As Good As Bad
By Rabbi Raymond Beyda
" I have lived with Laban" [32:5]
After leaving his fearful confrontation with Esav, Yaakob Abinu a’’h is
beset by another meeting that makes him more than anxious. His wicked
brother Esav is approaching with 400 warriors. Yaakob Abinu a''h took a
multi-faceted approach in order to pass this meeting in safety. He sent
gifts to Esav, he prays and he splits his camp into two parts -- preparing
for battle should all else fail. Messengers were sent with the simple
phrase "I lived with Laban." Rashi explains that Yaakob was telling Esav
that he had spent over 20 years living with Laban and he was still able to
keep all 613 commandments and he did not learn from Laban's wicked ways.
Certainly Esav was not concerned with the level of Torah observance that
Yaakob his brother adhered to while living with their uncle --what was
Yaakob trying to convey to him?
Rabbenu Yosef Hayim from Baghdad, The Ben Ish Hai, explains with a
parable. One upon a time the Yeser Hatob--the Good Inclination -- met the
Evil Inclination --the Yeser Ha- ra. The evil one suggested, "Let's have a
cease fire. I will give you my customers and you in return will give me
yours." Surprisingly the Yeser Hatob agreed.
One of the more dedicated disciples of the good inclination was a pious
man that sat learning Torah day and night. That evening, while the man was
sitting in his study learning intensely the Evil Inclination entered the
library and made the man feel that he needed to take a break too get a
breath of fresh air. As he strolled through the neighborhood, the man
stopped by the window of a small cafe where he saw several men playing
cards. He was enthralled by the intensity of the competition and
fascinated by the fact that the men were so involved in their game that
they failed to notice when their coffee was served.
About an hour later the pious man returned home. He went to his study and
began sobbing in a mournful tone. His wife, obviously concerned, inquired
as to what was causing her husband such grief.
"Until now," answered her spouse, "I thought that I was fulfilling my
obligations to G-d in a golden fashion, but I learned today that I am not
even copper. Tonight I watched men wasting their time playing cards. But I
did notice that as they played they were so enthusiastic and focused on
their game that they didn't even notice that the waiter had delivered
their coffee to the table. When I learn Torah I do not forget to drink!"
That evening the man accepted upon himself to try even harder in his
studies to reach the same level of devotion to his Torah as the gamblers
had for their game.
The next morning the Evil inclination approached the Good Inclination and
said, 'I am canceling the cease-fire. It's every man for himself. When I
work with your clients, Instead of bringing them down I rile them up to a
higher level of devotion to Torah."
Esav knew that war with Yaakob must be fought on a spiritual level even
more so than on a physical level. Yaakob Abinu wanted Esav to drop his
guard. He sent the message to Esav -- "Don't be overly concerned by my
success in the house of Laban. It is true as your agents have probably
reported to you that I did keep the 613 commandment, however, I did not
learn to maximize the good by doing my misvot with the excitement and
enthusiasm that Laban did his wicked deeds".
A person has to know them self. Self-evaluation on a regular basis is the
path to self-improvement and spiritual growth. Yaakob was honest with
himself. He knew that until his Torah observance was as "hot" as the evil
doings of Laban, he had not yet reached the ultimate service. None will
deny that when "partying" staying awake, alert and energetic until dawn is
not difficult, while reading a little Torah at night is a perfect antidote
for insomnia. Everyone must try to their best to maximize their service to
G-d by doing their misvot with the excitement and intensity of those who
are in the clutches of the Evil Inclination.
DID YOU KNOW THAT
A person should be actively involved in preparing for Shabbat. Even if a
person is well off and has many "servants" the person should be involved
personally in preparing for Shabbat. Even though one's wife and children
do most of the preparations a person should do some things for the honor
of Shabbat. The Kabbalah teaches that the perspiration created by Shabbat
preparations erases sins from the person’s soul like the tears of
repentance and prayer. It is recommended that when purchasing items for
Shabbat that one verbalizes "Likhbod Shabbat" --i.e. "I am buying this
item for the honor of Shabbat."[Source Yalkut Yosef, O'H Siman 250:1]
CONSIDER THIS FOR A MINUTE
The Zohar explains that out of love for the Jewish people Hashem gave them
His holy Torah. He also gave them the gift of Shabbat in order to
demonstrate His affection and to insure that they will stay close to Him.
Shabbat is a day that is holier than the other days and is also more
peaceful and happy than the weekdays. Shabbat, explains the Zohar, is
equal to the whole Torah. One who observes the Shabbat is considered like
one who keeps the entire Torah. [Source Zohar, B'Shalah, p 47a].
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Raymond Beyda and Torah.org.