Vayishlach – Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

Eretz Yisrael has great virtues and he who has a portion in it is considered as [if he has] a portion in the World to Come. That is, Ya’akov was not only running away from oppression; he was also running towards a much higher spiritual plane.


by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman:

When Ya’akov Avinu was about to meet his brother, Eisav, after twenty years of exile, the Torah recounts that
Ya’akov was very frightened (32:8). Why should our righteous patriarch be so scared? Didn’t HaShem promise
him, Behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go… (28:15)? Apparently, Ya’akov was afraid that
Eisav might have some special merit that could protect him and help him win the imminent battle. But what merit
could the wicked Eisav have over our righteous forefather, Ya’akov? Chazal give two answers to this question:
[Ya’akov] said, “All of these years [Eisav] has dwelt in Eretz Yisrael; perhaps he is coming against me with
the strength of living in Eretz Yisrael. All of these years he has been honoring his parents; perhaps he is
coming against me with the strength of honoring one’s mother and father.” (BeReishit Rabbah 76:2)
This is astounding. Chazal say that Eisav was steeped in the most nefarious sins, including murder, adultery, and
idolatry. Nonetheless, Ya’akov was afraid that the merit of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (and honoring one’s parents) might
stand by Eisav in his time of need. In the words of R. Shmuel Mohaliver (as quoted in Itturei Torah, p. 290): “One
is forced to say that the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel, even when performed by a gentile – even Eisav
himself – can outweigh many mitzvot that a complete tzaddik, like Ya’akov, performs. All the more so, God is
pleased when Jews dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even if they are otherwise unobservant.”
R. Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, the author of Eim HaBanim Semeichah, explains Ya’akov’s fear on a slightly
deeper level. According to him, the essence of Ya’akov’s vow (in Parashat VaYeitzei) was that the merit of Eretz
Yisrael should protect him by virtue of his strong desire to return to it (see the first introduction). Therefore, “he
had good reason to be afraid, for he was ‘dwelling’ there merely in thought, while the wicked Eisav was actually
dwelling there” (p. 38). This concurs with an idea R. Teichtal mentions later on in his book (pp. 84-85), that the
actual fulfillment of a mitzvah, even if it lacks lofty intent, is greater than lofty intentions not carried out in practice
(see there).

The Gra derives from the above-cited Midrash that when HaShem told Avraham Avinu to leave his birthplace
and move to Eretz Yisrael (in Parashat Lech Lecha), all of his descendants were immediately and eternally
obligated in the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Without going into all the details, the Talmud (Sotah 21a) implies
that a mitzvah protects one who performs it only if that person is obligated in the mitzvah. If he performs it
voluntarily, however, it will not protect him. Based on this, the Gra reasons: If we were not obligated to live in the
Land of Israel since the days of Avraham Avinu, why would Ya’akov fear Eisav? Who cares if Eisav was living in
the Land for the past twenty years? – a voluntary mitzvah does not protect one who performs it! We must,
therefore, assume that the mitzvah of lech lecha applied to all of Avraham’s descendants. This is why Ya’akov was
afraid of Eisav: being a descendant of Avraham, Eisav was obligated to live in the Holy Land.
I have seen this Gra many times before, but it has taken on new meaning this year. Anyone who has been
following recent events in the Holy Land cannot help but wonder why it is that God (seemingly) shows the Arabs
such favor. They have done such abominable acts, murdering righteous and pious Jews, but the entire world still
considers us the bad guys. Based on the Gra’s idea, however, everything is clear. Since they, too, are descendants
of Avraham, the merit of their self-sacrifice for the Holy Land protects them from us, the descendants of Ya’akov.
If this is true, the only way to defeat them is to show God that we are willing to sacrifice even more to settle the
Land and restore it to its rightful owners. I will leave it to the reader to figure out the best way to show God that we
really do love and cherish His beloved Land.


“This parashah was written to inform us that the Holy One Blessed be He saved His servant [Ya’akov]
and redeemed him from a power mightier than him, sending an angel to deliver him… It contains another
hint for future generations, for everything that happened to our forefather in relation to his brother
Eisav will continuously happen to us with regard to the descendants of Eisav. It, therefore, behooves
us to follow the ways of the righteous one and prepare ourselves for the three things for which he prepared
himself: prayer, gifts, and military salvation…” (Ramban, introduction to our parashah)
There are many lessons to be learned from this parashah regarding our relationship with the nations of the world;
and the commentators enumerate these lessons in their holy works. The following is a very timely lesson that the
Chafetz Chayim learned from Ya’akov’s preparation for his confrontation with Eisav:
In 1933, when Hitler (yimach shemo) rose to power in Germany, one of the heads of the Radin Yeshiva asked
the Chafetz Chayim about the fate of the Jews. After all, the wicked one announced his goal to annihilate the
Jewish people (God forbid). The Chafetz Chayim answered: “He shall not succeed! No one has ever
succeeded in destroying our nation in the lands of our dispersion. The verse says explicitly, If Eisav comes to
one camp and smites it, then the remaining camp will escape (לפליטה) (32:9(.“
The questioner understood that the danger was imminent, and he continued to ask innocently, “If the
oppressor succeeds in destroying a portion of the Jewish people (God forbid), who will be the remaining camp
that will escape?” “This, too,” replied the Chafetz Chayim, “is stated explicitly in Scriptures [in this week’s
haftarah]: On Mount Zion there will be a remnant (פליטה(, and it will be holy (Ovadyah 1:17).”
The questioner left the Chafetz Chayim’s presence completely shaken and agitated over the [imminent]
destruction of European Jewry. Yet he felt confident that our Holy Land would be saved. (Chafetz Chayim Al
Perhaps this explains why the first thing Ya’akov did after escaping Eisav’s clutches unscathed was to buy a piece
of land in Eretz Yisrael: Ya’akov arrived whole in the city of Shechem, which is in the Land of Canaan… and he
encamped before the city. [Then] he bought the portion of land upon which he pitched his tent, from the sons of

Chamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred kesitahs (33:18-19). Ya’akov realized that the best way to ensure
Jewish survival is to build up the only true safe-haven the Jewish people have: Eretz Yisrael.
But there is another reason why Ya’akov bought the field in Shechem: The Ibn Ezra comments on these verses:
“The Torah mentions this to demonstrate that Eretz Yisrael has great virtues, and he who has a portion in it is
considered as [if he has] a portion in the World to Come.” That is, Ya’akov was not only running away from
oppression; he was also running towards a higher spiritual plane.
So, whether you want to return to the Jewish Homeland to escape persecution (present or future) or to attain a
portion in the World to Come, follow Ya’akov Avinu’s example and buy a portion in the Land before it is too late.
Additional References
 Ya’akov said, “God of my father Avraham and God of my father Yitzchak, the Lord Who said to me, ‘Return to
your Land and to your birthplace and I will deal well with you,’I have become small from all the kindness and all
the truth that You have shown Your servant… Save me, please, from the hand of my brother…” (32:10-12)
The holy Zohar explains that this entire [prayer] – until the words “Save me please” – was arranged according
to the way [we] praise HaShem [in our daily prayers]. [Ya’akov only] began requesting his needs with the
words “Save me please.” For, a person must praise God first and then pray [for his needs] (Zohar, VaYishlach
Based on this, we can interpret these verses in accordance with the order of our prayers, which is: Avot (the
Patriarchs), Gevurot (God’s might, [especially regarding the resurrection of the dead]), and Kedushat HaShem
(Holiness of God’s name). Avot corresponds to God of my father avraham and god of my father yitzchak, as
its simple meaning [indicates]. Afterwards, it says, The lord who said to me, “return to your land and to
your birthplace,” which contains a double expression [Land and Birthplace]. However, its meaning is based
on a Midrash in Parashat VaYeitzei. Commenting on the verse Return to the Land of your fathers (31:3), the
Midrash states: “You are my refuge, [O Lord], my portion in the Land of the Living (Tehillim 142:6). Why is
[Eretz Yisrael] called ‘the Land of the Living’? Because it is the Land whose dead will be resurrected first
at the time of Mashiach” (BeReishit Rabbah 74:1). Chazal reiterate this in the Talmud, [saying] that those
who die outside the Land do not live [again] (Ketuvot 111a). The Talmud then explains that the Holy One
Blessed be He will create underground tunnels to [bring them to] Eretz Yisrael. Anyway, it is clear that the
end of life [as we know it] will occur only in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, it says, The Lord Who said to me,
“Return to your Land and to your birthplace,” [meaning] to the place where you will be born anew. Hence,
[this part of Ya’akov’s prayer] mentions the resurrection of the dead [which is the main theme of the second
blessing of Shemoneh Esrei]… Afterwards, it says, I have become small from all the kindness and all the
truth. This refers to the aspect of holiness, as it says, The Holy God is sanctified through kindness (Yeshayah
5:16), proving that the title “Holy” connotes the doing of kindness and charity. Thus, “I have become small
from all the kindness” corresponds to the holiness of God’s name. [Only] after [all this], Ya’akov asks for his
needs: Save me please. (Chochmat HaTorah by R. Shlomo Kluger of Brody)
 He [Ya’akov] got up that night and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons and crossed
over the ford of Yabok (32:23).
According to the commentaries on Midrash Rabbah, this stream separated between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz
LaAretz. This may explain why Ya’akov hurried to cross the stream prior to the possible battle with Eisav: He
wanted to have the merit of Eretz Yisrael on his side. Others say that this [stream] was the Jordan River, and
[the Torah] called it Yabok here because [Ya’akov] wrestled (hit’abkut) with the angle (Chizkuni). However,
even according to this, [we can say that] Ya’akov hurried to cross over to the western side [of the river], for it
is holier [than the eastern side] in several respects. After all, we find that Moshe yearned to enter Eretz Yisrael

