Vol 5.17 - Vayishlach 1 Spanish French Audio Video
|Hebrew Text: Chumash-Vayishlach|
Bar Mitzvah — an age of Mesirus Nefesh
It is from the verse in Parshas Vayishlach28 : “And it came to pass on the third day, when they (the people of Shchem) were in pain, that two of Yaakov’s sons, Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers each took his sword (ish charbo) and they came upon the city confidently, and killed every male,” that we learn that a boy from the age of thirteen is obligated to keep the mitzvos. Shimon and Levi were at that time thirteen years old,29 and the verse refers to them as an Ish so we may learn that a Bar Mitzvah boy is called an Ish and is obligated in mitzvos.30
Everything in Torah is exact and precise. It is therefore puzzling as to why such an important moment in life — the time of Bar Mitzvah which, as the Midrash31 explains, is the moment when the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) enters the Jew and, as the Alter Rebbe explains,32 is the moment that signals the final and main entry of the holy soul into the Jew, the moment when he becomes fully obligated to keep the mitzvos33 — how can it be that such an important passage of life is derived from the source of Shimon and Levi taking their swords, etc., which on the face of it was an inappropriate act?
True, in killing the people of Shchem they were not transgressing, since the people of Shchem were liable for capital punishment34 (either because they did not bring Shchem to justice for his act,35 or for sins committed prior to the act of Shchem36 ). However, it is clear that their actions were not approved of by their father, Yaakov. Later in Parshas Vayechi,37 at the time of Yaakov’s blessings, he refers to this act: “Shimon and Levi are comrades, their weaponry is a stolen craft,” meaning to say, an act of murder of this kind has been stolen from Yaakov’s brother Esav. This is alluded to in the verse itself, where it is stressed that “two of Yaakov’s sons…” that is, although we already know that they were Yaakov’s sons, Scripture finds it important to stress here that they were Yaakov’s sons, since to all appearances they were not acting like sons of Yaakov, for they acted independently, without seeking their fathers advice.38
This amplifies the above question. If this verse itself alludes to the fact that Yaakov was not happy with their conduct, then why particularly from this verse do we derive the source for Bar Mitzvah?
This may be understood by a comment of the Midrash39 on the verse,40 “For in their rage they murdered people (Ish)” — the singular form, Ish, is used. Comments the Midrash: “Did they only kill one man, does it not say that they killed all the males? Only they were all considered before G‑d41 as one man.”
One may ask: the wording: “they murdered people (Ish)” would be appropriate only if the act of Shimon and Levi was in fulfillment of the Will of G‑d, for then one could say that since before G‑d they were considered as one man, so too, in the eyes of Shimon and Levi who were fulfilling the Will of G‑d, were they considered one man — and the brothers received this power from G‑d.42 However we find that Yaakov criticized them for this act, even going so far as to say that this in fact was a trait of his brother Esav. If they were not fulfilling the will of G‑d, then, why does the verse use, in reference to their act of murder, the singular form Ish, to indicate that before G‑d they were only considered as one man?
One must therefore say that although Yaakov agreed in principle that the people of Shchem were liable for capital punishment, he was dissatisfied with the way in which Shimon and Levi carried out their punishment — in such a way that, “You have troubled me, to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land.”43
This we can understand in two ways:
a) Since the only way to punish the people of Shchem was to trick them — first by promising them that if they would consent to be circumcised then, “we will dwell with you and become a single people,”44 — and thereafter abrogating that promise and killing them — Yaakov was of the opinion that it would be better not to kill them in order to avoid the Chillul Hashem (desecration of G‑d’s name) that would result from such trickery.45
b) On the contrary: Yaakov was of the opinion that they should be killed — not through trickery which could result in Chillul Hashem — but openly — since in the eyes of Hashem they were only considered to be one man,46 they (his sons) could act with impunity.47
However, Yaakov was also well aware that Shimon and Levi, due to their intrinsic characters would not reckon with the claim, “you have made me odious etc.,” for the cry of “should our sister be made a harlot?!” aroused in them a terrific sense of jealousy of holiness, similar to that of Pinchas, who was in fact a descendent of Levi.48
Jealousy of this kind is deeply rooted in the soul, as it states: “their zeal for vengeance is hard as the grave”49 and it touches the very essence of the soul.50 When such terrific jealousy is aroused, there is no room for intellectual calculation.51
Since Shimon and Levi were jealous for G‑d — their actions transcending all calculation — G‑d’s power was also revealed in the sense that in His eyes they were only considered as one “Ish (man).”
