This issue is sponsored
Vol. 14 No. 8
Yehudah ben Maimon Kohen z.l.
whose Yahrzeit is 21st Kislev
Like the Stars, Like the Sand,
Like the Earth
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)
Rashi explains that, when Ya'akov mentioned the promise that G-d had made to him that his children would be like the sand by the seashore, he could not have been referring to the Pasuk in the previous Parshah (28:14), because there G-d had used the term 'like the dust of the earth', and not 'like the sand ... '. He must therefore have been referring to the promise that He made to Ya'akov's grandfather Avraham, to whom, following the Akeidah in Parshas Vayeira (22:17), He had indeed referred to the sand by the sea-shore, and he did after all, promise Ya'akov that He would not forsake him until He had accomplished all that He had spoken about him (even if it was to Avraham) rather than to him.
The Pasuk in Vayeira to which Ya'akov refers here, actually blesses Avraham that G-d would increase his children like the stars of the heaven and the sand by the sea-shore. Consequently, according to Rashi's explanation, we still need to understand why the Pasuk here omits the comparison to the stars of the heaven?
The K'li Yakar, who also poses the question, (though not directly on Rashi), explains how each of the three above-mentioned comparisons has its own connotations, as follows: In times of peace and success, Yisrael are compared to the stars (as Rashi explains in Devarim, 1:10); They are compared to dust when they are lowly and downtrodden (like the Pasuk in Tehilim 129:3, "on my back the ploughers ploughed"). And it is when they are being pursued by their enemies that they are compared to sand (like the Pasuk "ve'ha'Resha'im ka'yam nigrash" [Yeshayah 27:20]) which, the Medrash explains with reference to the waves, which attempt to engulf the sand by the seashore, but which crash down to their doom before they are able to achieve their goal).
Based on this information, the K'li Yakar explains the different expressions that the Torah uses in the three places to which we referred. In the Pasuk in Vayeitzei, G-d compares Yisrael to the dust of the earth, because He is referring to Yisrael in Egypt, where they were completely downtrodden. Moreover, the Egyptians actually ploughed over them, as the Gemara explains in Sotah (11a), and Hashem was promising Ya'akov that they would emerge victorious, to sprout out from the ground in all directions, despite the Egyptians' efforts to contain and to destroy them. Indeed, Rabeinu Bachye adds that part of the symbolism of 'the dust of the earth' is that it outlives those who tread on it. All this fits neatly into the Pasuk in Tehilim that we quoted a little earlier.
The Pasuk in Vayeira is written immediately after the Akeidah, so it is hardly surprising that G-d compares Avraham's children to the stars and to the sand, blessing them with peace and success on the one hand, and victory over their enemies on the other, in return for Avraham's incredible act of self-sacrifice. To have mentioned the dust of the earth, symbolizing lowliness and subjugation, would have been completely out of context.
Whereas in our Parshah, Ya'akov is referring to the comparison to the sand of which G-d spoke in Vayeitzei (ignoring that of the stars), because his reference here to the promise made there stemmed from his concern that Eisav would attack him, and it is the sand, as we explained, that symbolizes victory over one's enemies.
Others explain the duel comparison in Vayeira, to the stars of the Heaven and the sand by the seashore, in the following way. A Jew, they say, has a very distinct personality, which needs to be recognized and nurtured as he grows and develops. He is as unique as a star, each of which is a world on its own, whose importance lies in its individuality. Indeed, it is well-known, that if two stars were to collide, it would be a calamity of the highest order.
On the other hand, of what importance is a single grain of sand? A grain of sand on its own loses its identity, and it is only when it unites with all the other grains, that it is able to withstand the onslaught of the mighty ocean. And so it is with a each and every Jew. In spite of his personality; in spite of his uniqueness, as long as he stands on his own, he is doomed to failure, and it is only when he works together with the community that he is able to shine like a star.
* * *
"And Ya'akov sent angels before him to Eisav his brother ... 'Thus you shall say to my Master, to Eisav; I sojourned with Lavan ... ' " (32:4/5).
Why, asks the No'am Elimelech, did Ya'akov choose to send angels and not human beings on this particular mission? And why did he refer to Eisav as 'my master', even though he was not in his presence?
