BS”D Parashat Vayishlach 5781
Rabbi Nachman Kahana
The Parsha and Current Events: Surviving Evil
The weekly Torah readings are approaching the end of the patriarchal and matriarchal period, the founding fathers and mothers of our nation who are very much with us, due to the pivotal role they played in the future direction of the Jewish nation and world history.
The Gemara states (Tractate Berachot 16,b):
אין קורין אבות אלא לשלשה, ואין קורין אמהות אלא לארבע.
Only three (Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov) are considered Avot (founding fathers) and only four (Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah) are considered Imahot (founding mothers).
And on the dream of Paro’s Chief Butler (Bereishiet 40:10):
ובגפן שלשה שריגם והיא כפרחת עלתה נצה הבשילו אשכלתיה ענבים
and in the vine were three branches: and it budded into blossoms and the clusters brought forth ripe grapes
The Gemara (Chulin 92,a) explains:
רבי אליעזר אומר ‘גפן’ – זה העולם, ‘שלשה שריגים’ – זה אברהם יצחק ויעקב, ‘והיא כפורחת עלתה נצה’ – אלו האמהות, ‘הבשילו אשכלותיה ענבים’ – אלו השבטים
The vine represents the world, the three branches – Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, its blossoms shot forth – Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, and the clusters brought forth ripe grapes – the twelve tribes.
What made the Avot and Imahot unique?
As explained in volume 1B of “With All Your Might” (parashat Kedoshim 5768) the strange number of 613 mitzvot (HaShem’s commandments to the Jewish nation) are the result of the life’s work of the Avot – Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. The kedusha (holiness) of these three men was so elevated that, through their actions, they penetrated into the highest domain of the spiritual world and, by doing so, revealed the mitzvot (actions) which unite our world and the Shamayim. Had the Avot been greater, we today would have 614 mitzvot or 1000. Had they been less holy, we would have today 612 or less.
Rava, the great Babylonian Amora confirms this (Sota 17:a):
דריש רבא: בשכר שאמר אברהם אבינו ואנכי עפר ואפר זכו בניו לב’ מצות: אפר פרה, ועפר סוטה. דרש רבא: בשכר שאמר אברהם אבינו בראשית יד אם מחוט ועד שרוך נעל, זכו בניו לב’ מצות: חוט של תכלת, ורצועה של תפלין
In the merit of Avraham’s humility where he refers to himself as ashes and dust, we have the mitzvot of ashes of the red heifer and the dust of the sota; and in the merit of rejecting the offer of a reward for saving the people of Sodom by saying, “I will not take from a string to a shoe thong,” we have the mitzvot of techelet in tzitzit and the leather straps on the tefillin.
The three Avot achieved the pinnacle of human kedusha that enabled them to contact the spiritual roots of mitzvot.
Now, if the Avot were essential in constituting the character of the Jewish nation in the elevated spirituality that connects us to the Creator, the contributions of the Imahot dominated the very real “hands on, day-to-day” involvement and survival of the Jewish nation in the jungle we call olam hazeh (this world).
Our mother Sarah perceived the unbridgeable, contrasting souls of the holy, God-fearing Yitzchak as opposed to the pereh adam (wild, untamable) Yishmael. Yishmael’s corrupt, depraved, heinous, immoral, impious and profane basic nature would bring untold human suffering through his pagan beliefs, and eventually through Islam, which are all the absolute antithesis of the basic nature of the future Jewish nation.
Our mother Sarah, with HaShem’s approval, “molded in concrete” the future conflict between Yitzchak and Yishmael by urging Avraham to send Hagar and Yishmael away. Sarah’s words, “The son of this maidservant will not be heir with my son Yitzchak” would be the guiding factors in who would be the sole heirs to Avraham’s spiritual bond with HaShem, as would be indicated by HaShem’s gift of Eretz Yisrael to the descendants of the three Avot.
The second of our great Matriarchs was Rivka, to whom I will return shortly.
The third and fourth of our matriarchs – Rachel and Leah, who, unknown to their husband Ya’akov were forced by their father Lavan to exchange places on the wedding night, had a prodigious influence in all of Jewish history. It laid the groundwork for the centuries long contention and rivalry between the House of David from Leah, and the House of Yosef born to Rachel.
