1. This week’s Torah portion begins by relating how Yaakov completed his service in Charan, establishing his family, and then sent messengers to Eisav, his brother, to the land of Seir. This act is slightly problematic: Yaakov was commanded by G‑d to return to Eretz Yisrael and G‑d promised him, “I will be with you.” Accordingly, it does not seem appropriate for him to tarry and send messengers. On the contrary, seemingly, he should have proceeded directly to Eretz Yisrael without any hesitation. This difficulty leads us to the conclusion that, as will be explained, in order for Yaakov to return to Eretz Yisrael in a full and complete manner, he had to send messengers to Eisav.

There is another somewhat problematic point concerning Eisav in this week’s Torah portion. After the portion relates the events which transpired until Yaakov returned to the home of Yitzchok, his father, it chronicles Eisav’s family and the nation, Edom, which descended from him. Thus, the Torah interrupts the narrative of Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael and the events which transpired afterwards with what appears to be a totally tangential matter, the chronicles of Eisav. What is the reason for this?

Rashi addresses himself to this difficulty in the beginning of his commentary to Parshas Vayeishev, relating:

After [the Torah] relates the... chronicles of Eisav in brief because they are not important.... It relates the... chronicles of Yaakov in detail for they are important and worthy of elaboration.... To cite an analogy, a pearl fell into sand. A person began... sifting through the sand to try to find the pearl. He would discard the pebbles and take the pearl.

The analog is that at the outset, the pearl, Yaakov and his descendants, were mixed together with sand, Eisav and his descendants. Relating the story of Eisav in brief reflects the sifting away of the sand so that the full attention could be paid to Yaakov and his descendants.

Nevertheless, the very fact that the Torah does relate — albeit in brief — the chronicles of Eisav implies that they possess a certain importance and are necessary to appreciate by way of contrast the chronicles of Yaakov. Furthermore, their having been recorded in the Torah conveys upon them an eternal importance1 and indeed implies that they convey an independent lesson and are not mentioned merely to serve as a contrast to the chronicles of Yaakov.

There is another problematic aspect to the chronicles of Eisav mentioned in this Torah reading. At the conclusion of the parshah, Rashi interprets the “lord of Magdiel” as referring to Rome. We must understand: a) On what does Rashi base this interpretation? b) What is his intent in conveying this information to us?

These difficulties can be resolved in the context of an analysis of this week’s Haftorah, “The vision of Ovadiah.” The connection to the Torah reading lies in that Ovadiah’s vision relates what, “The L‑rd, G‑d, says concerning Edom,” describing in detail the retribution Edom will ultimately receive:

The house of Yaakov will be a fire and the house of Yosef a flame and the house of Eisav will be stubble. They will set them ablaze and consume them [until] there will be no remnant of the house of Eisav.... Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav, and the sovereignty will be the L‑rd’s.

On the latter verse, Rashi comments, “[G‑d’s] sovereignty will not be complete until He exacts retribution from the descendants of Eisav.”

The choice of this reading for the Haftorah raises several questions. The Haftorah is intended to parallel the content of the Torah reading. In this instance, although the Torah reading mentions Eisav and Edom extensively, there is seemingly no allusion to the retribution Eisav will receive. On the contrary, the Torah reading relates how Yaakov subjugated himself to Eisav, while the Haftorah prophesies how Yaakov’s descendants will obliterate the house of Eisav.

In this context, there are two other questions of general significance: a) Why is “the house of Eisav” so significant that it opposes G‑d’s sovereignty, as it were? b) The Hebrew for retribution perayon also has the connotation of repaying a debt. What debt is there to be repaid?

These difficulties can be resolved as follows: The Haftorah represents the conclusion of the matters discussed in the Torah portion. Thus, it brings out the inner meaning of the Torah portion. The encounter between Yaakov and Eisav should not be perceived as merely an isolated event. Rather, it reflects a pattern of service for Yaakov that is also relevant in subsequent generations until the final confrontation of these two powers during the future redemption.

