Parshas Vayishlach – Whatever the Situation, Trust in HaShem

By Avner Friedmann

In the Parshah of this week, Yaakov is traveling back from Choran to Canaan with his family and entourage. We are told that he was apprehensive on hearing the news that his brother Esav was marching to meet him with an army of 400 men. Yaakov assumed that Esav planned to carry out his threat to murder him. The Torah tells us that= [1]“Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him.”

Now, why was a Tzaddik like Yaakov so frightened? Originally, when he left Canaan, HaShem promised that He would protect him, as it states[2]: “Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go and I will return you to this land, for I will not forsake you”. Moreover, he had just received similar promises of protection from Hashem prior to leaving Choran, as scripture states[3]: “Return to the land of your fathers…and I will be with you“. The Talmud tells us[4] that he was frightened despite HaShem’s promise. He thought to himself: “I am afraid lest a sin caused me to lose this protection.”

Still and all, we need to understand what frightened him. Was he afraid that Esav would cause him physical harm? Both the Torah itself and the Midrash, inform us of Yaakov’s incredible strength.[5] However, it could be said that Esav, who was also Yitzchak’s son and Yaakov’s twin brother, also possessed great strength. Nonetheless, why was Yaakov so frightened?

Now, several reasons have been suggested for Yaakov’s fear. We will mention only a few:

1) According to Rashi, he was frightened of being killed and distressed over the possibility of killing “others” in self-defense and in defense of his family. The “others” referred to here are not necessarily only Esav’s 400 soldiers. It also refers to the descendents of Esav. As we know, several important converts, such as Onkolus, whose translation of Torah we still study to this very day, were descendents of Esav.

2) According to the Holy Zohar,[6] it was HaShem who instilled this fear in him, because HaShem truly desires the prayers of the Tzaddikim. Because of their tremendous humility, the Tzaddikim do not rely on the merit of their good deeds for miracles and Divine salvation. Rather, they rely on eliciting HaShem’s mercies through good deeds, heartfelt prayers and supplications.

3) Tzaddikim have no fear of the brute strength of their opponents. They realize that the only true security comes from placing one’s trust completely in HaShem. Thus, the Zohar cites three possible reasons for Yaakov’s fear:

A)  While Yaakov was away in Choran for 22 years, he could not fulfill the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, whereas Esav could. As a matter of fact, this was the only mitzvah that Esav was careful with.

B) Because of having to work so hard for his uncle Lavan in Choran, Yaakov did not have the time or opportunity to learn as much Torah as he would have wanted to, commensurate to his level.

C) Yaakov married two sisters, which would later be forbidden with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

However, after enumerating the three above reasons, the Zohar explains that they cannot be considered to be actual sins, since they all were permissible under the circumstances.

4) Yaakov became distressed about the fact that he felt frightened[7], as stated above, “Yaakov became very frightened and it distressed him”. The fear itself is what distressed him because he felt that it was a sign that his level of trust (Bitachon) in HaShem was not as it should be.

The Netivot Shalom[8] asks: Why would Yaakov be fearful, “lest a sin caused him to lose protection”? He explains that trust in HaShem should be under every kind of circumstance, even when a Jew knows he has sinned, as King David states,[9] “Trust in Hashem and do good”. Ramban explains[10] that trust is mentioned first in this verse, before good deeds, to teach us that ultimately trust is independent of good deeds. A Jew should place his trust in HaShem regardless of his level of righteousness. From here we learn that actually, Yaakov had complete trust in HaShem and did not fear physical danger. Rather, what he feared was the corrupting, spiritual influence of Esav’s wickedness.

A Jew should always feel like a son who trusts, under all circumstances, that his father will be merciful with him. He knows that HaShem is absolutely able to save him, no matter what. This feeling itself brings HaShem’s protection, because according to the level of our trust is the level of our salvation. When we nullify and sublimate ourselves to HaShem and truly recognize that “There is nothing besides Him”,[11] no harm can come to us. All judgments disappear and we become fitting vessels for HaShem’s blessings.

As the verse states,[12] “For not because of our righteousness do we pour out our supplications before you, but because of Your great compassion.” If we trust in HaShem’s mercies, we can overcome all our enemies and we will transcend all our troubles. Even if a particular trouble is coming to us, heaven forbid, we may be spared,[13] as King David stated, “Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, then HaShem will be his security”[14]

May we have true faith and trust in HaShem and may HaShem protect us and destroy all the enemies of Israel, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, speedily in our times. Amen.

[1] Ramban on Bereshit 32:8.

[2] Bereshit 28:15.

[3] Bereshit 31:3.

[4] Berachot 4a.

[5] See examples Bereshit 29:7-11 and in Tanchuma Vayishlach 4.

[6] Vayishlach 167b.

[7] Leshem Shvo Ve’achlama, Sefer Hadea, Chelek 3, Droosh 5, anaf 4, Siman 5. And the Malbim- R. Meir Leibush.

[8] Vayishlach.

[9] Psalms 37:3.

[10] In Sefer Haemuna Vebitachon P. Alef.

[11] Devarim 4:35.

[12] Daniel 9:18.

[13] Rabeinu Yona on Proverbs 3:26.

[14] Jeremiah 17:7.

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