Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 8

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Eliyahu Ze'ev ben Yerachamiel Moshe z.l.
by his family
in honour of his 16th Yohrzeit on the 14th Kislev

Parshas Vayishlach

Reflections in the Water
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Ya'akov's messengers returned to him with the news that Eisav was coming to meet him with four hundred men. 'You referred to him as your brother, Rashi quotes them as saying, 'but in fact his attitude towards you is that of the Eisav of old - that of Eisav ha'Rasha'.

It is self-understood that a peaceful family reunion does not require four hundred men, and that Eisav's intentions were therefore anything but peaceful.

Yet when the actual meeting took place, the Torah describes how "Eisav ran to meet him, embraced him, and fell around his neck". Notwithstanding the Medrash that Rashi cites there, what happened to change Eisav's attitude towards Ya'akov so drastically from one moment to the next?

For this too, Rashi has an explanation. When Eisav saw Ya'akov prostrating himself so many times before him, his mercy welled inside him.

The Chochmas Chayim elaborates with a story.


The fierce battle waged by the various secular groups, both in Yerushalayim and in London, to discredit the Eidah ha'Chareidis in the eyes of the British authorities and to negate their independence, is well-known. One of its tragic results was the murder of the Kadosh Dr. Yisrael Ya'akov Daha'an z.l.

It was during that period that five hefty, armed youths once broke in to the apartment of R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld (the distinguished Rav of Yerushalayim and spiritual head of the Eidah ha'Chareidis), whilst he was learning his daily Shi'ur with one of his grandchildren. The young grandchild, who retreated into a corner, describes how, with reference to the efforts of the Eidah's delegation to the British Consul to defend their rights to remain autonomous, they began threatening to murder his grandfather on account of the sneaks who had the audacity to incite the authorities against the Histadrut ha'Tziyonis. With shaking fists, they hurled insults at the Rav, working themselves into a frenzy. Meanwhile, R. Yosef Chayim, unaffected by the deluge of insults, sat calmly facing the hooligans. A look of pity and pain appeared on his face, as he studied the faces of these children of Yisrael, who had switched the yoke of Torah and Derech Eretz for hooliganism, until it reached a stage that they were prepared to stoop to murder, to achieve their goals.

When it seemed that they were about to carry out their threats, the Rav began to unbutton his shirt. Slowly and deliberately, he undid one button after another, until his heart was revealed. Then, with one swift movement, he jumped up from his chair, and stood facing the hooligans with his heart uncovered. Slowly and deliberately, he told them that he was prepared to die to sanctify G-d's Name, and they were welcome to go ahead and shoot him. But, he added, they should know that he was not prepared to budge one iota from the truth, and that they should go and tell their leaders that the Eidah ha'Chareidis was not a trampoline for worthless people, and that just as the Eidah ha'Chareidis had no affect on them, so too, would they have no affect on the Eidah ha'Chareidis, and that no amount of threats would affect their idealogy. The youths, who moments earlier, had been on the verge of shooting R. Yosef Chayim, took to their heels and fled.

Rebbi Moshe Blau concluded that R. Yosef Chayim's determination and powerful words deeply affected the youths, confusing them and causing them to drop their plans and run.

R' Yosef Chayim himself however, had a different way of explaining the hooligans' sudden change of heart ...


At a gathering of Avreichim at his table, he once introduced his version of the events with the following story -

In the town Shadik (in Poland) there lived a Jewish sneak who cast fear into the hearts of all the Jews of the town, by reporting them to the authorities, and making their lives a constant misery. At the same time, he had one demand. Every Shabbos, he would demand 'Shishi' during Leining. And so powerful was he that the Gabai did not dare refuse him.

One day, the Rav of the town died, and they appointed a new Rav, a young Gaon who wanted a smaller post, so that he would be able to dedicate more time to his learning undisturbed. Most Shabbasos, the Rav Davened in his own private Beis-Hamedrash which he opened next to the main Shul, and where he learned day and night. However, when the deeds of the sneak and his 'custom' to be called up to 'Shishi' reached his ears, he informed the Gaba'im that the following Shabbos, he would Daven in the main Shul. Sure enough, he Davened there and as was the custom in many Shuls, he received 'Shelishi'.

When 'Shishi arrived, the Gabai called up the sneak, who began walking conceitedly towards the Bimah, whilst an awkward and painful silence pervaded the Shul. Suddenly, a loud bang broke the silence. Everybody turned towards the source of the bang, and to their surprise, they saw the Rav standing by his Shtender, ready to speak. 'Stop Mechutzaf!', he screamed at the sneak, 'What right has a Tamei and a disgusting character, who delivers Jewish money and Jewish souls to the authorities, to be called up to the Torah? Get out of here, Tamei!

The red-faced, fuming sneak looked at the Rav with venom. Had he been able, he would have attacked him there and then, but a mass of people barred his way. Turning towards the exit, he waved his finger at the Rav, as if to say 'I'll teach you a lesson yet, that you won't forget!'.

