Parashat Vayesheb- The Singular Danger of Internal Strife
Parashat Vayesheb begins by telling us, "Yaakob resided in the land where his father dwelled, in the land of Canaan."
The redundancy in this verse is obvious – do we not already know that Yaakob’s father, Yishak, lived in the land of Canaan? Why does the Torah need to tell us that Yaakob dwelled in the land where his father lived?
The answer might be found in the mysterious comment of the Midrash regarding this verse: "Bikesh Yaakob Le’sheb Be’shalva, Miyad Kafatz Alav Rogzo Shel Yosef" – "Yaakob sought to live in tranquility, but then right away the grief over Yosef surfaced." The Midrash seems to be saying that after so many years of hardship, Yaakob finally hoped to enjoy serenity, but this was denied to him, for as soon as his life seemed calm, he faced the grave tragedy of Yosef’s sale as a slave by his brothers. Why was Yaakob not permitted to "live in tranquility"? Was there anything wrong with this desire?
Some commentators explained the Midrash’s comment differently. Earlier, in Parashat Vayishlah, we read of how Yaakob was very frightened when he heard that his brother, Esav, was approaching with an army of 400 men. The Midrash explains that Yaakob was afraid because Esav had the merit of two precious Misvot – Kibbud Ab Va’em (honoring parents) and Yishub Eretz Yisrael (residence in the Land of Israel). Yaakob had spent twenty years in Haran, during which time Esav fulfilled these two Misvot, but he did not. He thus feared that the merit of these special Misvot would assist Esav.
Now that Yaakob had returned to Eretz Yisrael, he was now able to fulfill these two Misvot – tending to his elderly father, and, of course, living in the Land of Israel. This, then, is the meaning of the verse, "Yaakob resided in the land where his father dwelled, in the land of Canaan." Yaakob was now able to respect his father because he lived where his father dwelled, and to fulfill the Misva of dwelling "in the land of Canaan," Eretz Yisrael.
This also explains the Midrash’s comment. Yaakob now felt he could live without fear of his brother, because now he had the great merit of these two Misvot. He sought to enjoy the peace and serenity of knowing he was respecting his father and living in Eretz Yisrael, and was thus safe from Esav’s hostility. However, he was unable to live without fear, because "right away the grief over Yosef surfaced" – there was friction and infighting among his children. Not even the merit of the greatest Misvot suffice to protect and help us when we are plagued by internal strife. If we fight with each other, then we forfeit the benefits of the merits of the Misvot we perform, precious as these Misvot are.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953), in his Michtab Me’Eliyahu, writes that the four exiles that our nation has endured correspond to four different sins. As the Gemara famously teaches, the first Bet Ha’mikdash was destroyed on account of the three sins of murder, idol-worship and illicit relations. Correspondingly, Rav Dessler explains, G-d subjected the Jewish People to the rule of three kingdoms – Babylonia, Persia and Greece. As Rav Dessler shows, each of these empires embodied one of these three cardinal sins. The Jews found themselves overrun by, and subservient to, these kingdoms in order to rectify their sins by withstanding the pressure exerted by these societies and refraining from these grievous transgressions. The second Bet Ha’mikdash, however, was destroyed on account of the sin of Sin’at Hinam – baseless hatred. Therefore, we have been exiled by Edom, the descendants of Esav, who are characterized by hatred and contempt for the Jewish People. Over the centuries, we have endured hostility of many different forms, stemming from an irrational hatred of the Jews. Our goal during this long, bitter exile is to rectify the sin of Sin’at Hinam by remaining peaceful and loving to our fellowman despite living among those who exhibit hate.
A parable is told of a conversation between two anvils – one of a blacksmith, and one of a goldsmith. The gold anvil used by the goldsmith turned to the iron anvil used by the blacksmith and asked, "Why is it that you make such a loud noise when the iron hammer bangs on you, much louder than the noise I make?"
The blacksmith’s anvil replied, "I’m made of iron, and so when an iron hammer hits me, I cry out much louder than you do. When brothers hurt each other, it is much more painful."
We have suffered a great deal of pain and anguish by the "hammers" of other peoples, but we suffer even more when we are hurt by "hammers" from within, when we fight among ourselves.
We all, Baruch Hashem, perform many Misvot, and accrue many merits. But let us remember that we forfeit this merit if we fight among ourselves, if we fail to get along with one another. Let us work to end this bitter exile through love and respect for all our fellow Jews, once and for all putting an end to the scourge of Sina’t Hinam which has plagued us for far too long.