Who, What, and Where Am I?
At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Parshas Vayishlach, we read that Yaakov, after fighting for his birthright, and investing fourteen years to build his family and his security, settled in the land of his forefathers. All appears calm. Alas, just around the corner, Yaakov must again face many difficulties. One can ask, isn’t this situation also true for me? Just when one may take a breath from one challenge, one is often faced with even greater ones. As we see from Yaakov, one must remain sameach b’chelko, that is, happy with his or her portion in life. One must hold strong to the conviction that whatever Hashem provides is for one’s betterment. Such is the life of the Jew who lives with an open heart to Hashem. One plays the cards one is dealt to the best of his or her ability, and in doing so celebrates the life he or she is blessed to receive.
Accepting a given situation as Hashgacha Patis is probably the first step in recognizing that Hashem has put a person in his or her particular situation, for now, that is where Hashem wants the person to be. This doesn't mean that one can't try to change his or her situation in life, via prayer and his or her hishtadlus, but where one is, who one is married to, the children one has, etc. are all part of Hashem's ultimate plan for each person.
Related to this, we read in our parsha that Yaakov, although afraid for years to confront his brother, Esav, nevertheless, headed home to meet Esav. Yaakov embraced Esav and said, “To see your face is like seeing the face of the Divine.” Various sources try to understand the flattery Yaakov extends to Esav in Yaakov's description of Esav as “the face of the Divine”. Reish Lakish in Gemara Sotah 41B states that Yaakov’s comparison of seeing Esav to the esteem of seeing the Divine is scriptural proof that one may flatter the wicked in Olam Hazeh. This is unlike the view of R. Levi (Gemara Sotah 41B),“What Yaakov told Esav is like a man who sensed that his host wants to kill him. He told his host 'this food tastes like what I ate by the king’. The host thought that the king knows the guest, and he was afraid to kill him. On this, Tosfos, supports this view by quoting the statement, from Gemara Nedarim 22A, “Yochanan told Ula that he acted properly to save his life”, to prove that flattery is permitted when there is danger. In fact, it is not only permitted, but obligatory to flatter a wicked person in a situation where the flattery is needed to save a life. Marasha, one of the principle commentators from the early achronim, continues this line of thought by stating that Yaakov may not have meant to flatter Esav, but rather to imply that he (Yaakov) was use to seeing angels. As such, as Esav counted angels among his friends, he was afraid to kill Esav. Finally, Orchos Tzadikim, in Sha'ar ha'Chanufah, states that the allowance to flatter a rasha is only due to fear lest the rasha harms the person, thereby permitting one to honor a rasha the way people honor strong people.
Sometimes we choose to treat people as objects, or we focus on a fellow’s specific traits as opposed to seeing the person as a whole. We often may claim that we are all somehow “too busy” to appreciate those around us. Sometimes, though, we are like Yaakov and distance ourselves from our family, or members of our community who we see as causing us problems. It is at those moments that our parsha reminds us to find Hashem in all aspects of our lives.
We must reach out to people we may have distanced ourselves from with the realization that the path to Hashem goes from seeing people at a distance to embracing them face-to-face. Our goal should be to discover who we are and where our priorities should be.
Submitted by Chanan Ephraim (Fredrick) Rivenson