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Parashat Vayishlah: Dalet and Resh

We read in Parashat Vayishlah the story of Yaakob’s wrestle against a mysterious man who assaulted him in the middle of the night. Our Sages identify this attacker as Esav’s guardian angel, who is actually the Satan himself. Yaakov triumphed over the angel, symbolizing the fact that we will ultimately prevail over the Satan’s attempts to cause our downfall. However, Yaakob sustained a serious injury to the "Gid Ha’nasheh" – the sciatic nerve, which is in the hip – and he was left limping. This alludes to the fact that the Satan will succeed in inflicting serious injury, even as we ultimately triumph.

Why did the Satan deal a blow specifically to the "Gid Ha’nasheh"?

In the verse, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Ehad," the final letter – "Dalet" – is written larger than the other letters in the Sefer Torah. The reason, the Rabbis explain, is that it needs to be very clear that this letter is a "Dalet" and not a "Resh," which resembles the "Dalet." If we mistakenly read this verse with a "Resh" at the end, we will be saying instead of "Hashem Ehad" ("G-d is one") that "Hashem Aher" – G-d is just another pagan deity, Heaven forbid. Symbolically, this potential confusion between "Ehad" and "Aher" reflects the efforts made by Satan to lead us to sin. When the Satan sees us devoting ourselves to "Hashem Ehad," to the one, true G-d, he does everything in his power to divert our attention onto "Hashem Aher," to some other "deity," to a different system of values and priorities. What the Satan tries to do is to change the "Dalet" to a "Resh," to redirect our attention from "Hashem Ehad" to "Hashem Aher," from the service of G-d to the service of other values.

This is why the Satan injured Yaakob in the hip. A person’s leg corresponds to the leg of the "Dalet," and the hip, which runs perpendicular to the leg, corresponds to the "roof" of the "Dalet." The "Gid Hanasheh" juts out of the hip, similar to the small area that protrudes to the right of the "roof" of the "Dalet." If that protrusion is removed, the "Dalet" becomes a "Resh." The blow dealt to Yaakob’s hip thus represents the Satan’s relentless efforts to change the "Dalet" to a "Resh," to lead us away from the service of G-d and devote our loyalties elsewhere. And thus every sin we commit, every failure to comply with G-d’s commands, has its origins in that fateful night when Satan succeeded in injuring Yaakob’s hip, thereby changing the "Dalet" to a "Resh."

How can we most effectively resist these efforts of the Satan, and thwart his schemes to lead us away from "Hashem Ehad" to "Hashem Aher"?

The Gemara in Masechet Sota (20) cites Rabbi Meir as describing the practice he had when writing Sifreh Torah to add a certain ingredient to the ink to make it indelible. Rabbi Meir explained that he did this because otherwise a "Zebub" (fly) might land on the scroll, on the upper-right edge of a "Dalet," and rub off the ink, resulting in a "Resh." This would obviously disqualify the Torah scroll, and so in order to avoid this risk, Rabbi Meir ensured that the ink he used for writing Sifreh Torah was indelible. The holy books explain that Rabbi Meir was not actually concerned that a fly would rub off ink from a "Dalet." Rather, "Zebub" is a reference to harmful spiritual forces which lead us away from Torah observance. These forces, as explained earlier, seek to change the "Dalet" to a "Resh," to divert our loyalty from "Hashem Ehad" to "Hashem Aher," G-d forbid. Rabbi Meir saw this firsthand, as his mentor, Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuya, became an apostate and was known thereafter as "Aher." In response, Rabbi Meir committed himself to using "indelible ink," to teaching Torah in a way that would have an indelible impact upon the students so that they would never substitute "Hashem Ehad" with "Hashem Aher."

The numerical value of "Zebub" is 17. We are able to counter the harmful influence of "Zebub," which seeks to lead us away from observance, through Torah study, which is called "Tob" ("goodness"), as in the famous Pasuk, "Ki Lekah Tob Natati Lachem" ("For I have given you good teaching"). The numerical value of "Tob" is 17, because it is through learning Torah that we succeed in resisting the efforts of the forces of "Zebub." By devoting ourselves to study, we reinforce our commitment to "Hashem Ehad" and thereby ensure we will not be misled to embrace the belief in "Hashem Aher."

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