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Parshas Vayishlach

Shabbat Shalom

Volume 27, No. 8

We read in our parashah (33:18), “Yaakov arrived ‘shaleim’/whole at the city of Shechem . . . and he encamped before the city.” Midrash Rabbah interprets the end of the verse as an allusion to observing Shabbat, i.e., Yaakov arrived on the outskirts of Shechem before dark and marked-off the techum Shabbat of his encampment. [The “techum” is the approximately 2,000 amot-wide band around an encampment or city where a person is allowed to walk on Shabbat. If this is not what the verse is teaching, then for what purpose did the Torah mention the obvious detail that Yaakov camped?]

The midrash continues: Because Yaakov observed Shabbat, he was promised an inheritance without boundaries. In contrast to Avraham, who was promised (13:17), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”--i.e., an inheritance limited by the boundaries of the Land--Yaakov was promised (28:14), “You shall burst out westward, eastward, northward and southward.” [Until here from the midrash]

R’ Aryeh Finkel shlita (rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Modi’in Ilit, Israel) comments about the first part of our verse--“Yaakov arrived shaleim at the city of Shechem”: “Shaleim” is related to “Shalom,” which is a major theme on Shabbat (as in the multiple references to shalom in the song, “Shalom aleichem”). Yaakov, who observed Shabbat, is the only person in all of Tanach who is called “shaleim” / “whole.” Shalom / peace, harmony, perfection is the ultimate level to which a person and the world can aspire, and Yaakov achieved what no other person achieved--to have his image engraved on Hashem’s throne. [We do not need to understand what this kabbalistic expression means to recognize that it indicates the pinnacle of human achievement.] (Yavo Shiloh p.401)

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“Yaakov was left ‘levado’ / alone . . .” (32:25)

The Midrash Rabbah states that this verse equates Yaakov’s “aloneness” with Hashem’s “aloneness.” About Yaakov it says, “Yaakov was left ‘levado’ / alone,” and about G-d it says, “Hashem ‘levado’ / alone will be exalted on that day.”

R’ Itamar Schwartz shlita (Yerushalayim) explains: G-d implanted the feeling of loneliness in man for a reason--so that he will search for G-d and make Him his “companion.” G-d, too, is “lonely” in that He is waiting for man to search for Him.

R’ Schwartz adds: Most people who feel lonely try to mitigate this feeling by surrounding themselves with friends. One who automatically reacts this way, without thinking about why loneliness was created, is missing the point and overlooking a gift that G-d has given him. (B’lvavi Mishkan Evneh II p.99)

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“When he [the angel] saw that he could not overcome him [Yaakov], he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov's hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him.” (32:26)

R’ Gershon Ashkenazi z”l (Austria; 1618-1693) cites the Zohar, which states that Yaakov’s injury was a punishment for marrying two sisters. In light of this, R’ Ashkenazi continues, we can understand the Gemara (Chullin 91a), which finds an allusion to Yaakov’s injury in the verse (Yeshayah 9:7), “G-d sent a word for Yaakov; it befell Yisrael.” That verse appears in a prophecy about the royal house of David; what is the connection between that subject and Yaakov’s injury?

R’ Ashkenazi explains: The Gemara relates that some people questioned King David’s legitimacy because he was a descendant of Ruth, a Moabite woman. When people mocked King David, he would ask them rhetorically, “Don’t you also come from a prohibited marriage, i.e., from Yaakov who married two sisters?” In fact, Yaakov’s marriage was not prohibited because the Torah had not yet been given, nor was Ruth prohibited from marrying a Jew. Thus, writes R’ Ashkenazi, the people blessed Boaz upon his marriage to Ruth (Ruth 4:11), “May Hashem make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built up the House of Yisrael.” They were acknowledging that just as Yaakov’s marriage to two sisters was not prohibited, so Boaz’s marriage to a female Moabite convert was not prohibited. This is the common denominator between Yaakov’s injury and the royal house of King David. [Nevertheless, while Yaakov did not technically sin, he was held accountable to some degree for an act--marrying two sisters--which the Torah would later prohibit.]

R’ Ashkenazi concludes: In this light we can understand, as well, why the Gemara points out that Yosef removed the gid ha’nasheh from the meat that he fed his brothers when they came to his home in Egypt (see Bereishit 43:16). The prohibition on eating the gid ha’nasheh recalls Yaakov’s injury, which, in turn, demonstrates the legitimacy of King David. Yosef was not certain that his brothers had not yet recognized him, and he wanted to assure them that he was not challenging the right of Yehuda, the progenitor of King David, to lead the brothers. Therefore he removed the gid ha’nasheh, as if to say, “King David is no less legitimate than we are, coming as we do from two sisters.” (Tiferet Ha’Gershuni)

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Elsewhere in the Torah . . .

