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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He charged them, saying, "Thus shall you say, 'To my lord, to Eisav, so said your servant Yaakov.'" (32:5)

A number of ambiguities seem to surround the meeting between Yaakov Avinu and his brother, Eisav. Midrash Rabbah posits that Eisav was not on his way to confront Yaakov; rather, our Patriarch instigated the meeting. Yaakov is compared to one who grabs the ear of a dog (Mishlei 26:17) and, as a result, the dog bites him. According to the Midrash, Hashem said to Yaakov, "Eisav is journeying along his way, and you initiate a meeting with him by sending him a message implying that you are his servant, Yaakov."

Chazal indicate that Yaakov erred by getting involved with Eisav. "Let sleeping dogs lie": If Eisav is not bothering you, ignore him and be thankful. In another Midrash, Chazal state that, when Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi would have to go to Rome to discuss the government's treatment of the Jewish religion and its effect upon the Jews of the Holy Land, he would study Parashas Vayishlach, using it as a guide on how to deal with the government. This would seem to indicate that Yaakov's behavior was laudable.

The Ramban explains that Parashas Vayishlach was termed parashas ha'galus, the parsha dealing with the exile. Thus, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi followed his holy grandfather's advice on how to deal with a gentile. This idea is reiterated by the Shlah Hakadosh, applying the notion, Maase avos siman labanim, "The actions of the fathers are a portent for their sons," as to how to act. Just as Yaakov prepared himself with doron, a gift; tefillah, prayer; milchamah, for war, if necessary; likewise, should we make similar preparations when it is our time to meet with the gentile rulers. Apparently, Yaakov's intentions and manner of preparation for his meeting with Eisav take on a new perspective if they are to serve as the road map for our encounter with the Eisavs of our time. One question concerning Yaakov's behavior stands out: Why did the Patriarch act obsequiously by referring to himself as, "your servant, Yaakov."

In his Shevilei Pinchas, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, presents us with an entirely new scenario, based upon the illuminating expositions of the Chassidic Masters. He begins with a question concerning the pasuk, Vayitzav osam leimor, "He charged them, saying." The word leimor, saying, appears to be superfluous. Usually this word is used when one expresses his intention concerning what to say to someone. Yaakov, however, already did this with the words - "Thus shall you say." This question is posed by the Agra D'Kallah who quotes the following Midrash to explain the pasuk.

"Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi asked Rabbi Efes to pen for him a letter to the Antoninus (Marcus Aurelious) Caesar. He first wrote: "From Yehudah Nesia (the Prince) to our master, King Antoninus." Rabbi Yehudah tore up the letter, feeling that the greeting had been improperly written. Finally, he wrote, "From your servant, Yehudah, to the master, King Antoninus." Rabbi Efes questioned this greeting. "Why are you denigrating yourself before the king?" Rabbi Yehudah replied, "Am I better than my grandfather (Yaakov) who said to Eisav, 'From your servant, Yaakov?'"

We derive from Chazal that the moreh derech, guide, for Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi in his dealings with Antoninus was none other than Yaakov Avinu. Rebbi (as he is referred to in the Talmud) had no problem denigrating his status of Nasi, because Yaakov appeared to have done the same in preparing for his encounter with Eisav. Thus, the Agra D'Kallah interprets the word leimor, saying, as a portent for future generations, indicating that, upon addressing gentile rulers, we should follow Yaakov's directive. Leimor - as he said it then, so should his descendants follow suit.

For the next frame in his presentation, Rav Friedman quotes the Megaleh Amukos, who cites the opening pasuk of Parashas Va'eschanan (Devarim 3:23), Va'eschanan el Hashem ba'eis ha'hi leimor, "I implored Hashem at that time, saying," He renders a brilliant insight into Moshe Rabbeinu's leimor. Our leader, Moshe, saw b'ruach ha'kodesh, through Divine Inspiration, that one day Rebbi would redact the Six Orders of Mishnayos which serve as the foundation for Torah She'Baal Peh, the Oral Law. Although this seems to be a violation of Torah law, which prohibits the dissemination of the Oral Law in written or fixed form, Rebbi did this with virtually unanimous consent from all of the Sages at the time. It had become clear that the structure of the Jewish world was about to change. Jews were migrating away from the centers of Torah and would soon lose contact with one another, causing Torah scholarship to inevitably decline. The nation, under pressure of various cultures, would variably disintegrate as a Torah entity. Applying the rule, Eis laasos l'Hashem heifeiru Torasecha, "It is a time to act for the sake of Hashem; they have overturned Your Torah" (Tehillim 119:126), we derive from this pasuk that it may, at times, become necessary to exert certain flexibility concerning the letter of the law, so that it may be preserved and the larger principle be protected.

