Parashas Vayishlach

Part I
After recording Yaakov’s meeting with Eisav, the Torah states: “And Yaakov came to Shaleim.” The Midrash interprets this statement as indicating that Yaakov emerged whole (shaleim) after his encounters with his enemies. The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 79:2):
And Yaakov came to Shaleim. “A Song of Ascents. ‘Greatly have they distressed me since my youth,’ let Yisrael now declare” (Tehillim 129:1) [with the Midrash interpreting “Yisrael” as referring to Yaakov/Yisrael personally, rather than to the Jewish People in general]. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to him: “And have they subdued you?” He said back to Him (ibid. 129:2): “Greatly have they distressed me since my youth, and also they have not subdued me.” And Yaakov came to Shaleim. “Many troubles befall a righteous one” (Tehillim 34:20) – this refers to Eisav and his chieftains, and the righteous one is Yaakov. “And from all of them, Hashem rescues him” (ibid. 34:20, end). And Yaakov came to Shaleim. “Hashem will guard your goings and comings, from now until eternity” (Tehillim 121:8). “Your comings – and Yaakov came to Shaleim.
The Maggid analyzes this Midrash by considering the verse in Tehillim 129 that follows those that the Midrash quotes: “Upon my back, plowers plowed; they extended their furrow.” The Maggid explains as follows. Hashem deliberately cast troubles upon our forefathers, leading them to pray for help and gain a wondrous deliverance, so that the forces of deliverance that He brought into the world for them would be available to benefit their descendants. In particular, Hashem “plowed” Yaakov to make him yield forth such forces of deliverance.
The Maggid brings out the point further with an analogy. Suppose a doctor abducts a person who is healthy and strong, torments him until he is bedridden, and then, exerting great effort, brings him back to full health. Does the person owe the doctor anything for healing him? Of course not, we would say. But now, let us add some more details to the story. The doctor, on first seeing the person on the street, noted through his great expertise that the person was suffering from a serious hidden ailment that would fester within him for years before finally breaking out into the open. The doctor realized that when the disease ultimately broke out, the person would be too old and weak to withstand the treatment needed to cure him. So he deliberately tormented the person to make the disease to break out early, when the person was still young, so that the medications he would give him, along with the person’s own robust bodily defenses, would produce a cure. We now would say that the person owes the doctor a double thanks: not only for the cure, but also for the torments.
Similarly, had Hashem left our forefathers in peace, refraining from action until we Jews naturally entered into a situation of distress, it would have been very hard for us to gain deliverance, due to our weak spiritual level. Hashem therefore deliberately brought the distress early and directed it at our forefathers, who were spiritually strong enough to withstand the “treatment” He would administer to bring forth the forces of deliverance. Once these forces were generated, they would, as explained above, benefit us for all generations.
This process is reflected in the verses from Tehillim 129. Yaakov declares: “Greatly have they distressed me since my youth.” Yaakov was singing praise to Hashem for hastening the distress and directing it at him; he understood that Hashem had chosen him to bear the distress because he had great spiritual vigor, like the physical vigor of a youth. The Midrash makes it clear that Yaakov was indeed praising Hashem for the distress as well as the deliverance. It reports that after Hashem asked Yaakov whether the distress had subdued him, Yaakov replied: “Greatly have they distressed me since my youth, and also they have not subdued me.” Had Yaakov sought to thank Hashem only for the deliverance, he would have replied simply: “They have not subdued me.” The fact that Yaakov mentioned the distress a second time indicates that he was praising Hashem for the distress as well. Yaakov then continues, as we noted earlier: “Upon my back, plowers plowed; they extended their furrow.” Here Yaakov is expressing his understanding that Hashem cast distress upon him for the benefit of his descendants, and he is thus proclaiming to the world the reason for his double praise. The Midrash concludes with a summary of the process: By saving Yaakov from Eisav and his chieftains, Hashem brought the Jewish People deliverance for all eternity.
Part II
In describing how Yaakov sent gifts to Eisav before his meeting with him, the Torah states (Bereishis 32:14): “He took, from what came into his hand, an offering of tribute to his brother Eisav.” What is the point behind the phrase “from what came into his hand”? The Midrash presents various interpretations, which Rashi mentions. The Maggid offers an explanation at a simple level.
The Maggid draws an analogy to the mitzvah of tithing flocks. In Vaykira 27:32-33, the Torah says that the herdsman is not supposed to select on his own which animals will be sanctified, but instead is supposed to make the animals pass under his staff, and designate every tenth one as sanctified. The Gemara elaborates on the procedure, teaching that the herdsman is to place the flock in a corral with a narrow opening, let the animals through one by one, and tap every tenth one with a paint-daubed stick to mark it as sanctified (Bechoros 58b). What is the reason for this specific method? Why can’t the herdsman select the required number of animals however he wishes, based on the size of his flock, and designate the selected animals as sanctified?
The reason is that Hashem did not want to put into the hands of the herdsman himself, with his limited human understanding, the momentous decision of which animals would be invested with the sanctity of a tithe. With voluntary offerings (nedarim and nedavos), the initiative to bring the offering comes from the herdsman, so Hashem allows him to choose which animal to bring. But the tithe is an offering that Hashem demands, and so He insists on a process that puts in His hands the choice of which animals will be brought.
Similarly, when Yaakov was preparing the gifts for Eisav, he faced the issue of which animals would be removed from his holy sphere of influence and placed in the possession of his despicable brother. He knew he could not make this momentous choice himself. So he set up an automatic selection system of some sort, along the lines of that used for tithing, and whatever animals came into his hand through this system were the ones he gave to Eisav.
L’Refuas Kalonymus Kalman ben Sorah Rivka, who is undergoing surgery this week
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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