Sichos in English
Shabbos Parshas VaYishlach; 14th Day of Kislev, 5751
1. This week’s Torah portion begins by relating how Yaakov
completed his service in Charan, established his family, and then sent
messengers to Eisav, his brother, in the land of Seir. The latter act, however,
of sending messengers to Eisav, is problematic: Yaakov was commanded by G-d to
return to Eretz Yisroel, and G-d promised him, "I will be with you." It seems
inappropriate for him to tarry and send messengers. Seemingly, he should have
proceeded directly to Eretz Yisroel without any hesitation. This difficulty
leads us to the conclusion that, as will be explained, in order for Yaakov to
return to Eretz Yisroel in a full and complete manner, he had to send
messengers to Eisav.
There is another problematic point concerning Eisav in this
week’s Torah portion. After the portion relates the events that transpired until
Yaakov returned to the home of Yitzchok, his father, it chronicles Eisav’s
family and the nation, Edom, which descended from him. The Torah interrupts the
narrative of Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisroel and the events transpiring
afterwards with what appears to be an entirely tangential matter. What is the
reason for this?
Rashi addresses this difficulty in the beginning of his
commentary to Parshas VaYeishev, relating:
"After [the Torah] relates the...chronicles of Eisav, in
brief, because they are not important...it relates the...chronicles of Yaakov in
detail, for they are important and worthy of elaboration... To cite an analogy,
a pearl fell into sand. A person begins...sifting through the sand to try to
find the pearl. He then discards the pebbles and takes the pearl."
The analog is that, at the outset, the pearl – i.e., Yaakov,
and his descendants – is mixed together with sand, Eisav and his descendants.
Relating the story of Eisav in brief is compared to sifting sand, and
afterwards, full attention could be paid to Yaakov and his descendants.
Nevertheless, the very fact that the Torah does relate –
albeit in brief – the chronicles of Eisav, implies that they possess a certain
importance and are necessary to appreciate, by way of contrast, the chronicles
of Yaakov. Furthermore, their mention in the Torah conveys upon them an eternal
importance, and implies that they convey an independent lesson, that they are
not mentioned merely to serve as a contrast to the chronicles of Yaakov.
There is another problematic aspect to the chronicles of
Eisav. At the conclusion of the parsha, Rashi interprets "the lord of
Magdiel" as referring to Rome. We must understand: a) What does Rashi base this
interpretation on? b) What is his intent in conveying this information to us?
This week’s Haftora, "The vision of Ovadia," connects the
Torah reading to Ovadia’s vision, relating what "the L-rd, G-d, says concerning
Edom," describing in detail the retribution Edom will ultimately receive:
"The house of Yaakov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef a
flame, and the house of Eisav will be stubble. They will set them ablaze and
consume them [until] there will be no remnant of the house of Eisav... Saviors
will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav, and sovereignty will be the
On the latter verse, Rashi comments: "[G-d’s] sovereignty
will not be complete until He exacts retribution from the descendants of Eisav."
The choice of this reading for the Haftora raises several
questions. The Haftora is intended to parallel the content of the Torah reading.
In this instance, although the Torah reading mentions Eisav and Edom
extensively, there is seemingly no allusion to the retribution Eisav will
receive. On the contrary, the Torah reading relates how Yaakov subjugated
himself to Eisav, while the Haftora prophesies how Yaakov’s descendants will
obliterate the house of Eisav.
In this context, there are two other questions of general
significance: a) In what sense is "the house of Eisav" so significant that it
opposes G-d’s sovereignty, as it were? b) The Hebrew for retribution, "perayon,"
also has the connotation of repaying a debt. What debt is there to be repaid?
The Haftora represents the conclusion of the matters
discussed in the Torah portion. It actually brings out the inner meaning of the
Torah portion. The encounter between Yaakov and Eisav should not be perceived as
merely an isolated event. Rather, it reflects a pattern of service for Yaakov
that is also relevant in subsequent generations until the final confrontation of
these two powers during the future Redemption.
