Torah thought forFriday 18 Kislev 5784 December 1 2023

Parashat Vayishlach

A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Talking Spiritual but Hugging Money

It states in this week’s Parashah, after it was known to Yaakov that Eisav was coming to greet him, that Yaakov sent to him a complete convoy of gifts. With the messengers he sent Eisav the following message, “Your humble servant Yaakov says, I have been staying with Lavan, and have delayed my return until now. I have acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep, slaves and slave-girls, and am now sending word to tell my lord, to gain favour in your eyes” (Bereishit 32:4).

The phrase in Hebrew “I have been staying with Lavan” is “GaRTY” and is explained by our chachamim (quoted by Rashi) as indicative of “TaRYaG” - the “613 mitzvot” in the Torah. And this is what Yaakov hinted to Eisav, “I have been staying with Lavan - and I observed the 613 mitzvot, and I didn’t learn from his evil ways!”

An important point is brought in the work Emet L’Yaakov from the Gaon Rebbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l (1891-1986, one of the greatest  from the last generation in the US), that the phrase “I have been staying with Lavan”, means that Yaakov said to Eisav, “I lived”, that in all the years that I was by Lavan the Aramean’s house, I remained a sojourner and I didn’t become a permanent citizen, rather I remained a wanderer, exiled from place to place. And if you will ask, how was it even possible, to live close to such an important person such as Lavan and not to be impressed by him at all, not to descend even minutely in his spiritual level, how was that possible? The answer to this is, “I observed the 613 mitzvot”, since Yaakov Avinu was entirely immersed in the Torah’s mitzvot. This is what stood for him to sing before Lavan and his bent henchmen.

Yaakov Avinu reached Lavan’s home straight from Shem and Eiver’s Yeshiva, after he had studied Torah, he arrived at the home of one of the richest people of that generation and wanted to marry his daughter. It would have been easy for Yaakov to establish roots with the household, to be fond of Lavan’s children and to be like one of them. Instead he stood his ground, particular to observe the 613 mitzvot! Without any slackening! This is how he merited to everything that was around him, focussing on the principal! Observing the Torah and the mitzvot and preparing the Tribes of Israel in an elevated spiritual service!

However, it appears surprising! If Yaakov wanted to tell Eisav that he still stood in his righteousness, he should have stated this clearly! To what end did he express this in just a few worlds? It is further difficult since the wicked Eisav, certainly didn’t study Rashi’s commentary on his brother Yaakov’s words, if so, how could Eisav possibly know what Yaakov’s intention was? Even if we were to say that Eisav understood the depths of Yaakov’s words, it is still difficult, why in regarding mitzvah observance did Yaakov bury, just intimating, in contrast to his financial success which he enunciates categorically, “I have acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep, slaves and slave-girls”? Why did Yaakov express the material things so much clearer in contrast to the spiritual things?

The Maggid Meisharim the Gaon the Tzaddik Rebbi Yaakov Galinski zt”l (1920-2014, VeHigad’ta), that in truth, for us, for generations, Yaakov wanted us to know what is central. Despite all the years that I was by Lavan, “I observed the 613 mitzvot”, this is the main thing, and everything else is – ancillary. But concerning Eisav the wicked, that which is important is what interests Eisav, do you have an ox? A slave? A she-slave? Property? If so, you are a respectable person!

Concerning this he brings a true story. About 80 years ago in America, a great person arrived, righteous and awe-inspiring, a giant amongst giants, it was the Gaon Rebbi Aharon Kotler zt”l (1892-1962). After he had lived for a while in New York, he called a conference of rabbanim to get involved in pressing matters, to strengthen the Torah and religion.

Amongst the attendees, was one of the communal “presidents”. When he saw the enthusiasm with which Rebbi Aharon spoke, and raised the various failings in Jewish observance, he turned to the person sitting next to him and quietly said, “How much is he worth? How much is he sitting on?” As if to say, “How much does he earn?

The person next to him responded, “Maybe a 1,000, perhaps even 2,000 dollars!”

“If so” wondered the communal president, “How dare he speak at all! Does he know that there are rabbis here that earn 30,000 dollars a year! Where is his ‘derech eretz’ when he stands to speak before them?”

In the distance of years, the words appear almost laughable, but in truth this is how most of the world think! People value money, the outer appearance, the outer material life, despite the fact that they know very very well to speak about the importance of what they see in spirituality. After all, in life, what determines and what guides them, is materialism!

Yaakov Avinu, his father Yitzchak and his grandfather Avraham, and likewise our matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, teach us that their lives were extremely difficult. Lives of scary surprises, exiles and wanderings, disappointments and trials, yet despite this, what was left for generations? “The G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of Yaakov”, we mention every day, the holy forefathers, the fathers of the generation, we educate generations after generations about the spiritual work of the patriarchs and matriarchs, because spirituality is the principal  and all the material things are just a server tool in order to enable us to continue in holy work.

We must sharpen this message in our hearts and in the hearts of our children. May Hashem merit us to make our will like His will and may we speedily witness Am Yisrael’s salvation.

Shabbat Shalom!