Parsha Vayeitzei 5767: Distinguishing Good from Evil, Compassion from Cruelty…

Parsha Vayeitzei 5767: Distinguishing Good from Evil, Compassion from Cruelty

by Moshe Burt

In last week’s Parsha Toldos, we learned about Rivka, who rose above an evil environment while internalizing it’s insights and was thus well positioned to urge Yaakov to claim the Bracha, and about Yaakov, the “Ish Tam”. We learn that Yaakov was “totally honest, a man of great integrity”, who was master over the trait of being “tam”, a “‘plain man’, … without trickery, but he did not allow this character trait to dominate him. He knew when and where to act otherwise.”

We later learned that Yaakov told Rachel “‘…that he was her father’s kinsman’, according to the Sages, ‘If he has come to be sly, I am his kinsman in being sly.'”

The Hozeh of Lublin quotes the Sages saying; “Whoever is compassionate where he should be cruel will eventually be cruel where should be compassionate.” He continued by saying that “a person needs to be master over all of his traits. If he fails to apply so-called negative traits in their proper times, he will end up applying them when it is wrong to do so.” “A person needs to know how to act in different circumstances, sometimes one way to further the will of Hashem and other times the exact opposite way for the same end.” (“Growth Through Torah” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin on Parsha Toldos, pages 62-63, “Torah Gems” by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, on Parsha Toldos, page 203)

And so today, again and again we see this Talmudic adage played out; “Whoever is compassionate where he should be cruel will eventually be cruel where should be compassionate.” One example, amongst countless many which could be cited today; the government of Israel calls off a military action in Gaza due to human shields around a terrorist leader while the children of Sderot must cower in fear, either with their heads beneath their hands in a fetal-like position on the floor or under their concrete desks, because Sderot’s lack of affluence makes them low-priority citzens vs their more upscale, affluent Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva counterparts.

So, we learn about Lavan who ran to greet Yaakov, hugging and kissing him and bringing him to his house. We see that while Lavan appeared extremely loving and warm, he was not acting out of brotherly, familial love when embracing Yaakov. The fact was that the knivving Lavan, expecting a rerun of the gifts showered upon his family by Eliezer when he came to acquire Rifka as Yitzchak’s Shidduch, instead saw an empty-handed Yaakov and subjected him to a full-body grope searching for goodies. Maybe there was gold under them thare garments, or maybe Yaakov was hiding diamonds in his mouth.

Rav Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” expresses the importance of judging people favorably. But he then goes on to quote Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz who says that “if someone is an evil person we are obligated to judge him unfavorably. Some people may find this rather harsh, but that is the reality: with evil people assume the worst. (Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz; Daas Torah: Breish’t, Pge. 192)”

Rav Pliskin continues that “we need to master the ability of seeing the good in the bad and the bad in the good. Then we need to know when to use each ability. Judging an evil person on the side of merit is not a virtue but a fault. Failure to be on guard to protect yourself from a deceitful person can cause you and others much damage and heartache. … The way of the Torah is to use wisdom to know when to assume negative motivations and when to judge others favorably.”

While Rav Pliskin says that it’s unfortunate “…that many people fail to judge others favorably when they really should”, he also says that the opposite, the tendency “…of believing everyone is considered … to be the attribute of a fool.” (Growth Through Torah, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Parsha Vayeitzei, pages 75-76)

And so, it seems that there is this attribute judging and distinguishing the “good in the bad” favorably and the “bad in the good” negatively. This attribute would seem to go hand-in-hand with applying one’s own positive and negative attributes at the appropriate times, i.e., compassion to the compassionate and cruelty to the evil.

Going hand in hand with the attribute of distinguishing good from evil, when to be compassionate and when cruelty is necessary, is to understand the impact of the message; compassion or cruelty. Therein lies the meaning of a credible deterrent capability on a national level.

We still await in our time, the “Ish Tam”, the “totally honest … man of great integrity”, the master over the trait of being “tam”, the “‘plain man’, … without trickery”, who “knew when and where to act otherwise” but who did not allow this character trait to dominate him. Is he around the corner? Do we know him? Will he come in our lifetime?

May it be in this year and in all future years, that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif — many still seeking their places, our brethren in the North who have had their lives disrupted, been displaced from their homes, their property in many cases destroyed by Katushyas, as well as our dear brother, Jonathan Pollard and the lives of the 3 captive Chayalim are central in our thoughts, prayers, chassadim and actions. May this abominable period of history called hitnatkut be as a bad dream, be retified — our brethren made whole and may hitnatkut be expunged from collective consciousness yet it’s evil never forgotten.

May we be zocha in this coming year to take giant steps toward fulfilling Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, “Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of the Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.