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

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Vol. 22   No. 8

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
R' Eliyahu Zev ben R' Yerachmiel Moshe δεειθ z"l
by his family
in honour of his 26th Yohrzeit on the 14th Kislev

Parshas Vayishlach

Here are more examples of 'Ma'asei Avos Si'man le'bonim' that we discussed in Parshah Pearls, Parshas Toldos.


Asking for Trouble

"?nd Ya'akov sent messengers/angels to Eisav his brother to the land of Edom" (32:4):

Yitzchak lived in the southern region of Eretz Yisrael, the Ramban explains, not far from Edom, which was situated south of Eretz Yisrael. That is why Ya'akov was afraid that Eisav would soon get to know about Ya'akov's return and avenge his loss of the birthright. This explains why Ya'akov took the initiative in forming Eisav of his imminent return in a diplomatic attempt to create peace between them.

Nevertheless, comments the Medrash, Ya'akov would have done better by not 'grabbing a sleeping dog by the ears'. If he now found himself facing Eisav coming towards him with four hundred men, he had only himself to blame for having aroused him in the first place.

And this says the Ramban is precisely what Ya'akov's descendants did, when, during the era of the second Beis-Hamikdash, they called in the Romans to settle a dispute and made a treaty with them (Note: the Romans adhered to thee terms of the treaty for twenty-six years, before abrogating it).


Dividing One's Camp

"And he said 'If Eisav will come to the one camp, then the remaining camp will escape" (32:9).

In his second explanation, Rashi explains that Ya'akov prepared himself against Eisav's impending attack in three ways - through prayer, gifts and battle. Having divided his camp into two groups, he elaborates with regard to the latter, that whilst the one defended itself against Eisav's attack, the other would make good its escape. Citing the Medrash, the Ramban adds that Ya'akov girded his people with swords underneath and dressed them in white (symbolizing peace) on top.

Ya'akov Avinu was laying the foundation of Jewish history, Firstly, dividing the camp into two ('Don't place all your eggs in one basket') was a method of defense that Yisrael employed, as we find by the Navi Ovadyah, who hid a hundred prophets from the wicked king Achav in two separate caves. In similar vein, the Gemara tells us in Bava Metzi'a (42a) that one should divide one's wealth into three - a third in property, a third in movable goods and a third in cash (Rabeinu Bachye).

Secondly, whenever one nation drives us out of their land, another nation opens its doors to us. When one king issues harsh decrees against us, another king has pity on us and offers us a haven of refuge. That is how we survive from generation to generation.


The Three Tactics


Indeed, says the Ramban, the very three things that Ya'akov did in preparing for the arrival of his brother Eisav served as a lesson for the way we faced our adversaries throughout our history. First and foremost, with prayer, then with gifts (bribery), and as a last resort, with fighting.


Breathing Space

" … He handed them over to his servants, each group individually, and he told his servants 'Pass before me and leave a space between one flock and the next' " (32:17).

This was Ya'akov's way of hinting to Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, says the Ramban quoting the Medrash, that when He would send troubles upon Yisrael, He should not send them all at once, but that He should leave a space between them, In that way, they would not be overwhelmed by them.


Yisrael Prevailed

"When he saw that he could not overcome him he touched the spoon of his thigh; and the spoon of Ya'akov's thigh became dislocated as he struggled with him …" (32:26).

This, the Ramban explains, hints at the terrible period of 'Sh'mad' (forced conversions) that Ya'akov's descendants would endure during the era of the Tana'im, where they suffered the most terrible tortures in the enemies attempt to convert, and to other periods in our history where the cruel treatment was perhaps even harsher - such as that of the Spanish Inquisition and the more recent Holocaust. It is about suffering such as this that 'they' said - 'If they ask me to sacrifice my life to sanctify G-d's Name, I will do so gladly, provided they kill me outright (and do not torture me)'.

