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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The angels returned to Yaakov. (32:7)

It is noteworthy that the wicked Eisav was able to gaze and converse with Heavenly Angels and it had virtually no impact on him. He continued along his way as if nothing incredible had transpired. On the other hand, when Eisav met with Yaakov Avinu, his whole attitude changed. The hardened criminal, the nefarious rogue who had no respect for anything - not even Heavenly Angels - was moved by the visage and presence of a tzaddik, righteous person. Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, explains that this is not an anomaly. Indeed, Eisav, having been raised in the home of the Patriarch Yitzchak, had a clear idea of what a tzaddik looked like and the spiritual plane that a tzaddik could achieve. Therefore, when Eisav came face to face with his brother, the tzaddik, his entire being changed. He could not act with the same evil that was so much a part of his psyche. True, he did not permanently change and remained the evil Eisav until his last moment, but for the time that he was in Yaakov's presence, he was a changed man.

It is related that when the Alter, zl, m'Novardok visited a small town where some of his yeshivah's alumni lived, he was told about one of his ex-talmidim, students, who had left the fold and become an agnostic. Despite every attempt by his host to dissuade him, Rav Yoizel insisted on meeting with this young man. Their conversation ranged through many topics, but Rav Yoizel did not succeed in generating a positive change in the young man. Yet, he was not deterred. He said, "He will no longer perform an aveirah, sin, with the same enthusiasm and satisfaction as before. I have given him a conscience that has diminished his desire to sin."

This is the impact of a tzaddik's gaze. In the Kisvei, Writings, of the Talmidei Ha'Arizal, it is related that the Ari was able to gaze upon an individual's forehead and perceive the aveiros b'shogeg, unintentional sins, that he had committed. So powerful was his holiness, so compelling was his perception. He felt that it was all revealed on a person's countenance. How much more so can we be inspired by a tzaddik's countenance.

Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him. (32:25)

This is the sad commentary on the Jews' history throughout the millennia: Yaakov Avinu was left alone. A minority among the nations, a lamb among the wolves; this is Klal Yisrael's lot. But, it is also our distinction - "Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude" (Bamidbar 23:9) - and, perhaps, our salvation. As long as we do not assimilate, there is hope for our future. As long as we dwell in solitude, we remain distinct. This idea applies equally to the individual Jew. True, togetherness is vitally important, but not to the extent that one loses his individuality. Every person should be a distinct entity. Horav Uri, zl, m'Strelisk, encouraged every Jew to take time out during the day to meditate upon who he is and what is his mission in life. One who does not do so, places himself in danger of losing his identity and fails to actualize his inherent potential.

If the individual loses his identity it undermines the entire purpose of unity. Rav Uri commented that it is a well-known axiom that every Jew is represented by a letter in the Torah. If any letter is damaged or missing, the Torah is rendered invalid until the correction is made. Likewise, if any single Jew is missing from the Jewish nation, he must be restored. We know that if any letter in the Torah touches another letter, it must be separated. Why? If the letters represent the Jewish People, what is wrong if they adhere to each other? We derive from here that unity does not supercede individuality. Every Jew is an individual - a status that should be recognized and empowered. Let us use the letters of the Torah as our guide to true unity.

Then he (the Angel) said, "Let me go, for dawn has broken." (32:27)

Rashi explains that the Angel that had been contending with Yaakov Avinu throughout the night asked to be released. It was his turn to sing Shirah, Hashem's praises, as part of the Heavenly chorus. It is noteworthy that from the time that this Angel had been created, the opportunity to sing Shirah before Hashem had never materialized until that very day. Why? Horav Moshe Soloveitchik, zl, cites his grandfather, Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, who explains that in order to understand this anomaly, it is essential that we have a deeper comprehension of the Angel's function. The Angel representing Eisav is the Satan, "aka" the yetzer hora, evil-inclination. An Angel sings praises before Hashem when this Angel carries out his function and purpose in being created and causing a Kiddush Hashem. Then, he expresses his praise to Hashem for granting him the opportunity to fulfill Hashem's Will.

Although the yetzer hora, alias the Satan, was created for the purpose of leading man to sin and then serving as his prosecutor, he does not really want to succeed at his position (as an Angel of Hashem). Indeed, he does not want man to listen to him. He is created to encourage man's downfall - and man is instructed to resist and overcome his blandishments. Hashem does not create evil, nor does evil emerge from Him. Thus, the Satan is an Angel with a difficult vocation - he is both Eisav's Angel and an Angel of Hashem.

The Angel that fought with Yaakov had regrettably been successful until he met Yaakov. Every person whom he had attempted to dissuade from any form of religious or ethical commitment fell prey to him. He succeeded, but, in effect, he lost. He still could not sing Shirah before Hashem. He had not yet catalyzed anyone to come closer to Hashem - until he confronted Yaakov. Here was a challenge. He tried very hard, using every philosophical argument that he could conceive. But, he could not sway Yaakov. This was a spiritual conflict of epic proportion - and the Satan lost to the ish tam, perfect and wholesome man, whose life was filled with Torah and mitzvos. Finally, the Satan could return to Heaven to sing Hashem's praises. He had fulfilled the purpose for which he was created. He lost.

