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parashas Vayishlach 5780 – Diminished Merit — Inspired Torah

B”H Shiur for parashas Vayislach 5780 “Jacob sent messengers (malachim).” – Genesis 32:4 According to Sforno, Jacob sent messengers, in order to find out Esau’s state of mind concerning him (Sforno, sefaria.org). Jacob had spent twenty years working for his Uncle Laban; now, Jacob was returning to his native land, as stated in Genesis 31:13. […]

parashas Vayishlach 5780 – Diminished Merit — Inspired Torah

Torah Highlight Vayishlach 5780

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

“For he will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

– Psalm 91:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d is faithful; he keeps his promises. “And, behold, I am with thee, and I will keep thee whithsoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS). Jacob was given G-d’s reassurance, at the beginning of his journey to Charan, where his Uncle Laban lived. Now, Jacob is returning with his family to the land of Canaan; however, he will encounter his brother, Esau on the final approach home.

Imediately, upon entering the land, he is met by a camp of angels sent by H’Shem to escort him: “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him” (Genesis 32:1, JPS). This exemplifies the continual protection that was promised to him by G-d. The company of angels sets the background for the encounter with Esau. It is only after the angels are mentioned, that the narrative concerning the apparently resentful Esau begins. For, Jacob’s messengers that he sent ahead to greet Esau report Esau is on his way with four hundred men” (32:6).

Jacob prays to H’Shem, rather than taking for granted the protection given to him. He divides the camp into two, so that if the first camp is attacked, the second will escape. Thirdly, Jacob sends gifts – droves of his herds and flocks – ahead of him to appease Esau. Even before Jacob meets and greets Esau, Jacob has an encounter with an angel, while he is alone. And the angel blesses him, after a struggle, wherein they wrestled with each other. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; {That is, He who striveth with G-d.} for thou hast striven with G-d and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The blessing that he receives, in the form of his new name that denotes uprightness is a vindication of his deceitfulness of the past, when he reappropriared Esau’s blessing that was due to him as the first born. Yet, the tides are turned, for Jacob now offers Esau a lavish gift taken from his livelihood: many sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and donkeys. The first Hebrew word that Jacob uses to refer to this gift is minchah, meaning gift or tribute. Yet, Jacob makes his intent even more clear to Esau in the same gesture, saying a second time, “take, I pray thee, my gift (berachah) that is brought to thee” (Genesis 33:11, JPS). Here, the word that he uses is berachah, meaning “blessing.” In this manner, Jacob, in effect, restores the blessing to Esau, therein bringing upon himself and Esau the means for reconciliation.

Clarion Call

B”H

The sanctification of our lives is predicated upon separation from sin (Leviticus 19:2). Predominantly, in the modern world, outside of religious spheres, the notion of sin is not part of the everyday mentality of the common person. A call to cease from sin, when made amongst the general population would in all likelihood fall upon deaf ears. The word, sin is simply not a part of most people’s vocabulary today. To the extent that it may be recognized, it is often relegated to the “other,” or reframed within the larger context of questions of morality, that are more theoretical than actual. Yet, Torah is clear, in regard to sanctifying oneself through becoming aware of what constitutes sin, and making a sincere effort to change one’s ways.

Therefore, other than sanctifying time and space, as mentioned previously, the main avodah (service to G-d) is the sanctification of our very lives. This is the question that religion aspires to address: how to transcend the mundane, in order to perfect oneself for the sake of pleasing G-d, who only wants the best for us. It is not enough to conform to the ethical norms of society; G-d’s standards are higher. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the L-RD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

On the Road

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei highlight

by Tzvi Schnee

Did Jacob need a reminder in regard to his mission? His father, Isaac had given him a berachah (blessing), before he left Beer Sheba: “And G-d Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which G-d gave unto Abraham” (Genesis 28:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Yet, according to the midrash, H’Shem’s benevolence may be measured by the extraordinary means through which He endeavored to arrange for Jacob a means to an encounter with G-d at hamakom (the place). Regarding the words, “he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set,” the midrash relates that H’Shem caused the sun to set early that evening, so that Jacob would rest at the very place that served as a gateway to Shomayim (Heaven).

