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by Daneal Weiner
plays out the ultimate showdown between good and evil and within her lie the strategies of victory. Over the millennia, whenever our Rabbis were challenged to battle the forces of evil by way of debate or were summoned into the courts to defend their communities, they would study this parsha intimately. All that Eisav has to attack with and all that Yaakov needs to defend with is in this parsha. Our look at their encounter, however, will be along more metaphysical and less practical lines.
Yaakov's spiritually surviving twenty years by Lavan was no small feat. In fact, it was a tremendous feat! On his way to Lavan, Yaakov was worthy of a prophecy about angels. On his way out from Lavan he comes face to face with angels and uses them as his own messengers. During these 20 years Yaakov has obviously reached a much greater spiritual state. What got him there? Accepting everything bit of trickery that Lavan threw at him as a challenge to overcome in his service of Hashem and by taking trickery itself and using it for truth! Avraham, whose attribute was kindness was tested with unkindness. Leaving his fathers house, sending out Hagar and Yishmael, binding Yitschak. Yaakov whose attribute was truth was tested with trickery. Getting the birth right, getting the blessings, living with Lavan. Having succeeded in making bending falsehood to the true will of Hashem Yaakov emerged from Lavan an unimaginable force.
Rav Avigdor Miller, shlit’a, says this is the proof that no matter how much undue aggravation one might feel subjected to from their spouse- and he's talking about 'round the clock aggravation- the Jewish thing to do is to accept it. Accept the spouse as the one Hashem set them up with and accept the job Hashem is asking of them which is to rise above the grievances. Any good mussar class will tell us this anyway but Rav Miller emphasizes what’s the mussar class might not, that the rewards for accepting one’s situation with love are treeeemendous! Undoubtedly the same applies for all relationships but the relationship of all relationships is marriage. Parshas Chayai Sarah was not that long ago, when Avraham bought the Ma’aras Hamchpelah for an eternal bond with Sarah. From there we learn the laws of marriage because ma'aseh Avos simon l'banim- the actions of the fathers are a portent for the children. Avraham marrying Sarah was Hashem marrying Knesses Yisrael, so to speak, and the now eternal bond between Avraham and Sarah meant an eternal bond between Hashem and Israel. It would be kind of antithetical if in the middle of this marriage one side opted out even because of hardships.
Following the theme of ma'aseh Avos simon l'banim, Yaakov going to Lavans was our going to Egypt. His exodus was our exodus. Some parallels stare us in the face. After 3 days Lavan finds out Yaakov has fled. Pharaoh expects Moshe to have taken Israel out for only 3 days after which he is told they have fled. Lavan chases Yaakov and catches up to him on the 7th day. Pharaoh chases Israel and catches up to them on the 7th day. But Yaakov and Lavan met again and interacted. Moshe and Pharaoh didn’t meet again. What happened? We need to know what’s happening before we can know what happened.
Holy writings our Rabbis explain that Yaakov’s stay by Lavan was to draw away from Lavan all the sparks of holiness that were trapped within the impurity of his being and property. Sparks of holiness is a Kabbalistic idea (woo hoo, Kabbalah!) and I’ll try to explain by example my limited understanding of what it means. If anyone would ask me if I had ever planned on visiting Dullas Airport (Washington D.C.) the answer would have been an emphatic, “NO!” And yet, I was once on my way to N.Y. to make a connecting flight to Israel and I missed the first flight. I went to every airline in the airport looking for a flight to get me to N.Y. with time to switch planes and the ONLY flight with a remote possibility had an hour layover in Dullas. In Dullas a bought some nosh requiring a couple blessings. Because of the time of day I had to daven Mincha. I pulled out a sefer and did a little learning. A short time later I was off to N.Y. Most might consider that layover uneventful. In truth, it was THE main event!
Adam sinning was analogous to a holy glass vessel shattering and sending shards/sparks to the four corners of the earth, some of my shards/sparks ended up in Dullas. I had to collect them. I never would have planned that trip myself so Hashem helped me get there. My blessings, prayer and learning drew from there my sparks of holiness. If I ever have a bottle of juice and offer someone a glass and he drinks, in my bottle were sparks from fruits arranged at creation which belonging to he that drank of it. It’s the same idea we’ll see, with Hashem’s help, when Israel has to make 42 stops while wandering in the Sinai Desert. People think they vacation where it’s hot. The reality is they vacation where they have to go but don’t know it.
