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Parshas Vayishlach 5758 - '97

Outline Vol. 2, # 7

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein


As Yaakov Avinu returned to Eretz Yisrael, he sent messengers with a humble entreaty to his brother, Eisuv. Hearing that Eisuv was approaching with four hundred men of war, Yaakov prepared for the worst. Among Yaakov's efforts: He sent gifts, and bowed repeatedly before his brother.

We have conflicting explanations for Yaakov's behavior. The simple explanation is that he sought to appease Eisuv with a humble demeanor. Besides the fact that the Medrashim contradict this (see Toras Moshe of the Chasom Sofer), from the verses alone such a view seems untenable: Why would Yaakov seek to humble himself before Eisuv, who represented an opposing attitude, had married idol-worshippers, and wished to kill Yaakov?

The Zohar explains along these lines: Yaakov wasn't bowing to Eisuv, but to Hashem. Meanwhile, he gave to Eisuv what he wanted -- honor. Yaakov knew that his own time had not yet arrived. In the meantime, he would let Eisuv have his way. In so doing -- says the Zohar -- Yaakov showed greater wisdom and cunning than anything else he did with Eisuv. If Eisuv had known what Yaakov was truly doing, he would never have allowed Yaakov to get away with it... (Zohar, p. 176)

To say that Yaakov bowed, not to Eisuv, but to Hashem, may seem forced. Remember, however, that Michah said, "Walk humbly with Hashem." (Michah 6:8) Of course, walking humbly with Hashem entails not displaying pride among people -- but the reason is to be modest before Hashem, who is always present. Thus, one would always act modestly before people, but not necessarily because he is submitting to them. He is submitting to Hashem.

The difference is great. One who humbles himself before man may become feeble, but one who humbles himself before Hashem is empowered.

Mishlei (Proverbs) 12:9

Better to be a lowly person who has a servant, than he who honors himself but lacks bread.

The Zohar offers two explanations of this verse. One explanation is that it refers to the urge for evil. `One who humbles himself will master the urge for evil; one who seeks honors will be enslaved.' The second explanation: The verse refers to Yaakov and Eisuv. Yaakov humbled himself and Eisuv became his servant.

The two explanations are the same: one who walks humbly before Hashem becomes empowered.

As far as our opening question is concerned, we now see that Yaakov was not submitting to Eisuv. Yaakov was the supreme diplomat and negotiator. He knew how to show honor to the ruling authority.

"Derech Eretz Kadmah Latorah." Manners precede Torah. By acting with patience and forethought, Yaakov was not giving in to Eisuv but dominating him...

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2

Chanukah and Chodesh

The Syrian-Greek invaders in the Chanukah story forbade three observances: Chodesh (sanctification of the new moon), Shabbos, and Bris Milah. Each of these three subjects represents an essential aspect of Judaism, basic to the relationship of the Jews and Hashem. (See Mitzvas Ner Ish Ubaiso, p. 19.)

The Jews are altogether compared to the moon. There are twelve months of the lunar calendar, corresponding to the twelve sons of Yaakov. On the leap year, there are thirteen months, because Yoseif became two tribes: Ephraim and Menashe.

Eisuv is compared to the sun. The solar year is longer than the lunar year, except in a leap year. The leap year is indicative of the Messianic era, when the Mashiach Ben Yoseif will defeat the sons of Eisuv... (See Maharsha, Sanhedrin 12)

At the beginning of the Torah, the Medrash relates that the moon and the sun were originally the same size. The moon complained to Hashem: "How can two kings share one crown?" Hashem answered: "Go make yourself smaller!" The moon obeyed, and therefore the moon is the smaller light.

Asarah Ma'amoros explains the analogy. Sarah had greater prophetic abilities than Avraham, yet Avraham got the honors. The reason: Sarah saw that her greatness would interfere with Avraham's dignity. Therefore, she made herself look small; in fact, she had the greatest powers.

The Syrian-Greek invaders felt threatened by the Jewish Lunar calendar. The humility of the Jew is a sign that one day, he will have ascendancy...

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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