Yaakov and Eisav represent the kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Edom. The Torah relates, “The upper hand will go from one to another.” Rashi explains, “They will not share greatness. When one ascends, the other will fall.” This implies that in addition to his individual service, Yaakov’s sphere of activity must involve the refinement of Eisav, the father of Edom (symbol of all gentile nations). In a larger sense, this refers to our service in refining the world at large, elevating the Divine sparks that have become enclothed in the material substance of the world. According to Kabbalah, these sparks fell from the realm of Tohu. Thus, they contain particularly high spiritual potentials and their elevation can be compared to the repayment of a debt.

To accomplish this purpose, Yaakov sent emissaries to Eisav his brother in Edom. After he had completed establishing his own household in Charan, he realized that to complete his purpose within the world, it was necessary for him to begin the refinement of Eisav. In Kabbalistic terms, he had completed the refinement of the realm of Tikkun (the realm which is intrinsically related to him) and he had to begin the refinement of Tohu, Eisav’s realm, where Divine energies that transcend the level of Tikkun are revealed. To facilitate this objective, he sent messengers to notify Eisav that this process was about to begin.

The messengers informed him, however, that Eisav was not ready for such refinement. On the contrary, he was marching against Yaakov with four hundred men of war. When Yaakov realized this, he saw that his objective could not be accomplished immediately. Therefore, he decided, “I will proceed slowly, at the pace of the work that is before me... until I come to my lord in Seir.” When will he come? Rashi explains, After the coming of Mashiach, when “saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav and the sovereignty will be the L‑rd’s.” Then, G‑d’s sovereignty will be revealed over all the inhabitants of the earth for eternity.

Based on the above, we can understand why Rashi interprets Magdiel as referring to Rome. After Rashi explains that the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav will continue until the future redemption, a question arises: What connection does the present exile have with Eisav? Rashi clarifies by explaining that one of Eisav’s lords, Magdiel, is identified with Rome,2 the power which destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and under whose authority the Jews will remain until Mashiach comes.3

It is still necessary to understand: Why is the refinement of the gentiles so important that it represents the fulfillment of Yaakov’s service? The resolution to this question relates to the Jew’s position as “the smallest among the nations” and is connected with the interrelation between eichus (“quality” or “inner content”) and kamus (“quantity”). Generally, it is explained that the Jews possess the dimension of eichus and the gentiles, kamus. This, however, is an under-developed approach.

It is wrong to say that the gentiles possess only the dimension of kamus and do not possess any eichus whatsoever. On the contrary, eichus and kamus are interrelated. Particularly, when we are speaking about beings created by G‑d from absolute nothingness, their very existence — and surely their quantity — is directly connected with their eichus, the Divine life-force which brings them into being.4 Thus, the fact that the kamus of the gentile nations is more than that of the Jews forces us to say that they also possess, at least from one perspective, an advantage over the Jews.

The advantage possessed by the gentiles parallels the advantage possessed by the teshuvah for sins over the essential service of teshuvah which is teshuvah that is not to compensate for sin, but rather — as implied by the simple meaning of the term — the return of the soul to its Divine source.

To explain: Most people’s conception of teshuvah is to repent for sin. Although this is a mistaken perspective — and, indeed, the essence of teshuvah is for the soul to return and cling to its G‑dly source — the fact that this perspective exists5 indicates that even in truth, from a certain standpoint, teshuvah for sins does possess a superior dimension.

The advantage of that form of teshuvah is that it has an effect on — and transforms into holiness — a lower level of existence, a form of conduct which is against G‑d’s will. The highest sparks of G‑dliness are enclothed in this form of conduct6 and through teshuvah, they are elevated to their source.

Nevertheless, in an ultimate sense, there is an advantage to teshuvah which has no connection to sin, for through this form of teshuvah, we connect our souls to their source, the essence of G‑d.7 Indeed, it is this essential connection which generates the potential for repentance for sin and endows the teshuvah connected with repentance to lead to the reestablishment of the Jew’s ultimate essential bond with G‑d.

