VAYISHLACH (Genesis, 32:4-36:43) — “All or Nothing?”

When preparing to meet a sworn enemy, one should make three arrangements.  He should sue for peace, prepare for war, and pray for divine assistance.  Jacob did all three.

A thirty-six‑year separation had not moderated Esau’s hatred for his brother.  Jacob was returning to Canaan after all these years, and it was time to get even.  Esau resented Jacob for having received Isaac’s blessings.  He had 400 soldiers with him, and it was “payback time.”

Jacob wanted to appease his brother. … he selected a gift for his brother Esau…200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 nursing camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. (Genesis, 32:14-16)

Each herd was sent separately to Esau.  Hopefully, Esau would accept the gift graciously and let bygones be bygones.  If not, Jacob was prepared to defend himself and his family.  And, of course, he had prayed to G‑d for protection.

Jacobs’s efforts worked.  The brothers met, hugged and kissed. (The commentaries differ as to how sincere Esau’s kiss was.)  Their first argument at that meeting was as to the ownership of the gift.  Initially, Esau refused to accept it:

“I have a lot, my brother,” said Esau. “Let what is yours remain yours”… “Please! No!” said Jacob…”Please accept my blessing…G-d has been kind to me. I have everything (that I need).” (33:10-11) Esau changed his mind and accepted the gift.

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Notice the difference between the brothers’ attitudes toward their possessions. Esau said, “I have a lot.” Jacob said, “I have everything.”

The Talmud (Avos, 4:1) asks us, “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.”  Wealth is measured not by how much you have, but rather, by how much you want. Esau was a wealthy man. By his own accounting, he had plenty. But, he didn’t have “everything.” There was always room to increase his holdings and amass more wealth. It didn’t take much convincing.

Jacob, on the other hand, had “everything.” He had no need for more than whatever G-d had allotted him.

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Trump and Gates are multi-billionaires. But, as King Solomon writes, “One who loves silver is never satisfied with silver.” (Ecclesiastes, 5:9) As long as there are more financial kingdoms to conquer, they will always hunger for more. Someone who is not satisfied with his current financial status is, in a real sense, poor. A person can have a hundred million dollars. But if he wishes he had two hundred million, he’ll never be a rich man. He doesn’t have as much as he feels he needs. He’s a hundred million dollars short.

If, on the other hand, we recognize that whatever we have is gift from G‑d, we are truly blessed and truly rich.

Jacob’s and Esau’s conflicting attitudes toward wealth were completely reversed when it came to spiritual matters. Esau was content with his spiritual level; he saw no need for additional holiness in his life. Jacob looked for every opportunity to get closer to G-d. He lived his life according to a different interpretation of the above verse: “One who loves silver is never satisfied with silver.” Rashi interprets the word “silver” as a reference to Torah — One who loves Mitzvahs will never be satisfied with the Mitzvahs he has fulfilled; he will always look for more. King Solomon tells us in Proverbs 2:4-5, “if you will seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of G-d, and you will find the knowledge of G-d.”

If we choose Esau’s approach, we’ll never be happy.  If we choose Jacob’s, we will attain peace of mind and untold riches, regardless of the size of our bank accounts.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES 

“Straight Pins and Paszkes” (2009)

… there is much about the Amish that fascinated me.  I found many things that I could relate to, and quite a few things with which I disagreed.  I understand the desire to limit the amount of influence that “English”– the Amish term for anything non-Amish — society has one’s growing children.  I certainly admire their sense of working together and taking care of each other.  However, their insistence on the use of straight pins — rather than snaps and buttons – to fasten clothes was lost on me.  …

We stayed in a hotel within walking distance of Lancaster’s orthodox synagogue so we could attend Shabbos Services.  A Chassidic member of the congregation (yes, I’m sure he’s not Amish!!) shared with me an interesting observation about the Amish…

Read more.

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“Way to Go, Joe! (Lieberman)” (2003)

…A funny thing happened on the way to synagogue last Friday.

I got into my car to drive to Services.  I was running late; it was about ten minutes before sundown.  I turned on the radio and heard a familiar voice.  Senator Joseph Lieberman, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, was being interviewed.  “What’s he doing on the radio,” I asked myself.  “I thought he’s a Sabbath observer!” …

Read more.

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“The Inferior Decorator”, or,  “Stay Out Of My Bedroom!” (2002)

… To Reuben, such action was unacceptable. He would not stand by silently and watch his mother play second fiddle to her sister’s maid! … In describing what Reuben did, the Torah writes: …vayishkav es Bilhah pilegesh aviv…,… a painfully literal reading of the text gives us an additional insight. The actual translation implies that Reuben had committed adultery with his father’s wife!

…No, it wasn’t adultery. But, in a sense, it was close… It was repulsive. It was wrong…

Read more.

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“All or Nothing?” (2001)

A thirty-six‑year separation had not moderated Esau’s hatred for his brother.  Jacob was returning to Canaan  after all these years, and it was time to get even.  Esau resented Jacob for having received Isaac’s blessings.  He had 400 soldiers with him, and it was “pay‑back time.”

Jacob wanted to appease his brother. … he selected a gift for his brother Esau…  Hopefully, Esau would accept the gift graciously and let bygones be bygones.  If not, Jacob was prepared to defend himself and his family.  And, of course, he had prayed to G‑d for protection…

The brothers met…  Their first argument at that meeting was as to the ownership of the gift…

Read more.

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“Name that Angel” (2000)

… What is in a name? Our Sages tell us that there is great spiritual significance in the name that is given to a person. When G-d created the world, He brought all the animals to Adam, who gave them names, each of which summarized what that animal was all about. He even named himself. He called himself “Adam” because he had been fashioned from the Earth (“Adamah” in Hebrew), reminding himself that despite his potential for spiritual greatness, there is an “earthy” tendency in man that can bring him down. He also named G-d “Adon“, which means, “Master.”

… What does “Yisrael” mean? …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.brisrabbi.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 29, 2001 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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