Parashas Vayishlach – Your Choice!

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The Parasha informs us, that prior to meeting Eisav “Yaakov became frightened and distressed. He therefore divided his people, as well as the flocks, the cattle, and the camels, into two camps. And he said, If Eisav comes to attack one camp, the remaining one will be a saved.” Yaakov’s fear is perplexing as Rashi explains that Hashem sent angels to protect him, which are the very angels Yaakov sent with his present to Eisav. The Midrash describes the encounter of Eisav with the angels and the grueling treatment he received. He became frantic at meeting Yaakov and wanted to turnaround. Thus, the angels cured that idea with some more flagellation. So, what possessed Yaakov to fear his brother to the point to divide up his people into two camps? Did Hashem not prove him with Lavan that he was under Divine protection? Lavan was the biggest sorcerer to ever exist, and was Bilam’s grandfather, and despite that none of his sorcery affected Yaakov. Isn’t that the blatant definition of Celestial protection? Furthermore, why was Yaakov so sure that if Eisav attacked one camp the other one would survive? Perhaps Eisav would succeed in attacking both camps? Rabeinu Chaim Vital [who was the Arizal’s main disciple] provides an astonishing insight that sheds light on the subject. Yaakov’s profound strategy of splitting up his people into two camps was due to what he foresaw via the Divine Spirit. The final exile of the Jews will be in the countries run by Eisav’s descendants, “Galus Edom”. This exile will be long and difficult, more so than any of the previous exiles which had a term, thus this one seems endless. Yaakov feared that his offspring would be exterminated, spiritually and physically, during this arduously long and dark time. Some would be forced to convert, as i.e. during the inquisition, others will plainly give up by not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Some nations will deliberately try to exterminate us, i.e. the Cossacks and the Germans. Therefore, he cleverly divided his children, the people of Yisrael, into two camps, representing two exiles. One camp represents the exile of Edom among the Christians, while the second camp represents the exile of Ishmael among the Arabs. Thus, if one of them intensified Yisrael’s hardships, they could seek refuge by escaping to the other exile. This, in fact, is what occurred in the times of Rabbi Chaim Vital. This is was indeed portrayed in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream mentioned in Daniel [2, 34]. The creature he saw in his dream had a head made of gold, a body of silver one leg made of iron while the other one was made of clay. He understood it was a heavenly message, but no one could decipher it. This was until he asked Daniel, that told him, his reign is the mightiest of all and is represented by the gold head. His son will not be as mighty and is represented by the silver body. Then the kingdom will shift to Edom and Ishmael. The leg made of iron, represents Edom while the one made of clay represents Ishmael. Yaakov figured that if Eisav decreed to exterminate the Jews of his kingdom, at least the Jews remaining in the Arab countries would survive. For, the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, rarely pursue religion, their persecutions are usually motivated by the pursue o stealing mundane possessions. Therefore, Yaakov sought to teach his offspring a valuable lesson. They should shower their host nations with material incentives and bribes. This would encourage them to ease up on the persecutions and harsh decrees. So, even if Yisrael are poor, nevertheless, what little they have should be used to appease Eisav. As a result, he will act “more brotherlike” toward them during their exile. Thus, during these exiles, one will be existentially dangerous for the Jews, the Greeks. They invented the right recipe to entice the Jews to willingly abdicate the path of their patriarchs. They understood Jews have souls that create an insatiable thirst for spirituality, hence they offered an alternative to Torah with philosophy, which ravaged our nation. Additionally, they rationalized all type of physical pleasures, even the most abject ones. As expected, it created havoc among the Jewish Nation, and many espoused their way of life. Only few remained true to their tradition, namely “The Chashmonaim”. Namely, these few men who remained true servants of Hashem, defeated the world’s mightiest army and chased them out of the frontiers of Israel three times in a row. Only, after shamed with three resounding defeats did they understand that their time of ruling Israel has come to an end. Jews have been proven, times and times over, that the only weapons that protect us and provide closeness to the Celestial Light are the Torah and the Mitzvos. However, what was supposed to be a simple task has proven to be a monumental undertaking; One easily falls for the lures of Eisav’s angel, knowing it will lead him into a “tunnel”, in the darkness, rather than chosing the path of light, where life is calm and tranquil just as on a paradise island. Here’s a story that embodies the message of the Parasha: There was once a poor but righteous man who lived on the road leading to Liozna. Every day, he would walk to Liozna, where he would teach Torah to some neighborhood children in exchange for a few pennies from their impoverished parents. His wife further supplemented their income by baking pastries, which her husband would sell in town every day. One winter’s night, the family lay sleeping. Suddenly, they were awakened by a knock on the door. Clutching a candle, the teacher hastened to open the door. There he found a man half frozen and covered in snow. The wayfarer was quickly brought inside and given a steaming