Dedicated In Honor of My Wife Ilana
Parashat Vayishelah begins with Yaakov leaving Lavan’s house with his wives, children, and livestock. Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to let Esav know that he lived with Lavan, survived, and prospered.
Esav: An Enemy in the Guise of a Brother
As Yaakov was on his way departing from Lavan’s house, his messengers returned and informed him that Esav was on his way to meet him with a 400-man army. Yaakov became very distressed by his imminent encounter with his brother Esav, even though Hashem had told him that He would protect him. Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to greet Esav, with the hope of appeasing his brother.
Yaakov prayed to Hashem: “Hatzileni na meyad ahi, meyad Esav” which means “Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” Why was Yaakov’s prayer redundant? Shouldn’t he have just said either “Rescue me from my brother” or “Rescue me from Esav?” Why did he use both references?
Yaakov teaches us a very important lesson: Although we know that Esav was his enemy, Yaakov was worried that Esav could either come to him as a friendly brother or as a fierce enemy. From the days of Pharaoh and the Egyptians “Esav” — the goyim — May have began as friends, but eventually that changed and they became our enemy. Through the centuries after our Temple was destroyed, wherever the Jewish people settled we were first welcomed by the different host countries. Then anti-Semitism set in, and the people of that country turned on us and either sent us out or tried to destroy us.
We must know that the Esav of today that lives among us can also welcome us as a brother, but when someone is anti-Semitic, deep down they really hate us. There’s a famous Gemara which states: “Esav soneh et Yaakov,” which means “Esav hates Yaakov.” We’ve seen this hate emerge so many times throughout history, most recently during the Holocaust, just 70 short years ago!
The parasha goes on to say (32:25) “Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”Rashi explains that this angel was Esav’s guardian angel. Esav’s angel is different from all the others, for just as Esav epitomizes evil, so too his angel is the prime spiritual force of the evil Satan himself. Satan’s job is to come down to earth to seduce man to sin, then he goes back to Heaven to incite Hashem to prosecute man for his sinfulness.
The question is asked, “Why did Esav’s angel only pick a fight with Yaakov, and not with Avraham or Yitzhak?” Of our three Avot, we learned that Avraham epitomized hesed, Yitzhak founded the concept of avoda (prayer), and Yaakov represented Torah: He was an “ish tam yoshev ohalim.” So Hashem sent an angel to wrestle with Yaakov to pave the way for the ultimate salvation of B’neh Yisrael. In Masechet Baba Batra (16a), it says that Esav’s angel had to attack Yaakov, because as the last and the greatest of our Avot, Yaakov symbolized man’s struggle to raise himself and the rest of the world with him. As the angel of Esav wrestled with Yaakov, he crippled him, because he could not destroy him.
The Hafetz Hayyim said that the yetzer hara doesn’t mind if a Jew fasts, prays, and gives tzedaka, providing that he doesn’t learn Torah!
In the time of the Hafetz Hayyim there was a very big struggle, as today, to raise money to support yeshivot. There were three very wealthy men who could have supported all the yeshivot on their own. So they asked the Hafetz Hayyim: “Why can’t we just ask those wealthy men to support the yeshivot themselves?” The Hafetz Hayyim answered: “Everyone must have the opportunity to support Torah, even if it is the dollar that the old lady puts in the pushka.”
A very close friend of mine who is a big supporter of yeshivot always tells me that a person must have zechut(merit) to give their money to Torah institutions, because ultimately it is not us supporting Torah but Hashem, who promised that Torah will always continue. There is a famous question that is asked: “Is it we who are supporting Torah, or is the Torah supporting us?”
The pillar of Torah is the most important of all three, and the most crucial for B’neh Yisrael’s success in carrying out its mission on earth. Yaakov represents Torah and without it, Israel will fail. That’s why the Satan did not confront Avraham or Yitzhak. Many communities which assimilated ultimately disappeared, even if they invested in various charities. Only communities that remained loyal to Yaakov’s legacy by building yeshivot and Torah institutions — grew and remain strong!
Our community is a prime example of that legacy, because we had Rabbis and business leaders who understood that a Jewish community cannot thrive or survive without Torah at its core foundation. They built this community here on the shores of America with true Torah values and we are the beneficiaries of the fruits of their labor.
The very next passuk, 26, goes on to say: “When it was perceived that the angel of Esav could not overcome Yaakov, he struck the socket of his hip.” This injured Yaakov. Because of this we are not allowed to eat from the gid hanashe, the tendon of the animal’s thigh, because it is unkosher to us. We also learn from Yaakov’s injury that since Yaakov represents Torah, and the hip is what supports man’s body, so too, the angel of Esav’s goal is to attack the supporters of Torah. This is the main reason that we so often see how there is such a struggle in raising funds for Torah institutions. Hashem set it up that way so we, as the supporters of Torah, we must overcome the yetzer hara in order to gain zechut to be able to support yeshivot and Torah institutions!
Rabbi Aharon Kotler would have to go and meet with donors to Lakewood Yeshiva. He once got a connection to a very wealthy man. They made an appointment with this man to discuss a large donation he was planning to give to the yeshiva. At the end, he decided not to give the money.
Rabbi Kotler’s helpers noticed that the Rabbi looked very upset about not getting the money that he expected for the yeshiva. So they went over to the Rabbi to console him. “Don’t worry Rabbi, we’ll get the money somehow.”
