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22 Kislev 5764 - December 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The World of Imagination

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"And Yaakov dwelled in the land in which his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan" (Bereishis 37:1).

"The House of Yosef a Flame"

Rashi discusses the juxtaposition of the two parshiyos: of this one dealing with Yosef and his developments, and the previous one enumerating the generations of the tribal chiefs of Eisov. He quotes Chazal in the Midrash: "[It is similar to] a flax dealer by whom many camels stopped to unload their huge piles of flax. A blacksmith standing by marveled: Where will the flax dealer put all that flax? Said a clever man, A mere spark from your anvil can destroy it all completely.

"The same is with Yaakov, who saw all the chieftains listed above and became alarmed: Who will be able to defeat them all? Therefore it is written afterwards: These are the generations of Yaakov: Yosef. As it is written, `And the House of Yaakov shall be fire and the House of Yosef a flame and the House of Eisov for straw.' A spark emitting from Yosef can destroy and consume them all."

Let us attempt to understand the deeper significance of this concept as brought in the Midrash.


Recognizing the Essential Enemy

Military strategy, like every other science and study, has become more sophisticated as time goes by. Nevertheless, some basic axioms remain immutable. One of these rules is the need to keep strategic information in a fog. By this we mean to conceal important information regarding the state of preparedness for battle. Every safeguard must be made to prevent the enemy from gaining any vital data, to keep him in the dark.

Lack of pertinent information regarding the identity of the enemy, of the direction from which he is expected to appear and the strength of his resources, manpower and armaments, leave the defensive forces with much to fear. They may lose their wits and altogether lose their motivation to fight to the point of surrendering without a battle or simply fleeing.

Here is where psychological warfare comes into play. This tactic does not suffice with the withholding of information and creating a fog of insecurity. Its role is to present a distorted picture of the lineup of forces, to supply disinformation, to cause demoralization which breaks the fighting spirit of the enemy, weakens his morale and sows confusion and despair.

The intelligence of the high commander of the opposing force is, first and foremost, to know how to read the `road map' as it is, to extract the truth regarding the enemy's strength from all the false data being supplied to him. He must arrive at the closest estimate to the truth possible and know, to the best of his ability, the state of his enemy's preparedness. The commander must search out his rival's weak points, determine which flank is most exposed, and at the same time, infuse a militant spirit into his ranks.

War must be waged with intelligence. To be sure, strength and bravery are the moving factors without which nothing proceeds, but military prowess requires the accompaniment of intelligence. The arm that is extended in war must be wielded by the brain behind it.

"A Small City with Few Inhabitants"

A person's battle against his evil inclination is waged in similar manner. In Koheles, Shlomo Hamelech gives us a short description of the difficult battle in which victory was gained by resourcefulness and intelligence. This is what he says: "There was a little city with few men in it, and there came a great king against it and besieged it and built great siegeworks against it. Now, there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom saved the city," (9:14).

Chazal explain that all this is only a parable illustrating the battle of a man against his evil inclination. The small city which Shlomo is referring to represents a person's body, and the few men in it, his organs. The great king that attacks it is the yetzer hora which builds battlements against it, the sins and pitfalls. But there is a poor, wise man in this city, the yetzer tov, which rescues the city in his wisdom through repentance and good deeds (Nedorim 32b).

There is still room for clarification. We can understand the moral. One who erected barriers between himself and his Father in Heaven can remove them through repentance and good deeds. But the parable is puzzling. If the great king built embankments around the city and invested much work and effort, how can the small, poor man prevail against him?

The city is besieged, access to and from it is cut off and even food and water supplies cannot penetrate. What can one do?

Megillas Koheles, we know, is no history book, and therefore we have no particular interest in learning how that wise man prevailed and saved the city, especially, since this whole story is merely a parable and never took place. But we do know that he saved the city through his wisdom, as is stated, and not through might. How was wisdom able to overcome the mighty embattlements of the great king?

"Here You Only See in the Darkness"

HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l used to explain this with another parable:

A simple peasant once found his way to the big city. He yearned to see the wonders and attractions it had to offer and of which he had heard so much in his village. He was especially curious about the cinema, or moving pictures, where one could see regular people like him and his friends, moving about on a flat screen. These figures, it was told, walked about, talked and did all kinds of things. He was determined to see this marvel with his own eyes.

