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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayishlach

I have sojourned with Lavan. (32:5)

Yaakov Avinu implied his fortitude in maintaining his observance of the Taryag 613 Mitzvos, , by using the term "garti" - as the numerical value of the word "garti" is 613. Why did Yaakov emphasize the fact that he observed the 613 mitzvos? Why could he not simply have said, "I did not learn from Lavan's actions; I have maintained my own spiritual level? Why did he stress his performance of the actual mitzvos? Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, notes that the catalyst for spiritual concern is not always complacency, degeneracy or free-thinking. Some individuals take the original pristine Torah and purposely amend it. They might supplement it with ideas and practices "borrowed" from contemporary society, or they might eliminate that which seems archaic. There are those who might even introduce a new Torah, a new perspective, a new set of laws, which they think is more "attuned" with society. The danger does not emanate from a lack of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, or from a disdain for the Torah and mitzvos. The problem occurs when we attempt to replace the Torah, to take the place of the Nosein HaTorah, Giver of the Torah. An individual who is antagonistic to Torah poses a greater threat than one who thinks he is "frumer", more pious, more devout than his fellow Jew.

Lavan had no desire to denigrate yiraas Shomayim; he did not seek to promote secularism. He simply wanted to "supplement" his own mitzvos and perhaps "amend" a few mitzvos. "Remain frum, continue with your observance, just refocus yourself, de-emphasize certain mitzvos, while accenting others." This was Lavan's credo.

Yaakov Avinu realized the crucial importance of retaining the Torah in its pristine character, with its 613 mitzvos - no more, no less. He understood that Lavan's invidious approach was far more dangerous than a direct assault upon the Torah and mitzvah observance. He told Eisav, "I lived with Lavan, and I observed the Taryag mitzvos in their entirety. Lavan could not sway me - neither will you."

I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now.

Rashi cites the Midrash which emphasizes that the numerical value of the word "garti," "I have sojourned," is 613, corresponding to the number of mitzvos Hashem gave to the Jewish People. Hence, Yaakov implied to Eisav, "Though I have sojourned with Lavan, I have observed the Taryag mitzvos and have not learned from his evil ways." Yaakov stood firm and unafraid of Eisav, his spiritual level intact. Yaakov's comment to Eisav seems redundant. Certainly, if he had the fortitude to observe all 613 mitzvos, he surely did not mimic any of Lavan's negative actions!

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, infers from here that it is possible for one to be totally observant, keep all of the mitzvos, yet still be an "Eisav" in his everyday actions and demeanor. In the beginning of Parashas Kedoshim the Ramban refers to such an individual as a "naval birshus ha 'Torah," degenerate with the permission of the Torah. Such a person observes the letter of the law, the technical requirements and practices, while acceding to self-indulgence, gluttony and debauchery. The Torah demands that a Jew sanctify himself in every area of life's endeavor. Yaakov Avinu did not only observe mitzvos; the mitzvos shaped his entire perspective of life.

And Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him. (32:8)

Simply, Yaakov Avinu was concerned about the potential for Eisav to harm him and his family. Rashi explains that Yaakov was afraid that he would be killed. He was also distressed that he would be victorious in the ensuing battle and kill others in the process. The Ralbag comments that since distress is a stronger form of fear than fright, the prospect of killing another human being was more upsetting than the risk that he himself might be killed. This demonstrates the remarkable virtue of Yaakov Avinu.

In the Talmud Berachos 4A, Chazal explain that Yaakov's fear emanated from a concern that "she'ma yigrom ha'cheit," perhaps he had sinned and consequently had forfeited Hashem's protection. What sin could he have committed? Targum Yonasan explains that Yaakov felt he was lax in the mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim, since he had been separated from his parents during his sojourn with Lavan. During this time Eisav was living at home and observing this mitzvah in the appropriate manner. Yet, Yaakov did not neglect the mitzvah. He just was unable to perform it, since he was not at home. Could he have forfeited Hashem's protection for this reason?

The common translation of the word "cheit" is sin. Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, cites Rashi in the Navi Melachim 1, 1:21 in which he defines the word cheit as a deficiency, a shortcoming or an imperfection. This sheds light on the concept of sin. Sin is an imperfection on the neshamah, soul, a blemish that causes a defect in the purity of the soul. Therefore, if one has not committed a sin, but has neglected to perform a specific mitzvah which someone else performed in his place, he is considered to be blemished in respect to the other person. While we may not consider this to be a sin, the Heavenly perspective views this as a deficiency.

