Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayeitzei

Not Letting the Wicked Build Us
There are Some Things We Don’t Even Joke About
"Zionists" Against Zionism

And in the morning, behold, it was Leah, and he said to Lavan, “What have you done to me? Did I not work for you for Rochel? Why did you trick me?” And Lavan said, “It is not done so in our place, to give the younger before the elder.” (29: 25-26)

Earlier (29:12) Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu said, “If he is a swindler, I am his brother – his equal - in swindling.” But it seems that in the end Yaakov did allow Lavan to trick him, and not only that, he let him off easy. He should have demanded Rochel for free, but instead he asked Lavan why had he tricked him, accepted his reply, and agreed to work an extra seven years for Rochel. Rabbi Gershon Ribner explained that Yaakov, in his great wisdom, saw that the wicked Lavan wanted to be one of the Avos of the Jewish people, alongside Avraham and Yitzchak. Yaakov knew that Lavan’s influence would have had a devastating effect on his descendants forever. In order to swindle Lavan out of that role, Yaakov on his own proposed to work seven long, hard years in exchange for Rochel. Thus she would be “sold” to him (31:15) and Lavan would have no part in the building of the Twelve Shevatim. On the morning after the wedding, when Yaakov realized he had to marry Leah as well, he knew that he could not ask for two wives for the price of one, because then Lavan would again be giving something for free, and he would have a part in the Jewish people. So he gave Lavan the opportunity to justify himself – to say that we do not marry off the younger daughter first - and willingly worked another seven years.

Later, when Hashem commanded Yaakov to leave Lavan’s house, he called his wives and explained to them that he had worked with all his might for Lavan, Lavan had tricked him many times, and only with Hashem’s help he had succeeded. His wives replied with similar words, “Do we have any portion anymore in our father’s house? Weren’t we considered by him as strangers, for he sold us?” (31:14-15). If Hashem commanded them to leave, why did they seek rationalizations? The answer is that if they had just left without understanding why, they would still have felt connected to Lavan, as if their Twelve Shevatim were built on Lavan’s generosity. Yaakov had to make them understand that Lavan had contributed nothing to the family. May we learn to emulate Yaakov Avinu and not allow the wicked to have a share in building Klal Yisroel!

And Yaakov saw the face of Lavan, and behold it was not with him as in previous days. And Hashem said to Yaakov, “Go back to the land of your fathers and your birthplace, and I will be with you.” (31:2-3)

Why does the Torah place these two sentences side by side? Rabbi Shlomo Kluger explained: We find that when a tzaddik joins a rasha, Hashem causes him to fail, as the prophet told Yehoshafat, “When you joined Achazyahu, Hashem ruined your endeavors.” (Divrei Hayamim II 20:37) If so, we can infer that when a tzaddik separates from a rasha, he will become greater and more successful. This is all the more so because of the principle that reward is always greater that punishment (Rashi on Shemos 20:6). One instance of this is Avraham’s separation from Lot. The Torah says (Bereishis 13:14), “And Hashem said to Avraham after Lot had separated from him…” Avraham was privileged to hear the words of Hashem only after he parted with Lot.

Here too, Hashem spoke to Yaakov only after he saw that Lavan’s face was not with him as in previous days. Afterwards (31:5), Yaakov spoke to Rochel and Leah, to convince them that their father was wicked and it was not worth staying with him any longer. He said, “I see the face of your father, that it is not towards me as in previous days, and the G-d of my father has been with me.” In other words, your father must be a wicked man, for as soon as he ceased to be friendly with me, Hashem spoke to me. (Tuv Hapninim, p. 184)

And Yaakov answered and said to Lavan, “Because I was afraid, because I said, lest you steal your daughters from me.” (31:31)

