This week's parashah describes the momentous confrontation between Yaakov
and Esav when the former returned to Eretz Yisrael after 20 years with
Lavan. R' Yitzchak Isaac Sher z"l (rosh yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in
Lithuania and later on Bnei Brak; died 1951) observes that this parashah
provides a glimpse of Yaakov's greatness and the contrast between him and
Esav. At the same time, it teaches us the lofty heights that a human
being is capable of reaching. He explains:
We read (Bereishit 33:20), "He [Yaakov] set up an altar there and
proclaimed, `Kel, the Kel of Israel'." The literal translation of
this verse, as just rendered, suggests that Yaakov called G-d, "the G-d
of Israel." However, Rashi z"l quotes the Gemara (Megillah 18a) which
reads the verse differently: "He called him `El.' The G-d of
Israel." In other words, "He called Yaakov, `El.' Who called him
that? The G-d of Israel called him that."
What does this mean? Needless to say, G-d was not ascribing divinity to
Yaakov. Rather, the title "El" means that Yaakov had perfected his
tzelem Elokim / Divine image. He had accomplished what man was put in
this world to accomplish. He was as close to godliness as a person ever
We find that Yaakov had attained extremely high spiritual levels even
earlier. When Yaakov was fleeing to Lavan's home, Yaakov dreamt of a
ladder on which malachim were ascending and descending. Midrash Rabbah
records that the malachim were going back and forth between the human
Yaakov and an image of Yaakov that was "engraved" on G-d's "throne,"
comparing the two.
The engraving of Yaakov's image on G-d's throne is meant to teach us what
man is capable of achieving. We can only imagine how hard Yaakov worked
on himself to attain that level.
In contrast, we do not find that Esav worked on himself at all. At birth,
he was named, "Esav," which comes from the word meaning "complete." Just
as Esav appeared physically complete at birth, so he represents those
people who view themselves as spiritually complete, having no need to work
on themselves. Such a person stands in sharp contrast to the ideal human
represented by Yaakov. (Lekket Sichot Mussar, Vol. III, p.41)
"You shall say, `Your servant Yaakov's. It is a tribute sent to my
lord, to Esav, and behold he himself is behind us'." (32:19)
"Accept my tribute from me, inasmuch as I have seen your face, which is
like seeing the face of Elokim." (33:10)
Why did Yaakov tell his servants who took gifts to Esav to point out that
Yaakov would soon follow in person? Also, what did Yaakov mean when he
equated seeing Esav to seeing the face of Elokim? R' Shlomo Kluger z"l
(1783-1869; rabbi of Brody, Poland) explains:
Halachah requires that just as there were representatives of the kohanim
and levi'im present in the Bet Hamikdash every day, so there must be
representatives of the yisraelim present every day. The Gemara (Ta'anit
26a) explains this by asking rhetorically, "Is it conceivable that a
person's sacrifice could be offered and he is not present?!" R' Kluger
asks: Why is it so inconceivable that a person's sacrifice could be
offered when he is not present?
Another question: We read (Bereishit 18:8) that when Avraham served food
to his guests, "he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate."
What does the Torah mean to teach us?
Says R' Kluger: When a person offers food to a guest, he may have one of
two motives--either to feed a hungry person or to honor the guest. How
can we tell what the host's motives are? When the main purpose is to
relieve the guest's hunger, then the food is the main thing. The host
need not "offer himself" to the guest as well, i.e., he need not be
present. On the other hand, if the main point is to show honor to the
guest, then the host's presence is more important than the food.
When we offer sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash, we do so to honor Hashem.
Obviously, he does not need our food. That is why it is inconceivable
that our sacrifices could be offered without our representatives standing
nearby. That also is why Avraham stood over his guests while they ate.
Although they may have been hungry (assuming he did not know they were
angels), he wanted to honor them with his presence as well.
