Volume 37, No. 8
16 Kislev 5783
December 10, 2022
At the beginning of this week’s Parashah, Yaakov sends a message to his brother Esav: “Im Lavan garti / I have sojourned with Lavan.” Based on the fact that “Garti” (Gimmel-Reish-Tav-Yud) has the same Hebrew letters and Gematria (613) as “Taryag,” Rashi z”l explains Yaakov’s message: “I kept the Taryag / 613 commandments and did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways.”
Why would Esav care if Yaakov kept the Mitzvot while living with Lavan?
R’ Nachum Mordechai Friedman z”l (1874-1946; Tchortkover Rebbe in Vienna, Austria and Eretz Yisrael) explains: Esav maintained that this world belongs him and only the World-to-Come belongs to Yaakov. By what right then, does Yaakov enjoy this world also? The Mishnah (Pe’ah 1:1–recited every morning following the blessings over Torah learning) teaches: There are Mitzvot whose “fruits” we “eat” in this world, though the primary reward is reserved for the World-to-Come. Yaakov was saying, explains the Tchortkover Rebbe, “I performed those Mitzvot, too, so I am permitted to enjoy this world.”
Alternatively, the Tchortkover Rebbe explains, there are multiple ways to defeat the Yetzer Ha’ra. One way is to deprive oneself of the pleasures of this world. A higher level, however, is to sanctify the pleasures of this world. When one truly enjoys this world for the sake of Heaven, the Yetzer Ha’ra is fooled: it sees a person enjoying this world, so it is satisfied, but it does not realize that this pleasure is actually an expression of holiness. [Yaakov was saying: “True, I keep enjoying this world, but I kept all 613 Mitzvot. My enjoyment of this world is actually an act of sanctity, which does not infringe on your rights.”] (Doresh Tov)
“Yaakov became very frightened . . .” (32:8)
Midrash Rabbah teaches: There were two people whom Hashem promised to protect, but they still expressed fear. One of those people was the choicest among the Patriarchs–Yaakov Avinu; the other was the choicest among the Prophets–Moshe Rabbeinu.
Regarding Yaakov we read (Tehilim 135:4), “For G-d selected Yaakov.” And, Hashem made a promise to him, as we read (Bereishit 28:15), “Behold, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go.” Nevertheless, Yaakov was afraid, as we read in our verse.
Likewise, we read about Moshe (Tehilim 106:23), “Moshe, His chosen one.” And, Hashem made a promise to him, as we read (Shmot 3:2), “I will be with you.” Nevertheless, we read (Bemidbar 21:34), “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Do not fear him’.” Since Hashem said, “Do not be afraid,” we know that Moshe was afraid! [Until here from the Midrash]
R’ Avraham Eliyahu Meizes z”l (1901-1961; Rosh Yeshiva in the Soviet Union, France, and Israel) writes: In truth, Yaakov and Moshe had nothing to fear. But, we see here a difference between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous do not sin, but they worry that they may have sinned. The wicked do sin, but they do not worry about it.
There are several other things we can learn from here about the behavior of the righteous, R’ Meizes continues. First, even when a Tzaddik sees that his enemy’s downfall has begun and salvation seems to be approaching, he does not take for granted that he has merited salvation. For example, even after Haman was humiliated leading Mordechai around Shushan on a royal horse, Mordechai returned to his fasting and prayer (see Esther 6:12 and Megillah 16a). The righteous understand that any enemy is merely an agent of Hashem’s Justice. Hashem has an unlimited supply of agents; thus, even if Haman was not destined to be Hashem’s agent to punish the Jewish People, someone else might be, unless the Jewish People fasted and prayed. Likewise, even after Yaakov defeated Esav’s guardian angel in battle, he did not take for granted that he was safe, and he continued to fear the consequences of any sins he may have committed.
Also, R’ Meizes writes, Yaakov and Moshe may have been afraid because they did not want “favors” from Hashem. Our Sages teach that Hashem would ideally have created the world with the Attribute of Strict Justice, but He knew that such a world could not survive, so he added a measure of Mercy. Tzaddikim, however, prefer to live in the ideal world of Strict Justice. This is what Yaakov meant when he said (Bereishit 28:21), “Hashem will be Elokim to me”–i.e., Hashem–the Divine Name that represents the Attribute of Mercy–should act toward me as Elokim–the Divine Name that represents the Attribute of Strict Justice. (Ben Avraham Al Ha’Torah)
“I have been diminished by all the kindnesses . . .” (32:11)
Our Sages teach that Yosef was taken away from his father Yaakov for 22 years (beginning in next week’s Parashah) to punish Yaakov for the 22 years that he was away and did not honor his own parents. R’ Meir Hakohen Popperos z”l (1624-1662; Poland and Eretz Yisrael; arranger of the writings of the Arizal’s students and a prolific author in his own right) writes:
True, Yaakov was honoring his parents when he listened to them and went away. However, our Sages say that Esav excelled at honoring his parents, and he was actively honoring his parents for all the years that Yaakov was away. Thus, said Yaakov, “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses [that Esav performed in my absence].”
