|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
Back to the routine: An idea on Parshas Vayishlach…
וַיִּשְׁלַח ● Vayishlach
● Was Yaakov’s lingering for small pitchers any better than Lot’s lingering? ●
“Small Pitcher, Big Picture”
After decades of being apart from his family, Yaakov Avinu finally began crossing over the ford of Yavok to make his grand entrance for the long awaited showdown with Eisav. Virtually everything and everyone of Yaakov’s household had made it across the stream, yet Yaakov Avinu somehow managed to linger behind at which point he suddenly found himself in a wrestling match with some stranger whom Chazal identify as an angel.
Indeed, there is much delving to be done into the depth of this late night fight scene between Yaakov and the angel, which many commentators do, yet what is also interesting to note in this general passage is how Yaakov ended up alone in this brawl in the first place.
The Pasuk relates, “Vayivaser Yaakov Livado…”-“And Yaakov was left alone…”1 Rashi cites a tradition2 that Yaakov had left behind Pachim Ketanim or small pitchers and had gone back to retrieve them. It was on his way back that he got caught in a scuffle with the angel. The question is: Why would Yaakov have cared so much about a couple of pitchers, especially in those dangerous moments? Although the answer is not entirely clear, Chazal conclude from Yaakov’s actions that “L’Tzaddikim SheChaviv Aleihem Momonam Yoser M’Gufam”-“to the righteous, their possessions are dearer to them than their bodies.”2
A Lot like Lot
Now, if we just meditate on the scene for a moment, Yaakov’s actions here appear awfully similar to that of another Biblical figure back in Parshas Vayeira, our old friend Lot, the nephew of Avraham Avinu. In that scene, while one another angel was about to completely destroy the land of Sodom, another angel struggled with Lot, to get him out of his house, but Lot was reluctant to make the move.
Thus, the Pasuk there describes Lot, “Vayismahmah…”-“And he lingered…”3, 4 But, why did Lot linger? Once again, Rashi elaborates that Lot had hesitated because he was attempting to salvage his possessions. It is apparently in response to this lingering which the angel grabbed Lot and argued, “Himaleit Al Nafshecha”-“run for your life”5—in other words, “Don’t risk your life for your material wealth.”
A Double Standard?
Now, Lot, unlike Yaakov, is not exonerated by the Sages for his actions. In fact, Lot is widely frowned upon as his primary concerns were almost always his transient materialistic possessions. In this vein, it is to his denigration, if anything, that Rashi points out that even when his life was in danger, he stayed behind to collect his things. Yet, there is such condemnation of Yaakov, which is a real wonder, given the similarities between the two scenarios. Both waited behind for something materialistic, both were in some form of danger (and interestingly both ended up in some tangle with an angel (though Lot’s angel is referred to as a “Malach” while Yaakov’s is referred to as an “Ish”).
The glaring similarities beg the question as to why the perspectives Chazal have regarding Yaakov’s and Lot’s actions are not consistent. There seems to be a double standard being applied here. Why does Lot have to be classified as the lowly, materialistic individual who lacks a sense of priority, yet Yaakov is simply praised as a righteous person who is concerned for his possessions? Was it really reasonable for Yaakov to go back by himself for physical, inanimate objects? Was Yaakov not also putting his life in danger? It almost seems that there is a bias to assume that Yaakov was doing a praiseworthy act because of our preconceived notions about him. Yes, we’re obviously supposed to be “Dan L’Kaf Zechus,”6 providing the benefit of the doubt to our Avos and judging them favorably, but if we’re willing to do that, then we should at least be consistent and perhaps try to provide the same for others whose actions are exactly the same. We have to look at the action with intellectual honesty. If it’s the right thing to do, then we should praise it. If it’s the wrong thing to do, we should condemn it, no matter who the perpetrator is.
With that in mind, how can we discredit Lot for his lack of priority on the one hand, and then, on the other, suggest that Yaakov was just a Tzaddik “whose possessions are dearer to him than his body”? What is the difference between Yaakov, going back for the Pachim Ketanim and Lot, staying behind for his possessions?
Yaakov vs. Lot
Before we answer the seeming inconsistency, one must first realize and not be mistaken, that obviously, Chazal were not merely biased for the “good guy.” On the contrary, when we’re taught that a given Biblical figure is a Tzaddik, any questionable act which that person performs is always placed rightfully under the microscope and analyzed (obviously with the merited favorable judgment) to figure out if the hero indeed erred on any level. The Torah doesn’t hide the mistakes of its heroes. There is no question to be asked about biases.
Secondly, if one evaluates both Yaakov’s and Lot’s respective situations and actions properly, taking into account all the given details, one might be able to easily pinpoint how two cases are not nearly as parallel as one may have assumed at first glance.
For starters, one has to note the difference between the natures of the danger in each situation. Lot was informed that Sodom would be destroyed. Yet, Yaakov did not know that he would be ambushed if he turned back. Perhaps, if Yaakov knew that his life might be in serious danger, he should not and would not have gone back.
Secondly, one has to notice that, unlike Lot, it was not merely “his possessions” that Yaakov had gone back for according to the tradition. They were mere Pachim Ketanim, small jugs. Now, if Yaakov’s lingering was all about greed and obsession with materialism, one would venture to say that these small jugs were not worth the bothersome schlep, let alone, the possible lurking danger they put him in. One might as well venture to say that if it was just a couple of pieces of kitchenware that remained in Lot’s home, indeed, Lot would not have been so hesitant to leave before the angel would overturn city. It must have been much more that had Lot torn between his life and his wealth.
