Vayishlach

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory

 

After a lengthy stay in the house of Lavan, Yaakov triumphantly returns to Eretz Yisrael. Although he left his parents' home as a refugee running away from the wrath of his brother Esav, he returns as the wealthy patriarch of a fine family. The feared meeting with his brother Esav was planned, prepared, well thought out and was a diplomatic success. Although Yaakov was slightly wounded in his encounter with the angel ("saro shel Esav"), he emerged triumphant both physically and spiritually. Yaakov arrived "shalem," intact, complete (Bereishit 33:18). Rashi cites Chazal that Yaakov was "shalem" in his physical health - he recovered from the wound he suffered in the bout with the angel, he was also "shalem" in his wealth - he lost nothing through his encounter with Esav, and Yaakov was "shalem" in his Torah as well - he did not forget his learning even at the house of Lavan. While this may be interpreted to mean he remembered his "book learning," the knowledge that he acquired in the batei midrash of Shem and Ever, I would like to suggest a different understanding.

 

In parashat Toldot, Yaakov is described as an "ish tam, yoshev ohalim." At the end of the parasha, he dons Esav's clothes and tricks his father, and then, in parashat Vayetze, he engages in a long struggle to outwit Lavan, finally using stealth to obtain a fair portion of Lavan's wealth and flee in the night. What has become of the "ish tam?" Is Yaakov, the crafty shepherd, still a "yoshev ohalim?" The image of Yaakov in Chazal is always depicted as the man of "emet," of truth. The gemara in Makkot 24 identifies Yaakov as the paradigm of truth, proven by his reluctance to trick his father and receive the berakha. He only proceeded after his mother prodded him, accepted full responsibility and ultimately told him it was God's plan to do so. (See Targum Onkelos to Bereishit 27:13.) However, Yaakov, then, spent twenty years in the pagan house of Lavan. He lived with known charlatans and fakers. How did this affect a "tam," an innocent perhaps naive child? An indication of a change of character may be sensed in last week's Torah reading Vayetze. The parasha begins by a dream dreamt by Yaakov before entering the house of Lavan and relates another dream that he dreamt 20 years later. The same lad who originally dreamt of "mal'akhim" ascending and descending, later had visions of cattle. His original subconscious thought related to spiritual guidance in Israel and the Diaspora; according to Ramban, the dream reflected the entire galut of Jewish history. After spending twenty years outside of his native environment, living with Lavan, his dream is how to corner the cattle market. Yaakov realized it is time to leave and return to his true personality. Yaakov when returning to Eretz Yisrael, is declared to be "shalem" in his Torah; his essence remains that of an "ish emet."

 

The pasuk immediately preceding the description of Yaakov as "shalem" tells us that Yaakov built a house, the first of the avot to do so. The gemara in Pesachim 88a cites the pasuk in Mikha (4:2), "Lekhu ve-na'aleh el har Hashem ve-el beit Elokei Yaakov." "Yaakov was different from Avraham who encountered God on a mountain; he was unlike Yitzchak who prayed to God in a field. Yaakov met God in a house - 'he named that place Beit-El.'" The gemara is contrasting the metaphors of Avraham and Yitzchak - mountain and field - with the constant reference to "house" in connection with Yaakov. Avraham sensed the presence of God outside; however, he had to ascend the mountain to find him. Yitzchak also prayed outside (Bereishit 24:63), although he was on a plateau. He did not have to climb, he only had to maintain the level that was begun. Yaakov sensed his "avoda" in a house. Yaakov originally was a tent dweller; he had what we might call an "indoors" personality. Originally, it was a tent, a temporary type of house. Later, his meeting with God was seen as "Beit-El" and now he actually builds a permanent building. The halakhic property of "reshut ha-rabim" is that it may spread to all sides; however, its height is only ten "tefachim." The "bayit" or "reshut ha-yachid" is defined by walls - "mechitzot." However, its height is unlimited. There are some people who serve God in a "reshut ha-rabim." They spread their influence far and wide. However, they pay a heavy price. They do not rise above ten tefachim. Others serve God in a "reshut ha-yachid." They contract and restrict themselves in order to reach heights of spirituality and personal goals. They inevitably pay the price that their influence is not as widespread. Yaakov's spiritual essence was that of "emet." He wanted to dwell in the tents of Torah and not be involved in the mundane world of "reshut ha-rabim." He didn't want to compromise his truth because of what was out there, outside his own house, in a world he could not control.

