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11 Kislev 5765 - November 24, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
How to Deal With Eisov: The Eternal Lessons of Parshas Vayishlach

by Maran HaRav Meir Chodosh, zt'l

"R' Yaakov bar Idi pointed out a contradiction between two pesukim: One posuk reads, `And behold I am with you and will guard you wherever you go' (Bereishis 28:15), but another posuk says, `Then Yaakov was greatly afraid and was distressed' (Bereishis 32:8). [R' Yaakov] answered: `[He was only afraid because he thought,] Perhaps [his] sins would cause [his undoing]' (Brochos 4a).

Rashi explains that Yaakov feared, even after Hashem's promise, that perhaps he had sinned and therefore the Divine promise would not be fulfilled.

This must be understood. Did Yaakov not hear that Hashem explicitly assured his protection? Why should he be afraid? We see, however, that sin has the power even to rescind Divine commitments. That was Yaakov's great fear.

"I have dwelled with Lovon" (Bereishis 32:4) — "and have fulfilled the 613 mitzvos" (Rashi, ibid.). Yaakov is conscious of his superior cochos hanefesh. When he was in Lovon's house not only did he not learn from his wickedness, but he even elevated himself daily to loftier spiritual levels. In Lovon's house he was privileged to give birth to the shevotim — the tribes of Israel.

Yet as significant as this was, it was nonetheless inadequate to assure him that he was free from Divine criticism afterward. "Who can comprehend errors?" (Tehillim 19:13). After leaving Lovon's house he was concerned that perhaps according to his level he had not perfected himself sufficiently — "Who can be justified before You when judged?" (see Tehillim 143:2, Musaf Rosh Hashonoh). Even when an explicit prophecy and promise have been given, their fulfillment is still dependent upon Heavenly considerations. Sin can tip the scale. Even a person as righteous as Yaakov must fear that perhaps he has become sullied by sin.

What must a person do? Is he helpless? No! The answer is tefilloh. Yaakov pleaded to Hashem, "The Elokim of my father Avrohom, and the Elokim of my father Yitzchok . . . deliver me" (Bereishis 32:10,12). Despite Yaakov's excessive fear, and although it was a time of judgment when the attribute of strict judgment dominates, tefilloh can tip the balance once again.

While Yaakov was in Lovon's house — despite his terrible suffering, despite all the lies, deceit, and schemes that surrounded him — Yaakov did not fear that the Divine promise would not be fulfilled, for he was in the midst of building Klal Yisroel. He cautiously examined himself and concluded each time that he was acting properly. He overcame the obstacles impeding his way and ascended step- by-step in spiritual excellence. Klal Yisroel was evolving and Yaakov beheld the promise as it was being achieved.

However, now that he was on the way to meet Eisov, he feared that, "All these years he [Eisov] was living in Eretz Yisroel. Perhaps he can attack me because of the strong merit of his having been in Eretz Yisroel and, all these years, having honored his parents" (Yalkut Vayishlach, 131).

Eisov was also promised, "And it shall come to pass when you shall break loose, that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck" (Bereishis 27:40).

In addition, Yaakov feared that perhaps his zechuyos had dwindled because of the abundant Heavenly kindness he had seen — "I am not worthy of [lit., I have dwindled because of] all the mercies, and of all the truth, which You have shown Your servant" (Ibid., 32:11).

Then he was concerned that some imperfection could cancel the Divine promise and Eisov would be able to defeat him. At the present, Yaakov owed much to Hashem, and on the other hand, Eisov had accumulated many zechuyos. Yaakov must find a way to surmount this challenge.

We are not studying history or even reading stories of tzaddikim in order to gain inspiration. The Torah is coming to teach us vital principles for our own lives. Although Hashem made promises to the holy Patriarchs and also to us throughout the generations, we must remember that nothing is guaranteed. We are always being judged as to whether we are fitting or not. A person must be in continual fear of the possibility of total loss, and must search for ways to maneuver himself through the straits of life.

