Vayishlach: Small Vessels and Big Angels


    Vayishlach: Small Vessels and Big Angels

    The Jews have been reading the Torah aloud in public at least once a week since it was given over 3,300 years ago at Sinai. One reason is to make sure the Torah never is altered or forgotten. But a deeper reason is that the Torah contains vital messages to help us meet every challenge at every time… especially in the week they are read… Read the full Dvar Torah by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton Full Article

    Parshat Vayishlach

    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton 

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    The Jews have been reading the Torah aloud in public at least once a week since it was given over 3,300 years ago at Sinai. 

    One reason is to make sure the Torah never is altered or forgotten. But a deeper reason is that the Torah contains vital messages to help us meet every challenge at every time… especially in the week they are read.

    For instance, in this week we read that “Jacob remained alone and a ‘man’ wrestled with him until morning. (32:25)

    ‘Rash”i’ (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the foremost commentary on the Torah) explains that this ‘man’ was really an angel; the patron angel of Asav, Jacob’s evil brother. And the reason Jacob was alone was because “he forgot some small bottles and left his family to travel alone while he returned to get them.”

    What could the meaning of this be?

    How can a human being fight with an angel? What could be the importance of small bottles? What could the Torah be teaching here?

    To help explain this, here is story I heard in Bangkok Thailand from The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s representative there Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm when I visited his Chabad House over ten years ago.

    He told me that two years previously a young Israeli in his early twenties (we will call him Erez) entered his Chabad house and stood before the massive bookcase filled with Torah books with a bewildered look on his face. Rabbi Wilhelm noticed him, asked him if he needed help and he replied that he was looking for something on Judaism.

    When the Rabbi suggested the book of Bereshis (Genesis) he replied he asked if it was a Jewish book because he never heard of it.

    He explained that he was born and raised on an atheistic Israeli Kibbutz where religion (especially the Jewish religion) was shunned and a few months ago, he and his girlfriend from a nearby Kibbutz, decided (as do tens of thousands of young Israelis each year) to set off for some excitement, touring the Far East.

    They traveled from one exotic country to another, met the people, ate the food, camped out in jungles, climbed mountains … and were careful to call home regularly to let their family know they were still alive.

    Several months into their journey in one of Erez’s calls home, his parents made an interesting proposition. His sister was coming in to visit them from Canada for two weeks. They suggested that they would pay his way, round trip, and they would love to have him come in for a family reunion.

    He talked it over with his girlfriend, she agreed to wait for him and a few days later he was back in Israel with his family.

    There was a wonderful warm feeling of love and unity that he never felt before. They ate, spoke, sang, laughed, reminisced and took walks together every day and after two weeks his sister flew back to Canada and he kissed his parents good bye and returned to his girlfriend in Thailand.

    But when his plane landed in Bangkok and called to tell his parents that he arrived safely, his mother, fighting back the tears, gave him some terrible news. Just minutes after his plane took off his father suffered a heart attack and …. passed away. The burial was to take place in a few moments.

    Erez was stunned.

    Not being religious he didn’t know about a period of mourning but it was a shock to his entire being; especially the strange irony of the family reunion.

    Could it be that the reunion occurring in the last two weeks of his father’s life wasn’t an accident? Perhaps some omniscient and unfathomably kind power or being was involved here?

    Could that be ‘G-d’?

    He brought the idea up to his girlfriend but she just fell silent for a few seconds and said she’d rather just enjoy the trip and concentrate on happy, non-religious things.

    And that’s what Erez did. The weeks passed, the trip went on and they were enjoying every moment of it together. But once in a while, sometimes as they were walking in the street, sometimes before he went to sleep, the mystery of what happened welled up in his heart until he took his mind off it.

    Then one day his girlfriend said that she heard there was a very special yoga master from India who was beginning an unforgettable ten-day silence and meditation seminar and she suggested they sign up.

    But for the first time Erez disagreed. How could it be that she didn’t want to speak about Jewish things but she did want to go to an ashram? He respected her desire for the seminar, but he wanted something different.

    So they decided that for ten days she would go meditate and he would go to somewhere learn about Judaism.

    So that’s how he came to the Chabad House. It was the only religious Jewish place he had been to in his life.

    Rabbi Wilhelm said he was more than happy to arrange a full day of learning for Erez but when he suggested that Erez first take two minutes and put on Tefillin, Erez flatly refused; he came only to learn not to become religious.

    But at learning he was fantastic. He took to the books like a fish to water, asked tens of questions on each detail and enjoyed the answers. But at every opportunity he was careful to repeat that he was secular and would never change his lifestyle.

    Then, at the beginning of the third day of learning he surprisingly asked to put on Tefillin. Rabbi Wilhelm took out his Tefillin as quickly as possible and showed Erez how to put them on and ….. for the first time in his life Erez did a Mitzva.

    “You’re probably wondering why I suddenly changed my mind and put these on.” Erez said as he was removing them. Rabbi Wilhelm nodded ‘yes’.

