Chicago Chesed Fund

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Vayishlach, Breishis 32:8. Vayiroh Yaakov me’ohd vayeitzer lo. What did Yaakov Fear?

This was originally posted in 07, and I haven't gotten any smarter. I am adding something Larry (BlackLeibel) Schwartz ע'ה showed me from the Satmarer and several good updates.

The passuk says that when Yaakov prepared for his confrontation with Eisav, he was stricken with fear and with terrible trepidation. Why the double expression?

Rashi explains that his yirah was because he might be killed, and his tzarah/distress was because he might have to kill others. 

ויירא ויצר. וַיִּירָא שֶׁמָּא יֵהָרֵג, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ אִם יַהֲרֹג הוּא אֶת אֲחֵרִים (בראשית רבה ותנחומא):

You would think that the second half is testament to Jewish rachamim, the recognition that killing a human- no matter how much he deserves it or how immediate his threat is- brutalizes the killer and leaves indelible spiritual trauma. 
Or you might think that it is along the lines of the Gemara (Ber 32b) כהן שהרג את הנפש לא ישא את כפיו, שנאמר (ישעיהו א, טו): “וּבְפָרִשְׂכֶם כַּפֵּיכֶם אַעְלִים עֵינַי מִכֶּם וכו’ יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ”, or Dovid Hamelech’s preclusion from building his Beis Hamikdash because “דם לרב שפכת ומלחמות גדלות עשית לא תבנה בית לשמי כי דמים רבים שפכת ארצה לפני” 

But you would be wrong. I have not found one mefareish of Rashi– or the Medrash Rashi is based on– that learns pshat like that. The only one that says that derech was Golda Meir. Golda Meir may deserve our love and gratitude for her loving and courageous heart and for what she did for Klal Yisrael, but a mefareish of Chumash she was not. 

The pshatim I saw range from his fear of Yitzchok’s reaction to his fear of killing non-combatants, to a fear that the death of one brother would precipitate the death of the other, as per the concern/nevu'ah Rivkah had expressed. Nobody that I saw says that Yaakov was having nightmares about possibly killing someone who needed killing. I may have missed something, and I would appreciate a mareh makom if you have one.

Leibel Schwartz ע'ה showed me what the Satmarer brings in his Divrei Yoel from the Ateres Tzvi:

He asks, as we did, what would Yaakov be afraid of? הבא להרגך! and באבוד רשעים רנה!  Pshat is that in Eisav were many neshamos of tzadikim, such as Rav Akiva, none of whom would be born if Yaakov killed him, and Yaakov was distressed about preventing these holy neshamos from coming to this world. Or more precisely, ח'ו אם יעקב יהרגם שלא יתענש על ידם. 
I guess it's similar to Moshe Rabbeinu's ויפן כה וכה, that when you are using nissim and ruchniyus to eliminate a threat, you have to be sure that you are not interfereing with a potential tzadik in the future. By Moshe, he saw there were none. Here, Yaakov saw there were, so he was in a predicament.

In any case, you see that he assumes, as we did, that protecting yourself and your family from a violent savage by killing him is nothing to be afraid of.

Rav Moish Pollack called in a he'ara on the Ateres Tzvi. At this point, Eisav's children were already born, so what does it mean that he was afraid to destroy Eisav's descendants? 
Rabbi Pollack is a talmid chacham, and I am assuming that the basis of his question is correct - that no children were born to Eisav later. If so, I would answer that Yaakov really did not have the option of killing only Eisav. A battle would have involved all of Eisav's children, and Yaakov would have had to kill them all to save himself.

Rav Avraham Bukspan directed our attention to a similar drasha on the passuk in Tehillim 142:2, 
קולי אל ה' אזעק קולי אל ה' אתחנן
The Medrash there says
קולי אל ה' אזעק קולי אל ה' אתחנן. למה ב' פעמים קולי. וכן אמר הכתוב (שם נז ב) חנני ה' חנני. ב' פעמים. אלא כך אמר דוד חנני שלא אפול בידו וחנני שלא יפול בידי. וכן קולי אל ה' אזעק שלא אפול בידו קולי אל ה' אתחנן שלא יפול בידי:

The two drashos are certainly mirror images. But if Rav Bukspan meant it as evidence of how Chazal read Yaakov's words here, I disagree. I do not think it is reasonable to compare David HaMelech's fear of harming the Meshiach Hashem, about whom the Ribono shel Olam said 
וידבר דוד לה' את דברי השירה הזאת ביום הציל ה' אותו מכף כל אויביו ומכף שאול אמר לו הקב"ה לדוד דוד שירה אתה אומר על מפלתו של שאול אלמלי אתה שאול והוא דוד איבדתי כמה דוד מפניו היינו דכתיב (תהלים ז, א) שגיון לדוד אשר שר לה' על דברי כוש בן ימיני וכי כוש שמו והלא שאול שמו אלא מה כושי משונה בעורו אף שאול משונה במעשיו 
with Yaakov's confrontation with Eisav. 

