The Message of the Drunk by Rabbi Joel Grossman


In the beginning of Parshat VaYishlach, Yaakov sent messengers to his brother Esav and told him, “Im Lavan Garti” "I lived with Lavan". Rashi interprets, “I lived with Lavan and observed the 613 Mitzvot; I did not learn from his bad deeds.” Rav Dovid Goldwasser in his Sefer, Something To Say, quotes the Chafetz Chaim who explains this statement of Yaakov as critical. When Lavan did something improper, he did it with much enthusiasm and energy. Yaakov was saying that his goal in the pursuit of good deeds did not compare to how Lavan felt in doing evil. He says of himself: “although I lived with Lavan and observed all 613 commandments, I am upset that I did not copy Lavan’s enthusiasm.”

In Pirkei Avot 4:1 the Mishna asks, “Who is a wise person?” The Mishna answers, “someone who learns from all people.” Some Mifarshim ask, is it true that we can learn from everyone? What can we learn from the town drunk? They answer that we can learn how not to act. With this comment of the Chafetz Chaim we can learn another idea. We can learn from the town drunk who goes to the bar with great feeling that we, too, we should run to Shul, Beit Midrash, and to do Mitzvot with that same fervor.

In Israel we hear about Arab suicide bombers and here in America on September 11 we experienced our own terrible taste of terrorism. Many young Arab men are convinced to kill others and in the process themselves for their cause. If we want to be known as Chachamim, we should learn from their zeal and apply it to the way we perform the Mitzvot. We should not do Mitzvot only when it is comfortable for us. Rather, we should experience true Mesirat Nefesh and live our lives as true Torah observant Jews.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in his Darash Moshe explains the message of Yaakov to Esav in the following manner. The phrase 'Im Lavan Garti' seems to imply that the offer of Yaakov to Esav of peace was conditional. Esav was to understand that Yaakov planned to observe the Mitzvot under any circumstances. If Esav was willing to make peace under those terms, good; if Esav insisted on joining the two families together to effect the children of Yaakov with wicked ways then there was no point in discussing peace.

We as the Bnei Yaakov must learn this message well. We should never compromise Shemirat HaMitzvot under any situation and other people should know we are totally committed to Hashem and His Torah. If we can do that and learn from the “Lavans” of our time we will serve Hashem in a perfect way and hopefully be able to usher in the age of Mashiach.

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