Posted on March 23, 2011
by Josh Sowalsky
This week’s portion is Vayishlach. Two weeks ago, we read that Jacob received the birthright blessings from Isaac, which were supposed to go to his brother Esav, thereby arousing Esav’s wrath. At the conclusion of last week’s portion, Jacob was returning from Charan to the land of Israel. In the beginning of this week’s portion, Jacob sent messengers to Esav to greet him. However, the messengers informed him that Esav was coming with 400 men, and Jacob feared that Esav’s intentions were not peaceful.
Upon hearing this, Jacob split his camp and animals into two groups, saying that, “If Esav will attack one camp, the second will be saved.” Jacob prayed to Hashem to remember His promises and to save him. Jacob then sent Esav a present. Esav accepted the present and made peace with Jacob.
Jacob’s preparations for Esav raise many questions. Why did he first divide his camp and only then pray? Also, why was he confident that if one camp were destroyed, the other would remain? Esav was approaching with 400 men, more than enough to destroy both camps.
Jacob had been told by Hashem to return to Israel and that Hashem would bless him there. He knew that the future of the Torah depended upon him and his seed. He had great faith in Hashem’s blessing. However, according to Midrash, he feared that perhaps his great wealth had interfered with his connection to Hashem. When he divided his camp, he put all of his wealth and servants in one camp and his family in the other. He prayed only for his family, and after praying, he was sure that even if Esav captured the camp with his wealth, the remaining camp with his family would be secure.
Jacob’s willingness to sacrifice his material possessions provides an example for us in our daily lives. Often our desires for status and material possessions can conflict with our values of family and religious life. We learn from Jacob that our material wealth is less important than the wealth we get from family, Jewish living and following Mitzvoth.
The Torah concludes Jacob’s encounter with Esav by saying that Jacob continued to live in peace. Rashi explains that everything that Jacob had given Esav as a present was replenished later in Jacob’s life. This teaches us that even when we place less importance upon our status and material possessions, Hashem will provide amply for us. Three times daily in Ashrei, we recite, “Poteach et Yaedcha…;” Hashem opens his hand and satisfies the needs of every living thing.
As USYer’s, we should strive to make Judaism a part of our lives as much as we can, even when it conflicts with our secular values and goals. We all resolve this conflict differently. For some, it means keeping Kosher and observing Shabbat; for others it may be an occasional Shabbat dinner, or just saying a Bracha or two. However, as long as we are mindful of Jacob’s example and his faith that Hashem will provide for him, we will find it easier to sacrifice our desires for status and material possessions to live a Jewish life.
I hope you all have a terrific Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom.