Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11/12/13 - Vayishlach Dvar Torah

Falling Up 
By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Yaakov Avinu’s life is filled with family; he is almost always surrounded by people- with one stark exception. In anticipation of re-meeting Eisav he prepares for a typical, physical war. Yaakov divides his camp strategically and advises them on how to deal with Eisav. He helps the members of his nuclear family cross the stream of Yabbok. Then, briefly – though it probably feels like forever - Ya'akov finds himself alone. “Vayivater Ya’akov levado – And Ya’akov was left alone.” (Breishit 32:25).” He is confronted by an unexpected enemy of an unworldly sort. The figure he wrestled with is an unidentified man; maybe it is Yaakov himself that Yaakov wrestles with. There is no explicit documentation of his preparation for spiritual battle. Ya'akov's life up until this moment was his preparation. There was no cramming for this exam. 

Rabbi Yosef Blau sees this story as reflective of all of our lives. The major battles are spiritual and our sole preparation for the fights that count most is the way we live our lives up to the moment when we are tested. These conflicts are amorphous; when they arrive it is unannounced and unknown. The physical challenges that we think we must prepare for often never come. When the unexpected inner confrontations occur, the people who usually travel with and support us may suddenly be absent. We can fight dark forces and win, but like Ya'akov we may come out limping, though we’ve won so big we’ve gained a new identity. It is to our advantage to view these hurdles in a positive light. 
Shlomo HaMelech wrote "Sheva yipol tzaddik vekam" - "A tzaddik falls seven times, and rises" (Mishlei 24:16). We all fall; a tzaddik moves on even after many falls. Rav Yitzchak Hutner explains that rather than being a tzaddik despite falling down, a tzaddik is a tzaddik because of the times he falls and rises. In a letter to a student experiencing hard times, Rav Hutner developed the idea that achieving greatness is a process of overcoming obstacles and moving on. He explained that while we imagine righteous people being born righteous, it is far more likely  become great through great stuggles..
"Ma'ayan nirpas u'makor mashchat: tzaddik mat lifnei rasha"-"A righteous man falling down before the wicked: like a muddled fountain, a polluted spring" (Mishlei 28:26). Rabeinu Bachai cites this pasuk as ancillary to "Sheva yiipol tzadik vekam". A tzadik stumbles through encounters with reshaim. Just as a sullied spring re-invigorates and returns to its previous purity, a tzaddik collapses into the hands of a rasha and then regains his glory. Rabeinu Bachai offers these lines from Mishlei as an introduction and themamatic representation to Parshat VaYishlach.

Yaakov was temporarily humbled before Eisav; he showered his brother with gifts and addressed him as master. In the end, Ya'akov departed unscathed from his encounter with Eisav. The Sfat Emet notes that Ya'akov bowed before Eisav seven times (Breishit 33:3), an allusion to "Sheva yipol tzaddik vekam". Using Rav Hutner's sense of the pasuk this can be understood to mean that Ya'akov not only fell and rose before Eisav, but his falling was part of his rising. This can be applied to the seemingly myriad rough times Ya'akov went through in his lifetime.
The physical altercation with Eisav which never happens takes the form instead of a spiritual fight. The wrestling match which precedes Yaakov’s meeting with Eisav tells us what this period, along all of Yaakov’s other hardships, was really about. In Ya'akov's lifetime as in seasonal cycles, fall foreshadowed spring. (This is important to keep in mind this year as we are going through an early loss of leaves, and cold and darkness have taken us by surprise.) In the lives of individual Jewish people as in the life of the Jewish People as a whole, we fall to rise again. The road to geula is galus, as our private exiles are paths to personal redemption. May we soon merit seeing redemption for ourselves, our families, Klal Yisrael, and the world.


Blogger Miss Trudy said...

Wow. Thank you. This was beautiful. I read it twice!

November 12, 2013 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

These ideas are meaningful to me. I really appreciate your sharing that you took to this and took it in.

November 13, 2013 at 3:31 AM  

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