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Posted on November 30, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1271 – The Postponed Bris: Never On A Thursday? Good Shabbos!

Yaakov instructs the messengers that he sends to his brother Eisav to deliver the following message: “Thus says your servant Yaakov: Im Lavan gartee (I have dwelt with Lavan) and I have tarried there until now.” (Bereshis 32:5). Rashi cites two interpretations for the expression “Im Lavan gartee“. Rashi’s second interpretation is that the word gartee (Gimmel Reish Taf Yud) is numerically equivalent to the number taryag (Taf Reish Yud Gimmel), six hundred and thirteen. According to this interpretation, the message Yaakov sent to his brother was, “although I lived with Lavan, I kept the 613 mitzvos of the Torah throughout that time and was not influenced by his evil ways.” In effect, Yaakov told Eisav, “Don’t start up with me!”

Many meforshim ask: Given who Eisav was, why would he care in the least that Yaakov kept the 613 mitzvos and did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways? It is as if we were speaking to a heretic and we said to him “You should know, throughout my time with my evil uncle, I kept the laws of Cholov Yisrael and I kept the laws of Pas Yisrael.” What effect will it have on Eisav that Yaakov kept the 613 mitzvos in Lavan’s house?

The sefer Ateres Dudaim, written by Rav Dovid Zucker, the head of the Chicago Kollel, seeks an answer to this question based on a comment of the Kli Yakar. The pasuk says, “…and Eisav said in his heart, ‘the time of mourning for my father will soon be here, and I will then kill my brother Yaakov.'” (Bereshis 27:41) The Kli Yakar writes that Eisav was waiting for the moment when Yaakov would not be occupying himself with Torah, and that would be the propitious moment to kill him. Since a mourner is forbidden to learn Torah, Eisav planned to wait until Yitzchak died and Yaakov became an avel. At that time, Yaakov’s merit of occupying himself with Torah would not protect him.

The sefer Ateres Dudaim says that this helps explain what Yaakov Avinu is trying to tell Eisav here as well. Yaakov is telling his brother “You know that when I was in my father’s house I was a ‘tent dweller’ who learned day and night. When I left my home and went to the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, I also learned day and night.” Now Yaakov has returned from his sojourn with Lavan. What has he been doing for the last 22 years? He has been raising cattle. He has been working for a living. Eisav thinks to himself, “Maybe my brother learned by Shem and Ever and maybe he learned in my father’s house, but for the last 22 years, he has been in business. He is in the cattle business and has done very well for himself in the cattle business. Now is my chance.”

According to the Ateres Dudaim “Taryag mitzvos shamarti” does not mean I kept the 613 mitzvos. The truth of the matter is that Yaakov did not keep the 613 mitzvos. He married two sisters. There are other things he could not fulfill living outside of Eretz Yisrael. The word shamarti is similar to the expression “V’Aviv shamar es haDavar” (Bereshis 37:11) (and his father anticipated the fulfillment of the matter, he longed to see the time when Yosef’s dreams would be fulfilled). Yaakov acknowledged that while in the house of Lavan he spent time out in the fields, tending to sheep day and night. But that entire time, I anticipated, I longed for the time that I could get back to the Beis Medrash.

When a person is in the workplace but he anxiously awaits getting back to the Beis Medrash, that gives him the merit of Torah as well. Rabbi Zucker, in this connection, cites the introduction that Rav Avram Danzig wrote to his sefer Chochmas Adam. Rav Avram Danzig was a mechutan to the Gaon of Vilna. He was a businessman until he went bankrupt. At that point he acquiesced to the demands that he become a dayan (judge) in Vilna. Much of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch by Rav Shlomo Ganzfried is based on Rav Danzig’s earlier works the Chayei Adam and the Chochmas Adam.

The author of the Chochmas Adam, thus, was a businessman. He was born in the city of Danzig, Poland, but he did his business in the city of Leipzig. He writes as follows in his introduction to the Chochmas Adam:

I know that people are going to whisper about me and ask “Is Shaul also one of the prophets?” (Shmuel I 10:11) We know this fellow is a businessman for the past 15 years who sold his wares in Leipzig and in Frankfurt. When did he possibly learn Torah (that he now feels qualified to write Halachic compendiums on the laws of Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah)? After all, the Torah testifies about itself “It is not found on the other side of the river” (Devorim 30:13). The Torah says about itself that it is not to be found by merchants and by businessmen. You should know my brothers, that my travelling great distances (from home) was not, Heaven forbid, to accumulate wealth. The Master of All will testify for me. I was only trying to support my family.

