In the heart of the Roman Exile, when the sages of the gemarra were faced with dealing, debating, or conciliating them, they would prepare themselves by reading the commencing chapters of our week’s parsha.
Vayishlach beginns with Yakov departing from his shver, Lavan, the infamous lowly crook. One would think after living in such an environment that Yakov (G-d forbid) would become amoral and even corrupt. In fact however, the Torah tells of how our forefather did not merely leave intact, but wholly complete (physically, spiritually and financially). Yakov alluded to Esav that he had not dropped in spiritual standing after all his years in the Diaspora with Lavan when he sent him a message using the the word: ” I sojourned with Lavan” – the same letters as Taryag- an acronmym of the Gematria 613- ie. the mitzvos in the Torah.
The great leader of American Jewry of the past generation, HaRav Yakov Kamenetsky highlights that the two are intrinsically linked. That is, the surest way to prevent assimilation amongst the goyim and retention of our ethical traditions is by making oneself a sojourner and not a local, a passerby and not a comrade, and we Jews do this through being faithful to the Torah and its 613 mitzvos.
As Yakov was to encroach on Esav’s camp, he feared that his brother still had the taste of blood in his mouth, and his vow for vengeance would be livid, and so Yakov engaged a three-faceted tactic to succeed in the confrontation. Taking all possibilities into account, Yakov began by preparing for war (eg. splitting up his camp). Then he sent ahead gifts to appease and woo his greedy foe. Last but not least, Yakov grabbed hold of ‘the craft of our people’, and poured out his soul to the One to whom salvation belongs.
“The deeds of the fathers are a map for the children” -midrash
Let us all try to learn from the ways of our distinguished ancestors, and with them excel in our current challenges.
Have a wonderful shabbos everybody,
-Beth Shifra Crew