Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayishlach

Never Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
The Satan Calls Himself "Israel"
Another Reason for the Diaspora
Bow Your Head to the Wave

And Yaakov was very afraid, and he was in distress; and he divided the people who were with him, the sheep, the cattle and the camels into two camps. (32:8)

This passage is a guideline for all generations, because everything that happened to Yaakov Avinu with his brother Esav happens to us continually with Esav's descendants. We must therefore adopt the righteous Yaakov's approach, to prepare ourselves in three ways: tefillah, gifts, and saving ourselves by way of war – to flee to safety. (Ramban)

We must follow in the footsteps of the Avos and prepare ourselves to approach the gentiles with gifts, with soft speech and with prayer before Hashem. But war is impossible, for it is written (Shir Hashirim 2:7), "I adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem…" Hashem made the Jewish people swear not to wage wars against the nations. (Rabbeinu Bachya)

Just as Yaakov used prayer, gifts and war, so do we approach Esav's descendants in our times. Our power is only through our mouth, to pray to Hashem in difficult times. But war – to fight with the nations – does not apply to us. Our "war" with them means activism – that Jewish activists must boldly face kings and leaders and work for the good of the Jewish people. Even if the leaders throw them out angrily, they must keep coming back; this is our pillar of existence in exile, until Moshiach comes. (Shelah)

And he said, "If Esav comes and attacks one camp, the remaining camp will escape." (32:9)

This passage foretells that Esav will never completely wipe us out; rather they will do evil to some of us in some of their lands. One of their kings will make a decree against us or our property in his land, while another king will have mercy on us and save the refugees. (Ramban)

The Holy One, blessed is He, did kindness with the Jewish people when He scattered them among the nations. Once a gentile said to Rabbi Chanina, "We are better people than you. For in your days of power, King David's general Yoav wiped out the Edomites. But now you are living under our empire for many years, and we have done nothing to harm you." Rabbi Chanina said, "One of my students will give you a reply." Rabbi Oshaya told him, "You want to kill us, but you don't know how to do it. You can't kill us all, because not all Jews live under your empire. And if you kill only the Jews in your domain, the rest will make you famous as a murderous kingdom." He said, "By the wall of Rome, these are our thoughts always." (Pesachim 87b)

Once there was a wicked man who wanted to take revenge on his enemy by burning down his house and property, and he hired a clever criminal to carry out the plan. The criminal came to the man's house one night, pretending to be a wayfarer seeking a place to stay. The kind-hearted man gave him a room to sleep in. In the middle of the night, when he was sure that the family was asleep, he set the house on fire and then went back to his bed. When the flames began to consume the house, the host and his family woke up and tried to save whatever they could. But they were in such a panic that they didn't know what to do first. The criminal pretended to wake up, and rushed to help the family save their property. Since he was not in a panic – everything was going according to plans – he was able to do a better job saving property than the host himself. The next morning the host told his friends about his great loss, and added, "But thanks to my mitzvah of taking in a guest, some things were saved." They asked him who the guest was, and when he described him, the friends said, "That man is a criminal! If not for him, you would not have had any fire at all! Beware of him, don't let him near you again, or it may cost you your life next time!"

This parable depicts the role of the Zionists in the safety of the Jewish people. Yaakov Avinu promised us that if we spread out among the nations, some of us will always be safe. But the Zionists made sure that Jews around the world have no rest. Countries expelled their Jews and closed their doors to Jews, saying that the Jews already have their own state to live in. Then the Zionists took in those Jews, saying that they were "saving" them. In Eretz Yisroel itself in the pre-war years, many more Jews would have been granted refuge, were it not for the Zionists. The Arabs saw that the Zionists were planing to take over their country, so they exerted pressure on the British to limit immigration. If the Jews had had no political aspirations, the British would have allowed much more immigration. (Vayoel Moshe 1:111)

The State of Israel solves nothing. All “problems” remain the same, and new ones are created: 1) The Arabian lands have been rendered uninhabitable for Jews; 2) constant wars with neighbors must be waged, incurring huge military expenditures and loss of many lives, in addition to constant peril; 3) it has exacerbated Jew-hatred in the nations, due to Arab influence and also to embroilment with the foreign policy of the nations; 4) and the proponents of the State of Israel attempt to kindle a fire under the Jews in all lands in order to make their position untenable so that they emigrate to augment the population of the new State. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Sing You Righteous, p. 25)

And Esav ran toward him and hugged him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they cried. (33:4)

