Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays”
Parshas Vayishlach 2017/5778
The Two Major Ways the Enemies of Israel Find Against Us
“הצילני נא מיד אחי מיד עשו כי ירא אנכי אותו פן יבוא והכני אם על בנים” (בראשית לב:יב)
“Save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, for I fear him, lest he come and strike me, mother on children” (Bereishis 32:12)
The most obvious difficulty in this posuk that we need to clarify is the double wording of “מיד אחי מיד עשו” / “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav”. Now, the sages have taught us that the experiences of our forefathers have been genetically transmitted through their Jewish lineage for all generations. Meaning, whatever occurred in the lifetime of our forefathers will happen to their seed. (See Medrash Rabbah 70:6) This is because the actions and merits of our forefathers were so great that they were able to affect not only themselves but future generations as well; as though they were alive and conducting the events of all future generations! The Sefas Emes explains that all the great actions of our forefathers mentioned in the Torah were for the benefit of their offspring alone, for they had already perfected their individual selves beforehand!
This concept is hinted to at the very beginning of our Parsha. The posuk reads “וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל עשו אחיו” / “And Yaakov sent angels/messengers before him to Eisav his brother”. Apparently, the word “לפניו” / “in front of him” is redundant, as all messengers are sent in front of the one who sends them!? In answer, we can suggest that the Torah is not referring to the sending of these angels to Esav, but to those messengers and assistance that Yaakov sent out by means of his great spiritual power to all future generations!
With this introduction, we can explain, with G-d’s help, that the double language of “הצילני נא מיד אחי מיד עשו” / “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav” is referring to the future battles of the Jewish people with the different Eisavs of the generations. “הצילני נא מיד אחי” / “Save me please from the hand of my brother” is referring to the times when the nations act friendly toward the Jewish people, causing them to feel comfortable with their host nation, to intermingle with them and to learn their ways and imitate them until they begin to stray from the path of the Torah and blend in with the local people and their customs and modes of behavior. This is one type of “warfare” Eisav and his counterparts use to diminish the influence of the Jewish lifestyle. A second type of warfare is hinted to in the wording “הצילני נא… מיד עשו” / “Please save me… from the hand of Eisav” referring to a time when Eisav or any of the nations act in an obviously viscous manner toward the Jewish people in order to annihilate them!
With this, we can understand that which Yaakov said “ועתה הייתי לשני מחנות” / “and now I have become two camps” (Bereishis 32:11). That is, he taught his children the above principle of two types of wars with the nations: the type that looks to obliterate us through physical violence and the type that looks to obliterate us through quiet, diplomatic means. These are the “two camps” mentioned above.
In our posuk Yaakov added “כי ירא אנכי אותו” / “for I fear him”. It appears that this is extra, for if he asked Hashem to save him from Eisav, he surely fears him!? In addition, why is the word “אותו” / “him” added, and why is it written lacking a letter vav!?
We can suggest that Yaakov is referring to a time when the Jewish people live among the nations or even when they live in the land of Israel but are in constant contact with the nations of the world and their customs, and it appears as though the nations’ influence on Israel is negligent. Against this period Yaakov says “for I fear him”. That is to say, even though Eisav’s influence appears to be negligible, Yaakov fears that the nations are acting in hidden ways to influence the Jewish people to leave the strict laws of the Torah and to follow the lead of the culture and law of the majority of the nations of the world. This, in fact, is one of the inherent dangers of belonging to the United Nations. This is true as well regarding any of the individual nations of the world!
And so we find regarding the Egyptian empire when the Jewish people were sojourners in their land that at one point Pharaoh said to his people”הנה עם ישראל רב ועצום ממנו. הבה נתחכמה לו” / “behold the Jewish people are many and more powerful than us. Let’s think of a wise option to outsmart them” (Shemos 1:9-10). That is, in a way where the Jewish people will not think that we are working against them. With this, we can answer why the word “אותו” is written “אתו” lacking a letter vav. For without the vav is can be read as “איתו” meaning “with him” referring to the efforts the nations make to act as if they are working “with” us and not “against” us, when their true intention is to act “against” the interests of the Jewish nation.