The words “because I was afraid, because I said,” seem to be repetitious. Yaakov could have said, “Because I was afraid lest you steal…” or “Because I said, lest you steal” – but why did he need to say both? The Satmar Rav explained: we know that it is forbidden to live with a wicked person, for Chazal say (Succah 56b), “Woe to the rasha, woe to his neighbor.” So when Lavan asked Yaakov, “Why did you run away secretly?” Yaakov should have replied honestly, in accordance with his attribute of truth: “Because it is forbidden to live with you.” But like most good people when confronted by the wicked, Yaakov was embarrassed to speak so boldly. He instead looked for another, less offensive justification for running away from Lavan – lest Lavan steal his wives. But at the same time, Yaakov knew this was not really the right way to speak, and he feared that Hashem would punish him for hiding the truth. For when one speaks against the wicked using secondary reasons, neglecting to say openly the main reason, the end will be that someone will be misled, thinking that when those secondary reasons are not present, there is no longer a problem. This is what Yaakov meant when he said, “I was afraid” of being punished “because I said, lest you steal your daughters” – I am afraid of being punished for not saying the whole truth. (Toros V’uvdos Mibeis Raboseinu, p. 64)

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At the time of the establishment of the Zionist state, talmidim asked the Brisker Rav, “Should we stress the fact that the leaders of the State are wicked people whose whole purpose is to uproot Torah, or should we stress the serious prohibition of establishing any Jewish state at all before the coming of Moshiach and the Sanhedrin in the hewn chamber?” He replied that they should stress the prohibition of establishing any Jewish state, lest anyone think that if the state were run according to Shulchan Aruch it would be permitted to establish it.

The Brisker Rav once said to Rabbi Amram Blau, “We must stress that the problem with the State is not just the chillul Shabbos and other aveiros that they do. For even if you would be the prime minister, it would be forbidden to establish the State.” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, p. 196)

Once activists who were working for the observance of Shabbos in the Zionist state came to discuss an issue with the Brisker Rav. He said to them, “You are happy with the state; you see it as an achievement and a place of refuge for the Jewish people. Only, you want to make it better, that it should at least have a religious character. But in my book the whole thing is wrong. When it comes to pork, it makes no difference if there is a lesion on the lungs or not!” (ibid. p. 198)

He was referring to the story of the girl who became fatally ill, and the doctors said the only cure was to eat the meat of a pig. She was a very religious girl, however, and she said to her father, “I would rather die than eat from a pig!” Her father brought her to the rav of the town, who explained to her that when a life is in danger, the laws of the Torah are pushed aside. Finally she relented, but said to the rav, “There is one thing that would make me feel a little better about this. Please ask the shochet to slaughter the pig according to the laws of shechitah.” The rav was surprised at this request, but promised to fulfill it. So the shochet slaughtered the pig, and then the girl asked him to examine the lungs. He found a questionable lesion on the lung, and he sent it to the rav for his ruling. The rav looked it over for a long time, and then said, “I don’t know what to say. If this question had been found on a kosher animal, I would not hesitate to say, ‘Kosher, kosher.’ But how can I say the word ‘kosher’ when the animal is a pig? No matter what reasons I can think of to permit it, a pig remains a pig.” (My Uncle The Netziv, p. 130)

"Whomever you find your idols with shall not live…" but Yaakov did not know that Rachel had stolen them. (31:32)

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, says that this curse caused the untimely death of Rachel soon afterward, on the way back to the Land of Canaan. Although Yaakov did not know that it was Rachel who had stolen the idols, and he certainly did not mean to curse her, the curse took effect in any case. This principle is called "bris krusa lasfosayim" – G-d has made a covenant with the lips of the righteous and He fulfills their words. Thus a righteous person must be extremely careful with his words.

Our Sages used this principle to explain the puzzling story of Yeihu, king of the Ten Tribes. The dynasty of Achav had instituted the worship of the Baal and the Asheirah in northern Eretz Yisroel and its capital, Shomron. The wickedness of Achav reached the point where G-d decided to wipe them out and bring in a new dynasty. He chose the righteous Yeihu to carry out the revolution. Yeihu did as he was commanded: he gathered an army, overthrew the king, and killed every member of his family. Then he set to work purging the land of Baal-worship. As a ploy to gather all the idolatrous prophets and priests to one place, he announced, "Achav worshipped the Baal a little; Yeihu will worship him a lot. And now, all prophets of the Baal, all his worshippers and all his priests, come to me, let no one be missing. For I am making a great festival to the Baal; whoever does not come will not live" (Melachim II 10:18-19). When the temple of the Baal was full from door to door, Yehu and his army surrounded the temple and slaughtered all the worshippers. Hashem was pleased with Yeihu, and promised him that his dynasty would continue for four generations.