Lavan warehoused gigasparks of holiness of Yaakov’s and Yaakov went to get them. When Yaakov left he left some behind so Hashem had Lavan chase after him. By their subsequent interaction Yaakov drew from Lavan the last sparks and we never hear from Lavan again. So why didn't Yaakov just hang around a little longer to collect the last few sparks while he was there?
Rav Wolfson says remember ma'aseh Avos simon l'banim! Yaakov's exodus from Lavan was Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Chazal- our Sages say in Egypt we sank to the outer limits of the 49th gate/level of Tumah- impurity and had we remained a moment longer we would have sunk into the 50th gate from which we could not have arisen. If Yaakov stayed by Lavan a moment longer than we WOULD have stayed in Egypt a moment longer.
No doubt you’re wondering, “So if that's all the sparks Yaakov wanted, why did Lavan need to give him the rest?” Good question. Because Yaakov's actions are a portent for all history, not just Egyptian history. The exodus from Egypt was not the final one. We need out of this exile! And this time we are IN the 50th gate of tuma and only by virtue of our having been given the Torah are we capable of getting out of it. At that final meeting Yaakov took from Lavan the final sparks which parallel the 50th gate for these end of days. Moshe, as leader of B'nai Yisrael then, merited reaching the 49th gate of Bina- understanding, the counter-force to the 49th gate of tumah. The Mashiach will have a grasp of all 50 gates of Bina.
We had a glimpse of this in Parshas Vayairah, verse (19:1), "And Lot who was sitting at the gate of S'dom..." Rashi said this meant they made him a judge. Why does the Torah tell us this when within the next 24 hours all S’dom will be destroyed? Lot was the progenitor of the Mashiach. He appointment was a manifestation of that spark of leadership buried deep within him. The language of the verse is v'Lot yoshev b'sha'ar S'dom. The word yoshev is written lacking a letter vav. It would normally be read yashav- he sat, but tradition tells us to read it yoshev. On the surface, without the vav, the way the word [and the way Lot] appears, these 4 words have the gematria of 1039 which equals chamishim sha'aray tum'ah- 50 gates of Tuma. But the way it’s read, what's really there but you wouldn’t know it, i.e. with the vav, the 4 words have a gematria of 1045 which equals chamishim sha'aray bina- 50 gates of understanding. The Mashiach will be the counter-force we need to save us. We are waiting every day!
Yaakov has finished with Lavan and he's now on his way to meet up with Eisav. Yaakov sends a couple angels ahead to Eisav with a message. "I lived by Lavan and delayed till now and I have to me oxen, donkeys, sheep, men servants and maidservants." What did Yaakov mean by the odd expression, “I have to me”? Rashi says Ya's message is that Yitschak blessed him with the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth and these possessions weren’t from heaven or earth. Rashi, if they aren't from heaven or earth, where did Yaakov get them? Out of a hat? S&H Green stamps? (By the way, this was the first Rav Wolfson vort I ever heard so everyone wish me a happy anniversary. And please, PLEASE- no gifts.)
14 years Yaakov worked for his family and then 6 years for sheep. So what were Yaakov’s goals? He wanted to give birth the tribes of B'nai Yisrael, to start a holy nation under G-d, and... he wanted the biggest sweater collection in the world! Maybe he just looooved lamb chops?
The sparks, man, the sparks! Yaakov had a prophecy by Lavan. An angel appeared to him and said (31:12) "Raise your eyes and look at the sheep..." I know I’m just city folk but even I know the best place to see sheep would be looking down. There must be something spiritually big going on with these sheep if the place to see them is looking up! Rav Wolfson explains from holy writings of great Chassidic Rabbis that these sheep contained the sparks of holiness of all Israel!! Chazal dispute whether Yaakov left Lavan with 600,000 sheep or 600,000 flocks of sheep. 600,000? Like the 600,000 letters of the Torah which correspond to the 600,000 souls of Israel? These sheep were incarnations of all Bna'a'a'a'i Yisrael. Well, incarnated as an animal is not accurate. Into an animal is more like it.