Yaakov and Eisav represent the Kingdom of Israel and the
Kingdom of Edom. The Torah relates: "The upper hand will go from one to
another." Rashi explains: "They will not share greatness. When one ascends, the
other will fall." This implies that in addition to his individual service,
Yaakov’s sphere of activity must involve the refinement of Eisav, the father of
Edom (symbol of all gentile nations). In a larger sense, this refers to our
service in refining the world at large, elevating the Divine sparks that have
become invested in the material substance of the world. According to Kabbala,
these sparks fell from the sublime realm of Tohu. Thus, they contain
particularly high spiritual potentials, and their elevation, returning them to
their sublime source, can be compared to the repayment of a debt.
To accomplish this purpose, Yaakov sent emissaries to Eisav,
his brother, in Edom. After he completed establishing his household in Charan,
he realized that to complete his purpose within the world, it was necessary for
him to begin the refinement of Eisav. In Kabbalistic terms, he had completed the
refinement of the realm of Tikkun (the realm which is intrinsically
related to him) and he had to begin the refinement of Tohu (Eisav’s
realm), in which Divine energies are revealed that transcend the level of
Tikkun. To facilitate this objective, Yaakov sent messengers to notify Eisav
that this process was about to begin.
The messengers returned to report, however, that Eisav was
not ready for such refinement. On the contrary, he was marching against Yaakov
with 400 men of war. When Yaakov realized this, he saw that his objective could
not be accomplished immediately. Therefore, he decided, "I will proceed slowly,
at the pace of the work that is before me...until I come to my lord in Seir."
When will he come? Rashi explains: "After the coming of Moshiach, when saviors
will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav, and the sovereignty will be
the L-rd’s." Then G-d’s sovereignty will be revealed over all the inhabitants of
the earth for eternity.
Based on the above, we can understand why Rashi interprets "Magdiel"
as referring to Rome. After Rashi explains that the confrontation between Yaakov
and Eisav will continue until the future Redemption, a question arises: What
connection does the present exile have with Eisav? Rashi clarifies by explaining
that one of Eisav’s progeny, Magdiel, is identified with Rome, the power that
destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, and under whose authority the Jews will remain
until Moshiach comes.
It is still necessary to understand: Why is the refinement of
the gentiles so important that it represents the fulfillment of Yaakov’s
service? The resolution to this question relates to the Jew’s position as "the
smallest among the nations," and is connected with the interrelation between
eichus (quality or inner content) and kamus (quantity). Generally, it
is explained that the Jewish people possess the dimension of eichus, and
the gentiles, kamus. This, however, is not a fully developed resolution
of the question.
It is wrong to say that the gentiles possess only the
dimension of kamus and do not possess any eichus whatsoever. On
the contrary, eichus and kamus are interrelated. Beings created by
G-d from absolute nothingness have their very existence – and surely their
quantity – directly connected with their eichus, the Divine life-force
which brings them into being. Thus, the fact that the kamus of the
gentile nations is more than that of the Jewish people forces us to say that
they also possess, at least from one perspective, an advantage over the Jewish
The advantage possessed by the gentiles parallels the
advantage possessed by the t’shuva for sins over the essential service of
t’shuva, which is t’shuva that is not to compensate for sin, but
rather – as implied by the simple meaning of the term – the "return" of the soul
to its Divine source.
Most people’s conception of t’shuva is as repentance
for sin. Although this is a mistaken perspective, for the essential meaning of
t’shuva is for the soul to return and cling to its G-dly source, the fact
that this perspective exists indicates that from a certain standpoint,
t’shuva for sins does possess a superior dimension.
The advantage of the latter form of t’shuva is that it
has an effect on – and transforms into holiness – a lower level of existence, a
form of conduct that is against G-d’s will. In fact, the highest sparks of
G-dliness are invested in this form of conduct, and through t’shuva they
are elevated to their source.
