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Dvar Torah: Vayishlach

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How to handle challenge

What did Ya’acov do on the day that could have been the penultimate day of his life?

The twin brothers, Ya’acov and Eisav had been separated for 22 long years. Ya’acov recalled how Eisav swore to take his life because Ya’acov had taken the birthright. And now it was reported to Ya’acov that Eisav was approaching with 400 armed men. There were two possibilities, either Eisav was going to kill Ya’acov or he was going to embrace him.

Knowing about these two options – how did Ya’acov respond? In Rashi’s reading of the text, he tells us that Ya’acov adopted a three-pronged approach: ‘tefilla’, ‘Doron’ and ‘milchama’. ‘Tefilla’ means prayer. Ya’acov did what came naturally to him. He prayed before Hashem and pleaded for the mercy of the Almighty to save him. ‘Doron’ means present. He had a strategy. He wanted to appease his brother, so he sent him hundreds of animals which were part of the salary which he had received from Lavan in Mesopotamia. He wanted to indicate to Eisav that he bore no malice. And then there was the third plank of Ya’acov’s strategy, ‘milchama’ or war. Ya’acov prepared for the worst-case scenario. He divided his family into two camps so that if Eisav attacked, at least half his family would survive.

Throughout all subsequent generations, the greatest of our biblical personalities adopted Ya’acov’s approach in situations such as this. It was Moshe who led our nation through prayer and strategy. Our great prophets and kings were the ones who combined prayer with action. It’s from Ya’acov that we learn how important it is always to pray to Hashem. But as the Talmud tells us ‘Ein Somchim al ha’neis’ – you should never rely exclusively on a miracle. You need to have a strategy. You must plan. You must understand the minds of people. Try and work out a way to win the day for yourselves. And in addition, from Ya’acov we learn that sometimes tragedies occur, and we need to prepare for a worst-case scenario. From Ya’acov, we learn about prayer, about protection and about prevention. All are crucially important.

It was Ya’acov Avinu who taught the world the invaluable lesson that Hashem helps those who help themselves.

Shabbat shalom