The First Defense

Our generation has witnessed the invention of every conceivable gadget intended to make our lives easier. Even the most poverty-stricken home boasts conveniences that our ancestors never imagined.

Yet so many hearts throb with pain, and so many pillows are soaked with tears of anguish…

Hagaon Harav Elazar Schach, zt”l, explained a passuk in this week’s parashah in a way that is a powerful source of chizuk.

Yaakov Avinu was facing great danger. The very survival of the future Am Yisrael hung in the balance. His brother Esav was coming towards him with murder in his heart and a massive army. (According to Chazal, each of Esav’s four hundred men actually led a battalion of four hundred men. Therefore, what was coming towards Yaakov Avinu was a massive army of one hundred and sixty thousand men.)

Yaakov Avinu divided up his family, placing Bilhah and Zilpah and their children as the first line of defense, then Leah and her children, and finally Rochel and Yosef.

Is it conceivable that Yaakov Avinu would use his wives and sons, the saintly shevatim, as human shields for his other wives and children? Rav Schach explains:

Chazal say that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah were demeaned by their brothers, who called them slaves. This disparagement caused them much pain.

Leah and her children knew that Yaakov Avinu had really intended to marry Rachel, which probably caused them pain as well.

The humiliation and suffering of the children of the maidservants were the very reasons Yaakov Avinu chose to place them as the first defense against Esav. Pain and suffering cleanse a person from his sins, and thus create merit; the merit of their yissurim would serve as shield to protect them, and by extension those situated behind them. Leah and her children also had a certain amount of pain, so he placed them second, in order that their yissurim too would serve as a merit and shield.

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All of Klal Yisrael is a single entity. Everything that happens to one of us affects all of us. Perhaps if we realize that agmas nefesh is a zechus, a merit that may shield all of Klal Yisrael — that perhaps Yidden somewhere in the world were saved from a planned terror attack only in the merit of our tribulations — we may find our situations a bit easier to handle.

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While this may serve as consolation for those facing challenges over which they have no control, for many others their despondency is often linked to feelings of guilt, whether conscious or subconscious.

While regretting past mistakes is a crucial part of the teshuvah process, only remorse that leads to positive corrective steps serves a purpose. All too often, feelings of regret make a person melancholy, and that distances him still further from avodas Hashem.

It is said in the name of tzaddikim that it isn’t so much the initial sin that the evil inclination seeks, but the feelings of depression that follow.

The Modzhitzer Rebbe, the Divrei Yisrael, zy”a, interprets a passuk in this week’s parashah homiletically:

The Torah tells us that Yaakov Avinu divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps, saying, “If Esav comes upon one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape.”

The Divrei Yisrael gives an example of a merchant standing in a marketplace when a thief grabs an item from his stock and flees, hoping that the merchant will run after him. With the shop left unattended, the rest of the gang of robbers will be able to steal the entire store. A smart merchant doesn’t fall into the trap, and instead of running after what he has just lost, he uses his energies to protect what is left.

Esav symbolizes the evil inclination. When he “comes to one camp and strikes it down,” the goal must be to ensure that the “remaining camp” will escape. Even when a Jew is lured into committing a sin, the most important thing is not to give up hope but to concentrate on “what is left,” i.e. instead of obsessing about the past, he should place all his efforts into ensuring that he doesn’t repeat the mistake in the future.

We must always be on the alert and never allow our past to ruin our future; rather, we must use the future to make amends for our past.