by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
And the children grew; and Esav was a man who knew how to trap, a man of
the fields, but Yaakov was a simple man, a dweller in tents." [25:27]
The commentator Rashi explains the contrast between Esav and Yaakov. Esav
"knew how to trap" -- to trap and trick his father with his words. He would
ask his father Yitzchak how one tithes salt or straw (which are not and
were not tithed in the Land of Israel), causing his father to believe that
he was careful to perform Mitzvos. Meanwhile, Yaakov was not like this at
all -- "like his heart was his mouth." A person who is not sharp enough to
perform trickery, says Rashi, is called "simple."
The Chozeh MiLublin, the "Seer of Lublin," sees a contradiction between the
above explanation and Rashi's own comments on a later verse. "And Yaakov
told Rachel that he was her father's brother, that he was a son of Rivkah,
and she ran and told this to her father." [29:12] Yaakov was her father's
nephew, but Rashi explains that "brother" can mean a close relative rather
than a literal brother. Avraham described himself as a "brother" to his
nephew Lot in 13:8 -- "for men, brothers are we." But in addition, Rashi
quotes a Medrash which indicates that Yaakov was saying: "if he is coming
to perform trickery, I am his brother in trickery, and if he is a 'Kosher'
person, then I too am the son of Rivka his sister, who is 'Kosher.'"
Asks the Chozeh: how can this be? Rashi himself said that Yaakov was called
"simple," meaning that he was not sharp enough to perform trickery. Was he
a simple man, or was he the equal of Lavan in trickery and deceit?
Our Sages say in the Medrash: "any person who makes himself merciful in a
place where he needs to be cruel, will in the end be cruel in a situation
where he should be merciful." This, says the Chozeh MiLublin, is the answer
to our question. A person needs to know how to conduct himself, and how to
control every characteristic. Sometimes a person needs to behave one way,
and sometimes the exact opposite -- but in all cases for the sake of
Heaven. This, he says, is what the verse means when it describes Yaakov as
a "simple man" -- not merely simple. He was an adult, not a child unable to
control his behavior. Yaakov was the master of his traits; his trait of
simplicity did not rule over him. He was in full possession of the great
trait of "simplicity," yet he knew its place.
We are, of course, here to discuss Torah, not current events. As every
reader knows, at Torah.org we focus on learning and discussing Torah,
without divisive politics. I am not going to depart from that here. But I
believe that we can look into recent events and see the vision of the
Medrash, "any person who makes himself merciful in a place where he needs
to be cruel, will in the end be cruel in a situation where he should be
merciful," clearly -- and sadly -- reflected upon reality. There is a
corollary: "he who is merciful to the wicked, will in the end be wicked to
the merciful." Laud your enemies, and you will eventually condemn your
For seven years, the Peace Process has been the subject of vigorous debate.
We all agree that it would be a great benefit if Israel's Jews were able to
live at peace with the Arab population of the Middle East. And we all know
that it is possible to make peace with former enemies. Thus the possibility
existed for the debate to be vigorous, but yet civil. Yet, as we know, this
is not what happened.
What happened instead was that the advocates of the process were called
"traitors," while those opposed were called "enemies of peace." The
horrendous act of Yigal Amir, the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, muted
those in the first group -- but the second group was never muted. Even
Recently, a "noted Jewish leader" (name omitted to protect the guilty) said
in a speech here in Baltimore that he viewed "Jewish religious extremists"
as a "mirror copy" of Islamic zealots, because both are opposed to the
Peace Process. We will set aside the fact that those commonly regarded as
the "religious extremists" in the Jewish community are not those identified
with the political hard right in Israel. [That right wing is part secular,
part religious-Nationalist; given that an inflammatory description makes it
easier to marginalize the views of those thus characterized, one is tempted
to speculate that rhetoric took precedence over accuracy.]
Let us think for a moment, however, about the idea that these "extremists"
are a "mirror copy" of those on the Arab side. Why are many Jews opposed to
the Peace Process? Some, of course, do not believe that the State of Israel
should cede land, preferring to live in peace but insisting upon Israeli
sovereignty. Far more commonly, however, one hears an entirely different
view: that this process, bringing an armed Palestinian Authority just a
gunshot away from Jerusalem, is going to lead not to peace, but to the loss
of Jewish lives. In other words, whether or not ceding land might be
possible in the right situation, this process will lead to deaths and war,
not peace. And this is what has motivated their opposition. As for the
"Islamic zealots?" They are very clear about their goal: they desire that
war, to kill all the Jews of Israel and throw them into the Mediterranean
So on the one hand, we have a group of people who believe in peace, but who
believe that this process has led us in the opposite direction. And on the
other hand, we have a group of people who want to wage war -- to murder
every Jew in Israel.
And -- we have a Jew, a leader of Jews, willing to equate the two. We have
seen the Medrash brought to life. Laud your enemies, and you will
eventually condemn your friends. This is not politics, just reality: only
by placing the goal of an agreement with an enemy, a terrorist and murderer
(at whatever cost) ahead of the true goal -- Peace -- could one possibly
equate the two groups described above. We should never consider peace with
a former enemy impossible -- but should also never forget that our own
unity -- and our own safety -- comes first.
One might have thought that the past weeks would have changed this
attitude. Regardless of whether or not one considers the process "dead,"
certainly much credence has been given to the views of these so-called
"Jewish extremists" who predicted that Arafat and his minions would
inevitably return to war. Apparently it has not. Apparently some in the
Jewish community continue to defend those who firebomb Israeli settlements,
while demonizing other Jews as no different than the Hezbollah or Islamic
We should not be surprised. It's a medrash. But for ourselves, let us
acknowledge that such demonization of other Jews is only possible under the
pull of a profoundly distorted moral compass. We, in the end, all want the
same thing -- peace. And let us remember that our first and greatest
priority must be for peace, love, and brotherhood among our "close
relatives," our fellow Jews -- "for men, brothers are we."