Months passed, the story of the sneak was all but forgotten, when the Rav was invited to act as Mohel at the B'ris of a baby born to a Jew who lived in a neighboring village. Early in the morning, he set out for the village in a carriage, accompanied by two Talmidim. They hadn't gone far, when they spotted none other than the sneak riding towards them on horse-back, waving his stick as a sign for them to stop. The Talmidim were terrified, certain that the sneak would now wreak his revenge on the Rav. The Rav however, sat calmly in his seat, totally unruffled. To the utter amazement of the Talmidim, the sneak dismounted from his horse some distance from the carriage, and quickly walking the few steps to where where the Rav sat, he stood there beside the carriage, head bent in total submission, and began to mumble under his breath - 'Moreinu, ve'Rabeinu', he said, 'Please forgive me for the insolent manner in which I behaved towards you. Rebbi, pardon my sin! Because you are righteous and your ways are upright; whereas I and my ways are pervert'. And with that, he turned round, darted back to his horse, which he mounted, and rode away in the direction from which he had come.

The stunned Talmidim, convinced that they had just witnessed a miracle turned from the disappearing rider to their Rebbe, whose serene expression remained unchanged throughout the ordeal. After ordering the driver to continue on his way, he explained to his Talmidim that what they had just witnessed was neither a sign nor a wonder. In fact, he explained, when he saw the sneak riding towards them, he searched for an appropriate Pasuk in T'nach that would protect them, and he hit upon the Pasuk in Mishlei "ke'Mayim Panim le'Panim, kein Leiv ha'Adam le'Adam". And he then began thinking good about the sneak and searching for merits in his favour. He thought how much Divine mercy a man who has sunk so low needs to help him find his way back. And who knows, whether he was to blame at all for his actions. Perhaps it was his upbringing or his environment at one stage or another that led him to behave in this way. Until all feelings of anger and revenge disappeared from his heart, and feelings of pity and mercy replaced them.

At the same time, the sneak began to think to himself that perhaps I was right and he was wrong, since after all, he reckoned, what I did, I did le'Shem Shamayim, and only with good intentions, and as an act of duty, not out of malice ... exactly as Shlomoh Hamelech wrote in Mishlei.

'And that', R. Yosef Chayim continued, 'explains what happened when those youths threatened me. Whilst they were shaking their fists at me, I was thinking very much along the lines of the Rav of Shadik. And sure enough, "ke'Mayim Panim el Panim ... " '.

Only he, he concluded, based his actions on the Pasuk in Parshas Vayishlach, where Ya'akov prostrated himself seven times before Eisav.

To be sure, Ya'akov hated Eisav no less than Eisav hated him (for so David Hamelech writes in Tehilim "How I hate those who hate You, Hashem ... !"). And that was why Eisav came against him with four hundred men. But when Ya'akov looked up and saw Eisav coming towards him with four hundred men, he suddenly realized the danger that confronted him, and he quickly changed his tactics. He prostrated himself seven times before him, searching for the good in him "until he reached his brother", until he actually got to think of him as a brother, and not as an enemy. That's when Eisav too, changed his attitude, and responded by running towards Ya'akov, and embracing and kissing him - like a brother.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah)

Ya'akov Was No 'Batlan'

"I sojourned with Lavan ... and I delayed until now ... And I have oxen, donkeys, sheep ... " (32:5).

'Don't for one moment think', Ya'akov was warning Eisav, 'that I am innocent and incapable of looking after myself'. See how I stayed with Lavan the swindler, and how I survived all these years. And what's more, look at the wealth that I amassed, oxen, donkeys, sheep ... ', Ya'akov was sending Eisav a clear signal not to start up with him, since he was not dealing with the 'Batlan' that he probably envisaged Ya'akov to be, but with a man who knew how to guard his life and look after his best interests (S'fas ha'Yeri'ah).

In similar vein, the K'sav Sofer explains the continuation of the Pasuk " ... and I sent to inform my master, to find favour in his eyes". Now how would the information concerning Ya'akov's assets achieve such positive results?

The answer is that people of the world tend to judge others by their commercial successes, looking down on poor Talmidei-Chachamim, whom they consider too lazy to work and earn good money. That's why Yaakov informed him that he was no Batlan, but a man of the world whom even Eisav could look up to.


Know Him in All Your Ways

"Im Lavan garti" (ibid.) ' ve'Taryag Mitzvos shomarti' comments Rashi.

