The Need for Blessing
by Ms. Rochi Lerner – Science Department
Parshat Vayishlach relates the story of Yaakov's struggle with the guardian angel of Esav. This story can be understood on many levels. The Chachamim teach us that every nation has its own angel that acts as an intermediary between it and Hashem. There are, however, two nations that are unique and different. One is Bnei Esav, the epitome of evil, whose angel is the representation of spiritual evil- the Satan himself. The other is Bnei Yisrael, Hashem's chosen people, who have no need for an intermediary. Their task is to perfect themselves spiritually and connect to Hashem. Consequently, this interchange between Yaakov and the angel is the primal struggle being waged between good and evil, between man's quest for spiritual growth and the determined efforts of Satan to undermine him.
But there is more to this interchange than man's struggle with the forces of evil. Why does Yaakov say to the angel (Bereshit 32:27): "I will not let you go unless you bless me"? And why does the angel answer Yaakov with the question, "What is your name?" Is it possible that the angel does not know Yaakov's name?
Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapira (the Piaseczner Rebbe), who perished as Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, uses this story to communicate a valuable lesson. We know that the lives of our forefathers are living lessons for us. Yaakov had just battled the angel and damaged his sciatic nerve. The angel prepares to leave, and Yaakov stops him and asks, "Is that it? Is this the fate of Bnei Yaakov that they are to suffer, to endure damage and pain, with their reward simply being their own survival? Is their post-suffering time to be identical to the period before? I will not let this happen!" Yaakov demands a Beracha of this angel who has wounded him. Yaakov was not only seeking the survival of his people and a respite from their enemies; he was also demanding that Hashem grant them salvation. It is not enough to endure and emerge from suffering; we are to gain spiritually and connect on an even deeper and more profound level to Hashem.
Why did the angel ask Yaakov for his name following Yaakov's demand for a Beracha? The name "Yaakov" means "he that holds onto the heel of." Yaakov was given this name because he entered the world holding on to the heel of his twin brother, Esav. This position had been characteristic of Yaakov throughout his life. Yaakov's victories came on the heels of having been trodden on by Esav. Now, however, the angel of Esav says to Yaakov that this will no longer be true. This communication takes the form of a simple question: "What is your name?" Embedded in this question is the notion that one's identity is defined by one's name. We say of an individual, "Kishmo, Ken Hu," which means, "He is as his name". An individual's name encapsulates his qualities. The angel says to Yaakov, "There is no need for me to bless you, for your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael." Bereshit 32:29 states: "No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and you have overcome." This name change denotes a sea change in Yaakov's relationship with his brother Esav and the world. He is no longer the hanger-on, the downtrodden one. Instead, the angel communicates to Yaakov that his victory is assured and that he will persevere against his enemies, emerging not only alive but stronger and closer to Hashem. He will be a "Sar", which means both "struggle" and "lord." Even before Yaakov's struggle with Esav's angel, he was a lord over himself, having struggled with his own impulses and desires. Now, having waged and won the physical battle with evil, he becomes Yisrael, the man who bravely faces both men and angels and governs his own spirit.
The Sun Will Come Out
by Avi Wollman
After Yaakov Avinu's nighttime fight with an angel, the Torah states, "The sun rose and shined upon him" (Bereshit 32:32). The Gemara in Chulin (91b) relates the story when Rabi Akiva went with Rabi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel to buy meat for the latter's son's wedding. Rabi Akiva asked the others, "Did the sun just shine for Yaakov? Did it not shine for everyone?" Rabbi Yitzchak explained, "The sun that set for him shined for him." What exactly is the Gemara discussing here? Furthermore, why did the Gemara deem it necessary to include the seemingly superfluous background information of time and place?
The Menachem Tzion provides an ingenious and enlightening answer to this intriguing question. He points out a profound quality of Rabi Akiva. He calls attention to the fact that Rabi Akiva lived during the time of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, a time of gloom, misery, and hopelessness. Yet, Rabi Akiva, upon seeing a fox amongst the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash, started laughing, despite the mourning of his peers. He explained to them that seeing this fox confirmed one prophecy concerning the Beit Hamikdash's destruction, so he could now be sure that the other prophecies, the promises of redemption from exile, would also be fulfilled.
