In parshat Vayishlach, we read that Jacob heard that Esau was coming towards him with 400 armed men, intent on destroying him. Jacob was afraid, so he divided everything he had into two camps, thinking that if Esau attacks one, the other will survive. He then turned to G‑d in prayer, asking Him to save him from Esau.

Last week, in parshat Vayeitzei, we read that Jacob had a dream in which G‑d told him that He would be with him and protect him. Why would he feel that G‑d wouldn't protect him now? Jacob answers the question in his prayer, saying, "[My merits] have become diminished (katonti), because of all of the acts of kindness and trustworthiness you have done for your servant, for with my staff (ki b'makli) I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps."1 Jacob was afraid that with all G‑d had already done for him, he may have used up his merits, causing G‑d to discontinue his protection.

Jacob mentions two events in this verse as reasons that he felt may have used up his merit. First, "For with my staff (ki b'makli) I have crossed this Jordan," and second, "now I have become two camps." The second one is understood to mean that he attained great wealth. But our sages give two explanations as to what, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," means.

The first explanation, cited by Rashi,2 is that Jacob was saying how poor he had been when he first crossed the Jordan 20 years earlier, on his way down to Charan. This explanation brings out the meaning of the second half of the verse, because, in contrast to his poverty the last time he crossed the Jordan, one can understand the tremendous kindness G‑d showed him by giving him this great wealth.

The Midrash3 gives a second explanation: "For with my staff I have crossed this Jordan" means that on his way down to Charan, he stuck his staff into the Jordan. The water split for him and he crossed on dry land. According to this explanation, the verse is mentioning two unrelated kindnesses that happened to Jacob, the splitting of the Jordan and his great wealth.

Whenever there are different explanations on a word, verse or concept in the Torah, there has to be a common thread.4 The problem here is that they are opposites, the first being a negative, that he was poor; the second is positive, that G‑d split the Jordan for him. What could possibly be the common link between the two?

The 19th of Kislev always falls on the week before or after we read Vayishlach and is celebrated around the world as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut. One of the reasons for this holiday is that on this day, the Alter Rebbe was released from prison. He was incarcerated on false charges related to his book, the Tanya. His imprisonment was seen as a referendum on the teachings of Chassidut, especially the Tanya. It was understood that a battle was taking place Above over whether or not these teachings should be allowed to be spread and taught openly. When the Rebbe was freed, it was an indication that the war was over and the side for allowing them to be taught was victorious.

After he was freed, the Alter Rebbe penned a letter to the community, starting with the word “katonti.”5 In it, he writes, "Jacob felt very, very small in his own eyes, because of the many kindnesses, 'for with my staff (ki b'makli) etc.' "6 He ends there and he doesn't continue with the rest of the verse.

This is difficult to understand because "for with my staff" doesn't point to any kindness that G‑d did for Jacob. If he wanted to cite the multiple acts of kindness G‑d bestowed upon Jacob, it would make sense to write the latter part of the verse, "I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps." Or at the very least, add, "I have crossed," which would at least hint to G‑d splitting the Jordan for him.

We have to conclude that within the words "ki b'makli" is found G‑d's kindness to Jacob."

The Tzemach Tzedek7 (the third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch), brings the words of the Shaloh Hakadosh,8 who says that the letters of the words, "ki b'makli," make up the first letters of the words, "Baruch kvod Hashem mimkomo,"9 "Lishuatecha kiviti G‑d."10 ("Blessed is G‑d's honor from His place," and "For Your salvation I hope G‑d.") The Tzemach Tzedek continues to explain that this is similar to what is found in Torah Ohr11 (by the Alter Rebbe) on the verse, "You do justice and tzedakah in Jacob," that there has to be both justice and tzedakah, and these are the same as, "Blessed is G‑d's honor from His place," and "For Your salvation I hope G‑d."

There are two ways our relationship with G‑d could manifest itself. For someone who is righteous, he could simply ask G‑d for his needs out of justice. He has rightfully earned it, and because of that, he can outright ask for it.12 These people connect to G‑d at the highest levels, symbolized by the verse, "Blessed is G‑d's honor from His place." Then there are those of us who are not at that level. When we ask of G‑d, we are asking for tzedakah, because may not deserve it. This is symbolized by the verse, "For Your salvation I hope G‑d." Because we don't think we deserve, we hope to be saved nonetheless.

Seemingly, justice and tzedakah are opposites. Either you are asking for tzedakah or demanding justice. How can you have both together?

The answer is that there is a third level, the level of Jacob, where both justice and tzedakah are employed simultaneously. He certainly deserves it, but because of his great humility, he sees himself as undeserving, and asks for his needs as a tzedakah. This is the greatest and truest nullification of one's ego, drawing G‑d's kindness from the highest place, "from His place."

Now we can understand the connection between the two seemingly opposite explanations of "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan." This is because Jacob embodied both of these ideas simultaneously. He deserved great miracles, such as the splitting of the Jordan, and at the same time he was humble as a poor person with only a staff. And specifically because his ego was nullified, he merited such a great kindness from G‑d.

Since we all are children of Jacob, we inherited these virtues, to have justice and tzedakah simultaneously. And because we are considered "children of Kings,"13 even the lightest work is considered hard labor for us. We have all put in at least that much effort, and are therefore all deserving, and we are all able to ask for our needs outright, out of justice. This means that we have a tremendous opportunity. If we can nullify our egos before G‑d, we will draw down the greatest blessings of nachas, good health and abundance,14 and especially the blessing of all blessings, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.