• Rabbi Yonah Burr

Vayishlach: Was Yaakov's Planning "Over the Top"?

וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל עשו אחיו ארצה שעיר שדה אדום

And Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to Eisav his brother, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom

Our Sages explain that Yaakov really feared Eisav. He was angrily approaching with four hundred soldiers, intent on harming him. Yaakov devised a three-pronged strategy. He divided the camp in preparation for battle, bribed Eisav with the tribute of gifts, and, of course, davened to Hashem.


When they finally meet, Eisav is overwhelmed with a feeling of love, and hugs and kisses his long-lost brother. He graciously accepts the gifts and even offers Yaakov a police escort to ensure he arrives safely at Mount Seir.


Imagine you are a bystander, watching this encounter. It almost seems like a false alarm. Yaakov’s worrying and careful planning appear unnecessary, pointless, and overkill. Eisav ended up hugging him. His life was never in danger at all.


Our Sages tell us otherwise. It is axiomatic that Eisav will always hate Yaakov. That he displayed love was nothing short of miraculous and, at best, short-lived. Only because Yaakov davened and invested so much hishtadlus was he saved. It appeared natural but behind the scenes it was purely supernatural.


There is a well-known quip that describes this sentiment perfectly. Chaim was driving to an important meeting and really didn’t want to be late. Knowing that parking was always an issue, he decided to offer a small prayer, asking Hashem to help him find a spot. As he was davening, a car pulled out, leaving Chaim a spot right in front of the building! "Never mind", Chaim stopped his prayer. "I found a spot on my own!" It didn’t occur to Chaim that the spot was a gift. Instead, he believed that somehow he had done it on his own.


Yaakov, however, knew that he was dependent upon Hashem every minute of his life. So he davened. When Hashem answered, Yaakov recognized it as such, and felt beholden. Yaakov even felt undeserving and afraid that he was using up his merits.


Every Shabbos, we recite the beautiful Nishmas prayer:


אלו פינו מלא שירה כים, ולשוננו רנה כהמן גליו ושפתותינו שבח כמרחבי רקיע, ועינינו מאירות כשמש וכירח, וידינו פרושות כנשרי שמים ורגלינו קלות כאילות, אין אנחנו מספיקים להודות לך ולברך את שמך.

Even if our mouths were as full of song as the sea, and our tongues joy like the waves, and our lips praise as wide as the heavens, and our eyes as bright as the sun and the moon, and our arms outstretched like eagles in the sky, and our legs as swift as the deer, we would never be able to Praise you enough!

You have nourished us during famine, sustained us with bounty, saved us from the sword, spared us from pestilence, and lifted us from devastating illness.


When did Hashem do all of this? What sword? What famine? But that’s the point. The fact that these thing don’t happen is because of Hashem’s protection. We are not so secure that we don’t need Hashem’s help. On the contrary, we are only secure because of Hashem’s help.


Let’s continue davening and trusting Hashem and appreciating his constant kindness and support!


Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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