The Har Nof Massacre: What Do We Do Now?


rav-moshe-meir-weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

Although we are thousands of miles away, aftereffects of the Har Nof massacre stare us in the face.  Last Thursday, I davened Mincha in the famous Shomer Shabbos shul on Thirteenth Avenue in Boro Park, Brooklyn.  There was an armed policeman earnestly guarding the entranceway.  I was told later that similarly all the highly trafficked shuls had guards.  It is a stark reminder that all is not alright for the Jewish people.  As we head towards Chanukah, we are once again a nation under siege.  The pictures of puddles of blood in a Jerusalem shul, the vision of the pious faces of the four holy martyrs, Hy”d, Z”l, Zy”a, the sight of a body on the floor in tallis and tefillin, the thought of four widows and twenty-four orphans haunts us and scares us.

Although no one can fathom the ways of Hashem, as the verse testifies, “Mishpotecha t’hom raba – Your judgment is very deep,” yet we are taught by the great Rabbeim of old that it is proper to look at the parsha of the week for answers concerning current events.  During the week of the tragedy, we read in shul the well-known verse, “Hakol kol Yaakov v’hayodayim yidei Eisav.”  Yitzchak exclaims, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav.”  On this verse, the Yalkut Shimoni (115) says the famous formula that if the voice of Yaakov is strong, then the hands of Eisav, the hands of our enemies will not hold sway over us.

At first glance this exposition is puzzling for the verse indicates that the voice of Yaakov and the hands of Eisav were present simultaneously.  How can we infer a rule to the contrary?  The Vilna Gaon, Zt”l, Zy”a, explains that in the statement hakol kol Yaakov, the first ‘kol’ is spelled defectively, without a vav.  Thus, it is to be read, hakail kol Yaakov, meaning if the voice of Yaakov is diminished and deficient, then the hands of Eisav will dominate.

The Mayana Shel Torah explains the Midrashic derivation differently.  He says that Yitzchak made the statement in perplexity; “How could the voice sound like Yaakov but the hands feel hairy like Eisav?”  So too, the Midrash understands the message of the verse, How could the voice of Yaakov be strong and yet the hands of Eisav hold us in their grips?  That is simply not possible.  The Lechem Lefi Hataf says a clever interpretation.  He says the gematria hanistar, the hidden gematria of the name Eisav, is yud-nun, yud-nun, and yud-vav.  (For ayin is spelled ayin yud nun, shin is spelled shin yud nun, and vav is spelled vav yud vav.)  This equals 136, the exact gematria of the word kol.  Thus, if the voice of Yaakov is ‘hidden,’ then the hands of Eisav dominate.

In my humble opinion it can’t be coincidental that we read the verse that prophesizes ominously when our enemies will be granted ascendancy over us during the week of such a bloody demonstration at the hands of our enemies.

What is the kol kol Yaakov that is so necessary for our national defense that the posuk is referring to?  In Bereishis Rabbah it defines kol kol Yaakov as the kol of the Batei Knesios and the Batei Midrashos:  the voice of Klal Yisroel in prayer and Torah study.  Those are the dynamic duo of the Jewish nation’s defense system.  Such a horrific tragedy occurring in the rarified environment of a holy shul in the midst of pious prayer screams for our attention.  Each one of us must ask ourselves if our prayers are deficient.  The Yaros Devash, Zt”l, Zy”a, explains the verse: if it’s only a kol kol Yaakov, that our prayers are only a voice – mere lip-service – without any penimios, depth, feeling and thought, then the yodayim ydei Eisav will have power over us.

Let’s take a hard look at ourselves.  When we go to shul, are our heads in our prayers?  If, as we exit the shul, someone were to ask us, ‘What did you talk to Hashem about today,’ would we have an answer?  Do we routinely prepare what to thank Hashem for when we say Modim?  Do we even actually feel that we are standing before Hashem when we take the three steps forward into the Shemone Esrei?

After such a horror, these are some the things that each and every one of us needs to evaluate.  When we consider the possible deficiency of Hakol kol Yaakov, we have to ask ourselves if we have the global responsibility to pray for the safety of our brethren when we say Sim Shalom and Shalom Rav in the Shemone Esrei, when we say Racheim na al Yisroel amecha v’al Yerushalayim Irecha in bentching, when we pray U’shmor tzeiseinu u’vo’einu l’chaim ul’shalom in birchas Krias Shema.  We should be more motivated to pick up a Tehillim and to say prayers for the safety of Jews world over.

The other predominant Kol Yaakov is the voice that emanates from the Beis HaMedrash when Jews are learning Torah.  As we are taught, Torah is magnei u’matzlei, it shields us and it saves us.

