Torah Weekly - Vayishlach
This issue is dedicated in the memory of Shulamis Gittel*
VayishlachFor the week ending 16 Kislev 5756; 8 & 9 December 1995
Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Esav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Esav is approaching him with an army of four hundred men. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending a tribute to mollify Esav. That night, Yaakov is left alone, and wrestles with the angel of Esav. Although Yaakov emerges victorious, he is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural realm (the angel). The brothers meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Esav's offer that they should dwell together. Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dinah, Yaakov's daughter. In return for Dinah's hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakov's sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement - however, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo bris mila. While weakened by the circumcision, Shimon and Levi, two of Dinah's brothers, enter the town and execute all the males. This action is justified by the city's tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister. Hashem commands Yaakov to go to Beis-El and build an altar there. His mother Rivka's nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beis-El. Hashem appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Yisrael. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her, which is still there today, as the Torah predicts. Yitzhak passes away at the age of one hundred and eighty, and is buried by his sons. The Parsha concludes by listing Esav's descendants.
"And Yaakov was very frightened and distressed" (32:7).
Rashi comments that Yaakov was frightened lest he or members
of his family be killed, and he was distressed, that he
might be forced to kill others. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks: Why
was Yaakov distressed that he might be put in a position of having
to kill Esav or one of his four hundred wicked companions? Wasn't
this an opportunity to rid the world of evil - a reason to rejoice,
and not to be distressed? Reb Moshe answers with the words of
Beruriah to her husband Rabbi Meir (Berachos 10a): "better
to pray that evildoers repent, than to pray that the wicked die."
Yaakov was distressed that he might have to kill to remove evil
from the world. There is an inherent danger in using undesirable
methods to achieve desirable goals - that one can become tainted
by the means. Rabbi Chaim Brisker pointed out that there are two
kinds of zealots in the world, who are comparable to a housewife
and a cat. Both the housewife and the cat want to rid the house
of mice. The only difference is that the housewife hopes that
there will never be another mouse to eliminate, and the cat hopes
there will be many more. Before we are zealous to attack the evils
of the world, let us make sure that we are acting as housewives
and not cats...
"Deliver me please, from my brother, from Esav" (32:12).
In preserving Jewish continuity, we are threatened by two kinds
of dangers from the nations of the world: On the one hand, the
physical threat of illogical hatred, expressed as crusade, pogrom
and holocaust; and on the other, the spiritual threat of the welcoming
arms of acceptance, which turns into the asphyxiating embrace
of assimilation and intermarriage. These two dangers are expressed
in Yaakov's prayer here: "Save me from my brother..."
when he behaves with friendship and brotherhood, threatening
the spiritual uniqueness of the Jewish People; and "from
Esav", when he reveals the naked malice of the Jew-hater,
seeking a final solution. Of the two threats, history has
shown that the spiritual danger of assimilation is more formidable
than the physical peril of annihilation, and for this reason,
Yaakov first prays for divine assistance to overcome the threat
of his "brother".
"Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn" (32:25).
The man/angel that Yaakov wrestled with represents the yetzer
hara - the evil inclination. Why is it that neither Avraham
nor Yitzhak were assailed in a similar way? The Chafetz Chaim
said that "the yetzer hara doesn't mind if a Jewish
person prays and gives charity all day long, provided that
he doesn't learn Torah." Yaakov is the Patriarch
who epitomizes the Torah. The Sages teach us that the world is
built on three pillars: Chesed, kindness - the characteristic
of Avraham; Avodah, service - Yitzhak; and Torah
- Yaakov. Without Yaakov's pillar, the pillar of Torah, all the
Chesed and the Avodah will not be sufficient for
the Jewish People to fulfill their mission. Jewish history tragically
bears out this point: Communities that were unstinting in giving
tzedaka and building synagogues, but neglected Torah learning
are now institutions that assimilated and are moribund, but those
who built the third pillar - Yaakov's pillar - of Torah, have
remained strong and connected to their heritage.
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
In last week's Parsha, Yaakov has a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder. The Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer explains that these angels represent the four nations who will exile the Jewish People. At first, Yaakov saw the guardian angels of Babylon, Persia and Greece ascend and descend in succession. Finally, the protecting angel of Rome/Edom climbed up the ladder, but he didn't come down. Yaakov feared that this final exile would never end until Hashem said, "If he will rise up like an eagle and if he will make his nest among the stars - even from there I will bring him down." We are still in that final exile. If a single moment in recent history epitomizes the over-confidence of our age, it is arguably the Moon landing in 1969. It seemed at the time that "we have the technology - we can do anything!" (Since then there has been the rude awakening of unimaginable mindless violence, urban poverty and pandemic disease to knock the gloss off that arrogant assumption). The first words broadcast from the moon were "Houston, this is Tranquillity Base. The Eagle has landed." Nearly two thousand years ago, Ovadiah predicted: "If he will rise up like an eagle and if he will make his nest among the stars - even from there I will bring him down."
Insights into the Zemiros sung at the Shabbos table throughout the generations.
Ki Eshmera Shabbos
"If we observe Shabbos..."
"Also from speaking about matters of necessities"
Your speech on Shabbos, say our Sages, should not be like your speech in the weekdays. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had an elderly mother who was extremely loquacious. When he would remind her that it was Shabbos she would become silent. This is an indication that not only should one be careful not to speak about weekday matters like business on the Shabbos but also to limit the amount of talk even about permissible matters. It therefore required great deliberation before our Sages permitted the greeting of "Good Shabbos" to be used in such widespread fashion on the Day of Rest.
* Sara Miriam writes about her sister:
Shulamis Gittel was born on December 22, 1976 with brain damage and was severely mentally retarded her entire life. She was a very special child and was loved by everyone who came into contact with her. Although I was never able to speak with her, she taught me so much about caring for people and not judging them by their appearance. She had, I believe, a very pure neshama. She died suddenly, very peacefully in her sleep. My family is not religious and there is no one to say Kaddish for her. I would appreciate it if everyone who learns through your publications could learn in her zechut.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Lev Seltzer
HTML Design: Michael Treblow
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