OLD TIME PROBLEM
Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
The Voideslover Rav, zt”l, was a glorious remnant of the previous generation of rabbinical leadership. A Polisha Rav, son in law of the Shotza Rebbe Ztl of London, he was comfortable in any part of the Torah HaKedosha. He had a cosmopolitan manner, spoke a number of languages, and had the aristocratic bearing of the descendant of generations of Chasidic Masters. The Rav had a warm gift for shmoozing and I fondly remember many of his shared stories. He once related that when he was a youngster, he and his friends met an elderly Rebbetzin who was a granddaughter of the Chasam Sofer. She explained that as a little girl she often ate Shabbos lunch with her grandfather. One time, she recalled, the Chasam Sofer spoke of the fact that in each generation the Yetzer Horah takes on a new identity. This, he said, is because people become aware of the dangers involved with consorting with evil, and so they stay away. As they become more aware of one evil disguise, the yetzer hara takes on a new face, thereby fooling a new generation. For example, he continued, in his generation the Yetzer Horah’s name could very well be “heintiga tzieten” (‘today’s world’, a reference to the reform movement of his time).
The Voideslover continued his story: “I saw that this was indeed a wise old woman and asked her what the yetzer hara’s name was in our time [just before WW I]. She demurred, but finally answered, “What do I know, I’m just an old Yiddena.” “Duch,” insisted the bachurim. “What do you think?” She smiled to herself and said, “Well, maybe he is called leshem Shamayim.”
That was a long time ago, and we can rest assured that the old Master of Deception has changed his face more than a few times in the interim. What is his name today? Well, it’s a world of sophisticated communication and so he can assume many faces indeed. He’s probably transformed into something of a multi-media colossus, tailored for each of us, his targeted consumers.
This episode was first written about over twenty years ago, and can be found in my first published book. I share it again because with all that is going on, I expect that our old arch enemy has dressed himself in new and ever more sophisticated guises.
In Parshas Vayishlach we find Yakov Avinu wrestling with a Malach and subduing him. Then we learn:
“Yaakov asked, ‘Tell me, please, your name.’ He (the Malach) said, ‘Why do you ask my name?” (32:30)
The Malach that wrestled with Yakov Avinu is none other than the epitome of evil, the Yetzer Horah whose task is to overpower us and lead us astray. In asking what the malach’s name was, Yakov sought to identify this power, so that future generations would be able to guard and defend themselves from his poison. Rashi explains that the Malach’s response, ‘why do you ask my name?’ Means ‘I am nameless, or ‘I have no fixed name.’
Interestingly, Chazal have different opinions about what form the malach took in his confrontation with Yakov. Some say he looked like a heathen while others opine that he looked like a learned scholar. As we know, there is truth in all of Chazal’s opinions, regardless of how widely they differ. Perhaps the secret is that the very same Yetzah Hora can have different appearances depending on the person he is confronting.
Throughout history the forces that seek to disconnect us from The Eibishter have taken on different forms. As the Chasam Sofer taught in the 1830’s, there seems to be an ongoing struggle wherein our enemy has different disguises for what is essentially the same power to corrupt. From generation to generation, this ‘nameless’ entity works its dark arts, yet we must never despair. Yakov Avinu fought throughout the dark night, and as the daylight approached, he overcame the enemy. Yes, he may have been wounded in the fight, but he taught us all that we too can persevere.
What name does evil work under today? Is he pretending to be a scholar, or a tramp, in truth it can be all of the above.
As mentioned, I write these words over twenty years after I last shared them. In this short time we have seen so much change. Dynamic growth of Torah has been experienced wherever Yieden live, Mosdos larger than anything ever before experienced have been built and filled with thirsting scholars, striving to grow in Torah and Avodah. Yet, machlokas seems to thrive as well, and tragically many of our young have become disenfranchised because of what they see around us..
Currently living in the era of Corona, we might ask what name the eternal enemy carries today. Is it just this viral plague that threatens us, or perhaps the evil discord that festers within our ranks? Everything is in the hands of Kaveuchal the Eibishter, all cures will come from Him. Yet we drift into factions, argue about subjects that we know nothing about. The various lockdowns and isolations wear us down, turning every minor event into a major confrontation.
Klall Yisroel has always wrestled with such forces, whether our enemies were mortal or spiritual, we have always been triumphant in our struggle. Yakov Avinu was the ultimate man of truth, and we his children will never be vanquished as long as we hold onto that truth.
As the haze of our current difficulties seems to be hopefully dissipating, we should stand together and thank Hashem for His Rachmonus. We are the children of greatness, and although the Yetzer Horah may take on any number of names, we will remain steadfast in our connection with Hashem. This is our hour to shine with emunah and bitochon, our future generations will speak of it with awe.