The Deal of all Time

President Trump has recently been talking about his “deal of the century,” in connection with Israel and the Arabs. Parshas Yisro contains the “deal of all time,” arranged by Hashem and affecting the Jews and the rest of mankind. The Heavens and Earth were waiting nervously. A deal means their continued existence. No deal meant a return to nothingness. The stakes could not have been higher.

Shemos 19:6 tells us: “And now, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you will be a treasured nation out of all the nations for the whole world is Mine.” In exchange for a commitment to keep the words of the Torah, the Jewish People would become Hashem’s treasured nation. But what were the ramifications of this new status and what would be their precise role in the new world order?

When Moshe Rabeinu ascended Har Sinai, Hashem’s first words to him were, “Don’t they say sholom where you come from?” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “Does a servant say sholom to his Master?” Hashem said, “You should have helped Me.” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “May the strength of Hashem be increased.”(Shabbos 89a).  This borders on the humorous. The exchange between the Creator of the world and mankind’s representative at the beginning of a unique event which was to map out the future of the universe centered on how we should greet one another. It is important but this is the world-shattering topic appropriate for the day the Heavens and Earth have been waiting for, for three thousand years? And what did Hashem mean that He needs our help?

Shabbos 119b tells us that when we say Vayechulu on Friday night we become partners with Hashem in the creation of the World. A partner with Hashem? He needs us to partner Him? What does this mean?

The Bnei Yisosschor’s posuk for Shevat is homer yemirenu vehoyo hu – If a man wants to exchange the sanctity of an animal for another animal, the sanctity of the first animal remains. Does the fact the parshas Yisro is always read in Shevat help explain why this posuk was chosen?

When Hashem first spoke to Moshe Rabeinu at the burning bush, he told him, “So shall you say to Pharaoh. This is what Hashem said, My son, My firstborn son Israel.” What did Hashem mean that Israel is Hashem’s son? If He meant that He created us physically, He created every person and indeed every animal, every plant and the whole of creation. In this sense we are all the children of Hashem. Why should just the Jews be called Hashem’s children?

 The sefer Derech Hashem tells us that after the aveira of Odom Horishon and his subsequent teshuva, Hashem hoped that mankind as a whole would honour Hashem in their actions and thus, Hashem’s purpose in creating the world would be fulfilled.  There was no plan to have a treasured nation. Hashem waited ten generations but the people were corrupt and wicked. He brought the flood but there was no significant improvement, the next ten generations were equally wicked, but this time there was one notable exception —  Avrohom, the son of Terach. He was not only righteous in himself but he had the ability to influence his descendants. Now Hashem decided that a new stage in world history should begin. Avrohom’s family and descendants would be the Hashem’s flagbearers in the world. Their mission was to influence the rest of humanity. (Ramban in Devarim 32:26 and Seforno in Shemos 19:6) From their devotion to Hashem, their publicising His miracles, and their example in leading lives of moral rectitude, the nations of the world would also learn to believe in Hashem, even if they only accepted seven basic mitzvos. In a sense this was Hashem’s back-up plan to bring the world to its fulfilment.

If we proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world by saying Vayachulu, we become partners with Hashem in bringing the world to its fulfilment. He asks us to help Him bring the world to its fulfilment by sanctifying His Name amongst the nations of the world. Only when the whole of mankind is ready to serve Him will we have done our job.

Being a partner with Hashem is an awesome responsibility but it also brings us tremendous blessings. Firstly, because of the vital role we play in bringing the world to its fulfilment, we will receive a huge reward in the world to come. Secondly, Hashem takes special care of us in this world. We are His partners and partners do everything to help each other. Even if we sometimes slip, according to the Ramban (ibid), He shows us great patience and mercy. He “has to.” We are already in plan B. There is no plan C; only a return to nothingness. We learn in Kiddushin (36a) that however much we fall from the required standards, we are still referred to as Hashem’s children. Not in the physical sense, as we explained earlier, but because we are building a world of honour for Hashem. We have a joint mission.

 We are indeed Hashem’s “firstborn son.” We are Hashem’s chariot. We are Hashem’s flagbearers. Out of all the nations, we devote ourselves to increasing Hashem’s honour in the world. He will not exchange us for another nation as the Bnei Yisosschor implied. Hashem was not just telling Moshe Rabbeinu merely to greet people when you meet them, important though that is. He was telling him the reason for the universe’s existence and our national mission. If the Jews don’t take on this mission, it will mean a return to nothingness. If we don’t ‘help’ Hashem, there is simply no point in the universe continuing to exist.

To be Hashem’s treasured nation does not just mean being chosen for Hashem’s special protection. It is a lifelong commitment to be loyal to Hashem’s Torah in all circumstances and to sanctify His Name amongst all the nations. Indeed, the deal of all time.

Our Personal Yetzias Mitzrayim

“And the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled and the attitude of Pharaoh and his advisers towards the Jewish People changed and they said, “What did we do that we sent away the Jews from being our slaves?” (Beshalach 14:5).

We laugh at Pharaoh. What kind of diminutive idiot was he? Just a few days before he had got up in the middle of the night and searched desperately for Moshe Rabeinu to tell him to leave with all the people and animals. Even though he had said earlier, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” after makas habechoros he decided that he could not stand against the power of Hashem and freed the Jews unconditionally.

Yet a few days later he changed his mind again. His chopping and changing, his promising and reneging on his promise, his admitting he was a rosho then continuing in his obstinate ways had been going on for months. A person with sechel comes to a decision and keeps to it. He was clearly unbalanced and totally unreliable and that is how we remember him. Is there anything we can learn from such an idiot? Surely not; but read on.

In the Hagada we read, “Reb Yehuda used a mnemonic to list the ten makos: Detzach Adash B’Achab.” He divided the ten makos into three sections. The plagues of blood, frogs and lice. The plagues of wild animals, pestilence and boils and the plagues of hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of the firstborn. The Malbim explains that the first group of plagues prove that Hashem exists. Pharaoh said that the first two plagues were the result of black magic and only after the third plague did he admit that it was “the finger of Hashem.” The second group show that He involves Himself in this world, making sure that only the Egyptians suffer and not the Jews. The third group of plagues prove that there is no power to challenge Hashem who is the Master of everything.

