By: Rav Michael Susman
While it is therefore difficult to argue that Yaakov approved of the actions of Shimon and Levi in Shechem, it is not impossible to explain that Yaakov is not as overwhelmingly negative in his words to his sons as we have presented it thus far. There are two reasons why this may be so. Firstly, if their anger is such a curse, why is it sufficient to merely separate them, scattering them amongst the greater population. One could in fact argue that this is counterproductive, for all Yaakov has accomplished is to spread the undesirable trait amongst a wider group. Further, the Torah itself calls Yaakov's words a blessing ("and he blessed them, each man according to the blessing that he-Yaakov-had given") (49:28). If this is the case, how can we place Yaakov's words in such a negative light?
(The question of how to understand Yaakov's words in light of his clearly harsh words to Reuven, as well as Shimon and Levi is not a new one. Many meforshim, beginning with Rashi, already deal with it. Particularly interesting is the opinion of Seforno, who suggests that Yaakov blessed all his sons in addition to the comments that we read in perek 49.)
The Akeidat Yitzhak suggests that while anger is a negative characteristic, when properly channeled, it creates a positive outcome. By using anger in moderation, and as a motivational device, an individual or a group can accomplish more than those who approach the same task without a similar degree of passion can. Hence, Yaakov Aveinu seeks to spread this particular characteristic throughout all of Am Yisrael, while at the same time ensuring that it not be concentrated in a destructive fashion.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch sees Yaakov's rebuke as focussed more on the context and less on the characteristic. In the context of his farewell to his sons, Yaakov begins by disqualifying Reuven for leadership of the family, and by extension, of the nascent nation. This was true, notwithstanding Reuven's natural position as the firstborn. Now, Yaakov turns his attention to the next two in line, Shimon and Levi, and finds them lacking as well. They are disqualified due to their willingness to use anger and violence as a tool of public policy. Yaakov understands that the willingness to resort to such methods, even when pursuing otherwise noble goals, is dangerous and self-defeating. The ends can never be allowed to justify any means. Yaakov only then turns his attention to Yehuda in his search for a leader for the family.
The upshot of this approach, as Rav Hirsch himself explains, is that if the context shifts, the characteristic might no longer be viewed negatively. The specific context where this trait of fervor and (controlled) anger would be positive, says Rav Hirsch, is galut. The Jew in galut is exposed and downtrodden, and the callenge is not one of how to avoid the drunkenness of overconfidence born of wielding power, but rather the loss of self-pride and self-confidence. Here, the words of Yaakov, that Shimon and Levi will be scattered amongst the nation are in fact a blessing, as their presence everywhere insures a continuation of Jewish pride and thus of Jewish self identification.
The Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Berlin, also adopts the idea that zeal, in small doses and within a few people as opposed to a group, is a positive aspect within a society. He reminds us of the most famous example of this type of behavior, namely the actions of Pinchas HaCohen A quick review of the story (BaMidbar 25) reminds us that Pinchas, in his zeal to defend the honor of Hashem, kills Zimri, the leader of Shevet Shimon(!) and Cazbi, the daughter of the Midianite king, who were publicly fornicating. His action was neither ordered nor sanctioned by Moshe Rabbenu or any other member of the leadership of K'lal Yisrael. Nonetheless, there is divine approval for his deed, as we see that Hashem himself praises Pinchas and rewards him with the Brit Shalom, the "Covenant of Peace" (25:12). This is a clear indication that the overwhelming sense of passion and zeal that burned within Shimon and Levi (and it is obviously significant that Pinchas was from Shevet Levi) has its place and time.
When commenting on the story of Pinchas, the Netziv gives an original explanation for the concept of Brit Shalom. Under ordinary circumstances, an individual who has killed, and certainly one whio has killed in passion, is indelibly marked by the experience. Unavoidabally, the person becomes hardened and less sensitive. This is a trait that often characterizes zealous people. Pinchas' reward, the Brit Shalom, was that despite having killed, his personality did not become tainted.
The Meshech Chochma, Rav Simcha HaKohen of Duvinsk, gives a different spin on Pinchas. The zeal of Pinchas, says the Meshech Chochma, was not limited to killing those who so openly desecrated Hashem's name. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (82) describes the entire scenario which unfolded before Pinchas, and how he reacted. In doing so, the Gemara relates that after he killed Zimri and Cazbi, Pinchas prayed to Hashem to stop the plague that had killed 24,000 people. The Gemara notes that Pinchas was so aggressive in his tefila, that the angels attempted to harm him. The Meshech Chochma takes this to mean that Pinchas put his reward in Olam Haba on the line in his zeal to save Bnei Yisrael. This, then is the true face of the fire and passion that Yaakov hoped to spread throughout Am Yisrael. Not violence harnessed toward a goal, however noble that goal may be, is the true zeal that Yaakov sought to spread and which so imbued Pinchas. Rather, a passion for Am Yisrael, a burning, unextinguishable love for his fellow Jew, is the true legacy that Levi passed on to his decendant, Pinchas.
|Additional shiurim from this category can be found in:||Parshat Shavua (Vayechi)|
|Uploaded:||Saturday, March 15, 2008|