Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav. Upon returning to Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov sent messengers to Eisav to inform him of his return. The messengers came back to Yaakov with a report that Eisav was heading toward him with a legion of four hundred men. Yaakov was struck with fear, and he prayed to Hashem to save him. He also sent Eisav a series of gifts to appease him. Ultimately the two brothers met, and Yaakov bowed down before Eisav seven times. The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2):
In connection with this episode, R. Yehudah bar Siemon expounded on the following verse (Mishlei 25:26): “Like a muddied spring and a ruined fountain, so is the righteous one who bows before the wicked.” Said R. Yehudah bar Siemon: “Just a spring cannot become muddied and a fountain cannot be ruined, so, too, a righteous man cannot bow before a wicked one. And like a muddied spring and a ruined fountain, so is the righteous one who causes himself to bow before the wicked. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘He [Eisav] was going his own way, and you sent messengers to tell him, “Thus said your servant Yaakov ….”’”
The Maggid raises two questions about this teaching. First, it seems self-contradictory. R. Yehudah bar Siemon initially says: “Just a spring cannot become muddied and a fountain cannot be ruined, so, too, a righteous man cannot bow before a wicked one. “ He is saying it cannot happen. But then he says: “And like a muddied spring and a ruined fountain, so is the righteous one who causes himself to bow before the wicked.” How can we understand this curious reversal? Second, regarding the verse from Mishlei itself, what is the meaning of the simile of the muddied spring and ruined fountain?
The Maggid then answers as follows. Yeshayah declares (verse 12:3): “And you shall joyfully draw water from the springs of salvation.” Yeshayah is saying that Divine salvation is like a spring. Just as someone who needs water can procure it easily from a flowing spring, so, too, someone who needs Divine salvation can procure it easily through prayer. As it is written (Yeshayah 56:1): “My salvation is near in coming.” And similarly (Tehillim 85:10): “Indeed, His salvation is near to those who fear Him.” When we pray, we are not – far be it – trying to get Hashem to “change His mind” and grant us something He was not originally planning to provide us. Rather, we are tapping into the spring of salvation that He makes available to us for our taking by coming near to Him. As indicated in Tehillim 33:22, the extent of the blessing we receive from Hashem is determined by the extent to which we turn to Him and put our hope and trust in Him.
Now, a spring will continue to gush forth so long as the earth surrounding it is solid. But if the surrounding earth is soft and weak, it will cave in and stop up the spring with mud. Similarly, if a person’s faith in Hashem is solid, and he relies with firm and vibrant conviction on Hashem’s protection, then his spring of salvation will flow with vigor. But if a person’s faith is shaky and weak, and he is in constant fear that misfortune will sprout in some area of his life, his fears muck up his spring of salvation and cause its flow to cease.
Thus, R. Yehudah bar Siemon first says: “Just a spring cannot become muddied and a fountain cannot be ruined, so, too, a righteous man cannot bow before a wicked one.” Just as in the natural order of the world, a flowing spring does not suddenly become muddied, so, too, in the normal order of the world, a righteous man is not suddenly led to bow before a wicked one. R. Yehudah bar Siemon then says: “And like a muddied spring and a ruined fountain, so is the righteous one who causes himself to bow before the wicked.” In both the case of the spring and the case of the righteous man, a downturn is induced by an abnormal weakening in the foundations. R. Yehudah bar Siemon speaks of a righteous man who causes himself to bow before the wicked – the righteous man brings degradation on his own self by straying from the path of faith and trust in Hashem and allowing fear of the wicked to enter his heart. Yaakov strayed in this way – he was afraid of Eisav and was thereby led to engage in diplomacy with him by sending messengers. Hashem rebuked him for this action, saying: “Eisav was going his own way, and you sent messengers to him. You committed a misstep.”
In describing Yaakov’s reaction to the report of Eisav’s approach with a massive legion, the Torah says that “Yaakov was very frightened, and he was distressed” (Bereishis 32:8). We can interpret this statement in line with the discussion above. Yaakov understood that by sending the messengers, he himself had created the situation that prompted his fright. He therefore was distressed over what he had done, deeply regretting his misguided move.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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