The Rambam writes, “It is a mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and blow trumpets whenever a community suffers a tragedy. This is part of the way of teshuva because when we cry out, we all realise that the tragedy has happened because of our sinful deeds. But if people say that that what has happened was just ‘natural,’ or a ‘coincidence,’ this is the way of cruelty and causes people to continue in their sinful deeds. (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3)

In another place he writes, “What is complete teshuva? This is when a person is in the same circumstances as before and has the possibility of sinning and has an equally strong yetzer horah but does not sin. This is complete teshuva. If a person does teshuva in his old age and has no possibility of repeating his sin, he is still called a baal teshuva. What is teshuva? If a person stops doing his sin and decides never to do it again and he regrets having sinned and the One who knows secrets can testify about him that he will not do this sin again. (Hilchos Teshuva 2:1-2).

Kiddushin (33a) brings the view of Reb Issi ben Yehuda which is the accepted halacha that we have to stand up for an elderly person, even if he is unlearned. Rebbe Yochonon used to stand up for elderly people even if they were not Jewish. He explained that any elderly person has undoubtedly experienced many crises during their lifetime and had seen many miracles. (Rashi).

Hashem is the ultimate Baal Chessed. He wants us to earn our place in the World to Come through successfully confronting our challenges in this world. And He wants us to grow through our experiences in this world. As He did in Mitzrayim, He sends many signs of His existence, of His involvement in even the mundane matters of this world and of His unmatched power. This is all for our good. However we may not always respond in the right way. Like Pharaoh, we can dismiss events as magic, luck or coincidence until we accept that what happened was truly the “finger of Hashem.” When events happen in our family, neighbourhood or community, we can fail to realise that Hashem is sending us a message. Contrary to the clear words of the Rambam, we may be tempted to carry on with our normal lives, failing to take advantage of the potential for spiritual growth that Hashem is offering us. When we see how much He helps us extricate ourselves from various crises and are aroused to thank Hashem for His many miracles, the danger is that this arousal may be short lived. We can make promises but, like Pharaoh, a few days later, we can forget them.

Finally we can fall into the “death trap”. If we have certain yetzer horas that we find difficult to overcome, we can fool ourselves into thinking that all will be well in the end. We intend to say the vidui sincerely before passing away, doing teshuva for everything. After all, didn’t the Rambam say that teshuva in old age is still teshuva, even if it is not the best teshuva. However there is a problem with this plan; the Rambam says that even if a person cannot prove his teshuva is sincere, because he has no opportunity to do that sin again, the teshuva in his heart must be strong enough that the “One who knows secrets can testify that he would not sin again.” Let’s say a person, facing death, finally realizes the folly of his actions and regrets having done them but then unexpectedly recovers and goes back to his old ways. Obviously his teshuva was not sincere. Pharaoh too, facing death during Makas Bechoros went through the motions of complete teshuva and sent out all the Jews, but a few days later, when the danger had passed, he was back to his old antics. His teshuva was not on the Rambam’s level one or level two.

Yes, we can learn from Pharaoh, not to be like him. Not to spiritually zigzag, not to promise and not keep our promises and not to claim that miracles are really just a lucky coincidence. But, on the contrary, we should take advantage of every event in our lives to grow in emuna, to become more and more certain that Hashem exists, that He involves Himself in even the mundane matters of this world and that there is no power besides Hashem. Then we will have completed our own personal yetzias Mitzrayim.

A Reservoir of Merits

“And it was on that day Hashem brought out all the hosts of the Children of Israel from the Land of Egypt.” (Shemos 12:51). In the parsha we read that following our long exile in Mitzrayim, Hashem finally brought us out. We have a mitzva to remember this unique miracle every day. However the Hagodo goes further and tells us that a person is obliged to see himself as if he himself just left Mitzrayim, no matter where he is living. This extra obligation is widely regarded as being extremely difficult to fulfil. (Women sometimes find it easier than men!) The intensity of the slavery, the continuous back-breaking work, the cruelty of Pharaoh’s decrees are so foreign to those of us who, fortunately, have always lived in peaceful societies, that we cannot appreciate that feeling of joy which the Jews must have felt when they were freed from the slavery of Mitzrayim. Is this mitzva then not relevant to us or is there some way we can have a connection to it?

The Mesilas Yeshorim (Chapter One) discusses our purpose in this world, which is to earn our portion in the next world. Were we to enter the World to Come without living through the challenges of this world, we would not feel so happy. It would be like living off charity. We will feel much happier if we earn our reward by having our loyalty to Hashem tested and successfully standing up to those tests. These tests, says the Mesilas Yeshorim, come constantly. We are often faced with difficult situations such as illness, poverty or exile during which our faith in Hashem may be challenged. At other times we may be tested by excellent health and wealth. Then the challenge is to believe that our success is solely due to Hashem and not to our business acumen or the skill of our doctor.

It is clear from the Mesilas Yesharim that every day brings different challenges. However each challenge is also to an opportunity to be used for our eternal good and shouldn’t be wasted. How can we utilise a moment when we have just escaped from a major or minor difficulty? Obviously we must thank Hashem profusely. But perhaps we can also use this moment to claim part of the mitzva we mentioned, feeling as if we have just come out of Mitzrayim. True, our suffering was not as great that of a slave in Mitzrayim but we can share some of his exhilaration on being freed. We can use even recovery from a relatively minor illness or crisis to feel part of this mitzvah.

But what about during the difficulty itself? How can we best utilise that time? The Mesilas Yesharim mentioned maintaining our faith in Hashem, so beautifully exemplified by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin very recently. How else can we best use time of suffering, even for less serious challenges than R’ Sholom had to face?

The Chovos Halevovos gives several explanations of the mitzvah of loving Hashem bechol levovcho, uvechol nafshecho, uvechol meodecho. One is that we are obliged to love Hashem even if we have no money, no possessions and almost no life. Even if a person is suffering the tribulations of Iyov, he still has to love Hashem. But how likely is it that we will have a chance to fulfil this mitzvah? And even if we did, are on a high enough madreiga to fulfil it? It seems to be hardly relevant for us. But if we continue the theme we began earlier, it can indeed be relevant. Yes, the extreme situation as faced by Iyov is, hopefully, unlikely but we are often lacking something. We are often in some pain, physical or emotional. At any moment of challenge, before the healing or salvation has come, we can think to ourselves and even say out loud, “Despite this pain, despite not having what I would dearly like, I still love You, Hashem. You have given me life. You have given us Torah and Mitzvos. You have given us the World to Come. I still have more than enough reasons to love You.” This way we can also have a connection to one of the loftiest mitzvos, loving Hashem with all our heart, albeit on our very limited madreiga.