Esav and his army had been coming to attack Yaakov, but now his heart was turned around in a moment because of Yaakov's subservience. Yaakov taught us a lesson here, to be used in all generations: that we will escape Esav's sword through subservience and gifts. The Gemora (Gittin 56a) relates that during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, there were militant elements among the Jews. The Rabbis said to them, "Let us go out and make peace with the Romans." The militants did not let them; instead they said, "Let us go out and make war with them." The Rabbis said to them, "It will not be successful." Had the militants listened to the Rabbis and followed in the footsteps of Yaakov Avinu, our Temple would not have been destroyed. (Seforno)

Reb Shmelka of Selish was once traveling with his student Reb Moshe Jungreis. The town of Selish was at the base of the Carpathian Mountains, and they passed through a certain forest. Usually Reb Shmelka was careful never to whip his horses, because he held this to be a violation of the prohibition on causing pain to an animal. On the uphill sections of road, he would get off the wagon and walk to make it easier for the horses. But as they passed through this forest, he told the wagon driver to whip the horses and make them go as fast as possible, until they were out of the forest. Then he began breathing deeply and heavily. "Why is the Rebbe so out of breath?" asked Reb Moshe. "Don't you know what was in that place we just passed?" said Reb Shmelka. "No," replied the student, "I saw nothing more than mountains and hills." Reb Shmelka then told him: "You must know that the forest through which we just passed was full of souls of the zealots from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, who refused to listen to the Sages who told them to surrender to the Romans. They fought until the bitter end, thus causing the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel. To this very day, their souls have not been repaired. Therefore I told the wagon driver to drive fast, because it was a place of impurity and I could not stand the air there.

"And I heard the souls begging the Holy One, blessed is He, to let them come into the world again in order to rectify themselves. The reply was, 'I know that you will not do any better the second time, but since everyone is given free will, I am giving you the opportunity.' Reb Moshe, you must know that in forty years from now, they will come into the world again. You will be a rav then, and you must act wisely."

Later Reb Moshe Jungreis became rav of Kasho, and he told his congregation to notify him in advance when any public gathering was to take place. Once a group of Jews came to Kasho to raise money for a fund to buy land in Eretz Yisroel, which was then ruled by the Turks. The leaders of the congregation told them, "We cannot do anything without the rav's approval." They told the rav, and he immediately remembered what his rebbe had told him. He checked his records and found that it had been exactly forty years since that day. "No!" he said to the leaders of the congregation. "Heaven forbid to join them! We must keep the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness collection boxes and send our money to the kollelim of Jerusalem." And with that, he expelled the new group from the city. (Mishkenos Haro'im p. 193)

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

There seems to be a dispute among the Talmudic Sages as to who this angel was. The most prevalent opinion (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3 and Tanchuma 8, quoted by Rashi) is that it was Esav's guardian angel, Samael.

But the Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 37) says, "The angel said, 'Let me go free.' Yaakov said, 'I will not set you free until you tell me your name.' Then the angel gave Yaakov the name Yisroel, like his own name, for his name was also Yisroel." What is the meaning of this puzzling passage?

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (1908-1993) explained that there is actually no contradiction here. The Midrash says (Bereishis Rabbah 78:5) that Yaakov Avinu's face was engraved on G-d's throne. This means that G-d's glory is founded on the principle of truth, which was the attribute of Yaakov Avinu as it states, "Give truth to Yaakov" (Micah 7:20). The guardian angel of Esav, whom the Sages called Samael, is in charge of the opposite of truth, but he paints himself as a promoter of truth. This is why the Sages say (Chullin 91a) that the angel appeared to Yaakov as a Torah scholar.

This angel Samael called himself "Yisroel" because his whole essence was falsehood. Similarly, Esav's descendents established the Christian religion, which adopted the Jewish Bible as part of its literature, yet interprets words in the Bible such as "Zion", "Jerusalem" and "Israel" as references to their own adherents and their own idolatry. And among our own people, the Reform Jews, who deny that G-d ever gave the Torah, call themselves "rabbis" when they should really be called "priests". They call their places of worship "synagogues" when in reality they are houses of emptiness and belief in nothing.

And people say that there is a state in the beloved Holy Land whose ministers, leaders and legislators are heretics and non-believers, who desecrate the holiness of G-d's people, and yet they gave their state the name "Israel"! (It is interesting that Rabbi Schwab says "people say" – perhaps he did not quite believe that such a thing could happen.)

