FMT – SHABBAT VAYISHLACH By Rabbi Jonathan Horowitz

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Then he took from his possessions, a gift to his brother Esau. (Genesis 32:14) On his way homeward, Jacob learns that his brother, Esau, his sworn enemy, is marching toward him with an army of four hundred men. Jacob prepares an elaborate gift in the hope of appeasing his brother, and sends a procession of herds of livestock to him. Ramban states that although Jacob prayed to G-d to be saved from his brother’s wrath, he knew that one should not rely on Divine miracles, but try to use any natural means available to save oneself, hence the elaborate gift. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz asks, “Why did Jacob’s salvation call for a supernatural miracle and Divine intervention? Is it not a natural phenomenon that two brothers, who have had their differences, meet after an extended period of separation and decide to let bygones be bygones? Why could Jacob not expect that his brother might forgive him? Rabbi Yerucham answers, “This teaches us that changing one’s personality is indeed a miraculous feat. Esau hated Jacob with a passion. For Jacob to rely on a change in his brother’s personality would be equivalent to expecting a supernatural miracle.” Rabbi Yerucham expands on this theme. Changing one’s personality traits is so difficult that it generally cannot be achieved by unaided human effort. Character traits may be so deeply ingrained that they cannot be extirpated even with concerted effort, and their elimination may require an act of Divine intervention. People may try various techniques to change their personalities. Rabbi Yerucham states that ultimately Divine assistance is needed if we are to be successful in the area of behavior modification. G-d can help us remove our character defects, if we but ask him to. Our job is to sincerely dedicate ourselves to fulfilling the will of G-d as expressed in the Torah and its ethical norms. This is the meaning of the Talmudic assertion that G-d says, “I have created a yeitzer hara (evil inclination), and I have created Torah as its antidote” (Bava Basra 16a). Torah is a necessary antidote to undesirable character traits. In order to transform one’s personality, the study of Torah in the abstract does not suffice. It must be studied with the intent to live up to what it teaches, and it must be implemented in daily living. The study must involve the ethical as well as the formal halachic aspects. Then and only then can we expect favorable changes in our personalities to occur.

Shabbat Shalom

By Rabbi Jonathan Horowitz