Integration without giving up independence

The Parasha in the daily life - Parashat Vayishlach - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780

The history of Yaakov Avinu's life was full of struggles and challenges. As he described them to Pharaoh:

מְעַ֣ט וְרָעִ֗ים הָיוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיַּ֔י וְלֹ֣א הִשִּׂ֗יגוּ אֶת־יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵי֙ חַיֵּ֣י אֲבֹתַ֔י...

"Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life spans of my fathers…" (Bereshit 47:9). Our Parasha describes several other stations in his life. At the beginning, the challenging encounter with Eisav after parting from Laban, at the end of a significant, challenging and complex chapter in his history. In Laban's house he started his family, while having to deal with Laban's charlatanry. He had to balance perfectly two essential needs: integration into the place and maintaining his self and spiritual independence.

On the one hand, he joined Laban's family, becoming a family member, working together with the family, collaboratively in the herding of the flock, and on the other hand, he had to differentiate himself spiritually from what was being done in Laban's family, preserving himself and not giving up his principles. About this challenging period, Yaacov said himself in our Parasha, עִם־לָבָ֣ן גַּ֔רְתִּי וָאֵחַ֖ר עַד־עָֽתָּה׃

"I stayed with Laban and remained until now" (Bereshit 32:5). The sages explained: "... the word גַּ֔רְתִּי has the numerical value of 613 - תרי״ג - it is as much as to say, “Though I have sojourned with Laban, the wicked, I have observed the תרי״ג מצות, the 613 Divine Commandments, and I have learned naught of his evil ways". (Rashi ibid, according to the Midrash).

In other words, despite Laban's evil deeds and leadership, Yaacov was unaffected by him, and did not give up his principles, he insisted on keeping the Torah commandment and Torah study, all in spite of the demanding and intensive work: Even though "I stayed" at Laban's with hard work and effort, I did not neglect to engage in Torah that includes the 613 Mitzvot" (Rabbeinu Ephraim's commentary ibid). Perhaps it should be learned from this that precisely because Yaakov made sure to study Torah and observe the Mitzvot, he had the courage to stand up to the challenge and to keep himself from learning Laban's evil ways.

Another challenging station in his history mentioned in the Parasha is in the city of Nablus- Shechem.

וַיָּבֹא֩ יַעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם עִ֣יר שְׁכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן בְּבֹא֖וֹ מִפַּדַּ֣ן אֲרָ֑ם וַיִּ֖חַן אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י הָעִֽיר׃

"Yaacov arrived safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan—having come thus from Paddan-aram—and he encamped before the city". (Bereshit 33:18).

The Torah emphasizes that he is "encamped before the city". From this, the sages learned of Yaacov's integration with the local people and a special collaboration with them:

"And he graced the countenance of the city; he performed gracious acts to benefit the city. Rav said: Yaacov established a currency for them. And Shmuel said: He established marketplaces for them. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He established bathhouses for them" (Shabbat 33b). Yaacov is doing his part to improve the city's resident's quality of life. Here, too, Yaacov is required to strike a precise balance between integration to the place and self-preservation, by staying outside the city rather than within it so that he and his family are not influenced by the local culture: "encamped before the city - according to the Pshat. Did not enter to live in the city but stayed outside the city. And it is as Yaacov's virtue of being lonely and not involved with other nations" (Haamek Davar on Bereshit ibid).

However, there are those who explained that Yaakov requested to reside with the local people in order to integrate with them, without fear and without giving up his principles: "encamped before the city" - he was not stationed as he was in Sucot, where he stayed on the site by himself, separated from the city and its people, because here he stayed in front of the city in connection with the people of the city, because he placed his dwelling there" (Malbim ibid).

One of the great challenges of the Torah in practical life in recent generations is the need to balance the need to integrate and be partners into the social and occupational place where the values ​​and spiritual world are different, without giving up the spiritual beliefs. This is a tough challenge. Man, as a social being tends to be influenced, to blend into the social mantle, and to "line up" with its values ​​and perceptions. It's hard to be 'unusual, irregular'. It is hard to feel different and society has a problem with dissimilarity.

Therefore, many times, integration and partnership can take a heavy toll on the spiritual side. Giving up important principles and spiritual perceptions.

For this not to happen, there is a need to prepare in advance for the challenge.

We cannot give up partnership and integration, but we should not give up our principles either.

Spiritual measures must be taken to enable self-preservation and spiritual strengthening, even in moments of weakness and difficulty.