But now let’s move on to our most joyful moments which have pearls of opportunity hidden in them if we take advantage. Obviously these simchadik moments should be used to feel full of thanks to Hashem for His kindnesses. Yaakov said the Shema at the very moment he was being embraced by Yosef to use that moment of great simcha to express his love of Hashem. There is, however, another way we can respond to moments of simcha to earn eternal reward, if we think about it.

In the Shemone Esrei we say “ki lishuosecho kivinu kol hayom – We have hoped for your salvation the whole day.” Who amongst us actually hopes for the geula the whole day? To justify our saying this, perhaps we could suggest that our lives are divided into three aspects; when things are going badly, when things are going well and other times. When things are going badly, it is easy to yearn for the geula. When things are going well, and even very well as at a chupa, we break a glass to remind us that however great our simcha, it cannot be complete until Yerushalayim is rebuilt, with the Beis Hamikdash. So even during these happy times we still are yearning for geula. And if we are well, we have a parnoso and there are no crises, that is also a good situation to be in and we can also think that however good things are, they would be even better were we to merit the geula. So during all the different times of our life, we yearn for the geula and we can say lishuosecho kivinu kol hayom with sincerity.

Now we have a way to utilise our moments of simcha and even our everyday moments when we are not suffering, for our eternal benefit; by thinking that however good things are, how much better it would be, were we to merit the geula. Thus we can have the merit of the mitzva of “yearning for salvation” and be able to answer the question we will all be asked in the next world, “Did you yearn for the salvation?” And we can do this in any situation in which we find ourselves.

Life is full of opportunities; moments when we can create a connection to certain mitzvos which ordinarily are beyond us. It is up to us to grasp every opportunity and every moment to create a reservoir of merits for our future.

Let’s Make the Name of Hashem Great, Together

The posuk chosen by the Bnei Yisosschor to symbolize the month of Teves is “Gadlu L’Hashem iti uneromemo shemo yachdov – Let us make the Name of Hashem great, together.” It would seem to be a strange choice in a month that should have had three fasts on the eighth, ninth and tenth to remember the translation of the Torah into Greek, the death of Ezra and the beginning of the siege of Yerusholayim, with no festivals except the tail end of Chanuka. It is, apparently, a rather gloomy month, so why choose a pasuk elevating the name of Hashem in His praise?

At the beginning of Parshas Shemos, we are told, (1:8), “There arose a new king in Egypt who did not know Yosef.” Considering that Yosef had been Prime Minister of Mitzrayim for eighty years and had been responsible for achieving for Pharaoh great wealth and power, clearly the posuk cannot be taken at face value. What does it mean? (See Rashi).

The posukim (1:11-17) go on to describe how Pharaoh began enslaving the Jews but amazingly, “as he afflicted, so they increased.” Pharaoh told the Jewish midwives to kill the baby boys but with enormous courage they, “did not obey the king of Mitzrayim.”

In Parshas Vayechi (49:12) Yehuda is blessed that, “his eyes will be red because of the abundance of wine and his teeth will be white because of the abundance of milk.” Kesuvos 111b darshans, “Chachlili eina’im miyoyin uleven shinayim mechalav.” The Jewish People said to Hashem, “The glow from Your eyes is better to us than wine and a smile from Your mouth is better to us than milk.”

The Abarbenel explains that when the kohanim say, “Yevorechecho Hashem veyishmerecho” during birkas kohanim, it refers to Hashem’s brocho to us of our physical needs, from which we have to be protected because an abundance can do us much harm, The next section, “Ya’er Hashem ponov eilecho vichuneko – May Hashem make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you,” refers to spiritual blessings; Hashem should give us opportunities to do mitzvos and learn Torah. So when the Jewish People were asking Hashem to show them a shining face rather than milk, they were saying that although we all need our physical requirements, Torah and Mitzvos are more important to us. As distinct from the rest of the world which puts a priority on enjoying the pleasures of this world, our priority is learning Torah, keeping Shabbos and Yom Tov, doing acts of chessed etc. If there is a clash between doing the will of Hashem and taking an easier path, doing the will of Hashem will always be our preference.

The release of R’ Sholom Rubashkin has been greeted with much joy throughout the Jewish world. But possibly more significant than the miracle of his release on the last day of Chanukah has been the emuna and bitachon he showed throughout his incarceration. He was imprisoned for the equivalent of a life sentence on the basis of perjured evidence at his trial, but we didn’t hear any words of bitterness from him. We only heard how everything was min hashomayim and that, just as Yosef was released from prison “in a blink of an eye” so he will be released by Hashem “in the blink of eye.” Many gave up hope but he was a beacon of bitochon b’Hashem for the rest of klal Yisroel. And indeed he was released “in the blink of an eye” to everyone’s joy.

In another story, a Jew in America left an asifa to avoid the danger of the new technologies with a determination to discard his i-phone with internet connection and buy a kosher phone. A short time later he was looking for employment when an offer came up with a starting annual salary of $100,000 with significant additions on the horizon. The job was more or less sealed when the head of the company told him that he would need the most modern i-phone for the job. The Jew said he only uses a kosher phone. A possible compromise of a heavily filtered i-phone was rejected by the firm and the job opportunity was lost.

A Holocaust survivor in Project Witness related how he was standing in line in Auschwitz when the Jew next to him was found ‘not standing straight enough’. A Nazi beat this Jew for his ‘crime’ but then to increase his “fun” ordered his neighbor, who was relating the incident, to continue to beat the other Jew. He refused. “I will not hit another Jew.” Despite a warning that he would suffer an even more violent beating if he continued to refuse, he remained steadfast. He was indeed beaten mercilessly and left for dead. Miraculously this hero survived his vicious beating and lived to the end of the war and beyond.

A Russian survivor of Communism’s spiritual holocaust who lives near to us and who insists that I squeeze in a twice weekly learning session with him straight after Shacharis, sometimes tells me of the time, before he even knew he was Jewish, that he and his father had a narrow escape from huge wild boar which were charging towards them in a Russian forest. He became a baal teshuva and now lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children.

Pharaoh “lo yoda es Yosef – did not know Yosef.” “Yoda refers to intimate knowledge. (Bereishis 4:1). He did not know that “as they afflict us, so will we increase.” He did not know that the Jewish midwives would have the courage to disobey him. He did not know about Jewish determination and resilience as exemplified by the heroes we have quoted. He did not know that we may enjoy wine and milk, but Hashem’s shining Face enabling us to learn Torah and keep mitzvos in all circumstances is far more important to us.

Teves is the month of Gadlu L’Hashem iti uneromemo Shemo yachdov – of being determined to make the name of Hashem great. True, the month contains tragedies but it also contains the seventh and eighth days of Chanukah whose Nesi’im were Efrayim and Menashe, Yosef’s two sons. And Yosef, who remained a loyal Jew despite all his trials, is our symbol of courage, loyalty and emuna so that we are inspired to follow his example. Teves, therefore, is precisely the month when all of us, in whatever our circumstances, can make the name of Hashem great, together.

Shabbos – Our Spiritual Pit-Stop

At the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei we read:  “ And Yaakov went out of Beer Sheva and he went to Choron.(Bereishis 28:10) Rashi asks why we need this posuk. We already know that Yaakov was coming from Beer Sheva and was going to Choron.

There are a number of answers.  One of them pertains to far more than this particular journey of Yaakov Ovinu. It is an answer which the Pirkei Ovos says is so important that we have to remember it constantly, throughout our lives. We always have to know where we have come from and where we are going to.

Where do we come from? Every Jew is a ‘ chelek eloka mimaal’. Within us we have a spark of Hashem. Our neshomos come from the holiest and purest source. As we say in our daily Brachos, “The soul that You gave me is pure. ”And when you have something so valuable, you treasure it, you make sure it remains pure.

And if we think, “Sure, our neshomo came from a holy place but now we live in this world and our neshama is bound to lose its purity.” —t hen we have to remember the next part. Where we are going to? We will all eventually go back to Shomayim. And Hashem will ask us, “How is the neshama I gave you. Is it still pure and holy?” If we remember this, we won’t let our neshama be sullied. We don’t want to be shamed by having to show Hashem that the beautiful neshomo tehora He gave us, is now impure.

The trouble is that we forget. We look at our neighbor. Compared to him or her I’m not bad. We so easily ignore our final destination. This World is so overpowering. We want to be successful in this world and sometimes a little lie, a little loshon hora would make life easier. We like to be popular and we are tempted to be one of the boys just once, just twice, just three times…How can we remember our destination and keep our neshomos untainted?

To preserve the wholesomeness of our neshamos we have Shabbos every week. True, the World is a spiritual quagmire. It’s easy to slip and fall. But Shabbos reminds us. Shabbos brings us back. And if our neshomo is not quite so clean, Shabbos is the great cleanser. It’s our spiritual pit-stop for us to re-assess, refuel our neshama and get back on track. If during the week, we veered from the narrow path, Shabbos stretches out her hands to help us back. Not with harsh words but with love and warmth.

We just have to say and hear “Lechu neranana” and we want to come back home. When we say shiru l’Hashem shir chadash we want to join in the singing. When we sing Lecho Dodi and we feel and enjoy that closeness to Hashem that we have missed for the last six days. And when we turn round and sing “Bo’i veshalom ateres baala, …toch emunei am segula,” we’re proud and happy to be part of that Am Segula, Hashem’s treasured nation. We say “Never will I go away again. Never will I leave the daled amos shel halocho. Never will I distance myself from the mechitzo of Hashem.” And if, despite all these beautiful intentions, I do slip again, next week Shabbos will again embrace me and bring me back.

Shabbos is me’ein olam habo. But not just in the usual understanding that we are removed on Shabbos from all material distractions and can concentrate on ruchnius like olam habo. It is also in the sense that we expereience the Shechina just as we will in olam habo (Reb Shimshon Pinchas).Yet there is a difference. In the real olam habo we have to present our neshomo for judgement. There are no more chances. On Shabbos, although we meet the Shechina, we have another chance. If we can be inspired to try to grow from now on, our journey through olam hazeh can still be successful. Shabbos is our weekly opportunity to get back on track, to make sure we are going in the right direction. And just in case we have temporarily forgotten, Shabbos will remind us about our true destination – where we are going to and in front of whom will we have to give din vecheshbon.

The parsha says more about Yaakov’s journey:“And he came to the place and stayed there ovenight because the sun had set. He took some stones and put them under his head and lay down for the night. He had a dream and behold there was a ladder standing on the ground and the top reached to the heavens. And behold, the angels of G-d were going up and down on it. And Hashem was standing at the top.”

If we think about it, Yaakov Ovinu’s journey is similar to the journey we travel in our own lives. We also have our dreams — what we want to achieve; how we see our future, materially, spiritually. Sometimes the malochim who represent us go up and everything we touch turns to gold. At other times our malochim go down –we have our failures, our disappointments. But as in Yaakov’s dream, Hashem is at the top of the ladder to help us, support us and when necessary to comfort us. As the pasuk continues…“And He said, I am Hashem, the G-d of your father Avraham and your father Yitzchak…I am with you and will look after you. I will guard you and will not forsake until I have fulfilled what I said to you.”

And when each of arrives at our destination, after 120 years, we will appreciate that everything which happened to us was for the best. The successes and the failures, the happy times and the disappointing times, peaceful times and times of war were all according to Hashem’s precise plan.

“And Yaakov woke up from his sleep and he said, surely G-d is in this place and I didn’t know.”

We will realise that even when we could not see Hashem, He was with us all the time.

We have to remember where we came from — the highest levels of sanctity and purity. Where we are going to– back to Hashem’s loving embrace. We should use Shabbos as our weekly inspiration to maintain the purity of our neshomos and to strengthen our emuna and our bitachon. Then when we come to our appointment with Hashem, He will congratulate us on a job well done and welcome us Home.

Thanksgiving

In 1621 the Plymouth colonists in America and the Wampanoag Indians wanted to thank G-d for a successful harvest. They organized what became known later as the first Thanksgiving celebration. Eventually it became a fixture on the calender and on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans sit down to their annual Thanksgiving  dinner. The traditional menu, I’m told, consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Thanking G-d is always a good idea but in America it seems that this is the season.

Here in Eretz Yisroel, we have multiple reasons for thanking Hashem particularly at the moment. The first reason is the positive side of horrendous fires which damaged thousands of properties and caused widespread panic to huge numbers of people. This week it rained, which we will come back to later, but last week the trees were dry from months of sunshine and there was a strong wind.  Many, if not all the fires were deliberately caused by Arab arsonists. It has been called the pogrom of 5777.  Seventy-five thousand people were forced to leave their homes in Haifa. At Neve Tzuf, a moshav in the Shomron, a Molotov cocktail thrown over the perimeter fence on Shabbos night exploded into a fire which threatened all one thousand residents.  There were also fires at Zichron Yaakov, Beit Meir and other places. Yet despite the extreme threat to the lives of many people, no-one died. Firemen fought for three days in great danger. The elderly and infirm were evacuated from hospitals and old-age homes. Children were rescued from kindergartens which were within minutes of becoming fire traps. No-one was left behind. No petrol stations caught fire nor gas balloons which provide cooking fuel to older homes to. In short, there was financial damage, some injuries caused by smoke inhalation but no deaths. Boruch Hashem for this miracle, for these many miracles.

