Vayishlach: Do It Yourself

In a previous article1 we saw that there are three parshahs in the Torah whose names derive from the root “to send,” שלח : Vayishlach, וישלח , Beshalach, בשלח , and Shlach, שלח . We also saw that the motivation behind each of the three missions was compassion. But, each of these three missions failed to achieve its goal.

Motives of Compassion

Jacob sent emissaries to his brother Esau in order to placate him and prevent him from attacking him and his family. Jacob told the emissaries to tell Esau the following: “I have oxen, and donkeys, cattle, and male and female servants and I have sent to tell my lord, so that I may find favor in your eyes.”2 And Rashi explains that Jacob was saying that “He is at peace with [Esau] and seeks [his] love.” But, the mission failed. The emissaries came back and reported that, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore, he is coming to meet you and four hundred men are with him.”3 As a result: “Jacob was tremendously fearful and distressed.”4

Pharaoh’s motivation for sending the people out of Egypt was that they be able to worship God in the desert for three days and then return. As we know, this intention did not materialize. Just as there was an evil Pharaoh below, there is his holy counterpart above. The compassionate motivation of Pharaoh-above for sending the Jewish people out of Egypt was to free them forever from all limitations of the mundane; that they should be free to worship God alone.

But, immediately He saw that this was not possible because the people had not yet freed themselves from the mentality of bondage. Therefore, “God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was closer; for God saw that the people might change their minds when they see an impending war, and return to Egypt.”5 Thus, it is explained in the Tanya, that even though the Torah describes the Jewish people as exiting with “a high hand,” meaning with what seems like an upright stance; this description pertains to the people as included within the spiritual level of Moshe Rabbeinu the leader of the generation (who is considered to be equivalent to the entire people). But, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s spies who followed them out of Egypt, “the people had fled,” implying that spiritually they were still bound to their slave mentality (and therefore had to flee from fear of the oppressive master of the past).6 The end result was that God’s compassionate plan that the Children of Israel be free to worship God without feeling limited by the mundane did not then actualize.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s motivation for sending the spies to see the Land of Israel was also motivated by compassion. Had Moshe Rabbeinu been the leader conquering the land, the entire campaign would have been miraculous, with no need for actual warfare. Therefore, his aim was not to seek military intelligence about how to conquer the land. Instead, as explained in length in the writings of Rabbi Isaac of Homil, Moshe Rabbeinu’s motivation was to prepare the land spiritually for the people.7 Of course this mission failed miserably as well, because the spies, who apparently did not fully comprehend Moshe’s motivation for sending them, came back and instead of praising the land, defamed it causing a catastrophe for all generations. Only the Mashiach will be able to fully repair the damage done by this debunked mission.8

DIY: Do it yourself

What is the moral of the story?

As the sages say, in general “It is more of a mitzvah to do something yourself than to send an emissary to do it on your behalf.”9 Or, in the colloquial: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Indeed, we see that in the end Jacob himself placates his brother by bowing down seven times before him.

Pharaoh-above, i.e., the Almighty from whom all light emanates, in the end gets rid of any and all intermediaries (Pharaoh-below) and frees us from the slavery of Egypt and from mundane limitations by giving us the Torah Himself on Mt. Sinai. God Himself spoke to us directly and stated: “I am Havayah your God who took you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery” and as the sages say: “The only freeman is the person who engages the Torah.”10

Finally, Moshe Rabbeinu also concluded that it is he himself that must lead the Jewish people into the land, conquer it with the power of his word, and build the Holy Temple himself in the place that God would desire. The Torah relates that Moshe prayed 515 prayers before God beseeching the Almighty to permit him to do so. However, his prayers will only be answered with the coming of the Mashiach.11

(Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Monday, 9 Kislev 5768 – November 19, 2007)

2. Genesis 32:6.

3. Ibid. 32:7.

4. Ibid. 32:8.

5. Exodus 13:17.

6. Ibid. 14:8. Onkelos translates the idiom “with a high hand” as בריש גלי , which figuratively means “with their head held high.” The “head” here refers to the head of the generation,Moshe Rabbeinu. There is a mystical tradition that the heads of the Jewish people in many generations are in some way related to this word בריש . The most famous is of course Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose acronym is רשבי , a permutation of this word. Likewise, Rashi’s name is Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, the acronym is again רשבי . And so the Arizal is Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shlomo. More recently, the initials of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s name, Rabbi Yisra’el Ba’al Shem (Tov), spells ריבש (in fact, there are a number of different compilations of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teachings that include this special acronym in their title) as well as Rabbi Yisra’el ben Sarah. Even more recently, the Lubavitcher Rebbe quoted someone who pointed out to him in a letter that the previous Rebbe’s name—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak ben Shalom—also fits this acronym, ריבש .

7. In short, Rebbe Isaac compares the need to see the land before conquering it to the sages’ dictum that one must see food before eating it. In order for something to be utilized correctly, it must be clear that the consumer is above [“can see” in the metaphor] what he is consuming. Otherwise, the tables are turned around and the consumer becomes the servant of what he means to consume. This is the reason that all too often modern consumers find themselves servants to their own possessions. To truly possess something and to utilize it correctly a person must first indeed be able to correctly perceive his possession. Because of their awareness of the tremendous responsibility inherent in having money or worldly possessions, many holy tzadikim kept these to a minimum so as not to find their time consumed by them.

8. The spies came back on the ninth day of Av, Tisha B’av as we know it, the day that both the first and second Temples were destroyed. The sages say that the Mashiach is born on the ninth day of Av.

9. מצוה בו יותר מבשלוחו . Kidushin 41a.

10Avot ???

11. The Mashiach is described as the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu in the body of King David.

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