And he explains that it is the way of a Tzadik that, even when he says things that are inherently mundane, his words refer to things that are holy. Consequently, even as Ya'akov sent this gift with the messengers, the message that he conveyed through them incorporated a prayer to G-d for His assistance.
That is why he chose as his messengers, the archangels Micha'el and Gavriel (as is written in Sefarim), who constantly intercede with G-d on behalf of K'lal Yisrael, in the hope that, in addition to his own efforts, they would now intercede on his behalf in his imminent confrontation with his brother Eisav.
Consequently, when he said "So you shall say to my Master, to Eisav", he meant that they should convey his words both to his Master in Heaven, and to Eisav (albeit with a different slant) ...
Hence to Eisav "I sojourned with Lavan" implied that he had not become an important person; whereas to his Master in Heaven they meant that he had observed the Taryag Mitzvos (all as Rashi explains).
"And I have oxen and asses" as far as Eisav was concerned, meant just what it says (again as Rashi explains), but for Hashem, this referred to Mashi'ach ben Yosef (who is called an ox) and Mashi'ach ben David (who will arrive riding a donkey), who were destined to descend from his sons Yosef and Yehudah, respectively.
Talmid-Chacham or Goy?
"And a man wrestled with him until dawn-break" (32:25).
The Gemara in Chulin (27) cites two opinions as to whether the 'man' (alias the angel of Eisav - the Satan) appeared to him in the form of a Talmid-Chacham or of a Goy.
The Yeitzer ha'Ra (who is synonymous with the Satan) uses two methods of approach, says the Sochatchover Ga'on. Sometimes he is quite open, making no effort to cover up his intentions. Like a Goy, he tells a person to sin. On other occasions, he is extremely devious, using the language of a Talmid-Chacham, pretending that he wants you to perform a Mitzvah, whilst doing his utmost to make you sin.
Those are the two opinions cited in the Gemara.
Complete in a Jewish Sense
"And Ya'akov arrived complete (Shaleim) in the city of Sh'chem" (33:18).
The letters of "Shaleim" form the first letters of 'Sheim', 'Lashon' and 'Malbush'. Yes, the twenty years that Ya'akov had spent in the secular environment of Charan, living with the enlightened Lavan, had not left the slightest scar on him. He and his family emerged complete - with Jewish names, speaking Lashon ha'Kodesh and wearing distinctly Jewish garb, That is what 'complete' means in a Jewish sense.
And this left its mark on future generations, as, according to some Medrashim, these are the three traits that Yisrael retained in Egypt, in spite of the powerful urge to modernize, and be like the Egyptians.
No-one Helps a Jew
"And they came upon the city, confidently, and killed all the males" (34:25). What gave them the confidence, asks the K'li Yakar? The fact that the people of Sh'chem had all circumcised, he replies. Before that, the sons of Ya'akov were afraid that all the surrounding nations would come running to protect them. But once they had circumcised, their fears dissipated. Why is that? Because circumcision is the first stage of Judaism. And they knew that nobody will as much as lift a finger to help a Jew in distress.
If Eisav Can Do It ...
"Eisav married his wives ... and Bosmas the daughter of Yishmael the sister of Nevayos" (36:2/3).
Later, says Rashi, the Pasuk refers to her as Mochalas, and he cites a Medrash which learns from here, that one of the three people who are automatically forgiven for their sins is a Chasan on the day that he gets married.
The question arises as to why the Pasuk opts to teach us this lesson specifically with regards to Eisav?
The holy Rebbe of Kozmir puts it like this.
It is to be expected that the Satan will try to prevent many a Chasan from taking this promise seriously, on the grounds that he is unworthy of such a privilege. The Torah therefore counters this argument, by applying the rule to Eisav, and if the wicked Eisav could attain forgiveness on the day of his wedding, then anybody can.
Dishoin & Dishon
"These are the sons of Se'ir the Chori ... Dishoin, Eitzer and Dishon ... " (36:20/21).
From this Pasuk it is clear that Se'ir's fifth son was Dishoin, and his seventh son, Dishon. And this sequence is repeated in Pasuk 30, which lists the chiefs of Se'ir.
Yet, the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro observes, when discussing the offspring of Se'ir's children, Pasuk 26 and Pasuk 28 refer to both his fifth and seventh sons as Dishon (with no mention made of Dishoin).