When tragedy strikes any of our Jewish brethren, each and every one of us needs to reevaluate whether we are spending enough time on the study of Torah.  In today’s day and age when there are  powerful distractions such as riveting computer games, mesmerizing videos, captivating novels, there is much extracurricular activity to pull us away from the rarified pages of the Gemora, Mishna and Chumash.  We need to battle the Yeitzer Hara and say, I want to do my small part in buttressing the walls of fortification that protect our people.

Although the Medrash, in explaining the meaning of the phrase “Hakol kol Yaakov,” says it refers to the kol of the Batei Kneisios and Batei Medrashos, the synagogues and the study halls, this is not the simple explanation of the verse.  Rather, Rashi explains the comment of Yitzchak, when he said in wonderment, “It’s the voice of Yaakov but it feels like the hands of Eisav,” in the following manner.  Masquerading as Eisav, Yaakov approached his father with the requested repast and said, “Yokum na avi – Please arise my father,” Yitzchak immediately commented, while the hands are hairy like those of Eisav, the voice of politeness is that of Yaakov.

So, part of the formula of Kol Yaakov that protects us from the domination of the hands of Eisav is the courteous behavior of the Jewish people and we, in today’s society, need to take stock as to whether we are living up to these expectations.  Are we polite when we are in our cars or do we zoom out as soon as we arrive at the stop sign paying little attention to who arrived at the crossroads first?  Do we honk in the middle of the night waking up scores of babies and elderly people?  Do we stop our car to chat with another,  oblivious of a long line of cars waiting behind us?  Do we double park or, even worse, block people’s driveways?  What is with our cell phone behavior?  Are we busy talking while the bank teller or the clerk at the counter is trying to serve us?  Are we holding the phone while driving putting everyone in danger?  Are we talking on the phone while wheeling our baby carriages in front of us while crossing the street?  The list goes on and on.  What about our behavior in shul?  Do we open a sefer while the Rabbi is talking?  Do we chatter while those around us are trying in vain to concentrate on their prayers?  Are we courteous, respectful, and appreciative towards our parents, our spouse, our rabbeim, morohs and teachers?  Our efforts to do so also help us against the hands of Eisav.

There is yet another explanation of the Kol Yaakov.  Rashi says that when Yitzchak asked how Eisav (he thought it was Eisav) could have prepared the food so quickly (for after all, he needed to hunt it, skin it and roast it), Yaakov answered “Ki hikra Hashem lifonai – Hashem supplied it for me.”  That answer made Yitzchak suspicious.  Hakol Kol Yaakov, that sounds like the voice of Yaakov for as Rashi says, by Yaakov “Shem shomayim shegura b’fiv – The Name of Hashem was frequently upon his mouth.”  Such was not the case by Eisav.

This is also ammunition against the bloody attacks of our enemies.  We should train ourselves to say often, Boruch Hashem, Im Yertza Hashem – If Hashem wants it, BiSiyata D’shamaya – With the assistance of Heaven, B’ezras Hashem – With the help of Heaven.  Many people have mocked this habit saying that “You can’t get any information from these black hatters.  It’s always Boruch Hashem, Boruch Hashem.  (Rav Wein once quipped that his three year-old son said “I know Hashem’s first Name, It’s Boruch because everyone says Boruch Hashem.)  However, all jokes aside, when a person is accustomed to say Boruch Hashem with feeling, giving Hashem credit for the daily successes, and when we say Im Yertza Hashem when announcing our daily plans, acknowledging that all is really up to Hashem, as the Yiddish saying goes, “A mentch tracht un Gott lacht – A man plans and God laughs (at the fact that the person thinks he’s really in control),” such an attitude admits Hashem much more into our daily life and affords us much protection against the hands of Eisav.

May it be the will of Hashem that we upgrade the four Kolos of prayer, Torah, politeness and Boruch Hashem and the like and in that merit may Hashem bless us with global security, good health, long life and everything wonderful.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.

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  1. And why does the Israeli government want a Jewish “democratic” nation? “Demos” is “of the people’ our nation is of Hashem. No Arabs, atheists, Torah-haters in the “government”.

  2. Regarding the Yiddish expression: “A mentch tracht un Gott lacht” – A man plans and G-d laughs (or as the other translation goes:”Man preposes and G-d disposes.”) my wife, with her bina yeseira, mentioned to me on more than one occasion that she doesn’t like it. She prefers “A mentch tracht un Gott vais besser”- A man plans, but G-d knows better.” Saying G-d laughs is an anthropomorphism, which shouldn’t be used unless the Torah itself uses it (ie. “the eyes of Hashem…”). Furthermore, it implies a detached G-d who is not the loving, concerned Hashem who is only out for our best interests, both in olam hazeh and olam haba.