Volume 34, No. 8
16 Kislev 5780
December 14, 2019
Our Parashah describes Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael after his exile in Aram. We read (33:18), “Yaakov arrived whole at the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, upon arriving from Paddan Aram, and he encamped before the city.” Rashi z”l comments, citing a Midrash, that this occurred on Friday afternoon, moments before the onset of Shabbat.
R’ Yehuda Leib Mintzberg z”l (1943-2018; rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in Yerushalayim and Bet Shemesh, Israel) writes: This event, returning to the Promised Land with his family, was a turning point for Yaakov. The Torah emphasizes the significance of this moment with the words, “Yaakov arrived whole,” i.e., Hashem’s promise (Bereishit 28:15), “I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil,” had been fulfilled. Yaakov was meant to find restfulness and tranquility in the Land; therefore, he arrived at the onset of Shabbat, the day of rest and tranquility. (As it turned out, the hoped-for tranquility was not realized, as the continuation of the Torah’s narrative relates.)
R’ Mintzberg continues: Many important events in Jewish history have occurred on Shabbat or in the last moments of Erev Shabbat. Most notably, the Torah was given on Shabbat. Though the Exodus itself did not occur on Shabbat, separating an animal for the Korban Pesach, a crucial precursor to the Exodus, did occur on Shabbat and is commemorated by Shabbat Ha’gadol. Likewise, commentaries state that Yaakov’s dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder, representing the future Bet Hamikdash, took place on Shabbat. (Ben Melech Al Ha’Torah)
“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 word “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)
“Then he took, from that which had come in his hand, a tribute to Esav his brother.” (32:14)
Rashi z”l explains: “That which had come in his hand” refers to precious stones and jewels, which a person ties up in a package and carries in his hand.
Rashi continues: Another explanation is: That which no longer had a sacred character, for he had set aside Ma’aser / a tithe, as we read (Bereishit 28:22), “Yaakov vowed, ‘I will surely give Ma’aser to You’.” Only after he separated Ma’aser for Hashem did he make what was left a gift for Esav. Since he had tithed, he was giving that which was rightly in his possession, i.e., “That which had come in his hand.” [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin z”l (1817-1898; rabbi of Brisk, Poland; later in Yerushalayim) writes that these two explanations are both true; in fact, they are interdependent. He explains:
Halachah states that a herd or flock of livestock that is subject to taxation by a non-Jewish king is exempt from the Mitzvah of Bechorah / giving the firstborn animal to a Kohen. (Rashi explains that the king is effectively a partner in the flock, and an animal that is owned in partnership with a gentile is exempt from Bechorah.) When is this so? asks the Gemara. When the owner has no other means to pay taxes. But, if the owner could discharge his obligation with currency or other property, then his flock remains subject to Bechorah.
It stands to reason, R’ Diskin continues, that the same rule applies to the Mitzvah of Ma’aser. If a non-Jewish king has a claim on the flock, it is exempt from tithing, but, if the tithes could be paid by another means, the flock is subject to tithing.
R’ Diskin concludes: Esav was a non-Jewish king, and he had to be given a gift. Had Yaakov had no other means of appeasing Esav, he could have given him animals from his flock before separating Ma’aser. However, says Rashi’s second explanation of the verse, Yaakov gave Esav animals only after he had tithed the flock. Why? Because, says Rashi’s first explanation, Yaakov also had jewels and gems that he could give Esav. (Maharil Diskin Al Ha’Torah)
“Therefore Bnei Yisrael shall not eat Et Gid Ha’nasheh / the displaced sinew on the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip-socket on the displaced sinew.” (32:33)
R’ Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein z”l (1946-2017; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Kiryat Melech in Bnei Brak, Israel) writes: The Zohar teaches that each of the 365 Mitzvot Lo Ta’aseh / Negative Commandments in the Torah parallels one of the 365 days of the year, with the Mitzvah of Gid Ha’nasheh paralleling Tishah B’Av [until here from the Zohar]. Notably, observes R’ Borenstein, the Gematria of the words in our verse “Et Gid Ha’nasheh” / “the displaced sinew” equals the Gematria of “Tishah Av.”
R’ Borenstein continues: The word “Gid” also alludes to the other fast days that commemorate the oppression of the Jewish People:
- The letter “Gimel” of the word “Gid” alludes to Tzom Gedaliah, which falls on the third (Gimmel) of Tishrei.
