This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayishlach (5766)
The Jews have been reading the Torah aloud in public at least once a week since it was given over 3,300 years ago at Sinai.
One reason is to make sure the Torah never is changed or forgotten but a deeper reason is to provide 'messages for life'. The words of each weekly portion contain vital ideas to deal with every problem at every time… especially in the week it's read.
For instance in this week's reading the Torah tells us that "Jacob remained alone and a 'man' wrestled with him until morning. (32:25)
'Rash'i' (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the foremost commentary on the Torah) explains that this 'man' was really an angel; the patron Asav, Jacob's evil brother. And the reason he was alone was because "he forgot some small bottles and left his family to go back to get them."
Does this make sense?
Every idea, indeed every word in the Torah comes to teach us something. What could the Torah be teaching here? What could be the importance of small bottles and why would Jacob endanger himself to get them?
Also, how can a human being fight with an angel… and win!!?
To help explain this, here is story I heard from The Lubavitcher Rebbe's representative in Bangkok Thailand; Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm when I visited his Chabad House several years ago.
He told me that two years previously a young Israeli in his early twenties (we will call him Erez) entered the Chabad house and stood before the massive bookcase filled with Torah books with a bewildered look on his face. Rabbi Wilhelm asked him if he needed help and he replied that he was looking for a book on Judaism.
When the Rabbi suggested that perhaps they learn something from the book of Bereshis (Genesis) the said he never heard of it and even asked if it was a Jewish book.
Erez related a bit about himself and what brought him to the Chabad House. He grew up on an atheistic Israeli Kibbutz where religion (especially the Jewish religion) was shunned. A few months ago he and his girlfriend from a nearby Kibbutz, decided (as do tens of thousands of young Israelis each year) to ditch Israel for a few months (at least) and set off for some excitement, touring the Far East.
They traveled from one exotic country to another, met the people, ate the food, camped out in jungles, climbed mountains … but were careful to call home regularly to let their family know they were still alive.
Several months into their journey in one of his calls home Erez's parents made an interesting proposition. His sister was coming in to visit them from Canada for two weeks. They suggested that they would pay his way, round trip, and they would love to have him come in for a family reunion.
He talked it over with his girlfriend, she agreed and a few days later he was back in Israel with his family. There was a wonderful warm feeling of love and unity that he never felt before. They ate, spoke, sang, laughed, reminisced and took walks together every day and after two weeks they parted; his sister flew back to Canada and he kissed his parents good bye and returned to his girlfriend in Thailand.
When his plane landed in Bangkok he called to tell his parents that he arrived safely but his mother, fighting back the tears, gave him some terrible news. Just minutes after his plane took off his father suffered a heart attack and …. passed away. The burial was to take place in a few moments. Erez was stunned.
Not being religious he didn't even consider a period of mourning but it was a shock to his entire being; especially the strange irony of the family reunion.
Could it be that the reunion occurring in the last two weeks of his father's life wasn't an accident? Perhaps some infinitely kind, omniscient and unfathomable power or being was involved here?
Could that be 'G-d'?
But every time he brought it up to his girlfriend she just fell silent for a few seconds and then said she'd rather just enjoy the trip and concentrate on happy, non-religious things.
And that's what Erez did. The weeks passed, the trip went on and they were enjoying every moment of it together. But once in a while, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon as they were walking in the street, sometimes before he went to sleep, the mystery of it all suddenly welled up in his heart like an ocean until he took his mind off it.
Then one day his girlfriend announced that she heard there was a very special yoga master in India who was beginning an unforgettable ten-day silence and meditation seminar and she felt it was for them. She wanted to sign up.
But for the first time Erez disagreed. How could it be that she didn't even want to speak about Jewish things but she did want to go to an ashram? He respected her desire for the seminar, but he wanted something different.
So they talked it over and decided that, in any case they wouldn't even be able to talk together in the meditation seminar so she could sign up and he would go to somewhere learn about Judaism for ten days.
In fact, he didn't really have much of a plan but he had been briefly in the Chabad House in Bangkok (he entered from curiosity while she refused and stood outside) which was the only religious Jewish place he had been to in his life and figured that maybe they would teach him. So that's how he came to the Chabad House.
Rabbi Wilhelm said he was more than happy to arrange a full day of learning for Erez but when he suggested that he should first put on Tefillin, which would take two minutes, Erez flatly refused. He came only to learn not to become religious.
But at learning he was fantastic. He took to the books like a fish to water. He asked tens of questions on each detail and enjoyed the answers but at every opportunity he was careful to declare that he was secular and would never change his lifestyle.
Then, two days later, at the beginning of the third day of learning, before they opened the book he asked to put on Tefillin. Rabbi Wilhelm didn't hesitate, he took out his Tefillin as quickly as possible and showed Erez how to put them on and he did so ….. for the first time in his life.
"You're probably wondering why I suddenly changed my mind and put these on." Erez asked as he was removing them a few minutes later. Rabbi Wilhelm nodded 'yes'.