No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael. (32:29)

We are taught by Chazal that maasei Avos siman la'banim, the experiences of the Forefathers are a portent for the events that will befall their children. While this principle is true regarding all three of the Patriarchs, it has stronger application concerning Yaakov Avinu, who is the ancestor of Klal Yisrael exclusively. When Saro shel Eisav, the Angel of Eisav, conferred the name Yisrael on Yaakov, he thereby sent a message to his descendants.

As Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Eisav, a remarkable incident took place during the night. While Yaakov was all alone in the bleak darkness, someone suddenly began to wrestle with him. Chazal tell us that this "someone" was an Angel representing Eisav. It was his old enemy, attempting to stack the deck, to prevent Yaakov from returning to his homeland. Chazal describe this Angel in different terms, which imply his appearance and the methods he employed to beat Yaakov. Some say he appeared to Yaakov as a strong-armed robber, a vicious bandit, weapon in hand, poised to steal and kill. Others say he came dressed in the garb of a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, assuming the position of sage, counselor, resorting to prejudice and deception, in order to frustrate Yaakov's efforts at return. Yet another interpretation contends that he appeared as a shepherd, using the guise of simplicity, faith, morality and love to convert Yaakov and subvert his efforts to continue on.

Yaakov fought valiantly and, subsequently, won. True, he sustained a crippling blow; nonetheless, his determination and fortitude triumphed. He was even able to elicit a blessing from the aggressive Angel.

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, draws an inspiring and meaningful picture of this scene and derives a number of significant lessons. Throughout the millennia, we have struggled and contended with the representatives of Eisav. Throughout the long darkness of galus, exile, we have suffered as they made every attempt to thwart our mission and discourage our beliefs. They have appeared in all forms. At times, Eisav's emissary came as a robber and a murderer, pillaging and humiliating, destroying and persecuting us for no apparent reason other than the fact that we were Jews. There were other times, when he came as "achi," my brother, sweet, charming, seeking to lure us away with his pagan glamour and false fa?ade. Then there is a third scenario that even at the break of dawn, when the darkness of exile begins to lighten, when the principles of enlightenment and democracy are becoming part of a world order, when we, as Jews, are "supposedly" accepted, we will still have reason to fear the pernicious Eisav. At this time, he will send his emissary guised in the robe of scholarship, bedecked in ministerial garb, with one goal in mind - to dissuade the Jews from leading their own unique spiritual life. He often succeeds in convincing them to eschew their nationalistic aspirations, to renege on Judaism and assimilate with the greater world community. In the end, just as their ancestor Yaakov emerged victorious, so will we also triumph over this form of adversity and even elicit the praise and admiration of Eisav's descendants.

In the text of the blessing, Eisav's Angel says to Yaakov that his name will now be Yisrael, "For you have striven im Elokim, with G-d, and with people and you have prevailed." According to Targum Onkelos the term Elokim refers to Hashem, while the word im, usually translated as "with", now means "before". Thus, the word im has two meanings: Yaakov fought before G-d and with people and prevailed. Onkelos' translation teaches us that Yaakov's distinction was that he led a struggle against people - only it was before G-d. In other words, before G-d, in areas of theology and spirituality, a Jew cannot adapt to the prevailing environment. In matters of ethics and religion, there is only one path of belief - ours. A Jew must be an Ivri - on one side, regardless of who is on the other side. With regard to other areas, the sciences, civil matters, one may adapt a policy that pursues peace and harmony. It is only in the area of religion, "before G-d", that we are to be intractable.

Rav Soloveitchik derives another important lesson in our striving to maintain religious distinction. The Torah does not use the word nilchamta, you have fought. It uses the word sarisa, you have striven. Nilchamta implies a conflict entailing physical force and verbal abuse with the purpose of delivering a crushing blow to an opponent. Sarisa, on the other hand, intimates a striving towards leadership, succeeding by attempting to arouse the latent good, spiritual potential and noble qualities inherent in one's opponent.

Yaakov Avinu contended with Eisav's emissary before G-d. He did not use brute force, nor did he vilify him. He did not employ bans and anathemas, nor did he incite him with destructive criticism and defamatory statements. Rather, he struggled valiantly with courage and resolution, with dignity and firmness, with piety and a love for all people, with a burning desire to sanctify Hashem's Name. Yaakov endeavored to be a leader - not simply a winner. He sought to rule, not to vanquish. By asserting his own uniqueness, and by reconciling and unifying the various conflicting forces in the human soul, by harmonizing the Yaakov with Yisrael, the earthly with the Heavenly, he emerged victorious and succeeded in raising the banner of Hashem's Name. It is much easier to counteract the environment that is against us by sublimating its conflicting factors into one harmonious entity, than to fight it head-on. In a war, everyone is hurt. The goal is to strive to rise above challenge by earning the respect of others, and by demonstrating in a noble manner the folly of their intentions.

