Do Not Pass
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Edom answered them, “Do not pass
through us or we will go to war with you!’
The Children of Israel answered him, “We
will only take the highway. If either we or
our cattle drink your water, then we will
pay for it. Nothing will cause you harm;
only our feet will we cross.” He answered,
“You may not pass!” (Bamidbar 20:18-20)
Some things just don’t make sense, and
in the way that they don’t make sense, they
teach you a lot about life. This episode
with Edom is one of those cases.
All the Jewish people wanted to do was
cross over the land of Edom on their way to
Eretz Yisroel. They had no territorial acquisition
plans, and the Bnei Edom knew that.
In fact, they were even prepared to spend
some money along the way, in appreciation
for access to their land, to help the local
economy prosper, even though they did not require a single thing from
the people of Edom. They would have been the perfect guests.
Not surprising, the “brother” of Ya’akov said no, perhaps still harboring
an ancient grudge going back to the time that Ya’akov took the blessings
originally intended for Eisav, their ancestor. However, given that they
now talking to a nation that had conquered Egypt, and then had the sea
for them, not to mention that the Shechinah itself traveled amongst the
camp for all to see, refusing the advancing Jewish nation was kind of like
throwing caution to the wind.
But they did it anyhow, and they even threatened to go to war against
the Jewish nation should they decide to ignore Edom’s reply and cross their
land anyways. Of the many traits for which Edom (other than Amalek) is
known, national suicide is not one of them. What were they thinking? Did
they really think that they stood a chance of survival if war actually
People do crazy things. I mean, murder 6,000,000 Jews right before the
eyes of the world, and in the most cruel ways possible? Did not Hitler,
ysv”z, think for a second that at some point, his murderous activities
catch up with him, one way or another? Even if he didn’t believe in God,
and the concept of Bris Avos, of the special covenant between God and His
people, what about the rest of mankind? Did he so not believe in their
of conscience that he felt free to do whatever he wanted to the Jewish
The Arab world is different, as was the Christian world before them.
They get around those problems by deluding themselves into believing that,
when they are converting or killing Jews, it is God’s will. In their
are not warring against God when they kill His people, they are, in fact,
fighting God’s war for Him. As far as they are concerned, God is, in fact,
one Who is after the Jewish people, making them His emissaries to catch
them for Him. Talk about self-delusion!
However, the people of Edom in this week’s parshah were about as religious
as Hitler’s national party. They had no delusions about rejecting access
to their land on behalf of God, as opposed to against Him and His people.
Therefore, the question returns: what in the world had they been thinking
when they rejected the request of the advancing Jewish nation, which
had to be out of spite, since it could only have benefited them to say yes?
The truth is, they are not the first nation to which such a question can be
addressed, and they have certainly not been the last. According to the
Leshem, the people of Bavel, in building their tower, had been even more
brazen than Bnei Edom in this week’s parshah. For, in building their tower,
they had planned to usurp power over Creation directly from God Himself
(Sha’arei Leshem, p. 532). And, they knew what they were doing, sort of.
It’s actually a long story, and somewhat deeper than the one portrayed
by the Torah. The physical tower had been, in reality, a Kabbalistic
to take control over the sefirah, in the spiritual realm, that powers and
this world. And, lest we think that they were simply off their Kabbalistic
rocker, let us not forget Who it was Who actually came down to observe,
and befuddle the attempt: the Creator of the Universe Himself!
This would imply that the builders of the tower were not only completely
evil, as the Leshem explains, but they were geniuses as well; evil
They were completely evil because they were prepared to abuse Creation to
suit their own purposes and desires. They were geniuses because it was
profound understanding of how Creation actually works that showed them a
potential path to accomplish their goal, a Kabbalistic loophole within
that God Himself came down to plug.
People don’t like putting the two words together. We’d like to believe
that geniuses cannot be evil, that by virtue of their very genius that
only see truth, and overcome all their evil tendencies, if they have any
We’d like to believe that just by becoming very smart, we can learn to see
reality as it is, and not be fooled by the more confusing aspects of
We’d like to believe this so much that when it comes to evil geniuses, we
tend to ignore their genius part, and simply accentuate their evil part,
we can condemn them and make a separation between them and us.
However, by doing precisely that, we accomplish just the opposite. We
don’t separate ourselves from them, but rather, we make it possible to be
more like them, albeit on a far more subtle level. By disregarding the
of evil and genius fitting together, we ourselves throw caution to the
wind, and make possible the type of intellectual, emotional, and political
errors that have dogged mankind for millennia.
It has to do with character development.
There are two sides to human beings, intellect and emotion. Though
meant to work together, they often work against each other. And, though the
intellect can be advanced by simply accumulating knowledge, the emotions
develop based upon life’s experiences, our interpretation of them, and our
processing of what we learn through them. As a result, the two processes do
not necessarily, or even usually, develop in tandem.
In other words, though technical education can consistently increase and
expand one’s intellect, our life’s experiences can either do the same for
emotions, or stunt them, God forbid. Hence, whereas a healthy upbringing
can result in an intellectually and emotionally developed individual,
citizens of any society, an unhealthy upbringing can result in just the
producing a person that is either intellectually or emotionally
Thus, we find, there are basically four categories of adults. There are
those who are intellectually and emotionally mature: they make great
spouses, great parents, great bosses, and great leaders. There are those
are intellectually and emotionally underdeveloped, and tragically, they
have little to offer society, and society usually has little to offer them.
They can be totally harmless, or totally harmful.
Then, there are those who intellectually underdeveloped, but emotionally
developed. They may not be smart people, but they are usually nice
people, have integrity and are quite reliable. Being emotionally mature,
can sense that there is more to know in life, and will often pursue it,
more like the first group as a result.
Then, there is the last group, the most manipulative and dangerous of all
human beings: intellectually developed, but emotionally immature. They are
smart, and know a lot, except that, having the emotions of a child, they
to use their knowledge in terms of getting what it is they want at any
moment, with little or no regard for the consequences. All their
knowledge is “filtered” through their emotions, which automatically distort
it, and blind them to the true, inner meaning of what they know.
Such people become the evil geniuses of history. They become the
builders of towers that take advantage of Godly knowledge, to challenge
God Himself. They are the Hitlers of history, who know how to take
of peoples’ weaknesses and their own strengths, to manipulate the
world according to their will. And, to their own self-destructive
they end up becoming the victim of their own manipulation, which other
people will put up with for only so long.
It’s like watching a crime take place in a subway station. If there are few
other people around, and the place is quiet, the noise that accompanies the
vision penetrates us, makes us feel very uneasy, and more than likely, it
pushes us to spring into action. It is hard to just look the other way
is just you and the event occupying the same place, even if it is
the far end of the platform.
However, if the station is crowded and noisy, even though you can see
what is happening just as clear as you could in the previous example, all
the noise that is now taking place at the same time somehow mitigates, in
our minds, the seriousness of the situation. Not being able to hear clearly
what our eyes are seeing somehow lessens the impact of what we know to
be occurring, leaving us feeling less of a need to get involved.
For evil geniuses, their emotions make so much noise that they can’t
hear what their minds are saying. Indeed, their emotions tend to drown out
their thoughts, or would-be thoughts, if the person merely took the time to
consider the implications of their knowledge. Which of course they don’t,
and won’t, allowing them to develop into the evil geniuses that they
become. Eventually, their perception of reality becomes so distorted that
they end up doing things that become the source of their own undoing.
Hence, though the pressure being put on Israel to acquiesce to the demands
of the Palestinian people and the Arab world do not make sense,
speaking, they do make sense, to the Western world, emotionally-
speaking. As the Arab world predicted, the Western world has neither
the patience or the stomach for Islamic radicalism, and therefore they are
giving into Arab demands, at the cost of the security of the Jewish people,
just to put an end to the Middle-East conflict any way possible.
There are people from that world who are calling out against this approach.
They know and understand the risks of standing up on behalf of the
State of Israel against the Arab world and its Western allies, but they do
anyhow, as a matter of principle, and of right and wrong. Being
and emotionally mature, they see no other approach to a life that is
based on integrity.
President Obama, and his men I suspect, do not fit into this category. If
you go back and review his campaign, and how he has acted since taking
office, you can see a kid at heart, which for the rest of the kids-at-
heart, is a
very refreshing change in the White House. Late night talk shows? Give me
It is the reason why, amongst recent Presidents (other than Slick Willy
Clinton), he acts the least presidential. For, the President of the United
of America is a world leader, and world leaders must be both intellectually
and emotionally developed. President Obama may be very smart, but
he is showing signs of not quite being there.
That is not good. World leaders who lack emotional maturity can become
very manipulative, and consumed by their own power and ability to
affect the course of history. They make sacrifices, but usually the wrong
ones, catering instead to what feels good to themselves, and the people who
elect them into power. That is clearly the case today in the United States
As the Talmud states:
It has been taught, Rebi Nechemiah said, “In the generation in which
Ben Dovid will arrive impudence will increase, esteem be perverted (i.e.,
none shall esteem another, or even the most esteemed shall be perverted
and deceitful) … and the kingdom will be converted to heresy with none
to rebuke them.” This supports Rav Yitzchak, who said, “Ben David will
not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics.”
Unfortunately, it seems, it is a shoe that fits all too well, and one which
we wear too easily.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.