And, Jacob encountered H’Shem at hamakom, while he dreamed. And, H’Shem spoke to him in a vision, reassuring him that his descendants would inherit the land. “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS).

Perhaps, the confirmation of his mission, as well as the reassurance of G-d’s protection is what compelled him to stay on the derech (path), outside of the Land, where there is less kedushah (holiness), as he journeyed to Haran to find the next matriarch(s). During the ordeal that ensued, over a twenty year period of time in Haran, when he was beset with tsoros (troubles), the vision must have served as inspiration, so that he was strengthened time and time again. This may serve as a reminder for us, during the current Galus (Exile).

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old.” – Isaiah 63:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

the Gate of Heaven

B”H

highlight from parashas Vayeitzei

by Tzvi Schnee

“And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”

– Genesis 28:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob gathered some stones together, placed them around his head, and went to sleep for the evening; during the night he dreamed: “Behold a ladder set up on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). When he awoke, he exclaimed, “this is the gate of heaven” (see above). According to Sforno, “The ladder signified that it was from that place that prayers ascend to heaven” (sefaria.org).

This place (hamakom) was where the Temple was later constructed, serving as a conduit between heaven and earth; additionaly, the Heavenly Temple rests above this location in Shomayim (Heaven). The importance of a gate, where a connection exists between heaven and earth serves as an inspiration for us to know that our prayers have the opportunity to ascend to G-d. Many people pray at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, where the Temple once stood; yet, we are not limited in the efficacy of our prayers, when praying outside of Jerusalem.

The Talmud speaks of H’Shem’s immanence and transcendance: He may hear the whispered prayer of a person praying in a small sanctuary in the countries where the Jewish people are dispersed (Ezekekiel 11:16). So, we should take heart in knowing that G-d will hear our prayers, whether communal or individual prayers, even though He is sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven (Talmud).

Subdued Wrath

B”H

highlight from parashas Vayeitzei

by Tzvi Schnee

The parashas begins in an almost matter of fact manner, stating, “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Many commentators, both past and present, comment upon the prior events of Jacob’s life, as mentioned in the previous parashas. They often conclude that Jacob was fleeing for his life, because of the wrath of Esau. For Torah records Rebecca’s confidential words to her son, Jacob: “My son, hearken to my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; and tarry there a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away” (Genesis 27:43-44, JPS).

However, we do not see Esau in pursuit of Jacob, nor did Jacob make a hasty departure. Rather, after receiving a blessing from his father, Isaac (see Genesis 28:1-4), Jacob departs toward Haran. As for Esau, when he hears that his father Isaac sent his brother Jacob to find a wife that was specifically not from the “daughters of Canaan,” Esau, who had already married two daughters of Heth, a descendant of Canaan, realized that this must have been displeasing to his father. So, Esau regains his composure concerning his anger towards Jacob, “and went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son” (Genesis 28:9, JPS). In other words, Esau’s overiding concern at that moment in time was to please his father; thus his anger towards his sibling was suppressed by his filial devotion.

Interestingly, Or HaChaim suggests that “Esau’s anger חרונו, departed from him the moment Jacob departed from Beer Sheva. This is expressed by the words: וילך חרנה” (commentary on Genesis 28:10, sefaria.org). Thus, Esau’s anger was set aside until twenty years later, when Jacob was on his return journey home, and Esau set out to greet him with four hundred armed men. Yet, at that time, Jacob appeased the smouldering resentment of Esau, giving him many animals from his flocks and herds. Additionally, Jacob’s decorum and humility may have elicited a change in Esau’s heart: “Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4, JPS).

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1 9:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Sanctification

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

“Thy way is in holiness [kedushah].”

– Psalm 77:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

Holiness has to do with sanctification. “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified [KDSh] it” (Genesis 2:3). The root meaning of KDSh is to separate. Something that is sanctified is set apart for a holy purpose. In other words, sanctification places a holy status upon an individual or object, for the sake of a connection to G-d. Therefore, the person or object is elevated to a certain degree of holiness.

