Vayishlach Archive

Parshas Vayishlach


ותאמר לה המילדת אל תיראי כי גם זה לך בן (לה:יז).
“The midwife said (to Rachel)…‘have no fear, for this one too is a son for you’ (35:17)”.

Rashi teaches us based upon Chazal that all of the Shevatim were born with one twin sister each, but Binyamin was born with two twin sisters. The question which always intrigued me was why was Binyamin born with two twin sisters? Why was he different from all the other brothers?

Leah’s Calculation
When Leah gave birth to her last child Rashi (Bereishis 30:21) explained why she named that child Dina a name that connotes “judgement.” Rashi says that when Leah became pregnant she made a “din”, a judgement; a calculated assessment, based on her knowledge that there were going to be twelve sons born to Yaakov. At that point ten of them had already been born. This meant that there were only two sons left to brought into the world. If the child who was then in her womb would be male, Leah reasoned to herself, then there would be only one male child left to be born to Rachel. Leah would have had seven sons, the two maidservants two sons each, and thus Rachel would only have the remaining one giving her even less than the maidservants. Therefore, Leah prayed, and the child in her stomach was formed into a female, later to be named Dina, thereby leaving the last two sons for Rachel.

Exact Calculation
As we have learned, all of the sons were also born with a twin sister so that by now the maidservants each had two daughters along with their two sons. But not Rachel, for Chazal state that Yosef was born without a twin. The reason was because unlike the other brothers, he was not destined to marry his twin sister, rather he was going to marry Osnas Bas Dina, and therefore he was not born with a twin.
When Binyamin was born he came with an extra twin thereby making Rachel no less than the other two wives in the category of daughters as well! They now each had two sons and two daughters!

Passion and Gusto

עם לבן גרתי (לב:ה). “I (Yaakov) dwelled with Lavan (32:5)”.

Yaakov Aveinu heard that Esav was coming to kill him. He sent large gifts and words of appeasement in an attempt to calm him down. What is in great need of explanation is one statement which Yaakov made to Esav, which seems out of line with Yaakov’s plan of pacification.
Rashi fills us in that Yaakov told Esav, “see that I dwelled with Lavan and never became anyone big or powerful, you should not hate me on account of the Berachos which I stole from you”. Then Rashi states that Yaakov said, “I still kept the 613 Mitzvos; I did not learn from Lavan’s bad ways”. This seems to be a positive trait, why is Yaakov stating it to Esav?
There is a simple approach which states that in fact Yaakov was being tough with Esav, stating that after all, Hashem is on my side and you shouldn’t start up with me.
However, I wish to share and develop another alternate approach that posits that Yaakov was indeed stating a negative fault of his own.
When evil people act, it is with much passion. Sins are tempting and humans are easily drawn and lured into chasing excitedly the wrong, yet pleasurable, avenue. Many sinners have a passion for the crime they are involved with. As Al Capone so eloquently quipped, “What have I ever done wrong, I just dedicated my life to helping people have fun and enjoy life!”
Hashem wishes for us to serve Him with much feeling and vigor as well. When we think about how exciting Avodas Hashem is, we will be inspired to new heights. Just as we see sinners acting so excitedly to do their business, so too, we should learn to serve Hashem with much feeling and emotion!
Yaakov was bemoaning the fact that: “Sure, I kept the 613 Mitzvos, but, “I didn’t learn from Lavan’s evil actions”! Lavan acted with such passion and devotion in his negative pursuits, and I fell short in emulating and surpassing that passion in my positive pursuits!
With this explanation we now can understand an otherwise perplexing Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 80:12). “We learn from the passionate expressions used to describe Shechem’s desire for Dina, that those are the same adjectives in which Hashem loves the Jews”! Why are we learning from a perverted charlatan?
The answer is that we must see his passion and learn to channel our gusto and vigor to use them to serve Hashem!

Two Deadly Fronts

Yaakov davened that Hashem should please save him from Esav. In expressing this, he states (Bereishis 32:12), “Please save me from the hands of my brother, from the hands of Esav.” Why all the repetition?
One answer given is that “Esav” represents all the attackers that would ever try to destroy Yaakov’s descendants. Throughout history, Jews were destroyed in two different ways:
1- Enemy attack. They viciously murdered and destroyed Jewish lives.
2- Friendly attack. They coerced us into joining them and to turn our backs upon our rich heritage.
The Jews were either attacked brutally, or assimilated willingly. These are the two descriptions found in our verse. The word “Esav” represents physical hostile attacks. The word “brother” hints to comradeship with the gentiles, the desire for intermarriage and to become like the gentiles. This explain Yaakov’s double expression.
It comes as no surprise that the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Vayishlach 32) brings two opinions as to what the Angel of Esav, who fought with Yaakov, looked like. One says he appeared as a thief, and the other opinion states that he appeared as a pious scholar. These are the two alternating approaches used in order to destroy the Jews, evil or friendship.
Let us continue to pray to Hashem that he save us from all negative interactions under the guise of “Esav” and “brother”, and may we maintain our purity as Hashem’s beloved and special Nation.

