By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Rashi in this week’s parsha [Breishis 50, 5] tells of a strange financial discussion. Yaakov Avinu yearned to be buried next to his parents and grandparents in the me’oras hamachpeilah. To ensure that his children wouldn’t have any difficulties realizing his desire, he met with his brother Eisov to negotiate a clear purchase of the plot and.
Rashi relates that Yaakov took the gold and silver he had amassed in the house of Lovon and piled it up on the table. He offered it to Eisov in exchange for burial in the me’arah.
Meforshim are bothered by this encounter; many ask why, if Yaakov was coming to negotiate, would he immediately offer all of his money? Why did he not begin the discussion with a low offer and proceed to raise it if necessary to make the deal? The answer is given that Eisov had a single zechus over his brother, one area in which he’d shone, namely kibbud av. During the years when Yaakov spent in chutz la’aretz, Eisov remained at his father’s side, earning untold merit.
Yaakov was addressing this point, “Eisov,” he told him, “I know that you feel that your eternal place is with our father, since you served him so faithfully while I was away, but know this, the true measure of what a person feels or believes is shown in what he treasures. The fact that I was in chutz la’aretz growing wealthy cannot be held against me if all that money is meaningless to me, so here it is, take it.”
By accepting the money in exchange for the burial spot, Eisov conceded that his primary value was money; in fact gold and silver were more valuable to him than his relationship with his father.
Yaakov Avinu turned the tables on his wily brother, showing his reverence for his father and disdain for the money, earning his eternal place in the hallowed cave of our fathers.
The most common in a long list of hateful anti-Semitic epithets hurled our way throughout the ages is that Jews love money, control the banks and hoard millions in secret accounts.
This Rashi, which is based on a Medrash, through discussion of a brotherly financial deal, sheds light on reality. Kessef, say the seforim, is from the lashon of kissufim, yearnings; because the longing man has to amass worldly goods is a parable for the most meaningful kissufim, the pining of a neshomah for the Divine. Yaakov told Eisov to take the whole pile of gold and silver he slaved for in Lovon’s house, earning his fortune by working through freezing nights and scorching days. However, money is of temporary value, it has no permanence, unless it is invested in eternity. To Yaakov money was a vehicle to enable him to become more attached to the Divine, to Eisov, amassing a fortune was an end into itself.
Being conscious of the point of financial blessings is an extreme nisayon, not all merit passing that test, for often in the process of earning money, man loses sight of what he needs the money for. It is often said that the pitfalls of wealth supersede those of poverty. People become enamored with their wealth, seeing it as an end into itself, and waste it on pursuing temporary pleasures which are soon forgotten, instead of seeking out long-lasting investments in the matters upon which the earth’s existence stands.
A wealthy man expressed his frustration to the Chofetz Chaim on his inability to donate large amounts of money to tzedakah. He said that when he was a poor yeshiva bochur, he pleaded with Hashem to bless him with wealth so that he could generously help people. But when his prayers were answered and he attained financial success, he found himself unable to dip his hand into his pocket for others.
The Chofetz Chaim responded with a moshol about a man who was walking down a street and saw a drunk rolling in the gutter, covered in filth. The passerby shakes his head in disgust, and said, “Were I to drink, I would never behave that way.”
The Chofetz Chaim smiled and explained the fallacy of the man’s smug reasoning. “While he is sober, he has control over his thought process, but when he is drunk, he no longer has control. He isn’t responsible or aware of how he behaves. A person who is sober does not know how he would behave under the influence of alcohol.”
“So too, the poor man has no concept of the pull that money has over its owner, and how much harder it becomes to part with it once he has worked for it. When you were a destitute bochur, you were able to see things clearly, but now, you are controlled by your money, not the clear thoughts of your youth.”
In recent years, even as the economy has entered a tailspin and never really recovered, we have seen individuals in our community rise to this nisayon. Thanks to the generosity of individuals who follow the lesson of Yaakov Avinu, new mosdos have been built, yeshivos opened and expanded, vital initiatives and programs launched to help others.
Ma’asei avos simon lebonim, Yaakov Avinu’s offer to Eisov, is a simon, a sign illuminating our path ever since.
Yosef, and his temptations in the exile, provides inspiration until this very day. Far removed from his father and family, he maintained his integrity and belief despite the many obstacles thrown his way. The Ramban [47, 14] writes that the Torah describes how Yosef Hatzaddik saved the Egyptian economy in order to portray for us not only his wisdom, but to teach that despite all the money that passed through his hands, and the opportunity to siphon some cash for himself, he remained loyal and faithful to his boss.
Through this, he earned the love of the people, because the Ribbono Shel Olam, who bestows grace upon man, provides chein to those who fear Him. Yosef ‘s faithfulness allowed him to be both effective and beloved.
We hear an echo of this Ramban, about the chein bestowed upon those who work with real yiras shomayim, seeing money not as an end, but as a goal to accomplish great things. Those who are selfless in their dedication to the people ultimately earn their respect and love.
The great leaders of prewar yahadus, the revered Chofetz Chaim and the Rav Avrohom Mordechai Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, traveled together by train to the capital city Warsaw for an important mission.
