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Parashat Vayishlach

12/01/2017 12:00:43 PM


The night preceding the climactic showdown between Yaakov and Eisav is mysterious and mystical.  It all begins with the Torah saying that Yaakov was "left alone," leaving the reader to wonder why he was not together with his family.  The Gemara in Chulin explains that Yaakov forgot some small jars on the other side of the river he had previously crossed, and when he went unaccompanied to retrieve them, he was met by Eisav's angel in a vulnerable state.  From these facts, the Gemara makes two observations- that the righteous cherish their material possessions more than their personal safety, and that it is improper for a Torah scholar to go out unaccompanied at night.  The Gemara in Sotah makes the same observation regarding the basket that baby Moshe was placed in to float along the Nile River- a reed basket.  It explains that reeds were used specifically because they are inexpensive, and although they would not protect Moshe's body well, the righteous prioritize their possessions over their bodies.  (The Gemara in Ta'anis conveys a similar message regarding the great Aba Chilkiya, who would raise his cloak when he walked through thorns, because he reasoned that a wound in his flesh would heal on its own, while a tear in his cloak would not).  In defense of such primacy placed on material possessions, the Gemara explains that since the righteous never steal, they value their possessions more than others.
The Pasuk in Shema mandates that one love God "with all your soul and money".  The Gemara explains that since there are people who cherish their money more than their own lives, the Torah had to add the need to love God with your money even after it had required love with all your soul.  While we would assume that the Gemara is referring to avaricious materialists who would view a life without money as worthless, the ironic usage of the same wording of "cherishing money over the body" may perhaps indicate that the Pasuk was actually referring to the righteous, who, in the words of the Gemara, "cherish their money over their bodies."  This is a startling and almost jarring novelty, but the usage of the same phrase definitely leaves room to wonder if this may be true.  
At any rate, how so we relate to this extreme attitude of the righteous?  Additionally, why was this lesson taught as the opening for the eternal battle of Yaakov and Eisav?  In the dialogue between Yaakov and Eisav, Eisav tells Yaakov: "I have a lot," while Yaakov tells Eisav: "I have everything."  Noting this distinction, Rashi explains that EIsav's attitude was that he had amassed more than he needed, while Yaakov felt he had exactly what he needed.  Although this is a subtlety, it speaks of a massive divide in mentality, as Yaakov's connection with God provided a belief that there was divine providence in every aspect of his life, including material possessions.  For that very reason he would never steal; everything he owned must be meaningful and important, or else it would not exist.  God provides with absolute precision, and because Yaakov lived with such a deep connection to God, he saw extreme value in anything he owned.  Ironically, the feeling of having more than your needs is related to the feeling that it is not so bad to steal, because they both stem from a lack of connection to the divine providence of God.  Our way of connecting to this extreme mentality is appreciating, on whatever level it may be, that there is a rhyme or reason for every aspect of life, and that nothing is too trivial or small to be consequential.
Rav Yeshaya Horovitz, the famous sixteenth century kabbalist usually referred to as the Shelah Hakadosh, suggests a fascinating connection between Yaakov and Chanuka.  He writes that the "pachim ketanim"- the small jugs that Yaakov went to retrieve- were the source for the "pach echad"- the single jug of pure oil found by the Chasmonaim - that miraculously burned for eight days and nights.  In fact, there are those who use this Shelah to explain the stanza in Ma'oz Tzur that reads: "And from what was leftover of the jugs, a miracle was produced for the roses."  Why is the word jugs used in the plural form if only one jug was found to be pure?  While the simple interpretation is that the phrase means that only one jug was left over from all the other impure jugs, it can also allude to the Shelah's idea that the leftover jugs that Yaakov went to retrieve were the source of Chanuka.
Perhaps the depth behind the Shelah's idea is based on the significance of Yakov's extreme measures to salvage his small jugs.  Before the Greeks overtook the Temple, there was an abundance of pure oil for usage that was placed in jugs and sealed by the Kohen Gadol.  At the time when the Kohen Gadol took the time to seal each individual jug, that one small jug that contained such a small amount of oil hardly seemed significant at all.  But in retrospect, when God's providence was revealed in miraculous form, it was that small jug that inspired the Jews in dark times and continues to be the small light we have throughout a long Exile.  Only as descendants of Yaakov, who instilled in our nation an appreciation that each and every thing in life matters because God controls everything, do we merit to have a Chanuka that all happened because of that one small jug of oil.

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781