Volume 31, No. 8
17 Kislev 5777
December 17, 2016
We read in our parashah (33:18), “Yaakov arrived shaleim / whole at the city of Shechem . . . and he encamped before the city.” Midrash Rabbah interprets the end of the verse as an allusion to observing Shabbat, i.e., Yaakov arrived on the outskirts of Shechem before dark and marked-off the techum Shabbat of his encampment. [The “techum” is the approximately 2,000 amot-wide band around an encampment or city where a person is allowed to walk on Shabbat. If this is not what the verse is teaching, then for what purpose did the Torah mention the obvious detail that Yaakov camped?]
The midrash continues: Because Yaakov observed Shabbat, he was promised an inheritance without boundaries. In contrast to Avraham, who was promised (13:17), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”–i.e., an inheritance limited by the boundaries of the Land–Yaakov was promised (28:14), “You shall burst out westward, eastward, northward and southward.” [Until here from the midrash]
R’ Aryeh Finkel z”l (1931-2016; rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Modi’in Ilit, Israel) comments about the first part of our verse–“Yaakov arrived shaleim at the city of Shechem”: “Shaleim” is related to “Shalom,” which is a major theme on Shabbat (as in the multiple references to shalom in the song, “Shalom aleichem”). Yaakov, who observed Shabbat, is the only person in all of Tanach who is called “shaleim” / “whole.” Shalom / peace, harmony, perfection is the ultimate level to which a person and the world can aspire, and Yaakov achieved what no other person achieved–to have his image engraved on Hashem’s throne. [We do not need to understand what this kabbalistic expression means to recognize that it indicates the pinnacle of human achievement.] (Yavo Shiloh p.401)
“Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him.” (32:8)
Rashi z”l comments: “He was afraid lest he be killed, and he was distressed that he might have to kill Acheirim / others.”
R’ Shraga Feivel Rizenman z”l (1893-1978; rabbi in Toronto) explains: When Rivka was pregnant with Yaakov and Esav, she was told that she was carrying the fathers of two nations, one righteous and one evil. Rivka prayed, and her prayer was partially answered in that some righteous gentiles, and even future converts, descended from Esav. One of those converts was the Sage of the Mishnah, Rabbi Meir, a relative of the Roman Emperor Nero. Rabbi Meir is sometimes referred to in the Mishnah by the nickname “Acheirim” / “Others” (as in “Others say . . .”). Yaakov was not necessarily distressed that he might have to kill others in self-defense; rather, he was distressed because, if he had to kill Esav, he would be “killing” Esav’s descendants who would later convert, among them “Acheirim.” (Chiddushei Ha’Rashba – Rav Shraga ben Aharon)
R’ Uri Sherki Shlita (rabbi and educator in Yerushalayim) cites the above explanation in the name of R’ Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi z”l (1922-1996; a leading educator in the French-speaking Jewish community) and adds: Recognizing that good people would come from Esav forced Yaakov to confront the fact that there was some good in Esav. This frightened Yaakov, because seeing that there is good in one’s enemy weakens one’s resolve to fight, even to defend himself. To prepare Yaakov, Hashem caused him to fight Esav’s “guardian angel” the night before meeting Esav–a reminder to Yaakov that he was fighting a battle against Esav’s values. (Al Shemoneh Perakim Le’ha’Rambam p.218)
“Then Yaakov inquired, and he said, ‘Divulge, if you please, your name.’ And he said, ‘Why then do you inquire of my name?’” (32:30)
R’ Yisrael Yehoshua Trunk z”l (1820-1893; Poland) ask: Yaakov was accustomed to being in the company of angels, as we see in last week’s and this week’s Parashot; why suddenly was he interested in this angel’s name?
He explains: Yaakov sensed that this angel originated from a very lofty “place.” At the same time, this angel was the “guardian angel” of Esav, which suggested to Yaakov that the angel drew its power from forces of impurity. Yaakov was asking about this contradiction, and “Divulge your name” really meant “Reveal your true nature.” Are you good or bad?
The angel responded: “Why are you asking my name?” The angel meant: Why are you surprised? Esav’s very essence is a mixture of good and evil.
