Vayishlach Part 1- Preparations for Battle

This weeks sedra picks up where we left off last week with Yaakov having finally broken free of the conniving Lavan, he continues his journey home with his wives Rachel and Leah, children, servants and masses of wealth which he accumulated with Hashem’s blessing during his time away.

Unfortunately for Yaakov this isn’t just a standard walk in the park, it is more like a jungle out there (actual region was ‘Seir’, a mountainous region from the Dead Sea southward towards the Gulf of Aqaba!).

Having settled things with Lavan, who pursued him he now has his evil brother Esav and his band of 400 men waiting for him along the route home.

If we backtrack two

parashas earlier, you will remember that Yaakov had to escape his brother’s wrath having deceived him for Yitzhaks blessing… 34 years later he is still clearly not over the episode and he wants to attack Yaakov and his new family. What does Yaakov have to do? … Prepare for battle!!

As we all remember Esav was born a hairy, red monster of a child who quickly acquired a taste for idolatry, infidelity, extreme violence, deception of his father and general naughty behavior (just like your typical Arsenal fan). He has now grown into an even worst problem as has the authority to summon 400 men to fight with him, and as we all know that number usually spells trouble in the torah.

Having learnt this information Yaakov immediately prepared for war, a preparation which many Jews would late model on. In his preparation, Yaakov uses a three pronged strategy;

1. Preparation, in the form of dividing the camps to prevent complete annihilation

2. Prayer, asks Hashem for a positive outcome

3. Appeasement, in the form of gifts On the surface, these courses of action convey contradictory messages; aggression and servility seem to be irreconcilable characteristics but hidden within this preparation are key lessons that can be learned in our own battles everyday against the Yatsa Horra (evil inclination). Esav typifies evil and when preparing for battle with him Yaakov is teaching us the route which should be taken to win over our own battles with the Yatsa Horra. Further analysis of these three stages highlights this.

1. Preparation- Yaakov divides the camps in order to prevent total annihilation and to use them as a buffer for each other to slow down any attack. These same pre-considerations must be taken when people are trying to fight their inclinations towards doing wrong, for example if someone would be trying to fight alcoholism, it wouldn’t be wise to take a route home from work which goes past a lot of bars! It would be sensible for someone who is trying to grow spiritually to avoid people or situations which are prone to make them fall to sin. Many decrees over the years have been put in place to try and help us with this preparation, for example the rules of ‘muksah’ are in place to help avoid breaking Shabbat (one who doesn’t handle a phone on Shabbat is less inclined to use it than one who moves or even lays a hand on it) and the rules of tznius are in place to prevent attraction between people who are not married.

2. Prayer- In any language, at any time and (almost) any place (don’t start praying for a pay rise on the toilet!) Hashem is there to listen to our requests and help us in our struggles against the Yatsa Horra.

3. Appeasement in the form of gifts- Yaakov sends quite a hefty gift to Esav which seems to indicate appeasement and an attempt to subdue his anger. These same tactics are advised when fighting the Yatsa Horra. The best advice I ever received on fighting my own struggles with laziness, wasting time or even doing mitzvahs was to barter with my Yatsa Horra and this is what the Torah is seemingly bringing down here.

The biggest struggle for most people starts when they wake up, it is a great effort to get out of bed in the morning. By providing yourself attractive motivation to get up, for example the thought of a large breakfast after shacharis or the learning of a particularly enjoyable section of torah, appeases the Yetsa Horra which wants you to lie in bed until naturally possible. Another example of this is seen when people receive honor for giving tzedakah, for instance when plaques are put up in peoples names. The Yatsa Horra makes it very hard to hand over money to charity but with the incentive of honor, where people will recognize you as a giving person it becomes easier. This is the appeasing of Esav who is the physical form of evil and therefore the Yatsa Horra.

At face value Yaakov’s gift to Esav seems a very well thought out and generous one; “two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats; two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty nursing camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she-donkeys and ten he-donkeys” [32: 15-16]. Sforno notes how these are the perfect proportions to keep breeding levels up and therefore yield maximum productivity from the new flocks. Rashi points out that the torah describes Yaakov as commanding the gifts to be given in separate droves so that the greedy Esav would see the animals coming towards him from clear across the horizon, making the gift seem even larger and more impressive. Cunningly Yaakov is sending out a clear message with this gift however! What is the first thing Esav is going to see of his brother after 34 years of rage?... Goats… Sound familiar? The same animal Yaakov used to both feed and deceive (by wearing goat skin on his HANDS and neck) his father to steal his blessing from Esav; the torah even spells this out for us by saying “then he took, that which had come in his HAND” [32:14] as describing the way Yaakov compiled his gift for his brother!! An even more abrupt statement is sent out to Esav with closer analysis of the gift but I am going to get you working a bit for this one… Count the amount of excess female animals (one’s who don’t have a mate) that Yaakov is giving to his brother as a gift, in the possuk which I so kindly quoted in full above… …You should have come up with 180 she-goats without he-goats (200-20), 180 ewes without rams, all camels have mates so that is 0, 30 cows without bulls and 10 donkeys who don’t have a mate… This adds up to… 400! This is what Yaakov is saying about Esav’s 400 men he brought with him; ‘I’m not afraid, they are like excess female animals to me’. AND with that Yaakov is ready to fight, having prepared, prayed, appeased and sent out his shrewd messages to Esav through his gift.














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