SALT - Sunday, 26 Cheshvan 5780 - November 24, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Many people observe the custom at the conclusion of Shabbat to recite “Ve-yitein lekha,” the verses containing the blessings that Yitzchak conferred upon Yaakov, as we read in Parashat Toldot (27:28-29).  This custom is mentioned already by the Kolbo and Avudarham, as cited by the Rama (O.C. 295:1).  These Rishonim explain that “Ve-yitein lekha” is recited as we usher in the new week to express our hopes for a week filled with God’s blessings of success and prosperity.
            A much different explanation of this practice is suggested by Rav Yisrael Chaim Friedman of Rachov, in his Likutei Maharich, based on the famous tradition that two angels accompany a person home from the synagogue on Shabbat eve – a “good” angel and a “bad” angel.  If one’s home is properly prepared for Shabbat, the Gemara teaches, then the “good” angel grants the individual a blessing, and the “bad” angel is forced to reply “amen.”  If not, then the “bad” angel wishes evil upon the individual, and the “good” angel is forced to reply “amen.”  The Magen Avraham (262) writes (citing the Mahari Weil) that these two angels remain with a person throughout the entirety of Shabbat, and leave only when Shabbat ends (which is one reason why some have the custom to omit the “Tzeitkhem le-shalom” passage from the end of the Shalom Aleikhem hymn on Friday night, as the angels do not leave at that point).  The Likutei Maharich further notes sources identifying this “bad” angel as “saro shel Eisav” – the angel representing Eisav, which, as Rashi (Bereishit 32:25) cites from the Midrash, wrestled with Yaakov as he made his way back to Eretz Yisrael and prepared for his confrontation with Eisav.  On this basis, the Likutei Maharich suggests a novel explanation for the custom to recite “Ve-yitein lekha” at the conclusion of Shabbat.  After Yaakov’s triumph over the angel, he refused to free the angel before receiving a blessing (32:27), and Rashi comments that Yaakov demanded that the angel affirm Yaakov’s right to Yitzchak’s blessing, which had been intended for Eisav.  Similarly, the Likutei Maharich writes, each week, as Shabbat ends and the angels depart, we turn to “saro shel Eisav” and demand before he leaves that he affirm our right to the beautiful blessings of “Ve-yitein lekha.”  For this reason, we recite the verses of “Ve-yitein lekha” at the conclusion of Shabbat.
            How might we explain this weekly reaffirmation of our right, as Yaakov’s descendants, to these blessings?
            Shabbat observance expresses our belief in God’s authority over the world, that it is only with His permission that we work to develop the earth and harness the forces of nature for our benefit during the workweek.  By refraining from productive activity on Shabbat, we proclaim that the work we perform is done solely under God’s authority, and that anything we acquire through our work during the week is granted to us through His compassion and grace.  This weekly pronouncement is necessary for us to earn the material blessings that God promised to bestow upon His beloved nation.  We are worthy of His blessings only if we recognize them as His blessings, and do not mistakenly see ourselves as the true masters over the world.  And so each week, “saro shel Eisav” returns in an attempt to deny our rights to God’s blessings, to show that we are undeserving of success and prosperity.  But when we properly observe Shabbat, expressing our belief in, and awareness of, God’s unlimited control and dominion over the world, then even “saro shel Eisav” has no choice but to affirm our right to the blessings of “Ve-yitein lekha.”