by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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|"And he commanded them, saying: 'Say this to my master, Esav: So says
servant, Ya'akov: "Im Lavan Garti, VaEchar Ad Attah" - I have lived with
Lavan, and been delayed until now." (B'reishis 32, 4)
" 'Garti' - I did not become important, or an officer, but rather, a
stranger. It is not worth your hating me for the blessings of your father,
who blessed me: 'Be lord over your brother'. It has not been fulfilled
through me." (Rashi, ad. loc.)
"When Ya'akov said, 'It has not been fulfilled through me', he explained
that they had not been actualized through HIM, for Esav had thought to
receive the blessings himself. Esav was unconcerned for his descendants, as
we said earlier, for he had positioned his wives before his children. The
blessings 'have not been fulfilled with ME', but they will be realized by
his children, and of what concern to you are your descendants?!" (Maharal,
Gur Aryeh, ad.loc.)
Ya'akov and Esav have different outlooks on life. As he prepares to
confront his brother, Ya'akov places his sons before his wives, while Esav
has always done the reverse.
This is not because Esav respects the rights of women.
In our shiur this week, we will expand upon this idea, describing two
disparate worldviews. It is this distinction that separates Klal Yisrael
and the descendants of Esav, the modern-day culture of the Western world.
"Amar Rebbi Yochanan: Ya'akov Avinu never died. Said [Rebbi Yitzchak]: Was
it for naught that he was eulogized, embalmed, and buried? He [Rebbi
Yochanan] said: I am interpreting a verse.....Ya'akov is compared to his
descendants, as his offspring are alive, so too, he is alive." (Ta'anis 5b)
Ya'akov Avinu, and his descendants, the Jewish people, are one and the
same. The life-force of his children originates with him. With their birth,
his holiness and sanctity have been reproduced beyond his physical self.
It is here that the distinction between Ya'akov and his brother finds
expression. The primary differentiation is the Bris, the covenantal sign
that marks the birth of each newborn. Gentiles are referred to as 'Arelim',
uncurcumcised, reflecting the lack of sanctity that marks their creation.
"And Ya'akov said to Lavan, bring me my wife, for my days have been
fulfilled....." (B'reishis 29, 22)
Ya'akov's physical relationship with his wives was the essence of holiness,
purely for the sake of Heaven, with no hint of self-interest or personal
pleasure. He has no shame in openly demanding his right to marriage, for
his only motivation is the fullfillment of G-d's will, the birth and
development of Klal Yisrael.
Esav has different reasons for marriage.
"And Esav took his wives, and his sons and daughters, and all his
household...." (B'reishis 36, 6)
He puts his wives first.
"The reason is, for Esav, his wives are primary, he married them for
licentiousness, therefore he positions his wives before his sons. His wives
are his primary intent, his children were born only as a result of his
desire for women. Ya'akov however, only married in order to raise twelve
tribes, it was for his children that he married. Therefore, he places his
sons before his wives, they are the cause for his marriage."
(Maharal, Gur Aryeh, B'reishis 31, 17)
These are their two perspectives on life, both a world apart.
For Ya'akov, the value of existence is measured by what can be achieved,
the productive capacity to pursue a meaningful and fruitful life. In Esav's
view, life is defined by the here and now. His principal pursuit is the
satisfaction of every physical urge. He cares for his wives, not his
children, much as he willingly sells his future for a colorful bowl of stew.
Ya'akov sees this world as a corridor, a passageway towards his true home.
He is a 'Ben Olam HaBa', a citizen of the next world. He merely utilizes
this world as a means enabling him to reach his goal.
Ya'akov's children are his life. He lives in their world, a life founded
upon the future. His is an eternal serenity, never tasting the death that
strikes those who partake of a hedonistic existence.
"Ya'akov Avinu Lo Meis."
Every once in a while, I read a Reader's Digest type of real-life adventure
story. These tales follow a familiar pattern. Two men climb a mountain,
sail the sea, cross the desert, or trek through the Noth Pole. Disaster
strikes, storm hits, animals attack. Our hero courageously summons his last
reserve of strength in a struggle for survival.
I am always puzzled by one factor. Why did he climb to thirty-thousand feet
in a raging snowstorm, and sleep on a ledge in temperature of twenty below
zero, if he knew it was dangerous?
Why are people fascinated by the possibility of a trip to the moon? What
exactly would they do there? In fact, what does our mountain climber expect
to do when he scales the peak? And if he has no plans, then why has he
spent three days climbing, endangering his life in the process?
Perhaps we can understand this strange sort of pleasure by analyzing modern
man's most prevalent form of punishment.
