Parashat Vayishlach begins with Jacob about to reenter the land of Israel. After twenty years of exile from home, sunk into the depths of physical reality - problems with wives, children, and livelihood, and surrounded by scoundrels - Jacob prepares to encounter his brother Esau who had threatened to kill him. He sends a message to Esau that begins, "I have lived with Laban" (Gen. 32:4). Rearrange the letters of the Hebrew word for "lived", "garti", spelled gimel-reish-tav-yud, and you get "taryag", the number 613, the total number of mitzvot from the Torah. Rashi says that it was a statement of accomplishment: "Yes, I went through hardship, but nevertheless, I lived the right way. I kept all of the mitzvot and was not affected by the behavior of Laban and the others around me." Jacob…never considered moving off the path…

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, "Where does a person in this age of 'I'm OK, you're OK' get the strength to not compromise an iota on a principle, despite terrific obstacles?" He answers that we derive it from Jacob. We learn from the Torah that Jacob was an "ish tam", a "man of purity" almost to the point of naivete. He was so pure of heart that he put the basic principles of pushing away evil and doing good into constant action. He never considered moving off the path. Nothing affected him, not time, not space. He saw everything clearly. This is what must be done and in this way; nothing less will do. For Jacob this perception was to such an extreme that he did not even consider it a test of his principles, because no other way was even remotely considered.

This is the way of Jacob, a man of purity living a life of truth. For him, every detail and situation were equal in that he was not affected by any apparent difficulty or personal contradiction. And you know what? All of us who are reading this, as descendants of Jacob, have it in us to act just like him. All we have to do is try. This is the resoluteness that will bring Mashiach. We can't lose if we remember we are descendents of Israel…

This characteristic is demonstrated to an extraordinary degree in a later passage when Jacob fights with an angel, the spiritual minister of Esau (Gen. 32:25-29). Jacob wins and is told that his name will be changed to Israel. The angel explains that the new name means, "you fought with G‑d and with men and won". Thus, this week's portion reveals our hidden potential to be winners. We can't lose if we remember we are descendents of Israel. Just stick it out.

By the way, on the verse "If Esau comes to the first camp and smites it, the other camp will escape," (Gen. 32:8), the Midrash states that here we learn from the Torah some common sense: "A smart person should not invest all of his wealth in one place." Diversify!

In preparating for his encounter with his brother Esau, Jacob tried to foresee alternative attack scenarios and how to guarantee survival. He sent presents, reorganized his family and possessions, and prayed. In his prayers, he makes a very simple statement: "I have become small from all of the kindness You have done for me" (Gen. 32:11). Rashi explains that Jacob's intention in saying "I have become small" is "my merits have dwindled", and this is the reason he was afraid. Even though G‑d promised to return him to Israel safe and sound, all of the kindness he had already received, all of the promises G‑d had already fulfilled, made Jacob wary that all this had reduced his merit. He became worried that he was no longer a worthy vessel to be divinely protected from the destruction his brother was intending. The bottom line is to worry about it…

The Shelah goes right to the point. If this was how Jacob felt, how about the rest of us normal people (the text says "sinners", but I did not want to embarrass anyone) who are so far from his level. When the Al-mighty showers us with blessings, even if we have a few positive deeds to our credit, we have to assume they are nothing, that we already used the merit up. The bottom line is to worry about it, do a lot of tzedeka and other deeds of kindness, be very humble, don't get too entrenched in the pleasures of this world, and maybe, just maybe.... This is the only way we can expect to get what we need when we need it.

To close, the famous Chassidic sage, Yechiel Michel of Zlotshuv, was quoted as follows, "After 100 years, when I get to the world of truth and they ask me why I did not learn the entire Torah, both Talmuds, all of the Oral Tradition and codes of laws, I will tell them that my little brain could not take it all in. If they will ask me, does the Code of Jewish Law not teach us to fast every Monday and Thursday as a sign of mourning of the destruction of the Holy Temple? I will tell them that I was overcome by my naturally weak tendencies and so could not fast. When they will ask me why I gave so little tzedaka, I will tell them that I was by nature miserly. When they will say to me, 'Well, a small brain you had, a delicate nature you had, a miser you were, so then, how did you acquire such arrogance?' To that question I will not be able to give them an answer!"

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul


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