The above explanation remains problematic:
If Shimon and Levi did act out of holy jealousy — above all calculations — then why were they criticized for not taking Yaakov’s advice before they acted? Advice is rational — their actions were by their nature irrational?
It is for this reason that the verse describes them as “the two sons of Yaakov;” although they were his children, they did not act like his children. This may be understood to mean: True, it could not be demanded of them that they consult with Yaakov, since they were motivated by great jealousy which stands above all advice. However, what could have been demanded is that they consult Yaakov purely from the perspective of the mitzvah of Kibbud Av — honoring their father.
But this still remains problematic.
If the criticism that “they did not take advice” was attributable to a lack of Kibbud Av, their resultant action should not have been approved by Hashem. In this case the original question returns — why does the verse use the singular form Ish, implying that all the inhabitants were in Hashem’s eyes as one man, and that, therefore, Hashem approved of their course of action?
Clear analysis of the mitzvah of Kibbud Av shows that there is a major difference between the Kibbud Av practiced by a Noachide and the Kibbud Av demanded of a Jew. The mitzvah of Kibbud Av to which a Jew is held is a mitzvah from Hashem and is kept as such — one connects with Hashem through honoring one’s parents. However, the mitzvah of Kibbud Av of a Noachide has different parameters. In the Noachide code, honor due to parents is a commandment given in order to create a stable society.52
Living before the giving of the Torah, Shimon and Levi were obligated in the mitzvah of Kibbud Av in the same way as a Noachide. The obligation to consult their father was certainly not applicable in this situation, given that the actions of Shchem were an abomination and the opposite of “settling the world.” In order for Shimon and Levi to achieve a stable law abiding society, it was necessary for them to correct a criminal act.
This being the case, we need to search for an alternative explanation as to why Yaakov was so upset at their not having sought his advice.
As explained above, the cry, “should our sister be made a harlot?!” affected Shimon and Levi so deeply that they were driven to act in a manner uncharacteristic of the sons of Yaakov. They were so enveloped in their feelings, they saw no other option but to annihilate Shchem.
It is for this reason that when they were challenged by Yaakov, they answered, “Should our sister etc.,” and Yaakov accepted their answer. Later, however, he rebuked them — for after he saw that, “at their whim they hamstrung an ox” — this proved that they had a natural tendency to such actions, and it suggested that even in the killing of Shchem, although predominantly motivated by the cry, “should our sister etc.,” there was a tinge of this natural tendency.
This explains why, in his rebuke, Yaakov says, “Shimon and Levi are brothers” — brothers to Dinah but not brothers to Yosef53 — in other words, the fact that they acted as brothers to Dinah, but not to Yosef, confirms the suspicion that in their killing of Shchem there was mixed into their intentions a twist of their own character — their weaponry a stolen craft.
The age of Bar Mitzvah
We now see why the age of Bar Mitzvah is derived from the account of the actions of Shimon and Levi. The story teaches us how to act when faced with a situation of harlotry. In truth, every sin is an act of harlotry as alluded to in the verse, “and you shall not turn after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray,” — for when one is torn away from Hashem through sin, this may be compared to a harlot who is prohibited to her husband.54
One must know that in such a situation one should not reckon with any calculations or limitations — even limitations of Torah — one must at that moment arouse in himself a feeling of mesirus nefesh.
After one has aroused a feeling of mesirus nefesh, thereafter all one’s actions must be calculated, rational and according to the Torah. It is only in order that rational avodah may be all that it must be that mesirus nefesh is a prerequisite— immediately on becoming an Ish he acquires mesirus nefesh, which is above all rationale.
Footnotes in link
Gutnick Chumash pp. 150
Gutnick Chumash pp. 150
http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/334692/jewish/An-Unreasonable-Source.htm pp. 150-152
Gutnick Chumash pp. 389
Gutnick Chumash pp. 392
Gutnick Chumash pp. 396
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