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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayishlach: Winning the peace rather than the war

Summary

Jacob planned a three-pronged approach how to deal with Esau. G'd answered Jacob's prayer when Esau had a sudden change of heart. Just as Jacob prayed, tried to make peace and prepared for war, we must emulate him and do the same. It distressed Jacob even more that he might have to kill others. We want to win the peace rather than the war, but just like Jacob we must prepare for both. We must recognize the unbelievable Divine protection we experienced and ask ourselves how did we merit this? The study of Torah acts like a protective shield. The Talmud teaches us the importance of having a regiment of Torah students.

Three prong approach

In the beginning of this week's parasha, the Torah relates how Jacob was on his way back to the land of Israel after his exile by Lavan. Jacob sent special messengers to Esau in an attempt to make peace. The attempt totally failed and Esau responded by mobilizing an army of four hundred soldiers and marched towards Jacob to attack him and his family. Jacob got very scared and planned a three-pronged approach how to deal with the situation. First, he did not give up on the peace process and sent lavish presents to appease Esau, hoping that Esau would change his mind and not attack. Second, he prepared for war in case Esau would not be appeased. He split his camp in two so if Esau attacked, one camp would fight back and give the other camp a chance to flee. He was obviously aware that Esau was much stronger and better equipped, and he therefore did not expect to win in battle. Finally, Jacob poured out his heart in prayer and asked G'd for Divine protection.

Change of heart

G'd answered Jacob's prayer. Although Esau had intended to attack Jacob, when he saw Jacob and his large family bowing down to him, he had a sudden change of heart. He ran towards his brother and embraced and kissed him.

Emulate Jacob

As we mentioned in last week's Torah Attitude, our sages teach that whatever happened to our Patriarchs relates to us as well. The Ramban writes in his introduction to this week's parasha that the Torah relates what happened to Jacob, and how he prepared himself, so that we can learn from his conduct. Just as Jacob prayed, tried to make peace and prepared for war, we must emulate him and do the same.

Jacob was distressed

It says (Bereishis 32:8): "And Jacob became very frightened and it distressed him." Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma (4) that he was frightened that he, or members of his family, would get killed, but it distressed him even more that he might have to kill others. Only a holy and noble person like Jacob would approach the dangers of war with such apprehension. It is incredible to look at the recent events in Israel, where the Jewish people must act in a similar way in our battle for survival. But as proud descendants of Jacob, we have it in us to do so.

Prepare for both peace and war

Rashi (ibid 33:4) quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who explained (Sifri Bamidbar 69) that although Esau as a rule hates Jacob, G'd helped by arousing Esau's mercy at that moment, and he genuinely kissed Jacob. We, Jacob's descendants, still have many enemies that as a rule harbour hatred against us, but if we emulate our Patriarch and put our trust in G'd, we have a chance that we also will merit His Divine protection. Every time we pray we express our understanding that ultimately everything is in G'd's hands. At the same time, we know that we may not just leave it to G'd and rely on miracles. We therefore seek natural ways how to survive being surrounded by enemies. We want to win the peace rather than the war, but just like Jacob we must prepare for both.

Divine protection

We all feel great relief that a ceasefire has been established, so that the deadly missiles and rockets have stopped falling all over Israel. But we must also recognize the unbelievable Divine protection we experienced and ask ourselves how did we merit this?

Protective shield

We might find the answer in the words of King David in Tehillim (122:2): "Our feet stood firm in your gates Jerusalem." The Talmud (Makkos 10a) explains that this means that the ones who studied Torah in the gates of Jerusalem brought about that the soldiers stood firm in war. The Talmud (Sotah 21a) further states that the study of Torah acts like a protective shield. We must show our appreciation and support the scholars who delve into the depth of Torah study and spend their days and nights diligently in the Yeshivos and Kolelim. Who knows what would have happened if not for them.

Regiment of Torah students

Many people cannot understand why those studying Torah do not go to the army. Should they not be conscripted like everyone else and help to protect the land of Israel and its citizens? However, the Talmud teaches that this is how it should be. When Abraham went into war to save Lot, it says (Bereishis 14:14): "And Abram heard that his 'brother' had been taken captive and he armed his disciples and he pursued [the enemy] until Dan." The Talmud (Nedarim 332a) explains that Abraham made a mistake to take his disciples, who studied Torah under him, into war and he was punished for it. This teaches us the importance of having a regiment of Torah students that are totally devoted to their studies. Every additional student adds to the protection of all of us both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

May we continue to merit the Divine protection and continue to unite in our prayers so that we shall win the peace and not just the war. And may we soon see the fulfilment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah (2:4): "And one nation shall not lift a sword against another nation, and they shall not need to learn warfare anymore" with the coming of Moshiach. Amen!

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

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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