These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1183 – Nichum Aveilim On Shabbos and Yom Tov Good Shabbos!
Rashi’s Double Interpretation: A Mixed Message or Two Sides of the Same Coin?
At the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach, the pasuk records Yaakov’s charge to his messengers: “Thus shall you say, to my lord, to Eisav, ‘So said your servant Yaakov: I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now…'” [Bereshis 32:5]. Yaakov is preparing for his fateful meeting with his brother, and he knows that Eisav harbors ill will towards him, so he sends Malachim to prepare Eisav for their upcoming encounter.
Rashi brings two interpretations of the phrase “Im Lavan Garti” (I have resided with Lavan). The first interpretation focuses on the relationship between the word garti and the word ger (stranger). Yaakov sends the message to his brother: “I have not become an officer or an important personage; I have remained a stranger. You have no reason to hate me for the fact that our father blessed me that I should be a lord over my brother, for this blessing never materialized.” This is a message of submission. Eisav, you have nothing to be jealous about. I, your brother, have remained a nothing in life.
Then Rashi brings a second interpretation: Garti equals in Gematria (adding the numerical value of each letter), the value of Taryag (613), hinting at the fact that “I lived (Garti) with Lavan and I kept the 613 (Taryag) mitzvos, and did not learn from his wicked behavior.” According to this interpretation, Yaakov is not being submissive. On the contrary, he maintains, “I remained a Tzadik for twenty years without succumbing to Lavan’s bad influence in the slightest way.”
The Kli Yakar asks that these are two contradictory messages: One claims “I am nothing, I am like a ger.” The other claims “I am a Tzadik. I kept all 613 commandments! So, you better watch out.” It is rare that Rashi brings two interpretations that are diametrically opposed—that send out contradictory messages. Which is it?
The Kli Yakar has his own answer to this question, but I saw an interesting twist, a totally different take on things, from Rav Leib Gurvicz, the Rosh Yeshiva in Gateshead. His interpretation is that these are not mixed messages. In fact, they are the same message. “You should know that I have nothing, and I am nothing.” When Yaakov says “I kept the 613 commandments and did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways” what he is telling Eisav is that “I kept the mitzvos, but they were very, very lacking because I did not learn from his evil ways.” In other words, while living with Lavan, I saw what passion is and what devotion and mesiras nefesh mean. The way Lavan went about his activities, there was no stopping him. He brought to his evil intentions such a dedication and enthusiasm, that my performance of mitzvos paled in comparison to Lavan’s passion and hislahavus!
Let us give an example. We are currently holding around Thanksgiving time. After Thanksgiving is “Black Friday.” We may read the stories about the Door-Buster sales. We may read about how people camped out in Walmart’s parking lot. The doors open at 6:00 am and people will leave their Thanksgiving Dinners and the Thanksgiving football games so that they can go camp out in the Walmart parking lot to be among the first ones inside the store when the doors open, to grab up the limited quantity big-ticket items that go on sale on “Black Friday.” Why do they do this? To get an 83-inch-wide screen plasma TV for $150!
There is nothing that would cause me to camp out in a parking lot of Walmart, ever! I would not do it for a shiur! Their hislahavus (enthusiasm) for the wide-screen TV is more than my hislahavus for my mitzvos. This is an indictment. That is what Yaakov is telling Eisav: True, I kept the 613 mitzvos but I did not learn from Lavan’s passion and enthusiasm in his approach to his evil ways, to apply that enthusiasm to my mitzvos. Thus, Rashi’s two comments are not diametrically opposed messages. They are in fact the same message.
Expressions of Gratitude are the Mark of a Great People
After Yaakov Avinu meets Eisav, the pasuk says: “Then Yaakov journeyed to Succoth and built himself a house, and for his livestock he made shelters; therefore, he called the name of the place Succoth. Yaakov came intact to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, upon his coming from Paddan-aram, and he encamped before the city (VaYichan es pnei ha’Ir).” [Bereshis 33:17-18] What does this expression “VaYichan es pnei ha’Ir” mean?
