Torah Portion

VaYishlach 5779

wrestling jacob

Good advice.  We all feel many times during the day and in our lives in general unsure about something and we want to know: what is the best advice for me in this situation?  In this week’s parsha Ya’akov and Esav meet again after many years, and Yaakov knows that Esav still hates him and wants to kill him.  Ya’akov prepares for the encounter:  “Then Ya’akov sent angels ahead of him to Esav his brother to the land of Seir… The angels returned to Ya’akov, saying, ‘We came to your brother, to Esav; moreover, he is heading toward you, and four hundred men are with him.’  Ya’akov became very frightened, and it distressed him. So he divided the people with him, and the flocks, cattle, and camels, into two camps.  For he said, ‘If Esav comes to the one camp and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive.” (Chapter 32, Verses 4-9)

Ya’akov divided his camp into two, so that the other camp, with Ya’akov’s family, could flee to safety while his first camp was fighting Esav’s force.  Rebbe Noson explains a very important spiritual lesson that we can learn from Ya’akov’s strategy of dividing his camp into two.  When we see that it’s hard to obtain complete advice, we should act in any case according to whatever part of the advice we can fulfill.  Meaning that a person should try to hold on to whatever he can in his service of Hashem, whatever mitzvah or good deed, even if he’s not able to fulfill it completely.  When one sees that the evil inclination is attacking him and overtaking him, it seems to him that he doesn’t have strength to stand up to it properly, and any type of advice he tries to think of he’s not able to carry out properly. The main advice in this situation is to rely upon the strength of the true tsaddik, that whichever path he’ll choose to walk on the Tzaddik will guide him to find Hashem…A person needs to decide strongly in his heart that he won’t retreat completely from serving Hashem, and he’ll never cause himself to despair; on the contrary, he should say to himself, ‘I’m standing guard and trying to catch whatever good, whatever mitzvahs I can, so that the remaining camp shall survive.’  Rebbe Noson gives an example: when a person wants to learn a lot or spend a lot of time in prayer, and he sees that it’s hard for him to fulfill his will, nevertheless he should be strong-willed that in any case, whatever good he can grab in his life, he will make every effort, with all of his strength to grab whatever he can every day of his life.  If he can’t pray properly, nevertheless he should say a small prayer or supplication, and continue to have strong desires to serve Hashem and cry out to Him, ‘please save me.’  He concludes that this principle is true in every area of life where we want to do something good, and we’re prevented from doing it or it seems like it’s too hard for us to accomplish. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the New Month, 7th teaching)

For many people in this ‘instant generation’ being able to do whatever I want to do or purchase whatever I desire in an instant has become a built-in expectation.  This expectation can cause somebody a lot of frustration when they are met with obstacles to obtaining their desire.  Rebbe Noson teaches us here a completely different perspective: to grab whatever good I can in the moment, even if it’s not perfect.  This is something I really struggle with personally.  I have certain subjects I want to learn every day in Torah study, for example,  and when I can’t fulfill this desire the way I’d like to for whatever reason, it’s very hard for me to be happy with the ‘partial advice’, being satisfied with whatever I’m able to accomplish that day.  Being able to let go of the complete advice, how we think things should work out, teaches us faith and humility.  We are not in charge.  I think that this is the good advice we can learn here from Ya’akov’s strategy with Esav.  To let go of all our illusions of how we should be able to do something, of what should be the ideal situation, and to do our best to do whatever good we can in the moment.

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