Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Eisav took his wives…all all the sons of his household…and all his possessions…and went to a land because of his brother Yaakov. (32:6)

Rashi cites the Midrash that attributes Eisav's departure to be "because of his brother Yaakov." Eisav said, "There is an obligation to fulfill the debt of Ki ger yiheyeh zarecha, "Your offspring shall be sojourners," i.e. the decree of exile, which was placed upon the offspring of Yitzchak. I will leave from here because I want to have no portion, neither of the gift that has been given to Yitzchak nor of the payment of the contract." Eisav understood that the blessings that were Yitzchak's were accompanied by a "debt" of servitude, a debt of exile. The Torah was given only to those who were liberated in Egypt, as is clearly stated in the first/introductory commandment. "I am your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt." Access to the Torah is approved only for those who suffered through the Egyptian exile. In addition, inheriting the land of Eretz Yisrael is inextricably bound with being a member of the nation that suffered in Egypt. Olam Habah, the World To Come, is also promised only to those who experienced the Egyptian exile. Eisav knew this, and therefore, left Yaakov. He understood what his descendants throughout the millennia did not. In order to receive the gift, one must pay his dues. Eisav refused to pay, thereby relinquishing his gift. Regrettably, he did not convey this message to his offspring.

Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him, so he divided the people with him. (32:8)

Should Yaakov Avinu have been scared? Should the person with whom Hashem spoke and promised that He would be with him and guard him wherever he went be afraid? Should the individual who was greeted by guardian angels be distressed? There is a reason why even the great saint Yaakov should fear - "he divided the people with him." There was a chasm in his people. A rift bifurcated among his people. This gave Yaakov reason to fear. If there was no peace among his people, they would become easy prey for Eisav. As long as a unified front prevailed, as long as harmony reigned in the Jewish camp, Yaakov feared neither Yishmael nor Eisav. Horav Mordechai HaKohen notes that when Lot was taken captive by the four kings, Yaakov's aged grandfather, Avraham Avinu, did not think twice about gathering together his "small army" to pursue Lot's captors. He was not afraid, and he triumphed, rescuing Lot. Yet, Yaakov was afraid of his brother. The grandfather had no army; yet, he had no fear. The grandson, however, was terribly distressed.

Yaakov was -- in reality -- no different than his grandfather. He was courageous, strong and willing to fight. He also would have taken on the four kings in order to save Lot. There was a fundamental difference between the two battles, however. Yaakov had no problem battling enemies from without, strangers who were dedicated to destroying him and his family. This time, Yaakov was up against a formidable enemy: the enemy from within, his own flesh and blood, his brother. He prayed to Hashem, "Rescue me, please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." There is no more bitter battle than a war between brothers.

When my brother Eisav meets you and asks you, saying, "Whose are you, where are you going, and whose are these that are before you?" (32:18)

Upon coming to this pasuk, The Chidushei HaRim, zl, would turn to his chassidim and say, "Note how these three questions have a strong similarity to the three queries which Chazal teach us are the fundamental questions a Jew must ask of himself. Know these things, and you will not come into the grip of sin: know from where you came; where you will go; and before Whom you will give justification and reckoning (Pirkei Avos 3:1) Chazal give us the three keys to our spiritual survival. Are they different than the questions Eisav asked?"

"We derive an important lesson from here," says the Chidushei HaRim. "Even today, Eisav can ask these fundamental questions with one purpose in mind: to bring us to depression, to belittle us, to lower our self-esteem and self-confidence. Yes, Eisav asks the same questions that Chazal instruct us to ask of ourselves. There are, however, two disparate goals in these questions - and that is the "who" difference. One must be acutely aware of who is asking these questions."

And he took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven sons. (32:23)

There seems to be a child missing. Yaakov had eleven sons and one daughter. What happened to Dinah, Yaakov's daughter? Rashi tells us that Yaakov hid her in a box, so that Eisav would not see her and want to take her for a wife. Yaakov was punished for this when Dinah went out and was violated by Shechem. He should have been sensitive to his brother's needs. Who knows? Perhaps Dinah might have influenced Eisav to initiate a positive change in his life. This is enigmatic. How can we expect Yaakov to marry his daughter to such an evil person as Eisav? Furthermore, we find that Leah was lauded for her excessive weeping when she entreated the Almighty that she not fall into Eisav's hands. If Leah was praised, how can Yaakov be criticized?

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm gives an answer to this question which can be applied to situations in which we must act in a manner that seems harsh and cruel - but necessary. He explains that Yaakov clearly had to protect his daughter. There is no way he could have permitted her to marry Eisav. Hiding her in the box was an action that he had to take, but, did he have to close the door with so much force? Horav Nosson Wachtfogel, zl, explains the Alter's statement with a similar thought from Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl. Chazal tell us that Rebbi, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the great sage who was the codifier of the Mishnah, underwent thirteen years of terrible pain because of something he said to a calf that was about to be slaughtered. It happened that the calf ran away and hid beneath Rebbi's cloak, crying, "I do not want to be slaughtered." Rebbi responded, "Go. For this is for what you were created." Rebbi's response was considered heartless, and he was, consequently, punished. When we think about it, what did he do wrong? The animal was created to be slaughtered eventually. He was "telling it like it is." Is this a reason for him to endure thirteen years of excruciating pain?

Rav Yeruchem explains that, indeed, his response was correct. It was the tone of his voice that was wrong. He should have responded more compassionately, with greater empathy. This would have at least conveyed a message, "I feel bad for you and empathize with your pain, but that is the purpose of your creation." It is not what he did; rather, how he did it that made the difference.

Likewise, Yaakov understood only too well the danger of allowing Eisav to notice Dinah. He knew he had no recourse but to hide her from him. Yaakov's act of protecting his daughter, however, should have been carried with regret, with ambivalence, with a heavy heart. Apparently, it was not.