And now it has rained. In London this is nothing to talk about, and certainly not in Manchester but in Eretz Yisroel there is no rain from the middle of May to October. Even then it is sporadic and December can still be hot and dry. We read in Krias Shema about the yoreh and malkosh, often translated by “the former rains and the latter rains.” The time of the yoreh is in Cheshvan or Kislev. The Gemoro Taanis tells when the rains should start and when the people began special tefilos and fasting if it hadn’t rained yet. The Gemoro (7b-8a) also lists several reasons why the rains might be late in arriving. One reason is that people have pledged money over the Yom Tov season but have not kept their vows. Other possible reasons for Hashem not sending rain are loshon hora, chutzpa, bitul Torah and theft. The day of rain is considered as great as the day heaven and earth were created. It is a sign that our aveiros have been forgiven. So when it started raining on Thursday evening, here in Ramat Beit Shemesh, there were shrieks of joy to be heard. It continued to rain throughout Erev Shabbos until later on Friday evening. People were glad to wear their raincoats and hat covers. On Friday morning just about every child from about the age of four proudly held their coloured umbrellas on their way to school. Other parts of Eretz Yisroel also saw record amounts of rain. It has already stopped raining with temperatures forecast to go up somewhat but this is another reason for our own thanksgiving to Hashem at the moment.

However, the main thanksgiving we feel at the moment is the result of the American elections. First, we need two introductions.

The two main candidates, as we all know, were Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Mr Trump gave a list of several policy points concerning his proposed attitude to Israel and the American Jewish community. 1. He would support Israel against Iran who are building weapons of mass destruction targeted towards Israel and Europe. 2. He does not support the idea of a Palestinian State since the Palestinians are only interested in terrorism not living in peace. 3. He would oppose the B.D.S. movement which tries its best to persuade as many countries and businesses as possible to boycott products made in Israel. 4. He wants to protect Jewish students in American colleges who are the victims of violent actions by pro-Palestinian and extreme left wing groups.

Mrs Clinton supported the agreement with Iran which, although it may have somewhat slowed their nuclear programme, allows them to become a nuclear power in a few years. She supports a Palestinian State right up to the pre-1967 lines which are considered indefensible and are known as the Auschwitz borders. She has admitted receiving into her Clinton Foundation huge sums of money given by Arab nations and terrorist supporters which were clearly intended to influence her policies. She supports the rights of any individual, no matter what his or her lifestyle, to be employed and even a religious institution (like a Jewish school) cannot refuse. An institution which refuses is liable to lose its charitable status. And her closest advisers are known to be B.D.S. supporters, the very people who try to destroy Jewish businesses and harass Jewish students at the American colleges. All the polls and expectations were that Mrs Clinton would win.

The second point of introduction is bringing up the different attitudes to the State of Israel amongst chareidi Jews. When the State of Israel was created, some Gedolim led by the Satmar Rebbe zt”l refused to have anything to do with it, to be involved in any of its institutions, to receive any funding etc. Other Gedolim like the Chazon Ish zt”l thought it correct to work within the system and fight for the rights of chareidi Jews to live according to the Torah. It is not for us, no matter who our Rebbe is, to disqualify the other opinion. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim. (The late Gateshead Rov, zt”l once told me that Agudas Yisroel need the Neturei Karta to stop them veering). But all of those Gedolim had a great ahavas Yisroel and never wanted Jews to suffer, even Jews who did not subscribe to their opinions and even not (yet) religious Jews. However strongly one objects to the State of Israel as an institution, we should never chas vesholom support anything which would aid Israel’s enemies who, given half a chance, would happily destroy Israel together with its over six million Jewish residents. Clearly, all of us who care very much about the physical welfare of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, preferred the more pro-Israel candidate.

This is our third “thanksgiving.” When, against all expectations, the candidate who once kissed Mrs Arafat after the latter had accused Israel of poisoning drinking water to kill Palestinian children, lost her chance to put her policies into practice, we were relieved and thankful. Certainly we need to daven every day that Mr Trump will be kind to all Jews, just as we have always davened concerning every non-Jewish ruler, but we can and should appreciate the he’oras ponim which we have been shown.

………………………………………………………………………

A year later, we can look back. One well know columnist argued that in view of Mr. Trump’s moral history, Jews should not vote at all. I argued to him that Jews have always voted for who is better for the Jews, personal morals notwithstanding and I wrote to two Gedolim who confirm that this is daas Torah. President Trump’s support for Israel and his recent release of Sholom Rebashkin indicate that those who voted for him, voted wisely. Our thanks is due to him but especially to Hashem for showing us this welcome he’oras panim.

Nafsho Keshura B’nafsho

“And now, when I go to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, his soul is bound up in his soul. When he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die and your servants will have brought the hoary head of our father to the grave in sorrow.” (Bereishis 44:30-31 ) Thus Yehuda pleaded with the Egyptian viceroy that Yaakov and Binyomin were so emotionally connected that Yaakov would not physically survive losing Binyamin. His death or disappearance, following the death of Rachel and disappearance of Yosef, would be a fatal blow to Yaakov.

Yehuda was appealing to any modicum of human feelings the Egyptian viceroy might have had. However, because the Torah only contains words of eternal value, there were no doubt deeper layers of meaning in his words. To what else might Yehuda have been alluding?

When Hashem first spoke to Moshe Rabeinu at the burning bush, he told him, “So shall you say to Pharaoh. This is what Hashem said, My son, My firstborn son Israel.” What did Hashem mean that Israel is Hashem’s son? If He meant that He physically created us, He created every person and indeed every animal, every plant and the whole of creation. In this sense we are all the children of Hashem. Why should just the Jews be called Hashem’s children?

Melachim II 2:11 tells us, “As Eliyahu and Elisha were walking and conversing, behold – a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated between the two of them and Eliyahu ascended to Heaven in a the whirlwind. Elisha was watching and shouting, “My father, my father, Israel’s chariot and horseman.” Why did Elisha call Eliyahu, his father? Elisha’s father was Shafat! (ibid 19:19)

Bamidbar 3:1 says, “These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe…the firstborn Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Isamar.” The Ramban comments that the pasuk says the generations of Moshe, but only Aharon’s children are mentioned. We learn from this that if a person teaches another person Torah it is as if he gave birth to him.

