(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
How Yaakov Avinu’s Prayers Endure for us Too, Why Yaakov Didn’t Want to Kill Eisav and How Eretz Yisrael was saved by General Rommel’s Advancing Tank Division
It this week’s Parashah we shall read that before Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav that “Yaakov was very frightened and distressed” (Bereishit 32:8), Yaakov Avinu was fearful from the pending meeting with the wicked Eisav.
Our chachamim said that Yaakov Avinu prepared for three things, prayer, a conciliatory gift and war. Prayer, this is the prayer to Hashem “Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother - from the hand of Eisav” (ibid. 32:12). And why did he say “from the hand of my brother - from the hand of Eisav”, did he have other brothers that he could have been referring to? He could have said “from the hand of my brother” and it would have sufficed. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches us to learn from here that one who prays must spell out their request in a clear way. Even if things cannot be interpreted in another way, they must still be spelt out clearly. Why is this? Because even though Hashem certainly knows the intent of the prayer, but sometimes a person isn’t fitting that his prayer be directly received by Hashem, and it is the angels that receive his prayer and present it to Hashem. These angels may interpret the prayer the prayer incorrectly, therefore one must clarify their prayer.
Regarding this it is related about a chassid who was traveling and he was tired and exhausted from the treacherous journey through the desolate wilderness. He lifted his eyes in prayer, Master of the World! May it be Your will that you should provide me with a donkey! Within no time, a noble man passed riding his donkey and suddenly it gave birth to a small donkey. The nobleman thought what will I do with it now? Suddenly he saw the Jew, called him over and said to him, “Please take this donkey with you!” The chassid said, indeed my prayer was answered, I received a donkey in the middle of the desert, but I intended for a donkey that I could ride and not that I’ll carry on my shoulders! We learn from here that I person must clarify his words so that his wish be truly fulfilled.
Let’s return to Yaakov Avinu who prepared for three things, prayer we covered, a gift as it states, “…he selected a tribute for his brother Eisav from what he had with him. [The tribute consisted of] 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 nursing camels and their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys” (ibid. 32:14-16). And he likewise prepared for battle, he said, “If Eisav comes and attacks one camp, at least the other camp will survive” (ibid. 32:9). I will fight him in order to save the survivors! Yaakov said in his heart that he will behave like Eisav, if he wants shalom, he’ll give him a gift and if he wants strife, he’ll fight him.
“Eisav ran to meet them. He hugged [Yaakov], and throwing himself on his shoulders, kissed him. They [both] wept” (Bereishit 33:4). Hashem gave Eisav the correct approach “throwing himself on his shoulders, kissed him”. Our chachamim observed that above the Hebrew word “vayishikahu”, which means “kissed him”, are dots in the Sefer Torah. What do these dots indicate? The Hebrew word ““vayishikahu” is an anagram for the Hebrew phrase which spells out the following words which translate as “Isn’t he truly named Yaakov! He went behind my back twice” (ibid. 27:36). Eisav remembered at that moment how Yaakov had taken the birthright and therefore came to bite [through] Yaakov’s neck, it became hard like marble and Eisav the wicked one’s teeth were shattered.
We learn from all these events a principle “what happened to the Avot is a sign for the sons [i.e. future generations]”. Everything that Yaakov prayed during those times, was for future generations [too], “Yaakov looked up” (ibid 33:1) he looked to future generations and he saw what Eisav descendants will do to Am Yisrael and he prayed for them and everything is indicated and contained within those prayers. The first letters of the Hebrew words “Hatzilani na miyad”, which translate to “Rescue me, I pray, from the hand”, spell out HaMaN. Yaakov saw how the wicked Haman, who is descended from Eisav, will stand to destroy Am Yisrael and he prayed for his children to be saved by Hashem. About this it states “Yaakov was very frightened and distressed”, that he was distressed for Am Yisrael’s distresses.
However Rashi quotes an additional explanation “Yaakov was very frightened and distressed” Yaakov was “frightened” that he may be killed and was “distressed” lest he have to kill. Yaakov didn’t want to kill others. We need to understand why would Yaakov be bothered if he had to kill the wicked Eisav? The Torah teaches that “if someone comes to kill you, make a pre-emptive strike!” [See Rashi Shemot 22:1]. So on the contrary Yaakov should have been pleased in Eisav’s demise, why would he be distressed that perhaps he may have to kill Eisav?
Our chachamim explain that Rivkah Imeinu had Ruch HaKodesh and did not speak unless she had something important to say. The Talmud (Sotah 14a) relates that Rivkah had said “But why should I lose you both on the same day?” (Bereishit 27:45). She had a prophecy that Eisav and Yaakov will die on the same day. Therefore Yaakov was distressed that if he kills Eisav then he too will die on that die. Therefore he didn’t want to kill Eisav.
