More on this Parsha

VaYishlach

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYishlach

29 Kislev 5767

December 9, 2006

Vol.16 No.12

In This Issue:

A Real Home

by Rabbi Yosef Adler

After Yaakov safely concludes his encounter with Eisav, the Torah states, "VaYavo Yaakov Shaleim Ir Shechem…VaYichan Et Penei HaIr," "Yaakov arrived intact at the city of Shechem… and he camped before the city." Ramban comments that Yaakov did not want to live as a guest or tenant in Shechem. He therefore camped outside the city until he purchased a piece of property, as the Torah immediately states "VaYiken Et Chelkat HaSadeh," "Yaakov acquired a part of the field." In this respect Yaakov followed the pattern established by Avraham in purchasing Maarat HaMachpeilah for Sarah's burial, which gave him legitimate ownership of land in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Shabbat 33b) chooses to interpret the word "VaYichan" not as camping or setting up a home , but rather as endowing (related to the word Chein). Yaakov endowed the residents of Shechem with certain ideals. What did Yaakov share with the people of Shechem? Three opinions are offered. One suggests "Matbeia" coins, a second suggests "Shevakim" markets, and a third possibility is Eiruv Techumin. What message is the Gemara trying to impart with us by claiming that Yaakov shared these three ideas with the people of Shechem? The first two relate directly to the defining characteristics of Yaakov. We recite in our daily Tefilot "Titein Emet LeYaakov"- the attribute of truth is associated with Yaakov. In commercial enterprise where the all-important dollar often drives our actions and conduct it is very easy to make a quick buck by engaging in dishonest business practices. Perhaps one's scales are not calibrated accurately and the consumer is cheated, thereby increasing the crook's profit margin. Maybe a person waters down his product , fools the consumer and earns an extra few dollars. Yaakov demonstrated to the residents of Shechem that one can be honest in business and make a fortune as well. These values are symbolically communicated to the people of Shechem by Yaakov awarding them Matbeia, coins, and Shevakim, markets.

The third suggestion, that Yaakov shared with Shechem the idea of Eiruv Techumin, is very different. Halacha states that if one lives in an area in which residences are sparse and the gap between one residence and another exceeds 70 and 2/3 Amot (approximately 140 feet - this is commonplace in the Catskills) his mobility is limited to 2000 Amot in each direction. This is commonly known as the Techum Shabbat. If one would like to expand this distance, he can do so in one direction (to the east, west, north or south of his residence) by establishing an Eiruv Techumin prior to Shabbat. At the 2000 Amah mark from his house, the person places 2 meals-worth of food, recites the Berachah on Eiruvin and is now granted an additional 2000 Amot from that point, thereby allowing him to walk 4000 Amot in that direction from his house. What is happening conceptually is that although the person continues to live in his actual residence, we consider his temporary abode (Makom Shevitah) to be where he placed the two meals of food, and he can therefore walk 2000 Amot from that location. Yaakov was announcing to the people of Shechem that the way he survived his years in house of Lavan was by imagining and believing that the his true home was not in Aram Naharayim but rather in Eretz Yisrael. Although he physically lived in Lavan's house, he did not consider it his true home.

All three ideas are important to us as well. Being scrupulously honest in business affairs is a supreme value of Yahadut. The Torah in Parshat Ki Teitzei promises longevity for maintaining accurate weights and measures. Although we live in Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, New York, Richmond and Rockland counties and enjoy relatively comfortable lives, let us be guided by the spirit of Eiruv Techumin and recognize that our true home is Eretz Yisrael.

Gift Giving

by Dan Atwood

In Parshat VaYishlach, the Torah (Bereishit 35:8) records the death of Devorah, Rivkah's nurse. Yaakov buried her and named the place "Alon Bachut." Bereishit Rabah tells us that this is an allusion to the death of Rivkah, which is never recorded in the Torah.

There are many ways in which this might hint to Rivkah's death. The first clue is that of the name "Alon Bachut." Bachut could be the plural of Bachah, weeping, meaning that there were multiple people wept for. Rashi states that Alon in Greek means "another" (i.e. another mourning). Ramban, however, says that the death of a nurse alone isn't sufficient reason for Yaakov to change the name of a place. An additional hint could be that after this incident Hashem blessed Yaakov. This blessing could be the Birchat Aveilim, the blessing given to mourners. Furthermore, when Yaakov returned to his father's house the Torah only says that he came back to his father, making no mention of Rivkah. Two questions arise from this. First, why is Rivkah's death not recorded? Second, why is Devorah with Yaakov? Both matters are subject to a Machloket between Ramban and Rashi.

Rashi says that Rivkah's death was not recorded because she was buried in secret and at night. Yitzchak was afraid that people would curse her saying, "From Rivkah came Eisav." Therefore, the Torah also didn't want to publicize her death. Ramban, on the other hand, says that her burial was conducted under very grim circumstances. Yitzchak was blind (and couldn't leave his house), Yaakov was away, and Eisav hated her for helping Yaakov take his Berachah, so her Chitti neighbors had to bury her. The Torah does not record this embarrassing piece of information.

Regarding the second issue, Rashi, quoting Rabi Moshe HaDarshan, says that Devorah was with Yaakov because Rivkah had sent her to bring Yaakov back. In Parshat Toldot, when Rivkah told Yaakov to go to Padan Aram, she said that she would send for him when it would be safe for him to return. Since she saw that it was now safe, and was unaware that Yaakov was on his way home, she sent Devorah, who died on the way back. Ramban thinks that it is preposterous that Rivkah would order an elderly woman to travel so far. He argues that Devorah used to be one of the nurses in Rivkah's household before she left Padan Aram. Yaakov wanted to honor his mother by bringing her former nurse to her as a gift, and took Devorah with him when he left Lavan's house. Unfortunately, she died on the way.

