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Haftarah: Obadiah 1: 1-21

December 12-13, 2008 16 KISLEV 5769

Pop Quiz: Which of the four imahot (matriarchs) dies in this perashah?


"As a stranger have I stayed with Laban" (Beresheet 32:5)

Ya'akob Abinu has to confront his brother, Esav, who is on record that he plans to kill Ya'akob. He sends a message to Esav, "I have lived with Laban and have been delayed until now." Rashi explains this statement in two ways. Firstly Ya'akob means to say that he has lived as a sojourner; he did not become a dignitary or a noble. It does not befit Esav to hate him over the blessings of their father, Yitzhak. The blessings said he would be a lord over his brother and it has not been fulfilled in him. Rashi gives a second interpretation saying that he has lived with Laban the evil one, yet he kept the 613 commandments and did not learn from his evil actions.

Rabbi Nissan Alpert asks that these two explanations are mutually contradictory. The first explanation reflects humility and subjugation to Esav. The second denotes dignity and nobility in his ability to remain great. Rabbi Alpert explains that there is no real contradiction, and reflects our situation in the exile. Our situation is such that at this period in time, today, Esav is our master. We must acknowledge this reality and demonstrate our deference. However, our permission to do this is contingent on our constantly reminding ourselves of our own inherent preeminence. One the one hand we are living in the lands of the nations and must not fail to show our subordination. That in fact is our reality. But it is only our external reality. That is what is meant by the two opinions brought by Rashi. The first opinion is what we must say to them; the second is what we must always say to ourselves.

As an illustration of who we are, I heard a story (I don't remember the source, but it is a bona fide true story) about Rabbi Pesach Zvi Frank, the one time but recent Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. An important Rabbi recounted a conversation he overheard between Rabbi Frank and his wife. One night the Rabbi asked his wife to light another candle so he could continue learning that night. She responded that she doesn't have any more candles. So the Rabbi said that she should buy more candles tomorrow. She answered that there is no money to buy more candles. The Rabbi began to weep, how will he learn tomorrow night? She answered that she just got a great idea. "Why do we need two beds? We can sell one bed and buy candles. I will sleep the first half of the night while you learn, and you will sleep the second half of the night. We don't need to sleep a whole night!"

We can live under the rule of the nations, but only if we constantly remind ourselves of who we really are. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And Ya'akob remained alone" (Beresheet 32:25)

When Ya'akob was traveling alone at night, the angel of Esav appeared to him like a man and began struggling with him the entire night, until the angel said he couldn't conquer Ya'akob. The angel of Esav represents the evil side, the yeser hara; why did he only choose Ya'akob to battle and not Abraham or Yitzhak?

The answer is that Abraham represents hesed, kindness, and Yitzhak represents abodah, which is prayer, whereas Ya'akob represents Torah study. The yeser hara is not as threatened by deeds of kindness or by prayer as he is by Torah study. When we pray and do hesed, of course we are doing great things, but we can't vanquish the evil inclination that way. He is still lurking, waiting for an opportunity to ensnare us. However, when we learn Torah, we become clear as to our purpose in life and we reorganize our priorities. The yeser hara realizes we will see through his wily ways and feels threatened and therefore doesn't want us to go to that class or pick up that book to learn. That's why the angel of Esav attacked Ya'akob, the patriarch who symbolizes Torah study! But just as Ya'akob was not overpowered, so too do we have the ability to overcome the yeser hara and to grow in Torah. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"And he bowed down to the ground seven times until he reached his brother, and Esav ran to greet him, and he hugged him, and he fell on his neck, and he kissed him, and they cried" (Beresheet 33:3,4)

Rashi comments that when Esav saw how Ya'akob bowed down to him so many times, his feelings of compassion were aroused and he hugged and kissed Ya'akob.

Ya'akob had great physical strength and was prepared to fight against Esav, but he still wanted to avoid violence if at all possible. The Sages (Pirkei Abot 4:1) define the truly strong person as one who has control over his own impulses. There are many people who focus on overcoming other people and gaining power over them. But when it comes to having power over themselves they are weak and even helpless. The desire to fight with others comes from the trait of arrogance and its offshoot, honor-seeking. If a person really wants a true victory, he won't focus on overpowering another person. Rather, he will work on his traits and appear to lower himself before another person. If used wisely, this can bring about peace.

We learn this from Ya'akob, said Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman. Because of his strength he knew he could defeat Esav. But even if one wins a battle, there is a loss to oneself and a loss to the other side. Ya'akob prepared for a battle, if necessary, but his first strategy was to show respect and honor to Esav. He called him master, while he called himself a servant. He even bowed down to Esav many times. With this self-discipline to choose to lower oneself for the sake of peace, Ya'akob was victorious over Esav. He made Esav his servant. We see here that Ya'akob bowed down to Esav and called him master, but the real servant was Esav, who was disarmed by Ya'akob's strategy.

There is a big difference between a person who bows down to someone out of weakness and another who bows down out of strength. A person with a low self-image gives in to others because he considers himself as nothing. This is a major fault. One needs to be aware of the inherent greatness in every human being, including oneself.

The root of quarrels is arrogance. Use wisdom and strategy when dealing with difficult people. Be aware of your real goals and don't get sidetracked. To make an enemy into a friend is the ultimate goal and a complete victory. This is a victory in which there are only winners and no losers. But it takes much strength. That is exactly why it is so elevating.

Following this idea will help you get along better with those you have trouble with. So many family quarrels are based on conceit. "How can I belittle myself by showing honor to this person who doesn't deserve it?" some people say. And they therefore continue feuds and arguments for years causing hatred and animosity. We must learn from Ya'akob to show honor and respect if that is the best way to calm another person. Note that Ya'akob had no intention of living near Esav. If you are dealing with an abusive person who is dangerous to your spiritual, physical or emotional well-being, keep a far distance. But when you have to interact with him, speak with tact. Keep your focus on your ultimate goals. While such strategy is difficult for many people, it is the behavior of the truly strong person: the one who has mastered control over himself. (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Ribkah and Rachel.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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