It therefore seems, says the G'ro, that in fact, Dishoin in Pasuk 21 is synonymous with Dishon in Pasuk 26, only the latter, whose trop is an Esnachta (the equivalent of a comma), changes the Cholam into a Kamatz (like it generally does with a Patach (like we find by Shomayim and Mitzrayim, which change to Shomoyim and Mitzroyim). Proof of this lies in the Pasuk in Divrei ha'Yamim (1 1:41), which lists the two as Dishoin and Dishoin (though this is dufficult, seeing as the first of the two has an Esnachta).
What emerges is that Se'ir called both his fifth and seventh sons by the same name, either Dishoin or Dishon, and the Pasuk presents them both as Dishoin, unless the Trop is an Esnachta, in which case they appear as Dishon.
Their brother Anah, also named his son Dishoin, only he it seems, insisted on calling his son Dishoin, and not Dishon. That is why his name appears like this, even when the Trop is an Esnachta (as it is here, in Pasuk 25, and in Divrei ha'Yamim [Ibid.]).
(The difficulty with this explanation lies in Pasuk 28, where the Pasuk refers to Se'ir's seventh son as Dishon, even though the Trop there is not as Esnachta).
* * *
'From everything that my father blessed me, all I have is a few oxen, donkeys and sheep, servants and maidservants; and I am sending to inform my master that this blessing did not take effect, to find favour in your eyes, so that you should not bear me a grudge' (32:6).
'And Ya'akov remained on his own on the other side of the River Yabok, when an angel disguised as a man started up with him and said to him "Did you not promise to Ma'aser everything that you have? But don't you have twelve sons and one daughter, whom you have not Ma'asered?" Immediately, he set aside the four firstborn sons (from the four mothers) leaving eight (including Binyamin, with whom Rachel was pregnant). He then began counting, starting from Shimon, and ending with Levi, who was Number ten, at which point Micha'el announced "Master of the World, this is your portion!" ... ' (32:25).
'And when the angel saw that he did not have the authority to harm him (Ya'akov), he touched the spoon of his thigh, and Ya’akov's thigh became dislocated when he struggled with him' (32:26).
' ... he (Ya'akov) passed before them, praying and pleading with G-d for mercy, and he prostrated himself on the ground seven times until he reached his brother' (33:3).
' ... a miracle occurred with Ya'akov, and Eisav went on his way to Se'ir' (33:16).
' ... he erected there a Mizbei'ach, and he brought all the Ma'aser animals that he had separated from all his flocks, before the G-d of Yisrael' (33:20).
' ... Ya'akov erected a Matzeivah in the place where G-d spoke with him, a Matzeivah (made of one slab of stone), and he poured on it a libation of wine and a libation of water, for that is what his children would later do on Succos, and he emptied on it some olive oil' (35:14).
'And it was when Yisrael resided in that land, that Reuven went and switched the bed of Bilhah his father's maidservant, with that of Le'ah his mother, and this was considered as if he had lain with her. When Yisrael heard about it, it grieved him, and he said 'Vay, perhaps there came out from me a defective son, just as Yishmael came from Avraham, and Eisav from my father?’ But a Holy Spirit answered him, and said "Don't be afraid! Because all your sons are righteous; they are without defect, and after Binyamin is born, they will number twelve.'
* * *
Thoughts on the Haftarah
ALL ABOUT OUR BROTHER EISAV
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
Too Big for His boots
I have made you inferior among the nations; you are highly despicable. The wickedness of your heart has led you astray" (Ovadyah 1:1/2).
When Edom (Rome) sees that he has been handed the reigns of rulership, to oppress the Jews and to embitter their lives, he is overcome by a sense of pride, and he begins to see himself as a mighty power that is highly esteemed in Heaven.
But the truth of the matter is just the opposite. In fact, the reason he has been chosen to oppress and subjugate Yisrael, the holy nation, is on account of his lowliness.
The Kochav mi'Ya'akov illustrates this with a Mashal: There was once a king who had an only son, of whom he was naturally extremely fond. He surrounded him with a team of dedicated servants, whom he charged with seeing to his every need. Now it once happened that the prince contracted a dangerous disease, for which the doctor prescribed an exceptionally potent cure that was difficult and heartrending to administer. The doctor who prescribed it agreed to go ahead with the cure only on condition that the boy was separated from his father the king, and from the entire retinue of valets and servants who served him, since they too loved him. In their stead, a rough man with a cruel streak was to be appointed to take charge of the sick boy for the entire duration of the illness. For only such a person would be able to ignore the boy's acute discomfort whenever he took it, and to enforce the rigid discipline that was necessary to abide by the doctor's prescription to the letter, to swallow the bitter and repugnant medicine that he had to take daily.
