Monday, November 29, 2004


When we were in NCSY, a Rabbi named Butler often delivered a homily that took as its inspiration a scene from parshas Va'yishlach. It went something like this:

"On the night Yaakov (or Yankuf if you are from Williamsburg) was attacked by the man/angel he was alone on the far side of the Jabbuk stream. Why was he separated from his family? According to Rashi, Yaakov went back alone to collect some small jugs and 'from here we learn that the righteous treat their property with care.'"

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, explains that the righteous attach great importance to their possessions because the righteous understand (editor's note: um, now, all of us understand it, don't we? I mean I do, anyway.) that any material object can be used to serve God. NCSY is similar. Just as Yakov went back for the small jugs (and here Rabibi Butler would break into a sing-song) because he knew the jugs had great potential, so to do we, in NCSY, go back for the least and the smallest of our people. They also have great potential, potential they can realize only with our help."

Like I said, we heard this speech at least10 million times. We can even mimic Butler’s smug expression and the funny arm movements.

So imagine, if you can, our glee when we discovered that Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Lunshitz (the Kli Yakar) disagrees with Rashi, and Rabbi Butler, and even (if you can believe it) the hasidic Rabbi from Novominsker. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim says Yaakov’s preoccupation with his possessions was not proof he was rightuous. Rather is was an expression of spiritual blindness, and that it was this blindness that made Yaakov susceptible to the man/angel's attack.

You may not agree, but we like biblical commentary that makes the patriarchs more human. We prefer the Kli Yakar’s Yaakov. We can relate to a Yaakov who is spiritually blind. We can aspire to be like a Yaakov who overcomes his handicap.

Rabbi Butler’s Yaakov is too perfect, too idealistic, and (like his conception of NCSY, as it turned out) not entirely believable.

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