But, as the Torah concludes just a few Pesukim later (33:18) "And Ya'akov arrived in Sh'chem complete" - (cured from his limp). We suffered horribly, but in the end we prevailed. Our enemies have disappeared, whilst we have survived!


Keeping One's Respectful Distance

"And Eisav said 'Let me place with you some of the men who are with me'. To which he (Ya'akov) replied 'Why do I find favour in the eyes of my master?' " (33:15).

Ya'akov was in fact, turning down Eisav's offer, as he had no intention of travelling together with Eisav's men.

The Ramban, citing the Medrash, relates how Rebbi Yanai would glance at the current Parshah before travelling to Rome. Taking his cue from Ya'akov, he would never allow any Romans to accompany him. On one occasion, however, he forgot, and, he said ruefully, he did not get as far as Acco before he was forced to sell his expensive coat (to obtain money with which to bribe them).

Rebbi Yanai learned from Ya'akov Ovinu that when Eisav and his henchmen befriend someone, they do so purely for their own benefit, to get whatever they can out of him and then to discard him.

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ramban)

Ya'akov's Double Fear

"… Ya'akov was afraid and he was distressed" (32:8).

Commenting on the double expression, the Ramban explains that when the messengers returned, they did not issue a report on what transpired when they met Eisav. This was because Eisav was not interested in meeting with them, choosing instead to give them the cold shoulder. Had he met with them and spoken with them, had his intentions been peaceful, the messengers would certainly have reported to Ya'akov details of their meeting and told him that, just as he (Ya'akov) was making his way towards Eisav, so too, was Eisav making his way towards Ya'akov.

But this was not the case, says the author. Not only was Eisav not interested in meeting Ya'akov, he was approaching with four hundred men, and his evil intentions were obvious. That explains the Torah's insertion of the word "ve'gam" (and also); and it also explains the double expression "afraid and distressed" - He was afraid on account of Eisav's disdainful treatment of his messengers, and he was distressed due to his evil intentions.



" … she (Rachel) called him 'ben Oni", but his father called him Binyamin" (35:18).

This was because Binyamin was the only one of Ya'akov's sons to be born in Eretz Cana'an, which is situated south of Aram Naharayim (i.e. Charan), Rashi explains.

The Ramban however, disagrees, and he cites the Pasuk in Vayeitzei, (29:1), which specifically writes (with regard to Charan) that Ya'akov went to the land of the east, in which case, Eretz Cana'an was west (or south-west, as he explains in detail) of Aram Naharayim (See also Parshas Ballak (23:7). Anyway, he objects in that 'son of the south' would have been a strange name to call him, even if he would have been born in the south.


He therefore explains that, wanting to call his son by the name that his (Binyamin's) mother called him, he merely reinterpreted 'ben Oni' to mean 'son of my strength' (since 'oni' can mean either mourning or strength - See Parshas Vayechi, 49:50). He only changed "oni" into "yamin" which also means strength (as the right hand symbolizes strength (See for example, Parshas Beshalach [15:6]), in order to eliminate the negative connotations of "oni" .


Eisav's B'rachah

" … These are the kings that ruled in the land of Edom …" (36:31).

This Parshah is written to teach us how Yitzchak's B'rachah to Eisav - that he would 'live by the sword' - came true. We see here how Eisav defeated Se'ir ha'Chori and ruled over them in their own land. In fact, the ten countries listed here all became the land of Edom, for both Batzrah (in Pasuk33) and Teiman (in Pasuk 34) are specifically mentioned elsewhere (in Yeshayah, 34:6), and in Ovadyah (1:9), respectively as being part of Edom (Ramban)


Two other details that the Ramban cites based on this Parshah are 1). that, unlike the line of kings of Yehudah, the kings of Edom were not 'melech ben melech', and 2). that the line of kings of Edom terminated

before that of Yisrael began. In fact, he says, it had terminated before the era of Moshe, who was also called a king (Ibn Ezra).That being the case, says the author, the kings must all have been old when they were crowned and did not reign for long.

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