Monday, December 05, 2011

Dvar Torah For Parashat VaYishlach

Last week's Torah portion ends with Ya'akov's confrontation with the master swindler, his father-in-law Lavan. In this week's portion Yaakov faces another dangerous confrontation, this time with his brother Eisav. As he gets ready for this encounter the Torah tells us the following:

וַיָּקָם בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שְׁתֵּי נָשָׁיו וְאֶת-שְׁתֵּי שִׁפְחֹתָיו, וְאֶת-אַחַד עָשָׂר, יְלָדָיו; וַיַּעֲבֹר, אֵת מַעֲבַר יַבֹּק. וַיִּקָּחֵם--וַיַּעֲבִרֵם, אֶת-הַנָּחַל; וַיַּעֲבֵר, אֶת-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ

How are we to understand the verb וַיַּעֲבִרֵם , the causative of the root ayin-beit-reish,"to pass"? The JPS translation reads as follows:
And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had.
This translation fits in well with Nachmanides' understanding of the verse:
ויעבר את אשר לו, בצווי, כי חזר וציווה שיעברו לפניו ונשאר הוא אחריהם
And he transfered that which he had, by command, for he returned and commanded that they should pass before him and he remained behind them.
Rashi, however, interprets the verse according to the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah:

את אשר לו - הבהמות והמטלטלין, עשה עצמו כגשר, נוטל מכאן ומניח כאן
that which he had - the livestock and the chattels. He made himself as a bridge, taking from here (one side of the stream) and placing here (on the other side of the stream).
In other words, Ya'akov personally, with his own hands, transferred all of his numerous possessions from one side of the Jabbok (Yabbok) to the other. Why would Ya'akov do such a thing? The Torah tells us that Ya'akov had
"... large flocks, and maid-servants and men-servants...".
Why would Ya'akov do all the work by himself when he had others who could have lent a hand?

Rav Teichtal, in his book Eim HaBanim Semeichah, tells us that the Midrash is coming to teach us something beyond the plain meaning of the verse. Ya'akov made himself like a bridge. A bridge has two "feet", one on each side of the river. Ya'akov figuratively had one foot in the exile, and one foot in the land of Israel. That is to say, his heart and head were in the land of Israel even when he was outside of the Holy Land. The fact that Ya'akov never forgot the land of Israel is what enabled him to save his possessions from falling into the hands of the wicked Eisav. Rav Teichtal, writing in the midst of the Holocaust, bemoans his generation which was so firmly entrenched in Europe and in many cases felt at home there. They forgot where their home really was, in the land of Israel. In the end, millions of them were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The hard-earned possessions of European Jewry fell into the hands of Eisav.

Ya'akov, who never forgot where he really belonged, made it to the land of Israel, complete in body, Torah and worldly possessions (see Rashi on Genesis 33:18). May all the Jews living outside of the land of Israel realize that they are not as American as apple pie or as English as the Queen. May they follow Ya'akov Avinu's example. May they learn to always have (at least) one leg in the land of Israel.

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