Torah Fax

Friday, December 12, 2003 - 17 Kislev, 5764

Torah Reading:  VaYishlach (Genesis 32:4 - 36:43)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:14 PM     

Diminished Assets

In our Parshah, Jacob was returning to his homeland, nervously anticipating a hostile reaction form his brother Esau, who had expressed the desire to kill him years earlier when he "stole" his blessings from him. Jacob speaks of his fear that Esau will harm him and prays to G‑d for assistance. To explain why he was so apprehensive, Jacob offers the following statement: "I have become diminished from all of the kindnesses..."

Several questions come to mind. First, what did Jacob mean when he said that he had become diminished? In what way was he smaller? Second, why would G‑d's kindness diminish him? Third, why was Jacob so fearful of his brother Esau? Hadn't G‑d already promised him that He would be with him and guard him wherever he would go? Did Jacob harbor doubts about G‑d's promise? Rashi addresses all these questions by saying that Jacob felt that he had exhausted all of the merits he had accumulated in the past. G‑d had already protected Jacob throughout his entire stay with Laban. Whatever righteousness he possessed-that earned him G‑d's blessings for protection in the past-he might have depleted. Moreover, Jacob was concerned that he might have regressed and was therefore no longer worthy of the original promise of protection.

Thus, the meaning of the phrase "I have become diminished" is that his merits may have become diminished and depleted as a result of all the "claims" he has already made, banking on the "premiums" that he paid into the system. The word "diminished" thus refers to his merits, but not to Jacob himself.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the founder of the Chabad movement, whose festival of liberation from Czarist imprisonment we will be celebrating this Sunday-Yud-Tes-Kislev, the 19th of Kislev) provides another way of understanding Jacob becoming diminished as a result of G‑d's kindness, in a letter he wrote after being released from prison. There are two reactions people experience when they are the recipients of divine generosity. Some people develop a sense of superiority and arrogance. This personality type uses his gifts as an instrument of his ego and they tend to look down at those who are not so blessed. 

The second approach to becoming a beneficiary of G‑d's kindness is the reverse. Whenever this personality type experiences a positive thing in life, they become more humble because they feel an incredible sense of closeness to G‑d. Rabbi Schneur Zalman describes this as if G‑d was embracing them. When a person is exposed to something so much greater than himself, it engenders a natural sense of insignificance and humility. When a relatively tall person stands next to a much taller person, he will somehow feel short. Thus, the more good we experience, the more humble we become, and the more humble we become the less we feel that G‑d still owes us anything.

Jacob was a member of the latter group. Jacob, who had so benefited from G‑d's generosity on so many occasions, felt an incredible closeness to G‑d.  Hence Jacob states that by virtue of all of the kindnesses that G‑d showered upon him, he had become humbled, and therefore prayed to G‑d that he continue those blessings despite his newly recognized shortcomings.  And though G‑d promised him that He would protect him, he agonized over the fact that he might no longer be worthy of those blessings and promises.

The Midrash states that before the future Redemption, Moshiach will announce the new era by declaring: "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived." Why, some ask, does the Moshiach, refer to the Jewish people as humble ones? Is there no other  more appropriate quality to highlight? Why doesn't the Moshiach state: "Righteous ones," or some other similar expression of virtue? One answer to this question is that as Moshiach is about to usher in a new age of peace and goodness, we are about to experience the greatest manifestation of G‑d's kindness. It is imperative, then, more than at any other time, to not follow the approach that causes one to become egotistical and arrogant.  On the contrary, Moshiach exhorts us to be humble, because you are about to experience the greatest Divine embrace in history. And even before this becomes a visible reality, we already have to feel the sense of closeness and the resultant humility. One of the "by products" of humility is that we never look at another condescendingly. Jealousy, strife and discord give way to peace and harmony. All of the pettiness disappears and the world is more ready than ever to greet Moshiach and usher in the age of Geulah Shleimah, the complete Redemption.

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud tells us (Bava Batra 10a): “Great is the Mitzvah of charity for it hastens the redemption.” One should give charity daily and, on the eve of all Sabbaths and festivals, donate the sum that would normally be given on the following day. In the spirit of redemption, every home should have a charity box, and -preferably - one’s car as well.

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