June 24, 2024
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June 24, 2024
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Under a thick disguise of Eisav’s clothing, with his arms and neck covered in goat skin, Yaakov approaches his father, Yitzchak, to receive the weighty brachot that Yitzchak intends to give to Eisav. Yitzchak (who was blind) felt Yaakov, and of course, noticed something odd, and said (27:22), “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav.”

Among the number of interpretations the midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 65:20) derives from Yitzchak’s statement, one of them reveals a powerful mechanism and tool that the Jewish nation possesses, which serves as their strength and formula for victory. Says the midrash, “‘The voice is the voice of Yaakov,’ [means that] Yaakov (i.e., the Jewish people—the descendants of Yaakov) dominates only with his voice,” and the Etz Yosef explains that the “voice” in this regard is a reference to our voice of tefillah and Torah study.

We perhaps see from this midrash that our single and only method of meriting victory against our opponents is through our efforts in prayer and Torah study. Rav Chaim Volozhin (quoted by Peninim M’Shulchan Gavoha) says that this power of “the voice of Yaakov” that we possess is a reality that is built into nature: If we attempt to swap this strength and instead rely on practical methods—like typical combat means and strategies—to achieve our success, we will not be prevail against “the hands of Eisav.” Likewise, if other nations attempt to wage battle against us by using prayer as their method of weaponry—through using “the voice of Yaakov,” they will neither be successful since the power and weaponry of “the the voice of Yaakov” is ours, it is “the heritage of the servants of Hashem” (Yeshayahu 54:17). This power endowed to us is our inheritance from Hashem.

In commenting to the aforementioned pasuk in our parsha, Rabbeinu Bechaya quotes the midrash above, and in connection to it brings the pasuk in Tehillim (20:8) which states, “Some with chariots, and some with horses; but we, in the name of Hashem, our God, do we call out.” Perhaps we can learn from this connection that while other nations might rely on gaining their victory through the strength of their hands and horses and the like, the way we triumph and merit victory against our foes is specifically through “the voice of Yaakov.”

It is this “arsenal,” this unique power, that when appropriately engaged with, not only merits our victory, but also serves as our defense—it protects us and makes us untouchable. In fact, the midrash brings another explanation of Yitzchak’s statement which highlights how “the voice of Yaakov” safely protects us against our enemies. Says the midrash, “When Yaakov gathers in his voice (i.e, when Yaakov’s voice of tefillah and Torah study are under-utilized), then ‘the hands are Eisav’s hands,’ meaning, Hashem signals to Eisav and he comes (to antagonize the Jewish people) … but when Yaakov chatters with his voice, then there isn’t [any power to] ‘the hands are the hands of Eisav,’ meaning, the hands of Eisav do not dominate (Yaakov).” It seems evident from the midrash that when we—the descendants of Yaakov, properly engage in “the voice of Yaakov”—in prayer and Torah study, we are protected from the uprisings of and harm from Eisav’s descendants.

This midrash also shows the flip side—how falling short in this could make us susceptible. Indeed, we could see this from when Amalek (the descendants of Eisav) first attacked us: The pasuk there (Shemot, 17:8) states, “Amalek came and battled Israel in Refidim,” and the Gemara (Sanhedrin 106a), picking up on the term “Refidim,” explains that Amalek was able to attack us because we loosened (“rafu,” stemming from the word Refidim) our grip in Torah study. The deficiency in Torah learning is what caused Amalek to be capable of attacking Bnei Yisrael.

Even non-Jews knew that the level of our efforts, devotion and utilization of “the voice of Yaakov” would determine whether we will be safely protected from the nations of the world, or the opposite: The midrash (ibid) brings an account where two people of the non-Jewish world—Bilaam and Avnimus HaGardi—were approached by all the nations of the world who asked them whether they will be successful in harming the Jewish nation. Bilaam and Avnimus responded that they should go around to their synagogues and Torah study halls, and if they find children vocally learning Torah, then they will be unable to harm them. “For thus,” said Bilaam and Avnimus, “did their patriarch (Yitzchak) guarantee them when he said ‘The voice is the voice of Yaakov,’ [meaning] when the voice is found in the synagogues, [then] there is no [power to] ‘the hands are the hands of Eisav.’ But if [you do] not [find them studying Torah], [then] ‘the hands are the hands of Eisav,’ [meaning,] you will be able to [overcome] them.”

The phenomenon of “Am Yisrael Chai,” of the Jewish nations survival and continuity, is such an astounding miracle, to the point that Rav Yaakov Emden stated that, “this wondrous phenomenon is even greater than all the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed in Egypt, in the desert, and in Eretz Yisrael!” Yet, this miracle isn’t to be taken for granted. Indeed, Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Maamarim V’Igarot 1, pgs 238-239) says that even a miracle like this has a condition; its contingent on “the voice of Yaakov,” by fulfilling and being occupied with Torah and Torah study, we prevail, we are protected from harm and thus merit the wondrous miracle of our continued existence.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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