Vayishlach-Frienly Destruction

In this weeks  Parsha, we find our forefather Yaakov preparing to face his twin brother Esav, who was out to kill him. Yaakov prays to G-d and asks Him, “Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav…”[1] The commentators ask why Yaakov repeats himself by asking G-d to save him “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav”? After all, G-d knows that Yaakov’s brother’s name is Esav!

Rabbi Yosef Dov Haleivi Soloveitchik ZT”L (whose great-grandson Peter Salovey is the president-elect of Yale University), in his famous commentary Beit Haleivi on the Torah, answers that when Yaakov heard that Esav was coming towards him, he realized that his brother would act in one of two ways. Either Esav would attempt to kill him or he would try to appease Yaakov and request that they both stay together forever as good brothers should. And Yaakov was afraid of both these possibilities. He certainly didn’t want to fight with his brother and put his life in jeopardy, but even worse than that would be for him to have to live near his evil brother Esav, whose bad influence might put his soul in spiritual danger. So Yaakov prayed to G-d first to save him “from the hand of his brother”, i.e. from Esav acting to him like a brother and befriending him, and then he prayed to be saved “from the hand of Esav”, meaning from Esav acting as his enemy and trying to kill him.

The great leaders of Israel throughout the centuries were always concerned – just as Yaakov before them – when the Jewish people were allowed equal rights and privileges. This is because they understood that while it is certainly tragic when Jews are persecuted and killed by anti-Semites, descendants of Yaakov’s arch-enemy Esav, it is far, far worse when they are embraced by the nations around them, who are acting like Yaakov’s loving brother, for this always leads to assimilation and intermarriage and the loss of so many Jewish souls.

It is well known that the first Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi ZT”L, as well as Rabbi Yisroel Hopsztajn ZT”L, the holy Kozhnitzer Maggid, both prayed for the victory of the Czar of Russia over Napoleon and his army – and this in spite of the fact that Napoleon promised equal rights for all peoples including the Jews. These great leaders foresaw the spiritual danger facing the Jewish people were they to be fully embraced by the non-Jewish society around them. We have only to look at the history of the emancipated Jews of Western Europe after Napolean – where a good majority of them assimilated and were lost to the Jewish people forever – to realize just how right these two Rabbis were.

In our own times, when we have witnessed the anti-Semitism of Esav’s descendants, the Nazis (mach shemo zichrono), who took the lives of six million Jews in a “Holocaust of Hate”, we must also realize (as difficult as it is to say this) that we have lost far, far more (over nine million) Jewish souls to assimilation and intermarriage in North America alone over the past 70 years in what some have dubbed the “Holocaust of Love”[2].

Many countries have been kind, friendly and embracing – and even sensitive – to us Jews. And it is truly wonderful for the Jewish people to finally be able to live in places where we are relatively safe from anti-Semitism and persecution – and for that we have to be eternally grateful to our host countries. We have left the ghetto and we are not looking back.

Yet it is precisely because our host countries are so embracing and hospitable to us, that we have to be wary of what our forefather Yaakov feared 3500 years ago when his brother Esav was coming to meet him – that we will be influenced by the nations around us to forget about and to abandon our Judaism, as so many Jews have done in North America and all around the world over the past 70 years.

We Jews must always remember who we are, and sometimes a little reminder – such as a sign that says “Merry Xmas!” or even a little anti-Semitic remark directed to us – goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.

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[1] Genesis 32:12

[2] Unfortunately we see very similar statistics in many other countries.

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