Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Compromise

"One who blesses a compromiser, such as Yehuda, is a blasphemer" (Sanhedrin 6b). The Meshech Chochma (37:26) suggests that the sons of Bilha and Zilpa did not wish to kill Yosef (see Rashi 37:2), while the four sons of Leah who were present at the time (Reuven was absent) did. Yehuda was the deciding vote. Had Yehuda insisted that Yosef be returned safely to Yaakov, he would have prevailed by a five to four vote. In this context, compromise is indeed reprehensible.

Many years after the sale of Yosef, another compromise was proposed. When accused of stealing Yosef's royal cup, the brothers agreed that if the cup was found in their possession, the one found to have stolen the cup shall die, and they would all be slaves to Yosef (44:9). After the cup is found in Binyamin's bag, Yosef states that Binyamin will be a slave, and the brothers are free to leave (44:17). Under the circumstances, this compromise seems reasonable. Yet, Yehuda forcefully rejects this arrangement, insists that Binyamin be released, and offers himself as a slave instead (44:33). Furthermore, Yehuda threatens Yosef (Rashi 44:18), and is undeterred by the risk of his aggressive posture (see Rashi 42:14). This refusal to accept Binyamin's servitude represents Yehuda's teshuva for his earlier blasphemous compromise.

Still another compromise is presented to the brothers as they are about to bury Yaakov. Esav claims that the available grave in Ma'aras Hamachpelah is his, and denies that Yaakov purchased it from him. After negotiations, the brothers agree to postpone the burial until Naftali returns from Mitzrayim with the deed. Chushim, Dan's deaf son, is enraged at the disgrace to his grandfather's body and kills Esav (Sotah 13a).

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Mussar, 5733 - 6) explains that the brothers were gradually entrapped into negotiations and compromise, and were therefore insensitive to the disgrace of their father's remains. Only Chushim, who couldn't hear the give and take, but was suddenly confronted with the reality of the situation, responded to Esav's preposterous position and the resulting disgrace of Yaakov's body, and acted accordingly. However, according to the Yerushalmi (Kesubos 1:5, see Shita Mekubetzes 7b), it was Yehuda who killed Esav when he prevented the burial of Yaakov. Once again, Yehuda rejects a compromise, even at the risk of Esav killing him in self-defense, and at the cost of subsequent hostilities by Esav's descendants against Yehuda's (ibid). This completes his teshuva for the earlier ill-advised compromise.

II

When the Jewish people gathered around Aharon Hakohen and demanded that he make gods for them, he compromised and acceded to their request, resulting in the creation of the Eigel Hazahav (Golden Calf). He did so either to avoid worse consequences if he would be killed (Sanhedrin 7a, see Rashi), or to stall in the hope that Moshe would quickly return (Shemos 32:1-5, see Rashi). This compromise, like Yehuda's, is deemed blasphemous (Tosafos, though, disagrees with this understanding). Aharon incurred Hashem's wrath, and was severely punished (Devarim 9:20, see Rashi). Perhaps the tikkun (correction) for Aharon's compromise was the uncompromising heroism of his descendants. Pinchas risked his life to zealously destroy a public sinner (Bamidbar 25:7-15, Sanhedrin 82). And Matisyahu, following this example, rejected the blandishments of King Antiochus, and killed a public sinner as well as the king's emissaries (Macabees I). His subsequent call of "Mi Lashem Elai" ("whoever if to Hashem join me") echoed Moshe's response to the sin of the Golden Calf allowed by Aharon (Shemos 32:26). And the rest is history, i.e. the story of Chanukah.

Sometimes even silence is a punishable compromise. When Paroh plotted to outsmart Am Yisroel and thereby destroy them (Shemos 1:10, see Ramban), he consulted three advisors. Bilam, who advised him, was ultimately killed. Yisro fled, and was rewarded. Iyov was silent, and was sentenced to terribly painful and agonizing suffering (yissurim) (Sotah 11a). Iyov's compromise seems reasonable. After all, his protest would not accomplish anything. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Mussar, 5733-5) interprets that Iyov's silence reflected insensitivity. When one is in pain, he cries out even though the cry accomplishes nothing. For not feeling the pain of others, Iyov was sentenced to pain that would cause him to cry out.

On Chanukah, we read the story of Yosef and his brothers. We are reminded that compromise, a laudable and critical approach, can sometimes be blasphemous. Adherence to principle occasionally demands uncompromising defiance, even when there are risks and/or consequences. Even silence, the best of all attributes (see Avos 1:17) is not always appropriate.

There is a time for everything, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time for war and a time for peace (Koheles 3:1,7,8). As we have seen above, there is much room for error when deciding whether a given time demands that one compromise or stand on principle. May our Torah leaders be given the insight to correctly determine what time it is, and may we be given the strength to follow proper Torah leadership.

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