Yaakov certainly had not committed any sins. He was concerned, however, that Eisav had performed Kibud Av v'Eim while he had not. He was deficient in comparison to Eisav. We do not know the value of each individual mitzvah. The Heavenly Tribunal has a different manner for evaluating the significance of each mitzvah. Yaakov was concerned about his deficiency in this single mitzvah which Eisav had performed to a greater degree than he had. In his eyes this was a cheit, a blemish in his spiritual character.

Horav Gifter cites the Ramban who says that in order to merit eternal life in Olam Habah, one must perform at least one mitzvah properly with total devotion, l'shem mitzvah, for the sake of the mitzvah, with no manifest personal motives or vested interests. He must perform this mitzvah with love for the Almighty and a desire to do His will. Hashem has, therefore, granted us a multitude of mitzvos. While he intends for us to observe all of them, we will at least observe one correctly. It behooves us to approach mitzvah observance with the utmost care. We cannot determine which mitzvah will gain us entrance into Olam Habah.

Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. (32:25)

Rashi cites the Talmud in Chullin 9A that says that Yaakov had forgotten some pachim ketanim, small earthenware pitchers, and had returned to retrieve them. Chazal derive from the fact that Yaakov returned for some inexpensive vessels that "to the righteous, their money is dearer to them than their bodies. Since they earn every penny with great diligence, their integrity is impeccable, everything they own is very dear to them." Chazal's words obviously reflect a deeper meaning. We do not venerate an individual for exhibiting greater care for his material possessions than for his own body.

Horav Simcha Zissel M'Kelm compares this to soldiers who are permitted to take a number of sets of clothing with them during peace time. In contrast, during wartime, they must travel light. They leave behind anything that might restrict or hamper their movement. Thus, they are careful in the maintenance of their garments. This is all they possess, and they cannot afford to lose them. The same idea applies to the righteous. In their never-ending battle with the yetzer hora, evil inclination, they have little time or patience for mundane and material possessions. They take along only those articles that facilitate their spiritual development. Hence, they are diligent in caring for their material possessions. If they lose something, the time they use to replace it will interfere with their spiritual enhancement.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, cites the Yalkut Meom Loez and Horav Chaim Vital, zl, who emphasize the fact that the righteous acknowledge the source of their material possessions - Hashem. Appreciating their source increases their value. Horav Solomon offers a profound parable that sheds greater light on this idea. There was once a poor man who literally had nothing. Yet, despite his abject poverty, he continued to observe the mitzvos meticulously. He needed one item, however, in order to appropriately perform the mitzvah of Netillas Yodaim, washing his hands - a cup and bowl. Once, this man dreamed that the Almighty had noted his great poverty and extreme devotion to mitzvos and had given him a new cup and bowl for Netillas Yodayim. In the morning, the man woke. To his surprise, he noticed a brand new cup and bowl next to his bed. Words cannot describe the overwhelming joy that he had, knowing that Hashem had responded to his request. Before long, this poor man was blessed, and his material assets multiplied. He became a wealthy man. He purchased expensive furniture and precious objects, filling his house to capacity. He decided to move out of his modest home into a house more becoming his present financial position. After the move was complete, the workers came to him to be paid. He first went through his entire house, taking inventory to make sure that everything had been transferred from the old house. Suddenly, he began to scream and berate the workers, "I am missing a very special vessel," the man complained. "Impossible," the workers responded, "we took everything from the house." The man would not listen. He returned to his home to look for his precious Netillas Yodayim cup. He searched for awhile until finally, to his excitement, he found his cup. The workers were naturally amazed by the wealthy man's reaction to finding this simple, inexpensive cup. "For this you made such a commotion? It is nothing more than a simple cup!" the workers exclaimed. "To you it may be a simple cup, but to me it is invaluable because I received it directly from Heaven. Indeed it is worth more to me than all my possessions!" responded the wealthy man.

The lesson of this parable is apparent. The tzaddik understands clearly that everything he possesses is a direct gift from the Almighty. He realizes the true source of everything he owns. He is aware that whatever he has is there for a specific purpose - to serve Hashem. Is it any wonder that he takes such extreme care of his material possessions?

