Izim masayim u'teyashim esrim (32:15)
Prior to his fateful encounter with his irate brother Eisav, Yaakov made
multiple efforts to appease him. Among the avenues that he pursued was sending a
number of animals to Eisav as gifts. The Torah records that Yaakov sent 200
female goats and 20 male goats; 200 ewes and 20 rams; 30 nursing camels with
their young; 40 female cows and 10 bulls; and 20 female donkeys and 10 male
donkeys. As there are no coincidences in the Torah, Yaakov must have had a
calculated reason for the number of each type of animal that he sent.
Rav Nachshon Gaon, the ninth-century leader of the yeshiva in Sura and father of
Rav Hai Gaon, provides a brilliant explanation for the number of goats that
Yaakov sent to Eisav, which totaled 220. He points out that the proper factors
of 220 (numbers less than 220 which evenly divide into it) are 1, 2, 4, 5, 10,
11, 20, 22, 44, 55, and 110. When they are summed, they add up to 284.
Similarly, the proper factors of 284 are 1, 2, 4, 71, 142, which add up to 220.
In other words, the numbers 220 and 284 are unique in that the sum of the proper
factors of each number adds up to the other number.
A pair of numbers with this unusual property is known as amicable numbers, or as
Rav Nachshon Gaon calls them, îðéï ðàäá - beloved numbers. He explains that
there was an ancient custom that when a person wanted to curry favor with a
prominent individual, he would give him a gift of items numbering one of a pair
of amicable numbers, and keep the corresponding number for himself. Rav Nachshon
Gaon suggests that this is what Yaakov did in order to placate Eisav: He sent
him 220 goats, while keeping 284 for himself. It is clear from the text that
Yaakov sent to Eisav 200 female goats and 20 male goats, for a total of 220
goats, but where is it alluded to that he kept 284 for himself?
When Yaakov gave instructions to his servants regarding the presentation of the
gifts to Eisav, he told them (32:21), "Achaprah fanav ba'mincha ha'holeches
l'fanai" - I will appease him (Eisav) with the gifts that precede me. Rav
Nachshon Gaon explains that the word "achaprah" can be divided into two words -
"ach parah." The word "ach" is understood by Chazal to connote limiting or
reducing (see Yerushalmi Berachos 67b). In this case, the numerical value of the
word "parah" is 285, so diminishing it by 1 yields 284, which is the number of
goats that Yaakov kept for himself as part of his attempt to pacify Eisav.
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
Rav Chaim explained that he was careful to check and ensure that every ruble he
received was 100% “kosher gelt,” money which was free of the smallest question
of deceit or theft. 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
now quite understandable why Yaakov and other tzaddikim would be so protective
of their hard-earned possessions.
Ya’avor na adoni lifnei avdo v’ani esnahala l’iti … ad asher avo el adoni
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.
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 (49b) 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) 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) 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)
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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