Rav Aharon answered, “I’m not worried about the yeshiva, because I know that we will get what we need from Hashem, but I’m concerned for this man because he just let this tremendous zechut of supporting Torah slip through his fingers!”
The Angel With No Name
After Yaakov’s struggle with the angel, when dawn was breaking, Yaakov asked, “Please tell me your name,” and the angel answered him, “Why do you want to know my name?” Rashi says that angels’ names are reflections of their mission here on earth. The angel replied that he had no set mission, so its name was never the same. Sometimes the yetzer hara can come in the form of a desire for money or kavod, or in the form of drugs or gambling has veshalom! Every one of us has these buttons that the yetzer hara knows how to push in order to make us sin. Sometimes, the yetzer hara will even trick us and convince us that we’re doing a mitzva by doing a particular sin. So we always must be on guard to stay far away from sin. The best antidote for that is to spend our time learning Torah!
Yaakov’s Ultimate Reward
We learned that Yaakov received the Berachot from his father Yitzchok but we also learned in these parashiot how Yaakov had a difficult life. Running from his brother Esav then the victim of Lavan’s trickery for 20 years as he cheated him by changing his deal 100 times. He had struggles when Rachel couldn’t have children until giving birth to Yosef and eventually passing away in childbirth with Benyamin on the road. Yaakov also suffered for 22 years while Yosef was missing from his life when his brothers sold him as a slave. In the end although Yaakov’s life was the most challenging of all the Avot, he was the one responsible for building the Jewish Nation. Just like our forefather Yaakov, we don’t always see the salvations or answers we pray for, but if we can recognize that Hashem is controlling everything and guiding us every step of the way, it will bring a certain amount of consolation.
There’s an amazing story from the book “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart” that took place in the early 1900’s. It became common for Eastern European Jews, tired of pogroms, poverty and despair, to send their children to the United States, where there were opportunities for a better life. As it was very expensive, the parents usually sent their children one at a time as the money for passage became available. The children would stay with relatives in America until the rest of the family arrived.
In 1930, Anya Gold, the oldest of eight children, was sent by her parents to the United States. Having saved only enough money for one ticket, her parents told her they would all soon follow, but they never did. It took them years to accumulate enough money, but by that time, the Holocaust had already begun.
Anya was raised by her aunt in Baltimore. Eventually, around the year 1946, a few stray survivors from her hometown in Poland arrived in Baltimore and brought with them the news that she dreaded to hear: Her entire family had been wiped out.
It was hard for her to go on. She knew, however, that the best way to commemorate her family’s legacy was to build a family of her own. She wanted to get married, have a lot of children, and name them after her family members.
Shortly afterward, she married her wonderful husband, Saul, and they began to build their lives together. A couple of years went by and they were still childless. The doctor informed them that there was a problem that would make it impossible for them to ever have children. They began to contemplate adoption, but Anya was hesitant. She had so hoped to raise her own children to continue her family’s legacy.
Finally, they decided to adopt. The Jewish agency they contacted in New York told them that an infant had just been put up for adoption. They became very excited and traveled to New York. When they arrived, their hopes were shot down; the family had reconsidered and taken their baby back.
“We traveled all this way,” they pleaded with the agency official. “Isn’t there something else you can do for us?” The agent said, “Yes, we do have a wonderful little girl named Miriam, who is in desperate need of a home.” Miriam was adorable, but she was already eight years old. Anya and Saul really wanted a newborn. Dejectedly, they returned home.
Another year passed with no prospects. They contacted many agencies across the United States, but an infant was very hard to find. Anya’s intense longing for a child consumed her. “Let’s see if we can still adopt that little girl, Miriam,” she told her husband.
They called the agency, and the official said the girl was not yet adopted. “Not too many people want a nine-year-old,” she admitted. “But now there is a bit of a complication. Her little brother has been found in Europe and has joined her in our home for war orphans. The siblings are inseparable, and we promised them that they will be adopted together.”
The couple went to New York and saw the children. Miriam had a sweet demeanor, and her six-year-old brother, Moshe, was adorable as well. Anya and Saul brought them home to Baltimore, happy to finally fill their home with children.
Miriam looked around her new home. Suddenly, she pointed to a picture on the piano and asked Anya, “why do you have a picture of my grandma here?” Anya stared at the picture of her deceased mother. What was the child talking about?
Miriam ran to her valise, took out a faded picture and showed it to Anya. “See?” she cried. “I have that picture, too. That’s my grandma” Then she took out a picture of her mother. Anya was shocked to see that it was Sarah, her own sister! Unknowingly, she had adopted her sister’s two children! She did have the merit to bring continuity to her own family’s legacy.
Anya and Saul had a difficult life, but they clearly saw the Yad Hashem guiding them which brought them much comfort.
May we all be able to overcome our yetzer hara so that we can keep far away from sin and so we can have the zechut to be able to learn and support Torah institutions in our community and in Israel. May we also learn to live with the understanding and comfort that everything that Hashem does for us is only good which we will ultimately see in the end. Amen!
· Are we aware of how the yetzer harah is constantly after us to sin? What are some techniques we use to fight off the yetzer harah?
· What is our relationship with Torah? Do we get involved with supporting Torah institutions?
· Can we look back at difficult times in our lives and realize that everything we went through was all for the best in the end?
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah
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