Therefore, Rebbi used the guidelines of the pasuk, Eis laasos l'Hashem, as his directive for writing down the Oral Law. Rebbi did this with incredible mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, because he knew it was the only way to save the Oral Law from extinction. This was carried out at a time when relations between Rome and Eretz Yisrael were, at best, tenuous. As a result of Rebbi's incredibly close relationship with Antoninus, a moratorium on Jewish persecution seemed to prevail. It was Antoninus who granted Rebbi the necessary permission to redact the Mishnayos.

This, explains the Megaleh Amukos, was Moshe's prayer: Va'eschanan, represents: vov - six (orders of Mishnayos) eschanan - "I implored." Moshe prayed for Rebbi's success in redacting the six (vov) orders of Mishnayos. Ba'eis ha'hi: This was done as a result of the dispensation, ba'eis hahi, which is a reference to Eis laasos l'Hashem, "It is a time to act for Hashem." The word leimor is a nutrekon, abbreviation, for: lamed: l'yemos (in the days); aleph: Antoninus; mem: melech (king); reish (Rome).

We now have two meanings for the word leimor: A) for future generations to follow suit; B) abbreviation indicating that Yaakov was heralding Rebbi's redaction of the Mishnayos. The Megaleh Amukos adds that Rebbi was a gilgul, reincarnation, of Yaakov Avinu, and Antoninus was a gilgul of Eisav. Indeed, he explains that this was why Rebbi was called Nasi, which is an abbreviation for nitzutz (spark) shel (of) Yaakov Avinu.

What prompted Yaakov to arouse the spark of decency within Antoninus, somehow so that Torah She'Baal Peh would be preserved? Rav Friedman shows us that our Patriarch received a Heavenly indication that this was appropriate. Yaakov sent malachim, messengers, to Eisav. Rashi explains that these were no simple messengers, but rather, malachim mamash, real, authentic, Heavenly Angels, whom our Patriarch dispatched.

The Yismach Moshe explains who these malachim were. There are two forms of malachim: those who were created by Hashem during the Six Days of Creation; those who are created as the result of a person's Torah study and mitzvah observance. The primary difference between these two types of Angel is their creation in relation to the righteous person whose positive action catalyzes their creation. Obviously, those Angels who were created during the creation of the world preceded man, while the other ones are predated by man.

Ki malachav yetzaveh lach lishmarcha b'chol derachecha, "He will charge His Angels for you, to protect you in all your ways" (Tehillim 91:11). In his Maggid Meisharim, Horav Yosef Karo, zl, explains that this pasuk refers to the Angels that are created by a person's mitzvos. They accompany him at all times. Yaakov Avinu did not want to dispatch the Angels that were always with him as agents to go to Eisav. He felt that, by doing so, Eisav would be benefiting from his Torah. Hashem sent another group of Angels - those who were created during the Six Days of Creation. Thus, when Yaakov saw them, he declared, Machaneh Elokim zeh, "This is a G-dly camp" (Bereishis 32:3). These were not Angels whose usual job it was to accompany. Therefore, he called the place Machanayim, "Two Camps," alluding to the two camps of Angels who were present.

When Yaakov observed the new group of Angels who were Heaven sent, he realized that Hashem wanted these Angels to be his agents to go to Eisav. Who were the Angels? Rav Friedman points to the Tefillas HaDerech, wayfarers' prayer, in which we recite the above pasuk recording Yaakov's encounter with the Angels and his statement upon seeing them: Vayomer Yaakov Kaasher raam, "And Yaakov said upon seeing them; this is a G-dly camp." The letters which comprise Raam: Reish - Rephael; Aleph - Oriel; Mem - Michael, with Machaneh Elokim representing - Gavriel. Thus, the four Archangels which we mention during Krias Shema al ha'mitah, prior to going to sleep, who protect us then, also accompany us on our journey.

Last, we have the brother of the Maharal m'Prague, who writes in his Igeres Ha'Tiyul that the word Gemorah (Talmud/Oral Law) is an abbreviation for the names of these four Angels. Gimmel - Gavriel; Mem - Michael; Reish - Raphael; Aleph - Oriel. This teaches us that one who studies Gemorah is surrounded by the four Heavenly Archangels, who are present to protect him.

