Home : Torah Online : Parsha : Vayishlach : 5770

This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.

The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.

Parshat Vayishlach (5770)

Strangely the Jewish Bible, the Book of Books, contains almost no miracle stories about the founding fathers of the Jewish religion. These stories are found in the 'Midrash' and Talmudic 'Aggada' but only hinted at in the book of Genesis.

For instance, how Yaakov wrestled and defeated an angel.

For some reason the Torah doesn't tell us it was an angel. It just says "A man wrestled with him" (32:25) and Rashi explains that it was really not a human being but rather the guardian angel of Aisav; Yaakov's wayward brother.

This seemingly makes no sense.

Why doesn't the Torah just tell us it was an angel? And why did Yaakov have to fight him? Yaakov was religious -he should have just prayed to G-d to do it for him.

We learned that an angel destroyed the entire cities of Sodom and Amora. Howthen can a human fight, no less defeat, an angel? And finally, what was the value of Yaakov's victory when we see that the offspring of Aisav (Church, Nazis, Pogroms, and Communists etc) didn't seem to be affected at all?!

To understand this here is a story. (Sichat HaShavua #1194)

Some two hundred and fifty years ago in the Ukrainian town of Alik lived a great Tzadik by the name of Rabbi Tzvi Arie of Alik.

He had been one of the pupils of the Magid of Mezritch; the successor of the Baal Shem Tov. Besides being a Talmudic and Kabalistic genius, he was renowned for his ability to miraculously negate heavenly decrees through prayer.

In fact he had such an uncanny ability to 'break in' through 'locked' heavenly gates that the other pupils of the Maggid, all tzadikim themselves, lovingly called him 'The Thief'.

Since anyone could remember, the gentiles in Alik hated the Jews. Some said it was part of Ukrainian culture, others said it was because of the local priest who was a rabble-rousing anti-Semite. Regardless of the cause, it was impossible for a Jew to walk down the main street of Alik without getting beaten and robbed by local ruffians.

But now, to add to their problems, there was a plague.

The situation was unbearable. Young people, especially children, were dying by the dozens and the doctors had no cure. The Jews turned to prayer, fasting, doing more good deeds, but nothing helped. And of course, the priest, every Sunday in his sermon, eloquently and convincingly blamed it all on the Jews.

The Jews flocked to Rabbi Tzvi Arie for help but help didn't come. He tried prayer, fasting, meditation and seclusion with no success until finally he announced a change in strategy: he would use the advice of the Talmud on the sentence, "I will put a man in your place" (Isaiah 43:4): The anti-Semites should suffer in the place of the Jews.

He ordered the congregation to gather one hundred and sixty coins of pure silver and bring them to him.

Some say that according to Kabala 160 equals 'Tzelem' i.e. 'form' because man is made in the 'form' of G-d, some had other explanations. In any case, in less than an hour Rabbi Tzvi received the money and locked himself in his room. The entire population of the Jewish quarter waited impatiently around his headquarters and sure enough, after two hours he came out and announced that he wanted a young man or boy who could run fast.

One boy stepped forward, the Rebbe gave him the bag containing the coins, put both hands on his shoulders, looked him squarely in the eyes and told him he wanted him to run down the main street as fast as he could and throw the coins in all directions over his shoulder as he ran.

No one exactly understood what the Rebbe's plan was but the boy looked at the Rebbe, the Rebbe smiled slightly, nodded his head in encouragement, the boy nodded back, took a few breaths deep breaths and ran like lightning toward Main Street.

The first ruffian that saw him let out a shout of joy and all the riffraff yelled like animals and the chase, with intent to kill, was on! But when they heard the falling coins ringing on the cobblestones they forgot about their prey and began grabbing and quarreling over the money. Suddenly there was no corner or place on the road that was empty of an argument, a wrestling match or worse.

The results were soon to follow. Unexplainably two days later the Jewish fatality dwindled to zero; Jews stopped getting sick and the sick began feeling better, while that of the gentiles soared - especially among the anti-Semites of Main Street!

It was a miracle! An open miracle! But it so infuriated the priest that he decided to do something he had never done before; go to the local Baron and complain.

