The Torah and the words of our sages are replete with subtle lessons that, when analyzed and taken to heart, can have a tremendous impact upon our interactions with other people. One such powerful idea can be derived from the words of the Ramban, a classic Medieval commentator on the Torah, in this week's portion.
The Torah and the words of our sages are replete with subtle lessons that, when analyzed and taken to heart, can have a tremendous impact upon our interactions with other people. One such powerful idea can be derived from the words of the Ramban, a classic Medieval commentator on the Torah, in this week's portion. The Torah relates the episode in which Jacob cunningly, yet rightfully, receives the blessings of the birthright from Isaac. Upon realizing his loss, Esau becomes enraged and vows to kill Jacob after their father dies. The verse tells us that when Rebecca caught wind of Esau's evil scheme, "She sent out and summoned Jacob, her younger son, and she said to him, 'Behold your brother, Esau, is consoling himself regarding you to kill you'" (Genesis 27:42).
The Ramban is bothered by Rebecca's need to "send out and summon" Jacob. Where was he that she needed to send for him? The Ramban explains that Jacob had left home because he was "afraid and embarrassed" of Esau. This explanation seems a bit puzzling. We can easily comprehend why Jacob should be afraid; he correctly feared that his brother would kill him. But why should he be embarrassed in front of him? Jacob had not wronged Esau in any way, for he had legitimately bought the birthright in a legal sale at the beginning of the Torah portion. In receiving the blessings, Jacob merely claimed that which was rightfully his. Even Esau himself was aware of the mistake he had made and had only himself to blame for his loss. Furthermore, their mother Rebecca all but physically forced Jacob to enter his father's tent and receive the blessings. Jacob's actions were fully justified. Why should he be embarrassed to the point that the mere thought of facing Esau drove him from his home?
From the words of the Ramban we can derive a powerful lesson: If we are the cause of another person's pain or distress, even if our actions are totally justified and necessary and the victim knows it, we must still be sensitive to that person's suffering. This feeling must be ingrained so deeply within us that we are actually ashamed to stand before that person. Jacob was extremely sensitive to the feelings of another person. As such, the knowledge that he had been the cause of someone's distress, albeit justified, created a feeling of embarrassment within him so great that he could not remain at home. How could he face someone who was suffering from his actions.
Considering that this is the level of sensitivity required in a situation when we did not wrong a person, then our obligation if we are actually guilty of causing any harm must boggle the mind. Let us take the time to consider these concepts and integrate them into our everyday lives.
Yaacov Cohen, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills, New York.
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