Parshas Vayishlach

November 30, 2012
16 Kislev, 5773

Parshas Vayishlach
Candle-lighting Time: 4:18 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of a son to Daniel and Selina Treister. Mazel Tov!


  • Israel Art Exhibition and Sale starts this Wed. – Sun. Over 1500 Pieces from 100 Israel artists at many price points. Come show your support! In the Buckingham Palace Shopping Plaza across from Cosco on Havana.
  • Brooklyn Pizza is OPEN. Delicious NY style kosher pizza. Next to King Soopers on Monaco and Leetsdale. (303) 355-5777.
  • Chanukah begins Saturday night Dec. 8th. Light your first candle. For a great selection of candles, oil lamps and menorah supplies, head to East Side Kosher Deli on 499 S. Elm. (303) 322-9862.


by Rabbi Raphael Leban

Another day, another daf (a daf is a page of Talmud). If you’ve jumped on the dafyomi bandwagon, like I have—learning a page of Talmud every day, 365 days a year for the seven and a half year cycle—you’ve gotten pretty adept at page turning. Another page, and another page, and another.

Having tried both, let me just tell you, it’s not the excitement of helicopter skiing. Being dropped off at the top of a mountain of fresh snow, then swooshing down through champagne powder under the crisp blue sky only to be scooped up again by a helicopter for more—now that’s a thrill.

Interesting, then, that Rabbi Meir Shapiro, creator of the Dafyomi program in the first part of the twentieth century, made the following comment about a verse in our parsha.

In Parshas Vayishlach, Jacob returns to meet his murderous twin brother, Esau. Worried that after 34 years Esau still wants to kill him, Jacob sends emissaries with gifts in advance of his arrival. He instructs them to speak to Esau and tell him that, “I (Jacob) have dwelt with Lavan until now…” The word used in the verse for ‘dwelt’ is garti, a grammatical construction used very rarely (it only occurs one other time in all of Tanach). Our Sages explain that the particular word and form are meant to indicate something. In another order, the letters of garti spell taryag, the Hebrew way of writing the number 613, a very important number. The number 613 is the total number of all the mitzvos in the Torah. Thus, say our Sages, Jacob was hinting to Esau that he had lived with his crooked uncle Lavan for 20 years, and yet still managed to continue to keep all 613 mitzvos, without being affected by Lavan.

For Jacob to withstand the influence of immorality and deceit which permeated Lavan’s home and to remain steadfast in his spiritual dedication was no small feat. At face value, this statement of our Sages is praising Jacob for doing so.

On the other hand, explains Rabbi Meir Shapiro, our Sages’ statement can be read to mean:  I managed to continue to keep all 613 mitzvos, but I didn’t learn to do them with the alacrity and passion that Lavan had when doing his evil deeds. According to this interpretation, Jacob is expressing his steadfast devotion to God and his mitzvos, but also a bit of regret that he didn’t do the mitzvos with the level of gusto that he saw Lavan putting into his less-than-superlative deeds.

It’s easy to be excited and passionate about the wild side of life. Lavan wasn’t busy striving to develop his character and fulfill the will of God. He was livin’ it up in whatever crooked ways suited his fancy. And understandably, he did it with pleasure and zeal.

That’s the way we have to feel about our mitzvos! They shouldn’t be something that’s done begrudgingly or drearily. We should do mitzvos with passion and excitement, the same way we feel about a powder day! The excited feeling when you wake up early to drive up to the mountains with your ski pants on. Rabbi Meir Shapiro wants us to muster that same feeling when we get up early to learn another daf. And another, and another, and another!

The Ultimate Solitude

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Yaakov had just escaped from the clutches of Lavan when he was confronted with a new challenge from his old nemesis, his brother Eisav. He prepared thoroughly to deal with this dangerous situation. He davened to Hashem, readied the troops for battle and sent gifts to appease his brother’s anger. In the midst of all this preparation, Yaakov seemed to involve himself in a very unnecessary task; he retrieved small items that were left behind after crossing the river with his family. Ostensibly these items were replaceable, but Yaakov perceived a need for them and crossed the river again to recover them.

In doing so, Yaakov placed himself in mortal danger. Alone on the riverbank, he was attacked by the ministering angel that represents Eisav, the power of evil in this world. Although he ultimately repelled him, he was wounded and his injury left an indelible mark on the nation for all time. Did Yaakov realize that he was endangering himself when he returned but was compelled to do so, or did the very act of recouping those minor objects cause the resultant fracas?

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the items that Yaakov went back for were small cups that young children used to drink from. As Yaakov was endeavoring to defend himself from a perilous situation, did those cups really matter? The Sages explain that from this episode we see how the righteous are careful with everything that Hashem gives them. The most insignificant gift from Hashem is nonetheless to be valued and cared for, even small drinking cups for children. The item is not what matters as much as the fact that Hashem bestowed it upon us and we must appreciate anything and everything that we receive.

This attitude occupies a central place in Jewish thought and plays a significant role in our relationship vis-à-vis Hashem. And herein lies the threat to Eisav or those powers in the world that represent the opposing viewpoint, that one should not be subservient to Hashem and self-effacing, but rather self-serving and subservient to one’s needs and lusts. At this crossroads, Eisav attacks Yaakov and attempts to destroy his philosophy and lifestyle.

Malbim understands that when the verse states that Yaakov remained alone, it is not referring to the fact that nobody was with him, rather it alludes to his inner being. Yaakov, in performing this selfless deed only for others and negating his own self-interest, captured the essence of man – to strive to perfect oneself by abjuring his own personal desires and using his time, energy and resources for the sake of others.

Ultimately, to achieve such a lofty level, one must challenge the two disparate beliefs that contradict and repudiate such thinking. It is the Lavan who seeks to deceive others into the false conviction that man controls his own destiny and is ultimately the master of his fate. Yaakov successfully countered that challenge when he lived side by side with such a person and yet imbibed nothing of his deception and dishonesty. He left as he came, pure and whole, the definitive display of total reliance upon Hashem.

Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from

A child whose parents were divorced was brought to circumcision by his mother’s father without the knowledge of the child’s father, and was also named by the mother without the father’s knowledge. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked if the circumcision and naming were valid (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:97). He responded that although it is a serious sin to deprive the father of the mitzvah of circumcising his son, which is primarily the father’s obligation, nevertheless the circumcision is valid. Regarding the name, he maintains that the mother certainly has the right to name her son, providing that she identifies the father in the naming. However, the father has the right to give him another name that he sees fit, and the child can be known by either or both names. One of the proof texts that Rabbi Feinstein cites is in the Torah portion this week, where it says, “And it came to pass, as [Rachel’s] soul was departing, for she died, that she called his name Benoni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18).

Joke of the Week

Most Texans think Hanukkah is some sort of duck call.
-Richard Lewis


Yaakov instituted the evening prayer, known as Maariv. This prayer service corresponds to the Temple activity that took place in the evening, when the parts of the day’s offerings were burnt on the altar. This signified that the entire physical form of the animal was used for a heavenly purpose. Such was the essence of Yaakov, an individual who elevated his entire physical being to the spiritual realm of Divine service.

Rav Gedalyah Shorr