The Pesikta Zutrasi says on this phrase: What does this teach us? We learn from here that a person must show gratitude and appreciation to a place from which he derives benefit. So, what did Yaakov do? He sent presents to the people who ran the city—the City Council, the Governor, the Mayor—to show his appreciation. The Pesikta Zutrasi then gives a second interpretation: He created a marketplace and sold merchandise cheaply. (He created the first Walmart! He created a large shopping center and brought down the price of commodities for the townspeople.) Why did he do this? To express gratitude to the city!
The Yerushalmi interprets VaYichan es pnei ha’Ir similarly: Rav Yochanon says, “He established public bathhouses for them.” Rav says, “He established a monetary system of coinage (matbeyah) for them.” Shmuel says, “He created markets for them.” Why did he do this? To demonstrate appreciation to the city!
This is a novel concept: Gratitude and appreciation must be shown not only to individuals who have benefited us, but even to a location, a place, that has benefited us!
There was a Jew named Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman. He was a Dayan on the Beis Din of Rav Chaim Ozer in Vilna when he was only in his twenties! He came to the United States of America and started a Yeshiva in Brooklyn called Netzach Yisrael. He later moved the Yeshiva to Eretz Yisrael and ran the Yeshiva there. He was a great individual. He wrote sefarim. He was a gaon olam in the full sense of the word. It was his practice that he would water the trees and the bushes that were planted in front of his Yeshiva. When Bochrim would ask him, “Why is the Rosh Yeshiva watering the plants?” he would tell them the following story (which itself is incredible):
Rav Chaim Ozer passed away in 1940. When Rav Gustman served on his Beis Din in the 1930s, the two would take walks together in the forests of Vilna. Rav Chaim Ozer would tell Rav Gustman “Look at the berries of this plant. You see this plant – it is poisonous. You see this plant? These berries are edible.” Rav Gustman could not figure out why Rav Chaim Ozer was giving him a lesson in botany!
He later found out why. When Rav Gustman was running away from the Nazis, he had to hide in the forest. It was those trees that kept him alive, and it was Rav Chaim Ozer’s instructions of which berries were edible and which were poisonous that saved his life.” He hid among those bushes. Therefore, for the rest of his life he felt hakaras haTov to bushes.
Mind you, the bushes of the forests of Vilna were not the same bushes that were growing outside his Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. But such was his sense of hakaras haTov that a person needed to express appreciation to any place or thing that provided benefit to him. The mark of a decent human being is his level of hakaras haTov. The greater the person, the greater is his demonstration of appreciation.
I will conclude with one last story about hakaras haTov that I recently heard from Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen. He told me over the following story, which itself also contains important lessons:
When Rav Elazar Shach [1899-2001] was still in Europe, he felt that he was not learning so well. (It is hard for us to imagine what that means!) He felt that he needed talmidim and to start saying a shiur, which would force him to develop himself as a serious Torah teacher. He went to Rav Issar Zalman Meltzer and asked him if he could prevail upon his son-in-law to let him say a shiur in his Yeshiva. Rav Issar Zalman’s son-in-law was Rav Aharon Kotler, who was the Rosh Yeshiva in Kletsk (Minsk region of Belarus). Rav Aharon rejected the request. He felt that he had a certain style of learning which differed from that of Rav Schach. He did not want to confuse the bochrim in his Yeshiva by exposing them to different styles of learning, and consequently did not allow Rav Schach to say a shiur in the Yeshiva in Kletsk. This is background information. Now listen to the next part of the story.
