Parshas Vayishlach

This week’s Sedra tells us of an instance in which Yaakov found himself temporary alone the night prior to his meeting with Eisav. It is then that Yaakov is challenged in combat with a man who seems to be a celestial being of a sort. Yaakov triumphs, has some form of dialogue with his opponent, and returns to the rest of his camp. In his struggle, the Torah tells, Yaakov suffered an injury to the sinew of the thigh that produced a limp. Because of this, the Torah tells us, Klal-Yisroel won’t eat this sinew in any animal to this very day.

The commentaries all address various points in this anecdote that contains a most peculiar problem: Why don’t we eat this sinew? What correlation could there possibly be between Yaakov Avinu’s injury, and what we eat?

Close examination of the passuk reveals what appears to be an extra word. The passuk reads “and therefore Bnei-Yisroel does not eat the gid-hanashe in the thigh till this very day, since he touched and injured Yaakov in the sinew of the thigh”. Why does the passuk inject this seemingly extra “therefore”? Why not just say and the Bnei-Yisroel don’t it the gid-hanasheh till today because he injured Yaakov there?

The Daas Zekainim, and the Rash are both bothered by these questions, and both offer the same answer. The reason we refrain from eating the injured area, they suggest, is that Yaakov was only injured because he was alone, and that had the Bnei-Yaakov escorted him as prescribed in Halacha this would not have occurred.

The extra “therefore” is consequently not superfluous. Without it one would assume that indeed we only refrain from eating the gid-hanasheh solely because Yaakov Avinu was injured there. Now we understand we don’t eat it not merely because Yaakov was injured and that's because (more importantly) we didn't accompany him. Therefore to remind us of what we (Bnei Yaakov) didn't do, we refrain from eating the sinew of the thigh in all animals.

It is told that the Kaminitzer Rosh-HaYeshiva, Reb Baruch Ber would say of his Rebbe, Reb Chaim Brisker, that he was a lamdan whose deep logic and understanding for intellectual aspects of life applied equally to his interactions with others.

We don’t eat the gid-hanasheh till today to remind us of Bnei-Yaakov’s lack of concern for their father’s well being, to remind us that one must always consider the possible consequences of one’s care of others, or lack thereof.

The logic and caution appropriate in learning applies equally in our interaction with others.


This week’s Sedra opens with Yaakov preparing to meet Eisav. One of the preparatory measures Yaakov took was to divide his family and possessions into two camps. Rashi comments on this point of dividing into two camps, the final preparatory measure, and says as follows: Yaakov took three steps in preparing to meet Eisav: 1. He sent a present in order to appease Eisav; 2. He davened to Hashem to save him, and 3. He prepared for war. Rashi explains that we see that Yaakov prepared for war by the fact that he divided into two camps. This Rashi presents us with a tremendous difficulty: how do we see from the fact that Yaakov divided his family into two that he prepared to fight?

Both the Sifsei-Chachamim and the Maharal address this point. Both seem to take the approach that the only way Yaakov would be able to safely believe that one camp would survive was if we assume that the other camp would wage war and thus distract Eisav, thereby allowing the remaining camp to escape. While this approach does somewhat answer our difficulty it still seems to be a bit of a leap.

During the Gulf War Rav Shach Ztz”l explained the following idea: he said that the function of weapons in war is to allow us to outlive the enemy. Klal-Yisroel, said Rav Shach, always has the greatest weapon for it possesses the Torah. Rav Shach explained that when we keep Torah and Mitzvos we are connecting to the Mesorah of Klal-Yisroel and thus perpetuating the continued existence of Am-Yisroel in this world. Therefore, when we go in the ways of the Torah we live on for eternity because Klal-Yisroel continues to live. Thus we all become a part of Klal-Yisroel living with and through the Torah

Perhaps this is what Chazal saw in Yaakov’s dividing his family. Yaakov divided his family into two in order that Klal-Yisroel should live on. If part of Klal-Yisroel lived on then Yaakov had won. Whether or not he himself would survive his children would. Yaakov would live on through the continued existence of his children.

Klal-Yisroel would thus win the war not just defensively but also from an offensive perspective. Since if we continue to live on and to hold on to Hashem’s Torah we will one day supersede Eisav because Eisav has nothing of Emes to hold on to. One day the legacy of Eisav will perish and only Am-Yisroel and the legacy of Hashem will flourish.


This week's Sedra opens with Yaakov acknowledging the fact that as he returns to Eretz-Yisroel he is going to meet up with his brother Eisov, who wants to kill him. Yaakov Avinu's first move is to send messengers, or as Rashi learns, Angels, to inform Eisov that Yaakov is on his way back, means Eisov no harm, and that to the contrary Yaakov wishes to find favor in Eisov's eyes.

The Malochim – angels/messengers – return to Yaakov and they tell him that Eisov is also on his way to meet Yaakov, but with four hundred men ready for war (see Rashi). Yaakov fears the worst and prepares himself in various ways. One of the ways in which he does so is by sending a gift of 350 livestock to Eisov. This gift seems to work miracles. Somehow it turns Eisov from blood thirsty to nice and loving brother. The obvious question is why?