- The letter “Yud” alludes to Asarah B’Tevet, which falls on the tenth (Yud) of Tevet.
- The letters “Yud” and “Gimel” together allude to Ta’anit Esther, which falls on the thirteenth (Yud-Gimmel) of Adar.
- The entire word “Gid” (Gimel-Yud-Dalet) alludes to Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, which falls on the 17th (Gimmel+Yud+Dalet) of Tammuz.
What is the significance of these allusions? R’ Borenstein explains: When the angel of Esav struck Yaakov’s thigh, it was not merely a physical attack on Yaakov. Like all the significant events in the lives of the Patriarchs, it portended later events in Jewish history. The “little victory” that the angel won by causing Yaakov’s lameness portends all the pogroms that would later befall the Jewish People.
By the same token, we read (verse 32), “The sun rose for him [Yaakov] as he passed Penu’el and he was limping on his hip.” This alludes to the “rising sun” of Mashiach, after whose arrival all of the former fast days will be celebrated as festivals. (V’zot L’Yaakov)
R’ David ben Zimra z”l (Radvaz; 14th-15th centuries; Chief Rabbi of Egypt) writes: According to the Peshat, this Mitzvah hints to us, Yaakov’s descendants, that we will suffer at the hands of the nations, especially the descendants of Esav, but we will never be wiped out. The guardian angel of Esav wanted to eradicate Yaakov and his children. He was unable to do so, so he tried to maim Yaakov. Then (verse 32), “The sun rose for him as he passed Penu’el, and he was limping on his hip.”
Similarly, though the nations of the world may harm us, in the end we will see the fulfillment of the verse (Malachi 3:20), “For you who revere My Name, a sun of righteousness will shine forth, with healing on its wings.” (Metzudat David)
R’ Yisrael of Shklov z”l (1770-1839) was a student of R’ Eliyahu z”l (1720-1797; the Vilna Gaon) and one of the leaders of the Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael by students of the Gaon and their families. The following is an addendum to R’ Yisrael’s introduction to Pe’at Ha’shulchan, his work on the Halachot specific to Eretz Yisrael, and, with it, we conclude our excerpts from that work.
This printing of this book was delayed from [the year] 593 until 596 [1833-1836 C.E.] . . . Though our holy Sages say in the first chapter of [Tractate] Shabbat that, even if we tried, we could not write down all the miracles and wonders that Hashem performs for us at all times and all hours . . . [nevertheless,] it is a Mitzvah to record [what one can]. Therefore, I have written something to include in this printing so future generations will know what occurred in our day, when His Chessed / kindness overpowered us.
In the year, “Tzidkat Hashem Asah . . .” / “carrying out Hashem’s justice” [the Gematria of “Tzidkat” is 594, corresponding to 1834 C.E.], in the third month, Sivan, on the afternoon of the eighth day, we, the Jewish residents of the holy Galilee, experienced the verse [Tehilim 30:8], “Should You but conceal Your face, I would be frightened.” He [Hashem] concealed that part of His Hashgachah / providence which causes people to fear their rulers, which, in turn, protects human life [see Avot 3:2], and we became frightened. Savage gentiles, the bad neighbors in our city [Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael] and the surrounding villages . . . cast off their fear of the [Ottoman] ruler and attacked the city with swords and spears, intending to destroy, slay, and exterminate young and old, children and women, in a single day, and to plunder their possessions (paraphrasing Esther 3:13). [This event is known to history as the Syrian Peasant Revolt.] Give thanks to Hashem, for His kindness endures forever! Even when He hid His face, He shone light and placed a “thread of kindness” over us . . . We fled for our lives over the mountains, many of us to the village of Ein Zeitim, near the graves of the Sage of the Mishnah Rabbi Yehuda ben Ilai [the “Rabbi Yehuda” mentioned frequently in the Mishnah] and his father, and the grave of [the Talmudic Sage] Rabbi Krospedai; there we sat, we also wept and cried out to the G-d of the Land that He save us in their [these Sages’] merit. . . The looting [of Tzefat] continued for 33 days . . . and we were left with nothing. Blessed is the G-d of thanksgivings who saved our lives, and we must thank and praise His great and holy Name for the miracles and wonders that He did for us in those days and in this time!