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25 Sivan 5759 - June 9 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Different Spirit

"And My servant Koleiv, since he had a different spirit in him and filled in after Me . . . "

If we were to encapsulate Koleiv's deed in chosen words which described his loyal stance, his steadfastness and his refusal to become entangled with his fellow spies in slandering the Promised Land and denouncing Hashem, as it were, we would probably stress his righteousness, his unswerving faith, his undaunted adamancy in silencing the rabble and then shouting, "But against Hashem do not rebel." We might note the benevolent, gracious eye with which he viewed the goodly land.

In succinctly highlighting his greatness however, in contrast with the behavior of the others, the Torah chooses an entirely different aspect. It characterizes Koleiv for the "different spirit" which he possessed. It was this which enabled him to withstand the peer pressure of his companions and to rise above them in sanctifying Hashem's name. What is the significance of this particular advantage?

Rabbenu Bechaye illuminates our eyes and writes: "A different spirit with him -- different from that of the meraglim. For the tzaddik is different from the rosho. You can find this by Sheis, `For Hashem has given me different seed.' Sheis, who was born in place of Hevel, his brother, was completely different from his wicked brother Kayin in the same way that good is distinguished from evil and vice versa. When the word `acheir' is used in proximity to good, it denotes evil; in juxtaposition to bad, it denotes the opposite -- good."

The difference between the righteous one and the sinner, Rabbenu Bechaye teaches us, is the difference between two inner types, whereas their deeds are merely a reflection of their intrinsic difference. The difference lies within, with their spirit, which is acheir -- `other.'

Righteousness does not begin at the time of a test. Rather, it is a condition which exists beforehand that prevents the person from backsliding or failing when he is put to the test. It is that element that enables the person to set himself apart and to be different, to go against the stream, to be above and beyond the temptation of the test situation.

One who lives in an area ravaged by constant war is prepared for the conflict even when there is a respite in battle. He shuns the battle lines even when the smoke has settled and all seems peaceful. One cannot be on equal terms with those who do not meet the standards of the tzaddik -- and still remain with his righteousness intact. It is a dangerous gamble. One who is willing to take such a risk is, apparently, not sufficiently aware of the danger of losing and stumbling. The tzaddik is different. He is cautious, circumspect, on guard for the telltale differences. Being qualitatively distinct, he must remain separate and apart to preserve those differences.

"Be fearful of Hashem, my son . . . and do not mingle with those who are different" (Mishlei 24:21). The Ibn Ezra says that one should not mingle with those "who became different through their wicked deeds." Preserve your own separateness and distinction. Be different from those who indulge in wicked acts. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you can maintain your individuality in the company of the wicked. No. They are different and there is no way to create harmony and neutral coexistence between good and evil.

This prerequisite is presented as a condition to the one who has sinned and seeks to repent. It cannot suffice for him to mend his sins and begin doing good. He must create the difference that will set him apart from his previous state of life. If he wishes to become righteous, he must change. This is how the Rambam states it as a halocho in practice: "It is part of the teshuvah process for the penitent . . . to distance himself exceedingly from that thing through which he sinned, and to even change his name, so to speak, and declare: I am different. I am no longer the same person who did those deeds" (Hilchos Teshuvah, Perek II, Halocho 4).


In those chapters which halachically guide a person in doing teshuvah, the Rambam presents this `different spirit' as the proper characteristic and an indication of the correct form of repentance. In the Torah viewpoint, teshuvah is not restricted to specific points. It is not the case of -- You backslid and stumbled? No problem. Just try not to stumble the next time round. -- This is not the Torah's approach. Such an attitude only leads to cosmetic improvement, local application, and is far from true repentance.

The approach of real teshuvah is to absolutely prevent any future backsliding. One must abandon the site of the downfall as if it were a minefield. "He should distance himself greatly from the area in which he sinned." It is ineffectual to recede just a bit. It is walking at the edge of the cliff and inviting disaster. Was one fall not enough?

Aren't you afraid for your own safety? Apparently, not!

If one is embracing teshuvah, not as a metaphor or exercise but in its literal implication, then he must make an about-face. He must create a total difference and contrast from the past state; he must undergo a total metamorphosis. "I am different. I am not at all the same person who did those evil deeds. I have changed." He now embodies a totally different spirit.

R' Menachem Mendel of Kotsk zt'l noted the translation of Onkelos to the verse applying to the shloshes yemei hagbolo, "Do not approach . . . " He does not translate the word el as `to' but letzad, to the side. It is not only important what you do or don't do; even more significant is the side you choose, for one side is not the same as the other!


Every once in a while, people speak glibly about fraternity, solidarity, erasing the differences and overcoming the barriers that separate different factions within Judaism. We must unite, they urge, and smooth away the rough distinctions between tzaddikim and reshoim.

But we must not let our guard down. All we need to do is open the Chumash and review this portion to see how Koleiv dealt with the danger that faced him. "He had a different spirit in him." Good is different from evil and evil is different and distinct from good. There is no way that they can coexist for they are polar opposites that repel one another. Do not mingle with those who are different!

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