The Torah reports this week on a mano-a-angel tussle. Man and angel wrestled until daybreak, the forces of good and evil locked in an eternal fight. The dust from their battle rose to heaven, reaching the Kisei Hakavod.
What was special about that nighttime struggle? The Torah (Bereishis 32:25) tells us, “Vayevoseir Yaakov levado vayei’oveik ish imo.” Yaakov was alone and Eisov’s angel confronted him. He worked to defeat Yaakov, but he could not. Finally, in desperation, he struck Yaakov’s gid hanosheh.
According to Kabbolah, when Eisov’s agent saw that he could not hurt the tzaddik, he reached for those who support him. He sought to rip Yaakov’s tendon to weaken the tamchin d’oraysa, the base and foundation of Torah throughout the ages.
The sar shel Eisov couldn’t accomplish that either. Yaakov was left limping and hurting, but he emerged from the encounter armed with the blessing of a malach.
These parshiyos are laden with the perpetual relevance of maaseh avos siman lebonim; lessons for us in exile. We study the accounts and feel our history. The Torah tells us that Yaakov was “levado,” he confronted the malach of Eisov alone.
That has been our story throughout the exile. We have faced Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, the Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, pogroms, czars, neighbors, governors, prosecutors, terrorists, armies and everything in between. We have walked in the valley of death, into gas chambers, ghettos, and auto-de-fes, always with faith, always alone as a nation, but never lonely. Fighting darkness alone, together.
We have been bruised, just as Yaakov was, but we are here despite all that Eisov and his descendants have done to us throughout the ages. We flourish today, gloriously benefitting from the kind golus in which we now exist.
But that doesn’t mean everything is easy. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a war of attrition. There are losses, and it is difficult to uphold the banner of Torah. Sometimes Eisov appears in the guise of a friendly brother. Sometimes he sends henchmen and at times he appears as his evil self. We have to be on guard when we face him, for even when he smiles, we are in golus, and even when he stretches out his hand in friendship, we never know what lies in the shadowy recesses of his heart. We are always wary.
To succeed, bnei Yaakov have to join and work together, support each other with more than pachim ketanim.
And always, the tamchin d’oraysa, the backbone of our nation, those who support Torah with their resources, those who provide time, those who offer encouragement and hope, make our success possible.
The sar shel Eisov identified them and saw their potential. He knew that when Yaakov’s voice would be weakened and the kol Torah stilled, Eisov would rise. Without those who enable others to learn, there would be no Torah. Eisov sought to tear them down, to rip them off their pedestals. Thankfully, he failed.
Yaakov succeeded in spawning a family and a nation where Torah has a home and thrives despite the odds, because we stand together, the ones who learn Torah and those who support and appreciate Torah.
Reb Moshe Reichmann, a modern-day hero of hachzokas haTorah, who inspired a generation of tamchin d’oraysa, once flew to New York to meet a potential business partner. He arrived at the office of the investor at the appointed time, and the secretary indicated that he should be seated in the waiting room.
He sat there for quite some time, the minutes passing by as he waited.
Finally, the door to the inner office opened and the host glanced out at the waiting area and saw Moshe Reichmann.
“Mr. Reichmann!” he exclaimed, “I had no idea you were here. I would never have kept you waiting.”
He turned to his secretary, furious. “Why did you keep him waiting and not tell me that he is here?”
The secretary looked at the bearded gentleman and shrugged. “I thought he was a visiting rabbi. I had no idea it was Paul Reichmann.”
Mr. Reichman reached for his coat.
“Wait. Come in. Where are you going?” the host asked.
Reichman apologized and politely explained why he was leaving. “Someone who would allow a visiting rabbi to wait endlessly, without even offering him a drink, is not a partner for us,” he said.
Torah has flourished because we have had gedolei Torah and inspired mechanchim ready to share the light and power of Torah, and they have been able to succeed because of those in the background, the ones who looked at “visiting rabbis” and saw greatness.
A rich man arrived in Sanz to ask the Divrei Chaim for a brocha. The rebbe asked the man where he was from. When he told him that he was from Lemberg, the rebbe asked if the melamed in Lemberg had secured the money he needed to marry off his daughter.
“What is the rebbe talking about?” the man asked.
The rebbe explained: “A month ago, the melamed of Lemberg was here. He told me that his daughter had become a kallah and he had obligated himself to a dowry that he could not afford. The other side was threatening to break off the shidduch if he didn’t come up with the money. Do you know if the melamed was able to work something out?” asked the rebbe.
“How should I know?” the rich man wondered. “I know the melamed and he is a fine man, but I had no idea that he has a daughter and that she is engaged and that he doesn’t have the money to marry her off.”
“I don’t understand,” said the rebbe. “I am here in Sanz and I know about the melamed and his situation. How can it be that you are in Lemberg and you have no idea?”
“He came here and told the rebbe, so the rebbe knows,” said the man. “He didn’t tell me, so I don’t know.”
“You never ask what is doing by the melamed?”
