Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah describes Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav upon returning from Charan. The Midrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 75:13):
Yaakov saw Eisav coming from a distance. He lifted his eyes upward, cried, and prayed to Hashem for mercy. Hashem heard his prayer and promised to save him from all his troubles in the merit of Yaakov, as it is written (Tehillim 20:2): “Hashem shall answer you on the day of trouble; the Name of the God of Yaakov shall raise you on high.”
The Maggid raises the following questions.
1. Why does the Midrash make a point of noting that Eisav was coming “from a distance”?
2. What information is the Midrash conveying by saying that Yaakov prayed to Hashem? Would we have thought he might do otherwise?
3. What does it mean that Yaakov will be saved in the merit of Yaakov?
The Maggid explains with a parable. In a certain village, many of the residents were stricken with various diseases, but there was no doctor in the village to care for them. The only doctor available was the local baron’s doctor in the provincial capital some distance away. Now, in the village lived a man who was a close friend of the baron. This man had been healthy, but one day he got a minor headache. It was an ailment that he could have taken care of on his own, but instead he let it go until his situation got serious. The villagers then sent a message to the baron that his friend was sick, and the baron sent the doctor. The man’s family asked him why he acted as he did, and he replied: “I know I could have originally taken care of my illness myself. But I deliberately let it go in order to get the baron to send his doctor here. Now the other sick people in the village can also be treated.”
The parallel is as follows. Yaakov’s prayer to Hashem was a plea for miraculous Divine help. Yet, he did not need an extraordinary level of Divine help for the encounter with Eisav that he was facing at the moment. He had come back from Charan with a considerable force, sufficient to overcome Eisav’s, and it would have been enough for him to ask Hashem for success in the battle within His ordinary operation of the world. Why, then, did he pray for miraculous help? The answer is that he saw Eisav coming “from a distance” – that, in the future, Eisav’s descendants would threaten to decimate his descendants. He therefore deliberately prayed for miraculous Divine providence, in order to make such miraculous providence available for his descendants. This is what the Midrash means when it says that Yaakov will be saved in the merit of Yaakov – Hashem grants us, the Nation of Yaakov, miraculous protection against the Nation of Eisav, in the merit of the special prayer of our forefather Yaakov.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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