The Parsha ends with an account of the genealogy of Esav. This is the birth of Amalek, the progenitor of the nation that would constantly strive to destroy Klal Israel. “And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz and Eliphaz gave birth to Amalek.. ((Vayishlach, 36:12))” The Gemara in Sanhedrin informs us of the background to this occurrence. “Timna was a Princess, but she wanted to convert. She came to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov [to convert] but they would not accept her. She then became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Esav. She said that it was better to be a maidservant to this nation rather than be a powerful woman in another nation. Amalek, who would cause Israel great pain, was born from her. What is the reason [that this incident produced Amalek]? Because the Avot should not have distanced her.(( Sanhedrin, 99b.))” They should have allowed her to convert ((Rashi ibid.)).
Evidently the Avot had sufficient reason to reject Timna’s efforts to join our nation. They were aware of the evil within Timna’s nature ((See Rif in Iyun Yaakov, Sanhedrin, 99b who offers a different explanation why the Avot rejected Timna. He explains that she was a mamzeret and they were concerned that if she joined the Jewish people nobody would want to marry her because of her tainted linage.)). Consequently, they refused to allow her to join the Jewish people. Accordingly, why were they punished so harshly for their seemingly correct decision? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l explains that we learn from here that no matter how bad a person is, one should not totally reject him ((Sichos Mussar, Parshat Pinchar, Maamer 85. The one exception to this rule seems to be when the wayward person seriously threatens the spiritual well-being of those around him. This explains why Avraham banished Yishmael because Yishmael constituted a grave threat to Yitzchak Avinu. In a similar vein it is said in the name of the Chazon Ish that a bachur in Yeshiva is comparable to a sick person in hospital. Throwing a bachur out of Yeshiva is comparable to throwing a sick person out of hospital! The one exception he made was if the sick person’s disease is contagious and threatens the health of everyone else. So too, a wayward bachur should only be thrown out if his actions can seriously effect his fellow bachurim.)). It seems that the explanation for this is that as long as there remains any hope that the person will improve his ways it is forbidden to distance him, allowing him to do teshuva. There was enough hidden potential within Timna that justified allowing her to join Klal Israel.
We learn a similar lesson with regards to Avraham Avinu’s relationship with his nephew Lot. Avraham only split up with Lot when dissention threatened to harm their relationship. Avraham did not receive prophecy while Lot was with him due to Lot’s presence. Nonetheless, Avraham refrained from distancing Lot until he perceived that there was no hope of preventing Lot’s downfall. Despite all of Avraham’s efforts and self-sacrifice in helping Lot, Chazal still criticize him for distancing his nephew. “Rav Yehuda says, there was anger against Avraham Avinu at the time that he separated his nephew from him; Hashem said, ‘He clings to everyone but to his own nephew he does not cling?!’ ((Bereishit Rabbah, Ch.41:8.))” Even though Avraham made great efforts to influence Lot and was even prepared to lose the gift of prophecy in order to influence him, nonetheless he is criticized for sending him away ((See Maamer 85 in full for other examples of this principle))..
We have seen how it is incorrect to reject someone if there is any chance of saving him. What then is the correct approach to dealing with this difficult issue? The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh sheds light on how to deal with a wayward child in his explanation of why Yitzchak wanted to bless Esav instead of Yaakov. He argues that Yitzchak was totally aware of Esav’s low spiritual level, and he nevertheless wanted to give him the Berachot. “The reason that Yitzchak wanted to bless EsavHarasha was that he believed that through receiving the blessings, Esav would change for the good and improve his ways, because righteous people feel pain when their children do evil and Yitzchak was trying to help him improve his ways. And it is possible that it would have worked. (( Ohr HaChaim, Toldot, 27:1.
))” The Ohr HaChaim does not explain how giving Esav the blessings would have caused him to improve his ways. It is possible that giving the Berachot to Esav would give him great encouragement and show him that his father had faith in his ability to continue the legacy of the Avot. Such a show of confidence could in and of itself be the catalyst to causing Esav to change his ways. Encouraging and showing faith in the wayward person is a key tool in helping him find faith in himself and giving him the strength to change his ways.
We see this principle with regard to a remarkable story involving Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l. There was a bachur in his yeshiva who was struggling badly with his learning. As a result he was severely lacking in self-confidence and found himself in a downward spiral that placed him in great danger of drifting away from observance. Rav Hutner was giving a Gemara shiur and this Bachur asked a seemingly ordinary question. Rav Hutner responded as if he had asked a tremendous question and throughout the shiur repeated it several times with great admiration. Receiving such adulation from a Gadol gave a tremendous boost of self-confidence to the boy. As a result, after this one occasion he stemmed his downfall and experienced an incredible turnaround in his confidence, learning and general observance. His relatives described Rav Hutner’s achievement as no less than ‘techiat hameitim’ ((Heard from Rav Yitzchak Berkovits who heard this story from close relatives of the bachur.)). By showing this young man that he was able to learn, Rav Hutner was able to give him the boost he needed.
Chazal tell us that Timna, the person who produced Amalek, deserved of a chance to join Klal Israel, all the more so, a person who is struggling with his Judaism, deserves the opportunity to improve himself. We also learn from the Ohr HaChaim’s explanation that showing faith in a person is a tremendous way of helping him change his ways. These principles do not only apply with regard to people drifting from Torah, they also apply to our relationships with our children, students and people around us. The Gemara in Sotah tells us that we should push away with our left hand and bring in with our right. The right hand is stronger than the left, threfore we should always give precedence to positive reinforcement over criticism. Showing others the inherent good in them is the most effective way of bringing about improvement.
May we all merit to bring out the best in ourselves and those around us.