R’ Trunk adds: Our Sages teach that Esav’s head, but not his body, is buried in the Me’arat Ha’machpelah with the Patriarchs. This is a reflection of the good that existed alongside the evil within Esav. (Yeshuot Molcho)
“Therefore Bnei Yisrael are not to eat the Gid Ha’nasheh / displaced sinew on the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip-socket on the displaced sinew.” (32:33)
R’ David ben Shmuel Hakochavi z”l (Spain and Provence; died approx. 1330) writes: Our Sages say (Chullin 100b) that this verse was actually taught at Sinai, but it was written in context. [In other words, we do not observe the prohibition of eating an animal’s Gid Ha’nasheh because it originated with Yaakov’s sons, but rather because G-d commanded us in the Torah to observe such a prohibition.] This law teaches us two lessons:
(1) That we should distance ourselves from those things from which our forefathers distanced themselves.
(2) That we should use the occasion of eating to recall what befell our forefather Yaakov. (Migdal David: Azhara 183)
“It happened, while Yisrael dwelt in that land, that Reuven went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Yisrael heard; and the sons of Yaakov were twelve.” (35:22)
The Gemara (Shabbat 55b) states: Whoever says that Reuven sinned [by committing adultery] is mistaken, for our verse confirms that Reuven remained in good standing after this event (“and the sons of Yaakov were twelve”). Rather, as Rashi comments on our verse, after Rachel’s death, Yaakov moved to Bilhah’s tent. Reuven protested against this perceived slight to his mother, Leah, and he moved Yaakov’s bed.
If that is all Reuven did, why does the Torah describe it in such strong language? R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains:
The Torah describes events in terms that reflect the impact that they have, or are meant to have, on us. Had the Torah merely written that Reuven moved Yaakov’s bed, we would not have seen it as a significant event. In fact, this slight disturbance of the harmony of Yaakov’s home diminished in some small way Yaakov’s ability to transmit his legacy to his children, and the resulting effect on our spirituality, as Yaakov’s descendants, is magnified many times over–as if someone had actually sullied his soul by committing adultery. [Ed. note: An analogy might be the way that a small decrease in the amount of money one places in a good investment compounds dramatically over time.]
Even so, why would the Torah allow us to have such a negative impression of Reuven? This, answers R’ Kook, highlights another point: We are never meant to understand the Torah based on the written word alone. Only through the Written Torah and the Oral Torah combined can we ever have a true understanding of what G-d is telling us. (Ein Ayah: Shabbat ch.5 no.44)
A Torah Tour of the Holy Land
“Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bet Lechem.” (35:19)
“As for me — when I [Yaakov] came from Padan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road, while there was still a stretch of land to go to Efrat; and I buried her there on the road to Efrat, which is Bet Lechem.” (48:7)
Rashi z”l explains Yaakov’s words: “I buried her there and did not carry her even the short distance to Bet Lechem. I know that, in your heart, you [Rachel’s son, Yosef] feel some resentment against me. Know, however, that I buried her there by the command of G-d.” Rashi continues: The future proved that G-d had commanded Yaakov to do this so Rachel might help her children when [the Babylonian general] Nebuzaradan took them into captivity. When they were passing along that road, Rachel came out of her grave and stood by her tomb weeping and beseeching mercy for them, as it is said (Yirmiyah 31:14), “A voice is heard in Ramah, [the sound of weeping; Rachel weeping for her children].” The Holy One, blessed be He, replied to her (verse 15), “There is a reward for your work, . . . and your children will return to their own border.” [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Avigdor Nebenzahl shlita (former Chief Rabbi of the Old City, among other positions) asks: Bet Lechem is south of Yerushalayim, while the road from Yerushalayim to Bavel (Babylon) goes northward, through the Fertile Crescent; how then did the exiles pass the burial place of Rachel on their way to Bavel?
He explains: We read in Eichah (1:19), “I called for those who loved me, but they deceived me.” Our Sages explain that, at the time of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, the Jewish exiles sought assistance from their Ishmaelite cousins, but the latter deceived them and caused many Jews to die of thirst. The Ishmaelites, notes R’ Nebenzahl, lived in Arabia, which is south of Yerushalayim. Thus, the Jewish exiles would have passed the burial place of Rachel before beginning their journey northward to Bavel. This explains, as well, writes R’ Nebenzahl, why it took a year-and-a-half for the exiles to reach Bavel, which is what the chronology in Tanach implies. (Yerushalayim B’mo’adehah: Bein Ha’meitzarim p.44)