Sunday, December 25, 2005

Parshas Vayishlach

(32:8) ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו
Rashi explains the double expression (that Yaakov was both very afraid and pained) to indicate that he was afraid both that he may be killed and also that he may kill others should Eisav reject the gifts and attack him. It is natural to understand why he would be afraid of being killed, but since the halacha is that one is allowed to kill a pursuer in self-defense, why was he afraid of killing others? The Taam V’Daas and the Har Tzvi quoting Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin answer that his fear was that he may end up killing Eisav, and Rashi (27:45) writes that Rivkah had already prophetically declared that her two sons – Yaakov and Eisav – would die on the same day, so that he was afraid that his killing Eisav would therefore lead to his immediate death!
This also allows us to understand why Yaakov expressed such confidence that by splitting his family into two camps, even if one was destroyed but surely the other would survive (32:9). Because he placed a distance of one day’s travel between the two camps and he was at the front of the first one, even if they would lose and he would be killed, but that would also cause Eisav to die that same day, before he could reach the 2nd camp which would by necessity remain intact!
The Mishmeres Ariel raises one difficulty with this beautiful explanation: that if this was Yaakov’s thinking, then why did he place half of his family with him in the first camp and needlessly endanger them, when he could have guaranteed their safety by leaving them behind in the second camp. The primary difficulty, however, is that ultimately, Yaakov and Eisav didn’t die on the same day! See the footnote in Har Tzvi who discusses this point, and see Tiferes Torah (by Rav Shimshon Pinkus) in Parshas Toldos who explains how Rivkah’s prophecy is still considered to be true.

(קטנתי מכל החסדים (32:11
The Gemora in Shabbos (53b) relates an interesting episode. The wife of a certain poor man passed away shortly after giving birth to a child. The man simply didn’t have the means to hire a nurse-maid for his newborn, who surely would have died except that a miracle occurred in the man’s body was transformed and able to nurse his baby, thus saving its life. The Amora Rav Yosef praises the man, saying he must surely have done great deeds if he merited such an open miracle. Abaye, on the other hand, remarks how lowly the man must be that he needed a miracle performed on his behalf. The Shalmei Nedorim in his introduction explains that Abaye’s intent is not to say that the man is wicked, as after all he did merit the performing of such an uncommon miracle. Rather, Abaye is lamenting the fact that the man was forced to use up so many of his merits as a result, just as Yaakov feared. With this introduction, he explains beautifully that after hearing almost any brocha, we answer simple “Amen.” Except for one brocha, Birkas HaGomel, after which we answer at length: “אמן מי שגמלך כל טוב הוא יגמלך כל טוב סלה” (He who has bestowed upon you all good should continue to bestow upon you all good), something we find in no other place. The answer lies in the fact that this blessing is recited after one has been saved from illness or other potential danger. While we are happy that the person making the blessing survived, we are also afraid that it may have come at the cost of whatever merits he may have accumulated until now, so that a simple “Amen” won’t suffice, and we must add a special supplication requesting that the good should continue and not be depleted through this miracle.

שכח פכים קטנים וחזר עליהם (רש"י 32:25
While it would seem that Yaakov Avinu went back simply to receive some relatively insignificant containers, the Megaleh Amukos tells us an amazing thing. The flask he went back to retrieve was the very same one which held the oil that remained pure and was used by the Chashmonaim to re-dedicate the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, and lasted miraculously for 8 days! No matter how insignificant our actions may seem, we have no idea what consequences they may have hundreds or even thousands of years down the line.

(כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים ותוכל (32:29
The angel informs Yaakov that because he has successfully wrestled with Hashem and with Eisav and Lavan, his name will be changed to Yisroel. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik points out that Yaakov was forced to give a substantial gift to Eisav and lower himself by bowing and prostrating to his wicked brother. If so, in what way can we consider that he was victorious? He answers that people often make a fundamental mistake in defining success. Victory is not defined as subduing and crushing the other side. Rather, it is to be viewed in terms of one’s objectives; one who successfully accomplishes his goals is indeed victorious. Yaakov’s goal was simply to pursue his service of Hashem and to raise his children to continue in his ways without distractions and interference. If the way to achieve that was to give Eisav a few animals and humble himself before his arrogant brother, so be it. Yaakov was able to focus on the big picture, on his goals, and because he indeed appeased his brother’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to serving Hashem, he was indeed victorious. So too, he continues, when it comes to shalom bayis. If the goal is to do things my way, then any time my spouse acquiesces I succeeded and any time I had to compromise I failed. But if we can be mature enough to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to bring the Shechina into our houses, then the wise one who knows when to give in is indeed the victor!

(על כן לא יאכלו בני ישראל את גיד הנשה אשר על כף הירך עד היום הזה (32:33
Rav Shlomo HaKohen from Vilna quotes an amazing thing from his father: in the times of Moshiach, the gid ha’nashe (sciatic nerve), which is currently forbidden in consumption, will become permitted to Jews! This is hinted to in our verse, which says that as a result of the angel’s wounding Yaakov in that place, the Jewish people don’t eat it until the present day, which implies that there will come a time after the present day when they will indeed consume it. We know that there are 365 gidim (sinews) in the human body, each of which mystically corresponds to one of the days of the solar calendar. The Zohar Ha’Kadosh says that the gid ha’nashe corresponds to Tisha B’Av, and that by dislodging it, Eisav’s angel gave strength to Eisav’s descendants to twice destroy the Beis Hamikdash on that day. However, in the times of Moshiach when the Holy Temple is permanently rebuilt, this reason will no longer be applicable, and the gid ha’nashe will once again be permitted. However, see the S’dei Chemed who disagrees.