 

Parashat Vayishlach declares that Yaakov remains "shalem," an "ish emet" who overcomes the trials of his turbulent life and is triumphant over all. This is emphasized by the altar that is proclaimed "Kel, Elokei Yisrael" (23:20). Rashi cites the midrash (also in Megilla 18a) that God Himself called Yaakov "God." The midrash elaborates that while Yaakov is God of this world (literally: "Kel ba-tachtonim"), God is God of the heavenly world (literally: "Kel ba-elyonim"). This statement, if not found in midrash, would be impossible for us to articulate. However, we may attempt to explain the comment as follows: Yaakov's image of truth in this world is a reflection of God's seal of truth. The Ramban mentions in this context the statement of Chazal that Yaakov's image is engraved on the heavenly throne. Yaakov's truth is grounded in the eternity of heaven. There can be no deviation from it; in a sense it is immutable. Hence, Yaakov, unlike Avraham and Yitzchak, has a complete family which followed his ideals and goals.

 

The Maharal adds another explanation for the reference of "God" to Yaakov. God assigned dominion over the world to man. The people of Israel are unique from other nations as they fulfill the "will of God." Yaakov, who was triumphant in all his encounters, exerts dominion over the world and is therefore called "El."

 

Another version of this midrash, cited by the Ramban (and disputed by the Maharal) is that Yaakov called himself "El ba-tachtonim." While the explanations of the phrase remain the same, its implications are completely different. Whereas Rashi's version is that God praised Yaakov, the version cited by the Ramban implies a somewhat arrogant attitude of Yaakov. The Midrash Rabba continues with a critical comment, "(therefore) tomorrow your daughter (Dina) goes out etc." The midrash sees the incident of Dina as some sort of lesson to Yaakov for assuming such a title.

 

The simple interpretation of the "lesson" is that Yaakov suffers pain and anguish over the situation; hence, it is a punishment. However, if we examine the story, we see another explanation. The Torah says that Dina, the daughter of Lea, "went out." Rashi comments that Dina acted in the manner of Lea (rather than that of Yaakov). When Yaakov hears of the story, he remains silent awaiting the return of his children (34:5). The brothers of Dina, the children of Yaakov, speak "be-mirma" (literally "mirma" means guile, although Rashi takes it to mean wisdom). The Radak points out that Yaakov refused to speak with "mirma." Yaakov remains silent until the entire parasha is concluded. He then complains "achartem oti" (Rashi interprets "achartem" to mean beclouded or befuddled). He accuses the brothers of shaming him before the nations of the world and putting him in imminent danger of destruction. Without going into the complicated discussion of Ramban and Rambam to explain the legal and moral implicatioof this parasha, one senses the problems facing Yaakov. On a very practical level, he is frightened by the physical danger. The Radak cites that Yaakov was afraid "as usual," whereas his sons were men of courage who went to revenge the shame inflicted on them. However, there is another dimension to the feelings of Yaakov. He, who represented the essence of "emet" is "beclouded." People of the world see the "mirma," the trickery, of his family and his reputation is besmirched. In parashat Vayishlach, Yaakov has resumed the destiny of "ish tam, yoshev ohalim," and here, he is forced to face the "outside world," with its compromises with truth.

 

However, there is a third and final result of this story. Yaakov had emerged triumphant over Lavan, Esav, the angel and every obstacle. However, this story emphasized his lack of dominion over "Dina, the daughter of Lea" and her brothers who continue in the way which Yaakov does not approve. In his berakha to Shimon and Levi, Yaakov actually wishes to be disassociated from them. The man who prided himself as being "El ba-tachtonim" can not exert dominion over his own family. This is the key of the following parshiot - Yaakov's family begins to fall apart, his sons following their own inclinations without his knowledge. Only at the very end of the story will they all reunify around his deathbed.

 

Among the morals of this story: One should not take his own successes too seriously: it is easier sometimes to control great external forces than your own family. Yaakov's success as an ish ha-emet was due to his efforts, when he becomes complacent and self-congratulatory, the world of sheker takes over.

 

 

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