Pray for Me
Volume 20, No. 8
16 Kislev 5766
December 17, 2005
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Eruvin 73
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Pe'ah 7
As this week's parashah opens, Yaakov prepares to meet, and
possibly to battle, Esav. Ramban z"l writes that this parashah
contains lessons that should influence all dealings between Jews and
The Torah relates that Yaakov divided his camp in two. He said
(32:9), "If Esav comes to the one camp and strikes it down, then the
remaining camp shall escape [literally, `shall be for an escape']."
The Midrash comments: "`If Esav comes to the one camp and strikes it
down'--this refers to our brothers in the South; `then the remaining
camp shall survive'--this refers to our brothers in the Diaspora.
Rabbi Hoshiya said, `Even though they are the survivors, they still
fast on our behalf on Mondays and Thursdays'."
What is this Midrash teaching? In particular, what did R'
Hoshiya mean? Also, why did Yaakov divide his camp--might he not have
found strength in numbers? R' Ovadiah Hedayah z"l (see biography)
explains as follows:
Yaakov's division of his camp was his way of praying that at any
time in the future when the Jewish People find themselves in danger,
Hashem should ensure that part of the Nation will remain safe in
another place. In this way, no matter how outnumbered our oppressed
brethren are, the Nation will survive.
Of course, such a division leads to another possible danger,
i.e., that the part of the Jewish People that is safe will become
complacent and take no interest in its brothers' and sisters' fate.
This is what R' Hoshiya meant to address, says R' Hedayah. R' Hoshiya
was bothered by the wording of the verse. Why did Yaakov say that the
remaining camp would be "for an escape" rather than saying that the
remaining camp would escape? Yaakov did not mean only that one camp
would escape; rather, he meant that the remaining camp was to attempt
to provide an escape for the distressed camp, through physical means
if possible, but also through prayer and fasting. (Shalom Avdo)
"Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the
hand of Esav, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down,
mother and children." (32:12)
R' Shlomo Alkabetz z"l (1505-1584; author of the Friday night
hymn Lecha Dodi, among other works) writes that Yaakov referred in
this verse not (only) to Esav, but to Esav's descendant, Haman who
planned "to exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women"
(Esther 3:13). Thus, immediately after Yaakov's prayer (32:14), the
Torah says, "He spent the night there." Note that the final letters
of the Hebrew words in this phrase spell "Haman." Also, the Hebrew
word "at night" appears three times in our chapter, alluding to the
three days and nights of the fast that Mordechai and Esther decreed.
(Manot Ha'levi to Esther 7:7)
"You shall say, `Your servant Yaakov's. It is a tribute sent
to my lord, to Esav, and behold he himself is behind us'."
"Accept my tribute from me, inasmuch as I have seen your
face, which is like seeing the face of Elokim." (33:10)
Why did Yaakov tell his servants who took gifts to Esav to point
out that Yaakov would soon follow in person? Also, what did Yaakov
mean when he equated seeing Esav to seeing the face of Elokim? R'
Shlomo Kluger z"l (1783-1869; rabbi of Brody, Poland) explains:
Halachah requires that just as there were representatives of the
kohanim and levi'im present in the Bet Hamikdash every day, so there
must be representatives of the yisraelim present every day. The
Gemara (Ta'anit 26a) explains this by asking rhetorically, "Is it
conceivable that a person's sacrifice could be offered and he is not
present?!" R' Kluger asks: Why is it so inconceivable that a person's
sacrifice could be offered when he is not present?
Another question: We read (Bereishit 18:8) that when Avraham
served food to his guests, "he stood over them beneath the tree and
they ate." What does the Torah mean to teach us?
Says R' Kluger: When a person offers food to a guest, he may have
one of two motives--either to feed a hungry person or to honor the
guest. How can we tell what the host's motives are? When the main
purpose is to relieve the guest's hunger, then the food is the main
thing. The host need not "offer himself" to the guest as well, i.e.,
he need not be present. On the other hand, if the main point is to
show honor to the guest, then the host's presence is more important
than the food.
When we offer sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash, we do so to honor
Hashem. Obviously, he does not need our food. That is why it is
inconceivable that our sacrifices could be offered without our
representatives standing nearby. That also is why Avraham stood over
his guests while they ate. Although they may have been hungry
(assuming he did not know they were angels), he wanted to honor them
with his presence as well.