    “Well, last night when I called home and told my mother that I decided to learn in the Chabad House I thought she would be disappointed. But she said she was very happy, which was a big surprise to me. But then she began to cry and said that since I mentioned Chabad she has a secret about my father to reveal.

    “She told me that over fifty years ago Chabad helped him to get out of Russia and he got to know them. He didn’t like religion, not at all. But the Chabad people made a good impression and, well they refused money but said he could repay them by putting on Tefillin every day and he agreed.

    “So they bought my father a pair of Tefillin and ,,,,,,, he used to put them on every day.

    “He didn’t want anyone to know; especially not the people in the Kibbutz. So he used to put them every morning in the bathroom where no one would see. But he did it every single day till the day he died. He was proud to be a Jew. That’s what my mother said.

    “And that is why I decided to put on today.”

    After her seminar Erez’s girlfriend returned to resume their trip but she was in for a surprise; Erez wanted one more week in Chabad and he wanted her to join him!

    It wasn’t an ultimatum. He made it clear that he would do what she decided. So they talked it over and she agreed but only on condition that she wouldn’t be expected to even set foot in the place.

    So every morning Erez would enter the Chabad House alone and beginning the second day brought in a list of questions she had prepared the night before. Then after each class he would go outside, meet her, they would discuss the answers and he would enter with more questions.

    The week ended, Erez announced that he was continuing his trip, said goodbye and Rabbi Wilhelm returned to the hundreds of visitors that pass through the Chabad House every day and forgot the incident completely.


    A year later Rabbi Wilhelm, was invited to speak at several institutions in Israel the last of which was the Chabad Yeshiva (Torah Academy) in Tzfat where several hundred students learn.

    As he entered the building one of the students, a bearded young man, ran up, hugged him warmly, gave him a kiss on the cheek and stepped back saying “Don’t you recognize me?”

    Rabbi Wilhelm was baffled.

    “It’s me! It’s Erez! Remember? A year ago? Remember? I’m the one whose father passed away?”

    The Rabbi could not believe his eyes. “Wow!” He exclaimed” Of course I remember! It’s a miracle! But what about your girlfriend? What happened? How is she?”

    “Listen Rabbi” Erez took the Rabbi aside and spoke in a low voice, “You better watch out! You have a lot of enemies! A lot!”

    “”Are you serious? Why? Who? What has that got to do with your girlfriend? Why are you smiling?”

    “Who?” Erez answered with a twinkle in his eye, “All the people in my kibbutz… and in my girlfriend’s kibbutz as well!! That’s right, she is now learning around the corner in M’chone Alte, the Chabad College for girls. And the people in our Kibbutzim are not happy!”

    A few months after that Rabbi Wilhelm got an invitation to their wedding and shortly thereafter, they were hired by a Chabad House to do the same thing the Rebbe sent him to do in Thailand … wake Jews up.

    Now we can understand why Jacob returned for small bottles, how he could defeat an angel and what it means to us.

    According to the teachings of Kabala and Chassidut G-d creates this entire world every instant anew and imbues everything in the world, every detail, every human being and especially every Jew, with a potential holy purpose and deep eternal potential.

    But because of various reasons G-d decided to hide all this and the world can be likened to a puzzle: totally confused until man puts it all together and ‘elevates’ the pieces to form one meaningful, wondrous, joyous picture.

    This is the goal of Moshiach.

    Moshiach will be a great Jewish leader like King David or Moses who will teach mankind to ‘put the world together’ according to G-d’s instruction book, the Torah (7 Noahide Commandments for the Gentiles).

    These are the ‘small vessels’ that Jacob had to go back for; the details, (pieces of the puzzle) of time, place and experience that needed to be elevated by Jews throughout the generations in order to bring Moshiach.

    And Jacob gives us the power to battle and transform even an angel (Just as the angel finally blessed Jacob) and reveal that G-d is one.

    [This is also hinted at by the donkey Jacob mentioned to his brother earlier (32:6) referring to the donkey of Moshiach (Zechariah 9:9) and also the physicality of the world (‘Chamor’; ‘donkey’ also means ‘materiality’) which will be unified..]

    But today the main forgotten ‘small vessels’ are the Jews that are scattered to the four corners of the earth.

    Therefore, as the Rambam points out, one of the most important tasks of Moshiach will be to strengthen Judaism and gather all the Jews ……. as Rabbi Wilhelm in our story did and the Rebbe’s representatives throughout the entire world are doing.

    That is the message here to each of us. We too, with the power and inspiration from Jacob can also defeat evil angels. And soon we will certainly see the fulfillment of Jacob’s promise to Asav (see Rashi 33:14):  In the days of Moshiach the ‘mountain’ of the gentiles will be transformed just as Jacob conquered his angel to reveal true unity and joy.

    It depends on us to do all we can; even one more good deed, word or even action, to tilt the scale and bring….  Moshiach NOW!!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimm
    Kfar Chabad, Israel


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    Vayishlach: Small Vessels and Big Angels