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What Makes Us Strong

By: Mrs Michal Porat-Zibman

The beginning of our Parsha this week seems to fit with the times; The confrontation with the enemy as Yaakov prepares to meet Eisav, the struggle for survival as Yaakov wrestles with the enigmatic character known as just 'the man', and the image of Yaakov, injured from that encounter, emerging limping and moving ahead.

The Torah gives us insight into Yaakov Avinu’s state of mind, or rather 'state of emotion' when it specifies that he was afraid and it pained him. I think that if we take a deeper look at the source of Yaakov’s fear, we will be able to touch upon what might be one of the Torah’s timeless messages about confronting the enemy, which is sadly only too relevant for these days. Nechama Leibowitz has an essay on Yaakov’s fear, in which she brings forth many of the sources mentioned below. 

Some of the commentaries provide reasons for Yaakov’s fear. The Midrash (Tanchuma Chukat) which questions how Yaakov Avinu could have been afraid despite HaShem’s promise to him that everything would be ok, answers that he wasn't afraid of the battle, but more so afraid and thereby saddened that he had sinned, or had done something that would make him unworthy of emerging victorious. Maybe he, as opposed to Eisav, was the issue. 

Rashi brings down that he was afraid that he was going to he killed, but that he was saddened at the thought that he may have to kill others as a result of this battle. 

The Abarbanel offers a simple explanation- that he was naturally afraid of war. And that's what makes him more heroic, that he didn't approach this battle with the absence of fear, but rather he approached it knowing fully well how frightened he was.

Each of these approaches offers us something about the current situation that we find ourselves in. If we start from the Abarbanel- it's okay to be afraid. Being nervous or frightened about your enemy is the most normal reaction one could have. It doesn't make us weak, but rather strong that despite our fear we continue to lead our lives and to remain here in Israel despite what is going on around us. The Midrash's approach encourages us to do introspection at times like these. Not because we are responsible for what is happening, but rather because perhaps there is more we can be doing - increasing kindness, charity, patience, tolerance, Torah, tefillah, etc., to merit worthiness of redemption. And last but not least- Rashi’s comment that he was saddened about the possibility of having to kill others. Therein lies the distinction between us and our current enemies. We are and we will never be proud to kill, even in battle. We will never educate our children that it is noble and heroic to kill the enemy, or to go on a suicide mission to do so. We are a people that glorify life, who knows that sometimes we have to kill in battle but we are never proud to do so. Our enemies take pride in such things. Our enemies educate their young that hurting and killing innocent people is something worth giving your own life up for. 

On this Erev Shabbar, our condolences go out from Yerushalayim to the families of Ezra Schwartz z"l and Yakov Don z"l who were murdered last erev Shabbat. We continue to pray for the injured to be healed, for the families to be comforted, and for the nation to emerge victorious. We will move ahead while doing introspection and thinking about what we can do to make a difference, and although we, like Yakov Avinu in this week’s parsha, emerge from the battle scarred and limping, we know that we will never have the ideology of our enemies, and that the loss of any innocent life will never be glorified. אשרי העם שככה לו, אשרי העם שה׳ אלוהיו.

Shabbat Shalom.





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