by R' Yerachmiel Kram
The World of Imagination
"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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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