Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“After that his brother [Yaakov] emerged with this hand grasping onto the heel of Eisav …” (Bereishis 25:26)



The great tzaddik of Lelov explains that Yaakov and Eisav each wanted to be the first to emerge, in order to be halachically deemed as the firstborn. Ultimately, Eisav emerged first, meriting the birthright. The question is: Why do we need to know that Yaakov was holding on to the heel of Eisav? What is its significance?

The Lelover answers that such is the way of tzaddikim. Even after a tzaddik realizes that he will not be able to accomplish that which he aspired to do, he is not a defeatist and does not concede; When Yaakov saw that Eisav had emerged first and he, in fact, would be the bechor with all its concomitant spiritual benefits. Although instinctively Yaakov was aware that he would not be able to change reality, he was unwilling to settle and did not abandon his dream of acquiring the birthright. By holding on to the heel of Eisav, Yaakov exhibited the hishtadlus (effort) of a person who is not yet ready to surrender. In the merit of his perseverance, Yaakov eventually did win the birthright.

We learn similarly from the repetition of the words in Tehillim (27:14), “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself … and hope to Hashem,” that when one prays for something specific and his entreaty is not answered, he should not give up. Rather he should renew his hope and pray again.

The Talmud (Sotah 37b) relates that when the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea, the tribes argued with each other who would jump in first. Then the tribe of Binyamin plunged into the sea, and the tribe of Yehuda stoned them for descending first. Binyamin merited to serve as the host of the Divine Presence, as the Bais HaMikdash was built in his territory, as stated in the brachos of Moshe (Devarim 33:12), “He rests between his shoulders.” Once Binyamin had taken the initiative, all the other tribes lost that merit. The tribe of Yehuda, though, like Yaakov, did not accept defeat. They were upset that they had lost the opportunity to be first and exchanged blows with Binyamin. They too were rewarded for their actions by having parts of the Temple complex in their portion of land.

Our sages tell us that the daughters of Tzlafchad had a strong love for the Land of Israel. As such, they were not willing to surrender their father’s portion in the Land of Israel, just because he had died without sons. They therefore came to Moshe to demand his portion.

We read in the morning prayer of yigdal, “By the end of days He will send our moshiach to redeem those longing for His final salvation.” The Eitz Yosef comments that one who did not believe, and despaired of his arrival, will not merit that salvation.

Our rabbis tell us, “Nothing stops an individual who is strong-willed.” The famous R’ Zusha of Anipoli was once riding in a wagon loaded with merchandise when the wagon overturned. The driver asked R’ Zusha to please help him reload the wagon, and R’ Zusha said he couldn’t.

The driver then said to him, “Really you could, but you don’t want to.”

When R’ Zusha heard what the wagon driver had said, he remarked, “This is a fundamental lesson concerning the power of one’s determination in the service of Hashem. The lack of passion and resolution will cause a failing in mitzvos and good deeds. If one doesn’t do a mitzvah properly, or does not attempt to fulfill it, the reason might be a lack of enthusiasm and excitement for the mitzvah.”

In the ghetto of Lodz during the Second World War, R’ Simcha Borenstein – a Breslover chossid – was very active in the Lodz ghetto, giving Torah classes, organizing tefillah b’tzibbur, and hosting Seudos Shabbos with zemiros. He was literally a wellspring of hope, spreading light in the darkness of despair.

He was especially devoted to inspiring the younger generation, trying to ignite within them a strong love for Torah and mitzvos, to ensure that they would continue to carry the torch of Torah. Even at a time when the Nazis had forbidden all such activity, R’ Simcha continued.

At that time, when even suspicion of the slightest crime could result in certain death, someone accused R’ Simcha of theft. R’ Simcha could only raise his eyes and heart to Hashem and plea for salvation. Unbelievably, the accuser was found to be the real thief. R’ Simcha was set free, and resumed his holy work. His mesiras nefesh not to give up was an inspiration to everyone.

R’ Simcha, unfortunately, did not survive the war. When the war was over, though, his sister who had miraculously survived, came to the ghetto looking for some memento of her brother. As she searched among the ruins, she was shocked to recognize her brother’s handwriting on a bundle of letters that she discovered. The writings contained words of emunah and bitachon that he had penned to his brother.

One letter that was particularly poignant read: Today is Lag B’Omer, and here in the ghetto it was an exceptionally difficult day of gloom and despair. In honor of the great day, though, I was able to learn a small piece of the Zohar I had obtained. As I studied it, I fell into a deep sleep, and the great Tanna R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and other great people, including R’ Nachman of Breslov, appeared in my dream.

I remember shouting, “Rebbe, you have forgotten us! The Jews are suffering greatly!” R’ Nachman heard me, and he lifted me up and danced with me, as everyone joined in.

When I awoke I searched for a small sefer of R’ Nachman that I had in my possession and I came across his teaching that said, “Through dancing we sweeten the judgment of the Jewish nation.”


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Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent rav and Torah personality, is a daily radio commentator who has authored over a dozen books, and a renowned speaker recognized for his exceptional ability to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.