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 Parshas Vayishlach - Vol. 4, Issue 8
Compiled by Oizer Alport


This week’s issue is sponsored by David & Silvia Talbot in honor of their six grandchildren. For sponsorship information, contact the email address below.

Katonti mikol hachasadim (32:11)

Hashem promised to protect Yaakov and return him safely to the land of Canaan. Still, as he prepared to face Eisav who was approaching him with an army of 400 men, Yaakov became frightened. Why wasn’t he confident that Hashem would save him in fulfillment of His promise? Rashi explains that Yaakov feared that perhaps the miracles Hashem performed for him after the promise him depleted his supply of merits. We find in the Torah that the way of the righteous is one of humility, never requesting anything in their own merits, but always relying on Hashem’s infinite mercy to give them gifts that they feel they don’t really deserve. This makes it puzzling to observe Yaakov worrying that the miracles that Hashem did for him were payment for his merits, and he may therefore not have any remaining.

The Vilna Gaon explains that there is a difference between Divine acts of kindness which have already been done and those that a person would like to be performed. With respect to the future, a person should not rely upon his accumulated merits. If he wants to have his wishes fulfilled, he should throw himself on Hashem’s mercy. Regarding the past, a sense of humility should cause a person to worry that the few merits he may have possessed were used up by the numerous Heavenly gifts that he has received.

In light of this explanation, the Vilna Gaon brilliantly explains a cryptic comment made by the Gemora in Sotah (5a). The Gemora teaches that a Torah scholar should have one-eighth of one-eighth of arrogance. It is difficult to understand why conceit would ever be appropriate, and why was this seemingly arbitrary measurement selected as the appropriate amount? The Gaon points out that Parshas Vayishlach is the eighth portion in the Torah, and ours is the eighth verse in the parsha. The Gemora is hinting that the only acceptable form of arrogance is that described in our verse, namely the concern that whatever merits one may have had have already been used up!


Al ken lo yochlu B’nei Yisroel es gid hanasheh asher al kaf hayerech ad hayom hazeh (32:33)

In his commentary on Yoreh Deah known as Kreisi U’Pleisi (65:16), Rav Yonason Eibeshutz records a fascinating historical incident. In his times, a m’nakeir (the person who removes the forbidden parts of an animal after it has been ritually slaughtered) created a scandal by announcing that what people had traditionally assumed was the forbidden gid ha’nashe (sciatic nerve) was anatomically incorrect. He identified a different nerve as being that which the Torah forbade. The ramifications of his claims were enormous. If he was correct, it would mean that all Jews around the world had forgotten the tradition identifying the forbidden nerve, and as a result, had been consuming non-kosher food for generations!

Wherever the man went he created quite an uproar, until he came to Rav Yonason’s hometown of Prague. After listening to the man’s claims, he investigated the matter and found that the nerve which the man claimed was the genuine gid ha’nashe was one which is found only in male animals. After this discovery, he promptly took out a Sefer Halachos Gedolos, which states quite clearly that the prohibition of gid ha’nashe applies to both males and females. This would seem to refute the man’s argument, as the nerve he alleged was the real forbidden one wasn’t found in females. Rav Yonason concludes that the man was silenced and left in shame, his claims disproved.

The problem with this story is that the Sefer Halachos Gedolos writes that the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve applies equally to male and female Jews, but makes no reference as to what kind of animal the forbidden nerve is found in! How could Rav Yonason have made such a glaring oversight?

Some explain that the impossibility of all Jews erring in something so important was so clear to Rav Yonason that even before examining the man’s actual claims, he had mentally dismissed the allegations. To quell the uproar the man had created, Rav Yonason simply wanted to “refute” him by any means possible. Because the man was simple and unlearned, he fell right into the trap!

However, the real answer is that there was a printing error in the original version of Kreisi U’Pleisi, which stated that the refutation came from Somech-Heh-Gimmel when it should have read Somech-Heh-Nun. As a result of the mistaken abbreviation, people reading it assumed that his source was Sefer Halachos Gedolos. In reality, it was Sefer HaNikur, which indeed says explicitly that the forbidden nerve is found in both male and female animals and proves Rav Yonason’s claims. Indeed, there is a Jew in Los Angeles with a copy of the original print of Kreisi U’Pleisi with the handwritten marginal corrections of Rav Yonason himself, and in the margin next to this line in the book is written this exact correction!


Vateiled Rochel vat’kash b’lidta (35:16)

In relating the difficulties involved in Binyomin’s birth, the Torah records that Rochel gave birth and subsequently had difficulties with the childbirth. This chronology of events isn’t what we would expect. In a regular birth, first a woman has labor pains, and then the child is born, but when Rochel gave birth to Binyomin the order was reversed. Why did her pains begin only after she had already given birth?

The Chida answers that the Mishnah in Shabbos (2:6) teaches that women die during childbirth for being lax in one of 3 areas: the separation of challah, the laws of family purity, and lighting Shabbos candles. When Rochel’s delivery of Binyomin was abnormally difficult, she feared that perhaps she might die. Additionally, she also feared that people who heard she died during childbirth would assume that it was because she had sinned in one of these three areas and wasn’t as righteous as she was alleged to be.

In reality, the Mishnah is specifically referring to those who die during the time of danger (Shabbos 32a), which is limited to the actual childbirth, and not to a person (such as Rochel) who has post-delivery complications. However, the Torah continues by noting that even after the baby was born, Rochel’s pain continued to intensify, and with it her fears about the implications.

At this point, Rochel’s midwife attempted to comfort her by explaining the aforementioned difference: “Vatomer la ham’yaledes al tir’i ki gam zeh lach ben.” In other words, don’t be afraid of what people will say because your son has already been born, in which case even if you die, it will no longer be due to the sins mentioned in the Mishnah. Still, Rochel wasn’t persuaded by this logic and called her child “Ben oni” – “son of my affliction” – as she felt that even a woman who dies from immediate post-labor complications is also included in those referred to by the Mishnah. Yaakov, however, knew the truth about Rochel’s righteousness and called the child “Ben yemin”the son of the right, which is always the stronger side – as a reference to her pious ways.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (32:23) that because Yaakov placed Dina in a box and withheld her from being a good influence on Eisav, he was punished when she was abducted by Sh’chem. What was his sin when the Gemora in Pesachim (49a) teaches that allowing one’s daughter to marry an ignoramus is tantamount to tying her up and placing her before a lion to be devoured? (Moshav Z’keinim, Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, Yishm’ru Daas, Noam HaMussar, Ayeles HaShachar, M’rafsin Igri)

2)     After battling with Yaakov all night, Eisav’s angel asked Yaakov to allow him to leave since the morning had come (32:27). Rashi explains that the angel’s turn to sing praises to Hashem had arrived, and he needed to go. As Sages teach that this angel was none other than the Satan, what song could he possibly sing to Hashem? (Tchebiner Rav quoted in Taam V’Daas)

3)     Even if Sh’chem was deserving of being put to death for abducting and raping Dina, on what legal basis did Shimon and Levi kill all of their male townsmen (34:25)? (Rambam Hilchos Melochim 9:14, Ramban 34:13, Chiddushei HaRim, Meshech Chochmah, Derech Sicha)

4)     Of all of Yaakov’s children, Shimon and Levi were the most appalled by the immorality of what Sh’chem did to their sister Dina. They avenged the crime, killing Sh’chem, his father, and all of the males in their town. A few generations later, Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shimon, publicly sinned with a non-Jewish woman. Pinchas, who was descended from Levi, was zealous for Hashem’s honor and killed Zimri. If Shimon and Levi acted together and were equal in their roles in avenging Dina’s abduction, why was the descendant of one ensnared in a sin similar to the one that his great-grandfather risked his life to protest, while the descendant of the other remained pure and faithful?  (Peninim Vol. 8 Parshas Vayechi, Taima D’Kra)

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