Raboyseyee and Ladies,
Back in 2011, we wrote all about Dina who was nebech taken (raped) by Shechem -kidarko and sheloi, (so says Rashi and who knew better)? In 2012, we asked and answered many questions about Reuvain; did he, or, did he not have sexual relations with that woman? Which woman? His step-mother Bilah! The heylige Gemora decided it couldn’t be though the heylige Toirah used the word ‘Vayishkav’ (meaning always some form of sleep). They valiantly try convincing us that Vayishkav has another meaning. Ver veyst? In 2013, we took a closer look at Bilah and Zilpah, they, the unsung and hardly recognized mothers of 4 of the 12 holy shevotim (tribes). We also wondered where they were buried. Why taka don’t we have six foremothers? Were they but pilagshim (concubines) used as mere sex toys and surrogates?
But are we not taught that Yaakov married them as well? We are! Can one be both a pilegesh and wife at the same time? Seemingly, at least back then. We were wondering why people (for the most part) do not name their children ‘Bilah’ and ‘Zilpa’. In 2014, we asked controversial questions about the location of kever Rochel (Rachel’s tombstone). It wasn’t until the Ois was over 50, that he heard for the first time that Rochel may not be buried where we had been taught to believe. Where the heck is she really buried? We wondered if there was more than one Beis Lechem (Bethlehem). Seemingly there is, maybe even a few. Grada this debate continues to rage. In subsequent years, we explored other topics.
And here we are back in Parshas Vayishlach, the year is 2021. Last week the heylige Toirah interrupted the feud between Yaakov and Eisav and dedicated kimat an entire parsha to Yaakov’s love life, his marriages to Leah, Rochel, Bilah, and Zilpa and to the birth of their children. As the parsha ended, Yaakov, was the father of 11 boys and one girl. Rochel was pregnant with child #2 -his twelfth boy, and the entire mishpocho was on the road back to Israel. He had finally broken away from his shver (father-in-law) Lovon and was on his way to greener pastures and some well-deserved tranquility. Or, so he thought. The RBSO had other plans.
This week, Yaakov is at least 99 years old and as we make our way through the parsha, we will come to learn that it’s not easy raising kinderlach. Things will begin unraveling in the Yaakov Ovenu household. The wheels on the bus become unglued with the Dina myseh, the violent -perhaps not called for- response from Shimon and Levi, and the odd behavior of Reuvain -the first ever Jewish bed-mover/mounter/schlepper- but will really spiral totally out of control next week when Yoisef will be sold into slavery by his own brothers. He’s in for a tough twenty plus years. Ober chap nisht (keep your pants on); this week’s parsha has more than enough trauma. As is the case in many -if not- most families, Yaakov is not having nachas (pride and joy) from all his kids at the same time. The bottom line: it’s unusual that one does, and the Ois has long maintained that kids are like a stock portfolio; it’s rare that all are performing and giving nachas at the same time. Azoy geyt iz (that’s just reality).
This year we will take a look at the storyline that occupies, 47 out of a total of 154 pisukim. We will discuss the preparation for, and the confrontation between Yaakov and his twin brother as they get set to meet for the first time in three plus decades. How did we arrive to that number? Let’s recall that Yaakov (supposedly) spent 14 years at the Yeshiva of Shaim and Ever hiding out form Eisav before making his way over to Choron where he met his four wives. He spent twenty years employed by Lovon before skedaddling out of town. And shoin, it’s 34 years later.
Though 34 years have passed since the infamous snooker/sale and stolen brochis, Eisav is on his way and Yaakov is quite nervous, even afraid. Ober was Eisav thinking about revenge? Was he still pissed off about the sale or about being outwitted by his twin brother? Did the purchased lentil soup cause Eisav to suffer long lasting stomach issues? Was he under the impression that Yaakov was leading a charmed life over in Lovon’s house and was jealous thinking that Yitzchok’s brochis (blessings) had mamish kicked in? Does the heylige Toirah mention that Eisav was coming to exact revenge? It does not! Does it tell us that Eisav was still carrying a grudge? It does not. All we know is this: Yaakov was afraid mamish for his life and according to Rashi and others, was also worried that he might have to kill Eisav, something that would of course upset his mother Rivka who was worried (aloud) about losing both of them on the same day. What to do?