When we are compelled to act in a certain matter; when we must say no; when we have to reject someone justifiably, it should be done with a heavy heart. Otherwise, we may one day have to answer for our actions. An educator, at times, must take negative action against a student for appropriate reasons. It is certainly not something he enjoys doing, but it is necessary for the well-being of a class. He must carry out the necessary action ruefully, as if he had no alternative.

And Timnah was a concubine of Eisav, and she bore Amalek to Elifaz. (36:12)

We have before us Amalek's roots. The archenemy of the Jewish people, the one who stands for evil - Amalek is Eisav's grandson. Amalek, a nation whose cruelty knew no bound and whose viciousness was unparalleled, was the son of Elifaz and his concubine, Timnah. Who was Timnah? Chazal tell us that Timnah descended from royalty. She was the sister of Lotan, one of the chiefs of Seir. Yet, she was so anxious to marry a descendant of Avraham that she said to Elifaz, "If I am unworthy to become your wife, let me at least be your concubine!" Chazal go further in describing her character. She had originally approached Avraham to accept her as a convert. Her base character was something she could not conceal from Avraham. He therefore, rejected her. She went on to marry Elifaz and to give birth to his son, Amalek.

Why did she become the mother of Amalek? Apparently, something was wrong if a woman who had such "noble" intentions was rejected by Avraham, yet she eventually married his great-grandson. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that Avraham truly had just cause for dismissing Timnah, but it was nonetheless an act of total rejection. She begged for acceptance, and Avraham Avinu saw b'Ruach haKodesh, Divine Inspiration, that her character was deficient and, therefore, not worthy of induction into Klal Yisrael. He slammed the door in her face. While it was surely with good reason, it does not ameliorate the hurt and shame that accompanies total rejection. The end result of this rejection has been plaguing our People for thousands of years.

What an incredible statement; what a powerful perspective. This is the manner in which Rav Chaim perceived a subject, with depth and brilliant perception. He was able to pierce through the periphery surrounding a subject and arrive at its core. He was sensitive to people's emotions and perceived how they were affected by the actions of others in any way. He was known to take great pains not to impose on the feelings of others. He understood rejection and the overwhelming effect it could have on others. The following story, a story recounted often by Rav Chaim, demonstrates this idea.

During the Six-Day War, bombs were falling in many places in Yerushalayim. When the war broke out, many people crowded into the Mirrer Yeshiva dining room, which also served as the neighborhood bomb shelter. Among those who took refuge there was a lonely agunah, a woman whose husband had abandoned her some years earlier. She was a bitter, tormented person who lived alone and eked out her meager livelihood as a laundress.

They were all in the dining room as the shells were whistling overhead, striking dangerously close to the yeshivah. Suddenly, there was a direct hit; an explosion shook the building. People thought that for sure this was the end. They began to entreat Hashem crying out, "Shema Yisrael!"

At that moment, the agunah's voice rang loudly above the others. She cried, "Hashem Yisborach, my husband abandoned me for twenty years. I have suffered so much during this time - all as a result of him. Yet, I forgive him! You, too, Ribono Shel Olam, forgive Klal Yisrael for our sins!"

When Rav Chaim would relate the tragic plight of this broken-hearted woman, he would pause and cry. Then he would add - "It was her prayer that saved us!" It was the pain and anguish of a woman rejected and scorned that served as a zchus, merit, for all those in the building.

Rav Chaim explained that the humiliation of rejection, the knowledge that one is not wanted by their fellow man, is the worst pain and hurt that a person can undergo. He would emphasize this while relating the story of the agunah. Her tribulation lay neither in her meager savings as a laundress nor in her responsibility of raising her children alone -- without the hope of ever having a partner. Her pain lay in the overwhelming awareness that she had been rejected - totally - by the very person who had chosen her to be his life's partner. It was an awareness that would haunt her throughout her life, a knowledge with which she was condemned to live to the day she died. It was this evaluation of her circumstances that magnified her act of forgiveness. Her zchus was now understandable.

While it is sometimes difficult to say "yes" when a parent asks for a second chance, a student begs for forgiveness, or a child says he is sorry for the "umpteenth" time, the "no" alternative carries with it awesome ramifications. Perhaps, we should think twice before choosing this alternative.


And they (Yaakov and Eisav) cried. (33:4) Peninei Torah explains why they both cried. Eisav cried because he was compelled to kiss Yaakov. Yaakov cried because he was acutely aware that Eisav did not kiss without return. This kiss would be very "costly."

Yaakov arrived shaleim (safely). (33:18)

Yaakov Avinu lived as a stranger wherever he went, so that he would not assimilate with the inhabitants of the land. To ensure his distinctiveness, he focused upon three aspects: his Jewish name; his Jewish language, lashon ha'kodesh; and his Jewish dress code. Indeed, it was their adherence to these three elements that served as a zchus, merit, for the Jews to be redeemed from Egypt. The Chasam Sofer notes that the word shaleim -- shin, lamed, mem -- is a notreikin, acronym, for sheim, name; lashon, language; malbush, dress/clothing.

This is the only way we will consent to you; if you will be like us circumcising all your males. (34:15)

Horav Yehonasan Eibeshitz, zl, explains that Shimon and Levi made a practical suggestion. Had they killed the inhabitants of Shechem without insisting that they be circumcised, the world would be up in arms against them. To kill a gentile nation would raise a furor among the other pagan nations of the world. Not so once they were circumcised. Now they were Jews, and the world would not care about the murder of Jews.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
Rabbi L. Scheinbaum

Sponsored by Chaim Kaufman
in loving memory of my mother


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

The Seventh volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel