April 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Parshat Vayishlach: Seeing Beyond What Lies Ahead

At the beginning of this week’s parsha we learn that Eisav was coming with 400 men to attack Yaakov and his family. The pasuk then says: “vayira Yaakov me’od, vayeitzer lo” (Bereishit 32:8), that Yaakov was very afraid and was very distressed about this meeting. Rashi tells us that this fear was not for his own life, rather Yaakov feared that he might have to take other people’s lives, “im yaharog hu et acheirim.”

Many mefarshim have been bothered by Rashi’s explanation, as it is a widely regarded halacha that if one is chasing another person, he has a status of a rodef and may be killed by anyone. This more than permits Yaakov to defend himself and his family via killing those who are chasing them on Eisav’s behalf. Additionally, there is another halacha that if one is coming to attack you, you may defend yourself and kill him first in self-defense. As such, it is difficult to understand what Yaakov was afraid of. If the situation would call for Yaakov to kill anyone attacking his family, it would be under one of these permitted conditions. Based on Rashi’s explanation, one must wonder: What was Yaakov so afraid and distressed about?

One answer, offered by Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l, suggested that Yaakov was aware that if he killed someone it would be permitted. However, this did little to quell his fears as he was wary of the nevuah received by Rivkah that both of her sons would die on the same day. Similarly, Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, explains that since Yaakov knew and believed in Rivkah’s nevuah, that both children would die on the same day, he was not sure that this was worth it. Yaakov knew that he could defeat Eisav, yet he was afraid that the cost would be too much to bear as it would ultimately cost him his own life.

The Gemara in Masechet Brachot, daf 4a, notes that Yaakov had been guaranteed by Hashem that “u’shemarticha b’chol asher teileich.” Nevertheless, he feared that maybe he had annulled this bracha due to any sins he may have committed since that time. Therefore, Yaakov was hesitant to fully rely on Hashem’s havtacha.

There is another explanation brought regarding the wording of Rashi, im yaharog hu et acheirim. Many venture that the term acheirim is actually a reference to Rabbi Meir, who is often referred to as “Acheirim” in the Mishnah. The Gemara, on Masechet Gittin 56b, says that Rabbi Meir was a descendent of Eisav. As such, perhaps Yaakov was not afraid of killing Eisav in particular, rather, he was afraid of destroying his righteous descendant, Rabbi Meir.

To consider such a possibility at such an emotional and distressing moment in one’s life is truly unbelievable. Beyond Eisav’s already violent reputation, Yaakov knows Eisav is looking to avenge his loss of the bechor rights and accompanying brachot. Furthermore, Yaakov has his entire family to think about and to protect. When the stakes are this high, it is difficult to avoid living solely in the present and to instead lose sight of the future. However, Yaakov’s actions and emotions remind us that from every person, even the most evil of men, greatness may still descend. For further proof of this idea, look no further than the gemara in Masechet Gittin 57b, which says that Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, one of the main contemporaries of Rav, was a direct descendant of Haman. To think that someone who dedicated his life to exterminating the Jewish people could ever have grandchildren who learned in Bnei Brak and was a main contemporary of Rav is nothing short of surreal.

Rav Ally Ehrman relates this idea to education and our approach toward students. When an educator looks at a child, it is crucial that he/she does not only take the approach of “ba’asher hu sham,” to judge the child solely as they appear in that moment. Rather, one must look to foresee what may become of the child and what may become of his/her descendants. Far be it from any teacher to be sure that a disrespectful or unmannerly student is destined to continue along that path for years to come and/or pave this type of path for his/her descendants. At the same time, it cannot be assumed that a well-mannered child is bound for success and will be sure to avoid any obstacles or setbacks in his/her personal growth and decision-making.

Instead, it is incumbent upon educators to see each child as a potential tzadik or tzadeket, or perhaps the zeide or bubbe of a future tzadik/tzadeket. Only Hashem is aware of what may or may not become of our students and what progeny they will or will not produce. Yet, to count out any child, or give up on the potential greatness that lives within each child and/or his/her bloodline, is reckless and could alter the wellbeing of our nation.

The only proper course of action is to fully internalize the potential for greatness within each of our children. If one were to look at Haman or Eisav, two of the greatest individual threats to our nation throughout the course of history, it would be challenging to project any amount of good to emanate from such evil men. Yet, if teachers were to view our youth through that lens and relate to our children or students as future righteous individuals, they are increasingly more likely to fulfill that prophecy. Outlook, approach and attitude are defining attributes toward the achievement of one’s goals. Perhaps it is even worthwhile to take this approach with all Jews we encounter, including ourselves, as we continue to yearn for the arrival of Moshiach. Seeing ourselves as more than what lies before us is the key to being able to identify the potential tzidkut that lies within others. As Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishlei (27:19), “k’mayim ha’panim lapanim, kein lev ha’adam la’adam,” just as water reflects back the face of the person looking into it, so too does the human heart mirror the emotions it receives from others. However, such an approach can only be learned through the modeling of parents, teachers and role models. In truly looking for the good within each student, we will surely find it and teach each student how to do so with his/her peers. As Sir John Lubbock famously stated, “What we see, depends mainly on what we look for.”

By Rabbi Eitan Lipstein


Rabbi Eitan Lipstein is the assistant principal of middle school Judaic studies and Jewish life at The Moriah School.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles