We read in Parashat Vayishlach of Yaakov’s preparations for his feared reunion with his brother, Esav, which included a series of lavish gifts which his servants delivered to Esav. The Torah tells of Yaakov’s instructions to his servants, in which he anticipated Esav asking them, “Who do you belong to, where are you going, and whose are these which went before you?” (32:18). Yaakov told his servants to explain to Esav that they were Yaakov’s servants and were bringing these gifts as a humble tribute to Esav for the purpose of finding favor in his eyes.
The Sefat Emet (5635) finds in these verses, the exchange Yaakov envisions taking place between his servants and Esav, an allusion to an exchange that should be taking place in the mind of each and every one of us. Often, we hear a voice in our minds asking us questions similar to the questions Yaakov anticipated being posed to his servants: “Who are you? Where are you headed? What is all this that you are doing?” In moments of brutal honesty, we are likely to begin questioning our own worth, as well as the value of our good deeds. We might look at ourselves and our lives and ask painful questions such as, “What have I achieved? What are the chances of my accomplishing anything truly significant? How much of an impact am I really having on other people and on the world? Can I really consider myself and my life successful? After all the years I’ve spent here on earth, what have I done? How far have I come? And how far do I seriously think I can go? Should I even bother continue working so hard?”
The answer to these questions, the Sefat Emet writes, is the answer Yaakov’s servants were to give to Esav: “Mincha hi” – “It is a gift.” The word mincha refers specifically to a small tribute given to a person of power or authority for the sake of earning his favor. Thus, for example, as the Sefat Emet notes, this word is used in reference to the grain offering which would be brought to the Beit Ha-mikdash by paupers who could not afford animal sacrifices. Chazal (as cited by Rashi, Vayikra 2:1) teach that God views a poor man’s offering with special fondness and affection, given the great sacrifice that it entails. When we begin questioning the value of our limited accomplishments, the Sefat Emet writes, we need to remind ourselves that all our efforts are a precious “mincha.” We are all flawed human beings, who are limited and challenged by our very nature. While we all have the potential for great achievement, we are hampered by negative tendencies that make it difficult for us to maximize that potential. When we struggle and achieve, even only modest achievements, we must see ourselves as a pauper offering a mincha in the Beit Ha-mikdash, a sacrifice which is lovingly accepted and cherished by the Almighty. If we try to grow, advance and accomplish, then whatever we achieve, even if it is but a small, humble “mincha,” is inestimably valuable.
The Sefat Emet concludes by noting the final words Yaakov instructed his servants to tell Esav: “and he [Yaakov], too, is behind us.” In the Sefat Emet’s symbolic reading, this refers to the fact that the Almighty is “behind us,” supporting and encouraging us in whatever efforts we make. We must not fall into despair or become discouraged by our shortcomings and failures, because God is always “behind us,” bidding us to continue working, trying, striving and struggling to improve, and to offer any small “mincha” that we are capable of achieving.