In summation, Yaakov sent the four Heavenly Angels (who were sent to him by Hashem) to Eisav, because by appeasing Eisav, he would arouse the spark of Antoninus residing deep within Eisav, so that he would assist Rebbi (Yaakov's descendant) to redact the Oral Law. These Angels represent the letters of Gemorah, which is the ultimate culmination of the Oral Law begun by Rebbi. We now understand why Rebbi would always study Parashas Vayishlach prior to visiting Antoninus in Rome. It was in this parsha that Rebbi saw how his saintly grandfather, Yaakov, set the stage for his spiritual success. I have condensed this thesis for the sake of brevity; however, it gives the reader a small window into the secrets of Torah whose surface we barely penetrate.

I have been diminished by all of the kindness and by all the truth that You have done Your servant. (32:11)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu feared that his merits had been reduced as a result of the kindness and truth that Hashem had performed for him. He was concerned that, since the time that Hashem had promised to be with him, he had become soiled with sin, and this sin would cause him to be given over to Eisav. Rashi seems to be making two statements. First, the Patriarch was worried that the merits which might have protected him had been reduced by his acceptance of Hashem's favors. True, he possessed many z'chusim, but he was spared until now from falling into the hands of his father-in-law, Lavan, which occurred after he had narrowly escaped the clutches of Eisav. Therefore, Yaakov realized that he was riding on Hashem's favors, which were the result of his merits. At a certain point his "merit" account was going to be greatly reduced.

Second, Rashi appears to be saying that Yaakov feared the effects of sin. Perhaps he had become spiritually tarnished due to behavior that was unbecoming to him. We could simply suggest that Yaakov feared both: the reduction of merit; and the effect of sin. Thus, we may say that the Patriarch's primary anxiety resulted from the fear that he had become tarnished by sin. If so, why did his merits not protect him? He feared that his merits had been deflected as a result of the overwhelming kindnesses he had received from Hashem. Therefore, he feared that he could no longer rely on the merits to protect him from the consequences of his sin.

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, offers an insightful explanation to connect the two: depletion of merit; and the tarnishment of sin. When a person observes the multifold kindnesses that he receives from Hashem; when he takes into account the incredible Divine Providence which guides his life; when he takes these wonderful gifts and thinks about them - their meaning - their value - their outstanding benefit, suddenly the demand for him to act properly and serve Hashem better increases greatly.

This is what Yaakov intimated. Although the sins that he might have committed were very "light" in nature (and, quite possibly, considered a "sin" only commensurate with the Patriarch's personal elevated spiritual plane), now that he took into account all of the Heavenly kindnesses and truths he had experienced, he feared that his sins had become magnified. The more one is aware of Hashem, the greater is the infraction when he acts out of line. Yaakov's deeper cognition of the gratitude he owed the Almighty gave his actions, which before seemed miniscule, much greater weight.

We can derive a powerful lesson from here. Some of us are convinced - or at least have convinced themselves - that they lead perfectly observant lives, and whatever minor infractions they "may" commit, are just that - minor. Do we, however, take into account the many favors that Hashem Yisborach has accorded us? If we were to tally up the wonderful kindnesses against the "minor" infractions, would we still be so smug in the self-righteous portrayal of ourselves? I could be wrong, but it is an idea to consider.

I have been diminished by all of the kindnesses and by all of the truth. (32:11)

Kindness is neither an absolute nor a definitive term. Thus, the statement, "all of the kindnesses," is an appropriate statement. Varied types of kindnesses come in different sizes, shapes and forms. To pay gratitude for all of the kindnesses that Yaakov Avinu received from Hashem is an unqualified statement. There are many kindnesses. Truth, however, is unequivocal. It is conclusive and unmitigated. There is only one truth. There is no "whole" truth versus a "half" - truth, because a half-truth is a full lie! Something is either one hundred percent true, or one hundred percent false. No grey area exists between true and false. What did Yaakov mean when he mentioned "all of the truth"?

Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, explains that we observe two forms of qualitative truth: absolute; and relative. Worldly concepts are, by their very nature, relative, because - regardless of the statement that we make - we can find something, somewhere that will supersede it. For example, we describe an object as large. This may be true in comparison to what we have presently before us. Elsewhere, however, we may find the same object - many times larger. Another example would be concerning the terms wealthy and poor. There is no absolute in describing poverty; nor is the term wealthy a definitive description. One person may have been a billionaire his entire life until he lost just about everything. He is now left with a mere $100,000. Another person never possessed a dollar to his name. Suddenly, he wins the lottery and comes home with $100,000. Both men have the same amount of money. One, however, is considered in sad shape, while the other is wealthy out of his mind! Everything is measured relatively, in accordance with what one has had. If he had nothing; he has plenty. If he had plenty; now, he is a rachamanus, pitied.

A similar system of relative comparison applies to the world of ethics and character refinement. The Torah writes that Noach was a tzaddik, righteous person. Yet, our sages debate whether the term tzaddik is relative to his generation of evil people, or the description would have been equally appropriate had he lived in Avraham Avinu's generation, when Noach would have had to measure up to a higher standard. Likewise, in the prayer recited following the reading of Sefer Tehillim (actually the prayer recited by the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, on Yom Kippur, Talmud Taanis 24b), we say, V'lo yitztarchu amcha Bais Yisrael zeh lazeh, v'lo l'am acher, "And your nation the House of Yisrael should need neither (the assistance) of one another, nor that of another nation." Simply, this is a reference to material assistance. We entreat the Almighty to render us self-sufficient, without having to rely on outside help, be it from other Jews or other nations.

Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m'Berditchev offers an alternative interpretation that grants us new insight into the meaning of "assistance." When a Jew is judged by the Heavenly Tribunal, what if he comes up "short" on his merit account? What if he just does not have sufficient virtue to warrant a positive arbitration of his case for life? Hashem will judge him relatively - in comparison with others. If he comes out on top, it might not be because he is himself virtuous; but rather, it might be because he is better than others of similar circumstances and rearing. If, for some reason, he is at the bottom of the list, then, it is necessary for the Heavenly Tribunal to look elsewhere, out of the box, at gentiles. In comparison to the gentile, we always come up smelling roses, because we have the advantage of Atah bechartanu mikol ha'amim, "You have chosen us from among all the nations." This concept saves us. Thus, the prayer that we supplicate is: May we be virtuous in our own merit, without having to be compared to others.

In any event, we observe that a relative dichotomy exists concerning the definition of emes, truth. Thus, Rav Zevin distinguishes between emes l'amito, true truth or deep truth, and "just plain" emes. Emes is measured on a relative scale, as we have seen above. Something is considered true in comparison with other things that are clearly not true. Emes takes into account background, circumstances, qualifications, etc. Is it true - yes or no? The laws of the Torah, however, are absolute truth, rendered by Hashem, the Divine Author of the laws and the Torah. The mitzvah itself generates reward. The aveirah, sin, itself engenders punishment.

Yaakov Avinu did not view the world through simple, mortal eyes. His perspective penetrated the physical, as he gazed at the intrinsic essence of everything before him. He saw beyond the relative truth to which we are privy. He saw emes l'amito. Therefore, he was able to say, "I have been diminished by all of the kindnesses and all of the truth." He understood the meaning of "all."

Devorah, the wet-nurse of Rivkah, died, and she was buried below Bais-Kel, below the plateau; and he named it Allon-Bachus. (35:8)

One expects the Torah to record the lives of the Jewish nation's most distinguished, intriguing figures. Indeed, the Avos and Imahos, Patriarchs and Matriarchs, were individuals without peer. Their lives represented the Jewish mission; their enduring legacy is the Jewish nation, who are their progeny. Understandably, their lives obscure the lives of those whose impact on the future was less compelling. We are rarely introduced to one of those "obscure" individuals, a person whose impact on the future of the nation, while not as significant as that of the Avos and Imahos, still left an impression. In this parsha we read about such a person, concerning whose existence we are informed of only at the time of her death. The Torah does not record anything about her life. We find this in the various Midrashim.

Devorah, the wet-nurse of Rivkah, is introduced to the reader via her obituary. In fact, the reason her passing is noted is that she happened to be with Yaakov Avinu at the time. Why she was there and why the Torah records her passing, engender a debate between Rashi and Ramban.

Chazal teach that, while the Torah only mentions the passing of Devorah, the place where she is buried is called Allon Bachus, which Chazal perceive to mean the plateau of double weeping. They explain that Rivkah Imeinu had also died. The Torah does not mention her death explicitly, because she was buried secretly. Rivkah's funeral was very sad. Her husband, Yitzchak Avinu, was blind and could not attend. Her son, Yaakov, whom she loved, was away from home, for fear of his life at the hands of his brother, the wicked Eisav. Eisav would not attend, because he blamed his mother for all of his problems. It was through her machinations that he lost out on the brachos, blessings. Thus, Rivkah was buried by her neighbors in a quiet, sad ceremony. The Torah writes about Devorah's passing, but by referring to her burial place as the place of double weeping, the Torah alludes to the passing of Rivkah.

