In This Issue:
Rabbi Ezra Wiener
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
There is a puzzling Midrash found in this week’s Parashah regarding the Pasuk, “VaYavo Yaakov Shaleim Ir Shechem Asher BeEretz Kenaan BeVo’o MiPadan Aram VaYichan Et Penei HaIr,” “Yaakov came in peace to the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan, upon his coming from Padan Aram, and he encamped before the city” (BeReishit 33:18). The BeReishit Rabbah (Chapter 79), commenting on the phrase states that “VaYichan Et Pnei HaIr” connotes that Yaakov encamped in front of the city in order to acquire Shevitah (a resting place) within 2000 Amot (cubits) of the city of Shechem. This would enable Yaakov (according to some authorities) to walk to the city and traverse the entire city on Shabbat. Through this action, Yaakov essentially performed the Mitzvah MiDeRabanan of Eiruv Techumin; hence, he was Shomeir Shabbat even in regard to Mitzvot DeRabanan.
This notion of the Avot (forefathers) observing Mitzvot should not be unfamiliar to us, as we are probably even more familiar with a similar saying of Chazal in relation to Avraham Avinu. The Gemara (Yoma 28b) states in the name of Rava or Rav Ashi, “Kiyeim Avraham Avinu Afilu Eiruvei Tavshilin SheNe’emar ‘Torotai’ Achat Torah SheBiChtav VeAchat Torah SheBeAl Peh,” “Avraham observed the entirety of Torah, even Eiruv Tavshilin, based on the Pasuk, ‘[Avraham obeyed] my Torahs,’ the plural form referring to both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.”
Is there a specific reason for Chazal to mention Eiruv Tavshilin and Eiruv Techumin when they speak of the Avot observing even Mitzvot DeRabanan?
The Meshech Chochmah mentions that these two Maamarei Chazal take us to the very core and essence of the primary objective and mission of Avraham and Yaakov as the forebears of the Jewish people and its history.
Eiruv Tavshilin is able to function due to the concept of Ho’il UMekali Leih Orechim,” “Since guests may arrive.” (In other words, Eiruv Tavshilin does not permit one to cook from Yom Tov to Shabbat except for the fact that we can always claim that the cooking is really being performed for Yom Tov itself, as guests may arrive and be in need of food. It is only if guests do not arrive that we can use these Yom Tov “leftovers” for Shabbat.) Avraham invited many guests in order to educate them and draw them Tachat Kanfei HaShechinah (under the “wings” of Hashem’s Presence). He set out to win over the pagan world and teach his guests the truth of monotheism. Perhaps this is the reason Hashem promised Avraham, “Anochi Magein Lach,” “I will shield you” (BeReishit 15:1) and also the reason we conclude the first Berachah of Shemoneh Esreih with the words “Magein Avraham,” “Shield of Avraham.” This was a risky endeavor, but it was necessary in order to establish Hashem’s name throughout the world.
Concerning Yaakov, Chazal teach us, “Mitato Sheleimah” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah Chapter 3). In contradistinction to Avraham who was Mekayeim Eiruv Tavshilin but not Koveia Techumin, Yaakov was Koveia Techumin: he set boundaries for his children, the future of Bnei Yisrael, and taught that part of being holy is knowing “Ad Kan VeLo Yoteir,” “until here but no further,” meaning that we cannot intermingle with the outside world. Just as the Eiruv Techumin tells us that Kedushat Shabbat necessitates setting boundaries to maintain the Kedushah, separation from other nations will sustain the Kedushah of Klal Yisrael.
This idea is alluded to the very next time the Torah uses the world “VaYichan,” in the Pasuk, “VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” “[Bnei] Yisrael encamped there opposite the mountain [Har Sinai]” (Shemot 19:2). It is true that Kabalat HaTorah demanded Achdut, KeIsh Echad BeLeiv Echad (which is the reason the Pasuk is written as singular and not plural), but perhaps more important and more apropos is the notion of setting up boundaries. The Gemara (Sukkah 52a) compares the Yeitzer HaRa to an insurmountable mountain. A prerequisite for Kabalat HaTorah is VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar – Bnei Yisrael must set up Techumin against negative influences, symbolized by the mountain, that are infiltrating their Machaneh.
We must strike a delicate balance between Avraham and Yaakov and between Eiruv Tavshilin and Eiruv Techumin. We face this challenge every day with our contact with the regular world. Many of us are successful in Kiddush Hashem and Kiruv but we always must remember to draw Techumin. A Mil is two thousand Amot, a walk of eighteen minutes (according to many), the same amount of time it takes the Seor SheBeIsah, the Chameitz (which represents the Yeitzer HaRa), to rise. We need to stay within the boundaries that detain the Yeitzer HaRa.
