Last week, in the latest bout of Israeli intra-religion tension, the 2013 Mayoral Election of the city of Bet Shemesh was won by incumbent Moshe Abutbul. The race, which started out as two candidates, the Hareidi Abutbul and Eli Cohen, a Religious Zionist/Dati Leumi runner, arguing over the issues in an effort to assert themselves as the best candidate for the city’s highest office. However, within weeks of election day, religious leadership on both sides escalated the race into an all-out battle for religious control of Bet Shemesh. While many saw this coming, and believe that Abutbul’s victory last Tuesday signified an end for non-Hareidi resdients of the city, it became clear earlier this week that the 51%-48% outcome was a lot less pashut than it seemed. According to city authorities, of the approximately 900 ballots which led the Shas-supported candidate to victory, most may be disqualified due to various voter frauds perpetuated by the Hareidi residents of Ramat Bet Shemesh, suspected to be on the advice of their religious leadership. On Election Day, approximately 200 fake and stolen Teudot Zehut (Israeli ID cards) were confiscated by the police, and many polling location volunteers, representing both sides of the religious spectrum, reported afterwards that there were many attempts, some successful, at repeated polling. As Torah observant Jews trying to judge other Torah observant Jews, we are left with the question of how these Hareidim could’ve justified the election fraud that they committed, which, given Abutbul’s small margin of victory, could’ve stolen the city leadership from the Dati Le’umi residents, a very serious type of gezeilah. However, we need to look no further than this week’s parsha to see the first instance of a Jewish forefather, on the advice of leadership, stealing something big that would affect the religious balance for years to come.
Our forefather Yaakov, described earlier as “איש תם יושב אוהלים” is faced with the ultimate challenge when his mother comes to him and asks him to steal a ברכה that Yitzchak planned to give to his twin brother Eisav:
וְרִבְקָה, אָמְרָה, אֶל-יַעֲקֹב בְּנָהּ, לֵאמֹר: הִנֵּה שָׁמַעְתִּי אֶת-אָבִיךָ, מְדַבֵּר אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיךָ… וְעַתָּה בְנִי, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי–לַאֲשֶׁר אֲנִי, מְצַוָּה אֹתָךְ… וְהֵבֵאתָ לְאָבִיךָ, וְאָכָל, בַּעֲבֻר אֲשֶׁר יְבָרֶכְךָ, לִפְנֵי מוֹתוֹ
And Rivka said to Yaakov her son saying: Behold I’ve heard your father speaking to your brother Eisav… And now, my son, listen to me as I command you… bring your father (food) and give him to eat so that he will bless you before he dies (בראשית כ”ז).
Yaakov, faced with the request which is so at odds with his nature, reasonably seems reluctant, but eventually takes Eisav’s ברכה without Yitzchak realizing, and all is right in the world.
The מפרשים, understandably, have a very difficult time understanding this story. Our Jewish lineage, leading back to great leaders like Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov is generally a clear line- we are descended from the chosen of each generation, and we try to keep it clear to avoid any confusion from other nations. Yet, our story seems at odds with this. Yaakov, our forefather who represented עבודה and אמת, goes against the standard of עבודת השם by doing the opposite of אמת and stealing a ברכה that was not due to him. Many conclude that the main lesson from this story is that even though stealing is generally considered to be wrong, it can justified for the sake of G-d’s will, which we know was for Yaakov to be the forebear of the chosen nation.
With this in mind, it seems like the Hareidi activists in Bet Shemesh may have been correct and justified- Even though they were using rogue methods to steal the city leadership from its original inhabitants, and based on similar stories in Bnei Brak and Beitar Ilit, continued Hareidi leadership could eventually lead to them stealing the entire city, it is okay, because their lifestyle represents G-d’s will, and just like in the story in our פרשה, this end juftifies stealing.
However, this answer does not sit well with me, and, back in the פרשה, many מפרשים also argue on this point. Who are we, as humans, to decide what is G-d’s will? At what point do we have the authority to subvert Halachik and Civil law to advance what we believe is the right thing?
However, if we look earlier in the פרשה, we can see an important נפקא מינא between יעקב’s “acquiring” of the ברכה, and the Hareidi people’s “acquiring” of over 900 votes in the Bet Shemesh election:
At the beginning of the sedra, Rivka, after twenty years of barrenness, finally becomes pregnant. However, things quickly took a turn for the confusing:
וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה’.
And the children struggled within her (Rivka), and she asked “What’s going on?” So she went to inquire of G-d (בראשית כ”ה:כ”ב)
G-d, through נבואה responds:
וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ, וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ; וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ, וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר.
And G-d said to her: two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be seperated from you, and one will be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger (שם כ”ג)
G-d, either through שם or direct prophecy, reassures רבקה that it is not one conflicted baby, but rather two conflicting babies, in her stomach. The prophecy continues to foresee that neither of them can coexist, with the younger one (Yaakov) ultimately being on top. Jumping forward, we can now see that Rivka’s ensuring that Yaakov receive the ברכה is not just her looking out for her preferred son, but rather her making sure that the prophecy, given to her forty years ago, will be fulfilled. From this, the gemara learns out as a כלל that Halacha can temporarily be broken על פי a נביא or for a נבואה, but nothing less.
So, we see that יעקב’s stealing was very much justified- he was listening to his mother, who had heard a direct prophecy from G-d, and had the inspiration to intercede in the ברכה to ensure that it was fulfilled. However, jumping to תשע”ד, we see no such prophecy ascociated with the Bet Shemesh election (as far as I know- I could be wrong), which shows us that any lying or stealing would not be justified “for the sake of G-d’s will,” and would also very much be at odds with Halachik law. But, if we take another close look at the parsha, we may find that last week’s voter fraud may be even worse than just breaking one of the Ten Comandments.
As יצחק prepares to inadvertently bless Yaakov, he makes a very famously confusing comment:
וַיֹּאמֶר, הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב, וְהַיָּדַיִם, יְדֵי עֵשָׂו.
And Yitzchak said: The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Yitzchak (שם כ”ז:כ”ב).
Rashi, Rashbam, and many pashtanim learn here that even though Yitzchak may have been fooled by Yaakov’s smellier clothing and hairier arms, his diction and softer way of speaking may have given him away. However, Chizkuni, takes a completely different approach. He teaches that this passuk shows, through Yitzchak’s eyes, the differences between his sons. Yaakov, the “איש תם יושב אוהלים,” mainly acts through his “קול” by learning Torah and praying to Hashem in his times of need, while Eisav, the “איש ציד” mainly acts through his “ידים,” through actions. Based on this, we can see that Yitzchak’s confusion was not because of how Yaakov spoke, but rather why Yaakov would be doing something so drastic if his usual M.O. was through תפילה.
The Hareidim, whose lifestyle is directly inherited from Yaakov Avinu, usually solve their problems through “הקול קול יעקב,” through huge tefilah gatherings which are both effective and a great קידוש השם. Unfortunately, the Hareidi activitsts of Bet Shemesh decided that prayer was not enough- they had to emulate עשו’s method of operation by openly interfering with an election, very much at odds with “הקול קול יעקב,” because תפילה would’ve at least left it in G-d’s “hands” to decide what His will is. Instead, they decided for G-d what He wanted and stole the election from the people of Bet Shemesh in a way that only a figurative בן עשו could.
With Hashem’s help, we will see these activists becoming as מקפיד on בין אדם לחבירו as they clearly are on בין אדם למקום, so that they can truly live up to living the יעקב אבינו way of life, both in “איש תם יושב אוהלים” and in אמת and אמונה.