The victory of the spirit - Bayamim Hahem Bazman Hazeh- in ancient days and in our times.

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in our everyday life- Vayishlach - Chanukah - 5781

At the beginning of our Parasha it is described how Yaakov and Eisav moved towards each other 'Ready for Battle'. In such a way that a combat clash was inevitable.

וַיָּשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ הַמַּלְאָכִ֔ים אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב לֵאמֹ֑ר בָּ֤אנוּ אֶל־אָחִ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־עֵשָׂ֔ו וְגַם֙ הֹלֵ֣ךְ לִקְרָֽאתְךָ֔ וְאַרְבַּע־מֵא֥וֹת אִ֖ישׁ עִמּֽוֹ׃

"The messengers returned to Yaacov, saying, “We came to your brother Eisav; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” (Bereshit 32:7)

לאמר כאשר אתה הולך לקראתו כן הוא הולך לקראתך ומהר תפגשו זה בזה:

"To say, when you go towards him so will he towards you, and soon you will meet each other" (Ramban ibid).

Eisav had a considerable military advantage:

וארבע מאות איש עמו. מוכנים למלחמה

“and four hundred (armed) men with him.” These men were all ready for combat." (Rabbeinu Bahya ibid).

On the other hand:

וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ

"Yaacov was left alone…" (ibid 25) only he and his family. Therefore:

וַיִּירָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב מְאֹ֖ד וַיֵּ֣צֶר ל֑וֹ

"Yaacov was greatly frightened, in his anxiety…" (Ibid 8),

כיון שראה יעקב אלופי בני עשו נתיירא אמר מי יוכל לעמוד כנגד אלופים אלו

"When Yaacov saw the chiefs of the sons of Eisav, he was terrified. “Who will be able to withstand these chiefs?” he exclaimed." (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeshev 1).

The fear of Eisav's advantage was not a crippling fear but a basis for an action plan. Yaacov did not rely on miracles, and began a battle strategy, and assessments for an operational defense:

וַיַּ֜חַץ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֗וֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּ֧אן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָ֛ר וְהַגְּמַלִּ֖ים לִשְׁנֵ֥י מַחֲנֽוֹת׃ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אִם־יָב֥וֹא עֵשָׂ֛ו אֶל־הַמַּחֲנֶ֥ה הָאַחַ֖ת וְהִכָּ֑הוּ וְהָיָ֛ה הַמַּחֲנֶ֥ה הַנִּשְׁאָ֖ר לִפְלֵיטָֽה׃

"… he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Eisav comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape.” (Ibid 8-9)

This was a sophisticated and meticulous deployment, in two defensive strips:

“this will afford the people in the remaining camp to escape.” [Presumably, Eisav will not be aware that there are two camps, so that he will not bother to search for it. Ed.] An alternate explanation of Yaakov’s strategy: while Eisav will battle with the people making up the first camp, there will be time enough for the people making up the second camp to flee and escape destruction. (Chizkuni ibid)

However, Yaakov was not satisfied with operational assessments. He acted on two other levels:

טוֹבָה חָכְמָה מִכְּלֵי קְרָב, זֶה חָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ, מִכְּלֵי קְרָב שֶׁל עֵשָׂו הָרָשָׁע, אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי זִיְּנָם כְּלֵי זַיִן מִבִּפְנִים, וְהִלְבִּישָׁן לְבָנִים מִבַּחוּץ, וְהִתְקִין עַצְמוֹ לִשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים, לִתְפִלָּה, וּלְדוֹרוֹן, וּלְמִלְחָמָה. לִתְפִלָּה מִנַּיִן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית לב, יב): הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי.

"'Wisdom is better than weapons of war', this is the wisdom of our ancestor Yaacov, 'weapons of battle' of the evil Eisav, R. Levy: their weapons inside (equip them with a hidden weapon under their clothes, in case the 'encounter' becomes a confrontation), and white clothes on the outside (to be seen as coming in peace), and prepared himself for three things, for prayer, and for gifts, and for war. Where do we know about prayers? It was said (Bereshit 32:12): 'Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother…" (Kohelet Rabbah 9: 1)

The 'Gift' - was also part of the 'Battle Strategy' - a diplomatic operation to achieve the planned goal without a battle. But even that was not enough for Yaacov. As part of the 'battle strategy' he stood in prayer to G-d; to help him, where he had no ability to influence. And as an empowering spiritual action that strengthened the 'fighting spirit' in case he was required to fight with Eisav and his generals.

The battle was decided, the confrontation was averted, Yaacov was saved and Eisav goes on his way.

From this we must learn for generations:

ודע כי יש בפרשת הזאת באור למה שאירע ליעקב עם עשו אחיו, ורמז ג"כ לדורות למה שעתיד שיארע לנו תמיד עם בני עשו, וראוי לנו לאחוז דרכיו של יעקב שהתקין עצמו לשלשה דברים, למלחמה לתפלה לדורון.

"And know that in this Torah portion there is an explanation as to what occurred between Yaacov and his brother Eisav (and it is also a hint for [future] generations as to what will always happen in the future with the children of Eisav) that enables us to ascribe to Yaacov three discrete ways of being - towards war, towards prayers, and towards gifts". (Rabbeinu Bahya Bereshit 32:8)

In the model for generations, also prayer, and also the strengthening of the 'fighting spirit' are integrated within the 'battle strategy'. This is the key to success in battle, especially when it comes to a war of the few against the many, when our enemies have a quantitative advantage. "The fighting spirit is a force multiplier."

