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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayishlach 5772 "A Matter of Perspective"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l[1] was frequently asked to serve as Sandek[2] for the sons of his students, family members, and admirers. A disciple once asked Rabbi Kamenetsky that being Sandek is fortuitous for one to be blessed with wealth[3]. If so why wasn’t Rabbi Kamentesky a wealthy man? Rabbi Kamenetsky smiled and replied, “For what I consider to be wealth, G-d has blessed me many times over.[4]

After thirty-four years from his escape from Eisav’s wrath, Yaakov was finally gearing up for his meeting with Eisav. Yaakov dispatched messengers to convey the following message: “To my lord; to Eisav, so said your servant Yaakov; I have sojourned (garti) with Lavan and have lingered until now. I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, servants, and maidservants, and I am sending to tell my lord to find favor in your eyes.[5]

Rashi notes that the word garti contains the letters that compose the word ger, sojourner. Yaakov was hinting to Eisav that during his years in Lavan’s home he was not appointed to any position of greatness. The entire time he was there he remained a mere sojourner. Therefore, Eisav shouldn’t bear any grudge against Yaakov for usurping their father’s blessing, since the blessing[6] did not come to fruition.

Yaakov’s message is difficult to understand. How could he try to convince Eisav that their holy father’s blessing was not worth being jealous of because it wasn’t fulfilled?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explains that Yaakov was speaking to Eisav based on Eisav’s value system. From Yaakov’s point of view the blessings were indeed fulfilled. Despite the fact that he lived in the home of the duplicitous Lavan, he was able to observe every one of the 613 mitzvos. Since his life was dedicated to the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, the only material commodities he needed were those necessary for him to serve G-d and do the mitzvos. Since Yaakov was able to maintain every mitzvah even in Lavan’s home, to him Yitzchok’s blessing for material prosperity had been fulfilled. But from Eisav’s vantage point, material prosperity entailed being able to afford and indulge in material pleasures. The physical materials available to Yaakov would not nearly have sufficed to make Eisav happy. Thus, from his perspective the blessings were not fulfilled.

Rabbi Feinstein continues that when Yaaakov and Eisav met, their diverse outlooks manifested itself in their dialect. Eisav boasted to Yaakov, (33:9) “I have plenty” on which Rashi comments “I have much more than I need”. The implication is that despite what he had, he could still use more. Yaakov, on the other hand, replied (33:11) “I have everything”. He felt that G-d granted him everything he needed to serve Him and therefore, he didn’t need anything more than what he already had.

After Yaakov and Eisav finally met, Eisav’s looked at Yaakov’s family with surprise. (33:5) “And he lifted his eyes and he saw the wives and the children and he said, ‘Who are these to you?’ and he (Yaakov) said, ‘They are the children whom G-d has graciously given your servant.’”

Yaakov’s response does not seem to adequately answer Eisav’s question. Eisav inquired about Yaakov’s wives and his children, but Yaakov only responded about his children? Also, what is the meaning behind the terminology of Eisav’s question, “Who are these to you?” Why couldn’t he simply say, ‘Who are these children?’

After Leah, Rachel and the Tribes bowed before Eisav, Eisav again asked Yaakov, (33:8) “Who is to you that whole camp that I met?” to which Yaakov responded, “In order to find favor in the eyes of my master.”

The Kedushas Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev zt’l, explains that there was a deep philosophical debate between Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov and Eisav had agreed to divide the two ‘worlds’. Eisav would possess dominion over the physical world, while Yaakov would have dominion over the World to Come[7]. When Eisav realized the wealth and affluence Yaakov achieved he was perplexed. He curiously asked Yaakov, “Who is to you all of the camp that I have met?” In other words, “We agreed that this was my world, so what are you doing with so much wealth and prominence?” Yaakov replied, “It is merely to find favor in the eyes of my Master.” The Master to which Yaakov referred was not Eisav, but rather G-d Himself. Yaakov was saying that he had only rejected the physical world as an end unto itself. He did not wish to partake of any benefits that are restricted and limited to the here and now. However, he never rejected what this world has to offer as a conduit and entranceway into the World to Come.

