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Parshas Vayishlach - Vol.
5, Issue 8
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vay’vaseir Yaakov l’vado vayeiaveik ish imo ad alos ha’shachar (32:25)
Rashi writes that after ferrying his family across a stream, Yaakov returned to the other side for some small earthenware pitchers that he had forgotten. The Gemora in Chullin (91a) derives from here that the possessions of the righteous are more precious to them than even their own bodies. As we are accustomed to viewing righteous tzaddikim as totally divorced from all mundane physical matters, how are we to understand why their property is so important to them?
The Torah L’Daas (Vol. 9) sheds light on this perplexing issue by recounting an amazing story. There was once a gathering of leading Rabbis in the house of Rav Chaim Volozhiner. In honor of the esteemed guests, his Rebbetzin set the table with her finest dishes and most valuable china. During the meeting, one of the Rabbis stood up to excuse himself, but accidentally pulled part of the tablecloth with him, sending everything that had been on the table loudly crashing to the floor.
While everybody else was anxiously checking how much damage had been done, Rav Chaim confidently declared, “There’s no need to worry because nothing broke.” The assembled Rabbis were astounded to hear Rav Chaim seemingly in denial, as he had witnessed the noisy spill together with them. Yet when they checked the dishes, they found them exactly as he had announced: completely intact and totally undamaged! They were astonished and demanded an explanation for this miraculous episode.
Rav Chaim explained that he was careful to check that every ruble he received was 100% “kosher gelt,” money which was free of the smallest question of dishonesty. It was with such money that he had purchased this china, and he knew that it must therefore be indestructible! In light of this story, it is quite understandable why Yaakov and other tzaddikim would be so protective of their hard-earned possessions.
Ki sarisa im Elokim v’im anashim vatuchal (32:29)
After ferrying his family across a stream, Yaakov returned to the other side to retrieve some small pitchers that he had forgotten. He was confronted by an angel, who wrestled with him throughout the night. After realizing that he could not overcome Yaakov, the angel informed him that because he had successfully wrestled with the Divine and with men, his name would be changed to Yisroel.
Rashi explains that “with men” refers to Yaakov’s triumphs over Lavan and Eisav. As the parsha begins with Yaakov being forced to give a substantial gift to Eisav and to lower himself by bowing to him in an attempt to placate his wrath, in what way can this be considered victorious? Wasn’t it Eisav who emerged from their encounter with his ego intact after Yaakov was forced to flatter and capitulate to him?
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik explains that this question is based on a widespread and fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of “success.” Victory is not defined as subduing and crushing the other side. Rather, it must be viewed in terms of one’s objectives. A person who successfully accomplishes his goals, whatever they may be, is victorious.
Yaakov’s goal was to be able to pursue his service of Hashem and to raise his children to continue in his pious ways without unnecessary distractions. If the only way to accomplish that objective was to give Eisav a considerable number of animals as a present and to humble himself before his arrogant brother, he was quite happy to do so. Yaakov was able to keep his eyes “on the prize,” focusing on the larger picture of his more important spiritual goals. Because he pacified his brother’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to his service of Hashem, the Torah considers Yaakov victorious.
The following story illustrates this idea. Rav Mordechai of Chernobyl was extremely poor. One year, he didn’t have enough money to purchase a lulav and esrog for Sukkos. In order to raise the necessary funds, he decided to sell a precious family heirloom. When his wife saw his beautiful esrog, she questioned where he obtained the money to buy it.
When she heard what he had done, selling a priceless family possession for an item he would use for only one week, she became furious. In her rage, she threw the esrog to the ground. The impact damaged the esrog and disqualified it for use. The wise Rav Mordechai remarked, “My treasured family heirloom I don’t have. Now a kosher esrog I also don’t have. At the very least, I will remain calm and preserve my one remaining possession: my shalom bayis (marital harmony).”
If a person’s goal in marriage is to selfishly make sure that everything is done in accordance with his personal opinions and preferences, any time that his spouse acquiesces he has succeeded in meeting his objectives, and any time that he is forced to give in, he has failed. While this model may be comfortable and familiar, it will not help a person find long-term happiness and satisfaction.
Rather, a person should strive to be mature enough to make his needs secondary to the greater cause and ultimate goal of establishing an atmosphere of love, trust, and mutual respect so that the Shechinah will find a comfortable dwelling place in his home. A person who does so may find himself compromising more than he would have liked, but his ability to do so will allow him to successfully accomplish his true goal. He will reap the immeasurable benefits and security of a warm and loving relationship which is worth more than all of life’s mundane trivialities combined, and he will recognize that doing so makes him the real winner.
Ya’avor na adoni lifnei avdo v’ani esnahala l’iti … ad asher avo el adoni Se’ira (33:14)
The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was once collecting money in New York on behalf of his yeshiva in B’nei B’rak. He was riding 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 that they might follow him to his destination or even attack him, but how could he escape them in an unfamiliar city?
Fortunately, the Ponovezher Rav remembered that the Medrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 78:15) that in Talmudic times, whenever the Sages had to meet with the Roman government to lobby against its oppressive decrees, they would first review Parshas Vayishlach, which teaches the rules for interacting with Edom while we are in exile. Quickly reviewing the parsha, Rav Kahaneman developed a brilliant plan based on advice given by the Gemora (Avodah Zora 25b).
Feigning ignorance, he asked the unruly teens for directions to a certain part of town. Excited at their “good fortune,” they were more than happy to offer to personally escort him there. They told him he should get off with them at the next stop. When the doors opened, the youths told the Rav to hurry up and exit. Rav Kahaneman, 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 Rav was still walking toward the doors when they closed and the subway took off – minus his tormentors!
The Ponovezher Rav explained that just when Yaakov thought he was finally free of his wicked brother, with his gifts accepted and Eisav’s wrath placated, Eisav offered to accompany him on his journey. Yaakov, fearing the spiritual influence of his evil brother, commented that because of his large load and small children, he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Eisav’s pace. He therefore proposed that Eisav proceed ahead and he would eventually catch up, something that he never got around to doing ... and teaching his descendants an eternal and invaluable lesson.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Just prior to his encounter with his brother Eisav, Yaakov crossed a river together with his two wives, two maidservants, and 11 children (32:23). As Yaakov had 12 children at this point, Rashi explains that Yaakov hid his daughter Dina in a box so that the wicked Eisav couldn’t lay his eyes on her. Although one of Yaakov’s children was unaccounted for, how did Rashi know that it was Dina and not one of his sons, such as his beloved Yosef? (Kol Eliyahu)
2) Because the angel wounded Yaakov in his thigh, Jews may not eat the sciatic nerve (32:33). Will this prohibition always be in effect? (Shu”t Binyan Shlomo, S’dei Chemed Klalim Gimmel 36)
3) Rashi writes (33:16) that the 400 men who came with Eisav to attack Yaakov each abandoned him and slipped away. Hashem later rewarded them for their actions in the times of Dovid HaMelech. Does this mean that the souls of non-Jews are also reincarnated? (Shelah HaKadosh Pesachim, Shem HaGedolim She’eiris Tzion Vol. 1 35, Ayeles HaShachar)
4) Upon learning of Shimon and Levi’s tricky plan to take revenge against Sh’chem and his townsmen, Yaakov made no rebuke concerning their actions and motivations but simply expressed (34:30) his concern about the possibility of reprisals by the surrounding towns. Before his death, he castigated (49:5-7) in strong terms the violence and anger they demonstrated in their conspiracy. If he disapproved of their actions, why didn’t he admonish them immediately upon learning of their actions so that they could repent? (MiTzion Mich’lal Yofee)
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