By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
Parshas Vayishlach opens with Yaakov Avinu and his family leaving the house of Lavan, ready to embark on a return journey home.
“Yaakov was greatly afraid and it distressed him.” (Bereishis 32:8)
Yaakov knows that he will cross paths with his brother, Eisav, and as head of the household, his heart is full of worry and concern for his family. Will they be in harm’s way, are their lives in danger because of his past conflicts with Eisav?
The Ramban, in his opening commentary on Vayishlach, writes regarding Yaakov’s meeting with Eisav: “There is a message for future generations that everything that happened to our forefather Yaakov with Eisav, will continually occur to us with Eisav’s descendants”. Earlier in Bereishis, the Ramban writes, “Ma’aseh Ovos, siman l’bonim, everything that occurred to the patriarchs is a sign for the children”. The lives of our avos are one with ours.
Yaakov readies himself for his encounter with Eisav in three ways:
- He prepares for the worst and divides his family into two camps. This way, if one group would be attacked, the second group would be able to escape.
- He sends gifts to Eisav, hoping to placate him.
- He cries out to HaShem with prayer.
Yaakov’s response to his conflict with Eisav is a lesson for all of us on how to deal with our adversaries. Be prepared for all eventualities. Gifts help. And, of course, daven.
“Kotonti mikol hachassodim…. Ki v’makli ovarti es haYardein… – I am not worthy of all the kindness and of all the truth You have done for Your servant; for with my rod I crossed the River Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav.” (Bereishis 32:11-12)
Yaakov’s tefillah is poignant. His words heartrending. His prayer is the story of our lives. Like Yaakov, our people have “crossed many rivers”. We have been coerced to abandon our homes. We have been expelled from many countries, and forced to begin anew.
I think of my own family. My grandparents, my mother and her siblings, and so many other survivors, who like Yaakov before them, left their homeland empty-handed, arriving “only with the rod in their hand.” Upon arriving to this country, they started to rebuild, establishing shuls, yeshivos, and an entire infrastructure for future generations. They continued on with their holy work.
My father, z”l, arrived to this country alone. A true war orphan. Without parents or siblings. He became a teacher and a rov. He married and built a family.
I often wonder, how did they do it? How were they able to rebuild their own “camps” – their own families? How did the generation of Holocaust survivors have the fortitude to succeed in reestablishing new and flourishing communities?
The Ramban’s teaching gives us the insight. “Ma’aseh Ovos, siman l’bonim, everything that occurred to the patriarchs is a sign for the children”. We are the children of Yaakov. We carry his spiritual DNA. The DNA that gives us the wherewithal to survive the exile. To survive the wrath of Eisav and start anew.
The parshah continues, and tells us about Yaakov’s meeting with the angel of Eisav. “And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Bereishis 32:25).
Yaakov was left alone. History repeats itself. We are an am l’vodod yishkon, a nation that it destined to dwell alone.
As the angel of Eisav wrestled with Yaakov, so too, the descendants of Eisav are battling with us, time and time again. And through it all, we stand as a nation alone. Just as in the battle between Yaakov and Eisav, our battle will also continue “ad alos hashachar, until the break of dawn”, until the arrival of the true light, with the coming of Moshiach.
The Torah’s recounting of the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav concludes with Yaakov asking the angel for his name. To which the angel responds, “Lamah zeh tishal?, why do you ask,” – what difference does it make? This question haunts us to this very day. Eisav appears and reappears with different names, different languages, and in different guises. Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Cossacks, Communists, Nazis, – and today’s White Nationalists. The name is always changing, but the goal remains the same. To break us, to destroy us.
We recite at the Pesach Seder, “B’chol dor vodor omdim oleiunu l’chaloseinu – In each and every generation, there are those who rise up to destroy us, V’HaKodosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyodom – But HaShem saves us from their hands.”
We, the Jewish people, take a page from the story of Yaakov. Yaakov was injured during his confrontation, and walked away limping, yet resilient in spirit, and strong with his faith. So too, we have been oppressed at the hands of tyrants and dictators. We have sustained many bumps and bruises. We have endured unimaginable pain, suffering, and even death. But it has never broken us. And it never will.
Our oppressors through the ages are gone, but we are here, Am Yisroel endures! Our commitment to Torah and mitzvos has kept the flame of yiddishkeit alive. It is our sacred obligation to continue this dedication, and to transmit these eternal values to our children and grandchildren.
B’ezras HaShem, may we all merit to see in our own time, the “Break of Dawn”, the light of Moshiach.
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l