Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah features Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav. Yaakov prepared for this encounter in a number of ways, including splitting his cohort into two camps, saying (Bereishis 32:9): “If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp shall be for an escape (l’fleitah).” The Maggid, in his commentary on Koheles 9:12, discusses this maneuver. He raises two questions. First, why exactly did the people in each camp have a better chance of escaping after the division into two camps than while the people were all together? Second, the phrase “shall be for an escape,” with the prefix lamed added to the word pleitah, is peculiar – it should have been written simply “shall escape.”
To bring out what Yaakov had in mind, the Maggid turns to a Midrash that discusses Yaakov’s statement (Bereishis Rabbah 76:3):
“If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down” – these are our brothers of the south [the group of great Torah scholars who did not go into exile]. “The remaining camp shall be for an escape” – these are our brothers in the exile. Said R. Hoshaiah: “Even though they survived and escaped, they fasted for us on Mondays and Thursdays.”
Yaakov was praying that calamity not beset the entire Jewish People at once, but rather each calamity should beset only part of the people, with the other part being spared from trouble at that time. Suffering should come upon different parts of the Jewish People in alternation. In that way, the people who are spared from a given calamity can pray for those who are beset by it. By way of analogy, suppose that a grave illness comes upon a family and strikes a number of its members. If some family members remain healthy, then the sick ones have some hope, for the healthy ones can attend to them and make efforts to get them healed. But if the entire family falls ill, with no one coming to care for them, then the illness will weigh heavily upon them and they will have little hope.
Thus Yaakov said: “If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp shall be for an escape.” In addition to the simple meaning, Yaakov had a prophetic intent relating to the Jewish People’s future exile: that while one segment of the people faces calamity, the other segment should pray for them to secure their salvation. This is the idea behind the unusual phrase “shall be for an escape” – that the prayers of the safe camp serve to bring the besieged camp their means of escape. This is what the Midrash is referring to when it speaks of the remaining camp fasting for their brethren on Mondays and Thursdays. In a related vein, Tanchuma Nitzavim 1 states that when the Jewish People form themselves into a single band, they will stand and not fall. The message is that if all Jews bond together, sharing in each other’s suffering and praying for each other, then the Jewish People will prevail and forever stand firm.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.