When rearranging the letters of שלח, we arrive at the word חלש. Indeed, the spies showed weakness by not wanting to enter the land in order to use physicality towards a spiritual end.
Let’s put ourselves in Yosef’s shoes right after he was sold by his own brothers as a slave. Can you imagine the feeling of betrayal and abandonment? He had to sit alone in a wagon, heading down to Egypt to be sold as a slave. Gone were his dreams of leading Klal Yisroel; his being the chosen child of Yaakov would soon be a fading memory. One can practically feel the total darkness and despair that must have enveloped Yosef at that moment.
The Jewish people felt this palpable feeling of doom just over 50 years ago, in the spring of 1967. Our precious little Eretz Yisrael seemed on the brink of destruction. Massive Arab armies were openly preparing to attack on all sides. Their intentions were very clear.
On June 1st, 1967, the Palestinian chairman Ahmed Shukairy shouted out from a podium in Yerushalayim, “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants. As for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” Egyptian president Nasser threw out the UN peacekeepers from the Sinai and ordered the Straits of Tiran blockaded to prevent Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Syria and Jordan called up all their armies to Israel’s borders. Panic ensued in the streets of Israel. Literally thousands of graves were being dug in public parks throughout the country. Another Holocaust appeared on the horizon.
But tefillos (prayers) from Jews around the world were many as well. They rose to the heavens, with the knowledge that there was only one source of salvation: Hashem, the Almighty, Who watches over His nation. The war that began June 5, 1967, and the victory that ensued was nothing short of Biblical in its proportion. The entire Egyptian air force was wiped out in hours. Yerushalayim and the Kotel were liberated. Within six days, the war was over and Eretz Yisrael was over four times its original size. Nations around the world could not deny the Hand of Hashem in what had just happened.
Getting back to Yosef, there is no denying how bleak the future looked for him when he descended to Egypt. Yet, the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah 88) informs us that Yosef did not despair. The Midrash reminds us of others that did not despair: Avraham and Sarah who waited so long for a child; and Yaakov who waited for Yosef’s return for so many years. Yosef, who kept his dear father Yaakov in mind when he was experiencing his trials, knew that his prophetic dreams would somehow come true. The Midrash calls on us not to lose hope in our everyday trials, for Hashem is rooting for us to overcome the challenges and pass the tests to emerge stronger and fully victorious.
Further, Rav Elya Svei zt”l tells us the Midrash, gives us a deep insight into the parsha, noting that, “Yaakov was watching the matter of discord between the brethren.” Rashi says the word shomar – watch – here means “wait.” Yaakov was waiting and watching eagerly to see how and when the prophecy that his son Yosef would become a ruler, would come to fruition even when it seemed impossible. He knew the ultimate goal was attainable, but how and when it would happen was hidden.
Based on this explanation of the Midrash, we learn an important lesson. The Midrash is not giving us comfort that Hashem is there for us through our struggle – though we know that to be true – but rather is teaching us a formula for salvation to come. In order for the ultimate redemption to occur, we as a people need to wait patiently, believing with certainty that it will happen and just waiting to see how it will transpire as we maintain our connection with Hashem.
We live in a rapidly changing world. Corporations that were “too big to fail” have gone bankrupt overnight. Countries change leadership and policies. Mighty empires have fallen suddenly. Technological breakthroughs change our world in a moment’s notice.
Today, we are still in exile and still awaiting Moshiach. When it will happen, we don’t know, but we can help make it happen! Hashem is orchestrating events for us. Like our forefather Yaakov, we need to keep watch and be patient for the plan to unfold and the deliverance to occur, all the while doing our part to gain Hashem’s benevolence to make it happen soon.
In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us about the confrontation between Yaakov and Esav’s spiritual counterpart. Yaakov clung tenaciously to Hashem and prevailed. However, in the midst of the struggle, the Malach of Esav injured Yaakov in the hip. Subsequently, the Malach of Esav blessed Yaakov as it says in Bereishis 32:29; “No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisroel [will be your name], for you have striven with the divine … and you have overcome.” Even though the Malach of Esav changed Yaakov’s name to Yisroel, the Torah in many places still refers to him as Yaakov. In contradistinction, the Gemara in Berachos 13a states that Hashem was the one that changed Avram’s name to Avraham, and his name remained forever changed to Avraham and it is forbidden to call him by the name of Avram.
Why by Yaakov when his name was changed it was not permanent? In the Gemara Nedarim 32b the Chochamim say tha Avram’s name has a numerical value of 243, signifying that Hashem initially gave Avraham mastery over 243 limbs of the body. After his circumcision, he was given mastery over all 248 limbs of the body. The name of Avraham has a numerical value of 248, meaning that he was the total master of himself. Hashem blessed him so that the negative impulses would be powerless against him forever. On the other hand, the incident of Yaakov’s battle with the Malach of Esav foreshadows that the descendants of Esav will desire to destroy Klal Yisroel throughout the ages.
