Thursday, November 19, 2020







          Peleh Yoetz relates a frightening story about a Jewish comedian who spent his life on stage telling inappropriate, vulgar, and crude jokes.

          When he was in his final illness, he lay in a coma with the Chevra Kadisha[2] awaiting the inevitable. Suddenly, the dying comedian sat up and began screaming wildly, “Get away from me!” He then turned to his family and continued screaming, “Can’t you see them coming to drag me away? They are going to tear me to pieces! Their running and waving pockets of fire at me, they want to destroy me for all the terrible things I’ve said!” The Chevra Kadisha tried to calm him but he was completely out of control. Finally, after a few minutes, he sank back into his comatose state, immobile as before.

          During the next three days, as people came to visit him, he would suddeny sit up and scream at them, “Don’t think you are going to get away from it! They’ll punish you too; you should have stopped me from saying all those jokes.” To others he screamed, “You paid to come hear me say all those sinful jokes, they’ll get you too.” On the third day, he finally died, and was buried.[3]


          Rivkah dressed Yaakov in Eisav’s special skins and sent him to Yitzchak with a specially prepared meal. Yaakov approached Yitzchak and with tremendous respect and reverence said that he had come to receive the blessings. Yitzchak heard the respectful tone and was confused. He drew Yaakov close and felt the roughness of his hands and declared, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Eisav.”[4]

          Why did Yaakov not speak in the manner of Eisav?

          Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explains that Yaakov could not bring himself to speak with the gruffness of Eisav, even for a few moments. Even with the threat of receiving a curse instead of a blessing, Yaakov felt he could not sully his mouth to speak in the disparaging and harsh way in which Eisav spoke.

          The statement of Yitzchak was more than a comment of confusion. Yitzchak was also relating the secret to the descendants of Yaakov to defeat the descendants of Eisav in all future generations. The word "Hakol" is written without the letter ‘vov’ so that it can also be read as "Hakal-it is light". The pasuk can be read, "If the voice of Yaakov is light/weak, then the hands of Eisav will be strong".

          As long as Klal Yisroel turn to Hashem to seeks His assistance in all facets of life, we are protected. But when we become lax in prayer, Hashem grants the hands of Eisav power to oppress us, to remind us that we have forgotten our role and purpose.


          At times we wonder why our prayers are not as potent as we might hope.[5] Years ago, in Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[6] related the following parable to the campers: 

          A woman was preparing for a Kiddush she was hosting in her home that Shabbos following davening. Among the other delicacies she was preparing, she wanted to make a truffle. The only problem was that making a truffle requires a certain type of round bowl, and she could not find one. She frantically called her neighbors and friends, but no one had the bowl she needed.

          That Shabbos at the Kiddush, her neighbor was pleasantly surprised to see a delicious truffle cake in the middle of the cake table. While eating a piece, she walked over to the hostess and asked how she was able to procure the necessary bowl. The hostess laughed and explained, "At first, I was really dejected that I wasn’t going to be able to make the truffle. But while moping around my house, I spotted my three-year-old’s “training seat” on the bathroom floor. I realized it was the perfect size and shape in which to prepare a truffle cake. I washed it out, and with some effort, presto! I had my truffle." The neighbor’s smile faded quickly. She spit out what was in her mouth and ran out of the house in horror.

          It isn’t enough for us to daven with emotion and concentration. We also have to make sure that the tool we are using to utter our prayers – our mouths – are pure and free of forbidden and vulgar speech. We don’t want to present a beautiful ‘truffle of prayer’ to Hashem, while using sullied mouths.

          When Klal Yisroel were finally leaving Egypt during the exodus, the pasuk states, "Ul’chol B’nei Yisroel lo yecheratz kelev l’shono- And to all of the B’nai Yisroel a dog did not bark with its tongue."[7]

          The Kotzker Rebbe explained the pasuk homiletically by reading the word "kelev" as "kileiv-like the heart". In other words, the tongue barks what the heart is feeling. The topics one speaks about and the words he uses reflect his inner world.

          A Jew must be wary that his mouth is his key to the greatest spiritual treasures. Our ultimate weapon is the power of our mouths, for good and for better. Like a soldier heading out to war, we have to sharpen our weapon so that it is potent and suited for combat.


          “To all of the B’nai Yisroel – like the heart is the tongue.”

          “The voice is the voice of Yaakov; the hands are the hands of Eisav”


Rabbi Dani Staum


[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] The holy group of individuals that tend to the needs of the dead

[3] I heard this story from Rabbi Finkelman. I am not sure where in the Peleh Yoetz it is quoted.

[4] Bereishis 27:22

[5] Though no prayer goes unanswered, certain prayers have greater potency than others depending.

[6] Rabbi Finkelman, a personal rebbe, is the Mashgiach on Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY. For a number of years he was manhig ruchani (spiritual director) in Camp Dora Golding, where I had the opportunity and privilege to develop a close relationship with him.

[7] Shemos 11:7


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