Those who went through the yeshiva system know this story well and can retell it in their sleep. Yaakov hears that Eisav is coming towards him with an army of 400. Yaakov is mistama thinking that Eisav’s memory of being duped out of the bechoira (birthright) is still fresh on his mind though decades have passed. Talk about holding a grudge. In any event, the heylige Toirah which does not – according to our Rabbis -contain any extra sentences, words or letters- does tell us in dramatic detail all about Yaakov’s preparations for the great confrontation. He was getting set to employ a trinary strategy. Avada you should read the parsha to chap every detail. Bikutzir (in short), Yaakov, not knowing what to expect, will prepare for the confrontation by davening to the RBSO for help; with a plan to propitiate Eisav with a large gift (bribe); and will also prepare for war.
Did Yaakov order something big and expensive from the Neiman Marcus Holiday Catalogue as his gift offering? Something from Amazon Prime? Not! A gift certificate efsher? Also not! Let’s recall that Yaakov, like other great Toirah personalities, was a shepherd. He was not a real estate magnate, nor a professional. What he did amass while employed by Lovon as a result of the successful plan he cleverly hatched to stimulate the animals using colored and spotted rods while they were at the watering holes? Animals, lots of them. The bottom line: stimulus worked! He left Lovon’s house and Choron with many flock and decided to share his wealth with Eisav. In fact, to make the gift appear even larger than it was, his instructions included the words ‘vo’revach tosimu beyn eider lo’eider’ (leave open spaces between each grouping). So happens that Yaakov taka wanted his gift to look larger than it was in real life. Perhaps the first but zicher not the last time this ploy has been used, if you chap. Size matters and so does the appearance of size. Shoin!
The heylige Toirah sets up the dramatic tension between Yaakov and Eisav as they anticipate meeting, and as they finally cry together after 30 plus years of not seeing or speaking to each other. That’s a long time of not talking to a pissed off relative. We are ready for a war, mamish. Let’s harken back to the very end of Parshas Toldois where Eisav hated Yaakov and -to himself only- mouthed a plan to kill Yaakov after Yitzchok’s passing. Let’s read the posik (Bereishis 27:41):
|41. And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob.”||מאו ַיִּשְׂטֹ֤ם עֵשָׂו֙ אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב עַל־הַ֨בְּרָכָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בֵּֽרֲכ֖וֹ אָבִ֑יו וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו בְּלִבּ֗וֹ יִקְרְבוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ אֵ֣בֶל אָבִ֔י וְאַֽהַרְגָ֖ה אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹ֥ב אָחִֽי:|
The meeting of Yaakov and Eisav is fraught with ambiguity. On the one hand, Yaakov sends word to Eisav that he has left Lovon and is coming “home” toward Eisav. On the other hand, Yaakov is frightened to death about what Eisav may do to him when they meet. He, therefore divides his camp in two, so that if one is attacked the other might be spared, sends a lavish gift of 550 animals to Eisav to win his favor, and prays to the RBSO for protection. Meanwhile, as Eisav prepares to meet his brother Yaakov, it is perhaps with a sense of anger after being cheated of his birthright, so he brings along 400 men with him! On the other hand, the 400-man army might have been an honor guard. Which was it? The heylige Toirah does not tell us. Ober we digress as does the heylige Toirah which tells us that on the eve of the actual meeting, Yaakov has an enigmatic nighttime struggle with a malach (divine being) that wounds him. Whether this is a real being, or the Toirah’s way of letting us into Yaakov’s self-conscience, it’s clear that Yaakov is struggling mightily with his past and especially with his hurtful behavior toward his brother. No amount of gift-sending, davening to the RBSO, or bowing obsequiously in front of his brother can erase the fact that many years back he fled from Eisav having snookered him twice.
Shoin. They finally meet, ober does war break out? Not! Are harsh words exchanged upon the reunion? Also not. Instead, after the buildup, it’s over just like that, if you chap. One kiss later and 34 years of bad blood are seemingly washed away. Was it a wet kiss?
The bottom line: In the end, the reunion, was mamish anti-climactic. One kiss later and all was forgotten? Mamish? Grada, many try this technique ad-hayoim-hazeh (until today) after a good fight at home. Nu, if the kiss doesn’t do the job, avada one can try jewelry which could lead to make-up sex. There have been reports that this method can also be effective. Its’ the expensive way out but often works.
The actual meeting seems quite sincere. Eisav ran to greet him. He embraced him, and falling on his neck, he kissed **** him; and they wept. Check out the stars above. In the heylige Toirah scroll, the word “he kissed him” is marked with four asterisks on the parchment. Shoin, when a word is so marked, it did not go by unnoticed and many a commentator chimed in to offer various interpretations of these puzzling marks/dots above the word. What do these dots mean? Do they change the meaning of the word? Was the kiss not real? Was Eisav’s kiss genuine? Was his purpose in coming to meet his estranged brother to repair their relationship after so many years?
Says Rashi there is a difference of opinion in this matter. Some interpret the asterisks to mean that Eisav did not kiss him wholeheartedly but Rashi also quotes Rebbe Shimon Ben Yochai who says azoy: It is well known that Eisav hated Yaakov; however, his compassion was moved at the moment and he kissed him wholeheartedly. In other words: it’s taka emes Eisav hated Yaakov since the sale of the birthright and being outwitted by his brother for his father’s blessings, ober at that moment, his hatred slipped away as he was overcome with emotion. The kiss was real! As an aside, Shimon bar Yochai’s axiom “Eisav soineh l’’Yaakov (Eisav hates Yaakov), came to have a life of its own, and is quoted daily by Yiddin when outwitted or snookered or stam azoy defrauded by a goy as if laying down a general principle about relations between Yiddin and the umois ho’oilom (the goyim). The bottom line according to his pshat is azoy: Antisemitism, in the eyes of some rabbis, remains a permanent, inevitable feature of the pre-messianic world order. Eisav and Yaakov will again unite when the Moshiach appears. When is that? Ver veyst? Says the Ois: if his arrival depends on the Yiddin observing two consecutive shabbosim or them getting along, he’s not coming any time soon.
Moreover, the negative view of Eisav/Edom seems reinforced by the haftoirah in this week’s parsha taken from the book of Ovadia, where he writes azoy: “While Yaakov (Yisroel), will be restored, ruin awaits Eisav/Edom, a nation “greatly despised”. “And the house of Yaakov shall be a fire… And the house of Eisav for stubble.” As another aside, the hafoirah for Vayishlach is the entire book of Ovadia (Obadiah), which is the only book of the Tanach that has just one chapter.
Ober says the medrish (Bereshis Rabbah) that Eisav’s motives were not pure. And his proof? Medrish does this by the use of a pun on the Hebrew word to kiss. Instead of coming to kiss him, the medrish argues, Eisav came to bite him, since this man Eisav is essentially an evil person, and therefore he certainly cannot be trusted. But listen to this: Says Avos D’ Rebbe Noson that it’s not so! He argues azoy: it’s taka emes that everything Eisav ever did was motivated by hatred, except for this one occasion which was motivated by love. And says Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, azoy: This kiss and these tears show us that Eisav was also a descendant of Avrohom. He had a heart! In Eisav, there must have been something more than just the wild hunter. What really happened? Was the kiss real? Ver veyst?
The reunion is off to a great start. After introducing his family, Yaakov urges Eisav to accept his gifts, telling him “..for to see your face is like seeing the face of God”. Yaakov is deeply relieved and moved by Eisav’s willingness to see him again, and embrace him rather than harm him. Eisav would like to pursue the relationship, but Yaakov cannot. When Eisav suggests that they travel together to Seir, Yaakov makes excuses; he says that his children and his flocks are frail and need to travel at their own pace. Yaakov urges Eisav: “Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir” (Genesis 33:14). Sier? Did Yaakov ever travel to Seir? Did Yaakov even consider a trip to Seir? Was Yaakov once again deceiving Eisav by telling him to go ahead and that they would meet up later? And listen to this: says the medrish (Medrish Rabba (78:14) azoy: “We have searched the whole of Scriptures and do not find that Yaakov ever went to the mountain of Seir to see Eisav. Is it possible that Yaakov -known, as mentioned last week- for his emes (truthful) was once again deceiving his bother? Oy vey and say it’s not so please. Why would Yaakov tell Eisav to travel ahead and they would meet up late? When is Yaakov to come to Eisav?
And the questions are azoy: Was reconciliation between Yaakov and Eisav only momentary? Could it have worked for the long haul? As told to us in the heylige Toirah, Yaakov and Eisav go their separate ways. Were Yaakov and Eisav ready or not to resume a brotherly relationship? Were they ready to make up for lost time? To attend one another’s family simchas? And the answer? Not! And while Yaakov no longer had to look over his back and was seemingly out of danger, the relationship came to a rather abrupt end. While Eisav sought a relationship with his long-lost brother, Yaakov was ready to move on. Had too much time passed? Had any vestiges of brotherly feelings dissipated to a point of no return? And if that’s the case –seemingly it was- whose fault was it? Was Eisav to blame? Or, was it Yaakov who could not warm up to his brother? Was Yaakov still feeling guilty? Or, but on guard? Or, was Yaakov suffering from guilt feelings only when in the presence of Eisav?
