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Parashat Toldot – Behavior and Character Traits – Rabbi Meir Kahane

The lads grew up and Esau became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Jacob was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. Isaac loved Esau for game was in his mouth; but Rebecca loved Jacob. (Gen. 25:27-28)

G-d chose Abraham because of his behavior and his merits; He rejected his son Ishmael and chose Isaac, too, because of his merits; again, He rejected Esau and chose Jacob due to his behavior. So after three successive generations of tzaddikim, all the subsequent offspring of the Patriarchs could be considered spiritually fit. G-d could forge them all into a chosen, treasured, and exalted nation, who would be His emissary to the human race and a light unto all the nations, to teach them the correct ways which they should follow. This process of choice and rejection is realized to a good degree by the intervention of the Matriarchs, Sarah and Rebecca, who interpreted the behavior of Ishmael and Esau more correctly than Abraham and Isaac. The mother instinctively recognizes the son because she raises him, she educates him, the child is in her trust, and when it comes to the child. The mother is the expert. And therefore, when talking about Rebecca, the Torah emphasizes that she was the mother of Jacob and Esau – that she understood both of them thoroughly. The holy language of the Torah expands the concept expressed by the word "em" (“mother”) to the extent that the word "emunah" (“faith”) comes from the root "em". For who is more faithful and loyal to a child, who is more willing to sacrifice their very life for the child’s sake, than a mother? And this is an additional reason that Rebecca is referred to there by the term “mother”: she faithfully clung to the truth, understood that Jacob had to be the spiritual heir – and for this, she was willing even to go against Isaac, to the extent of deceiving him, and telling her son Jacob, “Let your curse be upon me, my son”(Genesis 27:13).

G-d chose Abraham because of his behavior and his merits: It says [regarding Abraham] (Gen. 18:19), “I have given him special attention that he might command his children and his household after him, and they will keep the ways of the L-rd, doing charity and justice.” Thus G-d commanded Abraham to perform acts of charity and kindness, as well as to further justice by causing G-d's role to be acknowledged. By doing what G-d had commanded, Abraham's kindness and mercy became rooted in him. These traits passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob and his seed. R. Natan bar Abba said in the name of Rav: The wealthy of Babylonia go to hell. When Shabtai bar Marinos came to Babylonia, he sought work, but they would not provide it nor would they feed him. He said, “These [wealthy Babylonians] are of the mixed multitude, for it says, 'G-d will make you merciful and have mercy on you' (Deut. 13:18). When anyone acts mercifully, we know he is of Abraham's seed; if he acts unmercifully, we know that he is not.” (Betza 32b) Kindness, like all traits found in the Torah, is nothing but a Divine attribute we were commanded to emulate and accept upon ourselves with the goal of being G-d-like. Thus we learn (Shabbat 133b): “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him” (Ex. 15:2)... Abba Shaul said, “To 'glorify' Him means making ourselves similar to Him. Just as He is kind and merciful, so must we be kind and merciful.” There is a double message here. Not only must we be kind and merciful, but we must “make ourselves similar to G-d,” i.e., we must be kind and merciful the way G-d explains these terms rather than the way we perceive them.

The real meaning of kindness and truth is that these principles are only part, albeit an exceedingly marked and conspicuous part, of the Torah's main purpose and goal – self-abnegation and suppression of our evil impulse and arrogance. All the mitzvot were given for this purpose, but kindness and mercy are the most direct path to this goal. By contrast, the Jews who distort the Torah are so influenced by the alien [Western] culture that they turn kindness and mercy into goals in and of themselves. By such means they elevate them above all the mitzvot, necessarily diminishing the value of all other mitzvot. They also push the concepts of kindness and mercy to foolish and dangerous extremes, while they themselves include wicked enemies of the Jewish People.

The Torah's goal is to create a person who diminishes himself, who bridles his arrogance, breaking down and negating his ego, who suppresses his evil impulse and liberates himself from covetousness and haughtiness, which are the root of evil and impurity. The most direct, clear and immediate way to achieve this is by loving one's fellow man and by being kind to him. Such acts express the Torah's essence, breaking down one's ego. Hillel therefore called this “the whole Torah”, since indeed breaking down the ego is G-d's whole aim, and this is expressed in the clearest, most acute fashion by loving one's fellow man. “All the rest”, however, the other mitzvot, are the commentary on this. That is they show us how to suppress our evil impulse.

Whoever behaves ethically and with love, agreeing with these attributes [only] because they are esthetic and pleasant, will never reach the true goal of breaking down his ego. Yet by fulfilling all the mitzvot, even those lacking any rationale, and all the more so those difficult mitzvot that contradict, so to speak, love and morality, one makes clear that loving one's fellow man is not a goal in and of itself, but a large part of man's true goal – breaking down his ego and accepting G-d's yoke. Similarly, whoever understands the true role of kindness and mercy in the Torah framework, will also understand their limitations, and where it is forbidden to show kindness and be merciful. Kindness and mercy – in the right time and place – is the obligation of every Jew. It is a means of suppressing one's passions and becoming less selfish, thereby exalting oneself almost to the level of the ministering angels, and perhaps higher. Hence, from the general theme of kindness and mercy emerge countless mitzvot and ideas which have always guided the Jew in his daily life.

It is clear that a prerequisite for acquiring any good trait is destroying its opposite. First, one must “turn away from evil” (Ps. 34:15) – and only then - “do good” (Ibid.) Thus, to become loving, we must cease to be hateful. To learn respect, we must cease to scorn our fellow man. I must warn once again that all the principles I quote from the Torah and our sages are rulings that have come down as precise law, and they apply only in the time and place that our holy Torah says they apply. Hence, whoever sets out to eradicate hatred should have in mind only that hatred which opposes our Torah, false hatred, defined by our sages as sinat chinam, “groundless hatred”. Nothing originating from G-d can be “groundless”. If there is no Divine reason for hatred, it is absolutely forbidden and despised by G-d. Yet when G-d commands us to hate the evildoer, that is “truthful hatred”, a sacred duty from which no one is exempt.

The same applies as far as love. There is not, never was, and never will be a Torah concept of “groundless love”. G-d does not concede regarding hatred of those who hate Him and or the evildoers who destroy what is sacred to the Jewish People. I shall never tire of bringing our sages' words (Bava Kamma 50a), “Whoever says G-d indulgently forgoes sin, shall forgo his life” (“because he is teaching his fellow man to sin” - Rashi). Love and hate, like all Divine traits, came into the world with well-defined parameters, virtually possessing a set of laws of their own. Whoever preaches that hatred is never valid, or presents a false picture of love, shall have to account for it in the future.

All the same, where indeed inappropriate, hating one's fellow Jew is a heinous sin. Our sages said (Arachin 16b): “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev. 19:17): I might think [it would suffice] not to hit him, slap him or curse him. It therefore says, “in your heart.” The verse refers even to hatred in one's heart. It is forbidden to hate a Jew even in one's heart. Rather, one must make known one's objections and rebuke him.

Compiled by Tzipora Liron-Pinner from "The Jewish Idea" and "Peirush haMaccabee (Shemot)" of Rav Meir Kahane, HY"D

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