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6 Elul 5763 - September 4, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Chazal Tell Us How to Overcome Yishmoel

by Rabbi Mordecai Plaut based on a shiur of a rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim

Part II

With the threats faced by those living in the Middle East and around the world from those of Arab extraction, the following penetrating analysis sheds light on important characteristics of the struggle with Yishmoel as described by Chazal. This is not to suggest that every Arab is as detailed here, but that the essential features of the contest are as explained, and the steps we must take -- which are matters of our personal and private avodoh -- are as outlined here.

The following is based on a tape of a shiur that was delivered more than six years ago.

Part II

The first part described several important points that are part of the background of Yishmoel and his relationship to us. One is that there is a special middoh of hearing, on the part of Hashem, of our prayers in response to the awful things that Yishmoel does to us, and also that what Yishmoel does to us comes from his essence. Yishmoel is a talker by nature and he uses his power of speech against us, in addition to his other attacks. Therefore our normal speech, the kol Yaakov that is adequate to respond to the hands of Eisov, is insufficient against the power of Yishmoel. We must have a deeper appreciation of the powers of Yishmoel in order to understand what we have to achieve to counter them.


Divine Power Subverted for Personal Goals

The Maharal in Ner Mitzvoh talks about the question asked by the rishonim: Why is the Malchus (kingdom) of Yishmoel not reckoned along with the other four Malchuyos of golus (Bovel, Persia, Greece and Edom)?

He gives two reasons. One is that the other four Malchuyos took their rule from Yisroel, whereas Yishmoel is a kingdom in its own right. Vegam es ben ho'omoh legoy asimenu (Bereishis 21:13). That is, Yishmoel is, in some relevant aspect, the equivalent of Yisroel in its nationhood. The other nations took their right to rule from Yisroel. Yishmoel has a power or right of his own to rule.

This nation is unique in that there is no other nation that so frequently and so consistently invokes Sheim Shomayim. The Name of Heaven is always on its lips. Everything that they do is done in the Name of Heaven.

This is very blatantly evident. All that they do is done in the name of Heaven, so to speak.

However what does Heaven want? This -- they determine. It is completely clear to them that everything that they do, every place that they go, is what Heaven wants. Heaven wants what they want. But that is not what Heaven really wants.

This idea is behind what Chazal ascribe to the travelers in the time of Avrohom Ovinu: It says that Avrohom gave them water to wash their feet for he knew that many travelers bowed to the dust on their own feet and he did not want this in his home.

What does it mean that they bowed down to the dust on their feet? Why would they do that? It seems absurd that someone would do such a thing.

However, this act of bowing is as if to say that they consider that the dust on their feet includes a Divine presence. But this dust itself is collected from the places that they go. So therefore it is as if they said: Whatever we have done with our limbs and every place we have gone with our feet, is where the Creator is. The Creator is wherever we want to go. That is what is meant by bowing down to the dust collected on their feet.

The feet that walk, the feet that work -- those feet collect dust. The aggregate dust at the end of a period or effort indicates and symbolizes the effort of the feet during that time.

Yishmoel is a nation that bows down to the dust on their feet. These are not weak-headed or silly people. By this worship they mean that any place they go, they find, as it were, the Creator. The dust symbolizes their own travels; bowing down to it implies that it is Heavenly dust. It all is, according to them, the will of the Creator.

Therefore, every murder, every horror, every decadent act, every corruption, every theft that they perform -- is done in the Name of the Creator of the world.

This is the essential nature of this nation. They bow down to the Creator of the world, but the Creator of the world is found, according to them, in the dust of their own feet, no matter where their feet picked up that dust.

Here is a link of lies that purports to connect with the Creator. This lie is much deeper and more complex than the lie of complete atheism.

In a beis din, Eisov and his descendants are judged ovdei avodoh zorah. They, as is well known, make themselves into gods. Therefore they also worship others who make themselves into gods. That is true avodoh zora, substituting a false G-d for the real G-d.

Yishmoel do not make themselves into a G-d. On the contrary, emphatically on the contrary, they only act in the Name of the real G-d. Everything they do is only in the Name of G-d, but they say what G-d wants. "What we say is what He says."