ותגשנה השפחות הנה וילדיהן ותשתחוין ותגש גם לאה וילדיה וישתחוו ואחר נגש יוסף ורחל וישתחוו (33:6-7
The Matamei Yaakov raises a very big difficulty with this episode. The Torah describes to us Yaakov’s climactic encounter with Eisav, which is followed by each of Yaakov’s wives and children prostrating themselves to Eisav. However, we learned at the beginning of the Parsha that Yaakov divided his family into two camps, with a distance of one day’s travel between them. If so, how do we find them all together when they meet Eisav? He answers in the name of his brother that after Yaakov wrestled with Eisav’s guardian angel and emerged triumphant, he was no longer afraid of Eisav and abandoned all of his previous strategies as unnecessary.
This can be understood with an insight of the Brisker Rav. Eisav’s angel told Yaakov, כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים ותוכל, that because he has successfully wrestled with Hashem and with “men”, his name will be changed to Yisroel. Rashi explains that the men referred to are Lavan and Eisav. How could the angel say that he has vanquished Eisav when they have yet to actually encounter one another? The Medrash says that the dust which was kicked up from the wrestling match between Yaakov and Eisav’s angel ascended all the way to Hashem’s throne of glory. This is hinting to us that this was no mundane wrestling match, but rather a battle being fought in Heaven. If so, once he emerged victorious there, it was already a foregone conclusion that he would be successful in his earthly encounter. In this light, it is indeed understood why he scrapped his initial military plans, as he knew that he had nothing to fear.

(יעבר נא אדני לפני עבדו ואני אתנהלה לאטי ... עד אשר אבא אל אדני שעירה (33:14
The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was once collecting in New York on behalf of his Yeshiva. He was on the subway, on his way to meet with a potential donor, when a group of unruly teenagers decided to have fun with the elderly Rabbi. They came over and began pestering and disturbing him. He was afraid they may follow him to his destination or even attack him, but how to escape them in an unfamiliar city? Fortunately, he remembered that the Medrash relates that every time Chazal had to meet with the Roman government, they would first review our Parsha, which teaches the rules for interacting with Edom while we are in exile. Quickly reviewing the Parsha, the Ponovezher Rav developed a brilliant plan (see Avodah Zora 25b which offers similar advice). Feigning ignorance, he asked the teens how to get to a certain part of town. Excited at their “good fortune,” they were more than happy to offer to personally escort him there, and told him he should get off with them at the next stop. When the doors opened, the kids told the Rabbi to hurry up and exit. He, pretending to be even older than his years, took laborious steps and “honored” them with exiting first, which they were more than happy to do. A few seconds later, the Rabbi was still walking toward the doors when they closed, and the subway took off minus his tormentors! He explained that he remembered that just when Yaakov thought he was free of Eisav, as his gifts had been accepted and his brother’s wrath appeased, Eisav then offered to accompany him on his journey. Yaakov, fearing the spiritual influence of his wicked brother, commented that because of his large load and his small children, he couldn’t keep up with Eisav’s pace, and therefore suggested that Eisav proceed ahead and he would eventually catch up. Something he never got around to doing. And teaching an eternal lesson that the Ponovezher Rav learned well!

Questions for further study and thought, and sources which discuss them:

1) Before his encounter with Eisav, Yaakov arranges his wives and their children: first the maid-servants and their sons, then Leah and her children, and finally Rochel and her sons (33:2). Rashi explains that the more beloved they were, the closer to the back he placed them. We find in next week’s Parsha that the brothers are jealous of Yosef and want to kill him over an extra article of clothing he received from Yaakov. Why don’t we find any hint of jealousy here, when their being placed closer to the front when meeting Eisav could potentially be life-threatening? (Meged Yosef)

2) After Sh’chem and his father Chamor attempt to convince Yaakov and his sons to allow Sh’chem to marry Dina and offer their daughters in marriage to the Shevatim (tribes), Yaakov’s sons answer and explain why it can’t be done until Sh’chem and his townsmen will circumcise themselves. However, in 24:50 Rashi writes that Lavan was a rasha for speaking up before his father Besuel and not allowing his father to answer. If so, how did the Shevatim answer in front of their father Yaakov? (Emes L’Yaakov)

3) Even though numerous reasons are given for the killing of all of the men in Sh’chem’s city, but on what grounds did the brothers plunder all of their possessions (34:27-29) which presumably should have been inherited by their wives and children? (Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh)

4) All Jews today are referred to as “Yehudim,” which most commentators explain to be derived from the name Yehuda, who was one of Yaakov’s 12 sons, and in some way forever connected his name with Judaism. However, Rashi tells us (36:2) that one of Eisav’s wives was named Ohalivama, yet he called her “Yehudis” in an effort to deceive his father Yitzchok into thinking he was righteous and had married virtuous and respectable women. One of my Rebbeim once pointed out that Eisav married her when he was 40 years old, roughly 40 years before the birth of his nephew Yehuda, which would indicate that it was a “Jewish” name in its own right, even before the birth of Yehuda. What is the intrinsic “Jewish” quality in the name Yehuda/Yehudis?


Blogger Eshet Chayil said...

my middle name!

Tue Dec 27, 12:51:00 AM  

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