We see already that the Torah concept of being a father or son is not merely in the physical sense. The word for son in loshon hakodesh is ben which is derived from boneh — to build. A father and son or rebbe and talmid are building something together. Elisha was continuing to build what Eliyahu had begun, as were Aharon’s children building on what Moshe Rabbeinu had taught them.

Shabbos (119b) says that someone who says Vayachulu on Friday night becomes a partner with Hashem in the creation of the world. Shabbos (89a) says that when Moshe Rabeinu arrived in Shomayim to receive the Torah, Hashem said to him, “Don’t they say ‘Sholom’ where you come from?” Moshe replied, “Does a servant say Sholom to his master?” Hashem said, “You should have helped Me.” Moshe Rabeinu said to Hashem, “May the strength of Hashem be increased, as You have said.” What does this mean? We can be partners with the Creator? He needs our help?

Pirkei Avos (6:11) says that Hashem created the world and everything in it, in His honour. Of course we will be the beneficiaries if we use the world to honour Hashem. The sefer Derech Hashem tells us that after the aveira of Odom Horishon and his subsequent teshuva, Hashem hoped that mankind as a whole would honour Hashem in their actions and through this, Hashem’s purpose in creating the world would be fulfilled. There was no plan to have a “Chosen People,” as later materialized. He waited ten generations but the people were wicked. He brought the flood but it did not help and the next ten generations were equally wicked, except this time there was one notable exception — Avrohom the son of Terach. He was not only righteous in himself but he had the ability to influence his descendants. Now Hashem decided that a new stage in world history should begin. Avrohom’s family and descendants would now be the “Chosen People”, Hashem’s flagbearers in the world. Their mission was to influence the rest of humanity. (Ramban in Devarim 32:26 and Seforno in Shemos 19:6) From their devotion to Hashem, their publicising His miracles, and their example in leading lives of moral rectitude, the nations of the world would also learn to believe in Hashem, even if they only accepted seven basic mitzvos. In a sense this was Hashem’s back-up plan to bring the world to its fulfilment.

Therefore if we proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world by saying Vayachulu, we become partners with Hashem in bringing the world to its fulfilment. He asks us to help Him, not because He needs us at all, but since He decided, in His kindness, to create a world for people to honour Him, through which they would receive great rewards, if we live a life of devotion to Hashem, sanctifying His Name, we are in a sense, helping Hashem to bring the world to its fulfilment.

Being a partner with Hashem is an awesome responsibility but it is also something which brings us tremendous blessings. Firstly, because of the vital role we play in bringing the world to its fulfilment, we will receive a huge reward in the world to come. Secondly, Hashem takes special care of us in this world. We are His partners and partners do everything to help each other. Even if we sometimes slip, according to the Ramban, (ibid), He shows us great patience and mercy. He “has to.” We are already in plan B. There is no plan C; only a return to nothingness. We learn in Kiddushin (36a) that however much we fall from the required standards, we are still referred to as Hashem’s children. Not in the physical sense, as we explained earlier, but because we are building a world of honor for Hashem. We have a joint mission. Our souls are intertwined. “Nafsho keshura benafsho.”

When Yehuda said “Nafsho keshura benafsho,” he wasn’t just referring to how broken hearted Yaakov would be were he not to see Benyamin. On a deeper level he was also expressing the spiritual connection between Yaakov and the only remaining son of Rochel. If Binyamin didn’t return, Rochel’s vital contribution to the future of Klal Yisroel would be lost. And on an even deeper level he was hinting at the intertwining of another Father and son, the Ribono Shel Olom and His beloved children, the Jewish people. We are Hashem’s chariot. We are Hashem’s flagbearers. Out of all the nations, we devote ourselves to increasing Hashem’s honor in the world. It is our responsibility and also our greatest blessing.

One Lichtel

We once had a non-Jewish Dutch girl helping with the young children and it was Chanukah. Of course the lights and the flashy adverts were illuminating the streets of Amsterdam at that same time, as everyone was involved in the “festive season.” We duly prepared our menorah for the first night of Chanukah and eventually we lit the solitary light with the shamash. We ate some refreshments and after about half an hour I went back to Kollel Chacham Zvi where I was learning at the time. My wife later told me that the Dutch girl laughed at all the fuss we made over lighting one light. “This is your festival?” she asked incredulously.

In Parshas Vayeshev, Rashi tells that Yaakov Ovinu saw Eisav with his descendants, including kings, generals and powerful armies in sharp contrast to with his own small family of seventy souls. “Who can conquer all these?” he asked. Rashi says that the pasuk answers his question, “These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef.” And in the novi Ovadia, the posuk says, “The House of Yaakov will be like fire, the House of Yosef, a flame and the House of Eisav, stubble.” One spark goes out from Yosef and destroys all of them.”

This Rashi is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pasuk (Devorim 20:1-3) says, “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, do not fear them for Hashem is with you. Let your heart not be faint, do not be afraid, do not panic, do not be broken before them.” So why was Yaakov afraid? Does it matter how many generals Eisav has if “Hashem is with us?”

Secondly, we are told, (Devarim 2:2-3), You are passing through the boundary of your brother, the children of Eisav who dwell in Seir. They will fear you but you shall be very careful. You shall not provoke them … because I have given Mount Seir as an inheritance to the children of Eisav.” This posuk doesn’t seem to envisage any clash. They will be in their land and we will be in our land.

Thirdly what is Yosef’s contribution? Why wasn’t Yaakov himself enough to defeat Eisav? The House of Yaakov is already fire. What was this vital spark of Yosef which will destroy Eisav?

The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:1) writes that it is the natural way of a person to be drawn in his opinions and ways after his friends and the people of his country. Therefore a person should be close to tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds, and keep a distance from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their deeds.” And he also says (Issurei Biah 22:21) that “Impure thoughts only enter a mind which is empty of Torah.”

