This week’s parsha is Vayishlach. Yaakov, after receiving the blessings from his father Yitzchak and living with Lavan, his uncle, for some 20 years, now has a full family with 2 wives, Rachel and Leah, and 12 kids. This family is the foundation of what will later become the 12 tribes of Israel.
The time comes that Yaakov must leave Lavan. Lavan was a very evil man who was constantly trying to trick and con Yaakov, and things reached a point where Yaakov just could not live with him anymore. His leaving led Yaakov to a new dilemma: the reason he had gone there in the first place was to avoid being killed by Esav, his brother, who was angry thatYaakov had received the blessings of the birthright from their father instead of himself. Now, once Yaakov leaves Lavans house, he meets Esav, and Esav is not exactly in a good mood. In fact, he wants to kill his brother Yaakov.
When they meet, Yaakov says to Esav “Don’t kill me. I’ve lived (garti) with Lavan until now.”
Rashi explains to us what Yaakov is trying to tell Esav here, and gives two explanations about what the phrase is saying if you read between the lines.
Explanation No. 1:
The word garti is the word in Ivrit for lived, but to be precise, it means sojourned, or lived temporarily. Yaakov is telling Esav: You’re angry at me because you think I took your blessings, but even if that was so, they haven’t been fulfilled! The blessings were that I would be an important ruler, but I’m a temporary dweller in someone elses house! You have no reason to kill me.
Explanation No. 2:
Every word in Ivrit has a numerical value if you add up the numbers that each letter stands for. This is called gematria, and has great significance about the meaning of a word. The gematria of “garti” is 613. The number of mitzvot in the Torah. Rashi explains that Yaakov is saying that ‘I’m not scared of you. I’ve just been living with the wicked Lavan, and he didn’t have any bad influence on me: I kept all the 613 mitzvot even there. You, Esav, don’t stand a chance!
The question is:
These two understandings that Rashi teaches us seem to be complete opposites! One is submissive – ‘I’m just a traveller, please don’t hurt me’. The other is strong and proud – ‘Lavan couldn’t get me, as if you can!’ Why would Yaakov say two opposite things to the same guy!?
to this question may be a famous teaching of the Beis HaLevy. When Yaakov hears that Esav is on his way towards him with 400 hired mercenaries and not looking happy, he prays, and says to Hashem “Please save me from the hand of my brother from the hand of Esav.”
Why does Yaakov say from the hand of my brother from the hand of Esav? Just say from the hand of my brother Esav! Why break up ‘my brother’ and ‘Esav’? The Beis Halevy (and its very interesting to note that he wrote this 150 years ago) says that the reason Yaakov did this is because he knew that Esav could kill him in two different ways. Esav can come to him as Esav – as the enemy who is angry with him and wants to kill him, and Esav can come to him as his brother – who wants to love him and hug him. Love and unity can also be deadly, as we see today. The lack of antisemitism is a wonderful blessing, but we’ve lost more Jews to intermarriage and assimilation than we did to Hitler, may his memory be erased. Sometimes Esav comes to kill us as an enemy, and sometimes as a brother. Yaakov recognised the potential dangers of both, and prayed to Hashem for protection – not only for his family, but for us, his descendants, as well.
Now we can understand why the two possible things that Yaakov was saying to Esav when he first met him and said “I’ve lived (garti) with Lavan” are complete opposites:
The 1st one: I’m just a traveller, which is submissive, is when Esav starts a war with us. First we try to be non-confrontational, and if that doesn’t work, obviously we have to give them a hiding.
The 2nd one: I lived with the evil Lavan and still kept all 613 mitzvot, which is proud and strong, is when Esav comes to kill us through love. At such a time the only thing that will save us is to hold onto our heritage and our Torah and our mitzvot.
Today, Esav comes to kill us not so much as an enemy. He comes to us as a brother, and sadly, we’ve already lost so so many brothers and sisters to this dangerous enemy. We need to recognise ourselves and teach those around us what Yaakov is trying to tell us: At such a time, the only thing that will save us is a strong and unwavering connection to our Torah and heritage.