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


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 miraculous episode.

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 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.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

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)

  © 2012 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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