Says the Abarbanel (Bereishis 33: 1-17), azoy: the gifts Yaakov gave Eisav served as Yaakov’s blessings. Although Yaakov took Eisav’s blessing from a suspecting yet willing participant in the scheme (his afther Yitzchok), he was now bestowing his own blessings onto Eisav, making them equals. Had Yaakov felt Eisav undeserving, he would not have given it to him.
In any event, their parting of ways too, was nothing to write home about; one might be so bold to say, anticlimactic. And taka, one is left to wonder why the heylige Toirah dedicated so much rich text to this reunion? What are we to learn from these verses? Ober if the RBSO decided to include these details into His heylige Toirah, avada there must be a good reason; let’s see if we can find one or a few. Let’s start here:
Many a medrish and others will tell us that the two brothers had to separate for the growth and development of the Yiddin, the descendants of Yaakov/Yisroel. Each was to build a nation but not together. Nu, at least the war between them ended. No more fighting. You live here and I’ll live there. Separation became the operational modality. Not peace. Just an armistice, the cessation of active warfare. Some call this coexistence; each group lives separately.
The Ois has long been perplexed by the bad press Eisav gets in the medrish and has also wondered why Yaakov was unable to reconcile fully with his brother. The Toirah gives us no explicit reasons, but we can imagine a few: efsher we can kler that Yaakov never really liked his brother, and couldn’t start pretending now. Let’s recall that fighting began in the womb. Maybe seeing Eisav reminded Yaakov of the terrible pain he had caused his brother, and Yaakov didn’t want to be reminded daily of his deceptive past. Perhaps the brothers lived such different lifestyles that Yaakov felt they could never really have a relationship.
Or, is it efsher the case that Yaakov was not capable of having a deep and meaningful relationship with his brother? Or anyone else? Did it go back to his childhood and other events that shaped his personality? Is it shayich (possible) that earlier events hardened him to a point of no return? What’s pshat? Let’s go back and revisit Yaakov’s youth.
The heylige Toirah went out of its way to tell us that Rivka loved Yaakov, and taka it’s comforting to know that one’s mother loves you. On the other hand, did Yitzchok’s preference for Eisav keep Yaakov at a distance from his father? Was that a strained relationship? And let us not forget how Yaakov impersonated Eisav and deceived his own father to get his hands -which he used in disguise- on those blessings. Later in life, his relationship with Lovon stretched over twenty years but was fraught throughout; Yaakov’s accusations (read all about them in Bereishis 31) reveal the deep mistrust of his uncle that led him to try to escape surreptitiously. Moreover, Yaakov certainly showed no positive sentiment toward Leah, who was always chasing the next birth, hoping with each arrival, that her husband would finally love her. Yaakov did love Rochel, though the heylige Toirah does emphasize her beauty and his physical attraction to her. Moreover, it is never clear how much his love for Rochel was reciprocated. Did she not snooker him into marrying her sister Leah? The unpleasant interchange between them in 30:1–3 does not leave the reader with the impression of mutual affection. Was Yaakov too hardened by real life? Was he not capable of up close and personal relationships? Ver veyst? In light of all these complex interpersonal relationships, Yaakov’s fearful and evasive responses to Eisav’s overtures are not surprising, and even somewhat predictable.
The bottom lines: It’s a shtikel disturbing to read about this final separation between Yaakov and Eisav and perhaps be reminded of similar separations in our own lives. We all have them! Though not many of us “run off with the birthright” of our siblings, many of us have difficult relationships with a brother, sister, father and or mother. Friends too are included. At times we try to reach reconciliation. Is it easy? Not! Yaakov and Eisav, twins mamish who typically love each other, couldn’t make a go of it; that’s just how it goes. Sometimes, full reconciliation -especially after so many years- is just impossible. Perhaps some reconciliations will only be made when Moshiach comes, ver veyst.
And the good news? For Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, OBM, the reconciliation between the two brothers involves Yaakov restoring the blessing that he had taken from Eisav so many years before. That’s what Yaakov did with the large gift of animals presented. As an aside, Rashi on Bereishis 32:14 -check it out- cites the Medrish suggesting that indeed Yaakov included precious stones and diamonds. It is Yaakov’s realization that he does not need the blessing of Eisav but must accept his own destiny, which comes after his wrestling match with the Malach Hashem when he is renamed “Yisroel.” Says Rabbi Sacks, “The choice of Jacob does not mean the rejection of Esau.” Rabbi Sacks also notes the significance of the Toirah command given to the Yiddin by Moishe later in Devorim (23:7) where we read azoy: “Do not hate an Edomite, for he is your brother.” Eisav is Edom! Eisav is not rejected and not to be hated.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv