Parshas Vayishlach – To Whom Do We Speak?

As this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayishlach, opens, Yaakov and his family – his four wives and twelve children – are preparing for the historic confrontation with Eisav.  After twenty years of separation, would Eisav still harbor hatred in his heart against Yaakov, and carry out his long ago threat to kill his brother (Bereishis 27:41)?  As Yaakov prepares for the meeting, he divides his family into two camps, he sends gift of appeasement to Eisav and he casts his burden unto G-d, as he turns to Him in prayer.

The parsha opens with the following verses: וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יַעֲקֹ֤ב מַלְאָכִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו אֶל־עֵשָׂ֖ו אָחִ֑יו אַ֥רְצָה שֵׂעִ֖יר שְׂדֵ֥ה אֱדֽוֹם, and Yaakov sent messengers (interpreted by Rashi as angels) before him, to Eisav his brother, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.  And he commanded them saying: כֹּ֣ה תֹאמְר֔וּן לַֽאדֹנִ֖י לְעֵשָׂ֑ו כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ עַבְדְּךָ֣ יַעֲקֹ֔ב עִם־לָבָ֣ן גַּ֔רְתִּי וָאֵחַ֖ר עַד־עָֽתָּהso you shall say to my master Eisav: so says your servant, Yaakov, with Lavan I sojourned and have lingered until now; וַֽיְהִי־לִי֙ שׁ֣וֹר וַחֲמ֔וֹר צֹ֖אן וְעֶ֣בֶד וְשִׁפְחָ֑ה וָֽאֶשְׁלְחָה֙ לְהַגִּ֣יד לַֽאדֹנִ֔י לִמְצֹא־חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֶֽיךָ, and I have ox and donkey, flock and servant and maidservant, and I am sending to tell my lord to find favor in your eyes (Bereishis 32:4-6).

On the words עִם־לָבָ֣ן גַּ֔רְתִּי, with Lavan I sojourned, Rashi famously teaches:

גַּרְתִּי בְּגִימַטְרִיָּא תריג, כְּלוֹמַר, עִם לָבָן גַּרְתִּי וְתַרְיַג מִצְוֹת שָׁמַרְתִּי וְלֹא לָמַדְתִּי מִמַּעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִיםThe numeric value of the word גַּרְתִּי is six hundred and thirteen.  As if to say: I sojourned with Lavan the evil one yet I kept the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, and I did not learn from his wicked ways.

Despite the twenty years Yaakov spent living with Lavan, working fourteen years for his wives and six years for his flocks, he remained entirely righteous.

R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein writes, “Every child in cheder knows what Chazal have said on this verse: ‘Im Lavan garti, v’taryag mitzvos shamarti – I have sojourned with the evil Lavan, yet I kept the six hundred and thirteen commandments.’  However, our very familiarity with these words prevents us from paying attention to the fact that Yaakov sent this message to… Eisav, and only by way of a veiled hint.

“Who was to say that Eisav would be clever enough to figure out the gematria of the word ‘garti’ and realize that it equaled ‘taryag’?  Chazal further tell us that Yaakov’s mention of the oxen he had acquired (32:6) actually refers to his son Yosef ha’tzaddik, while donkeys (ibid) refers to Yissachar [see 49:14-15 with Rashi].  Did Eisav have ruach ha’kodesh (divine inspiration) to enable him to understand these cryptic references to Yaakov’s righteousness?!

“There are times,” R’ Zilberstein writes, “when a person must perform a certain action – not because he is sure that he will achieve his goal, [and not because he is sure that the recipient of the message will accept his message] but simply to arouse Heaven’s compassion.  In light of this, we can understand Yaakov’s message to Eisav.

“We must conclude that Yaakov’s thoughts at that moment were focused only on Hashem, and that his intention was to arouse Heaven’s compassion for him, by mentioning the great suffering he endured while dwelling with Lavan” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach Bereishis, p.412).

Sometimes it is necessary to send a message to others, or to state the obvious in life, but the reality is is that we are speaking to ourselves, to remind ourselves of the truisms of which we speak.  And perhaps, even more than that, we are directing our words to the RS”O.

I heard a similar teaching by R’ Efrem Goldberg.  The very first Rashi to Chumash (which is, arguably, as famous to us as the garti/taryag lesson!) teaches: Rabi Yitzchak said: Why does the Torah begin with Bereishis, and not with ‘this month is to you’ (mitzvas rosh chodesh, Ex.12:1-2), which is the first national mitzvah?  The answer is: The strength of His works He told to His nation, in giving them the heritage of nations (Ps.111:6).

שֶׁאִם יֹאמְרוּ אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם לְיִשְׁרָאֵל לִסְטִים אַתֶּם, שֶׁכְּבַשְׁתֶּם אַרְצוֹת שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, הֵם אוֹמְרִים לָהֶם כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁל הַקָּבָּה הִיא, הוּא בְרָאָהּ וּנְתָנָהּ לַאֲשֶׁר יָשַׁר בְּעֵינָיו, בִּרְצוֹנוֹ נְתָנָהּ לָהֶם, וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ נְטָלָהּ מֵהֶם וּנְתָנָהּ לָנוּfor if the nations of the world shall say to Israel: You are thieves, for you captured the lands of the seven (Canaanite nations), they will say: the entire world belongs to Hashem, He created it and gave it to whom it was proper in His eyes, and by His will, He took it away from them and gave it to us (Rashi to Bereishis 1:1).

R’ Goldberg noted: who is this Rashi for!?  Is it actually a teaching for the Umos Ha’Olam (the nations of the world)?  Do they really learn this verse with Rashi and conclude: ‘Zugt Rashi! Rashi says that Eretz Yisrael really belongs to Am Yisrael, hence, let them have the land!’

This teaching, said R’ Goldberg, is for us: to strengthen our connection, commitment, dedication to and love of the Land, and our connection to the One Who created the world and gave us our Land.  Of course the nations of the world do not care what Rashi darshans!  But we do.  And so we must.

Yaakov was not sending cryptic messages to Eisav ha’rasha.  Yaakov was reminding himself of the hurdles that he overcame, and in the process, arousing Divine Mercy, so that he and his family might be saved from destruction.

This is a powerful, applicable and important lesson.  Sometimes one can be so busy talking to the whole world (today, with social media, this is truer than ever), that he forgets to speak about the truisms of life to his very own self.

Let us draw strength and inspiration from the wisdom of Torah, as we remain as committed to the taryag mitzvos as Yaakov Avinu was, as devoted to Eretz Yisrael as we should be, and as true to our own selves, and the RS”O, as G-d wants us to be.

,בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום


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