At the beginning of this week's parsha, we find Yaakov preparing to meet his twin brother Esav who still bore a grudge against him for taking the blessings of the birthright. Esav had plans to destroy his brother. Yaakov's approach to Esav appears to be humble, but according to our sages, there are many subtle hints of his intimidating Esav. He begins his message to Esav as follows, "With Lavan [my father in-law] I have lived temporarily" (Genesis 32:5). Rashi points out that the biblical word used for the phrase "I have lived temporarily" has the numerical value of 613, the number of commandments contained in the Torah. Thus, as Rashi interprets, the verse reads, "With Lavan I lived temporarily, and I kept the 613 mitzvot and did not learn from his evil actions." Yaakov was stressing that although he resided for 20 years with the wicked Lavan, he remained an uninfluenced, pious man .

From where did our father Yaakov muster such spiritual energy? In the Torah, Lavan is distinguished with a history of greed, arrogance, and deceit. Lavan was also Rivkah's brother (and hence Yaakov's uncle). When Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, came to find a wife for Yizchak, he gave Rivkah jewelry. It was Lavan who dashed to greet Eliezer at the sight of this wealth. Later, when Eliezer asked for Rivkah from Betuel, her father, it is Lavan who jumped to answer before his father, displaying an unusual degree of arrogance. On many occasions Lavan tried to trick Yaakov; always presenting himself as the innocent one. How could Yaakov live so long with this wicked Lavan and be unaffected?

Just two weeks ago in Parshat Toldot, the Torah recorded the marriage of Yitzchak to Rivkah. There, she was described as the daughter of Betuel and the sister of Lavan. Rashi explains why this information about Rivkah, which was already known, is repeated. The Torah is stressing that although she was the daughter of a wicked person and the sister of a wicked person, she did not learn from their evil actions. This is the other place in the Torah where Rashi explains this concept of a righteous individual not learning from the evil actions of others. Having understood this, it seems logical to suggest that Yaakov derived this spiritual energy from his mother Rivkah. This is no small factor. After all, Yaakov's son, Yoseph was also in a hostile spiritual environment for 22 years when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Almost miraculously, he maintained his identity through it all. So too, we are often faced with situations where we need this kind of energy. May we draw upon this strength to overcome all the challenges and negative influences that we encounter in our lives.

Good Shabbos!

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