A similar concept applies in regard to the contrast between the Jews and the gentiles mentioned above. The gentiles possess an advantage in the realm of eichus as well, for the refinement of the gentiles — who on an apparent level are lower — elevates a higher level of Divine sparks, the sparks which fell from the world of Tohu. Nevertheless, ultimately, the intent is for the service of the Jews, for their source transcends the levels of Tohu and Tikkun. Furthermore, it is the service of the Jews which makes possible the refinement of the gentiles8 as reflected in the Rambam’s statement that the Jews are “commanded by Moshe our teacher from the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept [the seven] mitzvos which were commanded to Noach’s descendants.”

These concepts can be related to the Torah’s mention of Eisav and his descendants. This serves not only as a mere preparation for the description of the chronicles of Yaakov and his descendants. Rather, it emphasizes that there is an advantage to the service of the refinement of the gentile and that this advantage can be achieved through the service of the Jews. Indeed, the most complete level of a Jew’s service must include these activities as well.

Based on the above, we can also appreciate the connection between the Torah portion and the Haftorah which is, “The vision of Ovadiah.” Our Sages explain that Ovadiah was an Edomite convert. Therefore, G‑d’s revelation of the vision concerning the retribution to be given to Edom reflects a pattern of “From [the forest] itself, comes [the handle of the axe] which fells it,” transforming the negative aspects of Edom, the lowest aspects of existence, and thus, preparing the world for the revelation of G‑d’s sovereignty and the advent of the Era when “I will make the peoples pure of speech that they will all call on the name of G‑d and serve Him with a single purpose.”9

Based on the above, we can appreciate the sequence of the three Torah portions, Vayeitzei, Vayishlach, and Vayeishev and the phases in Yaakov’s service that they reflect.

Parshas Vayeitzei describes Yaakov’s service in establishing his own household and acquiring his personal property, i.e., elevating his portion in the world at large. It concludes with his arrival at Machanayim, a name which he gave10 in recognition of the two camps of angels, the angels of Eretz Yisrael and the angels of the Diaspora, which he saw there. As explained,11 these camps of angels refer to service in the realm of holiness and service in the realm of permitted things respectively.

This, however, is insufficient. The complete fulfillment of Yaakov’s potential also involves his refinement of the lowest aspects of existence, those which are not permitted. For that reason, Yaakov sent messengers to Eisav. This service came as a result of his previous activity, i.e., Yaakov’s efforts to establish his home and refine his surrounding environment generated the power necessary for him to elevate Eisav,12 the lowest aspects of existence.

After completing the refinement of Eisav to the extent of his capacity, Yaakov was able, as related in Parshas Vayeishev, “to dwell in the land where his father lived,” to the extent that he “desired to live in prosperity.” Surely, this does not refer to material prosperity alone, but rather, spiritual prosperity which reflects, in microcosm, the prosperity of the Era of Redemption.

Since, however, Yaakov had not completed the refinement of Eisav — as of yet, he had not come to “my lord in Seir” — he was not able to appreciate the full dimension of prosperity in this world. To enable him to do so, he became beset with the difficulties resulting from Yosef’s sale, which ultimately led him to descend to Egypt. Yaakov’s continued progress in those years and the refinement of Egypt — which is connected with the transformation of the lowest aspects of existence — which he accomplished, allowed him to enjoy true prosperity there.

The refinement of Eisav which Yaakov did not complete was left for us, his descendants. Through our service in the present exile, the exile of Edom (Rome), we bring about (through the power endowed us by Yaakov our ancestor), the refinement of the gentile nations and thus, prepare the world for the revelation of G‑d’s sovereignty. Then, we will appreciate true prosperity even in this material world.