The Mesilas Yesharim[8] explains that our purpose in this world is to gain entry into the World to Come. The medium to gain entry is Torah and mitzvos, for which one can only achieve reward in this world.

Therefore, anything that can be used as a means to enter the World to Come is still within Yaakov’s reign of dominance. Yaakov was telling Eisav, “All of the wealth that you see, I use solely for the purpose of finding favor in the eyes of my Master, the Eternal and Omnipotent Al-mighty, and therefore it remains within my purview.”

With this in mind, the Skulener Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Zusya Portugal zt’l[9], explains that when Eisav saw the wives and children of Yaakov he couldn’t understand how they were ‘conduits’ for the World to Come. To Eisav a wife was an object of beauty whose purpose is to be subservient to her husband. Similarly, one has children in order to perpetuate his legacy and to have helpers who will make his life easier. To Eisav, women and children can not help a man gain entry into the World to Come.

Yaakov replied that the purpose of children is not for our own benefit. Rather, they are given to us so that we can have the opportunity to teach them the values of Torah and how to live life as a G-d fearing person. Through our children we have the distinct privilege of perpetuating our traditions to future generations who will uphold the dictates and laws of the Torah. Child-rearing takes on far different meaning when it is viewed in that light. When Yaakov replied to Eisav,”They are the children whom G-d has graciously given your servant,” he was saying that the children were a gracious gift of G-d, for he is responsible to educate them and to help them realize their potential greatness.

Yaakov did not overtly respond to Eisav’s question about his wives however, because Yaakov knew that Eisav could never comprehend the notion that a wife too is a conduit for holiness and entry into the World to Come. The notion that physical pleasure could be utilized for spiritual needs, was completely taboo to Eisav. He could never appreciate the sanctity of a Shabbos meal, the sublime joy of shaking a lulav and esrog, the holiness of a Seder on Pesach, the joy of a festive Purim seudah, or the holiness of marriage. To Eisav spirituality is synonymous with suffering and physical discomfort, such as Yom Kippur.

Yaakov and Eisav lived in the same world but their perception was vastly different. The blessings of Yitzchak would be insufficient to satisfy Eisav who always wanted more.

Yaakov however, viewed this world as a world of opportunity. On its own, this world is a place of senseless void, but when viewed as an anteroom before the banquet hall[10], this world is full of opportunity and potential greatness.

The fundamental philosophical disagreement between Yaakov and Eisav surfaced again during the era of Greek dominance. World history views the ancient Greeks as liberators, those who furthered the development of man’s world. They brought culture, education, and philosophy to the countries they vanquished. However, we view the Greeks with a measure of resentment.

In truth, the Torah places great value in beauty and wisdom. However, the Greeks saw beauty and culture as a goal. Aesthetics and the human body contained a degree of divinity and philosophical debates were to help man realize his place in this world. The Torah however, values beauty, aesthetics, and culture only as a means to appreciate G-d’s wisdom.

The Chanukah miracle transpired due to the efforts of those who stubbornly clung to the philosophy of their forefather and would not allow their unadulterated heritage to be tainted by novel ideas.

We indeed value much of the contributions of the ancient Greeks. However, there is one integral difference: To us it is all part of the anteroom; to them it is part of the banquet hall.

“With Lavan I sojourned, yet the 613 mitzvos I preserved”

”The children whom G-d has graciously given your servant”

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[1] The beloved Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas

[2] the one who holds a baby during his b’ris

[3] The sandak is equated to the kohain who offered the daily incense on the Altar in the Bais Hamikdash. Therefore, just as the kohen who offered the incense would be blessed with wealth (see Yoma 26a), so too a Sandek is blessed with wealth (Rama, Yoreh Deah, 265:11).

[4] The Kamenetsky family has produced many scholars and Torah leaders.

[5] 32:5-6

[6] (27:29) “Be a lord to your kinsmen”

[7] See Ba’al Haturim

[8] Chapter 1

[9] Noam Eliezer

[10] See Avos 4:21

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