The Torah continues, "And he saw that he could not overcome him, and he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Yaakov's thigh was dislodged as he wrestled with him." This symbolizes that Yaakov's attribute of truth was partially compromised. Therefore we pray, "And purify our heart to serve you in truth," until the time when "Yaakov will come in completeness to the city of Shechem" (33:18). Shechem is the initials of "shem kvod malchuso" – the name of the glory of His kingdom. And this is enough for someone who understands. (Mayan Beis Hashoeva)

In this cryptic last paragraph, Rabbi Schwab may mean that Yaakov, the true Jewish people, the true Israel, is engaged in a struggle with the false Zionist "Israel". The Zionists saw that they could not completely defeat the true Jews, so they adopted a different tactic: they induced some of the true Jews to compromise their principles of truth. There have been rabbis who opposed Zionism, yet sanctioned some limited cooperation with the Zionist system with the justification that this furthers their battle against it. This, says Rabbi Schwab, was compromising Yaakov's attribute of truth.

Rabbi Schwab was an active member of Agudath Israel of America. However, it is known that he refused to attend conferences together with the Agudah rabbis of Eretz Yisroel, because he did not approve of their policy of cooperation with the Zionist government.

And he said, “If Esav comes to the first camp and smites it, then the remaining camp will escape.” (32:9)

This parsha is a model for Jewish behavior in exile, and the Gemara and Midrash note how the Jewish people is protected by G-d’s plan of settling some of them in one land and some in another land. (See Volume 1.)

The Midrash on Shir Hashirim 2:8 gives a different reason for the scattering of the Jewish people: G-d has decreed that they must be in exile in all 70 nations of the world. If they all stick together, it will take a very long time for them to go to all 70 nations. By spreading apart, Jews fulfill the decree of exile much more quickly:

“The voice of my beloved, behold it has come” (Shir Hashirim 2:8) – this refers to the king moshiach. When moshiach comes and says to the Jewish people, “In this month you will be redeemed,” they will say to him, “Our teacher, king moshiach, how can we be redeemed? Didn’t the Holy One, blessed is He, say that He is exiling us under the seventy nations?” And he will give them two answers: “One of you goes into exile in Barbary and another of you goes into exile in Sumatra (in the Pesikta Rabasi the text reads: Britain), and it will be considered as if you all went to these places.” The second answer is, “The government appoints local governors from various nations. If one Cuthean, for instance, becomes a ruler over the Jews, although the central government may not be Cuthean, it is considered as if the Jewish people were in exile under the Cuthean people.”

In the early 1920’s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, wrote a fiery pamphlet opposing the Agudath Israel because of their support of settlement in Eretz Yisroel. What follows is an excerpt from that pamphlet, in which he refers to the above Midrash:

“The spirit of G-d rests on you [Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe] to answer those who ask where to move, that they should move to the Holy Land and build their businesses there. G-d has helped you and you have a large Jewish community who submit their questions to you, and some of them will do nothing without your direction. Tell them to go to America or England, but not to take it upon themselves to go to the holy place, bringing their business with them.

“I do not mean to stick my head among great mountains, to criticize the way a holy man answers questions. A holy man does not base his answers only on his limited human understanding, but on inspiration given to him by G-d. And after all, do Jews ask him questions because of his wisdom, his understanding or his broad knowledge? They have chosen him as their holy man, to hear through him the counsel of G-d in every matter, great or small, be it the service of G-d, health, business matters, raising children or lifestyle. They hope for his answer and blessing as the farmer hopes for rain. Therefore it is senseless to criticize such a man's answer, to evaluate it, or to compare it with the answers given by others.

“However, it is easy to see why a personal answer given to an individual cannot be a basis to decide the question of settling the land. Everyone knows that it is more comfortable for a Jew to live in Eretz Yisroel, breathing the holy air, living together with religious Jews – than to be breathing the smoke from the chimneys of the British factories or entering the race for profit of the American business world. So when you tell a person to move to Eretz Yisroel and then add logical reasons, you are talking not only from Divine inspiration but from your own opinion; you are guiding people in the proper Torah way, being wise and seeing the outcome of your advice.