Alternatively, Yaakov meant the following: My parents sent me away to find a wife, which took me seven years. I stayed away another seven years to marry a second wife, and another six years after that to amass large herds of sheep and goats. As such, I cannot really argue that my absence–even the first seven years–was to honor my parents. Rather, “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses [that Hashem has performed for me–giving me a second wife and many animals.].” (Tal Orot)
“Your name shall not always be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name.” (35:10)
The Gemara (Berachot 13a) states that one who refers to Avraham by his former name, “Avram,” transgresses a commandment. Not so if one calls Yaakov by his original name, “Yaakov,” because Hashem, too, continued to use that name. [Until here from the Gemara]
Why? asks R’ Moshe Yair Weinstock z”l (1899-1982; Yerushalayim; author of 84 Torah works, primarily on Kabbalah and Jewish history). He explains:
Our Sages teach that a person has 248 Aivarim / limbs and organs. Originally, they say, Avram was master over only 243–the Gematria of “Avram” (Aleph-Vet-Reish-Mem)–of his Aivarim. Later, he became master over all 248 of his Aivarim, and his name was changed to “Avraham.” (The additional letter “Heh” has a Gematria of five, making a total of 248.) In effect, Avraham subdued his Yetzer Ha’ra completely, to the point that there was no chance that he would cease to be “Avraham”–master of all his Aivarim.
Not so Yaakov. Yaakov fought a battle to overcome the guardian angel of Esav, an angel who is synonymous with the Yetzer Ha’ra. Yaakov won, but only after a battle. Moreover, our Sages say that the angel appeared to Yaakov as a Torah scholar and also as a gentile, signifying that one of the Yetzer Ha’ra’s favorite tools is to blur the lines between a Mitzvah and an Aveirah (for example: “It’s a Mitzvah to speak Lashon Ha’ra about that person,” or “There’s no Mitzvah to help a person like him!”). The Yetzer Ha’ra is conniving, and the battle is never-ending. Sometimes, Yaakov defeats the angel of Esav and is called “Yisrael,” but the battle goes on, and there is no guarantee of victory. Hence, Yaakov remains “Yaakov,” as well. (Divrei Yair)
R’ Moshe ben Nachman z”l (Ramban; 1194-1270; Spain and Eretz Yisrael) writes: “The Torah commands us to remember Shabbat every day and not to confuse it with any other day, because, when we remember Shabbat at all times, we will always recall the act of Creation, and we will acknowledge at all times that the world has a Creator.” (Commentary to Shmot 20:8)
R’ Yissochor Weisberg z”l (Lakewood, N.J.; died 2022) elaborates: One would have thought that the purpose of recalling Shabbat every day is to honor Shabbat. However, Ramban tells us that it is not so. Rather, recalling Shabbat is an expression of Emunah / faith, helping us to remember that there was an act of Creation and there is a Creator.
If so, asks R’ Weisberg, why do we need Shabbat? Let us simply have a Mitzvah to remember that Hashem created the world in six days–just as we have a Mitzvah to remember the Exodus, not a Mitzvah to remember Pesach for the sake of reminding us of the Exodus.
R’ Weisberg answers: We read (Devarim 4:39), “You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem, He is the Elokim–in heaven above and on the earth below–there is none other.” This verse teaches that there are two types of Emunah: “You shall know” refers to faith based on intellect (“Emunah B’sechel”), knowing something as a dry fact. “You shall . . . take to your heart” refers to faith based on experience (“Emunah B’chush”), actually sensing the truth of the matter.
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204; Spain and Egypt) writes (in Hil. Yesodei Ha’Torah 8:1) that Bnei Yisrael did not have faith in Moshe because he performed wonders, including the Ten Plagues. After all, wonders can be the result of magic. Rather, they had faith in Moshe because they experienced Hashem speaking to him at Har Sinai. R’ Weisberg explains: Having faith in Moshe because of the Plagues would have been an intellectual belief, since it is based on the probability that Moshe caused the Plagues miraculously, rather than by magic. In contrast, faith that is based on hearing Hashem speak to Moshe is experiential Emunah–a higher level of faith.
Similarly, R’ Weisberg concludes, believing in Creation only because we have a tradition about it from our ancestors would be merely Emunah B’sechel, an intellectual exercise. But, when we observe Shabbat, “resting” because Hashem did so after He created the world, we are, in a small way, experiencing for ourselves the days of Creation. (Yoma D’nishmeta, ch.1)