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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Parshas Vayishlach 2001

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

To sign or not to sign? There have been times in all of our lives where we are faced with a dilemma or an inner struggle. Perhaps it is a business opportunity, a friendship or relationship that comes our way. A chance that will enhance our lives significantly that doesn’t happen every day. Part of us says: Go for it, yet a deep voice within tells us to beware. Perhaps the new partner is a bit too smooth, or maybe even though everything looks good now his or her past is just a bit too spotty. We struggle and our behavior becomes awkward and peculiar. We keep opportunity at arm’s length and at the same time we show reluctance to let go of it. Personally, I struggle with Esav. Not the Esav of four thousand years ago, but the Esav of history - the Esav of today. Like all of you I strive to integrate my worlds, but for me it is a struggle.

Friday morning, for the first time in my life, I realized that I have an emotional attachment to George Harrison. And as I walked through the unseasonable 70 degree foggy weather, I found myself wondering if there was going to be a white Xmas this year. I hung my US flag with pride and celebrated Thanksgiving with joy, yet when I hear about a bus exploding in Pardes Chana my body begins to shake and I ask myself what right I have not to live in Eretz Yisroel; why am I not part of the Jewish historical process; or maybe I am. We are all living in the “IM” (together with) generation. Torah IM Derech Eretz, Torah IM avodah, or what Dr. Bernard Lander likes to call Torah IM parnossa. There is a synergy that every practical and thinking person must apply - yet for me it is a struggle.

Let’s look at the Parsha. Bad enough for Yaakov to have to struggle with Esav and constantly have to watch his back. In this week’s Parsha we find a new struggle. Yaakov has to struggle with Esav’s Malach also. It’s a bizarre story. Yaakov meets up with an angel and gets into a fight. He struggles and wrestles valiantly with this angel all through the night. Yaakov will not to be vanquished. At long last, as the sun rises, Yaakov emerges victorious but injured. He walks away limping. Therefore we don’t eat T-bone or sirloin stake!

The fight that Yaakov had with Esav was for his own personal survival. The fight Yaakov had with the Malach was on behalf of Yaakov’s children. It wasn’t Yaakov fighting but Yisroel. Long after both Yaakov and Esav will leave this world there will still be a presence of Esav in this world and he will always battle Yaakov’s children, Klal Yisroel. This fight will take place all through a long galus, until the sun rises, until the final Geula.

We have an idea of what Esav looked like, but what did this Malach look like? One sage says he appeared as a bandit with weapon in hand.

Another says he appeared as a Talmid Chochom, a philosopher and a sage. A third Rabbi said he appeared as a pagan. Yet another Rabbi says he appeared as a shepherd.

The truth is that there have been many faces to Esav. There were times that the Jews were attacked by an Esav who murdered and robbed. There were times when Jews had to resist the lure of pagan glamour. There were times when Esav came with scholarship and with ministerial robes and there were times that Esav spoke of love, caring and a yearning to show us a better way to heaven. All the Esav’s of history had one thing in common. They caused a struggle for Yaakov. What Esav offered was never an open and shut case. The Maccabees went to war with Esav; our master Rebbi Yehudah HaNasi was best friends with him. On that night, on the banks of the Yabok, Yaakov wrestled all night long. He wrestled with all of history.

What face does Esav wear today? What does Esav offer Yaakov in the United States of America? Thank G-d, by and large we are living in a time of opportunity, equality and friendship. We are well placed in government, in business and in the professions. So where is Esav?

I have a feeling that today Esav is dressed as a friend. In fact, thank G-d, Esav is a friend. Today Esav wants to marry us instead of kill us. Esav is doing no evil. Esav wishes with us that the taboo of Judaism be removed, so that we can integrate into the rest of society. Esav is fighting terrorism, fighting the KKK and as our president puts it, “fighting all the forces of evil.”

Thank G-d we live when we live and where we live. But with the removal of a taboo also comes the removal of an identity and detraction from our uniqueness. Today we face an historical challenge.

The answer I believe lies in our ability to lead. We have so much to gain, but we have so much more to offer. Our friends and neighbors are all searching for spirituality. We understand spirituality. We understand how to bring up children. We must take the lead in business ethics, setting a new benchmark for proper business conduct.

We must lead by example in the way that we dress, always with modesty, and in the way we speak. If Jews were known for their Tzniut, the world would follow. The billboards on the Joe Dimaggio Highway would change.

Throughout history, against all odds and logic, we have been world leaders in Tikun Olam. The final battle is the battle of synergy for us, and Tikun Olam for the world at large. As the golus winds up, the struggle subsides. Yaakov pleads with the Malach, “Let me be free because the sun is beginning to rise!” The Malach’s answer resounds: “I will free you - but not until you bless me.”

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