriel Ray.

Reb Yerucham points out that Targum Yonasan explains yoshev ohalim as Tava Olphan, a seeker of instruction. Similarly, David Hamelech says oso avakesh, shivti be'veis Hashem. On the other hand, Eisav is called Yodei'a tzayid, Ish sadeh. Onkelos says yodei'a tzayid means gvar nachshirchon. Tosfos in BK 94b says this means a man of rest. It's remarkable that Rashi learns yodei'a tzayid differently, (he learns it means one who entraps his father into thinking he is a tzadik,) but then Rashi says pshat in Ish Sadeh that he was an ish batteil, who liked to hunt. So although Rashi differes from Onkelos on the translation of the particular words, he agrees that the passuk, albeit in a different section, says that a defining characteristic of Eisav was that he was a man that didn't like to work to accomplish. The meforshim in BB 139 say that sharchi means one who doesn't want to create a business, a batlan.

One would not think that the essential distinction between them was this, but Reb Yerucham said that Yaakov was a mevakesh, and Eisav was an ish batteil. They say that in the Mir, one would disparage someone who appeared to have a high opinion of himself by referring to him as "A Fartiger," a finished person, meaning like Eisav- done, he feels no need to grow, no need to seek.  This does not mean that Eisav was lazy. He was actually a very busy man. But his work was to satisfy his own desires, not to improve himself or to improve the world around him.

They say a story about Reb Chaim Shmulevitz along these lines, and the story is brought in several places, including the likkutim on chumash (e.g. Yalkut Lekach Tov.) My brother in law, Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, said they have the story wrong. He is in a position to know, because he spent years with is grandfather, Reb Avraham Jofen, and he was very close with his cousin, Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz. The true story is that Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz used to spend Ellul with his uncle, Reb Avraham Jofen, in Novarodok. He asked him who is the biggest metzuyan in the yeshiva, and Reb Avraham pointed to a certain bachur. Reb Chaim was surprised, and asked, not the Steipler? Reb Avraham answered "You didn't ask who was the biggest lamdan. You asked who is the biggest metzuyan. That bachur is the biggest metzuyan, because he is the biggest mevakesh in the Yeshiva."

(Please note: I know that the story is said over very differently in several sefarim, including the Lekach Tov and a book by Rabbi Pesach Krohn. But I can tell you several interesting facts: On the one hand, Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz's oldest son, Reb Refoel, said that the whole story is a fabrication, because everyone knows that the Steipler was the biggest lamdan and the biggest mevakesh and the biggest yarei shamayim in the yeshiva. But he didn't say that his father told him that the story wasn't true, just that he held that it couldn't be true. On the other hand, Reb Chaim himself told the story exactly as I said it to my brother in law, Harav Moshe Faskowitz. After I said it over at a bar mitzva this Shabbos, a young man, Avi Triester, came over and told me that he heard the story from Reb Avrohom Shmuelevitz, Reb Chaim's younger son, and he said it over exactly as I did, and said that the other versions of the story are not true. So I have two eidim kesheirim, my brother in law, and Reb Avrohom Shmuelevetiz, who say that they heard the story from Reb Chaim. In my book, that settles it. I actually like the way the story goes in the other books better, but unfortunately, they're not what actually happened.)

Remarkably, the defining distinction between Yaakov and Eisav became evident when the became adults, at the age of thirteen. I think it's a nice lesson for young men, don't float through life. Be a mevakesh! Don't accept the status quo, not in your personal life and not in communal life.  Look, scrutinize, recognize need for change, and when you see a need for change, set a goal and work toward it.  Keep your eyes open for opportunity for growth and accomplishment and self improvement. Be a mevakesh.

Reb Chaim B, in his blog, quotes the story I have here with Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz, and makes the excellent point that with this we understand why Yaakov's tefilla is Arvis- because davka Yaakov represents doing something because you feel an internal need to do more than necessary, to find new ways to do avodas Hashem.


  1. Refuah Shleimah, Reb Eisenberg.

  2. Refuah shleimah Rav Eisenberg.

    Along the lines of your dvar torah, I once heard that why on Pesach, when we are forming our identity as a Jewish people, do we ask questions. Why are questions such a focal point of the seder? The reason is, because question comes from the word quest, a journey, a seeking. On Pesach, we define ourselves as people on a quest, on a journey, as seekers. We want to entrench in our children that our identity does not necessarily know answers, we are more defined by the quest we make to uncover, to discover and to search for answers than the answers themselves.

  3. Rav Chaim B, in his blog, quoted the story I have, and added a great he'ara- that Yaakov's tefilla is Arvis, which is a Reshus. The point of a reshus is that one only does it if one feels impelled by an internal desire, not because it is imposed or expected. Yasher koach!

  4. I think that perhaps it would be a good thing to revive the Mussar Movement. Who is with me?