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Its ways are ways of pleasantness

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Rabbi Zev Leff

"And Yaakov was very frightened and distressed." (Genesis 32:7)

Rashi comments that Yaakov was frightened lest he or members of his family be killed, and he was distressed that he might be forced to kill others. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks: Why was Yaakov distressed that he might be put into a position of having to kill Esau or one of his 400 wicked companions? Wasn't this an opportunity to rid the world of evil - a reason to rejoice, not to be distressed?

Rabbi Feinstein answers with the words of Beruria to her husband, Rebbe Meir (Talmud - Brachos 10a): Better to pray that evildoers repent than to pray that the wicked die. Yaakov was distressed that he might have to kill to remove evil from the world.

There is an inherent danger in using methods that are normally associated with negative values to achieve desirable goals. The classic example is the sin for the sake of Heaven, which the Talmud (Nazir 10b) says is equal to a Mitzvah done for ulterior motives. The Vilna Gaon asks if so, why do the Sages advise one to engage in the performance of Mitzvos for ulterior motives, and not in the performance of noble sins?

He answers that while the result in both cases may be the same, doing Mitzvos without the proper intention, at least conditions a person to performance of the Mitzvah, and eventually he will perform the Mitzvah with the proper intention. On the other hand, acting in a way that is normally a sin, but which is transformed into a Mitzvah by virtue of the intention with which it is performed, conditions one to the sinful act. And the next time the action is done it might be without the proper intention and remain a sin through and through.

For this reason, immediately after the Torah commands us to destroy a city in which most of the inhabitants have been seduced to idolatry, God tells us He will give us the quality of mercy (Deut. 13:18). Since fulfilling this Mitzvah can condition one to be cruel and merciless, the Chafetz Chaim explains, God promises a special blessing to counteract its effects.

The Midrash relates that Yehudah intended to pass by Tamar when she stood at the crossroads masquerading as a harlot. But God said to Himself, as it were, If you pass by, where will the future kings and prophets come from? From where will Mashiach come? God then sent the angel of desire to force Yehudah to confront Tamar. The Midrash ends that this was done against Yehudah's will and not for his benefit.

The obvious question is if God's purpose was to produce kings, prophets, and ultimately Mashiach himself, how could this action be described as "not for his benefit?" The answer is now clear. The undesirable conduct posed a continuing threat to Yehudah that he might become habituated to such actions.

A person is punished for achieving a desirable result if it could have been done in a way that would bring less pain or discomfort to others. In taking Esav's blessings, Yaakov caused Esav to cry a great and bitter cry. And that cry found its parallel, hundreds of years later, when Esav's descendant Haman caused Mordechai to let out a great and bitter cry.

Similarly, Yaakov castigated Shimon and Levi for using methods stolen from Esau - murder and deception - to accomplish the rescue of Dinah. Part of the remedy for the blemish left by their deeds was that the descendants of Levi became teachers of little children.

Levi made the mistake of thinking that the ends justify the means. In the education of children the exact opposite is true. When we teach a child to perform Mitzvos, we are not concerned with the end, the Mitzvah, since a child's actions are not themselves Mitzvos, but with the means, the performance of Mitzvah actions. These Mitzvah actions, in which a parent is required to educate his child, conditions the child to function in a like manner when he matures. Hence the Mitzvah of chinuch banim (teaching children) is the antithesis of the mistaken ideology that the ends justify the means.

Furthermore, if one utilizes improper means to achieve a Mitzvah, he will be punished if his intentions are not completely pure. Since the action itself is a sin - and only the person's intention transforms it into a Mitzvah - where that intention is lacking, the action reverts to its original status. Thus, when Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi for desecrating God's Name, God Himself had to testify that Pinchas' intentions were pure, to answer the complaint of the tribes that he was a murderer. Had his intentions been tainted, he would, in fact, have been a murderer.

The commentator Sforno (Leviticus 24:23) points out that even when a criminal is executed, the penalty must be inflicted only in fulfillment of God's command, and not out of any personal desire for vengeance. The Jewish king Jehu lost all his reward for wiping out the house of Achav because he too subsequently served idolatry, and thereby showed that his motives were not pure. Since he was not motivated by his disgust with the evil of idolatry, he was nothing more than an ordinary murderer.

In the Amidah prayer we invoke God's curse on the heretics and informers in the blessing "velamalshinim." When this blessing had to be added due to the physical and spiritual persecution the Jews were suffering at the hands of evildoers, Shmuel Hakatan was chosen to compose it, the same Shmuel Hakatan who said, "When your enemy falls, be not glad" (Pirkei Avos 4:24). Although he did no more than quote a verse in Proverbs, Shmuel Hakatan's statement is recorded in Pirkei Avos because he lived it. His entire being and conduct proclaimed the verse. Only one with such pure feelings toward his enemies could compose a prayer calling for their destruction.

The blessing against evildoers was instituted in the Israeli town of Yavneh, writes Rabbi Yaakov Emden, and the name hints to wine, spices, light, and the blessing of havdalah. One should first try to draw the sinner close with joy and happiness and by helping him feel the pleasant savor of Torah and its illumination. Only when all these fail, should he separate himself totally. He should utilize spices to insure that his actions will have a pleasant aroma and not cause a stench. The way to do this is through illumination and enlightenment with the pure light of the candle. Rather than attacking the darkness, one should transform it into light.

Rabbi Chaim Brisker pointed out that there are two types of zealots - one praiseworthy and one not. They can be compared to a housewife and a cat. The housewife and the cat both want to rid the house of mice. There is only one difference: the housewife hopes there will never be another mouse to eliminate; the cat is hopeful that there will be many more mice.

Before we are zealous to attack the evils of the world, let us make sure that we are acting as housewives not as cats, so that we can merit through our ways of pleasantness to attract our estranged brothers to Torah and Mitzvos.

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