The injury that Yaakov sustained signifies that all the righteous descendants of Yaakov will be endangered in each generation. Therefore, although Yaakov did prevail over the Malach of Esav, his victory did not mark a decisive defeat of Esav’s destructive force. Hence, Yaakov’s name change to Yisroel was not permanent, just as his victory was temporary.
This incident that happened between the Malach of Esav and Yaakov conveys the message that no matter how many times we are endangered, we can triumph, just as Yaakov Avinu did. Moreover the Bracha and healing that Yaakov ultimately received signifies that the great light that will shine on us at the time of our redemption – when the dominance of Klal Yisroel will finally endure forever.
My own thought is that the lesson to remember is that the Yetzer Hara is the Malach of Esav. That the Yetzer Hara strikes when we least expect it and he tries to defeat us and to completely destroy us spiritually. It is it up to you to look for your inner “Yisroel” to prevail against him. The biggest thing that I see throughout Klal Yisroel and it is still a big problem is our own prejudice against one another. We should learn to more tolerant and accepting to help Klal Yisroel unite under one banner and this will be the ultimate defeat against the power of Esav and can bring the Final Geulah.
This Dvar Torah is based on Etz Pri of the Steipler Gaon.
In Parshas Vayishlach, we have the greatest wrestling match of all time: Yaakov Avinu vs the Angel of Esav. It’s worth noting the word used to describe this wrestling match, Vaye’aveik Ish – and a man wrestled (32:25). The root of the word Vaye’aveik is Avak – dust. Rashi (quoting the Gemara Chullin) explains they wrestled with each other to the extent that they kicked up a tremendous amount of dust and the dust rose all the way up to the Throne of Hashem.
What is the significance of the dust rising all the way to the throne of glory?
This story will help us understand the answer. Boruch Hirschberg was a successful, young man, well-liked by his peers. As he was unfortunately nearing the end of his battle with cancer, he said to his father, “I know my time is near and I’ve decided I want my second grade Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Morgenstern to eulogize me. Only him, except for family.” The father agreed, but asked, “Why only your second grade Rebbe? You had many other terrific Rabbeim over the years?”
“Because I owe all my success to him,” replied Boruch. “Let me explain. One day, when I was in second grade, Rabbi Morgenstern walked in with a big smile. He handed out a piece of paper to each of us with all the names of the boys in the class and asked us to write down next to each name a special quality of that boy. When we finished, the Rebbe collected the papers. The next day, he handed each of us a paper with all the list of qualities that the boys in the class had said about each of us. I never felt so good about myself! Wow, I thought, Yanky really believes I’m smart and Shloimy says I’m a good ball player. There were many other complimentary opinions. From that point on, I had a new self-confidence; I realized the person I really could be.”
Boruch then pulled out an old folded piece of paper from his wallet and showed it to his father. “This is the paper that Rabbi Morgenstern gave me,” he said. “Since that day, I kept this paper in my wallet and whenever I doubted myself, I took it out and read it. This is how I was able to climb the ladder of life. Rabbi Morgenstern really believed in his students and he made me focus on my unique qualities and talents.”
A few days later, Boruch passed away and Rabbi Morgenstern was the only non-family member to eulogize Boruch. The shiva house was packed with many of Boruch’s classmates. Someone asked Rabbi Morgenstern why he was the only non-family member to give the eulogy. After a nod from Boruch’s father, Rabbi Morgenstern related the story. As he was finishing, all of Boruch’s former classmates reached into their wallets and pulled out their precious piece of paper. (Rabbi Spero, Touched by A Story 2).
Rav Gedalia Schorr sheds light on the Gemara that tells us the face of Yaakov was inscribed on Hashem’s Throne of Glory. This indicated the true level of perfection that Yaakov had: his reality mirrored his potential self on Hashem’s Throne. Looking back at the wrestling match, the angel of Esav kicked up the dust to blur Yaakov Avinu’s vision of what he looked like, and mostly, what was his true potential. This was Esav’s attempt at victory: preventing Yaakov from seeing his own true nature.
Now we can understand why Yaakov Avinu’s name was changed to Yisrael after the match. He had battled and overcome the greatest challenges that the spiritual world could offer: the threat to lose sight of his potential greatness, the greatness that is latent in every Jew, waiting to be brought out. The angel of Esav is a manifestation of the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination), which seeks to obscure our vision of who we really could be.
This is a timeless message. Every Jewish soul emanates from the Throne of Glory. We each have the potential to reach great heights. We have an image in Heaven which represents our true potential. Our mission in life is to perfect our deeds, speech and thoughts so they mirror our image in heaven.
Our job is never to lose focus of who we can be. We can learn from Rabbi Morgenstern and Boruch that the greatest gift we can give people is to help them see their own potential for greatness and encourage them to reach that potential. Our spouses, our children, our friends and co-workers: love them, encourage them, compliment them and most of all, believe in them.
And never forget: believe in yourself and do all it takes to be what you can be!