“If one travels around the world and looks at Jewish communities, he will see that, thank G-d, the Jewish people is alive and well. Although our enemies (who intend to be enemies but are actually benefactors) persecute us, yet every city has a cheder, a yeshiva and charity organizations. When a religious Jew comes to a new place and gets settled, he will, with the encouragement of gedolim, help build one of these institutions. As the Midrash says (on Shir Hashirim 2:8), when one Jew lives in Barbary and another lives in Britain, it is considered as if the whole Jewish people went to these places and this fulfills the decree of exile to the seventy nations. We must believe with complete faith that when Moshiach comes, he and Hashem will be more pleased with the cheder, the shul and the charity institution founded by the Jews in exile, in Barbary and Britain, than with the factory and workshop founded, G-d forbid, in Jerusalem the holy city. What will you have to say for yourself then?

“You say that the religious Jews in Eretz Yisroel are very good in their dress and behavior. It is very hard to say this, but the appeal of settling the land seems to have blinded your eye. For the sake of this good thing – that Jews should be able to wear Jewish clothing and peyos – have you decided to overlook everything else? If only you could use your strength to take other actions, to make sure that all religious Jews in whatever places they live are perfect, you would bring about improvement without causing ruin to the beauty of the Jewish people.”

And he commanded them saying, so shall you say to my master, to Esav… (Bereishis 32:5)

Rabbi Tovia ben Eliezer, in his Midrash Lekach Tov, says that the word “saying” means that the command to show respect to Esav also applies to future generations. They must not stand up against the wave, for whoever stands up against a wave, the wave sweeps him away; but when one bows to the wave, the wave passes over.

He is echoing the story in Yevamos 121a, in which Rabbi Akiva’s ship sank and he survived by holding onto a piece of wreckage. To each wave that came his way, he bowed his head. Chazal learned from this that if a man sees wicked people coming his way, he should bow his head to them.

Rabbi Yonasan Eybeshutz in Yaaros Devash (v. 1, Drush 3) also quotes this Gemara in Yevamos and derives from it that the Jewish people can get the ultimate benefit from exile only if they accept it humbly and meekly.

The Midrash Lekach Tov brings another statement of Chazal regarding the story of Yaakov’s encounter with Esav. Rabbi Yehonasan said: Whoever wants to appease a king or a government, but does not know the right way, should place this portion of the Torah before him and learn from it the way to appease.

The Sefer Chareidim on the Torah says that in emulating Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish people is keeping the oath that prohibits rebellion against the nations of the world. Instead of rebelling, they must tolerate the exile and give the nations honor, like a servant gives his master. They must not react angrily to the nations, for they are only like a strap in the hand of Hashem. When the nations demand taxes, they must not kick back or speak sharp words, but give them in accordance with the law, respectfully.

The Chareidim also comments that the use of the word “and he commanded” (Bereishis 32:5) implies, according to the Gemara in Kiddushin 29a, that this is a matter that needs encouragement, now and for all generations. Yaakov Avinu wanted to teach his descendents in future generations in exile to be careful with Esav’s honor. This is why whenever our Sages went to visit Roman kings to make requests on behalf of the Jews, they would always consult this passage and learn from it how to conduct themselves.

Later Esav proposed to Yaakov, “Let us travel and go, and I will go by your side” (Bereishis 33:12), and Yaakov declined. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that Esav wanted to split this world with Yaakov. Yaakov, however, said, “My master knows that the children are weak” - the Jewish people will be weak in mitzvos – “and if they pressure them in one day all the sheep will die” - without the atonement of exile they will be sent to Gehinom on the day of judgment and they will not be able to bear the suffering. Therefore, said Yaakov, “Let my master pass before his servant” – you take this world first – “and I will travel in my lowliness” - I will stay in my exile and lowliness. I will not wage any war and I will not rise up in exile at all, but rather “according to the work that is before me” - I will bear the yoke of subjugation. And until when will the subjugation last? “Until I come to master, to Seir.”

The Midrash, cited by Rashi, points out that Yaakov never fulfilled his promise to come to Seir in his lifetime, and that it will be fulfilled only in the messianic era, regarding which the prophet Ovadiah writes: "And the saviors will go up Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esav" (Ovadiah 1:21).

Similarly, the Akeidas Yitzchak (Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, 1420-1494) interprets the words “according to the work that is before me” as a metaphoric description of Jewish history. Yaakov said, "I have much work to do! My children cannot reach their full potential unless they go through the refinery of trials, suffering and exile three times (i.e. Egypt, Babylonia and Rome). Only then will their souls be purified and ready to absorb spiritual good, to be the chosen people and to live peacefully forever. This refining process will take a long time, and will end with the coming of moshiach, when I will come to you at Seir." (Akeidas Yitzchak Shaar 26)