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Posted on November 29, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky | Series: | Level:

Anticipating conflict is quite strenuous. Yaakov had heard that his brother Esav was advancing toward him and his twelve children, accompanied by four hundred armed men. He had no idea of Esav’s intentions. Was he still raging over the loss of Isaac’s blessings or did thirty years of separation calm his wrath? Yaakov had to act fast. He split his camp into two groups and instructed his children both, how to do battle and how to escape. He sent a large contingent of men laden with myriad gifts to greet the advancing army. He hoped that the large offering will indicate submission to his older brother and thus appease him. And of course, he prayed.

In the middle of the night before the encounter, he made his move. In Genesis 32:23-24, the Torah tells us, “and Yaakov got up that night and took his wives, his children, and all of his possessions and crossed the stream at Yabok.” It would seem from this verse that Yaakov was together with his entire family and all their possessions. Yet the next verse tells us that Yaakov remained alone. The Torah places him back on the other side of the river, alone. As he stands alone the Torah relates that an angel fought with him till dawn. The question is obvious. If Yaakov crossed with his entire family, how did he end up on the other side of the stream, alone?

The Talmud in Chulin 91a is also bothered by this question. The Talmud explains that Yaakov returned to his original camping grounds. He obviously had forgotten some Pachim K’tanim, insignificant small earthenware, bric-a-brac, and thus returned alone, to retrieve them. The Talmudic reasoning is thus. If the verse tells us that Jacob crossed with all of his possessions, then it tells us he was alone, whatever he had returned for must have been insignificant and not worthy enough to be considered as possessions.

I am bothered. Why did Yaakov go to retrieve insignificant tchotchkes on the night when he was preparing for the most difficult encounter of his life? Obviously, there is an eternal lesson to be gained. What is it?

In the summer of 1954, my grandmother, Itta Ettil Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, left Beth Israel Hospital, for the last time, after a prolonged stay. Her condition had deteriorated, and the doctors felt that there was nothing left for them to do. My grandfather, Reb Yaakov zt”l, went together with family members to pick her up from the hospital. My grandmother was wheeled to the waiting automobile and made as comfortable as possible. Suddenly, Reb Yaakov seemed to realize that he had forgotten something very important. He whispered something to his wife, and when she nodded her approval, he asked if it was possible for the driver to wait a few minutes. He had to go back into the hospital.

The family members were a bit surprised. Although there was another patient in the room, and items may have been confused, they remembered removing every one of my grandmother’s personal belongings from the room. Accompanied by his curious son, Reb Yaakov proceeded to the elevator and pushed the button to the floor on which his wife had stayed.

“Pa,” his son protested , “we have everything.” The elevator stopped at the correct floor. Reb Yaakov proceeded into his wife’s former room and turned to her ailing roommate. “In our rush to leave the hospital, I forgot to tell you good-bye and wish you well. May G-d send you a speedy recovery.” With that, Reb Yaakov walked out of the room, nodded at the stunned nurses, whom he already had thanked on his first exit, and left toward the waiting car.

Yaakov went back for something that in our estimation, may have been insignificant. But he knew otherwise. A small jug may have had a sentimental value to one of his wives. An old blanket may have meant something to one of the children. Yaakov our forefather taught us that everything in life has value. It is easy to say, “I crossed the river,” “I packed the suitcase,” or “I left the building, and I’m not going back.” Yaakov’s lesson tells us that even at a risk, the little things in life are just as important as the big ones. Some acts are glorified, others are seemingly petty. We can never judge which investments yield great returns, and which returns are great investments!


Dedicated In loving memory of our Grandmother, Betty Blum of blessed memory
by Mark & Jolene Bolender and their children, Elchanan, Miriam and Lana


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Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.