Turning Everything Into Gold

The basic principle can be found in a seemingly insignificant detail of the story of Jacob and his reconciliation with his brother, Esau. Esau had proclaimed his intent to murder Jacob, so Jacob had fled to his relatives in Mesopotamia. While there, he married and had 12 children. Now, 20 years later, he was returning to the land of Canaan. He did not know if his brother had reconciled himself to Jacob's existence, or if he still harbored murderous intent. So Jacob makes a plan.

His plan is based on the concept of three things: appeasement, preparation for battle, and prayer. Let's focus on the first of the three, appeasement. Jacob takes "whatever animals came to his hand," and prepared to send them as a gift to his brother Esau. The commentary written by the sainted Chofetz Haim asks why he Jacob did not intentionally take the best of his flocks? Why only "whatever animals come to hand?" He answers that Jacob observed the Torah's laws, and among them are the laws of kosher slaughtering of animals.

Esau, on the other hand, did not observe these laws. Therefore, Jacob didn't want to hand his animals over willingly to his brother, who would slaughter them in a nonkosher method, and cause them to be on a lower level of holiness. Apparently, being slaughtered in the kosher fashion as a spiritual effect even on animals!

Jewish law puts an emphasis on kindness to animals, and avoiding cruelty to them. A Talmudic story about one of the great rabbis illustrates the point. The rabbi was standing, when an animal which was due to be slaughtered escaped from the shochet, the ritual slaughter, and hid between the rabbi's legs. The rabbi told the animal, "go and submit yourself, because this is why you were created." Even though he was technically right, the rabbi was stricken by illness and attributed it to his sin of being insensitive to that animal. Later, he corrected his sin and was healed.

Another detail in the appeasement efforts of Jacob makes a similar point. Jacob had sent all the animals with his servants and slaves. The Chofetz Haim explains that Esau might have thought that the slaves were also for him. Thus, Jacob specifically instructs them to say, "these (we) are belonging to Jacob your brother, and are sending this gift to you...". In other words, Jacob was not giving his servants to Esau. Why not? Because, the rabbi explains, as long as they were in Jacob's household, they also were observing the laws of the Torah. If Jacob would give them to his brother, their holiness would be diminished, as they would cease observing the Torah.

From both of these stories we see a unique responsibility upon Jacob. It is not enough that he is nice and respectful of his servants, and kind to his animals. It is not enough to treat others well, there is a stronger obligation. He must uplift them! He must enable them all to reach their maximum spiritual potential. Even the animals have spiritual potential, and being part of a Torah household means living on a higher level. Thus, Jacob would not single out the animals to be given to Esau, rather he left it to chance, to "whatever comes to his hand."

Similarly, even if Esau would provide his servants with the most wonderful accommodations and pampering treatment, it would still be a disservice for Jacob to give them to him. Why? Because he would be lowering their spiritual level. Jacob could not afford to be humble, he had to know that his way of life was superior because of its greater spirituality. He had a responsibility to his servants to help them achieve their highest possible level.

Sadly, many leaders in the world today lead by reading polls. They don't seek to improve their people, they seek to appease them and please them. Even when Jacob was appeasing Esau, he did not allow himself to compromise the spirituality of anyone, or anything, under his influence.

However, Jacob also failed to do this in one element of his repatriation with Esau. After the reunion, Jacob's daughter Dina is kidnapped and raped by the Prince of Shechem. Our sages claim that this was punishment for how Jacob treated Dina when he was approaching Esau. Basically, he hid her in a box so that his brother would not see her and desire to marry her. Now, he may have thought that he was preventing her from being brought to a lower level by marrying Esau.

In truth, however, Dina would have had the power and influence to reform Esau! Jacob prevented this, he missed an opportunity to uplift and inspire his brother, and what followed was a punishment for that. While the appropriateness of such a "punishment" can be debated, the principle we are discussing shines clearly through: we must do everything to uplift and inspire every human being upon whom we have influence.

So, if the Jews would rule the world, it would be their responsibility to protect and inspire all of humanity. Indeed, as the Jews control the state of Israel, they must work to educate and uplift all residents of the land. We have a duty to fight off the negative influences, to expel the preachers of hate and to put an end to the vile anti-Semitic incitement and brainwashing taking place. We need to throw our weight around and make sure that all children are educated in the ways of God, specifically in the seven basic Laws of Morality that mankind received in the time of Noah. "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal," are among the basics.

It is our job to make sure that everything we touch turns to spiritual gold.