In this week's parashah, Yaakov and Esav's conflict over the
bechorah / birthright reaches its climax. Yaakov faces-off
against Esav's guardian angel, who is unable to defeat the
Patriarch. The angel tells Yaakov (32:29): "No longer will it be
said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven
with the Divine and with man, and have overcome." Rashi explains
this statement: It will no longer be said that the blessings came
to you through trickery ("akaivah" - having the same root as
"Yaakov"), but rather openly because of your own strength.
R' Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z"l (the Klausenberger Rebbe)
elaborates: Why is it that Yaakov had to obtain the blessings
while wearing Esav's clothes (as described in Parashat Toldot)?
It was as if Rivka was telling Yitzchak, "It is true that
Yaakov's descendants would be better off with no share in Olam
Hazeh / the comforts of This World, only in Olam Haba / the
spiritual rewards of the World-to-Come. However, the challenge
will be too great for many of Yaakov's descendants. If they
cannot obtain some measure of comfort in a permissible manner,
they will soon put on the garments of Esav and become a part of
R' Halberstam continues: The name "Yaakov" alludes to a Jew in
a lowly spiritual state, while "Yisrael" alludes to a Jew on a
higher spiritual level. Here the angel said to Yaakov: "Let it
no longer be said that you received the blessings because you are
Yaakov, because your descendants will be on a low level. Rather,
you received the blessings because you are Yisrael, because you
are important and worthy." (Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'Geonei
"Thus shall you say to my lord, to Esav, `So said your
servant Yaakov, "I have sojourned / `garti' with Lavan . .
Rashi comments: The gematria of "garti" (gimel-raish-tav-yud)
equals 613, as if to say, "I lived with the wicked Lavan and
nevertheless observed the 613 commandments, and I did not learn
from his evil ways."
R' David ben Shmuel Halevi z"l (1586-1667; author of Turei
Zahav) asks: Why would Esav care? He explains:
Yitzchak had promised his son Esav that when Yaakov's
descendants cast off the Torah, Esav's descendants would gain
ascendancy over them. (See Bereishit 27:40 and Rashi there).
Therefore Yaakov told Esav, "That time has not yet come. Even in
Lavan's house I kept all 613 of the mitzvot."
R' David adds: How is it possible that Yaakov kept all 613
commandments? After all, some of them can be fulfilled only in
Eretz Yisrael! He answers: The Gemara teaches that today, when
there is no Temple, if one studies the laws of the sacrificial
offerings, it is considered as if he brought a sacrifice.
Similarly, writes R' David, Yaakov could have fulfilled all 613
commandments by studying their laws.
"Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the
hand of Esav." (32:12)
Why was it not sufficient for Yaakov to say, "Rescue me from my
brother, from Esav"? What is added by "the hand of"? R' Shmuel
de Uzeda (Tzefat; late 1500's) explains:
There are two ways that a person - here, Yaakov - can be saved
from an enemy - here, Esav. One is that the enemy (Esav) will
have a change of heart and will go home without attacking. The
second is that the enemy (Esav) will come face-to-face with the
victim (Yaakov) and will see that the victim is too strong to be
defeated. There is a definite advantage to the second type of
salvation, for in the first case, the enemy can change his mind
again and begin his attack anew. In the second case, on the
other hand, there is a greater likelihood that the enemy will be
too intimidated to ever return.
Therefore Yaakov said, "I do not wish to be saved while Esav is
still at a distance. I want to be saved from Esav's `hands.'
Let him come face-to-face with me and then realize that it is not
in his interest to attack."
(Derashot R' Shmuel de Uzeda)
Avraham, about whom it is not written that he observed Shabbat,
received a limited inheritance, as it is written (Bereishit
13:17), "Arise, walk about the Land through its length and
breadth, for to you I will give it." Yaakov, about whom it is
written that he observed Shabbat - it is written (in our
parashah, 33:18), "He encamped before the city," which teaches
that he established boundaries around the city beyond which one
may not walk on Shabbat - he received an unlimited inheritance,
as it is written (Bereishit 28:14), "You shall spread out
forcefully westward, eastward, northward and southward."
(Yalkut Shimoni: Lech Lecha)
But are we not taught that Avraham observed the entire Torah?
R' Zalman Rotberg (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet Meir in Bnei
The focus of the Midrash does not seem to be on whether Avraham
observed Shabbat, but rather on whether the Torah records that he
did so. What is the significance of that distinction? Just as
Avraham knew prophetically about all of the mitzvot, he knew
prophetically that there is a mitzvah to observe Shabbat. And,
he did observe Shabbat. However, Avraham's observance of Shabbat
is not written about in the Torah because Avraham himself did not
achieve the level of knowing where Shabbat is written about in
the Torah. In other words, Avraham knew of Shabbat as a mitzvah,
but he was not aware of Shabbat's place within the context of the
What is that place? R' Rotberg explains: Shabbat is more
exalted than all other mitzvot, for it is the source of all
blessings. All the blessings of the week come from the preceding
Shabbat. Thus, for example, Maharal explains that the Shabbat
before Pesach has special significance and is given a special
name ("Shabbat Hagadol") because the ability of the Exodus to
occur derived from the preceding Shabbat.
R' Rotberg concludes: The Midrash does not, of course, mean to
demean Avraham. It may be true that he did not reach the
ultimate in Shabbat observance. That could not happen until the
Torah was given. Nevertheless, Yaakov's Shabbat observance and
the Shabbat observance of those who would later receive the Torah
were all an outgrowth of Avraham's efforts. This is very much
the same as the blessings which are an outgrowth of Shabbat. The
ultimate blessings may not come until later, but without Shabbat,
they would never be.
(Tuv Da'at, Vol. III)
R' Yitzchak Uziel z"l
R' Uziel was born in Fez, Morocco, in approximately 1550. His
family traced its origins to a distinguished Spanish family, many
of whose members had fled the Inquisition in 1492. R' Uziel's
great-grandfather, R' Yosef ben Avraham Hatzarfati, was a
distinguished Torah scholar, and it was he who settled in Fez,
where he was greatly respected. R' Uziel's father, R' Avraham
Uziel, was a prominent scholar and poet in Fez.
R' Yitzchak Uziel left Fez in 1605 because of a famine, and
became rabbi of Oran, Algeria. A year later, he traveled to
Amsterdam, where he was a teacher and businessman. Among his
students in Amsterdam was R' Menashe ben Yisrael. R' Menashe ben
Yisrael is perhaps best known for persuading Oliver Cromwell to
allow Jews to settle in England, but he also was a noted Torah
scholar who left written works. In Amsterdam, R' Uziel was
instrumental in the formation of Neveh Shalom, the second
Portugese congregation in the city, and when the first rabbi of
the congregation resigned in 1610, R' Uziel himself was chosen to
succeed him. R' Uziel had a profound influence on the community
of newly professed Jews, many of whom had been born and raised as
Christians (because of the Inquisition) and whose outlook was
still subject to subtle Christian influences. R' Uziel was
steadfast and outspoken in his criticism of negative tendencies
that he saw among his congregants, and this made him unpopular in
some circles. In 1618, some of his congregants broke off from
Neveh Shalom and formed another congregation.
R' Uziel wrote a work on Hebrew grammar entitled Ma'aneh
Lashon, and he was considered an able poet. He died in Amsterdam
in approximately 1622. (Source: The Early Acharonim)