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Vayishlach 5782 - Let It Go

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Yaakov is all alone. Vayivaser Yaakov L’Vado. It is the night before his meeting with Esav, Yaakov becomes separated from his family, and at that moment, Vayeaveik Ish Imo, an individual, a man, some say an angel, encounters Yaakov, and they fight until dawn. Why is Yaakov by himself? And why does he need to fight with this individual?

 

The Seforno explains that Yaakov was simply moving items from place to place within his camp and he was the last one, cleaning up and making sure every last item was accounted for. It is at that moment that the Ish finds him, and he is forced to fight with him until the morning.   

 

Rashbam writes that Yaakov wasn’t simply moving items from place to place, he was moving his ENTIRE CAMP, because he intended to flee, to run away before encountering his brother. And what does Hashem do? At the moment that Yaakov is left alone he sends the Saro Shel Esav, Esav’s guardian angel to fight with Yaakov, so that Yaakov can’t run. So that he’ll be forced to come face-to-face with his brother. So that he’ll be able to reconcile with him once and for all. But I want to share with you a third, very different perspective on this pasuk.

 

A number of years ago, Natan Sharansky was addressing a Jewish group and was offering a dvar Torah on this week’s parsha, Vayishlach. And Sharansky took this pasuk and said, homiletically, that we say “maaseh avos siman labanim”, that which happens to the Avos is symbolic of what will later happen to their children in the future.

 

And what does the word “Vayivater” come from? The word L’Vater, to give in, to be someone who is willing to let go, give up on your rights, give up on your personal honor at times. And said Natan Sharansky, a lament, that it’s unfortunate that it has become true about not just Yaakov Avinu, but Am Yisrael: Vayivaser Yaakov L’Vado. The only nation that is expected to be a VATRAN, a nation that gives up on our rights, to let things go, are the Jewish People. We can be attacked over and over. Rockets can be raining down on our homes, and the world says, “Yisrael, be mivater! Let it go! Show restraint!” Vayivaser Yaakov L’Vado.

 

And while this may be a true, but lamentable perspective on the status of the Jewish People in the world, my good friend Rabbi Philip Moskowitz took this idea and turned it on its head. Because the truth is, that while as a Nation we should never be vatranim, we should never give up on our rights to self-defense and self-determination, when it comes to our relationships with others, we should be PROUD that Vayivaser Yaakov L’vado, that we are unique in our ability to LET THINGS GO.

 

 

The Gemara in Taanis 25b tells the story of a time when there was a terrible drought, and they would gather the entire community into streets. And they needed a shliach tzibbur. Someone respected by the entire community to lead the tefillos. So Rebbi Eliezer, the greatest talmid chacham of the generation, stood up as the shliach tzibbur and he said 24 brachos, as they would in Shemone Esrei on a fast day. He davened so passionately and beautifully, yet there was no answer. So they tried again, and they called up Rebbi Akiva, and he said: Hashem, we have no King other than You! For your sake have mercy on us! And immediately, it began to rain!

 

Immediately, everyone began discussing: “why was Rebbi Akiva answered and not R’ Eliezer?” Suddenly a Bas Kol, a heavenly voice came out from shamayim and declared: It isn’t because either of the two is greater than the other when it comes to Torah learning or any other area. Rather, when Rebbi Eliezer is attacked by someone, when someone treats him with disrespect, he fires back. However, Rebbi Akiva is maavir al midosav. When someone attacks him, when someone treats him with disrespect, he lets it go.

 

The gemara is clear: Yes, while as a Nation we must be stubborn and steadfast never to be mivater, to never give in to our enemies. When it comes to our relationships with others, there may be no more powerful mida than to be a MIVATER, someone who lets things go.

 

And this response from Shamayim should come as no surprise. As the Gemara in Rosh Hashana 17b teaches in the name of Rava: “Whoever is easygoing and lets things go when wronged by others, his or her sins are let go as well. As the pasuk says: “Hashem carries the burden of our sins and passes by our mistakes.” For whom does Hashem carry the burden of our sins? For those who allow the mistakes of others to pass by them!” Vayivaser Yaakov l’vado – Yes, it is a unique trait that we have, to let things go. And it is a value about which we should be extraordinarily proud.

 

Last year, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel was asked to speak on zoom and give chizuk and inspiration to a gathering of Bar Mitzvah Boys who were missing out on their Bar Mitzvah because of COVID. At that time, he told the story of his own Bar Mitzvah. It was parshas Shlach, and young Yisrael Meir gets up to lain and sees Reb Moishe, the regular Baal Korei standing up as well.

 

“Where are you going?” asks Moishe. “What do you mean? It’s my bar mitzvah,” said Yisrael Meir. With this, Reb Moishe responds “No one told me! I prepared the whole week to lain!” And then he continued, “you know, they really abuse me in this shul! Week after week I lain, and they don’t even tell me when there is a bar mitzvah boy!”

 

At that moment, young Yisrael Meir did something extraordinary. He said, “Reb Moishe, I am a young boy, and I will have many more opportunities to lain parshas Shlach. Why don’t you lain this morning!”

 

And Rabbi Lau then said the following to this group of boys: “I think this was the first mitzvah that I observed. Not the mitzvah of reading the Torah for the community, but a much more important mitzvah: The mitzvah of being mivater, of giving up something important to me for another person. I saw a Jew in anguish, a Jew whose entire honor and pleasure in this world depended on the reading of the Torah in an overflowing synagogue. And boys, let me tell you something: when we are mivater, when we give something up for someone else, we never ever lose.”

 

And while this approach to Vayivaser Yaakov L’Vado is certainly homiletical, it actually fits beautifully with our earlier explanations as well. Because why was Yaakov left “all alone”? To fight with an angel? Yes, but really, as Rav Soloveitchik writes, Yaakov needed to do battle with himself.

 

Yaakov had spent so many years of his life running from difficulties in his relationships with others. He had tricked his father, his brother, and his father-in-law. In each and every difficult scenario, instead of dealing with members of his family directly, he ran in the other direction. And this was finally the moment for him to address them head on, to be willing to struggle within himself to make shalom with even the most difficult people in his life. And that Vayivaser, that need to be left alone to consider his path forward would, of course, require him being Mivater, being willing to be flexible, and even to let things go.

 

We find ourselves on the precipice of two weeks in which many of us will have the opportunity to interact with family and friends. And there could no be a better preparation for those upcoming events than to take a moment to consider the lesson of “Vayivaser Yaakov L’vado”, to sit alone for a little, to consider the relationships in our lives that matter most, and to be willing to let go. 

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