Lessons from Chushim: Not Becoming Accustomed to War

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

In the final chapters of the Sefer Bereshis, the narrative unfolds as Yosef leads the procession to bury his father, Yaakov, in the Me’aras HaMachpela: 

So Yosef went up to bury his father, and all Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt went up with him. (50:7)

However, an unexpected challenge arises at the Me’aras HaMachpela when Esav attempts to obstruct the burial, leading to a dispute that unfolds before Yaakov’s descendants.

 The gemara in (Sota 13a) relates the following:

When [the funeral procession] arrived at the Me’aras HaMachpela, Esav came and tried to prevent [the burial there], saying to them… ‘[Yaakov] had buried Leah in his portion and what remains belongs to me’. They replied to him, ‘You sold it’. He said to them, ‘Granted that I sold my birthright, but did I sell my right as a plain heir?’ They replied: ‘Yes, for it is written: In my grave which I [Yaakov] have dogged for me’, and R. Yochanan has said in the name of R. Shimon b. Yehotzadak: The word kirah [dig] means ‘sale’… He said to them, ‘Produce a document [of sale] for me’. They replied to him, ‘The document is in the land of Egypt. Who will go for it? Let Naphtali go, because he is swift as a hind’; for it is written: Naphtali is a hind let loose, he gives goodly words – R. Abahu said: Read not ‘goodly words’ [imre shefer] but imre sefer [words of a document].

Among those present was Chushim, the son of Dan, who was deaf; he asked them, ‘What is happening?’ They said to him, ‘[Esav] is preventing [the burial] until Naphtali returns from the land of Egypt’. He retorted: ‘Is my grandfather to lie there in disrespect until Naphtali returns from the land of Egypt!’ He took a club and struck [Esav] on the head so that his eyes fell out and rolled to the feet of Yaakov. … (Sotah 13a)

כיון שהגיעו למערת המכפלה אתא [בא] עשו, קא [והיה] מעכב מלקבור את יעקב שם, אמר להן: ……. יעקב, קברה ללאה בדידיה חלק שלו], והאי דפייש [וזה המקום שנשאר] — דידי [שלי] הוא. 

אמרו ליה [לו] בני יעקב לעשיו: זבינתה [מכרת אותה] את נחלתך ליעקב. אמר להו [להם]: נהי דזביני בכירותא, פשיטותא מי זביני [אם אמנם שמכרתי את בכורתי, את חלקי כאח פשוט האם מכרתי]? אמרו ליה [לו]: אין [כן], גם את חלקך כאח פשוט מכרת ליעקב, דכתיב כן נאמר] שכך אמר יעקב: “בקברי אשר כריתי לי” (בראשית נ, ה), ואמר ר’ יוחנן משום ר’ שמעון בן יהוצדק: אין “כירה” אלא לשון מכירה……… 

אמר להו [להם] עשיו: הבו [תנו] לי איגרתא [שטר] של מכירה זו! אמרו ליה [לו]: איגרתא בארעא דמצרים היא [השטר בארץ מצרים הוא]. אמרו: ומאן ניזיל [ומי ילך] להביאו — ניזיל [ילך] נפתלי דקליל כי איילתא הוא קל רגליים כאיילה], דכתיב [שנאמר]: “נפתלי אילה שלחה הנתן אמרי שפר” (בראשית מט, כא), ואמר ר’ אבהו: אל תקרי [תקרא] “אמרי שפר” אלא “אמרי ספר”, כלומר, שהוא הביא את הספר = השטר. 

ומספרים: חושים בריה [בנו] של דן תמן הוה [שם היה] ויקירן ליה אודניה [והיו כבדות לו אוזניו], שלא שמע היטב. אמר להו [להם]: מאי האי [מהו זה] שאין קוברים את הסב יעקב? ואמרו ליה [לו]: קא מעכב האי [זה], עשיו, עד דאתי [שיבוא] נפתלי מארעא דמצרים [מארץ מצרים]. אמר להו [להם]: ועד דאתי [שיבוא] נפתלי מארעא דמצרים [מארץ מצרים] יהא אבי אבא מוטל בבזיון? שקל קולפא מחייה ארישיה [לקח אלה והיכה בה את עשיו על ראשו], נתרן עיניה [קפצו עיניו] ונפלו מחוריהן אכרעא [על רגליו] של יעקב, (סוטה י”ג א’)

The Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l, in his Sefer Sichos Musar points out that this is an amazing passage. Why was it that only Chushim ben Dan was worried about Yaakov Avinu’s honor? All of Yaakov’s children and grandchildren were also standing there present watching the disgrace – that Yaacov’s body was left unattended while his sons were arguing with their uncle Esav! And why did the Talmud emphasize the fact that Chushim was deaf?

He explains that this Gemara teaches us a remarkable fact about habit. Quite often tragedy comes upon a person and the result is intolerable but with time one may come to terms with the situation.

This is what happened to Yaakov’s children. They were bereaved and after a period of mourning and a journey from Mitzrayim they arrive at Meaaras HaMachpela. However the burial of Yaakov was delayed. They were standing there arguing with Esav over the right of burial in that spot. Every time Esav argued with them they found a successful retort which would permit the burial. But as soon as they won, the argument started again. And thus it went from argument to argument, from claim to counterclaim, and time dragged on. Yaakov, in the meanwhile, was laying there in dishonor but the family became accustomed to the situation, and did not feel the disgrace to their father Yaacov.

Chushim however was deaf. He did not hear any of this. He was oblivious of the argument being waged with Esav. Suddenly he became aware that his grandfather was lying there in disgrace, and he had no inkling of the background. Instinctively he took a club and smacked Esav on the head. Chushim had never become accustomed to the bad situation and so he saw it for what it really was and he put an end to the whole episode.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out that we learn from here a powerful insight into human nature that. With time, we can become desensitized even to tragic and absurd situations. This phenomenon occurred here – Yaakov’s children became accustomed to the intolerable circumstances of their father lying in disgrace at Meaaras HaMachpela.

Immediately after the beginning of the war this year on October 7th, there was a feeling of great unity and no politics but slowly the war continues. Soldiers are killed daily, families are destroyed and we have gotten used to the war situation – and the politics are returning.

The lesson here is that there are times when a person must say, “I’m not supposed to become accustomed to this. I should always react with concern. I must not let down my davening, learning, Maasim Tovim, and support for the soldiers, their families, the widows and orphans, the sick and injured”.

As we enter the third month of war, the initial shock may have faded, as days blur into weeks and months. Yet we cannot fall into complacency or growing numb to each new tragedy.

The grim reality persists: soldiers are still being killed daily; families destroyed in an instant. But because loss has become commonplace, public attention may have waned. We forget the searing pain felt in those first days when even a single casualty seemed unthinkable.

This passage about Yaakov’s funeral procession teaches that becoming accustomed to suffering can be natural. When we as a nation grow desensitized to the ongoing crisis the only antidote is refusing to resume ordinary life while devastation continues unabated.

Just as urgent action was called for in the initial days of fighting, we must recapture that intensity now. Do everything possible to support those experiencing loss, as though this were still week one. Let each soldier’s death shock the public conscience anew. Demonstrate through deeds, not hollow words, that we have not forgotten the bereaved among us – nor grown numb to their anguish. For it is our conduct in times of tragedy that demonstrates that we are Achim and true ‘brotherhood is tested in times of trouble’ As the verse states ‘a brother is born for adversity’ (Mishlei 17:17 ) 

 ואח לצרה יולד (משלי י”ז י”ז)


About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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