Unnerving Dedication

Out of the 613 Mitzvos, only three of them are found in the entire Sefer Bereishis. To have children and to give one’s son a Bris come before the final Mitzvah of not eating the Gid Hanasheh, sciatic nerve. We are told in this week’s Parsha that when Yaakov battled with the angel of Eisav (the Zohar says that this angel was none other than the Yetzer Harah) it was there that he was wounded and thus we do not eat that nerve in any Kosher animal (Bereishis 32:33). Why was he hit there and what practical lesson can we learn from this?
The commentators point out some interesting ideas on this topic. Biologically, the sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and runs down to the lower limb (thigh). It is the longest and widest single nerve in the human body. It connects the upper body to the lower body.
The evil angel wished to cause Yaakov to disconnect his upper body, which possessed knowledge and logic, from his lower body, which represents earthly drives. The Yetzer Harah wishes for us to follow the drives of our bodies and not to heed to our knowledge of the truth and futility of sins. In order to remind ourselves that our purpose on earth is to subdue our earthly desires, we refrain from eating that nerve. This reminds us of the Yetzer Harah’s gaol and our commitment to overcome him.
Additionally, one opinion in the Midrash states that Yaakov was hit on the left side of his body. What does this signify? There were two Luchos given to Moshe. On the right Tablet was inscribed 5 commandments that discussed the service of Hashem (don’t serve Avodah Zarah, keep Shabbos, etc.). On the left Tablet appeared the five commandments that spoke about relationships between man and his fellow friend (don’t steal, murder, etc.). The left side of Yaakov being wounded shows that the Evil Inclination’s greatest area of domination lies in the domain of the left Tablet, personal relationships between people. The Yetzer Harah works hard to destroy harmony and peace between people and to cause fights and Lashon Harah. This is because when Hashem sees his children not respecting Him, He can be more forgiving, but when He sees his children hurting each other, Hashem acts swiftly to correct the problem. Indeed, when the convert asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah on one foot, Hillel shared with him the powerful lesson of not doing to others what one doesn’t want done to him (Shabbos 31a).
The Gid Hanasheh teaches us to focus on personal growth and character development.

To Have it All

Yaakov met up with Eisav in a most dramatic confrontation. Two worlds clashed. Yaakov represented ruchniyus, spiritual sensitivity, and Eisav represented gashmiyus, physicality. The difference is most significant. It is the difference between happiness and misery. It is the difference between life and death. Yaakov told Eisav, “I have everything (kol)” (Bereishis 33:11). Eisav on the other hand said about himself “I have a lot (rav)” (Bereishis 33:9). This represents the focus on material wealth and possessions. When someone is deeply rooted in that outlook, he can amass “a lot” but he will always feel lacking. He will perpetually remain vulnerable to loss and feel insecure and unsatisfied. Yaakov teaches us to focus on spiritual ideals, to be “happy with our lot” (Avos 4:1). This way one recognizes that Hashem is the One Who provides and Who gives us all that we need.
In Birchas HaMazone we say, “Bakol, Mikol, Kol.” This refers to the words “kol” that are used in reference to the three Avos. This kol means that they appreciated life and were granted the greatest blessing of happiness and fulfilllment. By Avraham it says (Bereishis 24:1), “Hashem blessed Avraham with everything (bakol).” By Yitzchok it is found after Yaakov stole the berachos and Eisav came in and asked his father to bless him. Yitzchok asked Eisav (Bereishis 27:33), “…who was just in here that fed me, and I ate from it all (“mikol”) and I blessed him…” By Yaakov it is found in our Parsha when Yaakov told Eisav, “I have it all (“kol”)” (Bereishis 33:11). [See Pesikta Rabbasi 25:4.]
What needs to be understood is the general theme here and the prefixes. It is fascinating that by Avraham the word “kol” has the prefix of bais (bakol) before it which means “inside,” this hints to Avraham’s trait of Kindness within. He constantly found himself inside Hashem’s warmth, generosity and chessed. Avraham showed the world how to find Hashem through acknowledging all of the kindness and beauty that surrounds us as a gift from Hashem. It was precisely in the merit of Avraham’s service of recognizing Hashem’s kindness and spreading it to the world that brought Avraham the blessing of “all,” spiritual happiness and success. By Yitzchok, the word ‘all’ is found as “mikol, from all.” The prefix of mem, means ‘from.’ This is represents the trait of Yitzchok of gevurah, strength, the process of Avodah, giving our full effort towards the service of Hashem, giving from ourselves in order to fully serve Hashem. By Yaakov, who was the man who represented the culmination of the Avos, who ties together the traits of chessed and gevurah and balanced them with tiferes, beauty and splendor, the word is found as simply “kol” without any prefix. This hints to the delicate balance of serving Hashem with a focus on His kindness and a dedication to give one’s full effort. Yaakov achieved this service and merited to have it all. The Avos teach us how to use this world to grow and that one who does this will be blessed with an inspiring, deeply purposeful, and truly fulfilling life.

Best of Both Worlds

Yaakov Aveinu taught us how to pray before Hashem. He focused on his own personal areas that needed improvement and asked Hashem to grant him his requests out of love and kindness and not personal merit. He also gave praise for his great achievements that Hashem had helped him secure (Rabbeinu Bechaya). Let us look into this further.

Yaakov’s Plea
Yaakov knew that Eisav was coming with the intention of murder and destruction. He therefore turned to Hashem to beg for help. Yaakov stated (Bereishis 32:11), “My merits have diminished from all of the kindness that Hashem has done for me.” Yaakov expressed his own personal sense of indebtedness towards Hashem. He continued to state (ibid.), “I crossed over the Jordan River with only the staff in my hand on my way to Lavan and now I have been blessed with two prosperous camps [of children and wealth].” Yaakov appreciated the bounty that Hashem had bestowed upon him and he did not forget to thank Hashem in his days of contentment and success (Bachya).

The Meeting
Prior to Eisav’s personal arrived before Yaakov, a great battle ensued. Yaakov fought and subdued the ministering angel of Eisav. The Zohar and other sources tell us that this angel is none other than the Evil Inclination who is really the Satan (chief prosecutor), Angel of Death and Samael (Yalkut Reuveni). What is fascinating is that Yaakov demanded a blessing before letting the angel leave. The simple understanding, expressed by Chazal and Rashi, is that Yaakov wanted the ministering angel to admit to him that the berachos, blessings, that he had stolen from Eisav (by fooling Yitzchok into thinking he was Eisav,) were rightfully his. The angel agreed. Rabbeinu Bechaya adds one point here which he does not ascribe to any source. He states that the angel blessed Yaakov with the blessing of Birchas Kohanim. What is this all about?

His Real Name
Yaakov was renamed Yisrael by the angel and later by Hashem. Yet we find that the Torah continues to use both names (Yaakov and Yisrael) for him. What does this mean? Rabbeinu Bechaya (ibid. 32:30) gives a lengthy exposition proving that the name Yaakov which means heal refers to Yaakov’s physical existence and lowliness; the name Yisrael refers to spiritual heights. Yaakov refers to the uplifting and use of physical means to achieve spiritual heights whereas Yisrael refers to pure spiritual force being applied. Both aspects are important and are thus stressed and utilized. Yaakov accomplished great heights by using the physical world as a place to be uplifted as a means to enjoy Hashem’s world and to thank Him. Yisrael refers to the spiritual greatness achieved by Yaakov through his Torah study, prayer and actions that connected him intimately with Hashem.

Ultimate Blessing
Eisav’s focus in life was on physicality whereas Yaakov’s was on spiritual pursuits. Eisav indulged in pleasure for its own sake and did not do his job of elevating physicality to the heights of spiritual achievements. Thus, Yaakov had to do both jobs, that of Yaakov which refers to Eisav’s job of using the physical world and that of Yisrael which meant achievements in spirituality. This is why Yaakov was entitled to all of the blessings. Birchas Kohanim is the ultimate expression of both physical and spiritual success. “May Hashem bless you with prosperity and may He turn His Face and Favor towards you…” This is why the angel of Eisav used its text to bless Yaakov. He was thus admitting that Yaakov had rightfully earned both his own share in spirituality and the share of Eisav in physicality. Yaakov had uplifted the world into a place of Godliness, thus he was renamed Yisrael on this account.

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