VAYISHLACH (Genesis, 32:4-36:43) — “Way to Go, Joe! (Lieberman)”

After an absence of 36 years, Jacob was returning to Israel (Canaan).  He had left so long ago1) to escape the murderous plans of his brother Esau; and 2) to seek a wife.  They had been difficult years.  Esau’s son confiscated all his possessions, forcing him to arrive at his uncle’s home with nothing but a walking stick and the shirt on his back.  His uncle/father-in-law Laban mistreated him terribly.  Laban lied to Jacob and cheated him every step of the way.  Laban swindled him over wages and even switched brides on him! (He put a heavy veil over Rachel’s sister Leah and tricked him into marrying the wrong wife!)  Not satisfied with cheating his son-in-law, Laban actually tried to kill him! (See “Watch Out For What Car?”.)

Now, after all those years, Jacob was returning home, a wealthy and powerful man with a large family.

How did Jacob survive this terrible ordeal?  How did this lonely Jew among strangers manage to flourish under such difficult circumstances?

Perhaps we can see the answer in Jacob’s first communication with his still-angry brother:

Jacob sent messengers … to his brother Esau… He told them, “tell my brother … ‘I lived with Laban – and observed the 613 Commandments. I didn’t pick up any of his evil ways. Therefore, you will not be able to defeat me because G-d will continue to protect me.'” (A synopsis of Genesis, 32:4-5 and the commentaries of Rashi and Sifsei Chachomim.)

Our strength comes from adhering to the word of G-d.

It is so easy to allow the majority to dictate to us how we should act and what we should believe.  It would have been so much less complicated for Jacob to pursue the path of least resistance and embrace the idolatrous ways of Laban.  He would have fit in so much better had he just allowed himself to assimilate.

However, had he allowed himself to “fit in,” he would have given up the sanctity of Torah observance.  He would have abandoned the one thing that made him unique.  And, in the process, he would have destroyed himself.

Throughout history, our People have found ourselves in situations where our values stood in sharp contrast to the values of those around us.  It is a mistake to think that we will succeed by running away from who we are.  Our raison d’etre is to set an example for others to follow, rather then the other way around.


If I may allow myself a personal note of pride.  My oldest son is currently studying and teaching in China. I assumed that he would wear a cap, rather than attracting attention to himself by wearing a Kippah on the streets and in the classrooms of Beijing.  I was wrong.  He is unashamed and unabashed.  How many people do you know who aren’t afraid to look Jewish in Tiananmen Square?!! Some people ask him what his head covering is for.  A common response is, “Oh, you’re Jewish?  Jews are very smart!  Look at Einstein and Karl Marx!”

Unlike America, where you can go into any store to buy kosher food, China presents many challenges.  You can’t buy milk in a store and assume that it’s pure cow’s milk. Many food items are only available through the local rabbi who imports them.  Glatt Kosher chicken and beef are available, slaughtered in Inner Mongolia!

It would be so much easier to go with the flow.  But Torah is not about what’s easy; it’s about what’s right.


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!”

I reminded myself that with so little time before sundown, the same question could be asked about what I was doing in my car!  But, I wondered, I’ll be in Shul in about a minute.  Who knows how long he’ll stay on?

The host spoke to the senator about Iraq and the economy.  “Why don’t you come back on the show some other time, and we’ll give you an hour?”

While the host was still talking, I heard Lieberman say, “Well, thanks for having me on the show.  Have a great weekend.”

And he was gone.  The host was still talking.  “Oh, is he still on? … He must have hung up.”

Of course he hung up!  It was almost Shabbos!

Unbelievable!  The man is running for president.  You can’t get elected if you don’t talk with people.  Every candidate wants to get his name and ideas out there into the public forum.  He had that forum!  Why did he give it up?  Why did he hang up so abruptly?

The answer is that in Joe Lieberman’s eyes, G-d and the Sabbath are bigger than Joe Lieberman.  And in my eyes, that makes Joe Lieberman a very big man.

Whether you agree with his politics or not – whether you think a Jew in the Oval Office, religious or otherwise, is a good idea or not – you have to admire his dedication to Shabbos.  It’s nice to see that among the “movers and shakers,” there are some people who recognize Who the real Mover and Shaker is.

Good Shabbos, dear readers.  Have a great Shabbos, Senator Lieberman.

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.



“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


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


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  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 December 11, 2003 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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