The Struggle for Primogeniture - since then and forever

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayishlach - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald- 5769

The fateful encounter between Yaacov and Eisav, when Yaacov is coming from Lavan to the Land of Israel is also the decisive stage in the “struggle over the birthright”. A struggle that has already begun at birth! With Yaacov holding Eisav's heel in order to go out first, as if to say he deserves the primogeniture (Rashi, Bereshit 25:26) In fact, the struggle begins already in the womb (Rashi ibid. 22).

A significant stage in the struggle was the "sale of the birthright" (Bereshit 25:29). Eisav returns from the field, his life's work, tired and mentally exhausted. He is willing to sell his natural birthright for a 'lentil stew'. The birthright is no longer important to him. He does not see it as an asset that will give him privilege and economic benefit (Ibn Ezra, Bereshit 25:34). The significance of the birthright remains only in the moral dimension - to take responsibility, to lead, to influence and to make a mark. And in the spiritual dimension - in the future priesthood, Eisav was willing to give it up.

The Birthright coin has two sides: the “crown of the firstborn” - the senior status given to the eldest in the family. And "the price of the birthright" - carrying a more demanding commitment than the rest of the family and the leadership.

Eisav gives up his birthright by choice. He did not have the strength to bear the "price of the birthright," and the moral and spiritual dimensions are no longer meaningful to him. On the other hand, Yaakov is highly motivated to win the primogeniture, and he is also prepared to pay the "price of the firstborn."

After, Eisav regretted the sale, and did not accept the loss of its privileges. (Rashbam Bereshit 25:34), perhaps also because he later understood that the birthright conferred him the right on the Land of Israel (Kuzari 2:14), and Yitzchak's blessing validated Jacob's new position (Bereshit 27:28). Eisav's frustration at the loss of the birthright deteriorated into hostility as he plans to assassinate Yaacov.

In our Parsha, the struggle is defeated. Eisav returns to the land of Edom from Yaacov, who continues on his way, as the "oldest," to Eretz Israel (Bereshit 33: 16-18).

Since the dawn of history, between Cain and Abel, the "struggle for primogeniture" within the family has the explosive potential of hostility and degeneration into violent and murderous violence. Cain was the eldest. However, as opposed to the offering of Abel, who brought of the firstborns of his flock (a "Korban Bechora") and paid from the "best”, Cain is unwilling to "pay" and brings from the casual, “the fruit of the earth”. H’ received Abel's sacrifice: Abel gets the “crown of the firstborn”, and Cain did not reconcile himself on the loss of his birthright to Abel and killed him.

So too between Yitzchak and Ishmael. Ishmael was the firstborn. But in his conduct, he did not match his senior status (Rashi, Bereshit 21: 9) When Yitzchak was born as a firstborn to Sarah, Ishmael saw this as a threat to his birthright, and he tried slyly to assassinate him. Sarah demanded his removal to establish Yitzchak’s firstborn status.

The same in the struggle for the birthright between Yosef and his brothers, which threatened to tear the family apart. Reuven was the eldest. And when Yosef was born, Yaacov sought to prefer him and give him the birthright, "and he made him a striped garment" - "the garment of kingship". This led to hatred from the brothers who wanted to kill him. In the end Yosef received the “crown of the firstborn” when he became viceroy of Egypt (Genesis 49:26).

Sometimes the struggle for primogeniture is within the nuclear family and sometimes the struggle is within the broad national family. As in the struggle for the birthright between Shaul and David. Shaul chased after David to kill him. And between Rehobam and Jerobam. Which led to the rupture of the kingdom, wars and ultimately exile.

A positive and opposite example is found between Moshe and Aharon. When Moshe was sent to lead the people of Israel, he asked the H’, to preserve Aharon's birthright, as the leader of the people of Egypt (Rashi, Shmot 4:13). But G-d does not accept his request and tells him that Aaron will give him, the "crown of the birthright," with nobility, willingly and joyfully. Other examples are found in Menashe and Ephraim, and later between David and his brothers, and between David and Jonathan.

The "crown of the birthright" is not an eternal asset. In the way of the world when the time comes, the carriers of the crown change. Sometimes because other people, that are more motivated want to win the "crown of the birthright" and they make an effort and pay the price for it. And sometimes they even struggle in order to inherit and receive the "crown of the birthright". But then the bearers of the crown may react forcefully and even violently to the point of murder. Sometimes they wrap the struggle in an ideological guise, which they seem to be fighting for, in order to disguise the real motive. And sometimes the "crown of the birthright" bearers wear down by "the price of the birthright" and give it up voluntarily. And then someone who comes in line gets it, even if he did not want it in the first place.

We must learn for generations that where a Struggle for Primogeniture arises, we must adopt the model of Moshe and Aharon. As Hillel wrote: "He is one of the disciples of Aharon who loves peace and pursues peace" (Avot 1:12).

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