The Shitta Mekubetzes (Kesuvos 8a) discusses the Roman decree (mentioned earlier 3b) that a non-Jewish general would approach Jewish brides on the day of their chuppa. He brings from the Yerushalmi that the Romans intended this as a revenge for the killing of their forefather Eisav when he protested Yaakov being given the remaining burial plot in Mearas Machpela. This affected the customs in Yehuda before the chuppa. (See there for more details). Eisav’s descendants knew that any attempt to physically attack the descendants of Yaakov, even though it might partially succeed, would ultimately be futile; However small the numbers of survivors, they will always regroup and rebuild themselves. The other method, which might prove more successful, was befriending the Jews. Show them Eisav’s glittering life style, the pleasure of following one’s physical desires, offer them love and acceptance. This way, the Jewish nation will destroy itself from within.

Yaakov was not afraid of the physical power of Eisav. If Hashem wills it, His right hand can destroy our enemies in a moment. For twenty years Lovon forced Yaakov to do gruelling work both in the hot sun and freezing cold but Yaakov survived. After Yaakov escaped, Lovon pursued him in order to kill him but Lovon was again not successful. However Yaakov was afraid of Eisav’s many descendants spiritually influencing his descendants. It is the natural way of the world, as the Rambam says. He asked, “How can I defeat their negative influences? It seems an impossible task. But Yaakov was told that it will be possible with the merits of Yosef. Why? Because there has never been an occasion when the forces of evil tried to tempt a Jew more than Potifar’s wife when she tried to pursuade Yosef to sin with her. Yet with superhuman self-control he refused to be with her, neither in this world or the next. Therefore it was in Yosef’s merit as well as in his own that Yaakov could be confident that his descendants will survive the attacks of Eisav, both physical and spiritual.

Where did Yosef’s strength come from that he was able to resist the temptation to sin? What was the navi alluding to in the phrase “the flame of Yosef” which will ultimately vanquish Eisav? Chazal say, that Yosef “silences the claim of anyone who says that he could not learn because of his yetzer hora.” (Yuma 35b) They also say that Yosef saw a vision of his father. How did this help him? Perhaps this was precisely what the Rambam. meant. “We should be close to Tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds.” If we are inspired by tzaddikim to want to be like them, seeing a vision of them in our minds even when we are not with them, we can resist temptation. If we sit with Chachomim and our minds are full of Torah, leaving no room for foreign thoughts to enter, we will not even be tempted. What can Eisav offer us besides empty pleasures today which lead to misery tomorrow? Why should we even consider leaving our world of purity to enter a society of self-destructive immorality?

This is the flame of our Chanuka lichtel which we gaze at during Chanuka. The flame of Torah, the flame of Tzaddikim and Chachomim together with memories of our holy ancestors. We will not be fooled by Eisav’s glittering lights, up today, down tomorrow.

That Dutch girl just didn’t get it!

The Kedoshim will Praise You Every Day

When Yosef followed Yaakov’s request to check on Yosef’s brothers it was always going to be a risk. The pasuk tells us that the brothers hated Yosef and were jealous of him. Nevertheless, with great loyalty to his father, despite the danger, Yosef went to Shechem in search of his brothers. They weren’t there. But at the vital moment he was spotted by someone who asked what he was looking for and directed him to Doson. This led the sale of Yosef to Mitzrayim which led, eventually, to the whole family going down to Mitzrayim and their descendants being enslaved for hundreds of years. Reading the story we could think that if it weren’t for Yosef chancing upon this helpful local resident, the enslavement of the Jews would never have happened.

Yaakov Astor’s book, The Hidden Hand, (Judaica Press) recounts a very fascinating historical detail. In September 1938, Hitler had already taken over Austria; the Sudetenland, the Germanic section of Czechoslovakia was now within his sights. However there was a high chance that any attempt to capture it would have led to an ignominious defeat for Hitler and Germany. So much so, that his Commander in Chief and other highest ranking officers were planning to overthrow him, were he to tell them to attack. On the other hand, for Hitler to back down would have been such a blow to his prestige that it would also have destroyed his political career, according to historian and author William Shirer. Although he did not know it, Hitler was in a lose-lose situation. Yet on the night of 12th September, Hitler was saved, apparently by one man, England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. At 11.00 pm he sent a telegram to Hitler offering to negotiate and he offered him the Sudetenland on the condition that he would not seek any further territorial gain. Chamberlain came back from Munich a few days later waving a piece of paper announcing “Peace in our time.” The army didn’t rebel, Hitler broke his word and the Second World War broke out, including the Holocaust of six million Jews. Just like the unnamed man in the parsha without whom shibud Mitzrayim would, seemingly, have never happened, it would appear that without Chamberlain and his late night telegram, the Holocaust would not have happened.

However, Chazal tell us that shibud Mitzrayim would have happened anyway. As Rashi comments Me’emek Chevron, me’eitza amuka she osoh tzadik hakevura bechevron, to fulfill what had been told to Avrohom Ovinu, “Your children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs and they will be enslaved for four hundred years.” (37:14) The man (Rashi says he was the malach Gavriel) was there to direct Yosef because Hashem put him there to fulfill His decree. Similarly we cannot think that the Holocaust would not have happened without the political ineptitude of one English politician. It was clearly a decree of Hashem which had to happen whether we understand it or not.

The Biur Halocho in the first chapter of Shulchan Aruch brings from the Sefer Hachinuch that the mitzvah of knowing that Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim is not merely believing in that historical event but of believing that Hashem supervises everything which happens in this world. This is one of the mitzvos temidios, those mitzvos which we should fulfill continuously. This emuna peshuta that, for some reason that we cannot understand, Hashem decreed that the Holocaust should happen, enabled many of those who suffered terribly, those who survived and those who didn’t survive, to keep their emuna in Hashem intact.

In my sefer “The Hidden Light” I discuss the Holocaust from various angles. One is that basic Torah hashkafa requires us to believe that Hashem keeps an account for every single person. We have the well-known explanation of tzaddik vera lo and rosho vetov lo – that Hashem sometimes punishes the tzaddik for his aveiros in this world to give him unadulterated pleasure in the World to Come and a rosho can be given reward for his few mitzvos in this world to cut him off completely from the pleasures of the World to Come. (Kiddushin 40b). In the same way, if a blameless person suffers, like many who suffered in the Holocaust, because, in the big picture which Hashem wants to create, it is unavoidable, he will undoubtedly be given a glorious olom habo which will more than make up for his suffering in this world.

This could shed new light on a section of the wording in the third brocho of the Shemone Esrei , “Ukedoshim bechol yom yehalelucho – the Kedoshim will praise You every day.” Who are these kedoshim, why do we mention them in this important part of the Shemone Esre and why is the phrase in the future tense? The Avudrohom explains that Kedoshim refers to the Jewish People, Hashem’s holy nation. We praise Hashem every day because we believe that whatever happens, Hashem is in charge as we mentioned above and all is for the best. But why is this mentioned here and why in the future tense?

