Saturday, November 17, 2007

Parshat Vayishlach 1

“It is not good for man to be alone” (Bereishis 2; 18). With this introduction G-d prepares Adam for the creation of his wife, Eve. The purpose of creation is to imitate G-d, as the Torah tells us that mankind were made in the image of G-d. Just as G-d has no needs, and therefore only gives, so too a person should strive to become a ‘giver’ and not a ‘taker’. For Adam to remain alone would have deprived him of the opportunity to give to another, who has different requirements to him. This is why G-d created men and women with distinct emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

However, ‘aloneness’ is only a negative thing when it deprives a person of the opportunity to give to others. But to be ‘alone’ in the sense of self-sufficient, and not needing to receive from others is also a form of imitating G-d. Yishaya (2; 11) tells us that G-d is ‘alone’, “The L-rd ‘alone’ shall be exalted”. This is the meaning of the verse “One who hates gifts will live.” (Mishlei 15; 27). The goal of self-sufficiency is best described by Ben Zoma in the Mishna (Pireki Avos 4; 1) “ Who is rich? Someone who is happy with their portion.” We see from here that spiritual perfection does not depend on others, but on utilising the capabilities and tools that a person has themselves.

This embodies the difference between Ya’akov and Esav. When they meet and Ya’akov offers his brother gifts (Bereishis 33) Esav responds “I have much”. Ya’akov on the other hand, says, “I have everything.” Someone who has a lot always wants more, but someone who feels that they have everything is ‘happy with their portion’.

“And Ya’akov remained alone” (ibid. 32; 25). Normally we think that the guardian angel of Esav was able to attack and wrestle with Ya’akov because he remained alone, without perfection. However, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz explains that it was precisely because he had reached the level of spiritual independence and self-sufficiency that is referred to by the Torah as ‘alone’, that he was able to battle and defeat the angel. Ya’akov had spent 20 years with Lavan perfecting himself to be able to return and face his brother Esav. He was only able to survive his encounter with his brother because he had attained such a level of independence that he was able to send a message to Esav saying “With Lavan I remained a stranger (garti), and remained there until now” (ibid. 32; 5). Rashi points out that the word garti has the numerical value of 613, the number of commandments. Despite, or perhaps because of, dwelling with Lavan, Ya’akov was able to remain firm to all the laws and commandments of the Torah.

This quality of ‘aloneness’ was part of Bilam’s blessing of the entire Jewish nation, “This is a nation that dwells alone, and is not considered with the other nations” (Bamidbar 23; 9). Though popular culture changes the value system every few years, the strength of the Jewish nation is that we are not swept away by every passing phase, but are able to remain true to our Torah values regardless of how we are viewed by the rest of the world. We too are able to wrestle with the angels of Esav, and defeat them, because we define ourselves independently of the culture and society in which we live.

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