Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Walls of My Fortress

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

When Yaakov prepared for his imminent reunion with his wicked brother Esav after twenty-two years of separation, he was seriously concerned. Esav lay in ambush with four hundred armed mercenaries. Consequently, Yaakov prayed, “Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav (Breishis 32:12).” Why did Yaakov mention his relationship with Esav? Did Hashem not know that Esav was Yaakov’s brother?

The Bais HaLevi (ibid.) infers that Yaakov was afraid of two distinct eventualities. Were Esav to behave like his normal, evil self, then Yaakov feared complete physical destruction as Esav had already threatened to murder him (ibid. 27:41). Thus Yaakov divided his family into two, hoping that at least half should escape.

Ironically, though, should Esav act as a beloved brother, Yaakov was equally if not more fearful. For if Esav were to love Yaakov he would no doubt wish to join up with him. In that case, Yaakov would be unable to maintain a separation between his holy lifestyle and the unbridled ways of Esav. Sooner or later, Esav would begin to influence Yaakov and his children, ultimately leading to spiritual destruction. Therefore, Yaakov prayed to Hashem to rescue him from both possible outcomes.

Yaakov’s fears proved to be well founded when Esav subsequently offered to slow down his pace and remain with Yaakov’s family forever (ibid. 33:12). It was only after much diplomatic effort that Yaakov succeeded in convincing Esav that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a great idea after all, and finally Esav went on his merry way.


This, in a nutshell, comprises the story of Chanukah. Unlike our many other enemies who wished to annihilate us physically, the Greeks were our beneficent benefactors. Their intent was merely to influence our holy, unsullied culture with the more "enlightened" and modern mores of the Greeks. "U'fortzu Chomos Migdalai -- They breached the walls of my fortress." The Greeks did not want to destroy our bodies; they were the ultimate soul-snatchers. As such, they were much more dangerous. "One who causes another to sin is worse than if he murdered him (Bamidbar Rabba 21:4)."

(Incidentally, one of the "enlightened" customs of the Greeks was the practice of infanticide. Either as a means of sex-selection, population control, or a method of disposing of deformed babies, the Greeks regularly and without compunction discarded unwanted infants. No wonder the Maccabees felt such revulsion from their mere influence.)

Chanukah is the time to relive the actions of our forbears. To the extent that we protect our homes and families from the adverse influences of the street, we will have ensured the future propagation of the Torah as we received it from Sinai. Our eternal lives are on the line. We cannot afford to be indolent.

"For a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light (Mishlei 6:23)."