By Avi Aaron for TLS. This weeks Parshah brings to the fore the age old hostilities between K’lal Yisroel and Her counterpart Esav. But truthfully, one has to ask what significant occurrence in Parshas Vayishlach provides us with a stalwart distinction between the two nations? Where does the historical discord manifest itself?
In order to really begin to understand the magnitude of the issue, let us revisit the world renowned question: Why did Yaakov return to collect the pachim k’tanim? There are a plethora of answers but the universal thread running through all of them is that Yaakov had a profound appreciation for Hashem and His eternal kindness. Yaakov understood the inherent value in every gift Hashem bestowed upon him. He also understood that one’s every action on this world has eternal ramifications. Pachim K’tanim may have been small utensils but they loomed large on Yaakov’s radar screen.
Enter Esav, on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. When Yaakov sent him the herds of animals as a gift he specifically told the messengers to space themselves out so it would amaze Esav with the immensity of the gift. As the 19nth century author Charles Lamb put it: “Nothing puzzles me like time and space. And yet nothing troubles me less than time and space, because I never think of them.” Esavs’ only focal point was the “Me” factor. How much more can I get my hands on?! Give it to me all! The more he had the more it wasn’t enough. Because in Esav’s mind- the sun rises with Esav and the sun sets with Esav.
When Esav mocked the bechorah he used the words “Here I am about to die, what good is the birthright to me?” Rashi comments that Yaakov explained the intricacies of the birthright; he told Esav of all the prohibitions and punishments that are involved with it. What struck Esav was the code of performance that was involved. Until now, Esav’s worldview consisted of a free flowing independence where instincts called the shots. You could call Esav the true father of democracy, where liberty and the pursuit of anything was your man given right! The birthright just didn’t fit into that carefree picture. There were laws and ordinances to be reckoned with. A Higher Authority that had to be answered to. A relationship with the Almighty was waiting to be forged.
A penetrating insight can be found in their names. Esav comes from the word “asui,” meaning “completed.” Esav was interested only in the finished, final product, not the details. There were no spiritual heights to scale and no relationships to be nurtured. He only wanted to know what will it do for me in the “big picture of things.”
Yaakov, on the other hand, contains within it the word “eikev” (heel). Yaakov is born holding on to his brother’s heel, hence his attention to the details that are so easily trampled on and overlooked.. Yaakov understood that at the core of any relationship is the awesome appreciation that one must have for every nuance and benevolence extended. No mitzvah is too small or miniscule. On the contrary it only strengthens the bonds with Hashem.
I once heard a story of a couple in marital turmoil. It goes something like this: The husband was going away on a business trip, and he suggested to his wife that this time he stay away a little longer. His plans were built on both their misery. She was devastated, but she understood. The night before his trip she felt the hollowness of the moment before something sacred is lost, and she tried something new. She cut out slips of paper and wrote I Remembers:
I remember the night our son was born and we were driving through the snow to the hospital and I was so scared, but I felt so safe because I was with you.
I remember when you came home early because I was sick with a cold and you brought me chamomile tea and a donut.
I remember when we were at your sister’s wedding and I was feeling a bit out of place and you turned around to find me and gave me a wink.
She slid a note in the book he planned to read on the plane, in the socks in his luggage, in his toiletry bag. It was those small slips of paper that brought him back to her. Early.
Herein lies the essence of the battle between good and evil, between Klal Yisroel and the Umos Haolam. We are eternally oriented, whereas they are mired in the morass of temptation. We work on “sweating the small stuff” while they search in vain for that ever elusive perfect pleasure.
We engage in the small battles: working hard on the never ending task of character refinement; shelling out our hard earned money to help others; or being insulted and not responding with that perfect retort.
CNN might not report on my efforts to control my anger and Warren Buffett might not be impressed with my portfolio of brochos that I make each day, but dimension and material worth doesn’t matter for one that truly understands the gift of life. We take nothing for granted, for life itself is a gift from the good graces of Hashem and all that may appear small to others are colossal in His eyes. And what could be more worthwhile than that?!