Taking on Eisav and Life’s Challenges
1) Yaakov Gives Eisav Respect
Eisav was coming after Yaakov with four-hundred men, and was ready to kill him. Yaakov sent a message to Esav, “Ko somar ladoni, l’Eisav, Tell my master Esav, Ko amar avdicha Yaakov, so says your servant Yaakov (Bereishis 32:5)” Very flattering words. Ramban points out a psychological point here that is very interesting. The custom was that younger brothers would always give a lot of respect and honor to their older brothers. Even the Torah itself in its drasha “l’rabos achicha hagadol” tells us that included in Kibud Av V’Aim is a mitzvah to honor you older brother as well.
Even as the Sefer HaChinuch says that when we honor the older brother, he was someone who was supposed to dedicate himself to Torah and to mitzvos and to being a good role model. So, Yaakov Aveinu was giving this respect to Eisav. Why? Yaakov had stole the bechora and stole the brachos from Eisav, and Eisav was very upset about that. To combat this, Yaakov flattered him and showed him: Look, Esav, you were worried about the honor that was taken away from you. Nothing was taken away. You cared about olam hazeh, so you still have it. I’m still calling you my master, and I’m calling myself your servant.
Meet Their Needs
Ramban is teaching us an important yesod from the Chumash which is that whenever we want to get along with someone we should think about what motivates them, and why they are upset with us. What do they want from us? When we think about and we understand what they’re asking from us, often, we’re able to comply and give it to them. In fact, we know that this meeting was actually very successful and nobody got hurt. Eisav walked away feeling somewhat of a resolution. This is the lesson of the Torah.
2) Dividing The Camps
“V’haya hamachaneh hanishar l’pleita (Bereishis 32:9).” Ramban quotes from Rashi that the other camp will certainly survive because I’m going to fight against them, and make sure that with my preparation for tefillah, bribery and milchama that we’re ready.
Peace First; War Backup Plan
Ramban quotes a fascinating Midrash Tanchuma that says that Yaakov himself gave weapons to his children to hide internally but on the outside he put them in white garments to show that they were coming for peace. This Midrash is a hint that we always want to be prepared to make peace, but, if they’re not willing to make peace, then we’re ready to fight to protect ourselves.
3) Yaakov Hopes
Ramban says that al derech hapesh the simple understanding of the words: ‘V’haya hamachaneh hanishar l’pleita’ is: Ulei, perhaps, halevai it will happen. Hopefully the remaining camp will survive.” We know that Chazal say that: One machaneh will survive. What I want to point out is that Ramban learns “Ein mikra yoitzei midei peshuto” to mean that even though Chazal define the reality of what’s going on and what’s being said, still there’s a lesson to be learned just from the literal words of the Torah itself, even if in truth they contradict that which Chazal teach us really happened.
Ramban says that Yaakov was concerned that perhaps, hopefully one machaneh will survive. There’s even a Midrash (Beresihis Rabbah) that supports this because the Midrash says that the Torah teaches us derech eretz that a person should not put all of his money in one place. There’s a simple understanding that Yaakov was preparing al pi derech hateveh.
Ibn Ezra: Yaakov’s Concern
Yaakov davens to Hashem and says, “Atah amarta heitiv, eitiv imach. Ramban quotes Ibn Ezra’s p’shat which he is not happy with. Ibn Ezra says that Yaakov didn’t know whether the havtacha of“vehayah zarecha k’afar haaretz” applied to these children or maybe they’ll be killed and he wold have different children that would carry on the Jewish tradition. Ramban says this is totally not apropos for what the pasuk is saying because if that’s so, then why would Yaakov say, “Heitiv eitiv imach,” Hashem you promised that You are going to bestow good upon me. Yaakov knows the answer that Hashem will bestow good, and his children will continue, but these specific children won’t survive. Thus, the tefillah can’t be understood that way.
Worry About Sin
Ramban has a different p’shat. Yaakov knew that Hashem had given him a havtacha, that He would take care of him, and that his children would continue the family line, but Yaakov was afraid “shema yigrome hacheit,” like the gemara tells us that perhaps my cheit has prevented me from getting this good that Hashem promised. Ramban brings down from the Midrash that this is the way of the tzaddikim who are always worried whether maybe their chataim have stopped Hashem from bestowing good upon them.
