Torah Study

Parasha of the Week - Vayashev

Rabbi Michael Skobac:

The Talmud teaches that a Torah scholar should possess 1/8th of 1/8th of haughtiness (Sotah 5a).

The Gaon of Vilna explained that this is hinting at the 8th verse in the 8th portion of the Torah. This week's parsha, VaYishlach, it the 8th portion of Genesis. The eight verse is 32:11 which begins, "I am unworthy of all the acts of kindness..".

While a Torah scholar must possess a certain amount of "arrogance" in order to defend the honor of the Torah - it must be a very small amount and s/he must feel unworthy of it.

Rabbi Michael Skobac:

"Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. The man saw that he could not defeat him, so he struck the socket of his hip...And the man said: No longer will your name be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, for you have contended with Divine beings and with men, and you have won." (Genesis 32:25-29)

Why does scripture tell us that Jacob won this encounter when he was the one to be seriously wounded and causing him to limp afterward (verse 32)?

Our sages teach that Jacob's fight was not with a human, but with an angelic being. This was not a physical encounter as much as a spiritual one. Whatever the meaning of this struggle was for Jacob - we can learn something for our own lives. If we are engaged in a spiritual conflict with someone, and we end up striking them - it shows that we have lost.

If we are disputing ideas with someone else and we resort to verbal violence - we have lost. The Maharal of Prague wrote that in religious discussions, if we try to cut off our opponent from expressing their view - it demonstrates the weakness of our own faith.

Rabbi Michael Skobac

"Jacob became very frightened and distressed. He divided the people with him, along with the sheep, cattle and camels, into two camps." (Genesis 32:8)

After hearing that his brother Esav, who held a furious grudge against him, was coming toward him with 400 men - Jacob got very nervous. But why does the verse use two words to express this fear?

The Chozeh from Lublin (among others) suggests that he was frightened of Esav, but then became distressed over this fear, since Hashem had promised that He would be with him and will protect him wherever he goes (Genesis 28:15).

Rashi suggests that Jacob was afraid that Esav might kill him and his family - and he was distressed that he might have to kill Esav in self-defense. (This sentiment was famously echoed by Golda Meir, who served as the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1974. "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.")

                                                                                                         Rabbi Chaim Coffman:

Don't budge one inch!

"And Yaakov sent messengers before him to Esav his brother to the land of Se'ir, the country of Edom. And he commanded them saying, This you shall speak to my lord Esav: Your servant Yaakov says I have sojourned with Lavan, and stayed there until now: and I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants and women servants and I have sent to tell my lord that I may find favor in your sight" (Genesis 32:4-6).

Yaakov tells Esav about the wealth that he has accumulated to find favor in his eyes. We know that the fight for the birthright between the two brothers was about this world and the next world. Yaakov wanted to show although he was given blessing in this world Esav shouldn't worry that he had forsaken spirituality. In reality we are allowed to use this world for our benefit but we have to realize that the main thing we have to focus on is spirituality!

For the sake of livelihood or other things in the secular world we may have to do things we don't like or may even have to compromise. Spirituality is not like that! This is what Yaakov means when he tells Esav that he lived with Lavan. Rashi there says that he lived with Lavan but he kept all the commandments. Do we really think Esav cared that Yaakov remained religious despite living with the evil Lavan?

Yaakov made Esav understand that even though he lived by Lavan, his closeness to G-d and his level of religiosity did not change. Although Esav was far from this ideal, he grew up in the house of Yitzchak so he understood what spirituality was. Yaakov makes clear that Esav too will not have a bad influence on him just as Lavan did not!

This is important for us today on many levels. We may be out in the workforce and come in contact with many types of Lavan that want to weaken our spiritual resolve. We have to know that regardless of where we are and what we are doing we still have to do what G-d wants us to do at all times. This is not easy when we are given different trials and tribulations.

At the same time, our spiritual resolve has to remain strong and unyielding. Once there is a chink in our spiritual armor, the evil inclination clenches its claws on us to make us weaker. We have to constantly strengthen ourselves in that area so that it cannot have its negative affect on us!

As we get closer to Chanukah we realize that this is exactly what the Greeks wanted to do to us. They didn't care if we wanted to be religious but they desired that we should partake in their gymnasium's and learn in their schools and be like them. We have seen the "Greeks" of today that advocate the same thing which has given the Jewish people a 60% intermarriage rate and rampant assimilation. May we take Yaakov's strength in being unyielding and strong in our religious pursuits and bring out the light of Torah!

                                                                                                  Rabbi Chaim Coffman:

We only Bow to G-d!

"Then he himself went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven time suntil he reached his brother" (Genesis 33:3).

How could Yaakov have bowed down to his brother and not transgressed the prohibition of bowing down to others? Isn't that idol worship? The Zohar answers that when he bowed down, his only intention was to go G-d and not worshiping his brother, G-d forbid. The verse says explicitly that he bowed to the ground and not to Esav!

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that is a timely message for all generations! Even though sometimes we may have to ingratiate ourselves to Esav, we have to remember that this is because of the decree of our exile that we have to do this.

The Jewish people are the chosen people and we cannot forget the importance that we have to be a light unto the nations. At the same time, we have to get along with our non-Jewish neighbors and do things we may not like to so that they find favor in our eyes. Throughout the generations, we have sadly not learned this properly.

Many have not only ingratiated themselves to the non-Jews but have embraced them and their customs! They claim that one of the main reasons that the nations give us a hard time and persecute us is because we are not more like them. Why should we be separate, have our different laws about kashrus, shabbos, the holidays...which make us different?

If we were more like them, assimilated into their culture and married their children, they would have proper respect for us! Isn't this what the Greeks wanted us to do? Be like them, enter their gymnasiums, go to their universities, and do everything that they did?

The result has been an utter disaster! Intermarriage rates have skyrocketed to over 60% and there are 13 million Jews out there that know nothing about their precious heritage! When we become like the nations and think that is the only to find grace with them so there is peace, we are shortchanging and robbing ourselves of our priceless heritage!

It is forbidden for us to antagonize the nations but at the same time, the Jewish people have to remain separate from them and keep our unique status. That means not be ashamed to keep the mitzvos and learn Torah to the best of our ability, not just be a Jew inside his house.

Yaakov here teaches us that although it may be true that we have flatter and charm the nations, it may because we have no choice because of this long exile. We have to remember though we have no one else to rely on except the one Above! The nations will never come to our rescue as history has borne out.

The Torah is what separates us and makes the people that we are. Our uniqueness is the driving force to unity which allows us to pass our priceless heritage to the future generations!