Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Margalit bat Mazal, Julie Dweck A’h
by Sonny Dweck and Family
Parashat Vayishlach 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 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, 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.
There is a question presented here asking why Yaakov was so afraid of Esav, when Hashem’s protection was so readily available to tzaddikim like Yaakov Avinu. There are two explanations for his fear. The first is that Yaakov thought he used up all of his zachuyot—merits, and he felt that he did not deserve Hashem’s protection, considering he was so blessed with his wives and children. The second is that Esav was proficient in the mitzvah of kibud av va’em—bringing honor to one’s parents. Yaakov had been away, living in Lavan’s home for 20 years at that point. Therefore, he was unable to do this mitzvah, and he was afraid Esav had a leg up on him, being that he was home and honored his parents during this time.
Yaakov prayed to Hashem, “Hatzileni na meyad ahi, meyad Esav—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 would come to him as a friendly brother or as a fierce opponent. From the days of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, “Esav” — the goyim — May have started as our friends, but eventually that changed, and they became our enemy. During the centuries following the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, wherever the Jewish people settled, they were welcomed by the different host countries, at first. Then anti-Semitism set in, and the people of that country turned on the Jews and evicted them or tried to destroy them.
We must be aware that the Esav of today who lives among us can be very warm and welcoming like a brother, just like the feeling of “acceptance” we have from living in America today, or how the Jews of Europe lived in the early part of 20th century, or in Spain in the late 1400’s. We must know and be mindful not to get too close to the goyim, as the famous Gemara states, “Esav soneh et Yaakov—Esav hates Yaakov.” We’ve seen this hate emerge so many times throughout our history, even recently. The massive genocide of the Holocaust occurred just 75 years ago.
The parasha goes on to say, “Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn (32:25).” Rashi explains that this man 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. The 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.
“Why did Esav’s angel only pick a fight with Yaakov, and not with Avraham or Yitzchak?” Of our three Avot, we learned that Avraham epitomized hesed, Yitzchak founded the concept of avodah—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’nei 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 tzedakah, but he’s angered when he learns Torah!
In the time of the Hafetz Hayyim there was a very big struggle, as there is today, to raise money to support yeshivot. There were three very wealthy men who could have supported all the yeshivot on their own. So the people 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.”
The Pillar of Torah
A very close friend of mine who is a big supporter of yeshivot always tells me that a person gets tremendous zechut—merit when they give their money to Torah institutions. Plus, 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’nei 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 Yitzchak. 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 next passuk goes on to say: “When it was perceived that the angel of Esav could not overcome Yaakov, he struck the socket of his hip (32:26).” Because of this injury to Yaakov, 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 this 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 used to go and meet with donors for 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 yeshivah. 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 yeshivah. 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 yeshivah, 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 honor, or in the form of drugs or gambling, or any other harmful desires or addictions.
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 go as far to trick us and convince us that not only is a particular sin not terrible, but actually a mitzvah. So we always must be on guard to stay far away from sin. The best antidote for that is to spend time learning Torah or supporting those to do so!
Yaakov’s Ultimate Reward
We learned that Yaakov received the berachot from his father Yitzchak, but we also learned in these parshiot how Yaakov had a difficult life. He had to run from his brother, then he was the victim of Lavan’s trickery for 20 years, who cheated Yaakov by changing his deal many times. Yaakov struggled when Rachel couldn’t have children, until she finally had Yosef and then tragically passed away on the road when she had Binyamin. Yaakov also suffered for 22 years while Yosef was missing from his life when his brothers sold him as a slave.
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, and our actions can change the course of the future.
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. Because 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 suitcase, 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 continue 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!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
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?
“Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” Yaakov prayed this way to teach us that the goyim, or the Esav of today, may start as our friends, but eventually that will change, and they become our enemy.
Because Yaakov represents Torah, the Satan came to Yaakov to fight with him and bring him down, knowing that if he was successful in destroying Yaakov, he would have the ability to obliterate the Jewish nation. Without Torah, we have nothing.
We must not only learn Torah, but support Torah and Torah institutions. Whether that means donating to community yeshivot, or for a wife to encourage her husband to go to a class, supporting Torah is essential in order to continue Yaakov’s legacy.
Although Yaakov’s life was challenging, he was responsible for building B’nei Yisrael. We don’t always see the salvation 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, and our actions can change the course of the future.
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah
Esther Bat Sarah
Avraham Ben Mazal
Shulamit Bat Helaina
Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Rahamim Ben Mazal
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther
Rafael Ben Miriam
Ovadia Ben Esther
Rav Haim Ben Rivka
Moshe Ben Mazal
Moshe Ben Yael
Yitzchak Ben Adele
Avraham Ben Mazal
Meir Ben Latifa
Chanah Bat Esther
Yaakov Ben Rachel
Malka Bat Garaz
Moshe Ben Garaz
Avraham Ben Kami
Yaakov Ben Leah
Mordechai Ben Rachel
Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal
Natan Ben Rachel
Saadia Ben Miriam
Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon
Margalit Bat Mazal
Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky
Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama
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