But, why would Yaakov have gone back for something so insignificant? The answer to this question might help us understand the true meaning of Chazal’s teaching that, “L’Tzaddikim She’Choviv Aleihem Momonam Yoser M’Gufam”-“to the righteous, their money is dearer to them than their bodies.”2
The Possessions of Tzaddik
What in fact does it mean that to the righteous, their money is dearer to them than their bodies? It does sound strange, quite shocking actually. We would not intuitively think that a righteous individual prioritizes his wealth over his wellbeing.
The simple understanding of this teaching though is that unlike a typical person, everything that a Tzaddik owns—even his materialistic assets, he obtains it both earnestly and honestly, gaining and deriving no benefit from stolen property. Beyond that, the Tzaddik depends on none other than G-d’s graciousness to attain that which he has. Thus, the Tzaddik understands and appreciates the spiritual potential and value of every given object he acquires. Accordingly, he finds some way to sanctify that materialistic item and consequently utilize it among all other facets of his being for his Avodas Hashem. Anything that he has—no less than his own body, Hashem has a monopoly on. And since everything he has is a gift from G-d, everything he has can and must be utilized in his service of Hashem. In fact, in the Tzaddik’s mind, he has no right to relinquish a cent of that which he owns that can be utilized towards that service. With that in mind, a Tzaddik’s possessions are even dearer to him than his own body, maybe, because his possessions can theoretically be dispensed and dedicated wholly to Hashem, while one’s body has independent needs which can be dissociated from Avodas Hashem.
Thus, even in the Pachim Ketanim, Yaakov saw the bigger picture and purpose. He recognized that anything that was honestly gained and divinely granted to him could not be overlooked and deemed as an insignificant detail, or even as surplus. He therefore could not let the potential object of Avodas Hashem slip away. If he had it, whatever it was, it was from G-d and therefore was his for a deeply important reason. If it was food, it was to sustain him and his family so that they could serve G-d. If it was cattle, it could be used for Korbanos or as a peace offering for his brother. Even if it was a little penny, it could be invested in Tzedakah. The point is that it wasn’t a mere accumulation of possessions and riches of which Yaakov could not let go. The size of Yaakov’s generous tribute to Eisav makes that pretty clear.7 We’re talking about couple of seemingly useless jars to which a shallow Lot would not have even given a first thought.
In the end, it was Yaakov’s perception of the bigger picture and his appreciation of the spiritual potential of everything he had that drew him back.
“Yesh Li Kol”9—and Nothing Extra!
It is this perspective of the bigger picture behind even the seemingly insignificant household objects that he owned, that made Yaakov worlds different from his brother Eisav. Like Lot but to an even more extreme degree, Eisav prioritized materialistic aspects of life and viewed them through the lenses of immediate gratification where your material wealth is what defines your “success.” An Eisav can only be content (or at least think he’s content) when he has what relatively looks like “a lot,” as he notoriously urges Yaakov, “…Yesh Li Rav…”-“…I have plenty…”9
However, Yaakov Avinu sees the spiritual spark of light in every aspect of his life and can even look at a couple of small pitchers, sincerely feel completion and honestly declare, “…Yesh Li Kol…”-“…I have everything…”8—everything and not a thing extra. For, on the one hand, Yaakov was not lacking what he truly needed. And on the other hand, there was no surplus among Yaakov’s assets. Everything had an intended use. The question is just how to properly determine and make that use.
The Angel begs to differ
This fundamental difference between the worldviews of Yaakov and Eisav may explain why Eisav’s guardian angel—the negative force, attacked Yaakov at the very point it did, as he was challenging Yaakov’s appreciation of the potential spirituality in the small and seemingly meaningless details and assets of Yaakov’s life. The Satan did not want Yaakov to find meaning and purpose in a simple piece of earthenware. He perhaps wanted Yaakov to regret the steps taken towards dedicating something so simple to G-d. These forces similarly limit our appreciation to that which is grandiose and flashy and, in turn, make us feel a sense of lacking if we have anything less than that. Yaakov, however, overcame this struggle in Lavan’s home and taught us that even in that case, one who remembers that his lot is from G-d can have everything.
We might add that negativity expressed in given circumstance is somehow a function of the same negative force that causes one to only be happy when he can say, “Yesh Li Rav”-“I have a lot”9—when there is not just evident bounty, but surplus—excess. It’s a flavor of Eisav. It takes the mindset of Yaakov Avinu in his salvaging of the Pachim Ketanim to overcome that negative force—the ability to see the greater significance in what seems insubstantial or even somewhat negative. It is through this mindset that Yaakov proclaimed, “Yesh Li Kol”-“I have everything.”8
May we all be Zocheh to appreciate the seemingly simple gifts Hashem gives us and devote them as well as all of our energy to Hashem’s service, and Hashem should reveal His undying devotion to our best interests, redeeming us once and for all with the coming Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 32:25
- Chulin 91A
- Bereishis 19:16
- The Trop or cantillation note on the word is the Shalsheles which denotes wavering, a back and forth of internal struggling. For more on the Shalsheles, see what I wrote earlier for Parshas Chayei Sarah in the entry titled “Conversation of the Servant.”
- Bereishis 19:17
- Pirkei Avos 1:6
- Bereishis 32:14-16
- Ibid. 33:11
- Ibid. 33:9