This weekly parsha begins with Yaakov's meeting with Eisav. Yaakov, on his way back to eretz Yisroel (the
Holy Land), informs Eisav of what has happened to him during the last 20 years. Later he learns, that Eisav is on the way to meet him, and with him 400 men. Yaakov gets very much frightened, starts to pray to Hashem, and sends Eisav a set of messengers with gifts. As a result, Eisav is so flattered that during their meeting he kisses Yaakov, and even suggests accompanying him. Yaakov refuses, saying: "A large family is with me, we are not moving so quickly. You can go at your speed, while we will gradually reach our destination."
It is necessary to ask a few questions. First, why was Yaakov so frightened? In fact he was an extremely strong man, as we saw in the previous chapter. He was able to move alone a stone which was heavy enough to require the combined efforts of all the shepherds together to push it. His sons also possessed enormous power. Later in this parsha we learn that just two of them alone (Shimon and Levi) were successful in fighting against the entire city of
. Since Yaakov had huge herds, he must have had many strong shepherds with him. They surely could overcome the small army of Eisav if they made a united effort. Moreover if Yaakov decided to flatter Eisav why did he send such a small gift? In total he sent less than 500 small animals, and a little more than a hundred large ones. Considering his means, he could have sent tens or hundreds of times as much. Besides that, what was Yakov trying to achieve in the first place when sending his messages to Eisav? Why should he mention his riches? This would only increase Eisav’s hatred. Shechem
It is known that "Maasei Avos – Siman Lebanim" – what occurred to the patriarchs is a sign to their descendents. There are many parallels between the lives of our forefathers and the events that later happened to our people. (Ramban in the commentary on Bereishis brings many examples of this, see for example Ramban on Bereishis 12:6; the GR”A on Tikuney Zohar Chadash, 80c). One of the reasons for this is that our forefathers were like roots of a tree, while we are like branches of this same tree<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Another reason is so that the future events will become firmly fixed. Even though some prophesies are conditional, those prophesies that had a sign given will definitely be fulfilled<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Similarly, the lives of our fathers were a sign for their children, and they firmly established what will happen to the later generations<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Similarly the beginning of this week’s parsha serves as a guide for the behavior of a Jew in Golus (exile)<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Our sages used to study this Parsha before they went to meet with representatives of the Roman government (see Ramban 33:15, Bereishis Raba 78:15).
At first glance, Yaakov's reaction to Eisav’s threat seems exaggerated. The Maggid of Dubno explains what had occurred by means of the following parable. A king had a close friend in a remote city. In this city there was no doctor but if the king’s friend fell ill, the king would send to him the court doctor. Once, many people became very ill in that city. Though the close friend only sneezed a little, but did not really feel bad, he began to groan, as though he had strong pain. His family who knew, that he is not sick were surprised. He told them: "Do you think that I suffer strongly? I suffer for others, so that a doctor is sent who will cure the other patients."
Similarly, writes the Maggid of Dubno, Yaakov knew that his meeting with Eisav will set a precedent in history for the meetings of our people with the descendants Eisav. He knew that in the subsequent history, our people will not always deserve help from Hashem. Therefore he prepared the salvation back then, through his prayers and his merits. Moreover, during our journey thru history we will not always deserve open miracles, but there is a reliable way to be rescued from the anger of the nations - bribes. As we see, Yaakov did not even send Eisav so much<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. However, he made a big pomp, with many envoys, one after another, at a distance from each other. This is a part of human nature - many small actions have a greater effect than one big one<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>.
In reality, Yaakov did not wish to give the wicked Eisav too much. Righteous people value their property, which they earn honestly. All their possessions are sanctified and very dear to them<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. For this reason, Yakov sent Eisav only the minimum gift needed to flatter him.
Initially, when Yaakov sent his message, he hoped that Eisav would leave him alone, when he saw how Hashem had blessed him. The Maggid of Dubno explains this by the following parable. A poor man once went to other country to earn some money. His business was not going too well, and he already decided to go back home with empty hands. Then, all of the sudden a huge opportunity suddenly turned up, and he earned a million dollars! When he returned everybody thought that he is an ingenious businessman. But when he told them how he made this money, they all recognized that the Creator has made a miracle for him! Similarly Yaakov did not earn even a penny during the first 14 years of work. Only in the last years he suddenly grew fabulously rich. According to the Maggid, Yakov was telling Eisav: "Do not be angry at me. I have earned nothing. Only in the end, the Creator has suddenly sent me his blessing."
Rashi (32:5) writes another very interesting explanation regarding the message that Yaakov sent to Eisav. He said: “Even though I lived (garti) with the wicked Lavan, I kept 613 commandments<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. I did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways.” Rav Elchonan Wasserman quotes the Chofetz Chaim that Yaakov was actually admitting his lack of accomplishment: “I did not learn how to serve Hashem with the same diligence as Lavan commits his sins!” We should learn from the sinners! We should imitate their tremendous industriousness when they conduct dishonest businesses. Look at how much energy they put into seeking entertainment; in pursuing the forbidden? They often give up on their sleep for the sake of night pleasures! How far could we progress if we would only try to imitate them in their energetic ways, if we put as much vigor and strength into serving Hashem? We would then certainly deserve a speedy redemption and the coming of Moshiach!
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is why the Torah often seems to be describing so many details about the exact lives of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Using this principle, many obscure passages in Tanach can be explained.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> We
will bring just a few examples. Avraham's first stop as he entered the
In general, the three
forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov all went into exile. Their three exiles
hinted to our three exiles: to
During Yaakov’s sojourn with Lavan, many other hints regarding the Egyptian exile were revealed. Yaakov came with nothing but left very rich, while Lavan became impoverished. Yakov’s wealth was due to working with sticks to influence the birth patterns of the flock (regarding the hints of the sticks look in our commentary to the previous parsha). Similarly, the Jewish people descended during the famine, and came out rich, taking away all Egyptian wealth, as mandated by Hashem. The wealth the Jewish people acquired was due to the stick used by Moshe to punish the Egyptians. Lavan only found out about Yaakov’s leaving three days later, and he reached him on the seventh day, but was prevented by Hashem from harming Yaakov. So too, Pharaoh decided to pursue the Jewish people on the third day, reached them on the seventh day, but his army was drowned in the see after Moshe used his staff.
Yitzchak descended to a
The four kingdoms that
Avraham had to fight against (see Bereishis, chapter 14) are a hint to the four
kingdoms that would oppress Jewish people:
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See also letters of Rabbeinu Weismandel printed in “Toras Chemed”, 65th letter.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Similarly, during World War II, the only successful way of dealing with the Nazis was through bribery. Thousands of people were saved by Rabbeinu Weismandel in this manner. The bribes were not even that large, only tens of thousands of dollars. If the Jewish people in free countries had supplied him with more money, he would have been able to save many more Jewish lives (see Sefer Min Hametzar).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This principle can be used in developing one’s good qualities. For example, giving a dollar 100 times to tzedaka is better than giving $100 once. Constant giving accustoms the person to generosity.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Our sages learn this principle from this week’s parsha. It is described that Yakov remained alone at night. The Talmud (Chulin 91a) teaches, that he returned to pick up some utensils, which were forgotten during the crossing of a small river. Losing even inexpensive things would be a loss to him.