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What does an evil person look like?

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

We tell our children not to take candy from a stranger in the street. But most of the abuse of children is perpetrated by someone they know. This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp: The evildoer does not alway look evil. Sometimes he's a pleasant looking gentleman in a suit. Again and again we hear of sordid behavior on the part of well known and seemingly upright and successful people, and each time we are surprised anew.

Our commentators pause in their assessment of Esau, from whom Yaakov runs away in this week's Torah portion. We picture the hunter Esau as a violent man, barbaric and repellent. Someone from whom we would recoil in the street. But Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, for example, argues that we should not ignore the fact that Esau was an impressive spiritual leader. In the Torah it is told that he had 400 enthusiastic followers. He was their mentor.

In the words of Rabbi Dessler, Esau was the first person in history to bring this sort of hypocrisy into the world: On the outside, you can be a professor or government minister or rabbi while inside - a wicked Esau. This Torah portion offers us a yearly reminder: We need to check if people in the public eye are everything they seem to be, if they set a good example in their daily lives. We must carefully examine if an undesirable character is hiding behind a mask of charisma and talent, and not be blinded by an outer image.


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