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January 2, 2015

Ascend don’t descend

by Rabbi Dovid Felt


In this weeks Parsha we will read about Yaakov’s demise. As Yaakov’s children approached the Me’aras HaMachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) to bury their father, they were prevented from doing so by Esav. Esav asserting that he had not sold Yaakov all the benefits of the firstborn and since Yaakov had alreadsy buried Leah there, the remaining plot belonged to him. The brothers tried to appease him but he would not relent. Finally they agreed to send Naftali — whose swiftness resembled a deer’s – to run back to Egypt to retrieve the deed and prove the authenticy of the sale. In the meantime, one of Yaakov’s grandsons, Chushim ben Dan, became aware of what was happening. He was called Chushim because he was deaf. Unable to follow the dialogue, Chushim wondered what was going on. The brothers somehow conveyed to him that Uncle Esav was not letting them bury his grandfather until Naftali returned from Egypt. Chushim exclaimed, “And until Naftali returns, grandfather’s body will lie here in disgrace?” This was too much for Chushim to bear. He took a stick and knocked off Esav’s head, allowing the Shevattim to proceed with burying their father Yaakov. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks why was it specifically Chushim who was worried about Yaakov’s honor? What about the rest of Yaakov’s family? Why were they willing to put up with Esav delaying the burial?

Explains Rav Chaim: When Esav first approached the brothers they justified to themselves that it would be better to delay the burial for a short while and deal with Esav politely. But when Esav did not accept their argument, they justified again. After each stage of the dialogue, the brothers gradually got used to the undignified situation and when the suggestion was made to send Naftali to Egypt they had gotten used to the delay in Yaakov’s burial so they acquiesced. Only Chushim, who was not involved at all in the arguments, once informed, recognized the situation for what it was – a disgrace to his grandfather’s honor and hence, only he acted.

Says Rabbi Chaim this story highlights a person’s capacity to acclimate to any situation. While this phenomenon may have a lot of positive outcomes it can also produce inertia and stagnation. Life has to always be about growing and moving forward and as the Vilna Gaon tells us “If man is not ascending he is inevitably descending”

Felt tips
Recognizing our ability to get used any situation necessitates a reexamination of our goals every so often. This is important for us as an individual, as a spouse, as a parent and as a family. Chazal tell us the way to do this is by asking ourselves the same question that Chushim asked “Mai Hai” what is this? The format for change Chazal tell us is through questions. We need to create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions. By seeking answers we can effect change.

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