Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Vayishlach

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's portion of Vayishlach, Yaakov journeys homeward after a 22-year absence, and meets his brother Esav on the way. Yaakov prepares himself for the potentially dangerous encounter in three ways: he prays to G-d; he divides his family into two camps (a protective measure in case of battle); and he sends gifts ahead to his brother. Our mystical tradition teaches that Esav is the personification of the yetzer hara (inclination toward negativity) in this world. Therefore, on a deeper level, Yaakov is not only preparing himself to meet Esav, but is readying himself to battle the yetzer hara. A seemingly redundant verse in Yaakov's prayer can teach us an important lesson regarding the level of awareness we must strive to develop in this area.

Yaakov pleads to G-d, "Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav" (Gen. 32:12). Why does Yaakov use this repetitive language? He has only one brother, and there is only one Esav. Either description would have been sufficient on its own! The Kedushat Levi and the Ben Ish Chai both understand this seeming redundancy as a hint to two different approaches of the yetzer hara.

One approach of the yetzer hara is to attack us outright, and try to actively prevent us from following G-d's will. This approach is called "Esav" -- the overt use of force to keep us from practicing Judaism. But the yetzer hara can also make inroads by causing us to let down our guard. This more subtle approach is what Yaakov calls "my brother." At times, nations will not attack us overtly, but will instead try to befriend us. Historically, this approach has the same effect as the use of force. When we become relaxed and comfortable within a non-Jewish environment, the clarity of what G-d wants from us begins to fade, and we can easily be swayed to give up our beliefs.

Through this idea, we can see that the verse is not redundant at all. When Yaakov asks to be saved "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav," he is asking for two different types of protection. He requests the strength to resist the temptations of false brotherhood and camaraderie ("my brother") as well as the ability to protect himself from overt physical attack ("Esav").

May we all be blessed with clarity and awareness, so that we will not be taken advantage of or swayed -- either by force or by false friendship -- to compromise our Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.