Four years this week, Chani Weinroth passed away after a long battle with cancer. The manner in which she dealt with her disease, including her Torah commentary, was an inspiration to many.
In this week’s Torah portion, at the end of a difficult struggle in the darkness of night with the angel, Yaakov is given a new name – Yisrael. Many commentators write that an encounter with evil, or a struggle with the enemy, uplifts a person and grants him new and better inner qualities, improving his essential self. Difficulties serve to make us stronger and reveal hidden positive forces that lie within.
But Chani urged us to handle this idea with care, and wrote as follows: “It is important for me to emphasize that the ‘patent’ of finding what is good in the difficulties we face can only be practiced on ourselves by ourselves. If someone tries to teach me that my disease is a gift, I will get very angry with him. I am not saying that this idea is incorrect. Disease certainly brings a lot of truth to the sufferer, and yet there are things that we are permitted to tell ourselves but that others are forbidden to tell us. A woman can say, ‘I am such a fatty,’ but heaven forbid that her husband will validate this . . . When someone complains about suffering, he does not need us to teach him how much blessing there is in it. That is not our job. Instead, our job is to identify with him and to share in his pain, not to minimize it. Do not approach someone in pain and say ‘A trial like this makes you stronger.’ Be empathetic, inclusive, and offer help.
“Still, speaking personally, when something bad happens to us, it would be worthwhile to invest serious thought in finding the good in the difficulty we face. It would also be worthwhile to try and see, strictly among ourselves, how we can grow from the experience.”
What Does an Evil Person Look Like?
We tell our children not to take candy from a stranger in the street. But most of the abuse of children is perpetrated by someone they know. This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp: The evildoer does not always look evil. Sometimes he’s a pleasant looking gentleman in a suit. Again and again we hear of sordid behavior on the part of well known and seemingly upright and successful people, and each time we are surprised anew.
Our commentators pause in their assessment of Esau. We picture the hunter Esau as a violent man, barbaric and repellent. Someone from whom we would recoil in the street. But Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, for example, argues that we should not ignore the fact that Esau was an impressive spiritual leader. In the Torah it is told that he had 400 enthusiastic followers. He was their mentor.
In the words of Rabbi Dessler, Esau was the first person in history to bring this sort of hypocrisy into the world: On the outside, you can be a professor or government minister or rabbi while inside – a wicked Esau. This Torah portion offers us a yearly reminder: We need to check if people in the public eye are everything they seem to be, if they set a good example in their daily lives. We must carefully examine if an undesirable character is hiding behind a mask of charisma and talent, and not be blinded by an outer image.
(Translation by Yehoshua Siskin)