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Defensive Maneuvers

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

Yaakov sent malachim ahead of him to his brother Esav… (Bereshith 32:4)

The previous essay mentioned that Yaakov sent Divine emissaries instead of human ones, for only they were capable of finding out the truth about Esav’s current disposition. However, aside from the personal gain that Yaakov stood to get from this type of messenger, Yaakov’s choice was based on another concern as well. Fearing for his life, and for the lives of all the members of his household, Yaakov knew that he needed to approach Esav with an element of false flattery and exaggerated humility in order to appease him. As has been explained, even when such deviation from the truth is permitted, actions that involve falsehood can influence a person’s nature, drawing him towards dishonesty.1 For this reason, Yaakov did not want to send human messengers to his brother.

More than once during his stay with Lavan, Yaakov had acted with guile in order to neutralize Lavan’s crookedness. Any time a person acts deceptively he creates a spiritual being whose nature corresponds to his act.2 During his stay with Lavan, Yaakov’s actions had created countless angels who were characterized by the trait of craftiness. Since acting deceitfully would not influence these spiritual beings, Yaakov employed them for the task of greeting Esav.3

Following Yaakov’s example, we should try our best to avoid situations in which we might be forced to act dishonestly, even if such actions would be permitted, so that we never run the risk of being corrupted.4 If this applies to specific situations, such as that encountered by Yaakov, we must certainly take it into account when considering which vocation to pursue, since our vocation will influence our actions on a daily basis, affecting us constantly.

There was once a young man who, upon investigating a certain profession, saw to his dismay that theft, cheating and false oaths were commonplace among those who worked in that trade. Shortly thereafter he noticed a man plowing a field, unaware that the man was Eliyahu HaNavi. He asked Eliyahu what his occupation was, and he replied, “I grow produce so I can feed my family, my livestock and the poor people.” The young man recognized that this was a trade in which he could support himself honestly, and he asked Eliyahu HaNavi to help him to establish himself as a farmer.5


1 See essays on Bereshith 31:55, “Guard Your Lips I and II,” (pages 213 and 215).
2 Yalkut Shimoni, Ha’azinu 942; Tana D’bei Eliyahu Zuta, Ch. 3.
3 Divrei Yoel (Satmar Rav), Bereshith Vol. 2, p. 174.
4 See the essays on Bereshith 20:12, “Keep Your Distance II and III,” (pages 111 and 113).
5 Midrash Asereth HaDibroth 37.

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and



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