But then the prophet tells us that Yeihu himself worshipped the golden calves built by Yeravam: "And Yeihu did not keep the Torah of Hashem, G-d of Israel with all his heart; he did not desist from the sins of Yeravam, who brought Israel to sin" (ibid. v. 31). How did this happen? Abaye said, "There is a covenant with the lips." Yeihu said he would worship the Baal a lot; although he meant it as a trick, his words had their effect (Sanhedrin 102a).

Today there are many good Jews who are opposed to the Zionist state, yet will not refrain from using expressions from the Zionist language or singing Zionist songs that speak of Hebron or Jerusalem being "ours". They do this jokingly or for aesthetic reasons, not because they actually believe in the ideology. Some go even further: they feign belief in some aspects of Zionism, or at least lend respect to those beliefs, in order to reach out to non-observant Jews and bring them closer to Torah. Their hope is that someday, when those Jews are observant, they will learn the true Torah view of Zionism. These people should remember the lesson of Yeihu, that pretense of idolatry for any purpose, even a noble one, can lead to actual idolatry.

Rava gives a different explanation of why Yeihu stumbled, which is also reminiscent of today's situation: "He saw the signature of Achiyah Hashiloni and he erred" (Sanhedrin 102a). When Yeravam, the first king of the Ten Tribes, took the throne, he gathered all the leaders of the people together and made them sign and pledge allegiance to him. He asked them if they would do anything he told them, and they said yes. "Even if I tell you to worship idols?" he asked. The righteous men present said, "G-d forbid!" But the wicked ones said to the righteous, "Do you really think that such a great man as Yeravam would worship idols? He only means to test us, to see if we are really loyal to him." So they all signed, including the great prophet, Achiyah Hashiloni. Once Achiyah had given his signature in support of Yeravam, anything that Yeravam did later appeared to have Achiyah's stamp of approval. This is why Yeihu, the great fighter against idolatry, worshipped the golden calves built by Yeravam.

The Agudath Israel organization was founded to combat Zionism, and in its early years it gained the approval and signatures of many gedolei yisroel, such as Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and the Gerrer Rebbe. But when the Zionist state was established, after all these gedolim had passed away, Agudah activists joined the Zionist government and sought only to make the state more religious. Many people endorsed Agudah's Zionist activities because of those early signatures of gedolim, which made it appear as though all activities done under the name "Agudah" for all time would have the approval of those gedolim. Like Yeihu, Jews who are great zealots against all forms of idolatry and heresy are, at the same time, supporters of the idolatry of Zionism.

“I will be like dew to Israel; he will flower like a rose” (Haftarah, Hoshea 14:6).

The prophet Hoshea compares the Jewish people to a rose. Shlomo Hamelech makes a similar comparison in Shir Hashirim 2:2: “Like a rose among the thorns is My beloved among the daughters.”

The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah) explains: Just as a rose withers in dry weather, but when the dew comes out it becomes fresh again, so too, as long as Esav’s shadow exists, Israel appears to be withered in this world; but when Esav’s shadow passes, Israel becomes fresher and fresher.

The Yefeh Kol comments on this Midrash that the rose is the most soft and sensitive of plants, and therefore hot, dry weather has a stronger effect on it. The other side of the coin is that the rose opens very quickly once the weather turns moist – within 24 hours. Here too, the exile of the Jewish people is more severe than that of other peoples, but their redemption will be more dramatic. It will occur all at once, unlike the rise of other nations which proceeds slowly, in stages.

There is another place where Chazal say that the redemption will come in stages. The Yerushalmi (Berachos 4b) says that Rabbi Chiya Rabbah and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were walking together at dawn, and Rabbi Chiya Rabbah said that the redemption of the Jewish people will be similar to the dawn: "So is the redemption of Israel. At first, little by little; and as it continues it gets bigger and bigger."