This is the fact with every Jewish man: If a person abandons Torah, distances himself from it, and gives up the practice of intensive Torah learning, then Torah will also distance itself from him and he will no longer possess the ability to be innovative in Torah. But if a person’s intent is not to leave Torah but due to circumstances beyond his control, he cannot cling to it with the same intensity that he once could, then Heaven forbid that the Torah should leave him! One who in the midst of his business dealings longs for the opportunity to return to his Torah learning and be married once again to it, that power of Torah creativity will remain in his soul.

This is what I say about myself. Even though it is true that I traveled to faraway places while engaging in my business dealings, my Torah wisdom has remained with me. Whenever I traveled on my routes, my thoughts were with Torah. When I was in the store my thoughts were with Torah. Let me be given credit for the fact that even while engaged in buying and selling, many times my thoughts were in fact involved with Torah. My fellow businessmen will testify about me that even while travelling to Leipzig, I never failed to take with me a Gemara, Mikra, and Mishna. Even during the times of the Great (trade) Fairs, I learned a daf and a half of Gemara daily, besides Mishnayos.

Therefore, that is how I can write these Halachic compendiums – because “Taryag mitzvos shamarti,” because I longed to go back to the Beis Medrash.

Whenever I travel and I see people taking out their ArtScroll Gemaras or putting on their headsets and listening to shiurim on a plane or a train, I recall what Rav Avraham Danzig writes in his introduction to the Chochmas Adam. A person may need to be in the business world, but as long as he longs for Torah and uses every moment of down time or free time to connect with Torah, then Torah will not leave him.

This is what Yaakov was telling Eisav. “Eisav, you think that now you can ‘get me’ because I have been wasting my time for the last twenty plus years? You are wrong. The whole time ‘shamarti’ – I was longing and looking forward to come back to the Beis Medrash and therefore, the merit of Torah stood with me and still stands with me, and you should not think that you can now start up with your brother!”

The Goan Explains that Cheshek is Spiritual and Chafetz is Physical

I wish to share an observation from the Vilan Gaon on the varying nuances of two almost-equivalent words in the story of Dinah with Shechem.

Chamor, the father of Shechem tells Yaakov and his sons: “Shechem my son loves your daughter (chashka nafsho b’vitchem); please give her to him as a wife.” (Bereshis 34:8) Eleven pesukim later (Bereshis 34:19), the Torah writes “the lad did not tarry in carrying out the matter (of the circumcision), for he desired the daughter of Yaakov (ki chafetz b’vas Yaakov).

Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the talmud muvhak (prime disciple) of the Gaon of Vilna, asked his Rebbi why the Torah switches verbs between these two pesukim. In pasuk 8, it says “chashka nafsho” and in pasuk 19, it says “chafetz b’vas Yaakov“.

The Gaon answered that the verb cheshek (ches-shin-kuf) is used in connection with a spiritual matter (davar ruchani) while the verb chafetz (ches-fay-tzadee) is used in connection with a physical matter (davar gashmi).

When Chamor tried to sell Yaakov on the idea of Shechem marrying Dina, he tells him “My son – chashka nafsho – he is not lustful, wanting her for improper reasons. He wants her for the most pristine of reasons.” Chashka implies that he was interested in her yichus of being Yaakov’s daughter, a “good Bais Yaakov girl,” a “tzanua” (someone who is modest and refined), etc.

But then when the pasuk talks about Shechem himself, it says “he did not tarry in the matter, for he desired Yaakov’s daughter (Chafetz b’vas Yaakov). He was not interested in the Bais Yaakov part. He was not interested in the tzinyus part or the tzadekes part. He was interested in the chefetz part – chefetz being an ‘object’.

We don’t know whether Chamor was deluding himself or he was just trying to do a sales job to Yaakov and his sons. But the truth came out in pasuk 19, which says “the lad did not tarry in carrying out the matter, for he desired Yaakov’s daughter (chafetz)” That is what Shechem was really interested in. His father may have thought “I will tell Yaakov my son is a good Yeshiva bochur who wants a nice Bais Yaakov girl….” But the truth is chafetz b’vas Yaakov — that is what Chamor really wanted.

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?
  • #1450 – Saying Tehilim for a Choleh – What Should You Be Thinking?
  • #1491 – Learning T’Nach at Night?
  • #1535 – Matzeivah Shailos – One Matzeivah for Two People? English Dates on the Matzeivah?
  • (2022) – The Torah Cares About Your Money

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