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Torah Attitude: Parshas Vayishlach: The tactics of the Satan
Yacov prepared himself for his encounter with Esau on the way back to the land of Israel. The one who attacked Yacov was not a human being but the guardian angel of Esau who is the Satan himself. "The voice is the voice of Yacov and the hands are the hands of Esau." Everything is based on the first three Sefirot, Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (might) and Tiferes (beautiful harmony of Chesed and Gevurah). As the dawn broke Yacov managed to get the Satan to bless him. We must emulate our Patriarch Yacov and strengthen ourselves, and in this way we will merit to see the break of dawn with the coming of Moshiach.
Yacov's encounter with Esau
In this week's parasha, the Torah relates how Yacov prepared himself for his encounter with Esau on the way back to the land of Israel. When Yacov's messengers returned and told him that Esau came towards him with four hundred men he became very scared. He prayed to G'd that He rescue him, and at the same time he sent lavish presents to appease his brother. Finally, he prepared himself for the worst scenario, in case Esau would attack him. The Torah describes how in the middle of the night Yacov crossed the ford of Yabbok with his whole family and all their possessions. But Yacov returned to where they had just come from. Rashi quotes the Talmud (Chulin 91a) that explains that he returned to fetch some earthenware that he had forgotten.
Satan the guardian angel of Esau
While Yacov was all by himself he was attacked by someone, as it says (Bereishis 32:25-26): "And a man wrestled with him till the break of dawn. And when he saw that he could not overpower him, he struck the socket of his hip." Rashi quotes from the Bereishis Rabba (77:3) that the attacker was not a human being but the guardian angel of Esau who is the Satan himself. As such, this fight represents the constant struggle the Jewish people has with Satan who challenges us all the time through our evil inclinations. This struggle will continue and intensify as we get closer to the dawn of our final salvation.
The voice of Yacov, the hands of Esau
The Zohar (Bereishis 171a) elaborates on this and explains in great detail why the Satan attacked Yacov. The Zohar quotes what Isaac said (Bereishis 27:22): "The voice is the voice of Yacov and the hands are the hands of Esau." The deeper meaning of this is, says the Zohar, that as long as the voice of Yacov studying Torah continues, the hands of Esau are powerless. But if the voice of Yacov is slacking or is interrupted, then the hands of Esau have the power to rule over Yacov and his descendants. Esau's angel, the Satan, therefore tried every possible way to interfere with the study of Torah of Yacov and his offspring.
Chesed, Gevurah & Tiferes
The Kabbalists explain that everything is based on the first three Sefirot, Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (might) and Tiferes (beautiful harmony of Chesed and Gevurah). Graphically, Tiferes is described as the main body with Chesed as the right arm and Gevurah as the left one. The Satan wrestled with the main body of Yacov, representing the Torah scholars, without any success. Whatever he tried, he saw that the Torah scholars could not be distracted from their study by any direct attack. He then tried to get a hold on the right arm, representing those who do acts of Chesed with their lovingkindness and charity. But again he did not succeed. He realized that the act of lovingkindness is so ingrained in the Jewish people that he had no chance to stop them from doing chesed. As the descendants of our Patriarch Abraham, who was the epitome of chesed, performing acts of lovingkindness, such as taking care of the sick and providing for the needy, is part and parcel of our Jewish lifestyle. Next the Satan tried to attack the left arm representing spiritual might that is based on fear of G'd. However, the Jewish people are also descendants of our Patriarch Isaac who excelled in his fear of G'd to the extent that Yacov, at the end of last week's Parasha (Bereishis 31:42) refers to G'd as "the Fear of Isaac". As such, we are strong in our fear of G'd.
Satan changed tactics
The Satan now realized that he had no power over the triad of Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferes, as it says: "And he saw the he could not overpower him." He therefore changed his tactics and tried something else, as it says: "And he struck the socket of his hip." This, says the Zohar, refers to the two sefirot of Netzach (eternity) and Hod (splendor). Graphically, they are described as the two thighs that support the body. The Satan decided that if he cannot get at the Torah scholars themselves then he will attack those who are supposed to support the scholars. He reasoned that if he succeeded to stop the support of Torah study, then automatically the Torah scholars will not be able to continue to study. And in this way the Satan will have achieved his goal to give Esau a chance to overpower and rule over Yacov.
Satan blesses Yacov
However, although the Satan succeeded somewhat to remove the support, Yacov still dedicated his life to Torah study and did not succumb. As it says (Bereishis 25:27): "And Yacov was a complete person dwelling in tents [of Torah study]." He strengthened himself and as the dawn broke he managed to get the Satan to bless him, which the Zohar explains means that he accepted that Yacov deserved the blessings that he received from Isaac.
Darkness of dawn
The Chofetz Chaim and many other Torah leaders have explained that our turbulent times are the "birth pangs" of our salvation. We have gone through the darkest period of our long and bitter exile, just as the time prior to dawn is the darkest time of the night. In this week's parasha the Torah teaches us that at this time the Satan will try everything to stop us from our Torah study. When he sees that we are strong in our study, and that despite all difficulties we continue to do acts of chesed and fear G'd, he tries his last resort. He will let us donate to all sorts of charities, but when it comes time to support Torah study, the backbone of our existence, he will induce us to minimize our donations, or refrain altogether. This is exactly the opposite of how it should be. The Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed 2:19) that when one dispenses money to charity the first priority is to help ones poor relatives to ensure that they are provided for. After that, says the Chofetz Chaim, Torah scholars take precedence over other needy people. We must therefore emulate our Patriarch Yacov and strengthen ourselves and support Torah institutions and Torah scholars and in this way we will merit to see the break of dawn with the coming of Moshiach, when Esau's descendants will acknowledge our rights as G'd's chosen people.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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