Horav Solomon presents this idea as the basis for the difference in outlook between Yaakov and Eisav. He cites the Tanna Dvei Eliyahu that relates that while Yaakov and Eisav were still in the womb, they "divided" their inheritance of the two worlds, Olam Hazeh, this world, and Olam Haboh. Eisav chose Olam Hazeh with its material/physical responsibilities and benefits. Eating, drinking, marriage and children were just the beginning of the fruits of "this world." Olam Habah has none of these, but that did not deter Yaakov. When Eisav met Yaakov he encountered a man who had succeeded in this world. He had a large family, wealth, servants, all the signs of one who seemed to be enjoying this world. Eisav demanded an explanation from Yaakov. Olam Hazeh was Eisav's realm. This was not Yaakov's bailiwick. Yaakov explained that his possessions were gifts from the Almighty in order to facilitate his spiritual observance.

Eisav sought Olam Hazeh as an end in itself. Yaakov made use of Olam Hazeh only to further advance his spiritual development. Indeed, Yaakov has no right to appropriate Olam Hazeh for personal reasons, only to foster greater spiritual growth. When Eisav's guardian angel noticed Yaakov returning for the pachim ketanim, little pitchers, he thought that he might convince him that he is expending too much effort on behalf of his Olam Hazeh. He did not succeed - completely. He did blemish one area -- the gid ha'nashe, sciatic sinew -- symbolizing movement. As long as we move in the direction of our ancestor Yaakov, as long as Olam Hazeh remains only a vehicle for fulfilling our spiritual mandate, Eisav will have no power over us. If, however, we veer from Yaakov's perspective, if we move in the path forged by Eisav, squandering the material for personal use, we fall prey to Eisav.

Horav Solomon contends that this was Yaakov's message when he journeyed to Succos, a place named for the temporary shelters that he erected for his livestock. Targum Yonasan explains that first Yaakov built a Bais Hamedrash, a place for Torah study, which was the prime focus of his life. He then made temporary dwellings for his livestock, to imply that the material assets are only temporary. They have no permanence in our lives. We control our material possessions only as long as they are subordinated to our spiritual goals. Otherwise, our material resources control us.

We now understand why the Tur writes in Hilchos Rosh Chodesh, in the name of his brother, that the Three Festivals correspond to the Avos. Pesach is connected to Avraham Avinu, who baked matzos for the angels that visited him on Pesach night. Yitzchak, who was replaced on the Akeidah by a ram, corresponds with Shavuos, during which a Shofar, ram's horn, was sounded during the Giving of the Torah, commemorated by the festival of Shavuous. Yaakov Avinu's act of building succos, temporary dwellings for his livestock, relates to the festival of Succos.

Although Avraham and Yitzchak's relationship with their corresponding festival is apparent, one might question the relationship between Chag Succos and Yaakov's shelters for his livestock. With the above appreciation of Yaakov's perspective on life in mind, we can now understand Yaakov's message to his children when he built the succos. Olam Hazeh exists only to enhance OIam Habah. Our relationship to the material and mundane is temporary. During the festival of Succos, we move out of our permanent homes and dwell for the duration of the festival, in makeshift huts which are nothing more than temporary shelters. This teaches us the transitory nature of the material world. Yaakov Avinu's lesson is commemorated in the festival of Succos.

1. What did Yaakov do so that Eisav would be impressed by the size of his gift?

2. Where was Dinah when Yaakov met with Eisav?

3. Why did Yaakov insist that the angel he fought with bless him?

4. Who stood in front of his mother, so that Eisav would not notice her?

5. What happened to Eisav's __________ men?

6. a. Who did Rivkah send to notify Yaakov that he should return home?

b. What happened to her?

7. How old was Yitzchak when Yosef was sold as a slave?

8. a. How did Eisav become Avraham's grandson through marriage?

b. Did his father-in-law attend his "wedding"?

ANSWERS: 1. He made a space between each herd, giving the effect that the gift was very large.

2. Yaakov had hidden her, so that Eisav would not see her and want to marry her.

3. The angel was Eisav's guardian angel. He wanted the angel to concede that Yaakov was the rightful heir to the blessings.

4. Yosef stood in front of Rachel.

5. 400/They left him.

6. a. Devorah, who was her nursemaid. b. She died.

7. 168 years old.

8. a. He married Bosmas, the daughter of Yishmael.

b. Yishmael died before the wedding.

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