He went to a cinema, stood in line and bought himself a ticket. He entered the hall and sat down. Suddenly, all the lights went out and it was pitch dark. A bright beam of light was projected up front, on a white screen, where he could now see people in motion, talking, singing, walking and sitting. The peasant was beside himself with astonishment.

One thing disturbed him, however. He felt he was missing out on something. All around him, it was pitch dark. He couldn't help thinking that if it only weren't so dark, he would be able to see so much more! And so he decided, that lacking any better illumination, he would create it for himself.

He took out a flashlight and beamed it on the screen. It immediately became somewhat paler. The figures became blurred and some disappeared altogether. Then people from all sides began shouting at him, "Fool! Turn off that light!" The villager tried to defend himself and said that he had only wanted to see better. From the audience of disgruntled spectators, one patient person spoke up and attempted to explain his mistake.

"Don't you understand? Here you can only see when it's dark. In the light, you can't see a thing!"

The simple peasant didn't understand much, but what he saw from his experiment convinced him that the man was right.

Imagination and Illusion

The wise but poor man who rescues the city through his wisdom did not mobilize any new weapons unknown till then, nor employ any sophisticated tactics. He used his brains. He studied his enemy and saw that he was no more than a paper tiger. The large battlements that surrounded him and his friends were no more than cardboard scenery props that he could knock down with a huff and a puff.

Thus is it with physical warfare between nations, and similarly in the battle between the good and evil inclinations. At first, one must remember that we have to formulate a clear picture of the situation and to clinically analyze the enemy's weak points, all with deliberation and coolness, without being impressed by propaganda and disinformation.

For this is the time-worn tactic of the yetzer hora. He presents before us a vibrant, enticing world, beckoning with action, life. He puts a spectacular show on the screen to impress us. Men of muscle and power, skyscrapers with their heads in the clouds.

But the effect of this drama only works in the darkness, and all man must do to dispel the magic and enthrallment is switch on the lights. Then the magic lantern disappears and the bubble is burst.

The Power of One Spark

Man is imbued with special powers to help him maintain his balance and not get swept away. True, it is not easy, and we must pray for clear-headedness, as we do in the Hoshanos, "Save, Ye, a confused spirit."

But clearly it is not impossible, for if it were man would not be punished for being misled and tempted, for Hashem does not demand the impossible from His creatures.

This, too, is Hashem's answer to Yaakov's fears when he contemplates Eisov's numerical supremacy, the great numbers of chieftains he will produce, the economic power his many countries will wield, from eastern Europe to the western world. Yaakov sees and wonders: who will be able to conquer and overcome all this?

And Hashem replies that he has nothing to fear. Eisov's might is no more substantial than the voluminous quantity of the flax, which can be rendered to mere ashes in minutes. Eisov's power is no more than those flitting figures on the screen. One flash of light -- and they are no more. There are many figures stomping about on the screen while the beam of light emanates from one only person. But he is for real, whereas they are nothing, mere shadows on a celluloid film. All that is necessary is one spark from Yaakov's bellows, a clear and realistic look that is capable of revealing the true power of Yaakov.

Furthermore, let us look for a moment when this spark that emits from Yaakov's bellows is first given expression:

"And it was when Rochel gave birth to Yosef, and Yaakov said to Lovon: Send me and I will go, to my place and my land" (Bereishis 30:25). Why is Yaakov asking to return home at the particular time that Yosef was born?'

Rashi, as usual, explains this according to Chazal; "When Rochel gave birth to Yosef -- When the adversary of Eisov was born, as it is written, `And the House of Yaakov will be fire, and the House of Yosef a flame, and the House of Eisov as straw.' Fire without a flame cannot travel very far. Upon Yosef's birth, Yaakov placed his trust in Hashem and sought to return.'"

Yosef had just been born. He was a day-old infant. But already he carried the significant weight of a spark that can ignite a huge amount of flax.

For Eisov with all of his chieftains is a world of falsehood and imaginary illusion. Much color, great noise and clamor, but his power lies only in the darkness.

Just a bit of light, a wee spark, and all vanishes and disappears.

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