Choosing the Correct Response: Wearing Red?


moshe-meir-weiss-rabbiBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

After over a thousand missiles were fired into Eretz Yisroel, and long range missiles entered Tel Aviv and even penetrated Yerushalyim, people the world over were looking for ways to show their concern.  To show solidarity with the plight of those who live in the constant danger of missile attack, a movement was initiated to wear red.  The color red was chosen because when the sirens blare to warn people about an imminent attack, it is called “code red.”  While a show of joint empathy and concern is admirable, I was dismayed at the method chosen.

Just a week before, we read in the parsha that Esav was called Edom, the Red One.  Esav’s redness refers to his exit from his mother’s womb, from the blood of his mother’s womb that he destroyed to ensure that there would be no additional competition for the family’s inheritance.  It also refers to how Esav chose the immediate gratification of some red lentil soup and gave up the eternal privilege of the service of the first born.

Of the entire spectrum of colors to choose to wear, red would be the last one.  In Shulachan Oruch, Yoreh De’ah [178:1], it says in the Rema that one should not dress brazenly like the gentiles such as with the color red.  And the Shach on location cites the Maharik that it was never the way of bnei ameinu, our people, to wear red.  And, although Rav Eliyashev, Zt”l, Zy”a, qualified this as referring to only bright red, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Zt”l, Zy”a, says that a red accessory is permitted, it is still pretty clear that red should be the last color to select, especially in a time of danger, and especially since the Shevet Tzion writes that the color red is m’orer dinim, awakens judgment.

But then I thought that perhaps they chose the color red to follow in the footsteps of Hashem Who told Moshe that the Jewish people should put the red blood on their doorposts and lintels and in that merit Hashem would pass over their houses when He smote the Egyptian firstborns.  However, there is really no comparison.  There, we weren’t wearing red; we were putting it on the portals of our homes.  Furthermore, that was an entirely different message.  In Mitzrayim, the red represented two things very internal and personal – our willingness to slaughter the Egyptian sheep god in face of the wrath of the Egyptians and our heroic sacrifice to circumcise ourselves.  The very essence of blood is pnimius, our internal-ness.  Wearing red however, is very superficial.  It only makes for a good photo-op.

Then, I surmised that perhaps they based their choice of the color red on the red bendele, the red string used to ward of the evil eye.  One again however there is no comparison.  If the red thread accomplishes anything, it is as a danger sign to tell us ‘red alert,’ for red is the universal color of danger.  That’s why stop signs the world over are the color red; it is the color of fire.  And, one might wear the red bendele to remind him or herself not to flaunt what extra they have in the presence of people who don’t have.  For that is when one might succumb to an ayin hara, an evil eye.  The red thread is there remind a person not to flaunt their beauty, their wealth, or their wisdom.

The truth of the matter is that there does need to be a reaction but it must be more meaningful than everyone putting on a red sweater or blouse.  Everyone should send their children to school with additional tzedaka and teach them that this will save our brave soldiers for, Tzedaka tatzil mi’moves – Charity saves from death.”  A period during the school day should be given for the study and saying of Tehillim, for this is the age old strategy.  “Hakol kol Yaakov v’hayodayim ydei Esav – The voice of Yaakov rebuffs the hands of Esav.”  And of course, the very best response is to learn more Torah, as the Gemora tells us it is a k’sris bfnei haperonios, it is a shield before retribution.

We must always turn to our Torah sages to learn the correct responses in all of life’s challenges.  Let’s reflect for a moment how the secular press reacted to Hurricane Sandy.  There were discussions about global warming, criticism about whether we could have protected ourselves better, and talk about future readiness.  But what about asking, Why did it happen?  That question wasn’t even discussed.  On the other hand, the Gemora, in the very beginning of Shas (Berachos 5a) asks, What should a person do if suffering comes upon him.  It answers, “Mifashfaish b’maasov – Let him search his deeds.”  The correct response is to look inward.  Here is another example.  The Gemora asks, What should a person do if he finds himself financially strapped?  The Gemora answers that the Torah reaction is, “Mi shemizonosov mitzumtzomim, yaasu meihen tzedaka – One whose budget is tight should give money to charity.”

We see the Torah reaction is not always what we would think to do.  What about if you hear that someone’s daughter became a kallah and you have three daughters sitting at home and the phone isn’t ringing.  The natural response is jealously.  But the Yesod v’Shoresh HaAvodah says that this is a glorious opportunity to fulfill, V’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha – To love your friend like yourself.  For, just like we would be happy if our daughter becomes a kallah, we should likewise be happy for others when it happens to them.

How do we respond when someone is not kind to us?  If we treat them in a similar fashion, that is nekamah, revenge.  If we bear a grudge, that’s netirah.  If we go home and tell our spouse, You wouldn’t believe what so-and-so did to me, that’s lashon hara.  But, if we heroically look away, then we are maavir al midosov and in reward for that, Hashem treats us measure for measure and looks away from our sins.

May it be the will of Hashem that there be shalom al yisroel and safety for every Jew, and may we learn from the Torah how to always respond correctly, and in that merit may Hashem bless us withl long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

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  1. I applaud Rav Weiss and anyone who can inspire greater Ahavas Yisroel and greater Tzedaka giving.

    That being said, The declaration by Yitzchak of Kol Kol Yaakov vehayodayim yidei Esav seeks to put them on equal status. When Yitzchak makes that declaration, he is stating that the bearer of the Bracha of Vayiteyn Lecha…, the Bracha of Malchus is to go to the one who bears both, the KOl Yaakov and Yadayim of Esav. In fact it is David Hamelech the “Admoni” who ultimately earns the Malchus because he has balanced his expertise in both Yedey Esav and the Kol Yaakov. In effect by wearing the color red we are indeed aspiring to that very ideal. We will not give up our principles and values and we will fight if we have to.