Sparks of Torah – Parshas Vayishlach

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By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum


Although Yaakov has escaped the clutches of Lavan and Eisav, he has to deal with Schechem who wants to marry his daughter Dinah. The sons of Yaakov devise a plan to snatch Dinah away from Schechem. They stage a pretense that they are willing to allow Dinah to marry Schechem if he and his townsmen will circumcise themselves. Of course, Schechem is ready to do anything to keep Dinah so he and his cohorts agree to accommodate her family. After they circumcise themselves and are weak, Shimon and Levi swoop down upon them, killing them and rescuing their sister. Why they were permitted to kill them is a discussion beyond the scope of this article. However, suffice it to say that they were entitled to do that which they did.

However somewhat interesting was their suggestion that Schechem and his people should circumcise themselves. The language of the Torah is perplexing. They didn’t just request that they should circumcise themselves; rather they wanted Schechem and his people to be circumcised. Even though this is only a slight nuance, however every word of the Torah is stated is a very precise manner to reveal many important concepts and lessons.

S’fas Emes understands that the essence of the mitzvah of circumcision is not simply to remove that foreskin that covers that part of a man’s body; rather it is to place a sign upon the individual that will resonate throughout his entire being. That is why the performance of removal of the foreskin is referred to as a “sign of the holy covenant” because that is the true significance of this mitzvah. It is to be a sign to each and every one of us to elevate our entire being and become exalted. He adds that even though we are not always successful in that attempt, nonetheless, Hashem values our struggle to advance in life and to achieve those goals that are notable and praiseworthy. Therefore, he evaluates and judges us with a more lenient measure due to our efforts.

Similarly, he compares this mitzvah with that of tithing which even though we only remove a small portion of the food item and give it a kohen or levi, still the entire item is elevated to a new more sanctified state of being. As a result when we consume such an item we are exposed and imbibe that extra measure of kedusha, holiness.

Truthfully speaking, a non-Jew doesn’t have the capacity that the mitzvah of circumcision can affect him like it does a Jew. Even though the sons of Yaakov were not yet full fledged Jews until they came to receive the Torah on Mt. Sinai, still they were forming that foundation upon which the future generations would be able to build. Therefore, they inherited this mitzvah from their great-grandfather Avrohom who was directly commanded by Hashem to fulfill this mitzvah.

Therefore, when the sons of Yaakov requested of Schechem to become circumcised, they were actually promoting that his very essence would become altered and perhaps at that juncture he would have been able to upgrade his status to resemble those who are close to Hashem as were the sons of Yaakov.

The upshot from this episode is that we should realize the incredible gift that this mitzvah of bris milah, circumcision is. Each person has this stream of kedusha coursing throughout his system due to the removal of the foreskin. That very simple act essentially modifies and alters the entire essence of a Jew and enables us to become an exalted and proud nation.



Yaakov separated his family in to two camps so that if one would be destroyed, then the other would be spared.  When Hitler, his name and memory should be obliterated, came to power the Chofetz Chaim was asked about his aspirations to eradicate the Jewish nation. He answered that we see from Yaakov that he will not be successful. There will always be the remaining camp that will be spared. When they asked the Chofetz Chaim further where that spared community will be, he answered that it will be Eretz Yisroel. This conversation with the Chofetz Chaim took place a decade before the onset of WWII. When the Germans set their sights upon Eretz Yisroel during the war that signaled the decline of their war efforts. The words of the Chofetz Chaim were realized and fulfilled.