These Rabbanim lived during a time of Roman oppression when Jews were persecuted and killed. Rabi Akiva could tell that Rabban Gamliel was troubled, asking himself why he should even bother to marry off his son. After all, it all might only result in him watching a grandchild die at the hands of the Roman Empire. In order to raise the spirits of Rabban Gamliel, Rabi Akiva reminded him of this Pasuk.
In last week's Parsha, Yaakov found himself in a state of extreme troubles and difficulties. He was exhausted and stressed from fleeing his brother and surviving Lavan, while still remaining penniless. This was the setting of the sun, the dark time in the life of Yaakov Avinu. Now, however, he has built himself up, raised his family, greatly improved his financial situation, and come to a state of full spiritual health. This is what is meant by the rising of the sun. It is the daytime which eventually clears away the nighttime struggle, even though it sometimes seems like an eternity before the day shines out. Rabi Akiva was telling Rabban Gamliel that just as it had done in the past for Yaakov, the "sun" would again rise in their time of darkness and save the day.
Often we find ourselves or our colleagues in times when the sun seems to have set and life has become dark. However, one must have faith in the future rising of the sun, living life with a perseverant and positive attitude. It is equally important to keep an eye on our friends, and to be perceptive as to when they have fallen into their own personal times of darkness. We must give them reassurance and support, reminding them that they will pull through and see that shining hopeful light of day which they have been persistently working for.
Ma'asei Avot Siman Lebanim
by Dov Rossman
"Vayomer Im Yavo Esav El Hamachne Ha'achat Vihikahu Vihaya Hamachane Hanishar Lifleita"
Rashi comments (based on a Midrash) that Yaakov Avinu prepared for the meeting with Esav in three ways: militarily, with bribery, with prayer to Hashem.
The Brisker Rav, quoting the Vilna Gaon, explains the Pasuk using Chazal's concept of "Ma'asei Avot Siman Lebanim," the events of our forefathers are a sign to us. We have to take the events that our forefathers have experienced, study them, and then apply them to our lives. We can learn from Yaakov's actions that if a certain Jewish community is being threatened and has enough military strength to overcome its enemy, it must try to avoid military conflict and use diplomatic means such as monetary offers and bribes to try and avoid bloodshed. We must also always turn to Hashem in prayer to try and avoid the conflict. On the other hand, we must always be militarily prepared for such a war, as Yaakov was, in case the enemy refuses our offers.
We can apply this to the current situation that Medinat Yisrael is faced with. Some nations of the world have tried to destroy us as much as possible. However, our response has been to offer land in order to retain peace in Eretz Yisrael. In addition, Jews around the world have also been praying for peace in Eretz Yisrael. However, when our ‘bribes' for peace have been refused, Tzahal has been prepared to retain peace in Eretz Yisrael. Whether we agree with Medinat Yisrael's peace offers or not, we might be able to learn a valuable lesson from them, namely, even today we might be viewed as following the footsteps of our Avot, and are trying to bring peace to Am Yisrael with monetary offers and prayer instead of turning to violence and bloodshed.
Halacha of the Week by Rabbi Joel Grossman
Rav Hershel Shachter in Nefesh HaRav (p. 231 in the 3rd edition) quotes the Rav as saying, "we may eat turkey on Thanksgiving." We can infer from this statement that we may celebrate Thanksgiving and it does not violate the prohibition of Chukot HaAkum, following non-Jewish practices. However, this approach is not shared by all Poskim. Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin z"l felt that we should not celebrate Thanksgiving as its origins stem from the Puritans, thus making it a problem of following Chukot HaAkum. Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l had a different approach. He writes that we can celebrate Thanksgiving and it is no problem of Chukot HaAkum, but we should not celebrate it every year for fear that our families will accept it upon themselves as an additional holiday.
Additionally, from the Rav's statement we can infer that a turkey is Kosher fowl. Our tradition is that there are twenty-four Kosher species of fowl, and some feel that turkey is not one of them. Yet, from the Rav's statement it is clear that this is not the case and turkey is classified as a Kosher bird.
Although the Rav gave Shiur on Thanksgiving, he moved up the time to allow his Talmidim to be home in time to eat dinner with their families.
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