"He commanded them, saying: Thus shall you say to my lord Eisov'" (Bereishis 32:5). "Rabbeinu said to R' Apas, `Write a letter in my name to King Antoninus.' He went and wrote, `From Yehuda the Nosi to King Antoninus.' [R' Yehuda the Nosi] picked it up, read it, and tore it up. He said, `Write, "From your servant Yehuda to the our lord, King Antoninus." ' He said to him, `Rebbe, why are you disgracing yourself?' R' Yehuda the Nosi said to him, `Am I better than my grandfather? Did he not say, "Thus shall you say to my lord Eisov"?' " (Bereishis Rabbah 75:5).

Rebbe had an ongoing relationship with Antoninus Caesar, who even came to study with Rebbe and considered himself Rebbe's student. Nonetheless, when he needed to write Antoninus a letter he was careful about every word. Even though R' Apas, the scribe, was not just anybody, Rebbe did not rely on him and looked over his letter. Indeed, he found a problem: The letter did not express enough humility towards the king. R' Yehuda ripped it up. R' Apas wanted to understand R' Yehuda. Although one must honor the king, why does Rebbe have to write "from your servant"? Rebbe was the Nosi of Yisroel and must preserve his own honor. Rebbe answered him that Yaakov Ovinu taught him differently.

When Yaakov declared Eisov to be the king, it was not just a one-time tactic, but also guidance for later generations on how to act with Eisov. "It is a halocho that Eisov hates Yaakov." This is the reality, even when it seems that Eisov is Yaakov's friend. We will be able to act differently only when "saviors ascend Mount Zion to judge Eisov's mountain, and the kingdom will be Hashem's" (Ovadiah 1:21). When that happens they will be obedient to us, but as long as we do not have the privilege of seeing that happen, we must act submissively towards Eisov.

Moreover, Eisov has a special power. He is our watchdog — "And it shall come to pass when you shall break loose, that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck." Our mission is to contend with Eisov, to assure that our control over Eisov will be only according to our needs, so as to bring the desired benefit. We must make efforts to insure that we will not be harmed by any meeting with Eisov and will, on the contrary, emerge strengthened. Yaakov Ovinu especially directed us in how to accomplish this, through his meeting with Eisov.

"He armed [his men] underneath their clothing, then dressed them outwardly [in ordinary clothes], and prepared himself for three things. For giving a present — `So the present passed over before him' (32:22). For war — `If Eisov should come to the one camp' (v. 9). For tefilloh — `The Elokim of my father Avrohom, and the Elokim of my father Yitzchok . . . deliver me.' (Yalkut, ibid.).

Every detail of what Yaakov did needs to be studied and reviewed. Chazal teach that although he prepared for the possibility of war, he hid the weapons: `He armed them underneath their clothing.' Before waging war other tactics are preferable.

First comes tefilloh. A person must always fear that there is some possibility that he has sinned. One cannot move at all without tefilloh. "The elite of the Ovos was Yaakov, as is written: `For Hashem chose Yaakov to be His' (Tehillim 135:4). HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to him, `Behold, I am with you' (Bereishis 28:15), but he was afraid at the end — `Then Yaakov was greatly afraid' (28:15).

"Yisroel would have deserved to be destroyed in the time of Haman if they had not relied on their Elder's attitude. They said, `If our father Yaakov, to whom HaKodosh Boruch Hu had promised, was still frightened, we should certainly be frightened'" (Ibid.). What Yaakov did because he had a minute apprehension of sin helped his offspring when they truly deserved to be given over to Eisov. The path Yaakov paved during his struggle with Eisov helped his children, because they learned from his ways. They were stimulated to pray and to beseech Hashem, something that should always be done.

