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Ya’akov in Esav’s Clothing

At the beginning of the portion Vayishlach , the Torah relates how Ya’akov sent emissaries to his brother Esav. He instructed them that, when speaking to Esav, they should refer to Ya’akov as “Esav’s servant” and to Esav as “Ya’akov’s lord.”1 Later on in the portion, we find Ya’akov bowing down seven times before Esav2 ,calling him many times “my lord”3 and referring to himself as “your servant.”4

Ya’akov’s extreme obsequiousness seems hard to fathom. In fact, the Midrash states5 that Ya’akov was punished for sending emissaries to Esav and for calling him “my lord” — his profuse obeisance was considered sinful.

Especially so since G-d had already told Rivkah that “the older one will serve the younger,”6 and moreover, in Yitzchak’s blessing to Ya’akov, he specifically stated “you shall be a lord over your brother.”

What was the reason for Ya’akov’s servility?

Since the Patriarchs were wholly dedicated to G-d’s will,7 evil could not have been part of their makeup, and thus, for them to commit gross sins was an impossibility; those actions that appear to be “sins” cannot be construed as such in the simple sense, Heaven forbid.8

The proof that this is indeed so can be derived from this very incident. Although Ya’akov was punished for his actions, we nevertheless learn9 from his behavior that “it is permissible to flatter the wicked … for the sake of peace.” Were Ya’akov’s conduct to have been considered a true sin rather than a mere failing, we would never have derived a lesson from it. What then was the purpose of Ya’akov’s behavior?

Chassidus explains10 that Esav’s spiritual source was loftier than Ya’akov’s; by elevating Esav, Ya’akov was able to draw down an additional measure of spirituality from his brother’s spiritual origin. Ya’akov’s bowing before Esav, calling him “my lord,” etc., was thus primarily directed at Esav’s lofty source rather than at Esav himself.

But the fact remains that Ya’akov was totally subservient before his brother, and was punished for it. How was this befitting Ya’akov’s spiritual quest?

There are two methods by which evil can be vanquished and refined: One is to draw down a great measure of sanctity upon the object one wishes to refine. This has the effect of pushing aside the evil within the object and elevating the rest to holiness.

The second approach involves the descent of the individual, bringing about the purification to the level at which the unrefined object exists. By thus coming into intimate contact with the object, he is able to transform it from evil to good.

Each of these methods has unique advantages. With regard to the person doing the purification, there is obvious merit to drawing down an infusion of holiness, inasmuch as the person himself does not have to undergo a personal descent in order to purify and elevate an object.

For the object involved, however, it is better if the person bringing about its purification actually descends into the object’s realm, for then, rather than having the evil within it simply shunted aside, the object actually becomes holy, and ceases to act as an entity that conceals G-dliness.

The prime goal of Torah service is to bring peace within the world,11 and true peace comes only when one’s enemy is transformed into a friend. To bring peace “within the world” thus means that one is ready to get “down and dirty,” as it were, clothing oneself in worldly garments in order to transform the material world into a holy entity.

In order for Ya’akov to truly transform his sibling, it was necessary to descend to the level of Esav as he found him. By doing so, he was able to transform Esav so that Esav said: “Let what is yours remain yours,”12 thereby admitting that Ya’akov was entitled to Yitzchak’s blessings, including the blessing of “You shall be a lord over your brother.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, pp. 297-301

The Names Ya’akov and Yisrael

In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, we read that the angel told Ya’akov:13 “Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisrael….” The Gemara states14 that he who calls Avraham by the name Avram transgresses the command: “Your name will no longer be Avram.”

The Gemara then asks: seeing that this is so, why is it that, when one calls Ya’akov by the name Ya’akov and not Yisrael, that he does not transgress the command “Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisrael”?

The Gemara answers that the two situations are different, in that, once Avram was given the name Avraham, we no longer find him referred to as Avram. The name Ya’akov, however, is mentioned in the Torah even after he was given the name Yisrael.

Why is it that the Torah still calls Yisrael Ya’akov after it explicitly states “Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisrael”?

Chassidus explains15 that the names Ya’akov and Yisrael denote two levels of Divine service that must be found within every Jew. There are times when an individual must serve in the manner of Ya’akov, while at other times the person should serve in the manner of Yisrael. The name Yisrael denotes a loftier form of spiritual service, but there are times when the lesser service of Ya’akov must be employed.

The difference between Ya’akov and Yisrael in terms of spiritual service is as follows: the name Ya’akov reminds us that the blessings received by Ya’akov from his father came about as a result of eikev , deception and subterfuge — he was able to outfox his brother Esav. The name Yisrael, however, indicates that the blessings were received from Yitzchak in a straightforward manner.

Since “the deeds of our forefathers are an indication to their descendants,”16 it follows that, in terms of our own lives, there must be a manner of service similar to that of Ya’akov and a manner similar to that of Yisrael.

We observe that, in order to receive Yitzchak’s blessings — which involve physical matters — both Ya’akov and his mother Rivka were self-sacrificing in their deception, with Ya’akov donning the garments of the infamous Nimrod,17 etc. This was done so that Ya’akov could elevate the sparks of holiness found within material things.

Herein lies a lesson on how to serve in the manner of Ya’akov: a Jew’s approach to eating, drinking and other such physical matters is to be that of deception.18 The nature of a deceiver is not to reveal his true intent; he seems to be in complete agreement with his opponent, but when it comes right down to it, he acts in complete opposition to his opponent’s desires.

So too, a Jew must be involved in purely physical matters such as eating and drinking, business and the like. Yet his intent is spiritual — he garbs himself in “Esav’s clothing,” in order to refine and elevate the sparks of holiness found within these physical matters.

The spiritual service of Yisrael is quite different. The blessings for the “dew of heaven and the fat of the earth” were received by Yisrael in an open and completely aboveboard manner.

At this level, a Jew need not hide his spiritual intent in involvement with physical things, for on this level, physicality does not hinder his spiritual service, nor does it conceal G-dliness.

An example would be the Shabbos meal.19 In this instance, the meal itself is a mitzvah, not like the six days of the week, when a person eats for the sake of spirituality. The sanctity of the Shabbos meal is such that the holiness of the event is clearly manifest.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, pp. 795-796


1. Bereishis 32:5-6.
2. Ibid., 33:3.
3. Ibid., verses 8, 13, 14, 15.
4. Ibid., verses 5, 14.
5. Bereishis Rabbah 75:1-3, 11.
6. Ibid., 25:23.
7. See Tanya, ch. 23 (p. 56).
8. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 63ff.
9. Yalkut Shimoni, Vayishlach, Remez 133; Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer ch. 37.
10. Torah Or and Toras Chayim portion of Toldos.
11. Rambam conclusion of Hilchos Chanukah.
12. Bereishis 33:9 and commentary of Rashi.
13. Bereishis 32:29.
14. Berachos 13a. See also Bereishis Rabbah 46:8.
15. See Likkutei Torah discourses titled Lo Hibit and Mi Monoh et. al. See also Sefer HaMaamarim Yiddish p. 122. Cf. Chizkuni, Lech Lecha 17:5.
16. Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer ch. 24; Bereishis Rabbah 65:16.
17. Eruvin 53a; Rashi, Bereishis 17:8.
18. See Padah b’Shalom 5703.
19. See Torah Or beginning of Chayei Sarah ; v’Hu Omeid 5663.



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