Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.


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Long Construction, Quick Destruction

When Esav was called אדום it was done so in a moment.[1] This is in contrast to the name ישראל[2] (Yaakov) which came after a lifetime of work.[3] This alludes to the following lesson: To work on one’s self requires time, effort, energy and so on. To be unproductive requires one to just be stationary.


For the world to function properly it requires a Yaakov and an Esav. Esav needs a Yaakov because without the world there is no Torah. On the other hand, Yaakov needs an Esav since it is through defeating him that he grows spiritually as Esav represents the יצר הרע, evil inclination.


The following metaphor illustrates our point. One who travels from Manhattan to upstate New York drives uphill and downhill many times until he arrives at his destination—which is high up north. The same is with life as we have ups and downs, good days and bad days, victories and defeats. However, if we persist and keep battling, we come out on top.


This message is also shown to us by the growth of a baby. At the outset, his growth is easily noticeable as he begins to roll over, crawl, walk, run and so on. However, as he gets older it is harder to see the progression as he knows how to do all this already. The same is in life, as when one begins learning and the like, he sees lots of progress. However, as he continues, his progress isn’t as apparent.


To build a structure may take years. However, to demolish it, can take moments. The twin towers took years to build but in minutes, it was destroyed.[4] The same applies to spiritual growth, as to build ourselves can take a long time. But to destroy it takes moments and as it says חוטא אחד יאבד טובה הרבה,[5] a single rogue can ruin a lot of good. This idea is alluded to in that פאר, glory is composed of the same letters as אפר, ashes, as that which was once glorious can be turned into ashes.


One can spend years perfecting himself and one night out with friends or on the internet can destroy it. It therefore has been advised that before one acts, he should think how long it took him to reach the point where he is now since in a matter of moments it can be destroyed.


In the service of Yom Kippur, we have two goats. One is לה’ and the other is לעזאזל, thrown off a cliff, symbolizing throwing away the יצר הרע. The one that is לה’ represents Yaakov whereas the one that is לעזאזל is symbolic of Esav. A Jew needs to always be לה’ and throw his יצר הרע off the cliff.[6]


It says ויבא יעקב שלם,[7] Yaakov was complete after the fight with the Malach of Esav as it is the battles with the הרע יצר that elevate us. For this reason, the יצר הרע is called טוב מאד—very good.[8]


At times one may stumble and descend in spirituality. However, this too can make him become greater. This is what is meant in שבע יפול צדיק וקם, [9]the Tzadik falls seven times and arises, as through the fall one can become greater. This concept is illustrated by the קרבנות of the נשיאים which were so great that the Torah mentions each one of them individually.[10] This was the outcome of the fall they had previously when they didn’t contribute to the Mishkan initially.[11] In a similar way, we can grasp רבות רעות צדיק, many are the mishaps of a Tzadik, as a צדיק is the result of growing through his challenges.[12] It was Avraham’s ten tests that made him so great as he wouldn’t be Avraham without them.


At the funeral of the Chazon Ish in 1954, R’ Dessler noticed a Yeshiva student crying. He asked the boy why are you crying over this great man?! You should cry over the great man within you who didn’t reach his potential yet.


It is challenges that make us grow and bring out our potential. Rashi[13] tells us Yaakov wanted to dwell in tranquility but then the episode with Yosef happened. For one to maximize his potential, he can’t live in tranquility. We need to take this lesson from Yaakov as we are all his descendants. Although many times we just want to dwell in tranquility, we should realize that the way to fulfill our full potential is through challenges.[14]

[1] Breishis 25:30.

[2] 32:29. Yaakov had his name changed to ישראל when he overcame the Malach of Esav, the יצר הרע. יעקב in Gematria is 182. Combining it with the Gematria of שטן—359—we come to a total of 541, the same as ישראל. Only once Yaakov defeated the שטן, did he receive the name ישראל. We, his descendants, are called בני ישראל as this is the purpose of a Jew’s life—to overcome the יצר הרע.

[3] These are the names of their nations as אדום is from Esav and we who descend from Yaakov are called בני ישראל.

[4] Another example of this idea is regarding weight. To lose weight is more difficult than to gain weight.

[5] Koheles 9:18.

[6] Someone once came to the Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael, bemoaning that he feels a lack of Emuna and not worthy for Avodas Hashem because of his sins. The Rebbe opened to the Gemara (Shabbos 119b) that states one who responds with אמן יהא שמיה רבא with all his might, even if there is a trace of Avoda Zara in him, he is forgiven. So you see, the Beis Yisrael continued, that even if one worshipped Avoda Zara, he can still say יהא שמיה רבא (Avodas Hashem)!

[7] Breishis 33:18.

[8] Breishis Rabba 9:7. Just as gold is refined when it is thrown into fire, we went through Mitzrayim, the כור הברזל, iron crucible (Devarim 4:20), in order to purify ourselves.

[9] Mishlei 24:16.

[10] Bamidbar 7.

[11] See Shemos 35:27, Rashi.

[12] Tehillim 34:20. The Mishna states a principle: מקלקל ע”מ לתקן שיעורו כמתקן, one who ruins something in order to fix it on Shabbos is held liable… (Shabbos 105b). This can also be interpreted as one is given challenges in order to fix himself. How much is he given? שיעורו כמתקן—the exact amount he needs and can handle.

[13] Breishis 37:2.

[14] Each moment of our lives we have the opportunity for growth whether it is to think positive thoughts, help someone, learn Torah and so on (See Mesilas Yesharim 1).

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