Torah Weekly

For the week ending 1 December 2012 / 16 Kislev 5773

Parshat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Eisav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Eisav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Eisav. That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the Angel of Eisav. Yaakov emerges victorious but is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural (the angel). Yaakov and Eisav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Eisavs offer that they should dwell together. Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakovs daughter. In return for Dinas hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakovs sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement; however, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit mila. Shimon and Levi, two of Dinas brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the citys tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister. G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivkas nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. G-d appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Israel. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons. The Parsha concludes by listing Eisavs descendants.


Protecting An Endangered Species

“I have sojourned with Lavan.” (32:5)

One of the reasons I like swimming is that waterproof smart-phones have not yet been invented. (Please, do not show this article to Nokia, Motorola, et al!)

A few months ago, I noticed one of my swimming buddies carefully placing a towel at the end of the pool right by the edge of the water. He did a few laps and then coasted to a halt in front of his poolside towel. He carefully dried his hands and then he flipped the towel open to reveal – a smart-phone.

Is it my imagination or has solitude become an endangered species?

Life can be divided into two distinct phases: input and output.

In one’s childhood, our brains are largely set to “record”, and we record by imitation. A child learns to speak by imitating his mother. A boy starts to learn by imitating his teacher.

Part of raising a child is to encourage positive role-modeling and minimize contact with negative stereotypes.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov sends a message to Esav that he “sojourned with Lavan.” The numerical equivalent of garti, “sojourned,” is 613. Yaakov was hinting to his brother Esav that Lavan’s negative influence had not rubbed off on him, that he still kept the 613 mitzvot.

A similar example is when Yaakov prays to G-d (28:21) to return him in peace to his father’s house without Lavan’s negative influence. Even though already 75 years old, Yaakov was still concerned that the natural instinct to imitate would lead him astray.

This also explains the Torah’s praise of Rivka. Despite being surrounded from the cradle by evil people she was able to sense that they were unsuitable role models and did not learn from them. Only an inherent holiness could have protected her.

The second phase starts when a child reaches maturity, or should reach maturity.

At this point, imitation should give way to our motivation. It’s not enough for us to do things because “that’s the way we always did it at home.” Lessons learned through imitation must be re-learned and made our own. If not, we will never grow to be truly independent thinkers and doers. Not only that, but our own ability to be role models for our own children and students will be severely limited.

At a certain point, we have to pick up the ball and run with it by ourselves.

The only way we do this is by giving ourselves time; time to introspect, to examine our lives, our wants, our goals. A quarter of an hour a week may be sufficient, but it has to be quality time. If one’s spouse or child comes and asks for advice, we would make sure to close the door, take the phone off the hook, and give them our undivided attention. Should we not give ourselves the same attention?

In a world where the deep-sea smart-phone is just around the corner, it takes a little effort to create the silence of solitude that is the key to maturity.

  • Based on Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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