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Vayishlach: Recognizing Divine Providence in Our Lives

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Dec 6, 2022
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In this week’s sedra, Vayishlach, Yaakov (and his family) meet Eisav after Yaakov spent twenty years working at Lavan’s.  Fearing Eisav’s wrath, Yaakov prepares for battle by dividing his large family into two camps, sending gifts of appeasement to Eisav, and praying for Divine protection and assistance. 


The night before the historic confrontation, Yaakov moves his family over the River Yabok, and returns back to the other side of the river, where he is stranded alone.  The pasuk tells us: וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר - and Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the morning dawn (Bereishis 32:25).  Why did Yaakov return to the other side of the Yabok pass, where he was left all alone, once he moved his family to the other side?  Rashi answers (quoting the Gemara in Chulin): שָׁכַח פַּכִּים קְטַנִּים וְחָזַר עֲלֵיהֶם - he forgot some small jars and he went back for them.  


What is this cryptic lesson of Chazal coming to teach us?  Why would Yaakov care about some small jars he left on the other side of the river, when his life - and that of his family’s - was on the line?  Facing the threat of death, who is concerned with retrieving small jars?


One interpretation relates these small jugs to the neis of Chanukah.  Rebbetzin Shira Smiles teaches, “The first time we hear small jugs of oil is when Yaakov Avinu is left alone after having transported his family to the other side of the Yabok River, leaving him vulnerable to attack from the angel representing Esau. Why was he alone? Rashi writes that he went to retrieve some small jugs of oil that he had inadvertently forgotten. What was so important about this oil? Was Yaakov so materialistic, as Esau thought, that he would endanger himself for this small possession? Then he was no better than Esau himself. But Yaakov recognized that oil, as well as all things material, were important, for they can be elevated to serve a spiritual purpose. This oil, writes Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter in Dorah Dovid, was the oil Yaakov used to anoint the matzevah, the memorial he would build to Hashem at Beit El, the site of the future Beit Hamikdosh, when he would return safely from his sojourn with Lavan.  The Megale Amukos notes, that this was the same jug that the Chashmonaim found in the Temple years later” (https://www.ou.org/holidays/vintage-vessel/).  


As we read the sedra just a couple of weeks before Chanukah, this teaching reminds us that the Torah, the light of mitzvos, and kedusha will always triumph over forces of tumah and wickedness; just as Yaakov triumphed over Eisav and the Maccabiim won over the Yevanim, with Torah and mitzvos - כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה, וְתוֹרָה אוֹר, for a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light (Mishlei 6:23) - we will triumph over the enemy of the current galus (exile), Galus Edom.  This is one very profound message of the Chanuka licht.  


In his Shalom Rav, Rabbi Shalom Rosner offers a different interpretation.  He teaches, “The Be’er Yosef explains how someone’s money (possessions) can be more beloved to him than his body (see Devarim 6:5 w/ Rashi, וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ).  He quotes the Vilna Gaon who explains that it doesn’t mean a person would rather die than lose his money, because if he’s dead, his money serves no purpose.  It means he’d rather suffer physical pain than financial pain.  Chazal do not mean that Yaakov focused on the money.  They mean that he worked hard for his possessions, and the physical effort was worth it for him to obtain these possessions.


“Chazal teach (Yoma 38b) that a person cannot touch what has been designated for his friend, even a hairsbreadth.  Nothing I have can go to someone else and vice versa.  Every single item HKB”H provides for each of us is through precise hasghacha (Divine providence).  Every dollar I honestly earn was designated for me.  So too, every deal that falls through and every dollar lost happens because Hashem decreed it should be so.


“If one receives a gift from a great person, wouldn’t one do everything in their power to protect and guard it?  Every single item we have is a gift from HKB”H and that’s why tzaddikim care so much even about their 'small containers’.  They realize that HKB”H gave these gifts specifically to them.  Waste a gift from Hashem?!  Never!  Because if we realize that every asset we have comes through Divine Providence, even the most ‘minute’ gift is very precious in our eyes.


“Thus, Yaakov’s money was more precious to him that his own body because his acquisition of every single item - from the largest gifts to the ‘smallest’; from his wives and children, to sheep and cattle, to small jugs of oil - came through physical effort and honesty.  Yaakov's action of returning for the small containers reflected his recognition that everything is a gift from HKB”H.


“Along came the angel of Eisav, fighting with Yaakov, to contest his belief in Divine Providence, and hence, attempt to undermine Yaakov's emunah.  He tried to argue with Yaakov: You think you received these small jars from Hashem?!  You think Hashem cares about something so small as a few jugs of oil?  No!  You acquired them through a good deal, a bargain, through your own efforts (cf. Devarim 8:17-  כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה - the strength and might of my hand made me this wealth).  


“Yaakov’s fight with the angel of Eisav was a battle with the yetzer harah (evil inclination), who tried to convince Yaakov that there is no hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence)” (Shalom Rav, v.I, p.160-161).  


What a beautiful interpretation with a practical and applicable lesson for our own lives.  From the ‘big' things to the ‘small’ gifts Hashem bestows upon us, it is incumbent upon us to realize each gift and cherish it.  Nothing in this world occurs, or comes to us, through happenstance.  Yaakov Avinu, the ish tam yoshev ohalim, the bechir she’ba’Avos, the father of the shivtei Kah, went back for small jugs.  


Rav Mordechai Gifter zt’l used to say, “People think we make parnassah.  The truth is, Hashem makes it and we take it.”


May we appreciate all the brachos in our lives, and through the middah of hakaras ha’tov, may HKB”H continue to bentch us all with brachos ad b’li dai.


בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Ruth Peyser Kestenbaum and Miriam & Alan Goldberg to mark the tenth yahrtzeit of their father, Irwin Peyser, Harav Yisroel Chaim ben R' Dovid V' Fraidah Raizel Peyser and by Esti Shulman in memory of her father R' Jacob Rabinowitz, who was Dean at YU for many years and by the Tirschwell, Albert, Abrams, Frankel, and Azar families as a zechus for a refuah shleimah for עקיבא אליהו בן נעמי