This was certainly rejected by Avrohom when he threw Yishmoel out of his home. But nonetheless, Yishmoel did acquire and develop a certain power in the house of Avrohom. The Name keil is the name of chesed, as the posuk says in Tehillim (52:3): " . . . the chesed of Keil all the day." "Keil" also literally means "power" as Lovon said: "Yesh le'eil yodi" (Bereishis 31:29).

Chesed is the first power in the world. The first force that was revealed and used to create the world is the power of chesed. This is the desire [on the part of the Creator] to benefit someone. Thus Keil is the first power in Creation, the middoh of chesed. The posuk in Tehillim (89:3) says: "I said that I will build a world of chesed."

This is a force that was particularly active in Avrohom's home, as is well known, and there is no doubt that Yishmoel received the power of keil at least in part because he grew up in the home of Avrohom.

The power of this name is an awesome power. It is a tremendous power. And Yishmoel is able to wield it.

Still, if we were "Yisroel" to the extent that they are "Yishmoel" then the situation would be under control. The Torah says that the origin of the name "Yisroel" is, "Because you have struggled with angels and men and you prevailed" (Bereishis 32:28). So the name "Yisroel" contains an adequate reply to Yishmoel -- if we were "Yisroel" as developed as their "Yishmoel."

But the reality is not like that. The reality is that they are "Yishmoel" lemehadrin and we are barely a shadow of that original "Yisroel."

We can no longer wield the power of "Yisroel." We are too far removed from it. We do not have this force to use against Yishmoel. The true answer for us to the attack of "Yishmoel" is for us to be "Yisroel." We must be able to struggle and to prevail as our forefather once did.

Eisov and Yishmoel Allied

Rabbenu Bachye on parshas Bolok gives a hint in commenting on the posuk, Oy! Mi yichyeh misumo Keil.

"Of all the 70 nations that Hakodosh Boruch Hu created, he only put his name onto two: Yisroel and Yishmoel. . . . Since Hakodosh Boruch Hu made the two names equivalent -- Oy, who can live with the one who has Keil in his name?

"Oy. Who can live in his days? So they darshened in Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer. And if you are perceptive, you will see that [also] hinted to in this posuk is the Great Prosecutor who instigates against Yisroel in Heaven."

It is very apparent what Rabbenu Bachye means. Since the word "[mi]sumo" is written with a left shin, it is clear that the reference is to the Minister of Eisov in the Shomayim, also known as the Soton. He is the soton, he is the yetzer hora, he is the mal'ach hamoves (Bovo Basro 16a). Here we have both Eisov and his father-in-law Yishmoel, together in one posuk.

So now we see that Oy! Mi yichyeh misumo Keil incorporates two important themes: Who can live in the time when he whose name incorporates the Name of Hashem achieves power, referring to Yishmoel. Also we have a reference to the Soton, who is hinted to in this posuk.

So this "Oy," this awful sigh of the Torah, is in response to this combination: both Eisov and his father-in- law Yishmoel.

These two forces, these two world leaders and powers, both came from the House of Avrohom Ovinu. One actually grew up in the home of Avrohom and the other grew up in the home of Yitzchok Ovinu. Klal Yisroel is considered to have been formed in the home of Yaakov Ovinu.

Eileh borechev (Tehillim 20:8) -- the head of one group of 35 of the 70 nations of the world -- came from Avrohom Ovinu. Ve'eileh basusim -- the head of the other group of 35 -- came from Yitzchok Ovinu. Va'anachnu beSheim Hashem nazkir -- we were born in the home of Yaakov Ovinu-Yisroel. We are called "Yisroel" after him.

We need to undergo a golus under both of these two nation-heads. And we must overcome both of them. It is clear in Chazal (cited in Igeres Teiman of the Rambam) that these two nations, called Edom and Arav by the Rambam, will join together. This union is the last stage of the golus. This is explained in Chazal.

We must suffer the attempts of both. We must proclaim the Name of Hashem against those who come with chariots and against those who come with horses. We must withstand these mighty powers with the proclamation of the Name of Hashem.

End of Part II

See Part 1

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