Why is the threat of a prison cell so frightful?
Man sees jail as confining, limiting his movements and constricting his
possibilities. After all, a prisoner can't easily climb the Alps, nor can
he travel to the moon.
Let us explain.
In our society, young men feel exuberant and alive, while elderly people
sit by idly, with a sense that life is ebbing away. Youth provides man with
a sense of vibrancy, zest, and enthusiasm, certain that the best of life is
yet to come.
To them, life means leaving your options open.
A young person sees before him an unlimited array of possibilities. As he
gets older, and his physical prowess wanes, his choice of activity becomes
limited, hence, the midlife crisis associatied with aging, and the
artificial attempts to bypass its natural effects.
Another example: at night, man is afraid. He senses that his existence is
threatened. Why? Is he afraid of a monster in the dark?
Of course not. But, in darkness, man cannot perform. His actions are
completely circumscribed. He cannot see beyond his own self.
He is forced to confront a stranger. Himself. In the absence of the action
and sounds that are his usual companions, he is left with nothing but
memories, so naturally, he is afraid. To him, life has always been the
pursuit of possibilities, not the achievement of, or reflection upon, his
Man climbs mountains, or strives for the unreachable, because it makes him
feel alive. He yearns for the moon, because it grants him access to the
vastness of the universe. He is lulled into believing that he can do
anything he wills.
Of course, as soon as he reaches the peak, there is nothing to do. He never
wanted to DO anything, it was the possibility that struck his fancy. For
this reason, all worldly possessions and accomplishments lose their allure
once they have been acquired. The moment man buys the car that has expanded
his reach, or scaled the mountain to get to the top, he searches for the
next horizon to conquer.
It's no coincidence that society's happiest day is Sunday, the beginning of
the week. "Daddy, what are we going to do today?" is every child's weekly
refrain. "But, Daddy, we went there last week!!"
Klal Yisrael, in contrast, waits for Shabbos. The end of the week. A day
when there's nothing to do. On the contrary, everything must be done in
advance. We eat from what has been previously prepared.
Deeds are important only to the extent that they are purposeful, bringing
us closer to our goal. To Ya'akov, his family's significance precedes that
of his wife. Though she was instrumental to his life's achievement, it is
the end that overshadows the means. It is his personal Shabbos. Similarly,
everything we do in life is mere preparation, leading us to our ultimate
goal, the object of our creation.
We anticipate all week our climb to the top, although when we arrive
there's nowhere to go. But unlike the others, we don't search for the next
mountain to climb. On Shabbos, man stays in his place.
Much as Ya'akov Avinu, who camps outside the city, establishing the
'Techumim', boundaries that limit and define a space of his own.
It is "MeiAin Olam HaBa", our connection to the world-to-come. We are not
interested in doing, we only do in order that we can have. We want the top,
not the climb. And when we arrive, we remain for all eternity.
"And Esav said, 'I have much, my brother, keep what is yours'. And Ya'akov
said, 'Please, if I may find favor in your eyes, take the gift from my
hand, for I have seen your face, as I have seen your angel, and you have
been appeased. Please, take my offering that I have brought to you, because
Hashem has graced me, and I have it all...' " (B'reishis 33, 9-11)
Esav has much, while Yaakov has all.
Esav has no interest in what he has. His eye is focused on the horizon,
searching for another acquisition or experience. No matter how much he
acquires, he can never be satiated. To remain stationary is to be stifled.
He'll run to the end of the earth in the vain hope of experiencing one more
Ya'akov is happy with what he has.
"Same'ach B'Chelko" is not merely making do with what one has, or making
the best of a difficult situation. It's because Ya'akov never looks beyond
himself that he sees his world as perfect and complete. He doesn't make do
with less, he has it all. His world is self-contained.
Ya'akov is not afraid of the dark. To him, this entire world is a long,
black night. Though his actions may be limited, he is always occupied,
reflecting upon yesterday in his preparation for tomorrow.
On the contrary, the descendants of Ya'akov observe the cycle of the moon,
marking their calendar with the light that promises a brighter dawn.
Esav and Ya'akov part for good, travelling their separate ways.
Modern man cannot understood this strange nation that lives among them, a
people that dwells alone, refusing to mingle with strangers, keeping their
distance from a beckoning world.
It's not that we are frightened of their phony embrace.
Rather, it is because we already have all that we will ever need. We reject
the pleasure and excitement that defines their physical existence,
satisfied with our homes and families, our inner world.
Ya'akov grabs hold of Esav's heel, waiting for the end.
Then, Esav will cry: "Shalcheni, Ki Alah HaShachar!"
Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman @actcom.co.il
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