We know that reincarnation exists. A soul which doesn’t purify itself in one lifetime may be given another chance. It’s possible that a soul can be so corrupt that sending it back as a human would be like condemning it to another life of sin which would defeat the purpose of the incarnation. Such a soul can be so dirty that even gehenom couldn’t clean it. Such a soul may come back to earth in an inanimate object. Not as the object but imprisoned in it. A fate worse than gehenom but it is the reparation needed to get it into gehenom or maybe back to a place of free choice on earth. Not as bad an incarnation would be imprisonment in a plant. Better yet, in an animal. Better yet, reincarnation as a non-Jew with only a few commandments to contend with. And best of the worst cases, is reincarnation as a Jew.
There are stories abound and a close friend of mine will testify to his own personal story about a cat that followed him for days! He'd leave the house in the morning and the cat was there. He’d get off the bus at the end of the day and the cat was there. After talking to a few people and making a few inquiries, the next time he saw the cat he said, "I forgive you!" He never saw it again.
When I learned this I just had to ask myself how does all Israel end up, or rather, start out as sheep? I can tell you what I think. It might not be worth it's weight in wool, but putting together some pieces, I suspect the following scenario.
Piece A: Souls can come to earth ‘as’ animals due to severity of sin.
Piece B: Who are the Jewish people? We are the people with the task of making Hashem known to the world thereby bringing the world to its perfected state. We were not the first to have this job!
Piece C: Adam and Chava were the first one with this job. They did not succeed due to sin. Their immediate descendants were now the bearers of Hashem’s Name. 10 generations later a flood made it apparent that not only had they not succeeded but had failed miserably. Now the descendants of Noach carried the torch. The Generation of the Dispersion showed they weren't successful either.
Piece D: Hashem decides, so to speak, on a new world order. Professing the His Name will no longer be a global task but a national one. One nation will be a light unto the other nations. Avraham volunteers himself and his future descendants for the job.
The question is, all the souls which were destined to descend from Avraham, were they new souls which never had set foot on earth before or were his descendants simply the new depository and a new opportunity for the souls of those previous generations who failed at this same task? The latter seems to be evident based on the writings of our Sages. Now we can understand that coming from the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion, these souls have been so steeped in sin they couldn’t come back directly as humans. Their first return performance as the future souls of Israel was as sheep under the auspices of Yaakov Aveinu by whom, as we saw last week regarding the 2 angels of Sodom, they began to receive their reparation. Under his care he began to elevate the souls bound within which eventually allowed them to come back to this world as Jews! Yaakov also has oxen, donkeys, camels, men servants and maidservants, which were also part of this process, as we'll shortly see.
I site as a proof one of those writings of our Sages from Parshas Shmos where it is said that the Jewish babies thrown into the nile were reincarnations of the people who died in the Flood and due to the quantity or severity of their sins, drowning once wasn't enough.
Now we can understand the strange language Yaakov used ("I have to me") and Rashi. Yaakov Aveinu was telling Eisav "What I have is me. My sparks. My descendants. All who will come from me. Nothing from the heavens or earth as the blessing promised which was originally destined to go to you. I've gained nothing by taking the blessing."
Eisav is not appeased by this claim and the angels report back he's coming with 400 men. Yaakov prepares for war. Part of Yaakov's preparations is further attempt at appeasement. He sends Eisav a gift from his possessions. How could he do such a thing? We just said that every creature contains sparks of Israel and he gives some over to the domain of Eisav???
"HaSoton"- the Soton (a.k.a. the evil inclination a.k.a. the angel of death), has a gematria of 364. There are 365 days in a year. Hashem gives us one day off. Yom Kippur day is Soton free. But we're not off scott free. We throw the Soton a bone. Actually, we give him the whole goat. During the Yom Kippur service two se'irim- goats are used. One se'ir is designated for Hashem and the other is designated for ‘azazel'- the Soton's home address. The Ohr Hachaim points out that adding up all the animals listed which Yaakov gave over to Eisav, the sum total is 580, the same gematria as "se'ir". As an appeasement some sparks of holiness had to be given over to the tuma. Some Jews were to be raised as gentiles.
