Do Tzadikim Have it Easy?

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Many people have the notion that, “Tzadikim” have an easy, less bumpy road to travel in life; but the Torah attests that this is not the case. The Biblical heroes, such as the Avot (Patriarchs), were on the highest possible spiritual level but endured trying situations, and often severe and life threatening ones. True, they operated under the protection of Hashem, Who came to their assistance and rescued them from their tormentors but their journeys were harrowing.

It is a myth that becoming religious extricates you from hardship, and this can easily be illustrated in the story of our third forefather, Jacob. He had to occupy the unhappy role of thwarting his father’s intention to give the blessings to Eisav, a role he carried out at the behest of his mother, Rivka. This earned for Yaakov the eternal enmity of his brother, who was gracious enough to await the death of Yitzchak, before he would carry out his plan.

The fear of Eisav forced Yaakov to uproot himself from the secure environment of the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver–whose only focus was on the endeavor, to get the clearest understanding of the abstract moral and ethical considerations–that governed their conduct.

Once Yaakov left the Beit Midrash and entered the turbulent arena of the marketplace, he discovered that it operated by a different set of rules. One could execute a solemn agreement with a father, to work for seven years for, “Rachel your younger daughter”, only to discover on the morning following the wedding night, that under the cover of darkness he had been given the unwanted sister.

Yaakov was able to clear the matter up and to obtain his intended wife, Rachel, by agreeing to work an additional seven years for the unreliable Uncle. But there is a lesson to be learned here. One should not just give up and allow losses to accrue. Yaakov, contended with Lavan to straighten the matter out. The best he could get him to accede to, was giving Rachel for an additional seven years of labor. This meant, that Yaakov had to allow himself to be cheated.

What would any one of us do? Would we just cut our losses and run away? He had been willing to work seven years for Rachel, but now that he has to put in another term of servitude; is it worth it?

But Yaakov made his calculation. Rachel was still worth the price, and he still wanted her. His philosophy was, that you can’t control what others do, and therefore can’t right every wrong. Yaakov concluded, this is not something I really want to do, but my marrying Rachel is an absolute. I absolutely must have Rachel, in order to set up the tribes of the Jewish nation. And if that means that  I have to make an additional, unwarranted payment, so be it. Sometimes, the Jew must allow himself to be exploited for the sake of peace. (But this should not be happening too frequently).

The key thing, is that Yaakov did not run away from his uncle, but actually arranged further agreements regarding how the sheep would be divided, and who would get the plain ones or the striped and speckled ones. Yaakov believed he had a very solid understanding with his father-in-law, regarding these issues, and on that basis, increased the flocks extensively thereby enriching both himself and Lavan.

However, the great success Yaakov enjoyed, did not sit well with Lavon’s sons; who felt that he had benefited himself, at the expense of their father’s possessions. And here, we encounter another  element of Yaakov’s greatness; he did not seek to prolong the agony and vainly hope for more understanding and a kinder approach from his enemies. Rather, Yaakov understood that peace and reconciliation, are not always possible. Not every disagreement can be salvaged and rectified, not every conflict can be resolved; and sometimes complete separation is the intelligent course.

But while Yaakov could walk away from a confrontation with Lavan, he was headed for a more lethal one with Eisav. This was a matter of life and death, as Eisav had vowed that when the time came, he would murder his younger brother. Suddenly, the path of “Strategic Separation” was no longer available. He would have to come face-to-face with his enemy.

Yaakov realized, the emotional vulnerability of his older brother. He was like any person who harbored dreams of glory. He wanted power and recognition. He wanted to be known, as a great man. The world of Torah did not appeal to him, and the notion that he could gain fame within it, was a non-starter. But, ironically, the people that he truly respected, were Avraham, his grandfather, Yitzchak, his father, and others in that circle.

Yaakov believed there was a chance he could win him over, by a sincere display of honor and reverence, for the genuine qualities of Eisav. Yaakov did not disparage his brother for being a hunter. In fact he gave him abundant gifts. These were not presented as handouts, but as a humble desire to express his admiration for his great brother. After organizing his wives children in rows, and the massive gift he had prepared for his brother, Yaakov “went ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother.”

The sight if Yaakov demonstrating these profound emotions on behalf of his brother, had a profound impact. “Eisav ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him; then they wept.” By putting his ego aside completely, Yaakov was able to demonstrate the absolute sincerity of his respect and love for Eisav. The former enemy, was reduced to tears and a great reunion took place.

We should be inspired by this story. Unfortunately many of us have allowed cherished family relationships, and treasured friendships to fall into disrepair. There is nothing more tragic than great love being transformed into enduring hatred.

But it need not be that way. It is just the stubbornness of ego that stands in the way of reconciliation. If we truly value peace and love above all, and we have the ability to be truly humble, we can find the way into the hearts of implacable foes. Our forefathers were able to do so. May we merit to emulate their wise ways.

Shabbat Shalom.