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  • Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

I'm on an airplane with a dilemma.

Toldos

There was a Jew sentenced to death by the Inquisition. As he waited for his sentence to be carried out, he began rethinking his decision. “When word gets out that I had the strength to sacrifice my life al kiddush Hashem,” he reasoned, “Jews will talk about me with great esteem tainting the purity of my sacrifice. If I was truly pious I would convert rather than allow myself such honor!” Reb Mendel of Rimanov would repeat this story to illustrate just how deceptive the yetzer hora can be. He couldn’t win this Jew with his usual tactics, so he disguised himself in a cloak of yiras Shomayim, arguing that not sacrificing himself would be the ultimate mitzvah.[1] In this week’s parsha we read that while Eisav portrayed himself as G-d fearing, he was actually cunning and deceptive of his father, Yitzchak. The Torah usually speaks positively even of non-kosher animals by calling them einena tehorah rather than t’meah and yet about Eisav the Torah recounts this less-than-complimentary aspect of his character outright! Why?

The Torah included this information to help us understand the Eisav inside each of us. And just as when the Torah teaches the laws of kosher (a directive), it states outright that certain animals are tamei, so too with Eisav. It is a directive to us and so it must be spelled out clearly. The yetzer hora does not usually come to us like a devil in a red cape baring fangs. More often he comes disguised as a gentle, pious voice. We may be about to do something holy when we suddenly have second thoughts suggesting a more “worthy” task.[2] How can we know if these pious-sounding arguments are coming from a holy source? In Hayom Yom,[3] the Rebbe brings a rule taught by the Rebbe Maharash: “Any matter that is effective towards or actually leads to active avoda, and is confronted with opposition of any sort, [even the most noble], that opposition is the scheming of the animal soul.” The voice that encourages us to be inactive or to detract from something good, belongs to the yetzer hora. I am currently sitting on an airplane and realizing that I’m facing this conflict as I type. I have an opportunity to ask my seatmate if he’s Jewish. Maybe he’d even put on tefillin. But a thought stops me. What if he’ll be offended? Perhaps it’s better to err on the side of caution. The second voice is most likely not coming from a good place but from my own inhibitions. The initial thought will lead me to action while rethinking paralyzes me. The yetzer hora is old and clever, but we have the ability to see through his schemes. I’ve got to go dear readers. There’s something I shouldn’t push off. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier [1] Introduction to Avnei Mishpat [2] Sicha of 20th of Av 5744 (1984) [3] 23rd of Sivan