Eliyahu the Prophet, set up a test between an alter to Hashem and an alter to the idolatry which Israel had fallen to at the time. Two cows were brought forward. (the reincarnations, by the way, of Dasan and Aviram.) The cow for Hashem was ready to go. The cow for the idol wouldn't budge. Eliyahu asked what's up? It said, "I just drank from the same trough as him and he gets to sanctify G-d's name while I'll get wasted on idol!? I ain’t mooooovin’." Eliyahu said, "Whereas he will sanctify G-d's name by being accepted, you will sanctify G-d's name by not being accepted." The cow went willingly.
There are 600,000 souls to Israel. 599,420 souls were designated to sanctify G-d's name being born as Jews. 580 were to sanctify G-d's name by breaking out of the bondage’s of Eisav and returning to the flock. How did Yaakov choose which? He didn't. The verse says (32:14) "He [Yaakov] took that which came into his hand..." The volunteers stepped forward. Tehillim (72:10) "The kings of Tarshish will return gifts..." If they are gifts, shouldn't it say ‘give’ gifts? Kings are not known to return things. The verse alludes to the returning of that which was originally part of us.
Eisav did get something which was originally his. Leah prayed not to have to marry Eisav. We see the power that prayer has to be able to overturn decrees. Yaakov is held responsible that when he met up with Eisav he hid his daughter Dina. Chazal say that the wife influences the ways of the husband. Eisav could have done tshuva. This is a remarkable complaint! Who looks for the biggest rasha in the world to marry their daughter in hopes of making the husband a Ba'al Tshuva???
When Yaakov said all “Ihave is me, an extension of me” there was one thing that wasn't. Leah. A soul is split into male and female and at marriage it is re-united. This applied to Yaakov and Rachel. Not to Yaakov and Leah. On Yaakov's level he should have known to at least give the extension of Leah, her daughter Dina, to Eisav and perhaps the Gemorah is a consolation rather than an excuse, that she would bring him to do Tshuva. As it turns out, Dina is kidnapped by Eisav's extension, Shchem and she is raped. A debt was paid in the worst way rather than the best. The child conceived by Dina that night was a daughter who ended up in Egypt and eventually married Yoseph and mothering two tribes, Ephraim and Menashe. In the end, Dina would not have been given to Eisav, She would have taken the remaining sparks of holiness from him and brought them to serve Hashem.
Yehoshua then descended from Ephraim. Our parsha starts out ‘Vayishlach’, the same letters as ‘Vayichalash’ as in ‘Vayichalash Yehoshua es Amaleik’- And Yehoshua weakened Amaleik. Amaleik, the quintessential descendant of Eisav. The battles of the children, good versus evil, as indicated by the actions of the fathers.
This parsha is the 8th in the Chumash and is overflowing with allusions to Chanukah and allusions to allusions to Chanukah as Rav Wolfson points out, ‘Vayichalash Yehoshua’ = 745 = ‘Nairot Chanukah’- Chanukah candles.
Finally and appropriately enough, a terrific piece from last years Ohrnet. This weeks haftorah is Ovadia. A prophet who is a convert from the descendants of Eisav, Edom. His prophecy follows Edom through history till its judgement day. Last week, Yaakov's ladder had the angels of the four kingdoms who exiled us climbing the number of rungs as was the length of their exiles and then falling off. Edom's angel just kept climbing! Ovadia tells us Hashem comforted Yaakov saying (1:4), "If he will rise up like an eagle and if he will make his nest among the stars- even from there I will bring him down."
It was 1969 when the world tuned in to hear, "Houston, this is Tranquility base. The Eagle has landed." Which was soon followed by, "We have the technology. We can do anything!" As soon as one starts thinking like that it's usually the beginning of the end. From the stars the eagle has been falling ever since.
The secret for us defeating our enemies and staying on top is having a soaring Shabbot Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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