cup of tea. After the stranger had warmed himself, the teacher took his sleeping children from their paillasse next to the stove and bade the traveler to rest there for the night. Early the next morning, the stranger departed. The children, still groggy with sleep and stiff with cold, crept back to their paillasse to finish their sleep. Suddenly, a call rang out. “There’s something hard and lumpy in the bed!” Upon further inspection, the teacher and his wife realized that the stranger had left a pouch with a significant sum of gold coins. They waited a few days for the guest to claim his property, but he never returned. Unsure of how to proceed, the man turned to Rav Schneur Zalman, who lived in Liozna at the time. After hearing the man’s story, the Rebbe replied, “G-d has sent you this treasure. No one will come to claim it, and it is rightfully yours. However, it is not wise for you to begin to spend lavishly, since people will suspect all kinds of things. Rather, keep your change of fortune a secret for now. Finish teaching your pupils this semester. When the session ends, come to me, and I’ll tell you what to do next.” When the semester ended, the teacher came to Rav Schneur Zalman, who then advised him: “Rent yourself a house in town with a store. Use your money to purchase some supplies from the local wholesaler and begin to sell them at a profit. After this succeeds, come back to me in a year, and I’ll advise you further.” One year later, the erstwhile teacher reported: “Thank G-d, business has prospered, and we have been living quite well. In fact, we had to invest only a minute portion from the treasure, and the returns have been astonishing.” Rav Schneur Zalman then advised him to extend his business dealings, purchasing directly from the supplier in Vitebsk instead of the local wholesaler. Another year passed, and the man reported that business had flourished even more and that he still now had a little fortune. This time, Rav Schneur Zalman advised him to travel to Moscow, from whence the Vitebsk suppliers purchased their wares, and to start selling to merchants in Vitebsk and Liozna. A year passed, and fortune continued to smile down upon him. Rav Schneur Zalman told him to travel to Konigsberg, which would allow him to sell even to the Moscow businesses. And so, it was. The onetime poor teacher and pastry seller became a well-respected businessman with extensive dealings across Russia. Once, before departing on a business trip, the entrepreneur came to seek the blessing and advice of Rav Schneur Zalman. “You’re traveling to Konigsberg,” noted the Rebbe. “Perhaps you can bring back a gift for me.” Honored that the Rebbe deigned to ask him for a gift, the man went to the finest shop in Konigsberg and purchased an expensive golden snuff box. “This is a fine gift,” said Rav Schneur Zalman when the man returned, “but this is not what I had in mind.” On his next trip, the man purchased an even more expensive snuff box, but again the Rebbe said that it was not what he wanted. Before the man’s next trip, the Rebbe told him. “You’re traveling to Konigsberg. Do you perhaps go to the theater there?” As a sincere Chassid and pious Jew, the businessman had never been to the theater in his life, but on this trip he dutifully purchased a ticket to a show in the Konigsberg theater. He settled into the plush seat in the private box high above the stage and promptly fell asleep. Tired from his business dealings, the man slept soundly and was only jolted awake when the janitor entered his booth to clean it. “Where did you come from?” asked the janitor, who was not accustomed to seeing sleeping Chassidim in the expensive theater seats. “From White Russia,” came the reply. “From which city?” asked the Janitor, “From Liozna” replied the Chassid/ “Do you perhaps know Zalminya?” said the cleaner, using a familiar appellation for the Alter Rebbe, whose full name was Schneur Zalman. “Indeed, I do. In fact, I am a student of his.” “If so, please give him my regards.” “But what is your name?” “Call me Karl.” Sure enough, upon his return to Liozna, the Chassid dutifully gave the Rav Schneur Zalman regards from Karl, the theater cleaner. “Yes,” exclaimed the Rebbe. “That was the gift I had been hoping for.” Before the man’s next trip to Konigsberg, Rav Schneur Zalman gave him a small package to bring to Karl. “When you get to Konigsberg,” said Rav Schneur Zalman, “please give this to him. And then, when you are ready to go home, please take it back from him and bring it back to me.” Upon his arrival, the businessman quickly found Karl at the theater and gave him the package. When it was time to go, he again sought out the theater cleaner to retrieve the package. “Did Zalminya say that I need to give it back?” asked Karl, opening the package. He lovingly withdrew a sheaf of papers with Rav Schneur Zalman’s handwriting. They would soon be printed and gain fame as the Tanya, Rav Schneur Zalman’s foundational work of Chassidic thought. “Divine inspiration,” he repeated to himself as he leafed through the pages. “True divine inspiration . . . I don’t know what will be left for Moshiach himself to teach.” With that, he closed the package and returned it to the businessman. When telling this story, the famed Rabbi Shmuel Gronim Estherman would conclude: It seems that Karl was among the 36 hidden tzadikim (righteous men), and Rav Schneur Zalman wanted his approval for the Tanya. Each one can be living miracles! It is up to us to decide how to conduct our lives. Hashem has been awaiting and is longing for our return home. On Chanukah we will kindle the lights in our homes. Lets take the opportunity to rekindle our souls!

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach                                                305.399.0393 * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com