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 Parshas Vayishlach - Vol. 6, Issue 8
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayetzav osam leimor koh somrun l’adoni l’Eisav koh amar avdecha Yaakov im Lavan garti va’eichar ad atah (32:4)

Yaakov sent messengers to Eisav and instructed them to tell him that he had dwelled until this point with Lavan. What was Yaakov’s purpose in sharing this seemingly irrelevant information? Rashi explains that the numerical value of the word “garti” – I dwelled – is 613, the number of mitzvos in the Torah. In other words, Yaakov was telling Eisav that although I dwelled in the house of the wicked Lavan, I still observed the 613 commandments, and I also didn’t learn from his evil ways. Rav Yissochar Frand is bothered by the apparently redundant expression: if Yaakov kept all of the mitzvos, isn’t it clear that he didn’t learn from Lavan’s wicked ways? Why did Yaakov need to stress this self-evident point?

Rabbi Frand explains that Rashi is subtly teaching that it is possible for a person to observe all of the mitzvos while at the same time absorbing the values of his alien surroundings. It is possible to strictly observe the letter of the law while losing sight of the larger picture, which also includes the spirit of the law. For example, a person may make weddings and Bar Mitzvos which are glatt kosher yet extremely ostentatious, and a woman may wear clothing which conforms to the technical laws of modesty but attracts so much attention that it violates the underlying principles of tznius. Parents may send their children to the finest schools but not set aside quality time to spend with them, or worse, they may create a home which is built on values that run counter to everything that their children are taught in school.

As we constantly strive to improve our mitzvah performance, we must be careful to ensure that our actions are not tainted by the immoral and decadent culture by which we are surrounded, so that they conform not only to the letter of the law, but to the spirit of the law as well.


Vayira Yaakov me’od vayeitzar lo (32:7)

The Torah relates that upon hearing that Eisav was coming toward him with 400 men, Yaakov became very frightened and it distressed him. Rashi explains that the double expression regarding Yaakov’s fear teaches that he was afraid both that he may be killed and that he may kill others should Eisav attack him. It is natural to understand why Yaakov would be afraid of being killed. However, as the law is (Sanhedrin 72a) that one may kill a pursuer in self-defense, why was he afraid of killing others?

            The Maharil Diskin answers by citing Rashi, who writes (27:45) that Rivkah prophetically declared that her two sons – Yaakov and Eisav – would both die on the same day. As a result, Yaakov was afraid that if he was attacked, he may end up killing Eisav, which would lead to his immediate death.

            Based on this explanation, the Maharil Diskin resolves another difficulty. Yaakov split his family and possessions into two camps and expressed confidence that even if Eisav would destroy one camp, the remaining one would surely survive (32:8). If Yaakov feared that Eisav may indeed prevail over his first camp, why was he so sure that the second camp wouldn’t also succumb? Rav Yehoshua Leib explains that Yaakov placed a distance of one day’s travel between the two camps and positioned himself at the front of the first camp. As a result, he was certain that even if he was killed, Eisav would also die on that day before having an opportunity to reach the second camp, thereby guaranteeing its survival.


Vayikach min ha’bad b’yado mincha l’Eisav achiv (32:14)

In describing the gifts that Yaakov sent in an effort to pacify his irate brother Eisav, the Torah uses a peculiar expression, stating that Yaakov took an offering for Eisav from the animals which were in his hand. What does it mean that the animals he sent were in his hand, and what is the significance of this seemingly trivial fact?

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank explains this unusual phrase based on a fascinating insight of the Tashbatz (553), which is quoted by the Darkei Moshe (Yoreh Deah 35:1). After ritually slaughtering an animal, an intricate examination of its organs must be performed to make sure that none of them is damaged in a way that renders the animal forbidden for consumption.

