Parshas Vayeitzei 5759 - '98

Outline Vol. 3, # 6

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Yaakov lived twenty years with Lavan, who constantly cheated and abused him. After twenty years, he and his family fled. When Lavan caught up with Yaakov, and searched in vain for his missing idols, Yaakov became angry, and chastised Lavan. As we will see, Yaakov’s speech is a model of restraint and careful wording.

[Undoubtedly, many will find the following extreme. However, it is entirely direct translations and paraphrases from the Ohr Tzafon -- from one of the primary exponents of the Musar (ethical) Movement, and the teacher of an entire generation of Roshei Yeshiva (heads of academies).]

Flee From Strife

from Ohr Tzafon of the Alter of Slobodka (Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel) pp. 192-196

Avraham told Lot that the entire Land was before them. Lot should choose whichever direction he would like to go, and Avraham would go the opposite direction. The reason for the separation was simple. Lot had no qualms about having his animals graze in other people’s property, something abhorrent to Avraham and his men. Rather than constantly face debates over their shepherds’ behavior, it was preferable that they each go their own separate ways.

Not only to extend an argument is a crime, but even one who neglects to search for means to reduce strife is guilty. During the attempted revolt of Korach, Moshe went to appease the perpetrators (Bamidbar [Numbers 16]). Reish Lakish said, "From here we derive that it is a crime to be machzik b’machlokas -- to maintain strife and controversy. As Rav said, ‘All who maintain strife, neglect a command -- ‘Do not be like Korach and his assembly’ ‘ " (Sanhedrin 110). Moshe attempted to placate Korach, but was unsuccessful. He approached Dosan and Aviram, who answered with insolence. Still, he dismissed his own honor and tried to go to their houses peacefully. The Sages said that if Moshe had not done all this, he would have been the guilty party.

These words are amazing. The debate of Korach is considered by the Rabbis to be the most serious rebellion, the epitome of disgrace. Yet -- if Moshe had not done everything in his power to reduce tensions -- he would have been considered the one responsible for the strife.

The Rabbis said (Bereishis Rabah 74) -- (Emulate) the anger of the forefathers, but not the humility of the sons... Where do you see ‘the anger of the forefathers?’ "Yaakov was angry and strove with Lavan" (Bereishis [Genesis 31:36]). You would think that they scuffled or traded punches, but there were only words of appeasement... ‘But not the humility of the sons’ -- from King Dovid. "Dovid fled from Nayos in Ramah, and said before Yonason, ‘What have I done, what is my crime, and what is my guilt before your father, that he seeks my life?’ " (Shmuel 1:20:1)

Dovid tried to show Yonason that Shaul (Yonason’s father) was relentlessly pursuing him. Dovid always behaved towards Shaul with great restraint, never raising a hand against him, even in self-defense. When discussing Shaul’s behavior towards him, Dovid used language similar to the language that Yaakov used, except that he mentioned that Shaul wanted to take his (Dovid’s) life. For employing such shocking words -- although true -- Dovid was taken to task by the sages.

Angry responses should always be discouraged; we must seek appeasement. Even though Dovid constantly put himself down before Shaul (even calling himself "a dead dog, a flea") once he used the shocking expression, he was criticized. Think how our angry arguments and self-justifications -- often employing over-emphasis, exaggeration or revealing of sensitive information -- actually appear!

Now consider Yaakov’s situation. For twenty years he suffered all kinds of treachery and abuse. Even after Lavan had pursued him in order to kill him, engaged him in complaints and severe insults, Yaakov continued to use soft expressions of appeasement. He defended himself as if he had been considered a guilty party.

Amazingly, the Torah refers to this as Yaakov’s ‘strife’. For Yaakov, however, this strife is acceptable, and the Rabbis praised it: "(Emulate) the anger of the forefathers." The lesson is that, in any other format, the self-defense would not have been acceptable. Excuses and self-justification inevitably implicate others, but the Rabbis said: "(Be of the) shamed but not shaming, hearing one’s reproach but not responding" (Shabbos 88). That is to say -- do not respond at all to reproach and insult, even out of defense and justification. The answer of Yaakov was called "strife" and "anger," as in "the anger of the forefathers..."

We are not only addressing one who speaks at the time of strife, but even one coming humbly to appease, if he mentions something insensitive or unbecoming, he nullifies all his words and degrades them to a plane lower than the level of "anger."


Due to computer failure, Haaros and Chodshei Hashanah were briefly interrupted. Several readers have submitted questions, and we will attempt to address them next week, in the continuation of "Sein Tal Umatar."

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Beis Medrash Yeshivas Chafetz Chayim Kiryas Radin

11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: yaakovb@torah.org

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.