Parshas Vayishlach: Holy Merits

img_5423-copyIn this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayishlach Yaakov, we continue to journey with Yaakov Avinu and his family.  After working for twenty years for trickster Lavan, and having arrived there with only a staff in his hand, Yaakov leaves a wealthy man – both in family and with flocks.  He has four wives, eleven sons, and a daughter (Binyamin is still to be born).  The fledgling family of Knesses Yisrael has taken leave of Lavan, and are en route back home, journeying to the Holy Land. 

Yaakov is afraid of meeting his brother, Eisav, once again, as the last time they saw each other, they parted ways on dangerous terms.  Eisav vowed to kill Yaakov over the disputed blessings of their father, Yitzchak. 

Yaakov prepares for attack, as he splits his family into two camps; lest Eisav attack one, the other will be saved.  He davens to Hashem for protection and salvation, and he sends gifts of appeasement to Eisav.

In regard to the historic meeting, the pasuk says: וַיִּירָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב מְאֹ֖ד וַיֵּ֣צֶר ל֑וֹ וַיַּ֜חַץ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֗וֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּ֧אן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָ֛ר וְהַגְּמַלִּ֖ים לִשְׁנֵ֥י מַחֲנֽוֹת – And Yaakov was very afraid and was distressed, and he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and cattle and camels into two camps (Bereishis 32:8). 

Why does the verse say he was afraid and distressed?  Rashi (quoting the Medrash) teaches: יִירָא שֶׁמָּא יֵהָרֵג, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ, אִם יַהֲרוֹג הוּא אֶת אֲחֵרִים – He was afraid lest he would be killed, and he was distressed lest he would have to kill others.

The quiet Jew, the אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים, the Jew who wants to live in peace and quiet and dwell in the tents of the Jewish home and the tents of Torah, is doubly afraid.  It will be bad enough if he will be struck down in battle.  But to have to kill another, to take a life!, the life of his own brother… This was a cause for great distress. 

However, the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 76:2) offers another reason for his fear and distress.  אמר: כל השנים הללו יושב בארץ ישראל, תאמר: שהוא בא עלי מכח ישיבת א”י – Yaakov said to himself, all these years, Eisav was dwelling in Eretz Yisrael (while I dwelt outside of the Land); perhaps he is coming against me, and will be victorious, with zechus yeshivas Eretz Yisrael (the merit of dwelling in the Holy Land). 

R’ Shmuel Mohilever (1824-1898, one of the founders of the Chovevei Tzion movement and a talmid in the Volozhin Yeshiva) wonders how we are to understand Yaakov’s fear.  This is the same Yaakov who says about himself: עִם-לָבָן גַּרְתִּי – I have lived with Lavan for twenty years, and nevertheless, וְתַרְיַ”ג מִצְוֹת שָׁמַרְתִּי – I have kept all 613 mitzvos and have not learned from Lavan’s wicked ways! (Bereishis 32:5 with Rashi)

And here he is, worried that Eisav ha’rasha, wicked Eisav, may prevail, because despite his idol worshipping ways, he has the merit of yeshivas Eretz Yisrael!? 

R’ Shmuel Mohilever notes that we learn from here how powerful is this single mitzvah of yeshivas Eretz Yisrael.  For Yaakov was worried that perhaps all of his 613 mitzvos, kept over twenty years, would not be sufficient merit to rebuff an attack by Eisav, with his zechus of living in the Holy Land.   

If such was the merit of Eisav ha’rasha, how much more so, notes R’ Shmuel Mohilever, is the tremendous zechus of yeshivas Eretz Yisrael for every single Jew who merits to walk the land, work the land, learn in the land, breathe the air of the land, live – and perhaps at times, tragically die – in the land.    

Last week, 7 Kislev 5777, was the first yarzheit of 18-year old Ezra Schwartz HY”D.  His father, Ari Schwartz wrote, “I cannot help but be happy for Ezra.  We know that he is okay right now and that gives us peace.  We have no regrets. I am happy for him because of all the places he went and all the people he was able to touch. Some people live long lives but have unfortunate circumstances that make life hard. Ezra had a wonderful life and he died a happy person, and that is more important than anything else.”

Max Steinberg, 24, a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade, was one of 13 soldiers killed on day 13 of Operation Protective Edge (summer 2014), in heavy fighting in Gaza City.  He was a volunteer in the IDF, a designated lone soldier who hailed from Woodland Hills, California. He didn’t speak much Hebrew after less than a year in the army.

At the funeral, his parents — who arrived in Israel for the first time for their son’s funeral — made it clear that they didn’t regret his decision to join the army and to serve in a combat unit.

“I want to answer a question that’s on the mind of many people,” said his father, Stuart Steinberg, “about whether we regret letting him go, and to give an unequivocal no.”  Evie Steinberg described her son’s childhood in suburban California, his surprising strength despite his small stature, his love of soccer and football, his quick, fast moves. It was his younger brother and sister who convinced Max to join them on a Birthright trip, but it was Max who ended up in Israel.  “He connected to Israel in a way he couldn’t have imagined,” said Evie Steinberg.

אמר: כל השנים הללו יושב בארץ ישראל, תאמר: שהוא בא עלי מכח ישיבת א”י – All this time, Yaakov thought, I have been outside the Land, while my brother, Eisav the rasha, has been dwelling in the Land!  What a zechus he must have, and for this, Yaakov was afraid and distressed. 

May we merit to see the blessing of eternal shalom for our people and our Land, amen v’amen

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Deborah Friedman
    Posted at 08:54h, 14 December

    Beautiful words as usual. Miss you down here.

    My nephew was a close friend of Max Steinberg. One of the pallbearers at his funeral. Still in close contact with his parents.

    I forwarded this to them, they should see he is not forgotten.