In those days the train would wait some time at each station. Chasidim would pass word to each other along the rebbe’s path, and they would throng to the local stations. For many it represented the best chance to catch a glimpse of their rebbe. As the train approached the first stop, the rebbe’s gabbai came to tell him that they were almost at the station. The rebbe rose to oblige the people waiting on the platform. The rebbe asked the Chofetz Chaim to join him, but the elderly giant said he was worried that the kovod received from so many people, would affect him. He said he would remain in his seat.
The rebbe said to the Chofetz Chaim that, “For ‘yidden’s veggen,‘ to satisfy the sincere, authentic will of Jews to express kovod haTorah, it’s worth enduring the heat of Gehinnom…”
Upon hearing that, the Chofetz Chaim linked arms with the rebbe, joining him. To benefit Yidden, he was also prepared to suffer. Together they stepped out at that station, and each subsequent one on the way to their destination.
Two humble giants, sacrificing their own inhibitions for the benefit of others. Such is Jewish leadership throughout the ages, giants overcoming their own reticence and desire for privacy and personal growth to the needs of the time, never deriving any benefit for themselves.
In the news, we read about how the newly re-empowered president is playing class warfare, seeking to divide the people along lines of financial success, under the guise of righting the economy. There is no one who thinks that raising taxes in a time of economic uncertainty will encourage people to spend money and fuel growth. Were the government to take all the money of all the rich people, it still would be enough to fund the government for eight days. But the president and his allies in politics, the media and intelligentsia, press on with the plan because their primary interest does not concern the country’s economic health, but rather their own narrow agenda.
That type of poor leadership is inadequate and cannot lead to long term success.
After much public consternation, Secretary of State Clinton appointed a commission to investigate what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11 and attach blame. The report was released last week; Clinton wasn’t even interviewed and is totally exonerated. That is because no one seems to really care about what happened and what went wrong there leading to the death of four Americans including the US ambassador to Libya. So we have yet another beurocratic report, another set of recommendations that will be ignored. The president escapes blame for the lies he told, as does Mrs. Clinton for the failings of her office. Obama is free to ignore Benghazi and Clinton’s road to the presidency in 2016 remains cleared. Republicans are tongue tied.
Obama is reportedly planning on nominating former senator Chuck Hagel to the position of defense secretary, though he is a notorious anti-Semite. Politicians who pride themselves on their fidelity to Israel and Jewish causes remain remarkably quiet on the selection, lest they incur the administration’s wrath. Once again they prove that their prime motivation is personal advancement and enrichment. Examples abound in all areas of public service of people in leadership positions acting irresponsibly. Ultimately the communal welfare suffers and leaders are thought of derisively.
The cornerstone of this parsha, the close to the drama and the highs and lows of Sefer Breishis, are the Birkos Yaakov. The father of our nation gathered his children around his bed, and addressed each one, with brachos that would define the unique role each sheivet would play in our people’s history.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky explains that they are referred to as “Birkos Yaakov” when upon examination you can readily see that some of the shevotim didn’t receive brachos at all, but mussar! This is because the fact that Yaakov realized and appreciated that each of his sons was a distinct personality with unique character traits and middos, is in itself a brochah. A parental perspective that celebrates differences and allows people to flourish with their individual gifts will result in brochah for those children.
In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem to open for him the gates of righteousness, “Zeh hasha’ar l’Hashem –this is the gate of Hashem.” Commentators question why Dovid uses the singular “Zeh,” referring to the gate of Hashem, but then asks that the gates should be opened for him, in the plural “pis’chu li sha‘arei tzedek.” An answer is given that the gematriah of “zeh” equals 12, a hint to the twelve paths of the shevotim which all led to one focal point, the sha’ar l’Hashem. Yaakov Avinu enabled each one of his sons to maximize their gifts and contribute their abilities and strengths to each other. Because each shared selflessly with the others, from twelve individuals, shevotim were created and a nation was born.
When we all contribute what Hashem blessed us with for the benefit of each other, we gain and the community gains. When we give selflessly we grow, we cause each other to grow and enable success to take root.
One of the most popular columns in The Yated is the Chinuch Roundtable. It is worth mentioning that this week marks the two hundred and fiftieth edition of the column, representing five years of providing experience, counsel, empathy and direction to the parents of a nation who want to be mechaneich their children properly.
The educators who comprise the roundtable are all busy people with the responsibility for mosdos, talmidim, and in many cases, they are responsible for daunting financial burdens as well, yet they find the time and energy to respond to their searching questioners. They live with a responsibility to help every Yid they possibly can. They don’t just teach and lead, they inspire.
They embody the teaching of the Medrash that Hakadosh Boruch Hu didn’t trust our biblical leaders with public responsibility until they displayed dedication to the individual sheep, really feeling the thirst and desperation of His creatures. The panelists care for each parent and each talmid.
We are honored to be the vehicle for their ideas, messages and insights. May the zechus harabbim stand by them, their families and their students, bringing them brocha and hatzlacha.
May Hakadosh Boruch Hu shower our people with parnossah b’revach, and may our roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, mechanchim and askonim continue to do, build, expand and merit the ultimate redemption, which will sooon be upon us in the merit of this great mitzvah, v’shavehah b’tzedakah.