Rashi contends that Rivkah had sent the elderly Devorah to notify Yaakov Avinu that it was finally safe to return home. Ramban posits that when Yaakov left Lavan, he took Devorah with him. Apparently, she had returned to Padam-Aram following Rivkah's marriage. Out of respect for his mother, Yaakov supported her wet-nurse in her old age. In any event, Devorah had been around for quite some time, having been witness to the glory of the building of the House of Yisrael. According to Ramban, she probably played a role in raising the Shivtei Kah. According to Rashi, she probably raised Yaakov. Yet, all of this time, she remained in the background. Clearly, she had had an influence on the children and, by extension, on Klal Yisrael.

These are two women whose lives were intertwined almost from the onset. Both had long and troubled lives. Rivkah raised Yaakov, but she never had the chance to see the nachas of her grandchildren. Devorah led an obscure life. She was always present, but the Torah does not identify her until her passing - and that is only in order to conceal the sad, covert, late-at-night funeral of Rivkah.

Both of these great women gained distinction for their motherly function. Rivkah gave up experiencing the nachas for which every parent pines, so that Yaakov could be safe. Devorah remained in the background all of her life as a wet-nurse and then as the mentor of the Shevatim. The world around us venerates the public person and pays homage to the superstar. What about, however, the fellow who goes through life faithfully executing his daily tasks without complaint and without fanfare; the fellow who sits in the back of the shul and spends every spare moment learning, without publicizing his presence; the one who only achieves recognition posthumously? These two women attest to their distinction. It is about what you do - not about who knows about it. Some people are truly recognized posthumously - in fact, no one is aware of their true greatness while they are living. I recently heard this story from a Rav, who heard it directly from Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl. Even if it is not a "seamless" fit with the above dvar Torah, it is worth relating to the reading public.

Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, would visit Shaarei Tzedek hospital every Shabbos. One Shabbos, he was there when an elderly patient had a heart attack. A few hours later, when he was about to leave the hospital, he went to check up on that patient. He walked into the room and was shocked to see the man sitting up in bed, as if nothing had ever occurred. Sensing Rav Aryeh's incredulity, the man said, "I actually died and my neshamah, soul, went up to Heaven. It was not yet ready to leave this world, and I begged for a reprieve. The Heavenly Tribunal replied that I had lived out my allotted time in this world. The subject seemed closed, when suddenly, the neshamah of a great Rav entered. 'Let him go back,' the neshamah pleaded. 'For twenty-five years he was a gabbai tzedakah, charity solicitor and received no recompense.' I was allowed to return, but my neshamah did not know to connect back with my body. It began to flounder around, when suddenly, out of 'nowhere,' another neshamah came over and showed 'me' how to return.

"I asked this neshamah why he was doing this for me. He replied that he had once been visiting my town in western Europe on a Shabbos. The custom would be that all the guests lined up single file by the door of the shul, and, when the congregants would walk by, they would invite them one by one. 'I was last in line. Because of my oversized girth, no one wanted to invite me. You were a little boy of nine years old,' he said. 'Your father quickly walked by, taking you with him. I was left alone in shul - depressed, dejected and hungry. A short while later, you returned and invited me to your home. Apparently, when you came home, you created a ruckus by crying and begging that I be invited. This is why I came back to help you.'"

One never knows whom he is actually helping when he helps someone; it might even be himself.

Va'ani Tefillah

L'heyos lachem l'Elokim. To be for you a G-d.

The Jew's raison d'etre is stated herein. We were slaves to the evil Pharaoh in Egypt. There was no way out. No one had ever escaped from his city. Certainly, an entire nation had no hope of ever leaving that country. The Almighty liberated us from bondage, made us into His nation, elevated us above and beyond any other nation. Hashem gave us the Torah, which became our way of life and source of happiness. He then took us to Eretz Yisrael, which is our homeland. All of this occurred as a result of the Exodus. Tzitzis is our reminder of the Exodus. When we look at the Tzitzis, all of this and the ensuing hakoras hatov, gratitude, should be reflected upon.

Why did Hashem do all of this? L'heyos lachem l'Elokim, "To be for you a G-d." The sole intention of yetzias Mitzrayim was so that we would become His People. We were liberated from a despot who controlled a depraved society, so that we could serve Hashem with love and gratitude. If we do not serve Hashem - we might as well go back to Egypt, because that is where we would otherwise be. It is sad that some of our people do not realize how fortunate we are to serve Hashem. He gave us the choice - either Hashem or Pharaoh. For the observant Jew, this is no question. The choice is clear.

in memory of
Rabbi Louis Engelberg z"l
niftar 8 Kislev 5758
Mrs. Hannah Engelberg z"l
niftara 3 Teves 5742
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen
and Family

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