Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Iyar 5764 - May 12, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Just Scales to Judge Oneself

by HaRav Menachem Freiman

Part II

In preparation for and anticipation of the upcoming Mattan Torah.

In the first part, HaRav Freiman noted that Rashi cites two opinions of what Yisro heard that made him come to Bnei Yisroel in the desert: the splitting of Yam Suf and the war with Amolek. Rashi left out the third opinion of R' Elozor HaModa'i that Yisro heard about the giving of the Torah. Why was that? HaRav Freiman also cited the question asked about how the news of the war with Amolek caused Yisro to come. It does not say the victory over Amolek but the war itself. How did that attract Yisro?

On the way to answering these questions, HaRav Freiman shows that Hashem deals with people on their own level. Since Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov asked for signs of old age, hardship, and sickness, and Hashem said that He would start those innovations with them. Also Nodov and Avihu were (according to the medrash) punished because they lacked the me'il of the Cohen Godol when they went into the Mishkan. Since they mistakenly thought themselves on the level of the Cohen Godol, they were punished for not living up to that.

Geirim also, according to HaRav Yaakov Emden, are held accountable if they postpone their conversion once they have decided to do so, but even before they take any concrete actions.

HaRav Freiman noted that this imposed a great obligation on bnei Torah in all areas, since they presumably realize the greatness and importance of Torah and mitzvos.


The difference between one person and another -- an enormous contrast, in fact, between the two -- is also tied to this point. It might seem to an outside observer that the difference between Yaakov Ovinu and Eisov was a direct result of an ideological argument about faith and beliefs. This is, however, untrue.

From Chazal we learn that Eisov occupied as high a level as Yaakov did and that he was equal to him in spiritual conception. Yaakov's greatness was in his aspiring to express his faith and belief practically in his everyday life, which was not the case with his brother. Eisov therefore sold his bechorah for lentil soup, although eventually he bitterly regretted doing so -- "And when Eisov heard the words of his father, he cried out with a great and exceedingly bitter cry . . . and he said: `Is he not rightfully named Yaakov? For he has supplanted me these two times: he took away my bechorah and behold, now he has taken away my brochoh?' " (Bereishis 27:34,36).

The Torah tells us how much anguish Eisov felt about his selling the birthright and Yaakov's taking his brochos. It tormented him because he really understood well the value of the bechorah. His problem was that he could not actualize that feeling; he could not live according to his realization of life's true values. This is what caused him to sink so low and sell his bechorah for a mere portion of lentil soup.

This is what is meant by the Zohar's statement that Eisov's head is buried in the Machpeiloh Cave. The Alter of Kelm explained that although Eisov's head was equal to that of the Ovos and fitting to be buried in their family's burial ground, he distanced himself from the Ovos with his body and the way he acted during life. Only his head and not his body was fitting to be buried there.

HaRav M. Shapira explained that the significance of Yaakov Ovinu's being called Yaakov, a name stemming from the word okeiv, meaning heel, which is the lowest part of the body, is that Yaakov's recognition of what was right was implemented throughout his whole body: from his sophisticated mind until the most humble and lowest part of his body. His intelligence guided all that he did without any exception -- and this was Yaakov's greatness. Yaakov, whose smallest deeds were aimed at avodas Hashem, was the diametric opposite of Eisov, who could not subdue his basic desires and sold all of his World-to-Come for a little red lentil soup.

"R' Meir said: `What is [meant by what is] written, "Let favor be shown to the rosho, yet he will not learn righteousness. In the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold Hashem's majesty" (Yeshayohu 26:10)? Yitzchok said before HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "Master of the World! Let favor be shown to Eisov." [Hashem] answered: "He is a rosho." [Yitzchok] said: "`Yet he will not learn righteousness.' (Can no one justify what he does? - - See Rashi)." [HaKodosh Boruch Hu] said: "`In the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly' (In the future he will lay waste Eretz Yisroel -- Rashi)." [Yitzchok] said: "If so, `[he] will not behold Hashem's majesty' (Megilloh 61)." ' "

What did Yitzchok request from Hashem and what was Hashem's answer? HaRav Chaim Zaichik zt'l explains that Yitzchok wanted Eisov to be pardoned because of his towering perceptions. When HaKodosh Boruch Hu told him that there was no hope that Eisov would do teshuvoh, Yitzchok requested Hashem to remove those perceptions from Eisov -- "[he] will not behold Hashem's majesty." If he does not act in accordance with his perceptions, why does he need them? On the contrary, he is a greater sinner when he possesses such profound concepts and his nefesh is even more sullied and repulsive.

The gemora (Bovo Basra 16b) writes: "R' Yochonon said: [Eisov] committed five aveiros on that day: he had relations with a na'aroh hame'orosoh, he murdered, he denied Hashem's existence, he denied the resurrection of the dead, and he despised the birthright' (Rashi explains that he degraded the avodoh done by the firstborn)."

How can the gemora compare his having relations with a na'aroh hame'orosoh or murdering someone, with his degrading the birthright? What is more, this last seems, by being at the end of the list, to be an even greater sin than the first two.

There is a difference between why various people commit an aveiroh. One person just cannot withstand temptation and therefore sins, while another person acts against firm convictions he has. Without any doubt the latter person's sin is immeasurably greater.


Now we can resolve the questions we raised above about Yisro. About the splitting of Yam Suf the Torah writes: "The people shall hear and be afraid, trembling shall take hold of the inhabitants of Pleshes. The chiefs of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Mo'av, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them" (Shemos 15:14- 16). The petrifying astonishment of all the inhabitants of the world at krias Yam Suf did not prevent Amolek from waging war against bnei Yisroel. Even when a person undoubtedly knows something -- for example when he hears Hashem's voice that carries from one side of the world to the other -- if he does not subdue his desires and force them to follow his intellectual recognition, he will inevitably fight against Hashem's Nation and his name will be infamous forever.

Now we can fully understand the Rashi we cited at the beginning. Although Yisro heard and was awakened by krias Yam Suf, that was not enough to cause him to join Hashem's Nation. When Yisro, however, heard about the war that Amolek waged -- when he heard that a person can hear Hashem's voice clearly and that will still not prevent him from acting against Heaven -- he understood that he must do something to change himself. He knew he must join Klal Yisroel.

This principle is actually taught to us in Pirkei Ovos (3:9): "Anyone whose deeds are more than his wisdom -- his wisdom endures. And anyone whose wisdom is more than his deeds, his wisdom does not endure." The Rishonim write that if a person has reached a certain recognition of the truth and does not act accordingly, such wisdom will not last.

Perhaps an argument can be raised that it is preferable for a person to be a shogeig and not a meizid, that we should let him sin unintentionally rather than intentionally. Why does he have to grow in wisdom and thereby increase the Heavenly indignation against him? He can remain with his shallow and meager perceptions and that will atone for all his sins.

There is a fundamental mistake in such logic. The concept of an Odom negates such reasoning. A person is required to increase his knowledge continuously, to grow and elevate himself. He is obligated to study every lofty perception that was hitherto unknown to him and adopt it. Our sages say that Odom means adameh le'elyon, that man, the earthly creation, must aspire to be similar to his Creator. Someone who rejects man's obligation to elevate himself endlessly removes from himself the name odom and is similar to birds and animals.

Man was placed in Olom Hazeh, which is a vestibule to the main dwelling -- Olom Habo and he has one central commitment: He must utilize his life in Olom Hazeh correctly, as a preparation towards his life in Olom Habo. This must be done through basic and gradual efforts aimed towards that goal.

To the degree that a person understands this obligation and carries it out, so will he eventually inherit Olom Habo. If he, however choliloh, does not evaluate correctly what he must do, he will be punished, and if he does not act according to the level of his understanding he will be condemned much more.

HaRav Menachem Freiman, shlita, is the menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim--Zichron Moshe

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.