The Halachot of Eiruv Techumin, which are applicable only on Shabbat, remind us that even if during the balance of the week we find ourselves overstepping the boundaries somewhat, Shabbat is a day that we remain within the Techum of Kedushah. As we say in Shemoneh Esrei at Minchah on Shabbat, Avraham Yageil Yitzchak Yeranein, Avraham will be happy and Yitzchak will rejoice, but Yaakov UVanav Yanuchu Vo, Yaakov and his children will rest on Shabbat, because only Yaakov rested properly within his Techum and that ensured the Menuchah of his children as well.
If we are true to ourselves about the importance of establishing our spiritual barriers and enclosures, we will then be Zocheh to the Berachah given to Yaakov, “UPharatzta Yamah VaKeidmah Tzafonah VaNegbah,” “You shall burst forth westward, eastward, northward, and southward” (BeReishit 15:14). This is Midah KeNeged Midah. If one is Koveia Techumin, then he will be blessed with “VeHaachalticha Nachalat Yaakov Avicha,” “I will feed you the portion of Yaakov your forefather” (Yeshayahu 58:14), a portion also surrounded by Techumin.
Parashat VaYishlach begins with Yaakov planning to confront his brother Eisav. Eisav’s pending arrival stirs tremendous fear in Yaakov. The Pasuk explains, “VaYira Yaakov Meod VaYeitzer Lo,” “And Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him” (BeReishit 32:8). Rashi comments that the repetitive language of VaYira (and he was frightened) and VaYeitzer (and he was distressed) indicates two different considerations. VaYira shows that Yaakov was concerned for his own life, while VaYeitzer Lo demonstrates that he was concerned for the lives of others.
Rav Avraham Twerski explains Yaakov’s great fear in a different fashion. Hashem had promised Yaakov protection at all times. Nevertheless, Yaakov was terrified and intimidated by Eisav. Rav Twerski writes that Eisav’s merits were the reason for this great fear. Yaakov feared that Mitzvot Eisav performed and the merits he received would be forceful enough to nullify Hashem’s covenant with Yaakov. On the surface, this statement is perplexing and seems to be contradictory to previous Parshiyot in which Eisav is described as a first degree Rasha while Yaakov is portrayed as a complete Tzaddik. In fact, according to the Midrash, Eisav committed acts which were more appalling and flagrant then all other Aveirot. It seems nonsensical that Yaakov should be worried about Eisav’s Mitzvot negating a covenant between him and Hashem.
Rav Twersky explains that Yaakov was primarily fearful of two of Eisav’s Mitzvot: living in Eretz Yisrael and fulfilling the Mitzvah of Kibud Av to Yitzchak. Yaakov had done neither of these two Mitzvot in over twenty years due to his prolonged stay in the household of Lavan. Therefore, although Eisav was a complete Rasha in comparison to Yaakov, the mere fact that he fulfilled these two Mitzvot was reason enough for Yaakov’s tremendous fear.
We see a similar type of fear expressed by Moshe Rabbeinu who was absolutely petrified when he went to war with Og, the king of Bashan. Although Moshe had a level of prophecy superior to that of any Jew, he was afraid of a gentile king. The Midrash states that Og was the messenger who informed Avraham of the capture of his brother-in law, Lot. Moshe was fearful that the merit of this one act would be enough for Og to succeed in battle against Moshe.
We can learn a most applicable and important lesson from these two instances. Tanach figures such as Moshe and Yaakov were distraught over an encounter with a Rasha who performed one or two righteous acts. We must acknowledge the potential ramifications of performing or not performing a single Mitzvah, and recognize that any Mitzvah can tip the scales in our favor.
At the beginning of the Parasha Yaakov prepares to greet Eisav by doing three things: praying to Hashem, sending messengers to Eisav, and dividing his family into two camps. As part of his prayer, he states, “Ki VeMakli Avarti Et HaYardein Hazeh VeAtah Hayiti LeShenei Machanot,” “Because with my staff, I crossed this Jordan River, and now I have become two camps” (BeReishit 32:11). This statement seems out of place in this prayer after all what does his salvation have to with the fact that he crossed the Jordan River?
Rashi explains that Yaakov is not saying that he used his staff to cross the river, but rather that he crossed the river with only his staff, without money or livestock. The Ba’al HaTurim disagrees and maintains that Yaakov did not even have a staff with him as he crossed the Jordan. The Ba’al HaTurim arrives at this conclusion by looking at the Gematria or numerical equivalency of “BeMakli,” which is 182, equivalent to the Gematria of Yaakov, implying that Yaakov’s body crossed the Jordan without anything else, including his staff.
Another explanation of Rashi is that Yaakov is describing the manner in which he crossed: he placed his staff in the waters and they split. Yaakov’s prayer is thanking Hashem for the miracle He previously performed, similar to the Berachah of Modim in our Shemoneh Esrei. The Siftei Chachamim uses this explanation to explain the part of the Pasuk referring to two camps. Yaakov is thanking Hashem for two things. First, for helping him cross the Jordan River; second, for giving him two camps.
