[By Eli Berger]
This past Motzei Shabbos I had the privilege of attending a speech by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Menachem Eichenstein, of Yeshivas Dvar Torah, Yerushalaim. He spoke about the concept of Gadlus (greatness), and how it can be used to defeat those who want to harm us, especially Yishmael. In the wake of the terrible massacre in Har Nof I felt a responsibility to share it.
A primary attribute used to describe Hashem’s middos is that of Gedulah, greatness. Divrei Hayamim(29,11) says “Lecha Hashem hagedula vhageverah vhatiferes etc.” Similarly, we find the description of Hashem’s Gedulah in the first beracha of Shemona Esrei , where it is linked with the merit of Avraham Avinu. We refer to Hashem as “Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Velokei Yaakov, Hakel Hagadol Hagibor v’Hanorah”. “Hagadol” refers to Avraham who personified the middah, attribute, of chessed. “Hagibor”, strength and judgment, refers to Yitzchak. The middah of “Norah”, awesome, refers to Yaakov.
As we can see, the midda of Gedula is paralleled to the midda of Chessed, loving-kindness. Avraham Avinu was the paradigm of loving-kindness and is even defined as “Hagadol ba’Anakim”, the greatest among giants (Yehoshua 14:15).
Although the primary attribute of the other Avos was not that of chessed, they still possessed this midda. When we pray “vezocher chasdei avos “, we refer to the fact that Hashem remembers the chessed of the Avos. This includes the chessed of Yitzchak and Yakov. This requires explanation. First, we must explore what it means to be a gadol and how it relates to chessed.
What is a Gadol? At a Bris Mila we bless the child saying “Zeh hakatatan gadol yihiyeh”. This small child, a “katan”, should grow to be big, a “gadol”. One may think that the adjectives katan and gadol refer only to size and age.
Looking more deeply, these words describe the intrinsic essences of people. A katan is someone who is “metzumzam”, constrained. He has only that which he is given. In essence, he is only the animalistic and primordial aspect of a human being. He has only the selfish, base instincts of the animal side of a human. As such, he is preoccupied in fending for and providing for himself. He lacks the Daas, the knowledge and wisdom, to create and innovate outside of his limited faculties.
A Gadol is someone who is a Bar Daas, possesses intellect. He can think, create and innovate. With this quality he is able to rise above the limited confines of the animal. He is someone who is able to reach outside his boundaries and go beyond his limitations. This is our intent when we bless the child at his bris- that he should be a Gadol.
This concept is further illustrated when the Torah refers to the sun as “Meohr hagodol”, the great luminary, in contrast to the moon which is “Meohr hakatan”, the minor luminary. By its very nature, the sun goes beyond its confines in order to give. It shares its light with the world- illuminating both the earth and the moon. In contrast, the moon cannot reach beyond its confines. It can only reflect what it is was given. It is a katan, never generating or creating anything of its own.
Chesed, like Gadlus, is the ability to rise above oneself. It is conquering the base human instinct that compels a person to fend only for himself. Chesed involves having consideration for the needs of others and the will of Hashem. All the Avos, not just Avraham, acquired the middah of chesed, in that they all went beyond their boundaries and their comfort zones to perform Hashem’s will. This is the essence of Gedulah and chessed.
This pertains to our current relationship with Yishmael. Although we are now in the ”fourth galus”, the Galus of Eisav, it seems that the trials of the day come from Yismael. It is helpful to remember that Yishmael was Eisav’s father-in-law. This is explicit in the prayer “Hashem Hashem” recited during Neilah. We beseech Hashem “kalei seir vechosnoh” -destroy Eisav and his father-in-law to enable our return to Tzion.
The Baal Haturim predicted this hundreds of years ago, in his commentary on the Torah. Parshas Chayei Sarah concludes by relating that Yishmael “Al pnei kol echov nofol” which means that he reigned amongst all his brothers. However, the word “nofol” literally means “fell”. The Baal Haturim notes that Parshas Toldos starts off “Veileh toldos Yitzchak” these are the offspring of Yitzchak. The juxtaposition of the two verses is teaching us that only after Yishmael falls can Yitzchak’s children rise, with the coming of Mashiach.
When discussing the marriage of Eisav to Yishmael’s daughter Timnah the Torah specifies that “achos Lotan Timnah” that Timnah was Lotan’s sister-associating Timnah with her brother instead of her father. Chazal pick up on this peculiarity and explain that Yishmael died before the wedding and that her brother, Lotan, married her off. It appears that, for the survival of Bnei Yisrael, Eisav and Yishmael must not be allowed to join their forces.
The terrors of Yishmael can be best described from Hallel. In the paragraph of “Min hameitzar”, we describe Israel’s salvation from three types of enemies that besiege us in ascending order of peril. “Kol goyim sivvovuni, Sabuni gam sivvovuni, Sabuni kidvorim etc. bshem Hashem ki amilam”. The first is “all the nations surround me to attack”, the second is “they surround me and surround me again”, the third, and most terrible is, “they surround me like bees”. What is the nature of this last, greatest peril?
The Brisker Rav explains that when Bnei Yisroel were attacked in the midbar by the Emorim the attack was ”kaasher yakeh hadvorim” like the bees attack. Rashi explains that just like when a bee stings it immediately dies, so too when the Emorim struck us, they immediately died. Although the enemy knows he will immediately die, he still continues to attack. He is on a suicide mission. He destroys himself with his own poisons. He is consumed by his venom of hate, yet he is happy as long as he kills others. Such an irrational foe is terrifying. There is seemingly no way to combat an enemy who embraces his own death and destruction.
Chazal give us a strategy with which to overcome this cruel and terrifying enemy. The Torah calls Yishmael a “Pereh adam”, a wild-ass of a man. This man has no inhibitions. He breeches all comfort zones robbing, plundering, and killing with no remorse. He goes out of the boundaries of societal norms, of the norms of humanity.
Our strategy must be to “fight fire with fire”. We must use the fire of boundless chesed, to defeat the fire of Yishmael’s boundless hate. We must be Gedolim, Baalei Chesed. We must go beyond our own boundaries and norms in dedication to Hashem and our fellow man. We must strengthen ourselves and add whatever we can to that which we are already doing, be it in learning, davening, tzedakah, and loving-kindness. With that merit we should be zoche to defeat those who try to harm us.