"`To his brother Eisov' (32:4). Perhaps you will say that Eisov acted like a stranger to him. The Torah teaches us that he acted like `his brother,' but nonetheless Yaakov had to send messengers before him. Surely, therefore, someone who has a feud with a non-Jew should exert himself not to provoke him. `And he commanded them, saying' (v. 5) — for all generations, [warning us] that we should not stand, unyielding, against the wave, since anyone who stands unyielding against the wave is drenched by the wave. But everyone who bends before the wave is passed over by it" (Pesichta 7).

Even after tefilloh, a person still needs to know how to act, how to speak. Chazal tell us that the way to act is by being subservient to Eisov and bending before him. One who tries to be stubborn is drenched. Only when one bends down does the wave pass over his head. Afterwards a person can stand up, continue, and wait for the next wave.

How should we talk to Eisov? "What did he do? He immediately sent him a present, so as to influence him" (Bereishis Rabbah 75:13). The language to use when speaking with Eisov is money. Their life centers around the desire for money — and not only for a small present. "He put a space between each drove" (v. 17) — he will be satisfied when it is a large present. His desire must be gratified.

And presents are not enough. He must be honored, and as much as possible: "And he himself passed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times until he came near to his brother" (33:3). An entire ceremony showing extreme honor and deference to Eisov — Yaakov and his whole family bowed before Eisov.

Chazal write, "Chas vesholom, let no one say that Yaakov bowed to Eisov. Actually the Shechinah appeared to them — And He (meaning Hashem, according to the Zohar) passed over before them" (Zohar Vayishlach 171). The gesture of bowing was necessary for Eisov, and for this the Shechinah appeared so that Eisov would think that they were bowing to him while really they were bowing to the Shechinah. We must be humble even to such an extent!

An abundance of money is insufficient. Satisfying Eisov's desires is not enough. The extravagant honor of being called "my lord" seven times is still inadequate. Eisov must be bowed down to by everyone. The sword must remain hidden as long as possible. Every possible scheme must be used to prevent its use.

The meeting between Yaakov and Eisov is the central issue facing Klal Yisroel until Moshiach comes. Yaakov showed us the way and laid the foundations. Whenever we are faced with this problem we must act according to the rules he laid down.

The first thing is tefilloh. We must believe in Hashem's power to help, and we must feel we have nothing to rely upon except tefilloh. Perhaps even all the Divine promises given to us have been annulled because of our sins. By crying out to Hashem, "Deliver us!" we can accomplish what we wish and awaken Divine mercy so that we will be privileged to pass peacefully through any distress.

Rebbe used to study and review the episode of Yaakov and Eisov before dealing with the gentiles, and he would make sure to act exactly according to each detail of the story, even during a meeting where there was no apparent problem. Surely during a crisis we must study the same episode and look for a present to send Eisov, whether it is money or honor. We must do anything that will help cause the enemy to keep his sword sheathed — even when we can fight back.

We always need to suspect that some personal interest is preventing us from bowing before Eisov. Chazal teach us the way to act, and that is the way we must act. It is the only hope we have. As long as Moshiach has not come, we cannot take Eisov's strength away from him. We can only handle him in the way that Chazal have taught us.

It should be remembered that the only power Eisov has is that he can force us to bow our heads. More than that he is powerless to do; he has no permission to harm us. It is only a wave that passes over us and if we bend our heads we will not be harmed. Only when we try to hold our heads high can the wave drench us. Only we can hand the sword over to Eisov, and as long as we do not give it to him he can only force us to bend once or twice — no more.

When we do what we are obliged to do, when we act humbly and bend our heads before the wave and mind our own business, Eisov can surely not hurt us at all. If we learn the correct lesson from this wave, then no other wave will come and we will be able to raise ourselves up and continue.

Let us strengthen ourselves in tefilloh and pray for Heavenly assistance. We should do what we are obliged to do and in that way we will pass safely through all the waves, and the days of the Moshiach Tzidkeinu will come speedily, in our days.

R' Meir Chodosh, zt'l was Mashgiach of Yeshivas Hebron, Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, and Or Elchonon.


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