Parshas Vayishlach – Character Traits to Aim For - The Jewish Voice
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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Parshas Vayishlach – Character Traits to Aim For

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By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis

From the subtlety of Jacob`s language, we discover the character traits to which we, as Jews, should aspire–and the converse is also true. From Esau we learn those characteristics that we must shun.

In order to appease Esau, Jacob presents him with gifts. Initially, Esau demurs, saying “Yesh li rov” “I have plenty .” Nevertheless, Jacob presses the gifts upon him saying, since G-d has been gracious unto me, ‘Yesh Li Kol`–I have everything ” (Genesis 33:9-11). In this exchange we discover two world views–the philosophy of the Torah Jew and the outlook of those who live their lives devoid of G-d. When Esau said, “I have plenty,” he also telegraphed a message, “I want more.” His statement revealed his greed and arrogance.

Our sages teach that “one who has one hundred, desire two,” meaning that more than enjoying the hundred that he does possess, he covets the hundred that he does not as yet have. Such a person is never at peace–there is always something more for which he lusts. He remains forever dissatisfied, for as far as he is concerned, his possessions are not gifts from G-d, but the fruit of his own labor, a reflection of his own achievements. Therefore, he does not understand the concept of gratitude or the implications of tzedukah which are based upon giving back

. “Who is wealthy?” our sages ask. “He who is content with his lot,” and that contentment can only be attained by recognizing G-d`s presence in our lives. Jacob was totally connected to G-d, and even in his most difficult moments, he was tranquil in the knowledge that G-d was above him and would provide. Since Jacob viewed his possessions as gifts from the Almighty, he was committed to sharing them with others. But for Esau, his possessions reflected his own achievements, Therefore, the only compulsion that he felt was to acquire even more. In our materially obsessed society, in which we work ourselves into a frenzy to obtain ever more, we would do well to remember the teaching of Jacob and proclaim with him, “G-d has been gracious unto me..”–”I have everything.”

From Jacob we also learn that those material gifts that we do possess should not be flaunted. Although at this juncture he was a wealthy man, he described his assets by saying, “I have one ox, one donkey, one lamb, one servant, reminding us to be humble and modest.

Once again, a lesson that is so important for our generation, in which people feel compelled to ostentatiously display their wealth.

A Message for Today from Our Father Jacob

Every occurrence, every word in the Torah is a message for us, today. It is written, Ma`aseh avot, siman l`banim”— “Whatever happened to our forefathers, is a sign for us, their children” Indeed, it`s the blueprint of the future, so if we wish to understand our contemporary world, and know how we may best respond to the many challenges that confront us, we need only delve into the parsha.

Jacob was the patriarch who presaged the exile. The pain, the suffering that we have endured throughout the millennia in all the lands of our dispersion was all experienced by him. Jacob taught us how to respond to the terror of the night when we are overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness and fear. It was not by coincidence that Jacob was the creator of the ma`ariv (night) prayer. He showed us how to illuminate the darkness with words that emanate from our hearts. He taught us that even in the most difficult moments, when all appears to be lost, we are never to give up, but must turn to G-d in prayer.

When Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, he also saw the inquisitions, the pogroms, the Holocaust, our present confrontation with terror and he begged for mercy. G-d heard his prayers, and promised that we, his children, the Jewish people, would forever survive. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The patriarch Jacob, not only prayed for himself, but for us, who followed him thousands of generations later. When Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, he also saw the inquisitions, the pogroms, the Holocaust, our present confrontation with terror and he begged for mercy. G-d heard his prayers, and promised that we, his children, the Jewish people, would forever survive. “Hashem will answer you on the day of misfortune; The Name of the G-d of Jacob will strengthen you.” (Psalms 20)

In this week`s parsha, it is written that upon confronting Esau, Jacob cried out, “Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau…” (Genesis, 32:12) Our Rabbis are perplexed as to the meaning of these two hands, and the meaning of “my brother Esau”. After all, Jacob had no other brother. Our sages explain that the patriarch is teaching us a lesson for survival. Esau will confront us in two different guises: There are times when he will attack us with the ruthless hand of oppression, and there are times when he will extend to us the hand of a brother in friendship, and in doing so, will attempt to destroy us through assimilation. Esau greets Jacob with a kiss, but the word “kiss” is dotted, teaching us that the kiss was really a bite. Genesis 3:4.

While we must be vigilant in regard to both hands, Jacob feared the hand of friendship more, for when that hand is outstretched, we are taken unawares, and can, G-d forbid, lose our identity, our heritage, our very Jewishness. The hand of friendship makes it very easy to forget that we stood at Sinai and are bound by a covenant. So let us treasure the awesomeness of our survival and protect our Judaism, our Torah, with vigilance and love for that is our only solution in this time of darkness.


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