REB CHAIM BROWN to the rescue. 
Reb Chaim showed me something I would never have found, in that the author is not part of the ASU, the Artscroll Universe. I never heard of him, but he seems to have been a man that was not afraid of controversy.  See here and here
From Harav Chaim Hirschensohn, his sefer נמוקי רש"י - חידושי הרח"ה, page 53b, in the HebrewBooks site page 124:
... השתדלות המפרשים לבאר מדוע צר לו אם יהרג אחרים, הלא המה רודפים, והבא להרגך השכם והורגו, לא נחוץ כלל, כי גם ההורג בהתר את חבירו צר לו לאדם נכבד שבא לידי מדה זו.

So I guess it boils down to the old machlokes about whether certain mitzvos, even though required and important, can leave a stain on a person's middos. We've discussed this many times, and in this post I have a link to other places plus something from Reb Chaim on the subject.  (There's a whole world out there - the Or HaChaim, the Shiurei Da'as, Reb Aharon, lhbchlch Rav Sternbuch, and others.) Rav Hirschensohn's use of the idea to explain the words of Chazal here is novel, but it is no longer only Golda Meir.

Reb Chaim also showed me the Ksav Sofer that says pshat in the passuk is that Yaakov was bichlal not afraid of getting killed. He had a havtacha. He was afraid that he would have to kill Eisav, and as a result, it would distance him from the Ribono shel Olam and he would end up dying as a result of that richuk. This is all based on the Gemara in Shabbos 149b, 
וְאָמַר רַבִּי יַעֲקֹב בְּרֵיהּ דְּבַת יַעֲקֹב: כָּל שֶׁחֲבֵירוֹ נֶעֱנָשׁ עַל יָדוֹ — אֵין מַכְנִיסִין אוֹתוֹ בִּמְחִיצָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא. מְנָלַן? ...
מֵהָכָא: ״גַּם עֲנוֹשׁ לַצַּדִּיק לֹא טוֹב״, אֵין ״לֹא טוֹב״ אֶלָּא רָע, וּכְתִיב: ״כִּי לֹא אֵל חָפֵץ רֶשַׁע אָתָּה לֹא יְגוּרְךָ רָע״ — צַדִּיק אַתָּה ה׳ וְלֹא יָגוּר בִּמְגוּרְךָ רָע. 

So the idea is that it didn't bother him a ki hu zeh that he might have to kill Eisav. What bothered him was being the instrument of middas hadin that brings death to others. (This did not bother Moshe Rabbeinu when he brought the makkos, and it did not bother Moshe or Dovid or Avraham Avinu when they engaged in several wars. Perhaps the difference is whether you're in the War Room or on the battlefield.)  (That Ksav Sofer is also fascinating because in the second half of the paragraph he quotes Reb Yonasan Eibschutz's Luchos Ha'Eidus, where he bitterly complains about the horrible injustice of being a nirdaf from the Chacham Tzvi for the vile and unfounded accusation of following Shabtai Tzvi. It begins on page 148 of the לוחות העדות. I have it in the Otzar, but otherwise it's not available online.)

Rav Bukspan sent me this geshmakkeh insight into what Chazal meant when they said וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ אִם יַהֲרֹג הוּא אֶת אֲחֵרִים . and relating to the Ateres Tzvi.
QUESTION: The Gemara explains that the Mishnah often refers to Rebbi Meir as "Acherim," because Rebbi, the redactor of the Mishnah, did not want to refer to Rebbi Meir by his name. Rebbi Meir had attempted to unseat Rebbi's father, Raban Shimon ben Gamliel, from his position as Nasi, and therefore Rebbi, in deference to his family's honor, referred to Rebbi Meir as "Acherim."
Rav Naftali Maryles (1828-1890), the Rov of Litovisk and the son of the Yoruslaver Rebbe, Rav Shimon Maryles zt'l, points out that this Gemara reveals a deeper meaning behind the words of Rashi in Parshas Vayishlach. The Torah (Bereishis 32:8) says that when Yakov heard of Esav's impending approach, "he became very afraid, and he was distressed." Rashi explains that he became "afraid" lest he be killed, and he was "distressed" lest he kill others ("Im Yaharog Hu Es Acherim"). Why, though, was Yakov worried that he would have to kill someone else? Yakov was being pursued by Esav, who wanted to kill him, and the Torah teaches that if one person is being mortally pursued by another, then he is bidden to kill the pursuer in order to protect his own life! Why, then, was Yakov concerned?
Also, why does Rashi say that Yakov was afraid that "he would have to kill others (Acherim)"? He should have said that Yakov was afraid that "he would have to kill Esav"! Maharal)
ANSWER: The Gemara in Gitin (56a) relates that one of the Roman leaders, Niron (the Caesar Nero), converted and became Jewish, and one of his descendants was Rebbi Meir. The Romans descended from Esav, as Rashi points out at the end of Vayishlach. Rashi, therefore, is saying that Yakov was distressed that he might be forced to kill Esav and thereby prevent the birth of Rebbi Meir, who was called "Acherim"!
Rav Naftali of Litovisk points out that a similar theme is found in Rashi in Parshas Shemos (2:12). The Torah there teaches that before Moshe Rabeinu killed the Egyptian slave-master, he looked to all sides to make sure "that there was no one." Rashi explains that this means that he looked into the future to make sure that none of the future descendants of this Egyptian would ever convert and become Jewish, and only then did he kill him. (Sefer Ayalah Sheluchah, Parshas Shemos, republished in 2001 by his descendant, Rabbi Ari Maryles. See also Peninim Yekarim, Parshas Vayishlach, and Kanah Avraham.)


  1. I'm not convinced that the poshut pshat in Rashi is the koehn shehorag type. That no one says this explicitly, might well be because thate the pashtus... I doubt too many assumed like the Ateres Tzvi!

  2. 1) See R' Chaim Hirschenson's comments on the Rashi

    Even if the killing is justified, "tzar lo l'adam nichbad she'ba l'yedei midah zu."

    2) See Mizrachi who adds two words to the quote from the Midrash:

    ב״ר י״מ שמא יהרוג את עשו ***ויקללנו אביו*** וכן מצאתי בתנחומא

    (discussed by R' Chaim Elazari here

    It was not the guilt of killing Eisav that bothered Yaakov, but it was the potential repercussion of his father, who still loved Eisav, cursing him for doing so and not accepting that it was done in self defense.

    1. The Mizrachi I knew. The one from R Chaim Hirschensohn I did not know, not him, not his writings. I found out a great deal about him, including his unfortunate need to leave Yerushalayim:

      הרב חיים הירשנזון, ובקיצור הרח"ה, נולד בצפת ב-1857, ופעל וכתב בארץ ישראל עד שכרע תחת רדיפותיהם וחרמותיהם של החרדים, והפך לרב קהילת הובוקן,

      Also here:
      יוזמותיו הציבוריות ופירושים תורניים בסוגיות הלכה והגות שהעלה על הכתב עוררו את רוגזם של קנאי ירושלים, ובי"א בתמוז תרמ"ז )1887 )הוטל עליו חרם ליד הכותל המערבי. מאבקיו הציבוריים, ולפי עדות בתו גם רצונו להקנות לילדיו חינוך כללי וליצור שכבת משכילים הקשורים לתורה בכל נימי נפשם, היו בין הגורמים לכך שנאלץ לעזוב את ארץ ישראל בשנת תרנ"ו )1896 )ולחפש את מטה לחמו במדינות שונות בנכר.

      I can't judge the parties to that dispute, first because I am not competent to judge such people, and especially since I have not seen what the Cherirem alleges nor its signators, but everyone knows that being an innovator in Yerushalayim guarantees yesurim and redifos.
      But it's interesting that he does allude to the question, and dismisses the question with this answer. It's like the old issue of whether the killing of עיר הנידחת will give rise to terrible middos, even though it's a mitzva like lulav and esrog.
      Anyway, thanks, it's going in. But with an asterisk.

  3. Ksav Sofer:
    No good comes out of being the instrument for din, even against those who deserve it.

    1. Thank you, I put it in. I also found what he was quoting in the end of the paragraph, and it's heart wrenching.

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  5. ראה בדברי הגאון העצום ר' שמריהו שולמאן זצ"ל (שנלקח ממנו רק כלפני שבוע) בהדרום (עמוד 84)כאן

    1. Thanks, that's a great article, clear and level headed, without flights of fantasy. Bl'n I am going to try to incorporate it.