This was Yaakov's message to Esav: I am not sending you a gift
because I think you need it. I want to honor you, and I am following
right behind my gift. And when Esav balked at accepting the gift,
saying (33:9), "I have plenty," Yaakov reiterated: Seeing your face is
like seeing the face of Elokim, i.e., my whole intention was to bring
an offering to someone who does not need it, merely in order to show
(Ma'amar Esther to Esther 5:8)
"Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah"
("The Foundation and Root of Divine Service.")
This year, we are presenting excerpts from the work Yesod
Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah by R' Alexander Ziskind z"l (died 1794).
In the section entitled Sha'ar Avodat Ha'lev, the author has
been encouraging us to look at every event as an opportunity
to please our Creator. In the last excerpt that we
presented, the author stated that a tool for accomplishing
this is to fulfill the mitzvot of "You shall love your fellow
as yourself," and "With righteousness you shall judge your
fellow." In Sha'ar Avodat Ha'lev, chapter 8, the author
explains why fulfilling these mitzvot in particular furthers
our goal of pleasing the Creator.
It is well known that when a person is sad, his sadness will be
lessened somewhat if he sees that others share his pain. [Likewise, a
person's joy is increased when he has someone to share it with.] Our
Sages teach that, in some sense, the Shechinah is sad when we suffer.
It follows that if we perform the mitzvah "You shall love your fellow
as yourself" [which the author defi ned in the previous chapter as
sharing in the pain and joy of others, thus decreasing their suffering
or increasing their joy], then we lessen Hashem's "pain" and give
pleasure to Him as well.
R' Alexander Ziskind writes: Before one performs this mitzvah, he
should say out loud, "I am hereby prepared and ready to perform the
affirmative commandment of the Torah, which my Creator commanded me--
You shall love your fellow as yourself." He adds: One should
regularly recite this formula aloud [i.e., before performing other
R' Shalom Hedayah z"l
R' Shalom Hedayah was the head of the bet din / rabbinical court
of the Sephardic community in Yerushalayim and the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivat Bet El, an academy devoted to the advanced study of kabbalah.
He was born in Aram Soba (Aleppo) in 1864 to R' Moshe Chaim and
Sabtiah Hedayah, and studied at first under R' Moshe Swed and R'
Yitzchak Bechor Mizrachi. He considered his main teacher to be R'
Refael Yaakov Chaim Yisrael Alfiah.
When R' Hedayah was 18 years old, he began to correspond with
many leading (Sephardic) poskim / halachic authorities of the era. He
also began to delve more deeply into kabbalah, as well as the in-depth
study of Tanach. In particular, it was said that he knew the
commentary of the Malbim almost by heart.
In 1884, R' Hedayah married Sarah, daughter of R' Yitzchak
Labaton, a leading rabbi in Aram Soba. In 1898, they settled in
Yerushalayim together with the Labaton family. There, R' Hedayah
became an assistant to and student of the Rishon Le'Zion (title given
to the Sephardic Chief Rabbi), R' Yaakov Shaul Elyashar. Eventually,
R' Hedayah himself was appointed a judge on the Sephardic bet din,
and, in 1930, he was appointed Rosh Av Bet Din / Chief Judge.
R' Hedayah was known not only for his knowledge of the Talmud and
halachah, but also as an expert in kabbalah. Beginning in 1927, he
headed the Bet El Yeshiva. Interestingly, one of R' Hedayah's regular
correspondents on matters of kabbalah was the Lithuanian rosh yeshivah
R' Elchanan Wasserman.
For a period in his life, R' Hedayah lost nearly all of his
vision. Although he had a photographic memory and could study Torah
by heart, he said that what bothered him most was not being able to
see when Torah scholars approached so he could rise in their honor.
Eventually, he traveled to Egypt for surgery that restored much of his
R' Hedayah was extremely concerned about the poor financial
situation of Torah scholars, and he encouraged whoever was able to
accept responsibility for the livelihood of one scholar. He pointed
out that the fact that Torah scholars appear downtrodden is the
primary reason that young men do not choose to devote their lives to
Torah study, which is a tragedy for the Jewish people as a whole.
R' Hedayah passed away on 13 Kislev 5705 (1944) and was buried on
Har Ha'zeitim / The Mount of Olives. One of his sons, R' Ovadiah
(died 1969), also served on the Sephardic bet din and later was Chief
Rabbi of Petach Tikva. Both father and son authored several Torah
works. A daughter of R' Shalom was married to one of the leading
Syrian rabbis in Brooklyn, New York. (Sources: Kedoshim Asher
Ba'artez, p.223; Aleppo: City of Scholars, p.215)
Copyright © 2005 by Shlomo Katz
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