He didn't like to do it because officially the Baron had much more power than he did and could have him fired, or worse. But on the other hand, if he succeeded in arousing the ire of the Baron it could mean the end of the Jews in Alik!

The next day Rabbi Tzvi Arie got an official summons to appear before the Baron for trial.

Everyone was worried. Some wanted to declare a day of fasting and prayer, others suggested moving to another town. But Rabbi Arie Tzvi was calm and even smiling.

The day of the trial began. The Priest was given the floor and began ranting against the Jews, how they couldn't be trusted, stole everyone's money, oppose the church, kill babies and drink their blood and now....were the source of the plague!

The Baron turned to Rabbi Tzvi Arie and asked him if these charges were true. "Complete lies, your honor." he answered calmly. "Just ask him if he has any proof."

"Proof?" stammered the priest. "I have proof that they caused the plague! That's what I have proof! I have witnesses that saw a Jewish boy scatter money on the street, which incited a riot and was a direct cause of the plague! I mean, after that, the Jews stopped dying and our people got sicker!! And I asked around and people told me that this Rabbi was behind it all! He sent the boy!"

"Aha!!" exclaimed the Baron as he turned to Rabbi Tzvi Arie. "Is this true? Did you send the boy to scatter money and cause our people to die?!"

Then, without waiting for a reply he stood, turned to the priest and exclaimed. "If so, it is fully in my power, and it is my decision to punish the Jews for this travesty! Yes! Punish them severely!!! And I give you, my dear priest, full power to carry out the verdict!!

The Priest was gloating with victory and didn't conceal it. He was smiling from ear to ear, standing as straight as a statue with his arms folded and chest jutting out, occasionally grunting and shooting a glance of 'just wait to see what I'll do to you!' at the Rebbe.

But the Rebbe either knew what was going on in the Baron's mind or he totally trusted in G-d or both, because not a trace of worry could be seen on his face

What, in fact, was going on in the Baron's mind was a sudden and unexplainable hatred for the priest!

Suddenly it occurred to him that the priest's plan to oust the Jews would deprive him of a good source of income from their taxes!

The Baron raised one finger ominously and continued. "I decree that the Jews should be punished measure for measure!!

"I hereby decree that you, honorable priest, shall personally take 160 silver coins of your own money, scatter it in the Jewish quarter and return the curse to where it came from. MEASURE FOR MEASURE!!"

The priest had to do as he was told and from that day there was never any problems for the Jews of Alik.

This answers out questions. Everything has a spiritual source or soul that enlivens it and Yaakov (as well as the other patriarchs) was concerned only with this source in everything he did.

Just as Rabbi Tzvi Arie battled the plague and the evil priest spiritually, so Yaakov's battle with Lavan and with Aisav was really a spiritual one.

Therefore the angel he fought was called 'a man' because it was really this spiritual essence of the man Aisav that Yaakov had been battling all along in order to transform it (much as Rabbi Tzvi transformed everything in our story) to holiness.

And that explains how Yaakov, a limited human being, could battle a spiritual, angel. Because Yaakov (and all human beings… especially Jews) was actually higher than the angel. Yaakov could choose to serve G-d with his own free will while angels lack this power. And this power of free choice reflects the essence of the Creator.. far above the angels.

But the victory depended solely on his free will. And that is why he had to fight the battle on his own.

And that is also how he could win. Because G-d created this world in order that we CHOOSE good and TRANSFORM evil (selfishness).

Finally what can we learn from all this is: we have the power to change nature; both our own human nature and the nature of the world around us! Just as Yaakov and Rabbi Tzvi Arie.

It all depends on our will; on making a firm resolution to do good and to bring meaning and blessing in everything we do. Because, as we see,Yaakov only began the battle. It is our job to finish it.

If we CHOOSE to do this then even the angels cannot stop us!

This will be the preparation for the biggest and most positive change in history; the arrival of Moshiach and the total redemption he will bring!

It all depends on us to choose to change the world; one deed, one word even one good thought can tilt the scales of history and bring….

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

(5760- )



   Other Essays

 send us feedback