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National Council of Young Israel
Shlomo Z. Mostofsky, National President
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President

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PARSHAT: Vayishlach
Rabbi Lawrence Teitelman
14 Kislev 5772
Young Israel of New Hyde Park, NY
December 10, 2011
DAF YOMI: Bechorot 26
NACH YOMI: Joshua 17
There is a popular academic joke about three Like our anecdotal scientists, Rav Hirsch scientists: a physicist, a biologist, and a recognized that every individual must account for mathematician who are sitting in a cafe staking out the differential between what comes in and what a nearby residence. They see two people enter the goes out. Yaakov was now meeting up with his house, but some time later three emerge. The savage brother Esav, and the Heavenly Court of physicist declares: "Experimental error, we Judgment was in session to decide the outcome of counted wrong." The biologist announces: "They that encounter. At this vulnerable juncture in his reproduced." The mathematician concludes: "If life, Yaakov reckoned how the great bounty he had exactly one person will now go into the house, the accumulated in the last two decades compared to that which he in fact deserved. Unlike the case of the scientists, Yaakov wondered whether perhaps I am reminded of this story of the three scientists each year as I read Parashat Vayishlach and recall an insight from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Yaakov’s considerations are particularly striking in Upon his return to Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov Avinu the context of his self-assessment just a few verses earlier. Yaakov states seemingly without Katonti mikol hachasadim umikol haemet asher asita im avdekha, ki bemakli avarti et Im Lavan garti – I have sojourned with hayarden hazeh veata hayiti lishnei machanot – I have become too small from Which is famously interpreted in the Midrash cited all the kindness and all the faithfulness that You have rendered to Your servant, for with vetaryag mitzvot shamarti – I have observed [only] my staff I crossed this Yarden, and Yaakov herein affirms – at least to himself – that, despite living with the wicked Lavan for the past I [Jacob] am not praying and appealing for two decades, he managed to perform everything myself; I have already received from You so that could have been required of him; nay, he even much that I am unable to thank You for it all; anticipated and fulfilled the Torah that would only I am diminished from all the kindness. For a later be given at Har Sinai. Nevertheless, Yaakov person’s stature is not measured by the was still duly concerned about whether, by virtue of those actions, he had accumulated sufficient merit to justify the extensive family and material wealth received. The more one has, the greater the danger to him of being diminished in merit. ROCHESTER, NEW YORK * CLEVELAND, OHIO * CIRCLEVILLE, OHIO Apparently, Yaakov recognized that aside from understands, it is clear that the projected range of certain objective standards for the Jewish people – maasim expands with increased knowledge. an allegiance to the entire corpus of Torah Law – there are also subjective expectations of the In Hilkhot Teshuva, Rambam notably advises us to individual Jew that are a function of various factors see ourselves as benonim – “average” individuals who are straddling the fence between tzidkut and rishut, righteousness and wickedness. Though we An earliest instance of this phenomenon is Noach, usually – a priori – consider these two categories about whom it is said, “tamim haya bedorotav he as polar opposites, by assuming our position on a was perfect in his generation.” While the Talmudic hairline separation, we are in fact more likely to rabbis are divided as to whether Noach would succeed on the immediate opportunity. Along have been “more perfect” or “less perfect” had he these lines, the famed Mashgiach of Ponovich lived in another generation, there is an Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, in his Michtav Me-Eliyahu, understanding that “perfection” is not defined in an notes that one’s nekudat ha-bechira – point of free absolute fashion but rather relativistically. choice – is a moving target, analogous to the front lines in classical warfare. Our past hurdles that we This comparison applies not only in the broader have already overcome, and any future hurdles, context of society but also more specifically to are both somewhat irrelevant in terms of the one’s family. The Midrash expresses this, albeit current playing-field. The fact that for others either somewhat rhetorically, as “ad matai yagiu maasai of the same choices may be their points of lemaaseh avotai – when will my own actions departure does not affect our personal mandate. approach those of my ancestors." The intention is that aside from compliance with a fixed set of By virtue of his self-assessment vetaryag mitzvot requirements, we would do well to look to our shamarti, our patriarch Yaakov teaches that it is parents and, more generally, the earlier healthy to have internal pride in our religious generations and ensure that we have reached actions and convictions. Yet this must also be their level of commitment. Despite the common complemented by Katonti - whether cantillated temptation to chart out new territory in terms of with an azla geresh or a revia – the reminder that religious behavior, we should not sacrifice in the despite those achievements, we should wonder process the lessons inevitably learned during our whether we have in fact accomplished enough. In charting our future course, we should derive inspiration from those around us, family legacies, Yet perhaps the most significant benchmark is good fortune, as well as our own latent potential. neither contemporary society nor our past lineage, And in this fashion, the mitzvot that continuously but rather ourselves. Included in the “ethical code” emerge from our house will ensure that it is indeed of Pirkei Avot is the expectation that a person’s “full”. We may thus confuse the scientists, but we “actions exceed his wisdom maasav merubin me-chokhmato.“ Notwithstanding the issue of how one can conduct himself beyond that which he to NCYI’s weekly Divrei Torah Bulletin, submit your e-mail address at the following Webpage:


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