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 Parshas Vayishlach - Vol. 3, Issue 3

Vayira Yaakov meod vayeitzer lo (32:7)

Vayira vayeitzer – vayira shema yeihareig, vayeitzer lo im y’harog hu es acheirim (Rashi)

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 seemingly redundant double expression regarding Yaakov’s fear teaches that he was afraid both that he may be killed and also 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 it is permissible to kill a pursuer in self-defense, why was he afraid of killing others?

            Rashi writes (27:45) that Rivkah prophetically declared that her two sons – Yaakov and Eisav – would both die on the same day. Therefore, the Maharil Diskin explains that 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 Chanukas HaTorah and Maharil Diskin resolve another difficulty. In splitting his family and possessions into two camps, Yaakov expressed confidence that even if Eisav would destroy one camp, the remaining camp would surely survive (32:8). If he feared that Eisav may indeed prevail over his first camp, why was he so sure that the second camp wouldn’t also succumb? Yaakov placed a distance of one day’s travel between the two camps, with himself at the front of the first camp. Therefore, 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 and attack it, thereby guaranteeing its survival!


Vayikach min haba 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 from the animals which were in his hand an offering for Eisav. 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 done to make sure that none of them is damaged in a way that renders the animal a treifah and 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 shouldn’t 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, when one does so, 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 – and 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.

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!


Ki sarisa im Elokim v’im anashim vatuchal (32:29)

V’im anashim – Eisav v’Lavan (Rashi)

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 Hashem 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 his wicked brother in an attempt to placate his wrath, in what way can this be considered victorious? Wasn’t it Eisav who emerged with his ego intact after Yaakov was forced to flatter and capitulate to him?

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik answers 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 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, 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 Eisav’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to his service of Hashem, the Torah considers Yaakov victorious.

From the Torah’s definition of success, a similar and critical lesson regarding shalom bayis may be derived. 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 Shechina 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!


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

Before his climactic meeting with his irate brother 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. However, at the beginning of the parsha (32:8-9), 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. When Yaakov finally encountered Eisav, why were all of his wives and children present, and why did he abandon his original strategy?

            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 all of his previous plans and tactics as unnecessary. 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 wrestling match between Eisav’s angel and Yaakov 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 this light, it is easy to understand why he scrapped his initial military scheme, for he was now secure that he had nothing to fear.


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

 1)      Rashi writes (32:4) that the messengers sent by Yaakov to greet his brother Eisav were real angels. Why did he insist on sending messengers in an extraordinary fashion when the Gemora in Shabbos (32a) teaches that miracles which are performed on behalf of a person subtract from his accumulated merits in the World to Come, something which Yaakov himself was aware of and already feared (Rashi 32:11)? (Chanukas HaTorah, Darash Moshe)

2)      Upon hearing that Eisav was coming toward him with 400 men, Yaakov became very frightened (32:8). Rashi writes (30:25) that Yaakov waited to leave Lavan’s house until after the birth of Yosef, who he knew would help him to conquer Eisav. Why did he become scared and lose his confidence that the merit of Yosef would help him safely return home? (Ayeles HaShachar)

3)      Rashi writes (32:25) that after ferrying his family across a stream, Yaakov returned 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. Rashi criticizes (Bamidbar 32:16) the tribes of Gad and Reuven for emphasizing their money more than their children. If the way of the righteous is to place such value on their possessions, what did they do wrong, and in what way was their situation different than that of Yaakov? (M’rafsin Igri)

4)      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. How could Yaakov play favorites with the lives of his wives and children, almost surrendering the lives of the maidservants and their children in the event that Eisav would attack them? (Lulei Soras’cha, Ayeles HaShachar, Derech Sicha)

5)      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, and if not, how did these men live for so many centuries? (Shelah HaKadosh Pesachim Peirush on the Haggadah d.h. Vayeired Mitzraymah, Shem HaGedolim She’eiris Tzion Vol. 1 35)

6)      Even if Sh’chem was deserving of being put to death for abducting Dina, on what legal basis did Shimon and Levi kill all of their male townsmen (34:25)? (Rambam Hilchos Melochim 9:14, Ramban, Shu”t Chasam Sofer 6:14, Chiddushei HaRim, Meshech Chochmah, Derech Sicha, Shiras Dovid, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Eebay’ei L’hu)

7)      Of all of the brothers, Shimon and Levi were most appalled by the immorality of Sh’chem’s actions, and they avenged his crime (34:25-26). A few generations later, Levi’s descendant Pinchas was jealous for Hashem’s honor and killed Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shimon, for engaging in relations with a non-Jewish woman. If both of the brothers seemingly acted equally, why was the descendant of one caught up in an act similar to that which his great-grandfather had risked his life to protest, while the descendant of the other remained pure and faithful? (Rav Shimon Schwab quoted in Peninim Vol. 8 Parshas Vayechi, Taima D’Kra, Shiras Dovid)

8)      The Medrash, referring to Reuven’s actions with Bilhah (35:22), teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 84:19) that Reuven was the first person to sin and repent his actions. How can this be reconciled with the Gemora in Shabbos (55b) which states that whoever says that Reuven sinned with Bilhah àéðå àìà èåòä – is mistaken? (Biurei Stumos B’Rashi)

Rashi notes (36:3) that Eisav’s wife Basmas was earlier referred to as Machalas (28:9) in order to teach that a person who gets married is forgiven for all of his sins (Mechilah) on the day of his wedding. Is only the groom forgiven, or the bride as well? (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel 117, Tashbatz Katan 465, Rokeiach Parshas Nitzavim, Aishel Avrohom Botchatch Orach Chaim 573, Eliyahu Rabbah Orach Chaim 573, Matteh Moshe Hilchos Hachnossos Kallah, Ayeles HaShachar, Mitz’halos Chossonim pg. 29, Chavatzeles HaSharon pg. 343, Bishvilei HaParsha)

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