Yaacov's special spirit was compared by the Sages to 'fire', to the spark that can overcome, consume and burn the material, even large and heavy masses that stand in front of it, 'straw' and 'camels':

"מָשָׁל לְמָה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה, לִגְמַלִּים הַרְבֵּה שֶׁהָיוּ טְעוּנִין פִּשְׁתָּן, הָיָה עוֹמֵד הַנַּפָּח וְתָמֵהּ וְאָמַר הֵיכָן יִכָּנֵס כָּל הַפִּשְׁתָּן הַזֶּה. פִּקֵּחַ אֶחָד הָיָה שָׁם, אָמַר לוֹ מַה לְּךָ לִתְמוֹהַ, נִיצוֹץ אֶחָד יֵצֵא מִמַּפּוּחַ שֶׁלְּךָ וִיכַלֶּה אוֹתוֹ. אַף כָּךְ, כְּשֶׁרָאָה יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ עֵשָׂו וְאַלּוּפָיו, נִתְיָרֵא. אָמַר, מִי יוּכַל לַעֲמֹד לִי כְּנֶגֶד אֵלּוּ. אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, גֵּץ שֶׁלְּךָ יְכַלֶּה אוֹתָם וְזֶה יוֹסֵף, דִּכְתִיב: וְהָיָה בֵית יַעֲקֹב אֵשׁ וּבֵית יוֹסֵף לֶהָבָה וּבֵית עֵשָׂו לְקַשׁ וְדָלְקוּ בָהֶם וְגוֹ' (עובדיה א, יח)"

"To what may this be compared? It may be compared to many camels laden with flax (in a certain place), and a blacksmith standing nearby asked in amazement: “Where will it be possible to store all this flax?” An observer responded: “Why do you wonder about that? After all, a single spark from your forge can consume it all.” Similarly, when our patriarch Yaacov became terrified at the sight of Eisav and the chiefs, and cried out: “Who will be able to assist me against them?” The Holy One, blessed be He, answered: A spark from you will consume them. And Joseph was that spark, as it is said: And the house of Yaacov shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Eisav for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them (Obad. 19)". (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeshev 1).

The Sages linked the confrontation between Yaacov and Eisav to the confrontation between the Hasmoneans and the Greeks:

The Midrash says that Yehuda killed Eisav. When? When our father Yitzchak died, Yaacov and Eisav and all the tribes went to bury him. Yaacov was crying in the cave and Eisav started going into the cave. Yehuda saw this and went after him, for he feared for his father’s life. Eisav indeed wanted to kill his father, so immediately Yehuda stood and killed him. (Jerusalem Talmud Ketubot)

And so it came, in the Midrash on Chanukah that decrees were issued on the tribe of Yehuda alone, according to what was accepted by them that Yehuda killed Eisav, and not like in the Midrash that said it was Dan’s son: Hushim who killed him”. (Baal HaTosafot Hadar Zkenim Bereshit 49:8).

The model of incorporating prayer into the 'Battle Strategy' was miraculously implemented by Yehuda HaMacabee, who brought about victories in his battles against the Greeks. Few against many. Before the decisive battle in Emmaus, he prayed with his warriors and instilled in them a spirit of faith and motivation, confidence in G-d and determination:

ויאמר יהודה אליהם, אל תיראו מפני המונם, ואל תחפזו מפני רוב כוחם. זכרו את אבותינו אשר הצילם ה' על ים סוף ברדוף פרעה אחריהם ברכבו ובפרשיו.

"Then said Yehuda to the men that were with him, Fear ye not their multitude, neither be ye afraid of their assault. Remember how our fathers were delivered in the Red sea, when Pharaoh pursued them with an army…. And He will remember the covenant … And all the nations will know who redeems and saves Israel " (The Book of Maccabees I - 4)

And it is also said there:

ואחרי כן נסעו ויטו את אוהליהם מנגד לאמה. וידבר יהודה אל העם לאמור. התקדשו למחר והיו לבני חיל להלחם באויביכם אשר התקבצו להכריתנו ולאבד את מקדשנו. כי טוב לנו למות במלחמה, מראות ברע אשר ימצא את עמנו ואת מקדשנו.

"So the camp removed, and pitched upon the south side of Emmaus. And Yehuda said, arm yourselves, and be valiant men, and see that ye be in readiness against the morning, that ye may fight with these nations, that are assembled together against us to destroy us and our sanctuary: For it is better for us to die in battle, than to behold the calamities of our people and our sanctuary. (The Book of Maccabees I 3:56-59) And also:

ויען יהודה ויאמר: היד ה' תקצר לתת רבים ביד מעטים, ואם יש מעצור לו להושיע ברב או במעט. הן לה' התשועה, ורוב חיל לא ימלט. הם בוטחים על המונם ועל רוב חילם להשמידנו.... ואנחנו נעמוד על נפשנו להילחם בעד חיינו ותורתנו.

"Unto whom Yehuda answered, It is no hard matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few and with the G-d of heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company:

For the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of a host; but strength cometh from heaven. They come against us in much pride and iniquity to destroy us… But we fight for our lives and our laws".

(The Book of Maccabees I 3:18).

In recent weeks, there has been a discussion about the Yom Kippur War following the series 'Sha'at Neilah'.

It is sadly misrepresented. This war created an unprecedented 'upheaval' in history, from a state of almost defeat in the first days to turning the bowl upside down to a great victory.

In the Golan Heights, the IDF captured the enclave and reached as far as 40 km from Damascus, and in Sinai,  they crossed the canal, surrounded the 3rd Armed forces, and reached up to the 101st km from Cairo.

The foundation for victory and revolution, apart from the miracles, was the heroism of the warriors and the 'fighting spirit'. They continued to fight even when they suffered great numerical inferiority, and in seemingly hopeless situations, out of a belief in the righteousness of the way.

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