Parshat Vayishlach

Parshat Vayishlach

"An Israelite, even though they have sinned..."

The various midrashim that speak about our forefather Yaakov paint a picture of an exceptional man. One of these midrashim describe what Yaakov was doing the night before his highly anticipated meeting with Esav. The midrash explains that Yaakov was walking alone in the middle of the night because he was searching for small jugs (pachim ktanim).

Yaakov was left alone- Rabbi Eliezer said: He was left behind because of small jugs. (T.B. Chullin 91a)

Apparently, Yaakov was worried that some small jugs had been left behind when they moved camp. Since the items were inexpensive and unimportant others disregarded them. At first Yaakov's attention to these negligible objects may seem like some strange nostalgia, stemming from stinginess, or pettiness, but it turns out that it is important part of his personality. Yaakov is not the type of person who neglects details in order to devote all his focus to the big things. Instead, Yaakov gives everything his attention. To Yaakov it's all important, from the big stuff down to the smallest details.

A similar type of meticulousness is related in a midrash in a completely different context. When Yaakov blesses his children he begins with Reuven and tells him: "Reuven you are my first born, my strength and the first of my might (reishit oni)." The commentaries point out that the verse unnecessarily repeats that Reuven was the first. If the point is to show that Reuven is the firstborn then it suffices to say, "Reuven you are my firstborn." Why would Yaakov repeat and also describe Reuven as, "my strength and the first of my might?" A close reading of the verse led the commentaries to conclude that Yaakov never wasted any of his seed; none was ever spilled in vain. This is not just any firstborn; this is an unusual case of a child born from the "first drop." The Ba'al Toldot Yitzchak is one commentary among many to make this claim, and in his version he explains:

"Rabbi Avraham wrote: The firstborn is [called] the first of the might, like [Devarim 21, 17] 'For he is the first of his might (reishit ono).'
And I say that since the meaning of that phrase [reishit ono] is the firstborn, here it should be interpreted as the first drop. For if this is not so then 'reishit oni' is extraneous after he [already] said, 'you are my firstborn.' Additionally, [this is not meant to be a repetition since] he paused between 'My firstborn,' and 'the first of my might' with [the words] 'my strength.' (Toldot Yitzchak, Chapter 49)

This widespread interpretation is significant because it claims that Yaakov had so much focus he was able to control his thoughts and his body at all times. This meticulousness allowed him full command of his bodily emissions, so he could make each one meaningful. Such behaviour is highly unusual, as Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin explains:

"In each person there are wasted emissions since the snake introduced a mixture of good and evil. This is the source of nighttime emissions, about which it is said (Tehillim 91, 10) 'No evil shall come upon you,' and the [sages of] blessed memory said (T.B. Sanhedrin 103a) '[This evil is] evil dreams and evil [sexual] thoughts.' This is as they said (T.B. Avoda Zara 20b) on the verse (Devarim 23, 10) 'You shall keep yourselves from all evil things,' and this is why they are called evil dreams, for one who emits wasted seed is called evil, as they said in Niddah (13b)". (Tzidkat Hatzadik, 104)

The level of fastidiousness that allows one to control their thoughts to this extent is reserved for only a few select individuals. This type of person appreciates the details and pays attention to everything, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to others, and this drives them to seek a higher level of purity. Such people who are able to see that everything has a use, has a proper time and place, and they are able to direct and control themselves so they act accordingly.

At the end of his days Yaakov gathered his sons so he could give them orders and blessings. The gemara describes that he was left with one last concern:

"Yaakov called to his sons and he said, 'Gather and I will tell you [what will happen at the end of days].' Yaakov wanted to reveal the ketz hayamin (the time of the end of days) but the Shechinah (Divine presence) abandoned him. He said, 'Perhaps, heaven forbid, my bed contains something invalid, like Avraham who had Yishmael, and my father Yitzchak who had Esav.'
His sons said to him, 'Hear Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one.' They said, 'Just as there is only One in your heart, so too there is only One in our heart.' At that time Yaakov opened up and said, 'Blessed is the name of the honor of His kingdom forever and ever.' (T.B. Pesachim 56a)

When Yaakov gathered his sons he wanted to be sure none of his seed was invalid. Yaakov's request stands in contrast to the established pattern of his family chain. Only one had been chosen from the sons of Avraham; Yitzchak continued the chain and Yishmael was left on the outside. Yitzchak had Yaakov but he also had Esav, who seemed to be the opposite of Yaakov. Yaakov was afraid that this selection would continue and hold true for his sons as well. Yet it turns out that Yaakov's fears were unfounded and none of his sons were considered invalid.

This general air of purity is expressed both in Yaakov's bed and in the chosenness of all his children. Yet it also came with a certain price. Yaakov's high level of meticulousness did not continue, instead the lowest common denominator was used to unite his children. Based on their answer Yaakov's son are not considered invalid. The proof that they have not strayed from the path of the righteous is expressed through their words, 'Just as there is only One in your heart, so too there is only One in our heart.' Their faith in God is their shared bond, binding them together. Even though 'Shimon and Levi are brothers; their kinship is in weapons of violence,' their heart is still with God. And even if Reuven 'desecrated his fathers sheets.' Still, the rule has been established: An Israelite who sinned, even though he sinned, is [still an] Israelite.

Yet it is also faith in one God that allows us to see that there is value to all, even to those sinners society wishes to discard. Purity is in the eye of the beholder, and seeing this means giving up on fastidious meticulousness. The ability to see how each individual person connects with God and the image of God in each person, grants us the ability to see the significance of their creation and the perfection of their existence in this world.

This trait reveals another side of Yaakov's meticulousness, the ability to see the positive in everything and to focus on the positive in spite of the negative. He is able to see the possibility that there are many avenues one can take to preserve the covenant of the forefathers.

Yaakov's inclusiveness can teach us something about inclusiveness in general. One part of inclusiveness is to see the invalid and the other as part of my own self determination, and understand that their otherness is also a possibile path. The next step is to develop the ability to see another's success as part of my own success. If Yaakov had not seen every person and every object as God-given he would not have been able to see the positive in all of them.







Note:  All of Rabbanit Tikochinsky’s parsha commentaries are stored on the LSS web site. To access them, please visit You are also welcome to forward the link to people who are outside the LSS community and who may otherwise not have access to her columns.



Sun, 26 February 2017 30 Shevat 5777