Vayishlach Sermon


Vayishlach Sermon 

— From the Rebbe’s Torah —

Begin with joke:

“Two lions were eating an entitled person”

One says to the other, "Does this taste a bit spoiled?"

  • Should we feel entitled to G-d blessings? There are different ways to look at it, and we’ll hopefully have our complete answer by the end of this sermon.
This week’s parsha discusses Yaakov’s traveling home, from Charan, the city to which he traveled in last week’s parsha.

On the way, he had to deal with his big brother, Esav. Esav was still mad that Yaakov snuck “his” blessings for himself, and wished to be rid of him.

Yaakov had three plans ready with which to confront his brother. 1. He prepared for war. 2. He Prayed. And 3. He prepared presents.

In his prayer, he explained to G-d why was afraid. He said that he fears that he had used up his merits, through which he would merit a miracle: “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan River, and now I have become two camps.”

What was Yaakov trying to convey with the fact that he crossed the river “with his staff?”

The simple connotation, as some of you might have already understood, is that he only had his staff when he crossed the river on his way to Charan; but now he had so much more. G-d had been so kind to him.

But there is another explanation given; and that is that he was bringing up a miracle that happened for him when he crossed the Jordan River: He did not cross it with a boat, nor did he travel over a bridge; rather, he split the river with his staff. “With my staff I crossed this Jordan River.” This was a great kindness Hashem had bestowed upon him, and in addition to that, “and now I became two camps.”

These two explanations for the words “With my staff” seem to be contradictory. According to the first, the phrase “With my staff” connotes Yaakov’s poverty when crossing the Jordan, and according to the second it expresses a glorious state! Open miracles! Being that these are explanations for one and the same word, there must be a connection between these two interpretations.

The answer has to do with Yaakov’s sense of entitlement, or lack thereof.

* * *

The truth was that Yaakov actually was worthy of Hashem’s kindness, even though G-d had already been so kind to him. Yaakov was truly righteous. His whole life was only about G-d. He had plenty of merits to rely on.

And yet, Yaakov said that he felt unworthy of G-d’s kindness, and asked Hashem to save him from his brother Esav’s evil intentions, soley out of generosity and kindness. Like a man with no money, asking for a hand out. Why?

For actually, because Yaakov was so submitted to G-d, and on such a lofty level of service — he did not recognize just how special he was. For Yaakov — always thinking about and submitted to G-d greatness, was not preoccupied with himself, and whether he was worthy of blessings. His thoughts were focused on what he needed to accomplish for G-d in this world.

And now for a Joke:

“My friend told me to humble down”

He’s just jealous of the fact that I'm the most humble man on earth.

Yaakov was actually humble — he didn’t think about being humble; he was just not preoccupied with himself — as we tend to be sometimes.

True humility is about thinking about G-d and his mission. Here's a story which brings out this point:

In the year 5333 — 1573, there lived a simple Jew in the holy city of Tzfas, in the Land of Israel. This Jew knew how to pray, and was simple and modest.

One night, after he had finished saying Tikkun Chatzos, he heard a knock on his door. He asked who was there and the man answered “Eliyahu Hanovi — the prophet Elijah,” who became an angel after his passing, and continued to visit this world enclothed in a body sometimes, to carry out special missions.

The man opened the door, Eliyahu Hanovi entered, and the room becoming illuminated with light and joy.

Eliyahu Hanovi turned to the man and said, “I have come to reveal to you the year during which Mashiach will come. However, I will only reveal this to you on the condition that you will reveal to me the special deed you did on the day of your Bar Mitzvah. It is in the great merit of what you did on the day of your Bar Mitzvah that it was ruled in the heavenly court that I come to you and reveal to you such secrets.”

The simple Jew from Tzfas replied, “That which I did, I did only in the honor of Hashem — how can I therefore reveal it to others? If you will not reveal to me these secrets, so be it, but I know that what has been done in the honor of Hashem must remain a secret, and I will not share it with you.”