“I’ll tell the rebbe the truth,” the man answered. “There are people who are yentas. They know everybody’s business. I am not like that. I work hard all day and then, after I get home in the evening, I go to the bais medrash to learn when I am able to.”
The rebbe pressed on. “It’s a great thing that you learn when you can. Let me ask you a question. The Torah says that a man came to battle Yaakov, ‘vayei’oveik ish imo.’ Rashi says that the man was Eisov’s angel. Regarding Yosef, as well, the Torah (Bereishes 37:15) tells us that a man met him, ‘vayimtzo’eihu ish vehinei to’eh basodeh.’ Yosef was lost in the field and a man found him. There Rashi says that the man was the malach Gavriel.
“So, regarding Yaakov the Torah says that an ‘ish’ met him, and with respect to Yosef it says that an ‘ish’ met him. Why regarding Yaakov do we know that the man was the samach mem, the angel of Eisov, yet regarding Yosef we say that the man was the praised angel Gavriel?
“I’ll tell you the answer. The malach sent to Yaakov finished the mission for which he was dispatched and wanted to leave. Yaakov stopped him and asked for a brocha, but he said that he was too busy, as he had to go and say shirah.
“Any angel who is too busy with his shirah to give a Jew a brocha is a samach mem, a black angel. Regarding Yosef the posuk says, ‘Vayisholeihu ha’ish leimor mah tevakeish.’ The angel took interest in Yosef and his condition and sought to help him. That ‘ish’ is a holy malach.”
If we care about Torah, we need to show it by caring about those who labor in its vineyards far from the spotlight. There are noble and valiant people among us who are barely holding on. There is grandeur in what they do and how much they accomplish.
Just because the person struggling to make ends meet lives around the corner and not in some distant place doesn’t mean that there is no mitzvah to help him. Money, a visit and a kind word are the fuel that keeps the engine of Klal Yisroel running.
There are many ways we can help people who are doing Hashem’s work, but the first thing we have to do is care. They should never feel lonely. No Jew should ever feel that he is all alone and nobody cares about him and his situation.
People can’t keep up. Parents are over-taxed and tuition is a huge burden. What can we do to assist them?
It is very disconcerting to fight daily battles virtually alone in order to keep a mosad alive. It is lonely and discouraging to fight to make a difference in Jewish lives when no one seems to care.
People who learn or teach Torah in the morning, teach English in the afternoon, and then tutor at night, as do their wives, who also work admirably to keep their homes clean and the children happy. They shouldn’t be made to feel that their sacrifices and dedication are unnoticed and unappreciated.
The lonely young man who runs a community kollel and kiruv center makes a serious impact upon his surroundings, but when he appeals for help, all he gets is a shrug of the shoulder. We are overwhelmed, overcommitted and overburdened. But what about him? We should walk the path along with him. We must show that we care. That the cause of Torah is important to us.
And what about the people who give chizuk to those who need it, who help make sure that things run properly, who ensure that no kids are left without a school, who work with the abused and neglected, who give time and respect to those at the bottom of the totem pole?
When the posuk says, “Vayevoseir Yaakov levado,” and Chazal infer that Yaakov and his progeny survive when they are alone and separate, it means separate from Eisov. We must be together, live together, and work together with our own, connecting with those who need our help. We have to care about and for them. That is the only way we can survive in golus and the only way we can get out.
Too many people are preoccupied with the mundane things in life and resist the need to ponder life in a more serious way. Then, every once in a while, we get a painful reminder that we are still in golus.
One day, a car pulled up near Rav Avigdor Miller as he walked on Ocean Parkway. The window rolled down. “Dirty Jew,” screamed a redneck. “You’re a Jew. That’s what you are!”
Rav Miller smiled serenely and bowed. “Yes, and thank you for the reminder. I needed that!”
Although we certainly know that in terms of oppression, this golus is better than any Klal Yisroel has endured and we are very appreciative of that, but golus it is. And since it is so comfortable here, we may have forgotten that we are in exile.
In order to work our way out of golus, we have to recognize that we are in golus.
I recently came across a book on Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach written by an “expert” on chareidim. The author is quite bothered by the fact that Rav Shach constantly quoted Chazal regarding Eisov’s hatred of Yaakov as an undeniable matter of fact. He’s bothered, because that means there is nothing that can be done to earn the world’s love. The state and the army, the former UN ambassador, the eloquent speaker and debater who occupies the prime minister’s seat – none of them can change this fact.
The more they hate, the more we band together.
Eisov understood that if he could not weaken us, his end would come and he would be the loser.
Yaakov urged Eisov, “Ad avo el adoni Sei’ira, (Bereishis 33:14).” Go ahead of me. I will walk slowly because of all the work I still have to do until I reach you in Sei’ir.
We will yet meet there, Yaakov assures him.
When? Rashi explains that the time will come when “Ve’olu moshi’im beHar Tzion lishpot es Har Eisov” (Ovadia 1:1), in the times of Moshiach when the savior ascends Har Tzion to do judgment with the Mountain of Eisov.
We are all on a journey; Yaakov walking his way, Eisov his.
The meeting will come soon.
And then we will all get to go home.
Free at last.