This was Yaakov's message to Esav: I am not sending you a gift because I
think you need it. I want to honor you, and I am following right behind
my gift. And when Esav balked at accepting the gift, saying (33:9), "I
have plenty," Yaakov reiterated: Seeing your face is like seeing the
face of Elokim, i.e., my whole intention was to bring an offering to
someone who does not need it, merely in order to show him honor. (Ma'amar
Esther to Esther 5:8)
"Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav,
for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children."
R' Shlomo Alkabetz z"l (1505-1584; author of the Friday night hymn Lecha
Dodi, among other works) writes that Yaakov referred in this verse not
(only) to Esav, but to Esav's descendant, Haman who planned "to
exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women" (Esther
3:13). Thus, immediately after Yaakov's prayer (32:14), the Torah says,
"He spent the night there." Note that the final letters of the
Hebrew words in this phrase spell "Haman." Also, the word
"ba'lailah" / "at night" appears three times in our chapter,
alluding to the three days and nights of the fast that Mordechai and
Esther decreed. (Manot Ha'levi to Esther 7:7)
"And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in
pain . . ." (Bereishit 34:25)
Rabbeinu Bachya z"l (Spain; 14th century) writes: It is fact of nature
that the third day of a series is associated with weakness. Thus, a baby
is considered most at risk on the third day after his brit milah, so that
a baby who was circumcised on Thursday may be cared for on Shabbat in ways
that might otherwise violate Shabbat prohibitions. Likewise, the "Anshei
Ma'amad" / certain participants in the Bet Hamikdash service would not
fast on Sunday as they would on other days of the week because Sunday is
the third day after man's creation, which occurred on Friday. For this
reason, Rabbeinu Bachya concludes, we recite a blessing on besamim /
spices after Shabbat (the halachic beginning of the third day after man's
creation) in order to invigorate the newly weakened soul through the good
fragrance. (Be'ur Al Ha'Torah)
R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l (rosh yeshiva in Berlin, Germany and later
Montreux, Switzerland; died 1966) lists three additional reasons for
reciting a blessing on besamim after Shabbat. All of these reasons are
found in Rishonim / medieval sources.
(1) To reinvigorate the soul following the loss of the neshamah
yeteirah / the "extra" soul that a person has on Shabbat.
(2) To mask the smell of the fire of Gehinom, which is rekindled
after having rested on Shabbat.
(3) To give solace to the soul which is sad over the departure of
Shabbat. (This differs from the first reason in that it does not focus on
the loss of the neshamah yeteirah but rather of the Shabbat itself.)
(She'eilot U'teshuvot Seridei Esh, O.C. No. 29)
This week we begin to discuss the concept of "Kedushat Shevi'it" the
sanctity of the fruits of the seventh year. One of the basic rules is
that the produce of shemittah may not be wasted. [Exactly what constitutes
a "fruit of shemittah" is a separate and complex discussion.]
In conjunction with the Dvar Torah above regarding the use of besamim at
havdalah, we begin with a halachah of shemittah-produce relating to
There is a widespread custom to overflow the havdalah cup as an omen for
blessing. One who recites havdalah over wine of the seventh year should
not do this since he is causing the wine to go to waste. Likewise, those
who have the custom to place a drop of havdalah wine in their eyes may not
do this with the wine of shemittah.
In addition, an argument can be made that one is not even permitted to
make havdalah with the wine of shemittah. The reason for this would be
that, since it is customary that women do not drink the wine of havdalah,
one who recites havdalah over wine of shemittah is causing it to become
unusable by a large segment of the population, which is a form
of "waste." (Sources: R' Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z"l, Sefer
Ha'shemittah, ch.7, n.4; R' Y. Neuwirth shlita, Shemirat Shabbat
Ke'hilchatah, ch. 60, n.55)
[Ed. note: One might ask: Why is overflowing the wine cup not prohibited
at all times because it seemingly wastes food? There are different
definitions of waste for purposes of shemittah and for general halachic
purposes. In other years, the wine that is spilled out is not "wasted"
because it has a purpose - to be an omen. With respect to shemittah,
however, any conversion of a food item to a non-food state is
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