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Parshas Vayishlach - Vol. 2, issue 3
Katonti mi’kol ha’chasadim (32:11)
Rashi explains that although Hashem had promised to protect Yaakov and return him safely to the land of Canaan, he feared that perhaps the miracles Hashem had subsequently performed for him had depleted his supply of merits, as the Gemora in Shabbos (32a) states that miracles which are performed on behalf of a person subtract from his accumulated merits in the World to Come.
It is peculiar to note that after hearing another person recite any blessing, we answer simply, “Amen,” with one exception. After hearing somebody say Birkas HaGomel (the Blessing of Thanksgiving), we respond at length: “Amen, mi sheg’mal’cha kol tuv hu yigm’lucha kol tuv selah – He who has bestowed upon you all good should continue to bestow upon you all good, something we find nowhere else. What is unique about this blessing, and why is our response to it different than to any other blessing?
The Gemora in Shabbos (53b) relates an interesting episode. The wife of a certain poor man passed away shortly after giving birth to a child. The man didn’t have the means to hire a nurse-maid for his newborn, who surely would have died if not for the fact that the father’s body was miraculously transformed and became capable of nursing the baby, thereby saving its life. Commenting on this story, the Amora Rav Yosef praises the man, saying he must surely have done great deeds if he merited such an open miracle. Abaye, on the other hand, remarks how lowly the man must have been that he needed a miracle performed on his behalf.
What are Rav Yosef and Abaye arguing about, any why did Abaye feel the need to denigrate a man whose merits were sufficient to justify the miraculous salvation of his orphaned child? In the introduction to his book, the Shalmei Nedorim explains that Abaye’s intent is not to say that the man is wicked, as after all he did merit the performing of such an extraordinary miracle. Rather, Abaye is lamenting the fact that the man was forced to use up so many of his merits as a result of the miracle performed on his behalf.
With this understanding, he beautifully explains that Birkas HaGomel is recited after one has been saved from illness or other potential danger. While we are happy that the person making the blessing survived, we are also afraid that it may have come at the expense of whatever merits he had accumulated until now. Therefore, a simple “Amen” won’t suffice, and we must add a special supplication requesting that the good should continue and not be depleted through this miracle.
Ki sarisa im Elokim v’im anashim
The angel informed Yaakov 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 triumphs over Lavan and Eisav. As Yaakov was forced to give a substantial gift to Eisav and lower himself by bowing and prostrating himself to his wicked brother, in what way could this be considered victorious?
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik answers that the question is based on a widespread and fundamental misunderstanding in defining “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 indeed 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 outside distractions or interference. 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, then he was quite willing and 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 indeed pacified his brother’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to his service of Hashem, the Torah considers him victorious.
From the Torah’s definition of success, a similar and critical lesson regarding shalom bayis (marital harmony) may be derived. If a person’s goal in life and in his marriage is to selfishly make sure that everything is done in accordance with his personal opinions and preferences, then any time that his spouse acquiesces he has succeeded in meeting his objectives, and any time that he is forced to give in then he has failed. While this model is comfortable and comes to a person quite naturally, it is highly unlikely to 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 Shechina (Divine Presence) 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 true victor!
Al kein lo yoch’lu b’nei Yisroel es gid ha’nashe (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 indeed 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 Jews around the world had forgotten the tradition identifying the forbidden nerve and had all been consuming non-kosher food for generations!
Indeed, Rav Yonason writes that wherever this 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 both to males and females. This would seem to emphatically reject 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 refuted.
The tremendous problem with this seemingly straightforward story is that anyone who reads the Sefer Halachos Gedolos will see that he wrote that the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve applies equally to male and female Jews, but he makes no reference whatsoever 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 upon hearing the man’s arguments, the impossibility of all Jews erring in something so important was so clear to Rav Yonason that even before examining the actual claims, he had mentally dismissed the man’s allegations. To quench the uproar this man had been creating, he simply wanted to “refute” him by any possible means, and because the man was indeed simple and unlearned, he fell right into the trap!
However, the real answer would appear to be that there was a printing error in the original version of the Kreisi U’Pleisi, which stated that the refutation came from Somech-Heh-Gimelwhen it should have read Somech-Heh-Nun. As a result of the mistaken abbreviation, people reading it assumed that his refutation was from Sefer Halachos Gedolos, when in reality it was from Sefer HaNikur, which does indeed say 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 the Kreisi U’Pleisi with the handwritten marginal corrections of Rav Yonason’s himself, and in the margin next to this line in the book is written this exact correction!
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, he remembered that the Medrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 78:15) that in Talmudic times, whenever the sages had to meet with the Roman government to fight 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, the Ponovezher Rav developed a brilliant plan based on advice given by the Gemora in 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, and told him he should get off with them at the next stop. When the doors opened, the youths told the Rabbi to hurry up and exit. He, 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 Rabbi was still walking toward the doors when they closed, and the subway took off – minus his tormentors!
The Ponovezher Rav explained that he remembered that just when Yaakov thought he was finally free of Eisav, with his gifts accepted and Eisav’s wrath placated, Eisav then offered to accompany him on his journey. Yaakov, fearing the spiritual influence of his wicked brother, commented that because of his large load and his 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 he never got around to doing ... and teaching an eternal lesson that the Ponovezher Rav learned well!
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 and perform all 613 of the commandments. How could Yaakov say that he observed all of the mitzvos when he married two sisters, something which is clearly forbidden by the Torah (Vayikra 18:18)? (Chasam Sofer, Introduction to Kiryat Sefer, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
2) Rashi writes (32:25) that after ferrying his family across a stream, Yaakov returned for some small earthenware pitchers that he had forgotten. What well-known significant role would these very jugs play in Jewish history many generations later? (Megaleh Amukos)
3) Before his encounter 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 (33:2). Rashi explains that the more beloved to Yaakov they were, the closer to the back he placed them in order to protect them from Eisav. In next week’s parsha, the brothers became jealous of Yosef and wanted to kill him over an extra article of clothing he received from Yaakov (37:4). Why didn’t they similarly become jealous here, when their being placed closer to the front than Yosef could potentially be life-threatening? (Meged Yosef, Lulei Soras’cha, Derech Sicha)
4) 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 (33:6-7). However, at the beginning of the parsha (32:8-9), Yaakov prepared for war and divided his family into two camps and placed a distance of one day’s travel between them so that at least some of them should survive. When he finally encountered Eisav, why were all of his wives and children present, and why did he abandon his original strategy? (Matamei Yaakov)
5) All Jews around the world are referred to as Yehudim, which has come to mean “Jews,” although most commentators explain that it is derived from the name of Yehuda, who was one of the 12 tribes and in some way merited to eternally connect his name with Judaism. Rashi writes (36:2) that one of Eisav’s wives was named Ohalivama, but he called her “Yehudis” in an effort to trick his father Yitzchok into thinking that he was righteous and had married virtuous and respectable women. As Eisav married her when he was 40 years old (26:34), roughly 40 years before the birth of his nephew Yehuda, this would seem to indicate that it was a “Jewish” name even before the birth of Yehuda. What is the intrinsic “Jewish” quality in the names Yehuda and Yehudis?
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