On the surface, R. Yosef Sha'ul Natanzon explains, "Im Lavan Garti" - Ya'akov was busy with mundane affairs, in pursuit of amassing vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep for himself. However, Ya'akov hastened to assure Eisav, this should not lead him to believe that he had dropped his standards, because at the same time "ve'Taryag Mitzvos shamarti" - all his actions he performed in accordance with the Torah's dictates, in keeping with the Pasuk in Mishlei "Know Him in all your ways". For example, although Ya'akov spent so much time guarding Lavan's sheep, he adhered strictly to the laws of the four guards (and as we shall see at a later stage, he Ma'asered all his assets). Consequently, Eisav should not be disillusioned into believing that he (Ya'akov) no longer enjoyed Divine protection.


The Extra Word

"Nursing camels and their babies (u'veneihem)" (32:16).

Rashi cites a Medrash, which takes the word "u'veneihem" and reads it as 'u'vano'eihem' (and their builders [with reference to their male partners]).

The question arises why the Medrash sees fit to take what appears to be a simple, unproblematic word in the Torah, and change its meaning.

The Chanukas ha'Torah cites a Gemara in Bava Basra (88) which rules that if Reuven sells Shimon 'a nursing cow', this does not include the baby, since we assume that he added the word 'nursing' to incorporate the animal's milk in the sale.

But if he were to sell him a nursing donkey (whose milk is forbidden), then the sale would include the donkey's babies; otherwise, why did he add the word 'nursing'?

Based on this Gemara, the Chanukas ha'Torah comments that, having written "nursing camels" (whose milk, like that of the donkey, is forbidden), why does the Torah need to add 'and their babies', which are included in the word "nursing". That is why the Medrash sees fit to explain the word in the way that it does.

The word "u'veneihem" it seems, is not as unproblematic as we thought it was.

Why does the Torah make its point in such an indirect way, you may ask. For that, see Rashi.


Too Busy to Help a Jew

"And 'a man' (Ish) struggled with him" (32:25).

That man, says Rashi, was none other than the Angel of Eisav (Sama'el). Yet in Parshas Vayeishev (in connection with Yosef), where, using the same terminology ("Ish"), the Torah describes how "a man asked him what he was looking for", and there Rashi explains that the 'man' was Gavriel (one of the four angels who support G-d's Throne). From where does Rashi know to make such a distinction?

The answer, R. Leib Mochi'ach explains, lies in the opposing attitudes of the two angels. When Ya'akov asked the angel to give him a B'rachah, the latter replied that he had to go and Daven and sing Shirah, whilst the angel in Vayeishev, without even being asked, went out of his way to offer Yosef his assistance. Maybe he too, needed to sing Shirah, but (perhaps taking his cue from Avraham, who excused himself from the Shechinah, in order to see to his angelic guests) he gave precedence to helping someone in distress. That refers to the Archangel Gavriel (who is 'nicknamed' "Ish" in a number of places).

On the other hand, an angel who gives precedence to singing Shirah over giving a Jew a B'rachah, can only have been the Mal'ach of Eisav (alias the Yeitzer ha'Ra).


Melting Eisav's Heart

"And he (Ya'akov) prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he reached his brother" (33:3).

Rebbi Yitzchak mi'Verka learned from here that if someone wants to be spared from his enemies (and even turn them into friends), he should bring them close and show them love, because as the Pasuk in Mishlei writes(describing the reaction of one person to another) "like the reflection of one's face in water". 'Smile at him and he will smile back'.

Because when Eisav saw Ya'akov bowing down to him time and time again, his heart melted and feelings of brotherliness welled inside him.

In the same vein, the final words in the Pasuk "until he reached his brother" can also be explained to mean 'until he got through to him' (Beis Ya'akov). See also main article.


Eisav Respects Strong-arm Tactics

"And he (Eisav) said, Whose camp is it that I came across? And he (Ya'akov) said 'it is to find favour in your eyes' " (33:8).

Regarding Eisav's query, Rashi cites a Medrash which describes how angels disguised as Ya'akov's friends beat up Eisav and his men, ignoring all his pleas, until he declared that he was Ya'akov's brother.

Then what did Ya'akov mean when he replied that it was to find favour in his eyes? The P'ninei Torah explains that with people of the caliber of Eisav, it is not the truth and righteousness that impress, but the power of the sword. The strongest man wins, and that is the man whom they respect.

Eisav queried Ya'akov strong friends, expressing surprise at their strong-arm tactics, since he had always believed that Ya'akov lived by the power of the mouth.

That is why Ya'akov replied that it was to win his favour, something which he could only do by demonstrating that he was stronger than him.


He Who Has Plenty Can Always Do with More

"I have plenty, my brother ... !" (33:9).

Ya'akov, on the other hand, said (in Pasuk 11) "I have everything!"

The K'li Yakar explains how, as Chazal have taught, someone who has a hundred dollars, wants two hundred, and when he attains two hundred, he wants four. In other words, the more a person has, the more he wants.

A Tzadik on the other is satisfied with whatever he has, because he always believes that he has everything (that he needs).

And that epitomizes the two brothers - Eisav, who had "plenty", and Ya'akov, who had "everything".

* * *

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