Some have used this passage as a basis for their claim that the redemption is a long process that will begin before the coming of moshiach, through natural means. However, nothing in this passage or anywhere else indicates that this slow redemption will happen before moshiach comes. The Sages are teaching that the redemption process initiated by moshiach – not beforehand - might have to be in stages so as not to overwhelm us with the full light of redemption all at once, just as the sun rises slowly so as not to overwhelm the eye with so much light all at once.

These two statements of Chazal are no contradiction; they represent the two possible scenarios discussed by the Gemara, Sanhedrin 98a. The Gemara there quotes the verse, "I am Hashem, in its time I will hasten it" (Yishaya 60:22) and expounds: if the Jewish people deserve it, Hashem will hasten the redemption, and if they do not deserve it, it will come in its time. If the Jewish people deserves it, moshiach will come "with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13); if not, he will come as "a poor man riding a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9). But note that both of these scenarios involve moshiach; there is no statement that the redemption will begin without moshiach.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874) was one of the founders of the Chovevei Tzion movement, and in his 1862 book Derishas Tzion he did indeed interpret the Yerushalmi to mean that Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel could be the beginning of the redemption. But even he made clear that this did not include fighting wars and conquering the land from the gentiles, which would be prohibited under the oaths:

Regarding the oath of G-d, which forms the basis for people who retreat from listening to the words of the prophet – “Do not give Him silence until He establishes and makes Jerusalem the praise of the earth” (Yishaya 62:7) – I will respond to you in two ways: Firstly, the warning “do not arouse or awaken” (Shir Hashirim 2:7) only means that we may not go up with a strong hand to the walls of Jerusalem, as it is explicitly stated in the Gemara there (Kesubos 111a) “that they must not go up as walls” and Rashi explains “with strength”; and also that they must not rebel against the nations; but rather they must wait for the kindness of Hashem, that He turn His eye of mercy to us, if He is pleased with the work of our hands. He only made us swear not to engage in forceful immigration, to go up to the mountain with strength, but to desire its stones and to settle the land is fine, and there is no greater mitzvah than this, as I have explained at length. (Maamar Kadishin p. 35b)

One of the letters of commendation on Derishas Tzion is from Rabbi Chaim David Chazan, the Rishon Letzion (Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem under the Ottoman empire). He writes in the letter:

Not by might and not by power, G-d forbid, to rebel against the nations of the world, the benevolent kings who surround us; or, G-d forbid, to go up against the walls, to fight with the rulers; but rather to fulfill our desire and perfect our hearts, to fulfill the will of G-d, by arousing from below, by doing what we have the power to do, with G-d’s help and the help of benevolent kings and their complete willingness.

Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Reines (1839-1915) was a leader of Chovevei Tzion and the founder of the Mizrachi movement. In 1902 he published a book called Ohr Chadash Al Tzion calling for settlement in Eretz Yisroel, but cautioning (p. 240) that it must not violate the oaths:

What is the point of Chanukah? Seemingly, there is no lesson for us to learn from it for our generations, for then all the miracles took place only after they arose on their own and fought the war of Hashem, but if we try to imitate the actions of our forefathers of that time, coming out with a battle cry and defeating out enemies, these actions would obviously be forbidden to us, since the Holy One, blessed is He, severely foreswore us not to push for the end of exile by force. But we can learn from the story to work to better the state of the Jewish people and settle it on its land, for this is its honor and the honor of its Torah. And this can take place even now, in acceptable and permissible ways.

In his Sefer Haarachim (pp. 298-299), Rabbi Reines explains that the Ramban in Sefer Hamitzvos advocates “conquering” Eretz Yisroel only in a peaceful way:

We must ask on the Ramban: How is it possible to say that there is a mitzvah on us to expel the Ishmaelite kingdom? Are we not foresworn not to go up as a wall (Kesubos 111a)? Yet the Ramban holds that the mitzvah of conquest applies even during exile, when the land is not under Jewish rule. The answer is that the Ramban means conquest by purchase, that it is a mitzvah to buy land in Eretz Yisroel and to settle there, for conquest does not have to mean through war.