Immediately, Eliyahu HaNovi disappeared and returned to heaven. A heavenly storm had been created by the simple yet profound answer of this Jew — that he was prepared to forego such secrets in order to preserve the secrecy of what he did on his Bar Mitzvah day in the honor of Hashem. The Heavenly Court finally ruled that Eliyahu HaNovi should again appear to the man and teach him Torah and reveal to him secrets of the Torah. In time the man became unique in his generation, a perfect tzaddik, but so modest that nobody knew of his greatness.

The time came, and that man passed away. The Heavenly Court discussed his case, and finally decided that his reward would be to again descend to this world, where he would be obligated to reveal his greatness, and he would initiate a knew path in the service of Hashem, infusing the world with holiness and purity and paving the way for the coming of Mashiach.

This holy soul was the soul of the Baal Shem Tov — the founder of Chassidus/Chassidism.

(This story was told to him by the teacher of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Adam Baal Shem, the leader of the group of hidden tzaddikim of which the Ba’al Shem Tov was a member.)

This man was truly G-d centered and humble.

* * *

Now, Judaism does believe in knowing your worth, and Yaakov certainly was aware of the mitzvos and good deeds that he did. He certainly did not do them backhandedly without paying attention to them — for he knew he was doing something very important!


Which reminds me of the time that I went to a support group for people with low self esteem

As an activity to boost our self esteem, the instructor had us all go around in a circle and say one thing that we had accomplished in our life.

When it got to me, I told them that once I put a USB in right on the first try!

"I'm sorry, you must be in the wrong group," said the instructor. "This is the support group for people with low self esteem. The Pathological Liars group is across the hall."

Anyway, even though he certainly knew his worth, it still did not make him feel entitled to G-d’s goodness. And he asked G-d to do him good, only out of his great kindness and charity.

This is an important lesson with regard to our motives: Goodness and kindness should be done for the sake of goodness — because it is the good and right thing to do. Just like Yaakov served G-d just to fulfill the mission.

Preferably, we should not do good because we expect something in return, or for worry about how we will be perceived if we do not act kindly. We should be good and kind because this is what G-d wants from us — because it is the right thing to do; and because this is how we would like to be treated.

This brings to mind a story (stories) of a great Chassid of old:

Rabbi Michoel Bliner, a mentor in the original Chabad yeshiva in Russia, lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was known as one who served G-d and prayed with great passion.

Rabbi Michoel was once in the midst of saying the shema — the prayer which proclaims G-d’s oneness — in his morning prayers, when it is preferable not to make contact with others. A child with torn shoes passed by him, and Rabbi Michoel hinted to someone to take care of the child.

When asked why he couldn’t wait until after saying the shema, he replied that caring for another Jew is the whole point of the shema! For the point of the shema is to submit oneself to Hashem, and to his children — the Jewish people.

(On this note: Rabbi Michoel would say:

“If there was only one esrog in the world, and only one Jew would be able to use it, and it was given to me, I would give it away to another Jew”. He would explain that Hashem’s will would be fulfilled no less through a different Jew doing the mitzvah, and he would not be that selfish to be the only one to fulfill the mitzvah, in order to accumulate olam haba for himself.)

He was truly devoted to another — just for the other.

* * *

Another lesson we can learn from Yaakov — which takes us back to our question whether we should we feel entitled to G-d’s blessings — is about our own prayers: We know we definitely make mistakes and are not the most worthy out there — but we are the sons of the king — Hashem, so we only deserve good! However, let’s still not pray with entitlement. Let’s ask Hashem for his mercy when we pray. When we ask for mercy and not because we deserve — G-d gives much more than we deserve! Boundless blessings! For our request is not limited to what we deserve.


Now we understand why Yaakov used the phrase “With my staff,” which could have two contradictory meanings; for this hinted to how he asked G-d for his kindness:

This first meaning of “With my staff” was that he came with nothing, which implied that he had not used up so many merits, and was therefore worthy of meriting salvation from Esav.

The second meaning of “With my staff” was that he arrived with great miracles, which implied that having experienced such great wonders — he was not so worthy anymore.

He used a phrase that had these two contradictory meanings, for Yaakov felt and prayed just as such — feeling worthy and unworthy at the same time. He knew that he had done much good, but still he didn’t rely on his own merit, and asked G-d to save him — only for his kindness.

A Good Shabbos.

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