proper, even though he was already in the land of Sichon [on the eastern side of the Jordan]. (Oznayim
 Ya’akov traveled to Sukkot and built himself a house, and he made booths (sukkot) for his livestock; therefore, he
called the name of the place Sukkot. Ya’akov arrived whole in the city of Shechem, which is in the Land of
Canaan… and he encamped before the city. [Then] he bought the portion of land upon which he pitched his tent
In my opinion, it says this [Ya’akov arrived whole…] because he lived in fear of Eisav in Sukkot, for Sukkot is
on the eastern side of the Jordan, in the kingdom of Sichon… He was not at ease until he arrived in the
Land of Canaan, for then he knew that [Eisav] would not harm him, because his father was nearby. Or [he
knew] that the inhabitants of the Land would help him because his father was a prince of God in their midst.
Or [he felt] that the merit of the Land would protect him…
And he encamped before the city: He did not want to be a guest in the city. Rather, he wanted his first stay
in the Land to be on his own property. Therefore, he encamped in the field [outside the city] and bought the
place. He did so in order to take possession of the Land… (Ramban)
 God said to Ya’akov, “Arise, go up to Beit El and dwell there…” So Ya’akov said to his household and to all who
were with him, “Remove the foreign gods that are in your midst, cleanse yourselves, and change your garments”
According to the Ramban, [who asserts] that [our forefathers] observed the Torah only in Eretz Yisrael,
it is
possible [to say] that they wore sha’atnez garments in Chutz LaAretz. Therefore, [Ya’akov] told them now
[when they were entering the Holy Land] to change their clothes. (Meshech Chochmah)
 And God said to him [Ya’akov] “…The Land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, I will give to you; and to
your descendants after you I will give the Land.” And God ascended from upon him in the place where He had
spoken to him (35:11-13).
And god ascended from upon him in the place where he had spoken to him: Rashi comments, “I do not know
what this comes to teach us.” The apparent explanation [is based on] our Rabbis’ exposition on this verse:
“The Patriarchs are themselves [God’s] chariot” (BeReishit Rabbah 82:6). For it is known that the Patriarchs
were [God’s] chariot only when they were in Eretz Yisrael, as Rashi explains in Parashat VaYeitzei, on the
verse The Lord said to Ya’akov, Return to the Land of your fathers… and I will be with you (31:3)… Now,
[our verse] is the first time [God] speaks to Ya’akov consolingly since his return to the Land of Canaan. When
He spoke to him in Shechem, He merely commanded him to go to Beit-El. In Beit-El, however, He told him
about future events and consolations that would befall him and his descendants. Then, he attained [true]
perfection, [enabling him] to become part of [God’s] chariot. This is why it says here, And God ascended from
upon him, for our Rabbis learn [from here] that the Patriarchs are themselves [God’s] chariot. (Kedushat Levi
by R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
 They journeyed from Beit El, and there was still a small measure of land to go to Efrat, and Rachel [began]
giving birth and had dif iculty in her labor. And it came to pass, when she had dif iculty in her labor that the
midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for this one, as well, is a son for you.” And it came to pass, as her soul was
departing – for she died – that she named him Ben-Oni, but his father called him Binyamin. So Rachel died and
was buried on the way to Efrat, which is Beit Lechem. And Ya’akov set up a monument on her grave; this is the
monument of Rachel’s grave to this day (35:16-20).
See Parashat Toldot, “Home of the Mitzvot,” where we quoted the Ramban’s explanation as to why Rachel died
specifically at this time and in this place. But there is another reason why this episode is related to the special

qualities of Eretz Yisrael, as the following Midrash demonstrates:
Why did the Divine Presence rest in Binyamin’s portion?

[3] All the other Tribes took part in the sale of Yosef,
while Binyamin did not. Furthermore, all the other Tribes were born outside the Land, while Binyamin
was born in Eretz Yisrael.

(Mechilta, Parashat Yitro)
 Eisav took his wives, his sons, his daughters, all the people of his house, his livestock, all his animals, and all of
the possessions he acquired in the Land of Canaan, and went to a land away from his brother Ya’akov (36:6).
Away from his brother ya’akov: For Ya’akov bought the birthright and rightfully deserved to inherit
Yitzchak. Therefore, he dwelled in the Land where his father had lived (Rashbam). …Therefore, [Eisav] went
to a foreign land (Chizkuni).
Clearly, the reason why Eisav left Ya’akov is because he knew that Yitzchak had blessed Ya’akov, conferring
upon him the blessing of Avraham and the inheritance of the Land. And even though the time had not yet
come [for Ya’akov to actually take possession of the Land], Eisav realized that he had to leave, since there was
insufficient room for both of them. The Ramban writes similarly. (Ha’amek Davar)

[1] This essay is based on a lecture I heard in 5747 (1986) from HaRav Yehudah Serevnik shlita, a Rebbe in Yeshivat Sha’alvim
at the time.
[2] See Parashat Toldot, “Home of the Mitzvot.”
[3] The Temple Mount is located in the portion of land allotted to the Tribe of Binyamin.



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