A Torah Thought for Parashat Vayishlach
By Rav Mordechai Rabinovitch
In advance of his encounter with Esav, the Torah depicts Yaacov as greatly afraid and distressed (Genesis 32:8). But Hashem had promised to protect him wherever he should go (Genesis 28:15), and had recently instructed him: "Return to the land of your fathers and I shall be with you" (Genesis 31:3). What then was Yaacov scared of?
The Gemara (Berachos 4a) teaches that Yaacov was afraid that the promise of Divine protection might be forfeited due to his sins. But as Abravanel points out, the promise was reiterated a mere eight days earlier; what possible iniquity could Yaacov have committed in that time that would deserve cancellation of the promise of Divine protection?
Interestingly, immediately after stating that Yaacov was afraid of an iniquity, the Gemara adds: The Jews deserved a miracle in the days of Ezra just as occurred in the days of Joshua – but iniquity prevented that. Here too, the nature of the iniquity needs explanation.
When Yaacov wrestles with the angel and is eventually crippled, Rashbam (Genesis 32:25-26) explains that Yaacov was trying to run away, and the angel was trying to prevent him from doing so. In other words, at the critical moment in history when Yaacov is expected to return to the Land of Israel – instead of working on how to establish Jewish sovereignty, he is busy devising a plan to run away!
It seems to me that it is this iniquity that Yaacov was afraid of. He was scared that he might not find in himself the necessary self-confidence needed to stand up to Esau and liberate the Land of Israel. And in fact, because of his wavering, he ended up lame.
In Ezra's time too, the Jewish people did not rise to the challenge. Despite the building of the Second Temple, the bulk of the nation remained abroad; no miracle reminiscent of the days of Joshua was warranted.
For 65 years now, the gates to the Land of Israel have been returned to the Jewish people. Slowly but surely, a bedraggled nation has risen to take hold of its Land. Will the Jews of the Diaspora take part in this challenge? Or will iniquity prevail?