The Gemara (Shabbat 49a) relates: Once, the evil Roman Empire decreed that any person who donned tefilin would be killed in a cruel manner. A man named Elisha [not to be confused with the prophet of the same name] was observed by a Roman solider wearing tefilin. When Elisha saw the Roman soldier chasing him, he quickly took off his “shel rosh” (the head tefilin) and hid it in his hand. The soldier asked him, “What is in your hand?” Elisha replied, “The wings of a dove.” When Elisha opened his hand, there were in fact wings of a dove inside. From that time on, Elisha was known as, “Elisha, the ba’al k’nafayim” / “the master of wings.”

The Gemara continues: Why did Elisha say he was holding the “wings of a dove”? Because just as a dove’s wings protect the dove, so mitzvot protect the Jewish People. [Until here from the Gemara.]

Halachah states that a person is not obligated to risk his life to observe any mitzvah, with exception that one must give his life rather than commit idolatry, adultery or murder. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Nissim z”l (“Ran”; Spain; 1320-1376) infers from the above story, one is permitted to risk his life for any mitzvah, as is evident from the fact that Elisha risked his life to don tefilin and is praised for doing so. Ran notes that the Midrash Rabbah similarly speaks of Jews giving their lives for the mitzvot of brit milah and lulav. Likewise, the prophet Daniel risked his life to pray three times a day. (Chiddushei Ha’Ran)

Rambam z”l (1135-1204; Egypt) writes that one who risks his life for a mitzvah when not obligated by halachah to do so is a sinner and is deserving of punishment. (Hil. Yesodei Ha’Torah 5:4)

R’ Avraham di Boton z”l (Salonika; 1545-1588) asks: How would Rambam explain Elisha’s actions? He answers: Rambam would hold that Elisha was obligated to risk his life to wear tefilin because it was a time of persecution. In contrast, when Rambam writes that one is obligated to give his life only for the three cardinal sins, he refers only to a case where a non-Jew wants the sin committed for his own enjoyment, but not at a time of persecution.

Why, then, did Elisha remove his tefilin when he saw the Roman soldier? Because once he had fulfilled the mitzvah that day, he was no longer obligated to risk his life. (Lechem Mishneh)

R’ Shlomo Laniado z”l (Aleppo; died 1794) suggests a different understanding of Elisha’s actions. As Rambam writes, one usually is not permitted to risk his life to perform a mitzvah such as donning tefilin. However, if one sees that the generation is lax in its commitment, one is permitted to sanctify G-d’s Name so that people will learn from him to fear G-d. That is what Elisha did.

Why did Elisha remove his tefilin? Because he already had made his point by risking his life. Now, however, he preferred to live another day to continue to perform the mitzvah. Indeed, he might have feared that he would end up in prison, where he could neither don tefilin nor die for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. (Quoted in Otzrot Chachmei Aram Tzovah p.53)

******** Letters from Our Sages

This letter is attributed to R’ Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk z”l (1730-1788), one of the primary leaders of the third generation of the chassidic movement. In 1777, R’ Menachem Mendel made aliyah with about 300 followers, settling first in Tzefat and later in Teveryah. This letter was written in 5542 (1781-82). Some attribute this letter to R’ Menachem Mendel’s primary disciple, R’ Avraham Katz z”l of Kalisk (1741-1810), who also studied under the Vilna Gaon z”l.

[The first part of the letter discourages people from making aliyah to escape poverty in Europe, describing that as “putting out a fire with straw.” Rather, only someone with a benefactor to support him should make aliyah, the author writes. The letter continues:]

Regarding your other question, it is not possible to answer at length now. G-d willing, when a traveler goes from here to there, I will respond at length. The main thing is to have a fixed time every day to study works of mussar such as Reishit Chochmah, Sefer Ha’yashar and Sefer Chareidim, and especially the holy Zohar. Every person should take care to learn these works at a time when he feels an awakening of yir’ah / awe of G-d and emunah / faith within himself. Certainly, if one learns at such a time, Hashem will grant him double the success, as is stated explicitly in the verse (Mishlei 9:9), “Give to a wise man and he will become more wise,” meaning that when one is attached a little bit to the wisdom of yir’ah, Hashem will give him the light of His Torah and his eyes will be enlightened. . . While learning Gemara and halachah, one should take care every hour or two to attach himself to Hashem and to yir’ah of him, so that one’s learning will be for Him alone. If one feels that mussar works are having no impact on him, then he should devote more and more time to his Torah study to the extent possible. . . The light which Hashem hid away for tzaddikim during the six days of creation [see Rashi to Bereishit 1:4] – where did He hide it if not in His holy Torah! . . .

Every person also should take care to attach himself to friends whom he is confident want only the truth, and who desire with their whole hearts to be freed of the stumbling blocks placed by the yetzer hara, i.e., hypocrisy and falsehood. One should speak to these friends for half-an-hour a day, criticizing his own bad traits, and his friend should do the same regarding himself. When one accustoms himself to do this, then he will not be embarrassed and will acknowledge the truth if his friend points out his (the first person’s) shortcomings. In this way, falsehood will fall on its own and a spark of truth will begin to shine. . . (Pri Ha’aretz: Michtavim no.6)


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