Saturday, November 13, 2010

Parshat Vayetzei - The Hands of Esav

At the very end of Parshas Vayetzei, Lavan confronts Yaakov and warns him that it is in the power of his 'hands' to do him harm, but G-d of your father 'spoke' to me and warned me against speaking to you for good or ill.

The obvious question is, if G-d had warned Lavan, then why did Lavan claim that it was in his power to do Yaakov harm. Lavan appears to be making a distinction between doing Yaakov physical harm through his "hands", and another sort of harm involving speech. Why then does G-d only warn Lavan against speaking to Yaakov, and not against physically harming him?

In the last Parsha, Yaakov disguised himself as his brother Esav and went to his father seeking his blessing. The disguise went smoothly, until Yaakov mentioned that he had come so quickly through the aid of G-d. Then Yitzchak became skeptical, wondering why he felt the "hands of Esav", but heard of the "voice of Yaakov". Nevertheless Yitzchak gives him the blessing of Esav, that of material prosperity and success. Later he also gives him the blessing of Avraham.

What was the difference between the two blessings? The first is the blessing of prosperity and power. The first blessing which Yaakov received through the wearings of the "Hands of Esav". The second blessing he received openly as the "Voice of Yaakov", was the spiritual blessing of Avraham, passed down to him by Yitzchak, which gives him the Land of Israel as a national inheritance.

When Yaakov worked for Lavan, the latter attempted to rob him in material wealth. But since Yaakov had received the blessing only in disguise through the "Hands of Esav", he had to receive material wealth in disguise as well. So he was forced to resort to a trick involving the marked and unmarked animals.

But that was not all Lavan tried to do, when he played a trick with Leah and Rachel, he was also attempting to interfere in the "Voice of Yaakov" blessing. And here he had no power. This is why the Haggadah interprets Arami Oved Avi with a second meaning of "An Aramean Tried to Destroy My Father".

When Lavan confronts Yaakov, the latter expresses worry only over Lavan seizing his family, which goes to the "Voice of Yaakov" national blessing inherited from Avraham, that he would become a great nation with many descendants that would inherit the land.

Lavan informs Yaakov that he has the power in his "hands" to do Yaakov harm. This refers to seizing his material goods. But G-d has already warned him against trying any attack on the "Voice of Yaakov" blessing, by interfering any further with his family. Instead Lavan offers Yaakov a treaty, which effectively cedes the land of Israel to Yaakov, while retaining the land on the other side of the boundary for Lavan.

Throughout history, Yaakov and his descendants might lose the material blessing of the "Hands of Esav", but they would always keep the "Voice of Yaakov" blessing of national survival and the eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel itself, which they might be exiled from, but always return to.