Many years later, Rav Schach was sitting in Bnei Brak and a Jew came into him and introduced himself as Rav Yaakov Chiger. Rav Schach immediately asked him if he was related to Rav Moshe Chiger. The Jew confirmed that he was the son of Rav Moshe Chiger. Rav Schach excitedly said, “I must see your father. For forty years I have been wondering – what happened to Moshe Chiger?” Rav Yaakov Chiger told Rav Schach that his father was in Yerushalayim and Rav Schach said “Take me to Yerushalayim!” Rav Yaakov hesitated: “This is not right. Rav Schach is the Rosh Yeshiva. He lives in Bnei Brak. I will bring my father to see you in Bnei Brak.”
He brought his father to Rav Schach, and Rav Schach said to the elder Rav Chiger: “A great thank you to you” (A grayser yasher koach). Why? Because after that first refusal, when Rav Aharon told him he could not say a shiur in Kletsk, Rav Shach resumed learning by himself, but he still felt he was not making the proper progress in his learning. He went back to Rav Isser Zalman. He begged him: “Please, prevail upon Rav Aharon to let me say a shiur in Kletsk!” After his father-in-law twisted his arm, Rav Aharon said, “Okay. You can take a small Chaburah—a handful of boys—and say a shiur to them. But, be aware that they will not listen to you. They won’t let you say a shiur. The only way you will be able to say a shiur to them is if you can get one of the older students (an eltere bochur) in the group to pay attention to you and let you say a shiur to them.”
Who was that “eltere bochur” in Kletsk who convinced the younger students to sit in on and pay attention to the shiurim of the young Elazar Schach? It was Rav Moshe Chiger! Rav Schach said that for forty years he had been looking for Moshe Chiger to thank him. “Because of what Moshe Chiger did for me forty years ago, today I am the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponnevitz. Without him, I would not be who I am today!”
For forty years, Rav Schach kept this thought in his pocket: I need to express my gratitude to this man! If not for him, what would have become of me?
This is what I have been saying this evening: The mark of any decent human being is that he should be an appreciative person. The mark of a great person is the extent of how far this hakaras haTov will go. With Yaakov Avinu, it goes to the city. With Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman, it goes to the bushes in Yerushalayim. And with Rav Schach, it is waiting forty years to say “Thank you!”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayishlach is provided below:
- # 033 – Nitel Nacht
- # 075 – Tombstones
- # 124 – The Seven Noachide Laws
- # 171 – The Prohibition Against Flattery
- # 217 – Terrorism: How May an Individual Respond?
- # 261 – Elective Surgery and Milah on Thursdays
- # 307 – The Difficult Childbirth
- # 351 – Tefilas Haderech
- # 395 – Free Will vs. Hashgocha Pratis
- # 439 – Executing a Ben Noach based On His Admission
- # 483 – Celebrating Thanksgiving
- # 527 – Matzeivah Questions
- # 571 – Bowing to a person
- # 615 – The Prohibition of Gid Hanasheh
- # 659 – The Father of the Bride: His Responsibilities
- # 703 – The Bracha on a Mitzva: When?
- # 747 – Is Self Defense a Defense?
- # 791 – Flattery Revisited
- # 835 – ‘You Look Great’ – Permitted Flattery?
- # 879 – Relying on Nissim
- # 923 – The Name of Binyamin
- # 966 – Matzeva and Other Cemetery Issues
- #1010 – Davening at Kever Rachel: Is it Permissible?
- #1054 – Ein Somchin al ha’Nes — Relying on Miracles
- #1097 – Tefilas Haderech: How Long Of A Trip?
- #1140 – Twins: Must The Younger One Be Me’chabaid The Older One?
- #1183 – Nichum Aveilim On Shabbos and Yom Tov
- #1227 – The Aufruf in Halacha and Minhag
- #1271 – The Postponed Bris: Never On A Thursday?
- #1315 – Did The Gadol Make A Mistake?
- #1359 – Does A Tzadik Need A Matzeivah On His Grave?
- #1403 – Can You Disguise Yourself To Hide Your Jewishness?
- (2019) – Saying Tehilim for a Choleh – What Should You Be Thinking?
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