By: Jonathan Levine, as taught by Yosef Ginsberg
This week, as we finish off Genesis, I decided to take a different approach in
my writing about the Parsha. Usually, my approach to the Parsha is very textual,
and I base my ideas off of several different commentaries, taking into account each
of their opinions. I also seldom quote any Chassidic works on the Parsha. This week
I would just like to share what a 18th -19th century Chassidic master, the Ma’or
V’Shemesh, writes about the “blessing” that Jacob gives to Simeon and Levi.
As Jacob is on his deathbed, he calls all of his sons to him in order to give
them blessings before he dies. Each tribe receives a blessing that symbolizes their
essence and their personality in the greater picture of the future Jewish nation.
Jacob speaks to Simeon and Levi:
Simeon and Levi are a pair; their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not
my person be included in their council; let not my being be counted in their
assembly. For when angry they slay men, and when pleased they maim oxen.
Cursed be their anger so fierce and their wrath so relentless. I will divide
them in Jacob, and I will scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7)
The Ma’or V’Shemesh asks the obvious question: What kind of a blessing is
Jacob giving them? These words seem to be a curse and a rebuke of Simeon and
Levi, showing that Jacob’s final message to the two tribes seem to be anger towards
their massacre in Shechem. It cannot be that Jacob would curse the two tribes: the
Torah describes this entire passage as blessings and furthermore, how could the
two holy tribes of Simeon and Levi be symbolized by their anger and relentless
The Ma’or V’Shemesh describes a prototype of an Orthodox, religious, Jewish
personality. This man keeps every single one of God’s commandments and
understands the intricate details of the Torah. However, he always sees his own
flaws and shortcomings, and he has no self-worth. Therefore, when others come to
speak with him, he appears as an angry and irritable person. Others cannot see his
true dedication to the service of God. This causes him to live alone, ostracized from
the rest of mankind. His emphasis on perfection and his inablitiy to cope with
failure stems from his false notions of how the service of God should be, and he is
therefore alone in life.
This is how Jacob was describing Simeon and Levi. The anger described by
Jacob is directed inward, and Jacob’s plea for them to not be counted in his assembly
represents how others respond to this religious man’s attitude. The Ma’or
V’Shemesh desribes this attitude as “frum,” the same word that we colloquially use
to describe someone who is learned and observant. Someone who is “frum” cannot
integrate into society because he lacks the ability to understand others. He cannot
tolerate imperfection, and when he sees others that are seemingly flawed, he
disassociates himself from them. A “frum” person lives in isolation, and is missing
the point and focus of being part of the greater Jewish people.
Jacob’s blessing to them is now understood. He deems them to be “divided
among Jacob and scattered throughout Israel.” This is not meant to be a curse or a
rebuke; this is Jacob’s advice to them. They should learn to not live in isolation. The
“frum” attitude can be countered through integration with the rest of the Jewish
people, and can be healed through the understanding that the service of God can
manifest itself in many different forms. The entire purpose of this week’s Parsha is
to show how different people serve God in different ways – that is why the Jewish
people are split up into tribes in the first place!
We should all learn to not be “frum”, because that is the flawed way to serve
God. We should be understanding of our fellow Jews and the ways they serve God,
even if we disagree with their methodology. I hope that we can all learn to be
“scattered among Israel,” and that we can grow to accept everyone’s uniqueness in
service of God.
Jonathan Levine grew up in San Diego, California, and was part of the West Coast NCSY Regional Board in high school. He was very active in NCSY and in JSU throughout his time on the West Coast. He is currently studying in Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem.