Yaakov tells the messengers to say to Eisav, “With Lavan I dwelt (garti), and I stayed there until now.” (Bereshis 32:5). Rashi famously comments that the Hebrew word garti (I dwelt) equals 613 in gematria, as if to tell Eisav, “even though I lived with the wicked Lavan, I kept the 613 commandments there and did not learn from his evil ways.” Yaakov telegraphs a message to his brother, “You should know, I was living with uncle Lavan. He is a wicked person. I had to put up with all of his shenanigans all this time. I was away from any support system. Who knows what could happen to a person spiritually under those circumstances? But you should understand that I lived with him all this time and it did not affect me. I remained an Erliche Yid (honest Jew), despite the fact that no one was watching. I learned nothing from him!”
The question that must be asked is the following: When you want to impress someone, you must speak that person’s language. If you want to impress someone who is wealthy you need to indicate to him how wealthy you are. When you are speaking to a sports hero, don’t tell him that you know the Talmud by heart. “You play football at MetLife Stadium. I finished Shas at MetLife Stadium.” That will have no credibility to someone who is a linebacker for the New York Giants or Jets!
Eisav is the prototypical Rasha. He violated the three cardinal sins in a single day. If Yaakov wants to impress his brother, why is he telling him “I kept the 613 mitzvos?” Eisav will be totally unimpressed by such a statement. Let Yaakov tell him that he is rich or that he cheated somebody. Spiritual accomplishments have no value to Eisav.
I saw an interesting approach to dealing with this question in the sefer Darash Mordechai from Rav Mordechai Druk.
Yaakov had an agenda over here. His agenda was first and foremost to try to mollify Eisav so that he should not hate him. Yaakov tries many tactics. He calls Eisav “my master”. He says about himself “your servant”. He is trying to convey that in his own eyes, Eisav is still the bechor. But he is also trying to make another point. Eisav was thinking to himself “Yaakov deserves the bechora less than I do. He is also a Rasha.”
Ay, Yaakov sat the whole day in the Beis Medrash? Eisav is thinking: “We both know that that was fake. I am also a faker. I ask my father queries like ‘How does someone tithe salt? How does someone tithe straw?’ I can also put on an act and I did put on an act. I know that all of Yaakov’s ‘frum shtick‘—sitting in the Beis Medrash the whole day—is all an act. There is really no difference between him and me.” Eisav’s attitude is: “You are a Rasha and I am a Rasha. I am a faker and you are a faker. I can put on a good show and you can put on a good show.”
Yaakov Avinu is saying to Eisav, “No. For you it may be a façade, but for me it is not a façade.”
Rav Druk gives an example. He says that he used to say a shiur in a certain Yeshiva for twenty or thirty years. One day, he was running late and was about to walk into the Yeshiva. Across the street was a shul. The Shamash of the shul came out looking for a tenth man for their Mincha minyan. He approached Rav Mordechai Druk and asked him to come inside and make the minyan. Rav Druk apologized, “I am sorry. I say a regular shiur here. I am late for the shiur as it is, I can’t come in. People are waiting for me.” The Shamash said to him, “Ach! Have you ever done anything in your life for free? You are going to say the shiur because you get paid for it. Come to daven Mincha and nobody is going to pay you. That is why you are passing up Mincha and going to say your shiur.”
Rav Mordechai Druk responded to the Shamash: “I never took a dime for saying this shiur.” What was the Shamash thinking? He was thinking in his mind that the only reason anyone does anything in this world is for a buck. Therefore, he thinks to himself “What I do, I always do for a buck, therefore what you do, you also likely only do for a buck.” The first thing that comes to the mind of the Shamash is “You must be doing this for money, therefore do something once in your life not for money.”
The world has a well-known expression that sums up this idea: What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than it does about Paul.” Here too—what the Shamash (Peter) says about Rav Mordechai Druk (Paul) says more about the Shamash than it says about Rav Mordechai Druk.
This is exactly what happened here with Eisav. Yaakov says to Eisav, “I lived with the wicked Lavan for twenty years and kept the 613 mitzvos without learning from his evil ways. You think a person cannot really be a Shomer Mitzvos (someone who observes mitzvos). You think it is all a fake. That is because in your mind, sincerity in being a Servant of Hashem does not exist. So, in your mind, I am not better than you.” You are thinking “Why should Yaakov get the bechora? He is a faker and I am a faker. He is no better than me.”
Yaakov tells his brother: “Eisav, you may be a faker and may just be putting on an act, but not me. I was with Lavan for twenty years. There was not another Jew within hundreds of miles. I could have acted like a heathen. Lavan would not have cared if I did not study Torah. None of the neighbors would have cared if I did not daven Maariv. Nevertheless, I kept the 613 commandments because I am in truth an Erliche Yid.”
“That is why I rightfully deserve the bechora and not you, and therefore don’t hate me!”
As Much as We May Be Oppressed, We Will Never Be Eradicated
This week’s parsha contains the prohibition of eating the gid ha’nashe (the sciatic nerve) of an animal as a result of the Angel of Eisav attacking Yaakov Avinu and wounding him in his thigh. We commemorate this by refraining from eating this sinew on the animal’s thigh. This law has major impact on halachic meat consumption. Because of this halacha, at least in America, we only eat the fore portion of an animal because the process of removing the gid ha’nashe from the hind quarter of an animal is too labor-intensive. The “good part of an animal”—the porterhouse steaks and the sirloin steaks—are from the hind quarter of the animal, which we have never eaten as observant Jews.
The Sefer HaChinuch writes that the reason for this mitzvah is to provide a hint to Bnai Yisroel that even though they experience many troubles in their exile at the hands of the non-Jewish nations, they should confidently remember that they will not be eradicated. The Jewish people will be around forever, and eventually a redeemer will come and rescue them from their oppressors. The hint is that this Angel that wrestled with Yaakov Avinu, who represented the Guardian Angel of Eisav, wished to eradicate Yaakov and remove the Jewish people from the world. However, he was unsuccessful. At most, he was able to wound him by touching his sciatic nerve. This is the way it is going to be throughout history. At the end, there will be salvation just as there was with Yaakov, as it says “the sun shone for him.”
I would like to tell over a very interesting story I saw about Rav Matisyahu Solomon, which was written up by Rav Mordechai Finkel:
Rav Matisyahu learned in Gateshead (England) many years ago when it was still a very small Yeshiva. The Yeshiva was located in a small house, which was very crowded. It was so crowded, that there literally was not enough space for every student to put down his Gemara in front of him. Each student’s Gemara was lying on top of part of his neighbor’s Gemara. Since only one amud of Talmud was studied at a time, they were able to manage with “half a Gemara” spread out in front of each student. Today, Gateshead is the biggest Yeshiva in all of Europe.
Wallsend is a town in England about ten miles from Gateshead. The significance of the city and the source of its name are the fact that Hadrian conquered all of England when he was the emperor of Rome, but at that time Scotland was an independent country. In order to prevent the Scots from attacking, the Romans who had taken over England built a wall. This protective wall which Hadrian built to keep out the Scots ended in this city. That is why it was called Wallsend.
Today Wallsend is a tourist attraction because it is the last remnant of the wall that Hadrian built. Today, it is just a pile of moss-covered stones, but people go there to see the historically significant artifact of the Roman Empire.
A Jewish American journalist went to Wallsend to write a story. In the middle of the day, he realized that he had Yahrtzeit for his father that day. Although he was not observant, many non-observant Jews observe their parents’ Yahrtzeit (commemorating the anniversary of the death of a parent by reciting Kaddish with a minyan). He asked around, “Is there any place I can find a minyan in the middle of nowhere?” Gateshead is located in Northern England and it is quite isolated. He was told that a small Yeshiva existed about ten miles from Wallsend where he could find a minyan to say Kaddish.
He came into the Beis Medrash in Gateshead and saw—as is typical in a Yeshiva—that the Chavrusas were going at it with one another. One Chavrusa yelled to his study partner, “Rabbi Akiva holds just the opposite!” This American journalist recognized the name Rabbi Akiva. He knew that there was once such a person.
Suddenly, it struck him: How did Rabbi Akiva die? He was put to death by the Romans. Which Romans? Hadrian! Hadrian was the Roman Emperor who killed Rabbi Akiva. What is left of Hadrian? A pile of stones that is nothing today. They are covered with moss. And what about Rabbi Akiva, who Hadrian put to death? Two thousand years later, people are still saying over Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, and still spending quality time analyzing his every statement and opinion.
When the journalist went back to America and wrote his article, he wrote “the mighty Hadrian, who led massive armies to great victories, has nothing remaining of all his triumphs and conquests other than a pile of stones that was once a wall. Conversely, the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, which Hadrian sought to eradicate, are being studied and debated almost two thousand years after Rabbi Akiva’s death.
This is the message of the gid ha’nashe. They will try to defeat us. They will try to eradicate us. But Netzach Yisrael lo Y’Shaker. The Jewish people are forever. We may suffer. We may limp. But at the end of the day, we will survive and they won’t.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited 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?
- #1447 – Saying Tehilim for a Choleh – What Should You Be Thinking?
- #1491 – Learning T’nach at Night?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.