Devorah, the wet-nurse of Rivkah, died, and she was buried below Bethel, below the plateau; and he named it Alon Bachus. (35:8)

Rashi comments that the place where Devorah was buried was called Alon Bachus because Yaakov became privy to more bad news - he was notified that Rivkah, his mother, had also passed away. The Torah conceals Rivkah's passing so that people would not curse her as the one who had given birth to Eisav. Sifsei Chachamim supplements this by adding that due to the circumstances, it was only Eisav that was present at Rivkah's funeral. His profile was thus greatly emphasized by his singular presence. Interestingly, when Yitzchak passed away, the Torah did not feel compelled to conceal this news. Why was Yitzchak different than Rivkah? After all, they were both Eisav's parents. Apparently, it is because Yitzchak's funeral was attended by both his sons, while at Rivkah's funeral, only Eisav was present.

We suggest an alternative reason for concealing Rivkah's passing. There are those who will look for every opportunity to malign and revile one whose level of observance tends to gravitate to the right of their beliefs and practices. Imagine, the Matriarch Rivkah dies; a woman whose devotion to Yaakov was extraordinary and unique. Yet, at her funeral it was not Yaakov her "liebling" loved one, who was there. Instead, Eisav, the son who defines evil incarnate, who was her greatest source of pain and anxiety; he was the one who saw to his mother's burial. Let us now picture the funeral and ensuing conversations. Ostensibly, the focal point of every conversation would have been - where is Yaakov - the "good" son? Is he too busy "learning" that he could not "find the time" to attend his mother's funeral? Regrettably, for some people, this would be the thrust of their conversation. They view everything from a jaundiced perspective because they are obsessed with negativity. It has so clouded their ability to see clearly that they have developed a permanent myopia. Yaakov had good reason for calling this place Alon Bachus. Adding to his overwhelming grief over losing his beloved mother, Yaakov had to contend with the character assassination that continues to plague those who follow in his ways - to this very day.

Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king reigned over Bnei Yisrael. (36:31)

Chazal teach us that these eight kings that reigned in Edom even before Klal Yisrael had anointed their first king, were the result of Yaakov Avinu's referring to Eisav as adoni, my master, eight times. This reference attributing distinction to the evil Eisav caused a cosmic uproar, so to speak, that Yaakov was punished on a national basis. His descendants would not be privileged to have a monarch for many years. The Sefer HaRokeach notes that the Torah, in describing those eight kings, seems to categorize them into three distinct categories. Regarding some it mentions their city, while for others it mentions a war in which they prevailed over their antagonists. Last, is one who neither had a city, nor did he triumph in battle. Instead, he became ruler through his wallet, by purchasing the monarchy with his vast fortune.

Leadership is divided into these categories. There are those truly deserving of a leadership position. They have earned it and have proven themselves capable. There are also those who do not have the ability to lead, but they are, nonetheless, people of great strength and power. They impose their leadership either by their own ability or through a following. Then there are those who have nothing - but money. They cannot lead, nor can they fight. They can, however, obtain the position of leadership through their machinations and wherewithal.

Regardless of the means, they are, nonetheless, the king. They distinguish themselves by the respect accorded them by their constituents. One who is worthy of leadership will receive the respect and admiration of his constituency and peers. Alternatively, one who does not deserve the position, will not experience the respect that is concomitant to his station. We may suggest that the type of king that emerged was the direct result of how Yaakov emphasized the word "adoni". The greater significance he attributed to Eisav, the stronger was the king that reigned.

Va'ani Tefillah

miKal v'Chomer, through a conclusion inferred from a lenient law to a strict one, and vice versa.

The various laws are classified as being either kalim, lenient, or chamurim, strict, depending upon the various ordinances which are set down concerning them. For instance, the law concerning Yom Tov, Festivals, permits labor which involves ochel nefesh, food/feeding people. The violation of such labor will not be subject to the penalty of death either by kares, Heavenly excision, or sekillah, stoning. On Shabbos, meleches ochel nefesh, food preparation, is categorically forbidden and thus carries the penalty of death for one who, blatantly, after being forewarned, commits the desecration of Shabbos. Hence, we can clearly say that Yom Tov is kal, and Shabbos is chamur. Therefore, it follows that what is explicitly permitted on Shabbos, which is chamur, will certainly be permissible on Yom Tov, which is kal. Conversely, anything that is prohibited on Yom Tov, which is kal, will certainly be forbidden on Shabbos, which is chamur. This logical conclusion, which develops a law drawn from a minor to a major, or vice versa, is referred to as a kal v'chomer.

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