By way of example, mundane acts, such as eating are sanctified through a blessing said before a meal or snack. On the Sabbath, beginning on Friday evening, candles are lit, and blessings are said over wine and challah (a braided loaf of bread). In this manner, the day is further sanctified through those who remember (zachor) the day, and observe (shamor) the commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, inasmuch that upon waking up every morning, prayers are recited, thanking G-d for preserving and restoring the soul, the day as well the person become consecrated (sanctified). Holiness is brought into the life of a person, by designating time and space as set aside for connecting with G-d.

The word for blessing is berachah, having as a root meaning, “to bend the knee,” or “to bring down.” In saying a blessing over food, for example, it is taught that there is an actual measure of kedushah (substance of holiness), brought down from Above; a sensitive individual may be aware of that kedushah.

A friend of mine mentioned, regarding Shabbos (the Sabbath) in Israel, that he could feel the kedushah in the air. When we direct our lives in a manner that acknowledges the Divine, we enhance the mundane, by eliciting blessings from Above. The prayers, traditions, and communal (as well as personal) places, where we worship, constitute the aspect of religion; whereas the blessings, and sense of kedushah (holiness) received, pertain to the quality of spirituality. These are two sides of the same coin.

Character Suppression

B”H

November 28, 2019

30 Chesvan 5780

Rosh Chodesh Kislev

by Tzvi Schnee

An often neglected perspective, regarding the narrative wherein Jacob deceives his father, Isaac by pretending to be Esau, the first born, in order to reappropriate the blessing of the firstborn, is that as an ish tam (wholesome man), he needed to suppress his naturally inclined tendency towards truth, so he could procure the blessing that was rightly his.

Although, traditionally the blessing goes to the first born, Esau did not represent the character traits that would exemplify the positive qualities of Abraham, so, he was not qualified to receive the blessings of the patriarchal lineage, carrying, in effect, the chesed (kindness) and the gevurah (moral strength) of Isaac into the next generation.

“You will show truth (emes) to Jacob and kindness (chesed) to Abraham.” – Micah 7:20

Jacob inherited the qualities of chesed (kindness) from Abraham, and gevurah (strength) from Isaac, balancing the two within the framework of truth. For too much kindness can lead to indiscriminate permisiveness, and an excess of strength can lead to a level of severity that approaches harshness. Truth places both kindness and strength within the service of righteousness.

On the contrary, Esau represented the lower nature of man, subject to the natural instincts. Whereas Jacob was a wholesome man of the tents, Esau, who was a hunter, a man of the fields, was inclined to impulsivity and lack of restraint. Yet, Jacob’s conscience later suffered for his deception, as can be interpreted at one level when he wrestled with an angel; as one modern commentary claims, he was wrestling with his conscience. Only a man committed to inner truth will feel his conscience twinged when acting contrary to truth.

Hidden Benefits

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

29 Chesvan 5780

“And he went up from thence to Beer-Sheba. And the L-RD appeared unto him the same night, and said: ‘I am the G-d of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham’s sake.’ And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the L-RD.”

– Genesis 26:23-25, JPS 1917 Tanach

Isaac left Gerar, and went to Beer Sheba, where Abraham had entered into a covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:31). Isaac’s refuge seemed transient to him, inasmuch that he feared further antagonism from the Philistines. Yet, H’Shem appeared to him that very night, assuring Isaac of His protection. “Fear not, for I am with thee.”

In response, Isaac built an altar there, “and called upon the name of the L-RD” (see above). After pitching a tent there, his servants dug a well. Shortly afterwards, Abimelech showed up, as might be expected within the framework of the overall narrative (see Genesis 26:13-22).

Isaac questioned him, “Why do you come to me, seeing you hate me, and have sent me away from you?” (Genesis 26:27, JPS). Abimelech recognised by now that Isaac was also blessed, like his father Abraham; so that the quarrels would cease, he offered to renew the covenant that had previously been made with Abraham.

According to Targum Yonatan, Abimelech’s motivation stemmed directly from the nature of his own provisions suffering, after Isaac had formerly left his lands. Therefore, he attributed the decline in his sustenance from the earth, as a result of his contention towards Isaac. This also seems to be in accord with the teaching that a tzaddik (righteous person) brings benefits beyond counting to others in the place where he lives.