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Toldot - The Secret to Creating Good Relationships

By Rabbi Dovid Rosman  

After discovering that Yaakov had received the special bracha from his father, Esav hated Yaakov and decided to kill him once his father died (Bereishis 27:41-42). Rivka heard about this plan and she immediately instructed Yaakov to run away to Charan, where her brother Lavan lived. She then instructed Yaakov to remain by Lavan "ad asher tashuv chamas achicha," "until your brother's anger subsides" (Bereishis 27:44). She continued, "ad shuv af achicha mimcha vi-shachach eis asher asisa lo," "until your brother's anger subsides from you, and he forgets what you have done to him" (Bereishis 27:45)[1]. No, I did not make a typo!  Rivka seems to repeat the same instructions twice - Yaakov should remain with Lavan until his brother's anger subsides. Why the repetition?

Rav Itzele Volozhiner suggests an amazing answer that offers us a wondrous secret into how to improve our relationships with other people. Rav Itzele quotes his father, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, who said that if one knows that others hate him and yet is able to judge them favorably and view them as tzaddikim, his enemies' hearts will immediately change to love him[2].  Rav Chaim writes that this has been tested and that it actually works. Rav Itzele explains that this is based on a passuk in Mishlei (27:19), "Ka-mayim ha-panim la-panim, kein lev ha-adam la-adam," "Just like when one looks into the water he sees an exact reflection, so, too, are the hearts of man."  If my heart hates another person, his heart with reflect that feeling exactly. But if I love another person, then his heart will reflect that love as well[3].

Based on this, Rav Itzele explains the seeming repetitive remarks of Rivka. She first instructed Yaakov not to return until Esav's anger subsided. Then she explained to Yaakov how he would know that this had, indeed, happened - and how he can make it happen. "Ad shuv af achicha mimcha" - when your anger towards Esav subsides from you - mimcha. When Yaakov would remove all anger towards Esav from his heart, Esav's feelings of anger towards Yaakov would also dissipate, "vi-shachach es asher asisa lo" - he will forget what you did to him.[4]

Yaakov employed this secret and left the house of Lavan assuming that Esav no longer hated him. When Yaakov got closer to finally meeting Esav, however, things changed. Let's fast-forward to Parshas Vayishlach when Yaakov left the home of Lavan and met Esav on the way. The passuk says that Yaakov sent messengers to Esav in order to find favor in his eyes[5]. However, the next passuk says that the messengers returned to Yaakov reporting that Esav would not even pay attention to them [6] and was approaching with an army of four hundred men. This says, the Torah, frightened and distressed Yaakov very much.  It's clear that prior to this report Yaakov wasn't frightened. This was because he had worked on his feelings towards Esav, back in the house of Lavan. However, it was now clear to Yaakov that it was
now time to restrengthen those feelings. The passuk says that Yaakov approached Esav and bowed seven times, "ad gishto ad achiv," "until he reached his brother[7]." Rashi, quoting Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, writes that at that moment Esav loved Yaakov and wholeheartedly kissed him. Amazing! How did that happen?

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld[8] explained that as Esav approached, Yaakov saw the potential danger that was heading his way. Therefore, he bowed down seven times; he bent his own personal thoughts and feelings, finding within himself ways to judge Esav favorably, until he finally reached "ad achiv," until his brother. Because of his internal thoughts, Yaakov did not reach Esav, the one whom he normally hated, but rather "his brother." He discovered within himself the brotherly love needed to form a relationship. With this mindset of Yaakov's, there was no way for Esav to hate him.

Rav Sonnenfeld illustrated this point with a true story.[9] In the town of Shadik in Poland there was a Jewish moser, an informer who would cause great problems and pain for the members of the Jewish community. Once, a man entered the home of the Rav of the town, completely filthy and covered with broken eggs. He explained that he was returning home with a basket of eggs to sell and the informer demanded that he bring the eggs to his home.  When the seller asked for payment for the eggs, the informer smashed the eggs all over the seller. The egg-seller now wished to bring this evil man to a beis din to be reimbursed for the tremendous loss of money. The Rav sent his shamash, his helper, to summon the man to come before the Rav for a court case, but the shamash was kicked out of the house. Even when threatened with excommunication, the man did not come to the beis din.

