Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lonely Perfection

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Vayivaseir Yaakov levado vayei’oveik ish imo ad alos hashachar - And Yaakov stood alone and a man wrestled with him until morning.” The posuk in this week’s parsha recounts that while Yaakov Avinu was left alone, the angel of Eisav approached to tussle with him. Rashi quotes the Medrash which derives from this verse that Yaakov had returned to this site of his camp to fetch pachim ketanim which he had left behind. It was when he was alone that Eisav’s angel caught up with him.

The sefer Imrei Shefer (Shabbos 21, b) quotes a Medrash which states that in the merit of Yaakov returning for pachim ketanim, the Chashmonaim found a pach shemen with the seal of the Kohein Gadol.

The question is obvious. What does the miracle of Chanukah have to do with the fact that Yaakov left his camp and returned for pachim? Obviously, there is more to this lesson than the use of the words pachim and pach.

Yaakov returned for the small pachim alone, and the inference is that only Yaakov had the presence of mind to return for these small possessions. Lesser people wouldn’t go back for such small, seemingly inconsequential items. But to Yaakov, and to tzaddikim like him, everything in this world is here for a purpose. Nothing here is extra and nothing is inconsequential. They utilize every minute of their lives for noble purposes and to them no period of time is insignificant.

The actual language of the Medrash is that Hashem said to Yaakov that because you were moser nefesh for pachim ketanim for me, I will reward your children with a pach koton in the days of the Chashmonaim.

At first glance, the language stating that Yaakov did this act for Hashem is difficult to understand. After further reflection, however, we can understand it by comprehending that Yaakov returned for the pachim because he recognized that every one of man’s possessions is a gift from Hashem and is given to us to utilize and not waste. To people who value what they have, din perutah kedin me’ah, they treat a penny with the same respect as they treat a hundred dollars. Additionally, they treat all people the same, no matter how simple the people appear to be, because they know that all human beings were created in the image of Hashem.

There is nothing trivial and unimportant. Nothing is overlooked. They seek perfection in all their actions and never cut corners.

Tzaddikim do not fear being alone, if that is the price they must pay for their fidelity to honesty, faithfulness and morality.

Chazal state that because Yaakov was levado, alone, he merited to be saved from Eisav’s angel.

It is interesting to note that it is from this word, levado, in the posuk, that Chazal derive that Yaakov returned for the small items. Perhaps this is the source of the lesson that in the merit of the pachim ketanim, the pach shemen was found. Because the Chashmonaim did not fear being alone in their day, they merited a miraculous deliverance. Most of the Jewish people back then were convinced that they had to compromise with the Hellenists in order to survive. Thus, the Chashmonaim were outnumbered in the smaller and larger pictures of their own community and in the world in general. But they weren’t impressed and remained loyal to their ideals and the truth.

They were like their forefather Yaakov and in that merit they found the untainted small jug with which to light the menorah and thus re-consecrate the Bais Hamikdosh.

The Bnei Chashmonai were not born fighters. In fact, they were descendants of Aharon Hakohein, the quintessential man of peace. They were holy people in whose hearts burned an uncompromising, insatiable desire to rid the world of evil. As we recite in the immortal words of Al Hanisim, they were few and they were weak. But they were righteous. And they had the courage of their convictions. They refused to subjugate themselves to the profane practices and worldview of the Hellenists no matter how unpopular their position was. Under the leadership of Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol, this handful of die-hard tzaddikim and oskei Torah rose up to provide leadership for a dejected, suppressed people. Hashem took note of their courage and self-sacrifice and empowered them with the ability to rally the Bnei Yisroel and to emerge victorious over a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.
Every night of Chanukah, as we light the menorah, we remember this lesson. With its roots branching out from the time Yaakov Avinu had to fend off the angel of Eisav because he was concerned about pachim ketanim, to the avodah of Aharon Hakohein in the Mishkan, the lighting of the menorah is to remind us of Yaakov’s lessons and how Aharon and his family ascended to the kehunah.
At the time of the sin of the eigel, Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, “Mi laHashem eilay - Let all the men of G-d appear before me.” The tribe of Levi rallied to the side of Moshe.
Aharon and his tribe did not take a poll to see which side would win. They didn’t take a head count to try to determine which side would emerge victorious from the battle. Moshe needed them and they rose to the occasion. Hashem caused them to win and beat back the idolaters and thus the plague that threatened the Jewish people was squelched.That same fire for Hashem and His Torah burned in the hearts of his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim, and thanks to them, the forces of evil were defeated. They, too, didn’t check to see which way the wind was blowing before taking action. They were not manipulated by public opinion. They did not seek compromise in the face of the campaign to separate the Jewish people from the Torah.

The Sefer Chashmonaim, Medrash Chanukah, 2, recounts that when Mattisyahu ben Yochanon Kohein Gadol saw that the Jews weren’t able to observe the Torah, he commanded his son Yehudah to go forth to the cities of Yehuda and call out “Mi laHashem eilay,” When they heard the call of “Mi laHashem eilay,” the Maccabim answered without hesitation just as Aharon Hakohein and his tribe. They found the strength within their souls to battle evil and thus caused the spirit of G-d to return to the Bais Hamikdosh.

Therefore, we celebrate the miraculous military victory of Chanukah by lighting the menorah - the same menorah that Aharon Hakohein lit, the same menorah that Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol lit, and the same menorah that our forefathers lit throughout the ages of the exile under Eisav’s progeny. In our day, too, there is a kolah delo posik, a silent call emanating from Sinai and from the Har Habayis and from every bais medrash around the world. “Mi laHashem eilay,” it proclaims. Those of us who light the menorah hear it and answer, “Hininee shalcheini - You can count on me; I will make myself worthy of this mission.” We light the menorah and remind ourselves that we are up to the sacred task.

Too many people seek to advance their own careers and agendas without regard for what is right. People try to gauge which side will win and then line up on that side. As soon as they sense a shift in public opinion, their allegiance does a turnabout. People trade their ideals and commitments in order to not be left standing alone.

People minimize the accomplishments of others and mock them. They aren’t careful with other people’s possessions and don’t appreciate all the blessings that Hashem has granted them. There are those who compromise with evil and rationalize their actions by saying that they must do this to stay a step ahead of the competition and the nations of the world who seek our destruction.

The Ponzi scheme operators who made headlines over the past year seemed to have it all. They possessed fame, wealth, homes, cars, and everything else a ben Olam Hazeh covets. But it didn’t last long. Not for them and not for those whose greed supplanted their good judgment.

So it is with all who seek accommodation with Eisav and his ways. They seem to be enjoying the blessings this world has to offer, but it is all fleeting. Only those who treasure pachim ketanim and their lessons can merit the Divine assistance necessary for true success.

We need to have the strength to be prepared to go it alone and not with the flow. We have to maintain the courage to remain in the dalet amos shel halacha and not necessarily where the crowds and cameras are. We have to know that fame and fortune are not reserved for the pragmatic ones who eschew eternal truths for temporary gain.
We must recognize the lessons Yaakov taught us by returning to retrieve Hashem’s blessings, minute as they were. We must not fear being alone, for when we walk in the valley of loneliness of the principled, upstanding and uncompromising, Hashem will walk alongside us and spare us from the Eisavs of the generation who seek to trip us on our trek through life.


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