Perhaps, based on what we wrote earlier, we can suggest the following. We say this brocho after the brocho of Techiyas Hameisim. According to Derech Hashem and other sources, although immediately after death, the neshomo goes to the Olom Haneshomos where it receives reward appropriate to its achievements in this world, our main reward will be given after Techiyas Hameisim. Perhaps, we can extend the Avudrohom to say that the kedoshim in the Shemone Esrei refers not only to all Jews who live their life in holiness but particularly to those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem in the Holocaust and throughout history. And it will be particularly after Techiyas Hameisim, when individual accounts will be corrected and they will enjoy unbelievable pleasures which will more than make up for their yissurim which they suffered previously, that these kedoshim will praise Hashem every day.

This emuna in Hashem’s hashgocho protis, that nothing happens by chance and that everyone receives their just reward sooner or later, is so important that Chazal saw fit to include it in the first section of Shemone Esrei, immediately after the brocho of techias hameisim. This emuna is also an important tool to enable all of us to participate in next week’s festival of Hallel Vehodo’oh.

Happy Chanukah.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts, The Hidden Light. If you want to be put on his email list, please write to rabbimfletcher@gmail.com

Where Are We?

“You did not want to marry her to your brother. Instead she will be married to your enemy. You did not want to marry her to someone permitted to her. She will marry someone forbidden to her.” (Medrash Rabboh). Yaakov Ovinu is being criticized for hiding Dina from Eisav to prevent him from marrying her. In the end she was ‘married’ to Shechem. This Medrash has been questioned by many. Why should Yaakov have even considered marrying Dina to Eisav the rosho? Already at the age of fifteen he was reported to have been guilty of serious aveiros (Boba Basra 16b). He was the “man of the field” as distinct from Yaakov, the “man who dwelt in tents” (of Torah). The argument that she could have had a good influence on him seems weak. Would we consider marrying our daughter to a rosho because she might be able to influence him? Why should Yaakov be blamed?

A similar question troubles all the commentators in parshas Toldos. Yitzchak Ovinu was apparently prepared to give the blessing and spiritual inheritance to Eisav. He would have been the third of the Ovos, if not for Rivka and Yaakov’s last minute trickery. Was Yitzchak unaware that Eisav was a serial sinner? It does not reflect well on our holy patriarch to suggest that Yitzchak was so cut off from his son that he simply hadn’t heard what he was really like. Some mefarshim suggest that Yitzchak knew that Eisav was not the studious type, but he thought that he would be like Zevulun, providing for Yaakov who would continue in the Beis Hamedrash. But Zevulun was a tzaddik. Eisav was a rosho! Any comparison is an insult to Zevulun.

A key to some understanding in this very difficult subject is appreciating Chazal. We often learn aggadic comments of Chazal as children and accept them at face value, never deepening our understanding of what Chazal meant. This is not the place to discuss when we need to accept aggadeta as literally true and when we should understand the message of Chazal without accepting their words literally. The Rambam gives us guidance (Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek,) as does the Maharal. On the subject of Eisav, the Maharitz Chayos in his introduction to Ein Yaakov says that although Chazal said that Eisav transgressed five serious sins when he was fifteen, they did not mean that he really did them but that he was capable of doing them.  Chazal, with their depth of understanding, were commenting on Eisav’s penimius, his neshomo, his inner attitude to life, his true spiritual level. Perhaps we could say “where he was.”

When Hashem asked Odom Harishon after his sin, “Where are you?” the literal meaning is where he physically was. This was just to give him an opening to speak, as Rashi explains. But some understand that Hashem was asking a much deeper question, Where was he, spiritually? Was he still the yetzir kapov, pure handiwork of Hashem or had he veered from that level by sinning?

We imagine Eisav in secular clothes, transgressing every mitzvah of the Torah, with no connection to the Beis Hamedrash, no spiritual connection to Yitzchok, Rivka or Yaakov. Somehow, he fooled Yitzchok into thinking he was a tzaddik at least like Zevulun. This led to our questions earlier. But maybe, as Rav Avigdor Miller implies, (Behold A People p. 65), Eisav was dressed just like Yaakov, kept the same mitzvos as Yaakov, perhaps learning part of the day in the same Beis Hamedrash as Yaakov, spending the rest of the day in the field providing for the family.  Any onlooker would have thought he was indeed the classic Zevulun. Yitzchok might have thought the third of the Ovos should be a role model for all those who don’t sit in the Beis Hamedrash all day.  And he was right, as Yaakov’s life after he had received the brocho showed, which Dorash Dovid points out. But at Yitzchok’s lower level of prophecy he didn’t discern that Eisav was unsuitable for this role. It required Rivka’s depth of prophecy to know that Eisav’s heart was in the wrong place. It was “in the field.” That was his enjoyment in life. Can we describe such an Eisav as a rosho? Yes. Rabbeinu Yona describes somebody whose source of enjoyment is the pleasures of this world rather than serving Hashem, as a rosho. (Sh.T. Shaar 2:18 as explained by Lev Eliyahu Vol 1 P.13) He is on completely the wrong path despite his technical adherence to mitzvos. And he is capable of the worst aveiros even if he hasn’t done any of them, as the Maharitz Chayos explained. This is a chilling thought. We might be sitting in kollel wearing our frack or reckel but if the highlight of our day is our physical pleasures, we are an ish sodeh, Eisav’s spiritual descendant.

Zevulun may be “in the field” but in his heart he is in the Beis Hamedrash.  Yaakov worked for twenty years tending Lovon’s sheep but he remained the ish yoshev oholim.  We can be out and about, trying to provide for our families, but if the highlight of our day is our chavrusa or shiur in the evening, a geshmake Shemone Esrei rather than a geshmake pizza, we are ish yoshev oholim, Yaakov’s spiritual descendant. The question is not what we are doing but where our heart is. Just as Hashem asked Odom Horishon, “Where are you?” we have to ask ourselves, “Where are we?”

The Medresh’s comment, implying that Dina should have married Eisav is a positive message for us. Even if at the moment we still prefer a new car to a new messechta, beautiful clothes to a beautiful esrog, we can change. Under the influence of a good spouse or good friends or good rebbes or, if we are determined, even by ourselves, we can steig. We can grow from being an ish sodeh to being an ish yoshev ohalim.  Dina could have changed Eisav. And that is why Yaakov, in the words of the Medrash, was held responsible.