Perashat Vayishlach & Overcoming Our Yetzer Harah

By Mr. Jack E. Rahmey Dec 01, 2017 11:15 AM Vayishlach

Parashat Vayishlach begins as Yaakov is leaving Lavan's house with his wives, their children and the flocks they acquired. Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to let Eisav know that he lived with Lavan, survived and prospered over the years there.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken says the story of Lavan and Yaakov is critical to our understanding of anti-Semitism, the pernicious hatred of Jews. We know this from the Passover Haggadah — we learn briefly about Pharaoh, that this hatred happens in every generation, “Go and learn what Lavan the Aramite wanted to do to our father.”  Why is Lavan important here? Rabbi Naftali Berlin (the Netzi”v), famed dean of the Yeshiva in Volozhin, explains: because Yaakov is the father of all Jews, and Lavan is the paradigm of the anti-Semite.            

Lavan is fundamentally dishonest. We see this multiple times. He and Yaakov make a deal: Yaakov offers to work for Lavan for seven years, simply for the privilege of marrying Rachel, his younger daughter. Lavan deceives him, setting him up by putting a veil over the face of his older daughter Leah, and brings her to him. When Yaakov realizes that he has been deceived and confronts Lavan, what does he do? He blames Yaakov! He says, we don’t do things that way here, to marry off the younger daughter first. In other words, he tells Yaakov that this is all his fault!           

Yaakov faithfully works another seven years, and then says he should go back to his own land. Lavan recognizes that he has been blessed by Yaakov’s presence, and asks him to stay. So they make a deal, again, regarding which of the flock would belong to Yaakov in return for working as a shepherd. Lavan repeatedly changes the deal, to make the terms more favorable to himself — the verse says he did so ten times, but the Midrash says that this means tens of times, totalling 100.            

Despite Lavan’s dishonesty, Yaakov performs his work faithfully — and becomes wealthy. What is the reaction? Yaakov overhears Lavan’s sons claiming that all that Yaakov has is “taken” from their father! Later, when Yaakov shows Lavan that he has been scrupulously honest, above and beyond what was required of him, Lavan’s response is “Everything you see, is mine.”     

It has always been this way: at the core of anti-Semitism is the belief that everything the Jews have, they have stolen, rather than acquired honestly. And it is projection, coming from dishonest people who want the wealth of others for themselves. Of course there is more to it: Lavan wants to do away with Judaism itself, claiming that he could harm all of them were it not for Hashem instructing him to leave them alone. That of course, is a core element of anti-Semitism as well. 

Our response must be like Yaakov’s — to be so honest and ethical that we know the charges are without foundation. When we do this, it becomes obvious to all neutral parties that it is simply baseless hatred. This is our best response to the lies of Lavan. 

As Yaakov is on his way departing from Lavan’s house, his messengers return and inform him that Eisav is on his way to meet him with 400 men strong. Yaakov becomes very distressed by his imminent encounter with his brother Eisav, even though Hashem had told him that He will protect him. Yaakov sends messengers ahead of him to greet Eisav with the hope of appeasing his brother from the anger he has towards him.

Yaakov prays to Hashem: "Hatzileniy nah meyad achi, meyad Eisav" which means "Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav". Why was Yaakov's prayer redundant? Shouldn't he have just said, either 'Rescue me from my brother' or'Rescue me from Eisav'? Why does he use both references?

Yaakov is teaching us here a very important lesson, that, although we know at this point that Eisav is his enemy, Yaakov was worried that Eisav could either come to him as a friendly brother or as a fierce enemy. From the days of Pharaoh and Egypt ‘Eisav’ was our friend but eventually that changed where they became our enemy. Through the centuries after our Temple was destroyed, wherever the Jewish people settled we were first welcomed by the different host countries until anti-semitism set in and the people of that country turned on us to either send us out or try to destroy us. 

We must know that the Eisav of today that lives among us, can also welcome us as our brother, but when someone is anti-Semitic, deep down they really hate us. There's a famous Gemarah which states: "Eisav soneh et Yaakov" which means "Eisav hates Yaakov". We've seen this hate emerge so many times throughout history, most recently during the Holocaust just 70 short years ago!

The Parasha goes on to say (32/25) "Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn". Rashi explains that this angel was the guardian angel of Eisav. Eisav's angel is different from all the others, for just as Eisav epitomizes evil, so his angel is the prime spiritual force of the evil-Satan himself. Satan's job is to come down to earth to seduce man to sin, then he goes back to Heaven to incite Hashem to prosecute man for his sinfulness.

The question is asked, why did Eisav's angel only pick on Yaakov to fight with and not with Avraham or Yitzchak? Of our three Avot, we learned that Avraham epitomized Hesed, Yitzchak founded the concept of Avodah or Prayer but Yaakov represents Torah: "Ish Tam Yoshev Ohaliym". So Hashem sent an angel to wrestle with Yaakov to pave the way for the ultimate salvation of B'nei Yisrael.

In Masechet Baba Batra (16a), it says that the angel of Eisav had to attack Yaakov because as the last and the greatest of our Avot, Yaakov symbolized Man's struggle to raise himself and the rest of the world with him. As the Angel of Eisav wrestles with Yaakov, he cripples him because he cannot destroy him. 

The Chafetz Chaim would say that the Yetzer Harah doesn't mind if a Jew fasts, prays and gives Tzedakah, providing that he doesn't learn Torah! The pillar of Torah is the most important of all three and the most crucial for B'nai Yisrael's success in carrying out its mission on earth. Yaakov represents Torah and without it, Israel will fail. That's why the Satan did not confront Avraham or Yitzchak. Communities which assimilated ultimately disappeared, even if they invested in various charities. It’s only when these communities remained loyal to the legacy of Yaakov which is Torah, that they remain strong!

Our community is a prime example of that legacy, because we had Rabbis and business leaders who understood that Torah had to be the foundation of a thriving Jewish community to guarantee its survival. They built this community here on the shores of America with true Torah values. We are the beneficiaries of the fruits of their labor in the early infancy years of our community.                 

The very next Passuk, 26, goes on to say: "When it was perceived that the Angel of Eisav could not overcome Yaakov, he struck the socket of his hip". This injured Yaakov and from this we learn that we are not allowed to eat from the "Giyd Hanasheh" the tendon of the animals thigh because it is unkosher to us. We also learn from Yaakov's injury, that since Yaakov represents Torah and the hip is what supports man’s body. So too, the angel of Eisav's goal is to attack the supporters of Torah.

This is the main reason that we see so often, how there is such a struggle in raising funds for Torah institutions. Hashem set it up that way so we, as the supporters of Torah must overcome the Yetzer Harah in order to gain zechut to be able to support Yeshivot and Torah institutions!

Rabbi Aharon Kotler would have to go and meet with donors to Lakewood Yeshivah. He once got a connection to a very wealthy man. They made an appointment with this man and had the meeting to discuss a large donation he was planning to give to the Yeshivah. At the end, he decided not to make that donation.

Rabbi Kotler's helpers noticed that the Rabbi looked very upset about not getting the money that he expected for the Yeshivah. So they went over to the Rabbi to console him. "Don't worry Rabbi, we'll get the money somehow". Rav Aharon answered, "I'm not worried about the Yeshivah because I know that we will get what we need from Hashem, but I'm concerned for this man because he just let this tremendous Zechut of supporting Torah, slip through his fingers! 

At this point after Yaakov's struggle with the angel, when the dawn was breaking, Yaakov asks, "Please tell me your name" and the angel answered him, "Why do you want to know my name?" Rashi says on this, that an angel’s name is a reflection of their mission here on earth. The angel replied that he had no set mission, so the angel’s name is never the same. Sometimes the Yetzer Harah can come in the form of a desire for money or in the form of Kavod, or maybe it can come in the form of drugs or gambling Chas ve Shalom!

Every one of us has these buttons that the Yetzer Harah knows how to push in order to make us sin. Sometimes, the Yetzer Harah will even come in a way to trick us and convince us that we're doing a Mitzvah by doing a particular sin. So we always must be on guard to stay far away from sin and the best antidote for that is to spend our time learning Torah! Amen!   

May we all be able to overcome our Yetzer Harah so that we can keep far away from sin and so we can have the Zechut to be able to learn and support Torah institutions in our community and in Israel. May we also continue to live in peace with the non-Jews of our day while we are still in Galut and as we look forward to the coming of the Mashiach! Amen!