Perashat VayishlahFriday, December 05, 2014
In this week's perasha, we read about the encounter between Yaakob and Esav. After more than a generation of separation, Yaakob, who had fled the wrath of Esav, is returning home with a large family and much wealth. Yaakob is told that Esav is fast approaching with four hundred fighting men. The drama ensues; will it be an all-out war or will they make peace? Yaakob prepares for all eventualities and also sends a message to his hostile brother: "Im Lavan garti," Yaakob declares, "I have lived with Laban [for all these years]." Rashi explains that Yaakob is saying, that although he lived with an evil and cunning man for more than 20 years, he, "did not learn from his evil ways." He remained committed to Boreh Olam. This is indicated by the gematria (numerology) of the Hebrew word garti ("lived with") which equals 613 -- the number of missvot in the Torah.
Was this not rather boastful of Yaakob? The same man who claims to be humble and meek, by declaring, "katonti" ("I have been humbled") by all G-d's kindness to him, now seems to be pointing proudly to his piety, telling Esav how religious he has been!
Rabbi Y. Goldman relates a novel interpretation offered by the saintly Hafess Hayyim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933). He explains that Yaakob's words should not be understood as a boast but rather as a lament. When Yaakob says that ,"I lived with Laban, but did not learn from his evil ways," he is bemoaning the fact that he did not learn from the way Laban did evil. How did Laban do evil? Enthusiastically! With passion and energy. Yaakob is expressing his regrets that his own missvot, his good deeds, were not performed as passionately as Laban's evil deeds!
This perspective reminds us that the voice of morality must always be as loud as the voice of evil, so it will not be drowned out. Too often the voice of justice is soft like a whisper while the voice of corruption is loud and persistent.
Let us strive to become even more passionate and assertive for the cause of Torah and missvot than the other side is for evil and injustice. The world will then be a much nicer and better place.
May 28 2020
Sivan 5 5780