And so we find that at the time of the passing of Yaakov the posuk reads”ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים” / “And Yaakov lived in Egypt” (Bereishis 47:28). Now, even though this posuk begins a new Parsha/Torah portion, according to our tradition, the usual spacing left between the Parshios is left out. Rashi asks why this is so and answers that it comes to teach us that when Yaakov died, the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people were unable to recognize that the bondage of Egyptians was on the verge of embracing them! This means that in the first years of the Jewish people’s stay in Egypt, the Egyptians showed no outward signs of the upcoming bondage to the point that even the leaders of the Jewish people did not recognize their intentions! Everything was done behind closed doors!
Yaakov’s request here from Hashem was that his sons and their families and future generations would stay alert to all the tricky ways of Pharoah and all succeeding leaders of the nations and catch the signals which are meant to alert them to the fact that the nations are looking to place them in bondage!
In addition, we can ask why the posuk states “כי ירא אנכי אותו” / “for I fear him” when apparently it should have said “כי ירא אנכי ממנו” / “for I fear from him” as it states in other places such as “כי חזק הוא ממנו” / “for he is stronger than/from him” (Bamidbar 13:31) or “מציל עני מחזק ממנו” / “He saves a poor person from those stronger than him” (Tehillim 35:10)!? We can answer that here the posuk uses the wording “אותו” / “him” and not “ממנו” / “from him” for “אותו” includes other leaders of the nations we need to be fearful from in the future.
Now, that which it says “פן יבוא והכני אם על בנים” / “lest he come and strike me mother on children” needs explanation! Does Eisav intend only to strike the mothers on the children!? Does he not also intend to strike the father; in our case Yaakov!? In addition, why does the Torah stress “mother on children” where simply saying “lest he strike all of us” will suffice!?
On a simple, straightforward level we can explain that, that which Yaakov says “פן יבוא והכני” / “lest he come and strike me” refers to Eisav fighting against him personally and “אֵם על בנים” / “mother on children” refers to Eisav’s intention to attack each of his wives and their children. However, according to this, it apparently should have said “אשה על בניה” / “wife on her sons” for in addition to being their mother, they were as well, Yaakov’s wives!?
On a deeper plane we can explain with God’s help, that the wording”פן יבוא והכני” / “lest he come and strike me” is referring to a situation where the host nation acts in an outwardly cruel manner toward the Jewish people expressing his true inner essence as it states “והידים ידי עשו”/ “and the hands are of Eisav” (Bereishis 27:22) and “ועל חרבך תחיה” / “you shall live on your sword” (ibid. 27:40). And the wording “אֵם על בנים” / “mother on children” refers to the time where the host nation acts in a brotherly fashion, allowing the Jewish people to comfortably settle among them, giving them equally rights and opportunities. Through this he strikes “אֵם על בנים” / “mother on children” – by means of intermarriage – which results from these favorable conditions. That is, “mother on children” alludes to the fact that according to Torah law, the children are Jewish only if the mother is Jewish. When the Jewish men intermarry, the children are not considered to be Jewish and in this manner the nations cause a great blow to the Jewish people, uprooting their very existence and continuation! This is included in the Torah’s proclamation”ארור מכה רעהו בסתר” / “Cursed is one who hits his neighbor in secret” (Devorim 27:24). This is what the Greeks tried to do to the Jewish people and what certain nations are trying to do to us at this very time!
The sages (Sota 11b) differed on the explanation of the word “בפרך” in the posuk “ויעבידו מצרים את בני ישראל בפרך” / “And the Egyptians worked the Jewish people “בפרך” (Shemos 1:13). Rebbi Elazar said it means with soft speech. Rebbi Shmuel the son of Nachmani said it means with back-breaking work.
The idea of breaking down your enemy by subduing them with back-breaking work is understood, but how can they accomplish their goal to subdue us with soft words!?
Rashi explains that they urged the Jewish people to accept upon themselves the work by speaking gently to them and offering them good pay until they got used to the work and then they subjugated them with slave labor. The Ba’al Harriman explains that they told the people that they were building cities for themselves. The Ba’alei Tosvos explain that they used all sorts of tricks to convince the Jewish people to begin the work, and offered them high pay as well, and when they came to claim their pay, they said, now you have to work without pay! Yaakov had already experienced this type of treatment at the hands of Lavan and so davened that his descendants should be spared this treatment, and in any case know not to fall into the trap the people in Egypt fell into!
