By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey
In this week's Torah portion of Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), the dreaded encounter between Jacob and Esau finally materializes. After decades of separation, the twin brothers, who are anything but identical, square up. Jacob, who fled the wrath of Esau 34 years earlier, is returning home with a large family and much wealth. Esau is fast approaching with four hundred desperados armed to the teeth. Will it be all out war or will they make peace? Jacob prepares for all eventualities and also sends a message to his hostile brother:"Im Lavan garti," Jacob declares, "I have sojourned with Laban."
Rashi interprets Jacob's message to mean that though he lived with a notorious trickster for more than 20 years, he "did not learn from his evil ways" and remained a righteous Jew committed to the G-dly way of life. This is indicated by the gematria (numerology) of the Hebrew word garti ("sojourned") which equals 613 -- the number of mitzvot in the Torah.
But wasn't this rather boastful of Jacob? The same man who will soon be praying for deliverance and claiming that, "kotonti" ("I have been humbled") by all G-d's kindnesses to him, now seems to be pointing proudly to his piety, telling Esau how religious he has been?
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) offers a novel interpretation. He explains that Jacob's words should not be understood as a boast but rather as a lament. "I sojourned with Laban, but did not learn from his evil ways" means that Jacob is bemoaning the fact that he did not learn from the way Laban did evil. How did Laban do evil? Enthusiastically! With vim and vigor. His wicked ways were embarked on with a passion and energy, and Jacob regrets that his own good deeds were not performed as passionately as Laban's evil deeds.
Nikita Khrushchev (of United Nations shoe-banging fame) was once addressing a large public meeting in Russia during the anti-Stalinist period. He was blasting Stalin's cruel and unforgivable atrocities, when a voice in the crowd suddenly spoke up and asked, "If Stalin was such a villain, why didn't you do anything about it then?"
"Who said that?!" thundered Khrushchev. There was absolute silence in the hall. Not a sound, not a movement. People froze in fear.
"Now you understand why I didn't do anything," was Khrushchev's convincing answer.
This interesting interpretation of Jacob's lament reminds us that the voice of morality must be at least as loud as the voice of evil. Too often the voice of justice is soft and still while the voice of corruption and degeneracy is loud and bombastic.
Who will amplify the sweet, silent sound of goodness?
Let us strive to become as passionate and assertive for the cause of G-dliness and goodness as the other side is for evil and injustice. The world will be better balanced, much nicer and a lot safer.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - from Rabbi Yossy Goldman)
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!