The Tashbatz describes an interesting test by which a person can determine if an animal is unhealthy and non-kosher even while it is still alive (although it isn’t foolproof and should not be relied upon for matters of practical kashrus). The test is to run one’s hand over the back of the animal. An animal which crouches and drops to the ground is kosher, while one which remains standing is not. The verse in Yeshaya (57:15) alludes to this test: “v’shafal ruach l’hachayos” – the lowly of spirit will live, a hint that those animals which drop to the ground (representing a low spirit) are physically healthy and fit to live.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank explains that Yaakov found himself in a dilemma. On the one hand, he was compelled to send gifts to appease his angry brother Eisav. At the same time, Yaakov didn’t want to give him animals which were fit to be brought as sacrifices, lest Eisav offer them for idolatrous purposes. His brilliant solution was to send those animals “which remained in his hand” and didn’t drop to the ground, thereby revealing an internal blemish and disqualification.


Vatigashna ha’shefachos heina v’yaldeihen vatishtachavena vatigash gam Leah v’yaldeha vayishtachavu v’achar nigash Yosef v’Rochel vayishtachavu (33:6-7)

The Torah records that just before his climactic meeting with Eisav, Yaakov arranged his wives and their children, placing first the maidservants and their sons, then Leah and her children, and finally Rochel and her sons. Although this may indeed have been a logical plan, it seems to contradict Yaakov’s initial strategy. In the beginning of the parsha, Yaakov prepared for war and divided his family into two camps, placing a distance of one day’s travel between them so that at least some of them would survive (32:8-9). When he finally encountered Eisav, why were all of his wives and children present, and why did he abandon his original plans?

            The Matamei Yaakov answers that after Yaakov wrestled with Eisav’s guardian angel and emerged triumphant, he was no longer afraid of Eisav and abandoned his previous plans as no longer necessary. Yaakov’s newfound confidence can be better understood in light of an insight of the Brisker Rov. Eisav’s angel informed Yaakov (32:29) that because he had successfully wrestled with Hashem and with men, his name would be changed to Yisroel. Rashi explains that “with men” refers to his victories over Lavan and Eisav. How could the angel tell Yaakov that he had triumphed over Eisav when he had yet to even encounter him in person?

The Medrash says that the dust which was kicked up from the clash between Yaakov and Eisav’s angel ascended all the way to Hashem’s Throne of Glory. The Brisker Rov explains that the Medrash isn’t relating a trivial fact about the location of the dust. It is coming to teach that this was no mundane wrestling match, but rather a battle which was being fought in Heaven. If so, once Yaakov had emerged victorious from his celestial duel, it was already a foregone conclusion that he would be successful in his earthly encounter with Eisav. In light of this explanation, it is easy to understand why Yaakov scrapped his initial military scheme, for he was now secure that he had nothing to fear.


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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (32:5) that Yaakov sent a message to his brother Eisav stating that although he had dwelled with the wicked Lavan for 20 years, he had remained steadfast in his faith and had continued to keep all 613 of the commandments. How is this to be understood, as it is physically impossible for any person to observe all of the mitzvos? (Ayeles HaShachar, Taam V’Daas)

2)     After Yaakov emerged victorious from his battle with the angel, he asked the angel to reveal his name. The angel refused to divulge this information, responding (32:30), “Why are you asking for my name?” What was the angel’s name, and why did he refuse to disclose it? (Chasam Sofer)

3)     The Gemora in Shabbos (55b) teaches that whoever says that Reuven sinned with Bilhah, as is indicated by a simple reading of the Torah, is mistaken. Rashi writes that this is derived from the fact that the Torah states (35:22) that Yaakov’s sons were 12, which comes to teach that they were all equal, which could only be the case if Reuven didn’t sin. How does this proof teach that Reuven never sinned when it could be that he did indeed sin but immediately repented his actions, thereby rendering him once again equal to his brothers? (M’rafsin Igri)

4)     After listing the 12 sons of Yaakov, the Torah concludes (35:26) by stating that these are Yaakov’s sons who were born to him in Paddan-Aram. How can the Torah say that they were all born in Paddan-Aram when Binyomin was born in Canaan (Rashi 35:18)? (Rema MiPano)

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