Finally, the Ba’al HaTurim offers a second understanding. He explains that Yaakov is davening for his descendants. Yaakov is asking that in his merit, his descendants, while leaving Galut, be able to cross the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael, just like he himself crossed. Yaakov wants this to be carried out through the principle of Ma'aseh Avot Siman LaBanim, where one generation’s actions correspond to those of future generations. May we merit a fulfillment of Yaakov’s prayer, and be gathered into Eretz Yisrael from Galut, BeMeheirah BeYameinu.
Apprehensive and pressured, Yaakov awaited for his inevitable confrontation with Eisav. The last thing Yaakov expected while waiting was to be ambushed by a mysterious assailant. Barely escaping the attack, Yaakov managed to emerge from the fight in one piece, though limping because of a damaged sciatic nerve. Based on this story, the Torah establishes the Issur (prohibition) of eating from the Gid HaNasheh, as the Pasuk states, “Al Kein Lo Yochlu Bnei Yisrael Et HaGid HaNasheh,” “Therefore, Bnei Yisrael don’t eat the sciatic nerve” (BeReishit 32:33). This story and following Mitzvah raises an obvious question: what is the significance of this prohibition; Yaakov injuring himself in a battle is hardly seems to be a compelling reason for an Issur!
From a superficial view, this prohibition seems to be just one of the plethora of Issurim placed on meat. The Halachot of Kashrut with regards to meat are vast and complex, including a specific way in which animals must be slaughtered, in a quick, painless, and fluid motion. From this Halachah of slaughtering, it is apparent that among the considerations taken for meat, the welfare of the animal must be considered. Bnei Yisrael have a moral obligation not to mistreat animals. This idea is apparent throughout Tanach and the Torah SheBeAl Peh, and the restriction of causing animals pain, Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim, is the subject of many discussions in the Gemara.
According to Rashi, quoting Chazal (BeReishit 32:25 s.v. VaYeiaveik Ish), the man Yaakov fought was the guardian angel of Eisav. Eisav is depicted in Tanach as the consummate hunter, a man of violence, as illustrated by Yitzchak’s Bracha to him, which describes him as one who will live by the sword. The juxtaposition of this battle against the hunter to a prohibition of meat creates a vivid theme in this Parashah. The stark contrast between the ideals of Eisav and his descendants to those of Yaakov and Bnei Yisrael embody this section. By refusing to eat the Gid HaNasheh, Bnei Yisrael are refusing to abide by the corrupted morals of Edom and their aggressive focus, both the aggression “Eisav” demonstrated towards Yaakov during the fight, and the figurative aggressiveness found throughout the Halachot of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim.
With the approach of Chanukah, this ideal is incredibly relevant. The Syrian-Greeks invaded Eretz Yisrael, defiled the Beit HaMikdash, and tried to force the Bnei Yirael to convert to their faith, going as far as placing Avodah Zarah in the Beit HaMikdash. However, it was the refusal of the Maccabim to abide by the flawed ideals that led to freedom from Syrian-Greek oppression and the eventual rededication of the second Beit HaMikdash. The small, seemingly powerless group of Maccabim managed to overthrow the world’s most powerful empire, inspired by this ideological commitment. When we light our Chanukiyot, it is crucial to remember what the lights represent. When we see the meager flame persisting through the seemingly endless darkness, defeating it, vanquishing it, we must remember our commitment to our strong Jewish ideals, even in the face of seemingly endless opposition. These same ideals are stressed in Yaakov’s confrontation with the angel, and even further accentuated with the subsequent Mitzvah. These same ideals are at the core of Chanukah, and should be at the core of every member of Am Yisrael.
Recently, there was a terrible tragedy in Mumbai, India. Nearly two hundred people were murdered in cold blood, even more were injured, and among the targeted locations was a Chabad House. Terrorism wishes to break down our very fundamentals, just as the Syrian-Greeks did after Churban Bayit Rishon. Terrorism is the desire to strike fear into the hearts of others, and fear breads hatred. However, we must reject this hatred, and these flawed morals. We must look to Yaakov Avinu and his fight with Eisav’s Malach, to the Issur of Gid HaNasheh and what it represents, and, most of all, we must look to the brilliant flames of the Chanukiyah, vanquishing the darkness, and persisting through the all encompassing abyss, the flame never compromising. Bnei Yisrael are referred to as an “Or LaGoyim,” a light to the nations, and in a time such as this, we must shine brilliantly like the Chanukah candles, and show the world we can still persist. We as a people persist through terrorism, and war, through hatred and bigotry, and BeEzrat Hashem will forever persist.
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