Ramban adds that perhaps Yaakov was afraid that Hashem was not happy with him for making peace and living with Lavan who was an oveid avodah zarah. Shigiyos me yavin. Rabbi Shevel suggests, based on the Zohar, that perhaps Yaakov had lost the opportunity to do Kibud Av V’Eim because he was away from his parents for so long.
Ramban says that Yaakov was afraid “shema yigrome hacheit”, but at the same time he said: Hashem please do chesed with me, even though I don’t deserve it, I’m asking You to do a chesed with me that you spare my family and that they live. Yaakov was begging for Hashem to take care of his family and that these should be the children that would be able to survive, and we know that, ultimately, all of them did survive and did continue on to become the Bnei Yisrael.
4) Jewish Names Praise Hashem
“Vayikra lo: Keil, Elokei Yisrael (Bereishis 34:20).” There’s a dispute in the rishonim as to how to read this pasuk. Who got named? Ramban brings down that pasuk to say Hashem called Yaakov ‘keil, strong one’. Ramban brings down a beautiful explanation here that there was a minhag that the Jews would call names to their children that express praise for Hashem. Like “Tzuriel”, Hashem is my Rock or “Tzurishady” because they wanted to show that Hashem was the one that they were focused on. Many names such as Gavriel, Michael, express that Hashem is the one that has all the strength and Hashem is “Mi kaE-il”, who is like Hashem.
If we think about so many of the names that the Jewish people have, they are names that express our love and our appreciation of Hashem. We strive to capture this and to perpetuate the lesson in our named children to help them appreciate what life is all about.
5) Yaakov Switched Binyamin’s Name
We have the tragic story that Rochel Imeinu dies while giving birth to her son Binyamin (Bereishis 35:18). The pasuk describes that when she saw that he was coming out, in her last breath, she called him, “Ben oni”, the son of my affliction and mourning, “ben aveili”. Ramban explains that Yaakov, however, didn’t want to call him that. So Yaakov renamed him, and called him a name that preserved Rachel’s idea but rechanneled it, ‘Ben yamin”. Instead of being Ben oni, like lechem oni, affliction, he changed it to Ben oni, from the expresison “reishis oni”, my strength, my vigor. My child of strength. What does that mean?
From Aramaic to Lashon HaKodesh
Yaakov wanted to maintain the same name that Rochel, his dear wife, had given Binyamin in her last breath. Ramban brings down from Bereishis Rabbah a beautiful idea that “ben oni” means “ben tzari”, but Yaakov changed it and called him in lashon kodesh. Ramban comments that he doesn’t understand what that means because the whole name is in lashon hakodesh? Ramban explains that this Midrash is actually hinting to his comment: When Rochel called him “ben oni”, she was using the Aramaic word which means “my son of affliction”, but when Yaakov changed it to lashon hakodesh, he called him “oni” which is a Biblical word, “reishis oni” which means my strength.
Rochel Named For Din; Yaakov for Chessed
Ramban says that Rochel named him after the left, and Yaakov named him after the right. What does that mean? Rochel said this is ‘ben availi’; there’s a pain that’s coming. The left always represents middas hadin. Yaakov didn’t want this child to grow up with the trauma of knowing that his mother had died, and thinking that he had caused her death, and what a challenge that would be for him. Thus, Yaakov didn’t call him the son of my affliction and mourning. Instead he called him the Son of my Strength “Ben oni”. There’s vigor and strength. Hashem will take care of you, and everything will be well. Yaakov called him “Binyamin”. Ben, the son from the right” from chessed and kindness. Everything Hashem does is kindness. Even if we don’t see it, we don’t understand it, but we always want to be focused on the kindness of Hashem even in the most challenging of all times.
Life is full of challenges. There are things that hurt us, and they’re painful, and why would Hashem give this to us? But, we have to realize that it’s “ben yamin”, it’s coming from chessed, even if we can’t see it now. The challenges in Binyamin’s life allowed him to connect with Hashem and to earn the title of ‘yedid Hashem’ meriting the Beis HaMikdash in his lot. His mother died giving birth to him, but he’s able to see that Hashem is filled with chesed and rachamim, and no matter how painful it is, Hashem always is caring for me and doing whatever He can to make my life great, and He gives exactly what I need and takes care of me all the time. That’s the lesson of Binyamin.