Every Shabbos, the informer davened in the biggest shul in town and insisted on getting the sixth aliya. Out of fear of him, the members of the shul consented. The Shabbos following the egg episode, the informer was in shul and was called up to receive his aliya. The Rav ran to the bima and said, "You are such an evil person that you refuse to come to a court case, yet you have the gall to accept an aliya?" Very upset, the informer left the bima without reciting the bracha, vowing to take proper revenge against the Rav.

Some time later, the Rav traveled with two of his students to a nearby town. As they traveled away from their village, the students noticed that the informer was approaching them from behind on his horse with intent of harming the Rav. They told the Rav, who immediately stopped in his place and began to concentrate intensely. The informer got closer and closer. When he finally reached the Rav, an amazing thing happened. The informer came down from his horse and in a soft, pleasant voice he asked the Rav if it was alright for the informer to hit his students. The Rav responded, "Absolutely not!" The informer asked if he could hit them just once, and the Rav once again responded in the negative. "Can I at least spit in front of them?" he asked.

The Rav, again, said no. Then the informer began to ask for forgiveness from the Rav for all the pain that he had caused. The Rav said that if he would pay back the egg-seller and appease him, he would forgive him. The informer pulled out ten ruble, much more than the eggs were worth, and the Rav then forgave him and continued on his way.

The students were shocked by the amazing miracle that had taken place. The Rav explained that when he realized that he was in danger, he davened to Hashem for help. At that moment, he remembered the passuk, "Ka-mayim ha-panim la-panim, kein lev ha-adam la-adam." "I said to myself," said the Rav, "if he hates me, it must be because I hate him. And why do I hate him? Because he doesn't follow the halacha and wouldn't come to the trial. So I tried to find some merit for him and remove the hatred from my heart, thereby causing him to love me and not want to harm me. I figured that this Jew certainly grew up around people who were not good, and the way he acts as an adult is therefore not entirely his fault. I began to feel bad for him and find excuses for the fact that he tries to get Jews in trouble. Regarding the eggs, maybe he really did have intentions to pay, but the seller wanted it right away and that caused him to get angry. It was because of his anger that he acted that way.  Regarding the trial, maybe if I wouldn't have been so strong but would have offered him a more convenient time, he would have come. I even noticed he had a spark of holiness because when I yelled at him on the bima, he didn't hit me, but rather ran off embarrassed. So I saw that he has derech eretz and some form of honor for the Torah. Maybe I was even wrong for yelling at him in public.  As a result of my thoughts, there is no doubt that the heart of the man began to change to like me and he began to feel closer to me."

One of his students asked, "But Rebbe, why did he want to harm us?" The Rav explained that although he was able to rid himself of hatred, the students still felt it; he therefore had a desire to hurt or at least spit at them.

This important secret, taught by Rivka, used by Yaakov, and written down for us to learn from by Shlomo Ha-Melech in Mishlei, does not only apply in regard to enemies.  It is one that we can use in everyday life, whether it's between and husband and wife, other family members, Rebbe and talmid, or friends.  The more we feel positive feelings for others, the more they will automatically feel those same feelings towards us.

[1] Rivka also said that she would send someone to take Yaakov from the house of Lavan.  Rashi (35:8) writes that ultimately, Rivka sent her wet nurse, Devora, to tell Yaakov to leave.

[2] The sefer Tanya (Likutei Amarim perek 46) writes this idea as well.  He adds that this especially works when one shows his love towards the other.

[3] This concept actually has a halachik ramification. The Rama (Orach Chaim, siman 53:19) writes that if someone hates the ba'al korei, the one who reads from the Torah in shul, he shouldn't get the aliya of the tochecha (the curses found in parshas Bechukosai and Ki Savo).  The Mishna Berura (#58) explains that since he hates the ba'al korei, we can safely assume the the ba'al korei hates the man as well based on the passuk in Mishlei, and perhaps the ba'al korei will have in mind while reading the tochecha that it should apply to the man.

[4] Commentary of the Ohalei Shem at the bottom of the Keser Rosh #119 (which can be found in the back of the Siddur HaGra Ishei Yisrael). This can also be found in the Peh Kadosh on Chumash.

[5] Bereishis 32:6.

[6] This is how the Ramban (pessukim 7-8) explains the passuk.

[7] 33:3.

[8] Eved HaMelech, R' Shlomo Hominer zt"l, on Parshas Vayishlach, p. 101.  Also see Chochmas Chaim, Parshas Vayishlach.

[9] Eved Ha-Melech, on Mishlei, p. 143.

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