As we see from the Ramban's comment, giving gifts is indeed a good thing to do. As the so-called "Holiday Season" approaches we must remember who we are. We should always remember that we are Jews first. There is no problem with exchanging gifts on Chanukah as long as it doesn't become an attempt to mimic our non-Jewish neighbors and their customs. Although it may seem very tempting, we must not get too caught up in the non-Jewish holidays and their customs.

I Meant Well!

by Avi Levinson

Parshat Vayishlach contains the puzzling story of Reuven and Bilhah. The Torah tells us (Bereishit 35:22), "VaYeilech Reuven VaYishkav Et Bilhah Pilegesh Aviv VaYishma Yisrael," "And Reuven went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine, and Yisrael (Yaakov) heard." Chazal (Shabbat 55b) make it very clear that this Pasuk cannot be interpreted literally. They explain, rather, that after Rachel died, Yaakov moved his bed to the tent of Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant. Reuven saw this as an affront to his mother's honor, and subsequently moved his father's bed to Leah's tent. Concerned that people might accidentally interpret the story literally, Chazal mandated that the story not be translated into Aramaic, the common tongue of the people, when read during Keriat HaTorah (see Megillah 25a). Why are Chazal so concerned about protecting the reputation of Reuven? There are other misleading Pesukim which, despite having been altered in the Septuagint, were allowed to be translated into Aramaic during Keriat HaTorah (such as Bereishit 1:26, see Megillah 9a)!

One can suggest an answer based on the Yalkut Shimoni. The Yalkut calls Reuven the "Bechor LaTeshuva," the first to do Teshuva. As Reuven was the first to accomplish the Herculean task of complete repentance for his sin, we protect his honor by not translating a Pasuk which could denigrate him. This, however, leaves another problem in its wake. Reuven was not the first to do Teshuva; Kayin (Bereishit 4:13-14) did Teshuva, as did Avraham (since he was raised as an idolater). How can the Yalkut call Reuven the first when in fact this not the case?

The Kotzker Rebbe answers that, although Reuven was not the first to do Teshuva, he pioneered a new form of Teshuva. Reuven was the first to do Teshuva for what, in his mind, was a great Mitzvah. He was attempting to defend his mother's honor, but, in actuality, was committing an Aveirah. Even so, when Reuven was told that what he had done was wrong, he accepted his guilt and did Teshuva. This type of Teshuva takes a lot more strength because the person originally acted with the best of intentions. This is why Reuven is singled out as the first to do Teshuva and why Chazal wanted to protect Reuven's reputation.

Many people, when confronted with the notion that they have sinned, will respond, "But I didn't mean to." Chazal are teaching us, through the example of Reuven, that this argument is invalid. While good intentions are a start, they cannot substitute for the correct practice of Halacha. This is one of the main roads where Orthodox Jewish practice and other sects and religions split paths. We place heavy emphasis on concrete actions, not ethereal intentions. What is wrong is wrong; what is right is right. We should learn from Reuven and be willing to correct our actions regardless of what our intentions may have been.

What's in a Name?

by Doniel Sherman

An interesting conversation takes place between Yaakov and his opponent as they end their struggle. Yaakov had crossed over Nachal Yabok to retrieve some small pots that he had forgotten. He was met on the other side by a man who began to battle him. Chazal tell us that this man was none other than Eisav's guardian angel, his spiritual counterpart. As the fight concludes, Yaakov and this angel have a strange conversation. The angel asks Yaakov to let him go because the sun is rising. Yaakov demands a blessing, though, before he allows the angel to leave. The angel gives him the name, "Yisrael." Yaakov subsequently inquires as to the angel's name. The angel gives a strange reply (32:30), "Lamah Zeh Tishal LiShmi," "Why do you ask for my name?"

Rabbi Frand makes an interesting observation regarding this point. The angel, instead of replying, "I don't need to tell you my name," or, "I'm not allowed to tell you my name," asks, "Why do you need to know my name," implying that Yaakov would derive some benefit from knowing the angel's identity. Rashi tells us that angels do not have definite names. Instead, they receive a name based on their current mission. This angel had the name Sama'el, the spiritual angel of Eisav and the nemesis of the Jewish people, the Satan. His goal was and still is to oppose Bnei Yisrael throughout the generations. Accordingly, why was he opposed to telling Yaakov his name?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains Sama'el's opposition to telling Yaakov his name. Rav Hirsch equates the Hebrew words Shem (name) and Sham (there), showing that a name can describe an object. A name describes the core of an object, where and of what the object consists.

This answer makes the angel's response to Yaakov understandable, but it also allows us to re-examine Yaakov's question. When Yaakov asked for the angel's name, he was trying to find the essence of the Satan. He was trying to assist his descendants in their fight against evil by asking the way in which the Satan fights. The angel replies that the knowledge of his name isn't necessary nor is it helpful to Yaakov because he has more than one manifestation. His battle against us would change as the times dictated. He doesn't have an exact definition, and therefore he has no name. It is our job to constantly look out for the Satan and to guard ourselves against him in all of his forms.

Staff at time of publication:

Editor-in-Chief: Josh Markovic

Executive Editor: Avi Wollman

Publication Managers: Gavriel Metzger, Yitzchak Richmond

Publishing Managers: Shmuel Reece, Dov Rossman

Publication Editors: Gilad Barach, Ari Gartenberg, Avi Levinson

Business Manager: Jesse Nowlin

Webmaster: Michael Rosenthal

Staff: Tzvi Atkin, Josh Rubin, Doniel Sherman, Chaim Strassman, Chaim Strauss, Ephraim Tauber, Dani Yaros, Tzvi Zuckier

Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter