Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Vayishlach.

The Cosmic Twins

Our sages tell us that before G‑d created our world, He created an “earlier” state of existence—the world of Tohu (“Chaos”). But this was a world of “much light and scant vessels.” As a result, the vessels burst and the light escaped. G‑d then created “our” world—the world of Tikkun (“Correction”), constructed with “broad containers and scant light” that allow it to function and endure.

There was a reason for this “debacle.” G‑d desired that our “correct” world should be built upon the ruins of Tohu, so that we should delve beneath its surface to unearth the “sparks of holiness” that are the residue of this primordial world, tap their potent potential, and ultimately integrate the two realities, capturing the immense light of Tohu in the broad vessels of Tikkun.

The Kabbalists see Esau and Jacob as the embodiment of the cosmic twinship of Tohu and Tikkun.

Esau is the raw, untamed energy of Tohu. A destructive force, because he lacks the discipline and control that would channel this energy in a useful, constructive way. But he is also a very powerful force—far more powerful than the constricted and defined energies that animate Jacob’s correct and orderly world. The challenge, is to bring together the cosmic twins in a way that exploits the best of both worlds: to marry the immense energy of Tohu with the focus and control of Tikkun.
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An Unreasonable Source

Thirteen years is the age at which a Jewish male attains the state of daat—the understanding that makes a person responsible for his actions. From this point on he is bound by the divine commandments of the Torah.

This age is derived from the Torah’s account of the destruction of the city of Shechem by Shimon and Levi in retaliation for the rape of Dinah. The term "man" is used to refer to both brothers, the younger of whom, Levi, was exactly thirteen years old at the time. Thus we derive that the Torah considers a male of thirteen years to be a "man."

Shimon and Levi’s act seems hardly an exemplar of daat; indeed, Jacob denounced their deed as irrational, immature, irresponsible and of questionable legitimacy under Torah law. Yet this is the event that the Torah chooses to teach us the age of reason, maturity, responsibility!?

The situation that prompted their action did not allow them the luxury of rational consideration. The integrity of Israel was at stake, and the brothers of Dinah could give no thought to their own person. In the end, their instinctive reaction, coming from the deepest place in their souls—deeper than reason—was validated; G‑d condoned their deed and came to their assistance.

This is the message that the Torah wishes to convey when establishing the age of reason and the obligation of mitzvot. Rare is the person who is called upon to act as did Shimon and Levi. This is not the norm; indeed, the norm forbids it. But the essence of their deed should permeate our rational lives. Our every mitzvah should be saturated with the self-sacrifice and depth of commitment that motivated the brothers of Dinah.
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Two Names

In this week’s Torah reading, after his struggle with the angel of his brother Esau, Jacob is given a second name, Yisrael (Israel).

Judaism, particularly in the light of the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, puts much emphasis on names. In that vein, the two names used to refer to Jacob highlight different elements of our divine service. The letters of the name Yaakov, Hebrew for Jacob, can be broken into the phrase י עקב. The letter י refers to the fundamental G‑dly spark that exists within each of us. עקב, ekev, is the Hebrew for heel, a limb which our Sages describe as “the angel of death within a human being.” For the calloused heel is insensitive. It lacks the ability to feel stimuli from the outside and respond to it.

The name Yaakov, Jacob, refers to a Jew on the level of a heel, i.e., when our ability to appreciate and respond to spirituality is hamstrung. Even then, one must realize that the first letter of our name is a yud, i.e., G‑dliness is what dominates and directs our lives. In a larger sense, the name Jacob refers to the Jews as they are in exile. Yes, their spiritual potential remains intact, but outwardly, they must grapple with their environment, which places them at a spiritual disadvantage.

Yisrael (ישראל), Israel, Jacob’s second name, communicates a different message. That name can be broken up into the words ישר א-ל, “direct to G‑d.” On the level of Israel, a Jew — and the Jewish people as a whole — need no subterfuge. Their Jewish identity shines powerfully at all times and in all situations. As the Torah states, that name was given when “you strove with men and angels and you prevailed.”
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The Donkey

The Torah portion of Vayishlach begins by relating that Yaakov sent angels to his brother Esav, informing him that he had “sojourned by Lavan and tarried till now.” He then told him that “I have acquired cattle, donkeys and sheep.” The Midrash notes: “‘Donkey’ refers to King Moshiach, as the verse states [in reference to Moshiach]: ‘A poor man, riding on a donkey.’ ”

Moshiach’s arrival is dependent on Birurim, the service of elevating the sparks of holiness found in the world. When a Jew refines his body, and his animal soul then the revelation of the Moshiach is drawn down.

Yaakov therefore stated that he had only “sojourned” with Lavan, indicating that physical matters were for him only a means to an end, i.e., their transformation into vessels for G‑dliness.

Having accomplished this task, he sends angels to inform his brother that he has a “donkey,” i.e., he is now ready for Moshiach’s arrival. He did so since he reasoned that Esav too had concluded his spiritual service, and so for Esav as well, the time for Redemption had arrived.

The angels returned and reported: “We came to your brother, to Esav.” In effect the angels said, “You call him your ‘brother’ — you are ready to go together with him towards the Redemption. But he is still ‘Esav,’ he has yet to be refined.”

Since this was so, the Redemption could not take place.
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Anticipating his brother’s hostility, Jacob sent Esau a message of peace. Jacob’s message, however, began not with words of conciliation, but with the declaration, “I lived with Laban for 22 years, yet I scrupulously fulfilled all 613 Mitzvos:”