Now, not for naught the word used to describe the Egyptians attempt to enslave the Jewish people has two opposite meanings, for this wording includes in it the two ways the nations wage war against the Jewish people. That is, as explained above, they attack us through relating to us as “brothers”, as Yaakov said “מיד אחי” / “from the hand of my brother” with a soft approach, or by relating to us as direct enemies as Yaakov said “מיד עשו” / “from the hand of Eisav”.
The approach to silently and quietly subduing the Jewish people is hinted to in the first letters from the posuk “ויעבידו מצרים את בני ישראל בפרך” which has the numerical value of 61, and the halacha/law is that if one part of a prohibited food becomes mixed with 60 parts of kosher food and it is not distinguishable, the non-kosher food is considered to have been totally absorbed by the kosher food and the whole mixture becomes permitted. So too, the Egyptians wanted to absorb what they considered to be a non-kosher people into their people until the Jewish people were no longer distinguishable.
The above is hinted to as well in the words of Dovid Hamelech when he states “רוממות א-ל בגרונם וחרב פיפיות בידם” / “The greatness of Hashem is in their throats, and a double-edged sword is in their hands” (Tehillim 149:6). “רוממות א-ל” refers to Yaakov’s tefila/prayer “הצילני נא” / “Save me please” for Yaakov is called “אל” as it states “ויצב שם מזבח ויקרא לו אל אלקי ישראל” / “And he (Yaakov) erected there an alter and He (Hashem) called him (Yaakov) Eil, the G-d of Israel” (Bereishis 33:20) (B”B 7a). The word “רוממות” also refers to tefila which rises to the heavens. “וחרב פיפיות בידם” / “and a double-edged sword in his hand”, that is a sword which holds the power to ward off two types of enemies: one who outwardly shows his intent to kill – “ומיד עשו and one who hides his intention inside his heart as it says “מיד אחי”. This is as well the meaning of the wording “פיפיות” / “two mouths”, hinting to speech. That is, two types of speech: one hard and one soft, as mentioned above!
The need to be aware of our enemies is expressed in every Torah-abiding home on Pesach night when we say “שלא אחד בלבד עמד עלינו לכלותינו אלא שבכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילנו מידם” / “That not one person/nation alone stood up against us to destroy us, rather in each and every generation people and nations stand up against us in order to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu saves us from their [wicked] hands”. We can explain as above, that the wording in each and every generation alludes to the fact that in each generation the nations attempt to blot us out in differing ways: at times at the hand of the sword and at times through soft and seductive speech. All have the same goal however – to cleanse the world of the Jewish people and their G-d!
We’ll conclude with the words of the Beis Yitzchok who comments on the posuk “ויען יצחק אביו ויאמר אליו… ועל חרבך תחיה ואת אחיך תעבוד והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עולו מעל צוארך” (Bereishis 27:39:40) saying that the Jewish people, since the day the left Egypt until today have been fighting preventative wars against its enemies. What has always been the weapon which has kept us safe from our enemies? The holy Gemora (B”B 7b) taught us the answer when it explained the posuk in Shir Hashirim (8:10) “אני חומה ושדי כמגדלות” / “I am a [city] wall and my breasts are like outlook towers”. That is, “אני חומה” refers to the Torah and “ושדי כמגדלות” refers to Torah scholars. Where did the Gemora take this from? From the posuk “והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עולו מעל צוארך” as the sages explained (Bereishis Rabbah 65:20) that when the voice of Yaakov is heard in the shuls, the hands of Eisav have no power. Only if the Jewish people do not learn and fulfill the Torah does Eisav gain the strength to harm them.
The Beis Yitzchok concludes by saying that when the nations of the world learned of the source of the Jewish nation’s strength, they quickly decreed decrees preventing the learning of Torah.
Therefore, let us be committed and diligent in our Torah learning and not waste a single moment once we set out to learn, and in this way protect ourselves with the ultimate weapon of war with which to ward off our enemies, with whichever method they choose to attack us!
Have a nice Shabbos!