Â Â LOSING CHESS
Sipurim Mehachaim (and Anashim Mesaprim Al Atzmam 6) Chaim Walder tells an amazing story. By shortening it, I am doing it a great injustice. Forgive me.
Miriam was an 8 year old girl, an only child, who lived in Poland. Her father owned a factory, and she lived in a big, fancy house with a half a dozen maids.Â The Nazis invaded Poland and confiscated all of her parents’ possessions. All Jews needed to wear the yellow star, with the inscription “Jude.” One day, in middle of supper, they were surprised by S.S. officers, who came to take Miriam’s father. Before leaving forever, he whispered in Miriam’s mother’s ear … “If the Germans want to send you and Miriam away to labor camps, don’t be seduced by their offers. Go to the house of our trusted maidservant, Anna, and ask her to hide you two in her home, for good pay.”Â With that, he left, never to be seen again. When the Nazi officers made the announcements ordering all the Jews to gather at the main square, to be sent to the labor camps, Miriam and her mother ran to Anna’s house. With them, taking an attachÃ© case of clothes, and all the cash that was saved up in hiding.
Anna’s 1.5 room apartment was in a simple neighborhood, in a five story building, on the top floor. Anna was shocked when she opened her door to the knocking of Miriam and her mother. Miriam’s mother begged and pleaded to be allowedÂ in, saying that she would pay a hefty rent for each month Anna would hide them. Anna let them board in a bedroom that was more like a closet, with one bed for both. They stayed for a few weeks at Anna’s. The Germans announced that any gentile who was found hiding a Jew would be shot, but Miriam’s mother promised Anna that the moment the Nazis would come to search the building, both she and Miriam would jump out the window, onto the porch off the second floor, so the Germans won’t find them at Anna’s. Anna calmed down a bit.
During the time that they stayed with Anna, Miriam was not allowed to make any noise. She was allowed to play chess with Julia, Anna’s 8 year old daughter. Miriam, a smart girl, an ace at chess, had no problem winning each game that she played with Julia. They played a lot, Miriam winning each game. Miriam’s mother told her, “It’s not good that you are winning each time. I want you to let her win; give her the feeling of victory. Anna and Julia are being so kind to us by letting us hide here. We need to be good to them, too. Jealousy is a very dangerous thing.”
It was hard, but Miriam allowed Julia to win. Julia was so excited! She ran to Anna to tell about her first victory. The next day, Miriam let her win some more. After a few more days, Miriam let Julia win all the games except one, so that Julia would not suspect that she was being allowed to win.
Early one morning, the Nazis arrived at Anna’s street, preparing to make a thorough search. White as a ghost, Anna woke up Miriam and her mother, and sternly directed them to the window. They packed their bag with whatever they might be able to use, if either one of them would survive the jump and then survive dealing with the Nazis downstairs. Too frightened to cry, they headed for the window.
Suddenly, Julia stood in their way. Julia was a big, rough girl. She told her mother Anna, “I don’t care what, I am not letting Miriam go. She is my only friend.” Anna tried pushing Julia out of the way, but Julia went to the window to scream loudly, bringing lots of attention to that fifth floor apartment. Anna pleaded with her daughter, “So, Julia, what is your alternative option? We will all be killed?” Julia replied, ” Miriam and I built a clubhouse on the roof of the building. Let them climb up the trap window and pull up the ladders after themselves. They can hide in the clubhouse.” Anna directed them to follow Julia’s plan. While hiding up on the roof, they heard the Nazis search room after room. After the stamping of boots stopped, Miriam heard, through the roof, Julia singing her song. “I won Miriam, I beat Hitler! I won Miriam, I beat Hitler!”
One lesson we can learn from this story is that losing is sometimes winning. But in this week’s parasha, we are taught how Jews are to behave with Esav in Exile. When Yaakov headed for Eretz Yisrael, he sent messengers, angels, to Esav to see how he was doing, to see if he was still angry with him for taking the blessings. The response from the angels was that Esav was coming to fight Yaakov, with 400 generals of war. The Midrash tells us, that if Yaakov would have tiptoed back home, not sending a message to Esav, Esav would have never come out to fight. Now that he “pulled the lion by his ear”, he woke up the lion.
Upon hearing the news that his brother was coming to fight, Yaakov was overcome with fear. He was not afraid of Esav’s strength, but of the two mitzvoth that Esav had to his credit and that he, Yaakov, did not. For the last 22 years, Esav had been honoring Yitzhak , and had been living in Eretz Yisrael. The Midrashim also tell us that Yaakov’s angels were mighty, and that Esav ‘s men were being badly beaten on their way. If Yaakov had such might on his side of the battle, beating Esav seems to be a cinch. Why, exactly, was he afraid that he was going to get hurt?
The answer is that Yaakov knew the score. This world is given to Esav, for his having honored Yitzhak. Yaakov’s mitzvoth can’t be cashed in in this world, for that would be like buying half a gumball with a million dollar check.Â In this world, Esav has power, as long as our spiritual level is not high enough to be our saving grace. Esav was given his whole reward in this world, for all the generations, for that one mitzvah! Yaakov’s only way to survive is to tiptoe safely through the Exile. Not to show off our money, not to show off our achievements. But to stay low key… Losing is sometimes winning.
At his death bed, Yaakov bowed to his son, King Yosef. (Breshit 47; 31.Rashi. ) About this there is a famous Talmudic quote. “There is one month a year that the fox is king of the animals. In that month, bow to the fox.” (Megillah 16b) Certain people are put on positions in our lives that we just have to accept the fact that they are in that position, and make the best of the situation. Even if it is not fair. One can get much further in life by accepting this. Miriam’s mother knew this secret of success in life, and passed it on to Miriam. Miriam hopes that we all learn it as well.
(Breishit R. 75;2,Â Pnei Yehoshua Kiddushin 31b, Tehillim 73, Ramban 32; 4 – 9)