The House of Yosef claimed that the monarchy was their legitimate heritage, since their mother Rachel was intended to be the wife of Ya’akov, first in number and in emotions. The House of David claimed that the monarchy was de facto given to Yehuda, son of Leah, and through him to David.
Ultimately, the rivalry brought about the secession of the ten northern tribes under Yeravam ben Navat, with the city of Shechem, the burial place of Yosef, as the breakaway capital, and the exile of the ten tribes under King Hoshea ben Elah by the Assyrians.
But this is not the end of the story of the ten lost tribes. They will eventually return to the Jewish nation in the most miraculous way, very soon.
Let’s return now to Rivka, wife of Yitzchak and mother of Ya’akov and Esav.
Our parasha states (Bereishiet 35:8)
ותמת דברה מינקת רבקה ותקבר מתחת לבית אל תחת האלון ויקרא שמו אלון בכות
And Devorah, Rivka’s nurse died, and she was buried below (in the vicinity of) Beth-el under the oak; and the name of it was Allon-bacuth.
Rashi comments that when Ya’akov left home to go to the house of Lavan, Rivka promised to send for him when Esav’s anger would wane. After 20 years, Rivka sends Devorah to inform Ya’akov that he could now return home. When Esav learned that Ya’akov was returning home, he went out to meet Ya’akov with a military force of 400 men, all intent to kill Ya’akov and close the book on the future Jewish nation. Under these circumstances, why did Rivka send for Ya’akov to return?
After 20 years of hateful planning by Esav, Rivka realized that Esav’s animosity towards Ya’akov would never dissipate. She sent her lifelong, loyal mentor and companion, Devorah, to inform Ya’akov that his brother’s hatred would be carried on from father to son, from nation to nation until the end of history. So, the time had come for Ya’akov to return to Eretz Yisrael and stand up to Esav in defense of God’s values of good against evil, without fear or trepidation; and HaShem would be at Ya’akov’s side.
In our parasha, the two brothers meet. The Torah relates that Esav ran towards Ya’akov with the intent to kill him, but instead of the “kiss of death” Esav kisses his brother in a dramatic turn of events!
As Esav was advancing towards the Jewish family, an exceptional unexpected scene unfolded before his eyes. Ya’akov with his four wives, sons and daughters had fallen to the ground in an act of total submission.
Esav felt that the thrill of the ongoing degrading, debasing, demeaning, disgracing, dishonoring, and dehumanizing of his brother was far more pleasurable, entertaining, gratifying, and satisfying than the one instant surge of euphoria of murdering him would be.
Esav says to himself, “Let Ya’akov and the Jews live on. After the Crusades, the pogroms, the auto-da-fé, and the exiles, my children’s children will emaciate Ya’akov’s children in ghettos, then herd them into cattle cars on the way to the gas chambers and crematoria of Treblinka and Auschwitz. Indeed, let Ya’akov live on”.
Ya’akov, for his part, returned home to compete with Esav, as he was told by Rivka. But Ya’akov when seeing Esav’s 400 bloodthirsty men as opposed to the few of his family, realized that the time had not yet arrived for him to defeat Esav. It was the will of HaShem to permit evil a free hand in history, with the eventual outcome that evil would devour itself, as has proven to be the case in human history. But in the interim Ya’akov and the Jewish nation would have to be satisfied with mere survival within the evil that surrounds them.
The answer is in this week’s haftara from the prophecy of Ovadia:
עובדיה פרק א
כי קרוב יום ה’ על כל הגוים כאשר עשית יעשה לך גמלך ישוב בראשך:
ובהר ציון תהיה פליטה והיה קדש וירשו בית יעקב את מורשיהם:
והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש ודלקו בהם ואכלום ולא יהיה שריד לבית עשו כי ה’ דבר:
וירשו הנגב את הר עשו והשפלה את פלשתים וירשו את שדה אפרים ואת שדה שמרון ובנימן את הגלעד:
ועלו מושעים בהר ציון לשפט את הר עשו והיתה לה’ המלוכה:
For the day of God is near upon all the nations: as they did to you, it shall be done to them…
But in mount Zion there shall be refuge for you, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.
And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall burn among them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining to the house of Esau; for God has spoken.
And they of the South shall possess the mount of Esau, and they of the lowland the Philistines; and they shall possess the field of Ephraim, and the field of Samaria; and Benjamin shall possess Gilead… And liberators shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be of HaShem.
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