They related a parable about this. A king had a wise astrologer gazing at the stars and everything he revealed through the stars transpired. Once this wiseman did something wrong against the king and they judged him, punishing him to death. Prior to bringing him out to be killed, the king called him and said to him, “Go and gaze at the stars and tell me what you see!” The wiseman went out and saw that indeed he was destined to die. He returned to the king and said to him, “My master the king, I am very distressed, and not for my life am I distressed, for what am I and what is my life? But I have seen that there is a unique connection between my star and my master the king’s star. If I die today, you will die tomorrow!” The king heard this and was afraid, therefore he postponed the judgement indefinitely!
Likewise, Yaakov didn’t want to kill the wicked Eisav. And so our chachamim relate that when Yaakov’s children came to bury him in the Me’arat HaMachpeilah (Cave of Machpeilah), Eisav and his henchmen came there too, “leaders of Amalek and leaders of hell”, they all came. Eisav began questioning, “Why are you burying Yaakov here? There are 4 pairs in the Me’arat HaMachpeilah, Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah and there are only two empty graves, one for Yaakov and one me, for Eisav! Yaakov already buried Leah in his plot, so he no longer has a right to bury in the cave and the remaining plot is mine!” So Eisav claimed.
The mighty Yehudah arose and said to Eisav “Why are you messing around? You sold this grave to our father, as it states “I am dying. You must bury me in the grave ‘I prepared’” (Bereishit 50:5). Yaakov had arranged for Eisav a pile [this is indicated by the Hebrew word “kariti” – “I prepared” which also means a “kri” – a “pile”] of gold so that he sell him his plot in the cave. Eisav agreed and said “What do I care where I am buried?” Eisav replied to Yehudah “This never happened, there was no such sale!” Yehudah said to him we have a document of sale which testifies to the sale!” Eisav retorted “Where is this document?” Yehudah realised that the brothers had forgotten the document in Egypt. He turned to Naftali who was “a deer running free” (Bereishit 49:21), light on his feet. He said to him run quickly to Egypt and bring us the deed of sale! Yaakov’s coffin was left as it were on the ground and unburied. Chushim ben Dan saw this, he was deaf and asked “What is going on?” They pointed to Eisav and indicated to him how Eisav was preventing the burial. Chushim smote Eisav very hard and Yehudah came and smote him further, soon Eisav was decapitated and his head rolled into the cave. So at the end, both Yaakov and Eisav died on the same day. Therefore Yaakov Avinu said if I kill him then I am next, therefore “he was distressed”.
As we said earlier “Yaakov looked up” and they explained in the Midrash that his eyes looked afar to all the generations and they said that Yaakov’s eyes gushed with tears. He cried before Hashem that He save Am Yisrael, that he take pity on the remnant that they not be lost forever. Hashem accepted his prayer as it states “May Hashem answer you on the day of distress; may the Name of Yaakov’s G-d make you impregnable” (Tehillim 20:2), it doesn’t say the G-d of Avraham but the G-d of Yaakov, for he prayed for the future generations of Am Yisrael, “for in every single generation they endeavour to destroy us and Hashem saves us!” [see Haggadah shel Pesach].
“Grant not, Hashem, the desires of the wicked one; do not grant his conspiracy fruition” (ibid. 140:9) Who is this wicked person? This is Hitler yemach shemo v’zichro. His soldiers were already position in El Alamein. The wicked one sent his soldiers to conquer the Middle East. I remember when I was in Egypt I saw mighty buildings demolished by the German bombs ten years prior and all their inhabitants buried beneath. In the ensuing ten years they didn’t manage to rebuild them anew. It was so devastating. During the war in Eretz Yisrael we knew that we were in great danger should this wicked man enter Eretz Yisrael. What can we do? Where shall we go? We walked in the Al Atrin market in the Old City and male and female Arabs came out of their shops and would say to us, “Soon the Germans will come, we will slaughter you and take all your money!” This is what they said to us!
They were thrilled and anticipating when the Germans will arrive. It was a dire situation. I remember at that time we had Rav Yaakov Ades z”l (1898-1963) our Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva Porat Yosef. He took all the yeshiva students to the Kotel. He acted as the shaliach tzibbur (leader of the prayers) and poured out tears like a stream! It is impossible to describe the tearful emotion that was there! “Do it for Your Name, do it for Your Truth, Do it for Your Torah”, he cried and we all cried with him. We were expecting tremendous danger and we literally felt that there is nothing that may save us apart from prayer! We cried intensely! And from the other side was Rav Zalman Sorotskin z”l (also known as the Lutzker Rav 1881-1966). He took the Ashkenazi Yeshiva students. He also acted as the shaliach tzibbur and we all cried together. An amazing miracle transpired that immediately afterwards Hitler sent a telegram to General Rommel yemach shemo, and ordered him to leave everything and to turn and fight against Russia. In that battle they killed each other, millions on each side! And in the end they had a huge downfall! “Hidden things may pertain to Hashem our G-d” (Devarim 29:28). These prayers of Yaakov Avinu, the prayers of Rav Yaakov Ades, who was also called Yaakov, stood for us, “Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother - from the hand of Eisav”, “To Him Who alone performs great wonders, for His kindness endures forever” (Tehillim 136:4).