Vayishlach 5784: Sacred & Profane

In Parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov Avinu travels back to the land of Canaan, after working for Lavan for twenty years.  Fourteen years of servitude were for his wives, and six more years for his flocks.  En route home, he fears the wrath of his brother Eisav who had sworn to kill Yaakov (Bereishis 27:41).  To prepare for this historic confrontation, Yaakov divides his family into two camps, so that if one were to be decimated by Eisav, the other would survive (Bereishis 32:8-9).  He prays to Hashem for Divine salvation and deliverance from the hand of his brother, Eisav (32:10-13).  And he sends many gifts of appeasement to Eisav, in the form of hundreds of animals (32:14-20).

In regard to the sending of the gifts, the pasuk says: וַיִּקַּ֞ח מִן־הַבָּ֧א בְיָד֛וֹ מִנְחָ֖ה לְעֵשָׂ֥ו אָחִֽיו, and he took from that which he had in his hand as a gift for his brother, Eisav (32:14).  Rashi, quoting the Medrash, teaches: what were the gifts he had in his hand that he sent to Eisav? אֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָלִיּוֹת, שֶׁאָדָם צָר בִּצְרוֹר וְנוֹשְׂאָם בְּיָדוֹ precious stones and jewels which a person binds in a packet and carries in his hand.

Why does the pasuk make a point of telling us מִן־הַבָּ֧א בְיָד֛וֹ, that the gifts were those things ‘he had in his hand’?  Whether the verse is referring to animals or precious gems, why does the Torah emphasize these were matters he had in his hand?  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l, the Rav, teaches, “‘And he took from that which he had in his hand a gift from his brother Eisav.’ When Yaakov wanted to impress Eisav, he sent him everything he had: jewels, he-goats, she-goats, ewes and rams, bucks, camels, kine (cows collectively) and bulls.

“The Jew is willing to give away all his possessions to avoid an edict or an expulsion, to free the head of the community from prison, and such like.  But as our Sages have wisely noted, ‘that which he had in his hand’ refers to profane things, not sacred ones.  All the gifts, all the sacrifices, all the tributes which the Jew brought to the lords of Eisav during that long night, consisted of profane objects: everyday possessions, goats and sheep, precious stones, political rights.  As long as Eisav received only מִן־הַבָּ֧א בְיָד֛וֹ, goods which can be bought and sold, Israel (Yaakov) exhibited submissiveness and inferiority.

“But when Eisav wanted a gift of Yaakov’s sacred objects – the holiness of family life, Shabbos, kashrus, beliefs and traditions; when Eisav demanded that Yaakov compromise his Torah way of life – a remarkable transformation occurred within Yaakov.  Suddenly, the quiet, unassuming Jew became a hero, full of strength and stubbornness.  The crooked back straightened, the pitiful eyes began to spit fire, and Yaakov refused Eisav’s request with chutzpah and determination… Yaakov told those who represent him in that dark Diaspora night, in the kingly palaces of Germany, Poland, and Russia: Eisav will begin to debate with you, to ask you about your beliefs, hopes, and ideals.  He will propose, ‘let us take our journey together’ (Gen.33:12).  He will suggest that his religion and Judaism can easily merge, that all can live peacefully.  Tell him that we can cooperate, as long as we are dealing with profane matters, with business, with politics, with science, with goats, camels and mules, with precious stones and pearls.  If he wants a gift of ‘that which he had in hand,’ he can have it; ‘it is a gift sent to my master, to Eisav’ (v.19).

“But the moment he demands more and begins to ask for souls, for the purity of my family, my Shabbos, my G-d, you must give a different response… You should answer sharply and with pride [32:19].  I myself, my soul, my heart, my feelings, my hopes, and my beliefs belong not to you, but to Judaism.  This is what Yaakov announced throughout the generations to all his representatives and politicians.  And when Eisav persisted and demanded things that were sacred, then the passive man, the coward, the man who said three times a day ‘and to those that curse me let my soul be silent, let my soul be unto all as the dust,’ became a fighter who resisted Eisav with great stubbornness” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.243-245).

Amichai Shindler of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom miraculously survived the October 7th massacre but was left with severe injuries.  Kerem Shalom is a mixed religious-secular kibbutz that is less than 100 meters [.06 miles] from the Gaza Strip. That Shabbos/Simchas Torah morning, Amichai, 33, and his wife and six children went into their safe room when they heard rocket sirens blare early in the morning. When they heard the sound of terrorists shouting in Arabic inside their home. Amichai ran to the door and held it shut, while his wife and small children huddled inside. Amichai held the door shut for hours, fending off the terrorists but eventually, the Hamas animals threw an explosive device at it. The resulting blast seriously injured Amichai, blowing off one of his forearms, breaking his other arm, and crushing his face and jaw. Amichai fell to the floor of the room – still conscious but bleeding profusely. He lay there for three and a half hours until IDF soldiers reached the kibbutz and evacuated Amichai to the hospital. His wife and children were physically unharmed.

Amichai is now undergoing rehabilitation at Sheba Hospital, learning to live with his severe injuries, with one arm cut off right below the elbow and the other severely injured. One of his first requests after regaining consciousness was to meet with Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein shlita.     Once Amichai was in rehabilitation, he had two more requests – to meet the Gerrer Rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Shaul Altar, whose Torah he’s enjoyed in recent years, and to start using Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin.  HaRav Altar went to visit Amichai last week and told him “’ויהי ידיו אמונה’ (Shemos 17:12) – you can learn emunah from your hands.”

They also spoke about tying tefillin and how Amichai will light Chanukah candles – Amichai related that he asked the physical therapists to practice lighting candles with him. The Rebbe was moved, saying that it’s a “מצוה לפרסם” that these are the requests of a Jew in such a situation.

Regarding Amichai’s injuries, the Rosh Yeshivah said: “It’s not an individual tza’ar – it’s a tza’ar of all of Klal Yisrael. But we know that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is in charge.”

When Eisav wants chattel, that which one ‘holds in his hands’, he can have it and to save a life the Jew will freely part with such goods.  But when he wants the emunah that defines us, Shabbos, kashrus, masorah, kedusha, the same Jew becomes a courageous warrior who will never concede defeat.  ויהי ידיו אמונה’ (Shemos 17:12) – you can learn emunah from your hands.”

בברכת בשורות טובות וישועות,


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