Nevertheless, in an ultimate sense, there is an advantage to
t’shuva that has no connection to sin, for through this form of
t’shuva we connect our souls to their source, the essence of G-d. Indeed, it
is this essential connection that generates the potential for repentance for sin
and endows the t’shuva connected with repentance to lead to the
reestablishment of the Jew’s ultimate essential bond with G-d.
A similar concept applies in regard to the contrast between
the Jewish people and the gentiles. The gentiles possess an advantage in the
realm of eichus as well as in kamus, for the refinement of the
gentiles – who are ostensibly on a lower spiritual plane – elevates a higher
level of Divine sparks, the sparks that fell from the world of Tohu. The
Divine intent is, however, focused on the service of the Jewish people, for
their ultimate source transcends the levels of Tohu and Tikkun.
Furthermore, it is the service of the Jewish people that makes possible the
refinement of the gentiles, as reflected in the Rambam’s statement that the
Jewish people are "commanded by Moshe, our teacher, from the Alm-ghty, to compel
all the inhabitants of the world to accept [the seven] mitzvos, which
were commanded to Noach’s descendants."
These concepts can be related to the Torah’s mention of Eisav
and his descendants. This serves, not only as a mere preparation for the
description of the chronicles of Yaakov and his descendants, but it emphasizes
that there is an advantage to the service of the refinement of the gentile, and
that this advantage can be achieved through the service of the Jewish people.
Indeed, the most complete level of a Jew’s service must include these activities
Based on the above, we can also appreciate the connection
between the Torah portion and the Haftora, "The vision of Ovadia." Our Sages
explain that Ovadia was an Edomite convert. Thus, G-d’s revelation of the vision
concerning the retribution to be given to Edom reflects a pattern of "from [the
forest] itself, comes [the handle of the axe] which fells it." This is the
transformation of the negative aspects of Edom, the lowest aspects of existence,
which prepares the world for the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty and the advent
of the era when, "I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all
call in the name of G-d and serve Him with a single purpose."
Based on the above, we can appreciate the sequence of the
three Torah portions, VaYeitzei, VaYishlach, and VaYeishev, and the phases in
Yaakov’s service which they reflect.
Parshas VaYeitzei describes Yaakov’s service in establishing
his own household and acquiring his personal property, i.e., elevating his
portion in the world at large. It concludes with his arrival at Machanayim
(meaning camps), a place named after the appearance of the two camps of angels,
the angels of Eretz Yisroel and the angels of the Diaspora. As explained, these
camps of angels refer to service in the realm of holiness and service in the
realm of permitted things, respectively.
This explanation, however, is insufficient. The complete
fulfillment of Yaakov’s potential also involves his refinement of the lowest
aspects of existence, those that are not permitted. For that reason, Yaakov sent
messengers to Eisav. This service came as a result of his previous activity.
Yaakov’s efforts to establish his home and refine his surrounding environment
generated the power necessary for him to elevate Eisav, the lowest aspects of
After his efforts in refining Eisav, Yaakov was able, as
related in Parshas VaYeishev, "to dwell in the land where his father lived," to
the extent that he "desired to live in prosperity." Surely, this does not refer
to material prosperity alone, but also spiritual prosperity, which reflects, in
microcosm, the prosperity of the Era of Redemption.
Since, however, Yaakov had not completed the refinement of
Eisav – for as of yet, he had not "come to my lord in Seir" – he was not able to
appreciate the full dimension of prosperity in this world. To enable him to do
so, he was beset with difficulties resulting from the sale of Yosef, ultimately
leading him to descend to Egypt. Yaakov’s continued progress in those years and
the refinement of Egypt that he accomplished (which is connected with the
transformation of the lowest aspects of existence), allowed him to enjoy true
The refinement of Eisav (which Yaakov did not complete) was
left for us, his descendants. Through our service in the present exile, the
exile of Edom (Rome), we bring about (through the power given us by Yaakov
Avinu) the refinement of the gentile nations, and thus prepare the world for the
revelation of G-d’s sovereignty. Then we will appreciate true prosperity even in
this material world.