* * *

2. Parshas Vayishlach which describes the refinement of Eisav is connected with Yud-Tes Kislev, which marks the beginning of the service of “spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward,” refining even the lowest elements of existence by making them a source for spread of the deepest dimensions of Torah.

This concept is reflected in the letter sent by the Alter Rebbe to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev in which he describes how:

G‑d wrought wonders and performed great [miracles] within the world... sanctifying His name in public, in particular, before the officers... of the king.13 They were also amazed by the circumstances... and recognized that “This is from G‑d, it is wondrous in our eyes.”

Nevertheless, despite the widespread effects of the redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev, the Russian government remained in power and, continued to oppose Yiddishkeit and Chassidus. Thus, the Mitteler Rebbe was also imprisoned. Although he was redeemed on Yud Kislev, and this caused an even further refinement of the power of Edom, this also did not change the fundamental stance of the Russian government vis-à-vis the Jews and thus, in subsequent generations, each Rebbe in his generation had to confront and fight against the decrees of that government.

This pattern continued after the Revolution and ultimately, led to the arrest of the Previous Rebbe. Although his redemption brought about a powerful refinement of Edom, he was still forced to leave that country and move the center of Chabad activities to the United States. Nevertheless, after our service in the present generation, spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward, [the power of Edom has been broken, and we have reached the phase of Iram]. Eisav’s power will be used to collect the treasures of the world and present them to the Jews as they are collected in a chest. Furthermore, the Jews are also given the key to the chest.

All that is necessary is for, to quote the Rambam, a Jew to perform one good deed, and thus, “tilt the balance of the entire world to good and bring deliverance and salvation.” This is particularly true in light of the Previous Rebbe’s statement — which was made years ago — that all that is necessary is to polish the button and to “stand ready and prepared” to greet Mashiach.

The above has special relevance this year, a year when, “I will show you wonders.” Greater importance is placed on the wonders that occurred in connection with the Alter Rebbe’s redemption and the appreciation of these wonders by the nations throughout the world.

This should arouse great happiness on the part of the Jewish people and inspire them to increase their study of Torah and, in particular, Pnimiyus HaTorah as revealed in the teachings of Chabad Chassidus. In this form, it can be studied together with Nigleh, the revealed aspects of Torah law, and they can be appreciated as two dimensions of “the perfect Torah.”

This study should lead to deed, an increase in the performance of mitzvos b’hiddur and an increase in one’s efforts to motivate others to similar activities, spreading Yiddishkeit and Chassidus throughout the world. The above is particularly relevant in the month of Kislev which shares a special connection to the revelation of Pnimiyus HaTorah as evidenced by its inclusion of the festivals of redemption, Yud and Yud-Tes Kislev, Tes Kislev (the Mitteler Rebbe’s birthday and yahrzeit), Rosh Chodesh Kislev (the beginning of the month) and Yud-Daled and Tes-Vav Kislev (which are connected with the shining of the full moon, which reflects the idea of a wedding). Surely, these unique days should be utilized in a complete manner to spread Chassidus and Yiddishkeit.

In this context, it is worthy to stress the importance of organizing farbrengens for Yud-Tes Kislev in each and every place as is customary. As is appropriate for 5751, a year when, “I will show you wonders,” these should be “wondrous farbrengens.” The potential for this is enhanced by the fact that Yud-Tes Kislev falls on Thursday. Thus the three days from Yud-Tes Kislev to Shabbos should be used for a three day continuum of chassidic farbrengens, the first to be held on Wednesday night, the beginning of Yud-Tes Kislev, the major farbrengen to be held on Thursday night (the night between Yud-Tes and Chof Kislev when it is customary to hold the major Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen), and to hold farbrengens on Friday night and Shabbos day.

To make sure that these farbrengens are successful and “wondrous,” one should consult with others and begin the preparations immediately.

May these activities lead to the coming of Mashiach even before Yud-Tes Kislev and the revelation — in a full and complete manner — of G‑d’s sovereignty throughout the world.