The right man was found and the prince was placed in his charge. It did not take long however, for the chosen man, seeing how the prince had been taken from the courtiers and placed under his sole jurisdiction, to begin flaunting his importance and behaving as if he was one of the king's senior ministers. Until someone reminded him that it was precisely because of his rough and hard character, that he had been chosen to carry out the task on hand. It was simply too heart-rending for people who were more refined than him, and who were held in much higher esteem, that specifically he was hand-picked to look after the prince. He in particular had been appointed due to his cruel streak, to ensure that the prince took his medicine, but once the boy was cured, he would be returned to his former lowly post among the poor and the despised.
And this is what the Navi was telling Edom "The wickedness of your heart has led you astray" - You think that because you were chosen to oppress Yisrael, you must be held in high esteem in the eyes of G-d. But the opposite is true. The very nature of the task on hand indicates that "I have made you inferior among the nations, and that you are highly despicable". You were only chosen for your hardness of heart and your cruel traits. Nobody else is hard-hearted enough to cure the King's son (Yisrael). The King is forced to turn the other way whilst you do your job. But be rest assured, once the job is complete, you will be restored to your former position, and "from there, I will take you down, says Hashem".
"How Eisav has been searched, his hidden traits revealed" (Ovadyah 1:6).
There are times, says the Even ha'Azeil, when Eisav covers over his wickedness with nice words and fine ideas. He talks of international peace and freedom, and of human rights, hiding his wild and barbaric tendencies under a thinly disguised veil of culture and civilization.
Therefore the Navi, himself an Edumite convert, assures us that, in the end, before Eisav's downfall, his spiritual nakedness will be revealed. The nations will search for his hidden traits and his secrets, until his true face will be revealed to all ... an evil, cruel man, a wild bloodthirsty creature, who is ready to devour his fellow-man without pity.
Who Made Ya'akov Angry Anyway?
"From the violence/robbery of your brother Ya'akov, embarrassment will envelop you ... " (1:10).
A young troublemaker once arrived home from school crying, and complained to his father about his 'friend', a refined and timid youngster, who had beaten him up until he was bleeding from a number of places on his body.
In response, the father ordered his other children to run to school and see whether the friend was o.k. He was concerned about his son's friend, he explained. Because it was inconceivable for that quiet, well-behaved boy to have attacked his son so violently without having been provoked, and he shuddered to think what his wild son must have done to aggravate him so acutely. He even doubted as to whether the poor fellow was still alive?
When Eisav (a gentile) complains that Ya'akov (a Jew), insulted him or that Ya'akov shot at him, to get to the root of the trouble, one needs to find out what Eisav did to aggravate him. Because unless he provoked him to the extent that is frankly embarrassing, we know that Ya'akov is by nature timid, and seeks nothing more than peaceful relations with Eisav.
That is what the above Pasuk means ... 'If you are able to bring your brother Ya'akov to the point of violence, you ought to be thoroughly ashamed with yourself', and as the Pasuk concludes "You will be cut off forever" for having done it (Ma'ayanah shel Torah).
Ya'akov Stole the Bechorah
Eisav complained bitterly to his father that Ya'akov had stolen the birthright from him. What really happened there?
If you will recall, Eisav had despised the birthright (as the Torah specifically testifies). And it was only then that Ya'akov offered him a delicious bowl of lentil soup in exchange for what Eisav, by his own admission, considered worthless. Indeed, even as he accepted Ya'akov's offer, he declared "What do I need the birthright for?".
For that alone, the Tzavrei Shalal explains, the Navi is admonishing him, telling him in no uncertain terms, that in answer to his claim that Ya'akov stole the birthright, he ought to be ashamed, if only for the fact that his disdain for something so holy and precious (placing its value at no more than a bowl of lentil soup). For it was that disdain which prompted Ya'akov to react in the way that he did.
And what's more, one may add, he needed to be ashamed of himself for slandering his brother, who did not steal the Bechorah at all, but bought it from him legally, with his full participation.