2. Parshas VaYishlach, which describes the refinement of
Eisav, is connected with Yud-Tes Kislev, which marks the beginning of the
service of "spreading the wellsprings of chassidus outward," refining
even the lowest elements of existence by making them a source for the spreading
of the deepest dimensions of Torah.
This concept is reflected in the letter sent by the Alter
Rebbe to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev:
"G-d wrought wonders and performed great [miracles] within
the world...sanctifying His name in public, in particular, before the
officers...of the king. They were also amazed by the circumstances...and
recognized that ‘this is from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes.’"
Nevertheless, despite the widespread effects of the
redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev, the Russian government remained in power and
continued to oppose Yiddishkeit and chassidus. Thus, the Mitteler
Rebbe was also imprisoned. Although he was redeemed on Yud Kislev, and this
caused an even further refinement of the power of Edom, this did not change the
fundamental stance of the Russian government vis-à-vis the Jewish people, and
thus, in subsequent generations, each Rebbe in his generation had to confront
and fight against the decrees of that government.
This pattern continued after the Revolution, and ultimately,
led to the arrest of the Rebbe Rayatz. Although his redemption brought about a
powerful refinement of Edom, he was still forced to leave that country and move
the center of Chabad activities to the United States. Nevertheless, after our
service in the present generation, spreading the wellsprings of chassidus
outward, Eisav’s power will be used to collect the treasures of the world and
present them in a chest to the Jewish people. Furthermore, the Jewish people are
also given the key to the chest.
All that is necessary is for (to quote the Rambam) a Jew to
perform one good deed, and thus "tilt the balance of the entire world to good,
and bring deliverance and salvation." This is particularly true in light of the
Rebbe Rayatz’s statement, made years ago, that all that is necessary is to
polish the buttons and to "stand ready and prepared" to greet Moshiach.
The above has special relevance this year, a year when "I
will show you wonders." Greater importance is placed on the wonders that
occurred in connection with the Alter Rebbe’s redemption, and on the
appreciation of these wonders by the nations throughout the world.
This should arouse great happiness on the part of the Jewish
people, and inspire them to increase their study of Torah and, in particular,
pnimiyus HaTorah as revealed in the teachings of Chabad chassidus. In
this form it can be studied together with nigleh, the revealed aspects of
Torah, and they can be appreciated as two dimensions of the "perfect Torah."
Of course, this study should lead to action, an increase in
the performance of mitzvos b’hiddur and an increase in one’s efforts to
motivate others to similar activities, spreading Yiddishkeit and
chassidus throughout the world.
The above is particularly relevant in the month of Kislev,
which shares a special connection to the revelation of pnimiyus ha’Torah,
as evidenced by its inclusion of the festivals of redemption, Yud and Yud-Tes
Kislev, Tes Kislev (the Mitteler Rebbe’s birthday and yahrtzeit), Rosh
Chodesh Kislev (the beginning of the month) and Yud-Daled and Tes-Vav Kislev
(which are connected with the shining of the full moon, which reflects the idea
of a wedding). Surely, these unique days should be utilized in a complete manner
to spread chassidus and Yiddishkeit.
In this context, it is worthy to stress the importance of
organizing farbrengens for Yud-Tes Kislev in each and every place as is
customary. As is appropriate for 5751, a year when "I will show you wonders,"
these should be wondrous farbrengens. The potential for this is enhanced
by the fact that Yud-Tes Kislev falls on Thursday. The three days from Yud-Tes
Kislev to Shabbos should be used for a three-day continuum of chassidishe
farbrengens, the first to be held on Wednesday night, the beginning of
Yud-Tes Kislev, the major farbrengen to be held on Thursday night (the
night between Yud-Tes and Chaf Kislev, when it is customary to hold the major
Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen), and to hold farbrengens on Friday night and
To make sure that these farbrengens are successful and
truly wondrous, one should consult with others and begin the preparations
May these activities lead to the coming of Moshiach even
before Yud-Tes Kislev, and the revelation – in a full and complete manner – of
G-d’s sovereignty throughout the world.