"Well, last night when I called home and told my mother that I decided to learn in the Chabad House she said she was very happy, which was a big surprise to me. I thought she would be disappointed. But then began to cry. She said that she would never have even thought of telling me, but now that I mention Chabad, she has a secret about my father to reveal.
She told me that over fifty years ago Chabad helped him to get out of Russia and he got to know them. He didn't like religion, not at all. But the Chabad people made a good impression and, well they refused money but said he could repay them by putting on Tefillin every day. So they bought him a pair of Tefillin and ,,,,,,, he used to put them on every day.
"He didn't want anyone to know; especially not the people in the Kibbutz. So he used to put them every morning in the bathroom where no one would see. But he did it every single day till the day he died. He was proud to be a Jew. That's what my mother said.
"And that is why I decided to put on today."
After her seminar Erez's girlfriend returned to Bangkok to meet him and resume their trip but she was in for a surprise; Erez wanted one more week in Chabad and he wanted her to join him!
It wasn't an ultimatum. He made it clear that he would do what she decided. So they talked it over and she agreed but only on condition that she wouldn't be expected to even set foot in the place.
So every morning Erez would enter the Chabad House alone and beginning the second day brought in a list of questions she had prepared the night before. Then after each class he would go outside, meet her, they would discuss the answers and he would enter with more questions.
The week ended, Erez announced that he was continuing his trip, said goodbye and Rabbi Wilhelm returned to the hundreds of visitors that pass through the Chabad House every day and forgot the incident completely.
A year later Rabbi Wilhelm, was invited to speak at several institutions in Israel the last of which was the Yeshiva (Torah Academy) in Tzfat where several hundred students learn.
As he entered the building and the Rabbis there greeted him and shook his hand, someone from behind him yelled "Hey, Rabbi!!" and as he turned to see who it was one of the students, a bearded young men, ran up, hugged him warmly, gave him a kiss on the cheek and stepped back saying "Don't you recognize me?"
Rabbi Wilhelm was baffled.
"It's me! It's Erez! Remember? A year ago? Remember? how my father passed away?"
The Rabbi could not believe his eyes. "Wow!" He exclaimed" Of course I remember! It's a miracle! But what about your girlfriend? What happened? How is she?"
"Listen Rabbi" Erez took the Rabbi aside and spoke in a low voice, "You better watch out! There are a lot of people that I think are after your life! A lot!"
"My life?" he replied "Are you serious? Why? Who? What has that got to do with your girlfriend? Why are you smiling?"
"Who?" Erez answered "All the people in my kibbutz… and in my girlfriend's as well!! That's right, she is now learning around the corner in M'chone Alte, the Chabad College for girls. And the people in our Kibbutzim are not happy! They're going out of their minds!"
A few months later Rabbi Wilhelm got an invitation to their wedding and just recently he heard they were hired by a Chabad House somewhere in the world to do the same thing the Rebbe sent him to do in Thailand … wake Jews up.
Now we can understand why Jacob returned for small bottles and how he could defeat an angel.
According to the teachings of Kabala and Chassidut, G-d purposely created and creates this entire world every instant anew.
Everything in the world, every detailed piece; especially every person and even more especially every Jew, has a potential holy purpose and deep eternal meaning.
But because of various reasons G-d decided to hide all this. Rather than being able to SEE the miracle of the Creator in everything the world can be likened to a puzzle: totally confused until man puts it all together and 'elevates' the pieces to form one meaningful, wondrous, joyous picture.
This is the goal of Moshiach.
Moshiach will be a great Jewish leader like King David or Moses who will teach mankind to 'put the world together' according to G-d's instruction book, the Torah (7 Noahide Commandments for the Gentiles).
These are the 'small vessels' that Jacob had to go back for; the details, (pieces of the puzzle) of time, place and experience that have been elevated by Jews throughout the generations in order to bring Moshiach.
And this is what gives us the power to transform not just one angel (Just as the angel finally blessed Jacob) but all the spiritual worlds and reveal that G-d is one.
[This is also hinted at by the donkey Jacob mentioned to his brother earlier (32:6) referring to the donkey of Moshiach (Zechariah 9:9) and also the physicality of the world ('Chamor'; 'donkey' also means 'materiality') which will be unified. Jacob was opening the way and giving power to us.]
But the most urgent forgotten 'vessels' are the scattered Jews. As the Rambam points out that one of the most important signs of Moshiach is that he will try to strengthen Judaism and waken all the Jews ……. as Rabbi Wilhelm and the Rebbe's representatives throughout the entire world did and are doing, and eventually gather them to Israel.
We have the power and inspiration from Jacob.
We too can defeat evil angels. In the blink of an eye, and in the merit of all the battles and suffering Jews have undergone for thousands of years we will certainly see the fulfillment of Jacob's promise to Asav (see Rashi 33:14):
In the days of Moshiach the Jews will transform the 'mountain' of the gentiles just as Jacob conquered his angel to reveal true unity and joy.
It depends on us to do all we can; one more good deed, word or even action can tilt the scale and bring….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.