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Vayishlach 5769

By: Rav Ari Shames

In the opening scene of this week's parsha we find Yaakov Avenu preparing for his pending meeting with Esav. One of the measures that he takes is to divide into two camps. "And Yaakov feared and was troubled, he divided the people, the sheep, the cattle and the camels into two camps. He said 'if Esav is to attack one camp the other will be able to survive'". I would like to investigate various aspects of this plan in light of the commentaries on the Torah. (This will be more of an "iyun shiur" on Chumash and less of a sicha with a clear message). The Moral Implications of the Strategic Decision- What was Yaakov thinking when he divides the children and his wives? One can only imagine the depth of the moral dilemmas that Yaakov went through in attempting to "cut his losses" by saving half of his family. The preamble to the passuk "Yaakov feared and was troubled" relate not only to his fear of the battle with Esav but also to the impossible situation he has been put in, the need to sacrifice half of his family to save the other half. How did he divide them? How did he group them? We can only guess as we have no evidence to help us. His decision to break into two camps also presupposed the fact that if an encounter with Esav actually does take place it will end in defeat. We do not find Yaakov bolstering a single unified camp to fight off Esav, finding strength in numbers. Yaakov has already conceded the battle and is simply trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. The Siftei Chachamim explains that given the information that Yaakov had and his understanding of the situation the only moral choice to be made was to save half of the camp. The Netziv, in his work Haamek Davar, takes a different approach. According to the Netziv, Yaakov never had any doubt that neither he nor any of the children would be harmed. Yaakov had already been promised by God that He would protect him and his family. The division of the camps was a purely economic issue, the family was never divided only the property. A close reading of the passuk indicates that Yaakov divided the animals and "the people with him" this according to the Netziv must refer to servants and slaves and not to the family itself. Rav Sorotzkin, in his work, Oznayim L'Torah, takes a totally different approach to the story. Yaakov was actually not scared of meeting Esav on the battlefield at all. After all, we know that Yaakov had received clear promises from God and in addition we have seen him exert his own personal strength when called upon to do so (at the well), as well as having some accomplished sons who, as we will see later in the parsha, seem to know how to handle themselves in a combat situation. According to Rav Sorotzkin, Yaakov had no doubt about his ability to be victorious in battle. The problem was that he could not gauge the intentions of Esav, was he coming as a combatant or as a friend? In order to win the battle he needed to know what strategy to use. The division of the camp was in order to test the waters upon the meeting with the first camp. If Esav came in peace all would be well, if he came in battle the second camp would be ready to fight and win. In his reading of the passuk we now have to adjust the understanding of the end of the passuk: "… the other will be able to survive' refers not only to the second camp but to the first one as well. If Esav attacks the first one, the second will be able to come to the rescue of the second. "Machane-Camp"- I would like to draw attention to another interesting aspect of this story, the use of the word "machane-camp". This is not a common word in the Torah. It is used to refer to the official encampment of the Jews for forty years in the desert and to refer to a military group going out to battle. Not every group of people is called a machane. Rav Hirsch notes that the term machane indicates a group of people with a common goal. The military camp has its objective and the encampment of the Jews in the desert had its goal as well. [I think it is interesting to note that this may be an additional layer of meaning to the statement of Chazal when they camped in front of Har Sinai where it says "Vayechen haam" in the singular form "he camped", Chazal say that they were unified and of one mind. I think that the idea is not simply from the use of the singular, but as well has to do with the verb "camped" which also implies a unity of purpose.] Food for Thought- Here is something to discuss over the Friday night meal, and let me know what you come up with. This is not the first time that we have two camps with regard to Yaakov Avenu. As a matter of fact just a handful of pesukim earlier we read (or actually read, in the past tense, last week) that upon his return to Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov meets angels. As soon as he sees them he states "This is the camp of God, and he called the place Machanayim". We are not given any indication as to who these angels were and why they were sent. Yaakov Avenu immediately recognizes them to be part of a "machane" and not only that but a double camp as well (Machanayim- in the plural)!! What is the connection between the Divine double camp and the double camp that Yaakov sets up as a result? I would be happy to hear from you as to what you think. You can reach me at Shabbat Shalom.


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