Eisov was already prepared for war with Yaakov and had brought along an army of four hundred men. He could easily have won a battle against Yaakov. The gift of livestock Yaakov had made showed that there was plenty more to plunder should Eisov wage war against Yaakov and win. Aside from the actual booty involved, there was the eternal Bircas Avrohom that was at the root of Eisov’s desire to kill Yaakov. What was so special about this present Yaakov sent, that Eisov made a total about-face?

There is a story told of the Rebbe Reb Zeishe. R' Zeishe lived in the town of Anipoli and in that town lived a Talmid Chochom with a sour nature. One day the sour Talmid Chochom decided that he would ask R' Zeishe what the secret to his perpetual happiness was, and why it was that he himself was always so sour?

R' Zeishe replied:”last week the richest man in Anipoli made a wedding to which you and Zeishe (R' Zeishe spoke of himself in third person) were invited. The rich man sent a personal invitation to you and you asked to see the guest list; when you saw you weren't the first you were insulted and decided you would show up late. When they came to invite Zeishe, Zeishe was honored that they came to invite him personally and consequently Zeishe showed up early to the wedding. As the hour for the Chupa was approaching and you had not showed up they asked Zeishe to be Messader. By the time you showed up there were no more seats and there was no more food. The rich man noticed you and tried to make a seat for you at the head table. He managed to make you a seat, but it was kind of behind someone else, and you were once again insulted. You were then insulted further that they served you what you saw as less than the choicest of portions, you didn't eat and you were sure that they asked you to bench because they knew you couldn't (since you hadn't eaten). Instead, they once again asked Zeishe to bench. You were so upset that you got up and left and therefore when it came time for the Sheva Brachos you were nowhere to be seen so you didn't even know that they tried to give you a brocho. You see, concluded R' Zeishe, you expect everything and it keeps you from appreciating what you have, but Zeishe expects nothing and therefore appreciates everything.

When we expect something we appreciate it far less if at all, but if we are surprised to receive something we appreciate every last bit of it.

Yaakov knew that Eisov expected everything, but he also knew Eisov wasn't expecting that it should just be given to him. Yaakov Avinu understood that if he caught Eisov by surprise he would be able to turn him from being sour Eisov into being an Eisov that would appreciate something. By so adroitly sending a present prior to any fight, Yaakov so surprised and pleased Eisov that he was won over.

While it's important to have goals in life, expectations are generally a bad thing.   Expectations hinder our ability to enjoy life, and make it more difficult for us to see our achievements. Furthermore if we don't know how much we have achieved it is difficult to set accurate goals.


This week's Haftorah is the Prophecy of Ovadia (Ovadia essentially consists of only one Nevua). Ovadia prophesies the destruction of Eisav Be'acharis hayomim. The Medrash in our Parsha says that this is symbolized in our Parsha by the metaphorical fight Yaakov Avinu has with the guardian angel of Eisav. The Passuk tells us ‘Vayevoser Yaakov Levado’ – and Yaakov will be (was) left alone. This phrase "and Yaakov will be left alone" refers to the Nevua of our Haftorah when Eisav will vanish and Yaakov will triumph.

Rashi at the beginning of the Haftorah gives two reasons as to why Ovadia is the one to have this Nevua of the final fall of Eisav and the ultimate rise of Yaakov. The first is that Ovadia was a convert who came from Edom/ (Eisav). The second reason is because Ovadia had to work with two Reshaim (Achav and Izevel) and was not influenced at all by their sins, while Eisav lived among two tzadikim (Yitzchok and Rivka) and nonetheless became sinful. Rashi is making an interesting point and drawing striking contrasts, but what is he essentially telling us?

While there is a very hopeful note in the Haftorah as it predicts our ultimate rise, it seems almost too bleak for Eisav. In Judaism, we tend to try to look at the world positively and we want the end to come out well for everyone. It is somewhat disappointing that the end of the story isn't that we rise and Eisav does Teshuva. Furthermore, Eisav is also a son of Yitzchok. Why does Yitzchok have to have any of his children perish?

Perhaps this is the message Rashi is conveying: while the Haftorah predicts Eisav is going to perish, the prophecy itself is being transmitted by one of Eisav's descendants – Ovadia. And why is it so? Because Ovadia is the descendant who rectified Eisav's evil. Instead of remaining an Edomite steadfast in the ways of Eisav, Ovadia converted and became a righteous Jew. Not only did he convert, but he was able to compensate for what Eisav lacked. Eisav couldn't stay righteous in the house of Yitzchok and Rivka, yet Ovadia was able to stay righteous in the house of Achav and Izevel. If this is the case, the message of the Haftorah is powerful: Eisav will perish but this does not mean that there will be no more descendants of Eisav. It means, rather, that what Eisav represents will cease to exist.

May we soon see the fulfillment of this Nevua, when the force of good, when we, Bnei-Yaakov, will have the final upper hand, and the force of evil, the force of Eisav, will perish for eternity.