SALT - Thursday, 12 Kislev 5778 - November 30, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Vayishlach of the enormous gift sent by Yaakov to his brother, Esav, in advance of their reunion.  Upon learning that Esav was approaching with an army of four hundred men, Yaakov feared that Esav was planning his revenge for Yaakov’s having “stolen” the blessing which their father had intended to confer upon Esav, and so he sent Esav large herds of animals in the hopes of earning his brother’s forgiveness.  Yaakov sent the herds with his servants, and instructed them, “ve-revach tasimu bein eider le-vein eider” – that they should bring the herds one at a time, with a delay in between each, rather than present the entire gift all at once (32:17).  Rashi explains that this was done in order to make the gift look especially generous, as Esav would be repeatedly approached by men bringing him animals as gifts.
            The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 75) sees in Yaakov’s instruction to his servants an allusion to a prayer he recited on behalf of his descendants: “Yaakov said before the Almighty: Master of the world, if troubles befall my children, do not bring them one right after the other, but rather give them respites from their troubles.”  The delays between the presentations of the herds to Esav serve as a symbol of the gaps that Yaakov prayed should separate between the hardships which he foresaw would be brought upon Am Yisrael.
            An insightful explanation of the Midrash’s remarks is offered by Rabbi Natan of Breslav, in Likutei Halakhot (Kil’ei Beheima, 4:8).  He writes that Chazal here call upon us to recognize the “spaces” in our lives, the blessings and good fortune that we enjoy.  Often, people focus mainly on their troubles and hardships, such that their lives appear as an endless series of misfortunes.  This perception then leads to melancholy and despair, and the individual loses the emotional strength to struggle to overcome life’s challenges and to petition the Almighty for help.  In this Midrashic passage, Rabbi Natan teaches, Chazal instruct us to recognize the “revach,” the large “spaces” of joy and blessing that we each have.  Although life presents us with challenges, it also presents us with good fortune, many beautiful blessings, and countless precious opportunities for achievement and gratification.  We need to try to recognize and maximize those blessings and opportunities, rather than see only the darker aspects of our lives.