The Positive Spin by Gavriel Metzger


As Yaakov Avinu is awaiting the arrival of his brother Eisav in Parshat Vayishlach, he unleashes a preemptive strike of sorts, sending out a myriad of gifts in the hope that they will calm his brother’s seething anger towards him.  Yaakov sends out his servants out with hundreds of goats, sheep, and camels to bring to Eisav, commanding each group of messengers as follows: “Ki Yifgashcha Eisav Achi USh’eilcha Leimor, ‘LeMi Atah, VeAnah Telech, ULmi Eileh Lefanecha’…VeAmarta, ‘LeAvdecha LeYaakov; Minchah Hi Sheluchah LAdoni LeEisav,’” “When you meet my brother Eisav and he asks you, ‘Whose are you?  Where are you going?  And for whom are these gifts?’…you should answer, ‘They are your servant Yaakov’s; it is a present sent to my master Eisav’” (32:18-19).  What are the meaning and purpose of these strange words that Yaakov uses in his parting instructions to his servants?

The Rim ZT”L prefaces his answer to the question with a quote from a Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (3:1).  The Mishnah teaches that if one understands three ideas, he will not come to sin: where he is coming from, where he is going, and before whom he will stand on the day of judgment.  This statement seems puzzling, but in fact it provides tremendous insight into Yaakov’s genius and foresight.

Yaakov realizes that Eisav will quiz the servants in an effort to have them do a double-take; perhaps they will realize that, as the Mishnah says, they come from dust, are headed to a wooden box in the ground, and are destined to be judged in front of the King of Kings, which will distract them from their true goal of peace.  Therefore, Yaakov sends his messengers with the predetermined answer of “they are your servant Yaakov’s; it is a present sent to my master Eisav.”  Yaakov intends this rejoinder to remove the qualms of his servants, placing a separate message of Chizuk in each part of the message to help the servants refocus on their objective.

By opening with LeAvdecha LeYaakov, Yaakov implies that the servants should realize that they alone are indeed not important, but they belong to a larger and more significant cause and should not lose sight of that.  The second statement, Minchah Hi Sheluchah, points out that even this seemingly trivial act of delivering gifts has an extremely profound resonance in the heavens.  This is much like the effect of a poor-man’s Minchah (flour) offering, which, though relatively small in size, is highly valued in Shamayim, since the individual is sacrificing a great deal of his income to serve Hashem.  As the Chachamim teach, “A poor man who continually offers Minchah sacrifices is considered as though he has sacrificed his soul to Hashem” (Menachot 104b).  Even the smallest act such as this delivery of livestock is valued greatly in the eyes of Hashem.  LAdoni LeEisav, meanwhile, reminds the messengers that by transporting these gifts, they are effectively attempting to combat Eisav, who symbolizes the brute strength of the Yetzer HaRa, the evil inclination.

Although the task seemed daunting at the onset, the preparation from Yaakov assured that the servants would not falter or lose focus before Eisav.

At times, life seems to take cruel turns and spins, whether it be losing a championship game, not getting the raise you hoped for, or just not living up to expectations you set for yourself.  Perhaps with a little Chizuk from Rabbeim, friends and family, we will hopefully always be able to put a positive spin on things like Yaakov Avinu, and realize that in retrospect, everything worked out well as Hashem planned.


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