Bringing it Home

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

We are taught that the entire episode of the confrontation between Yaakov and Esav, as Yaakov travels homeward from Charan, encapsulates many vital lessons in how we are to deal with our enemies during these encounters in Galus. How Yaakov prepared for his meeting up with Esav serves as a lesson for all future generations. At times it is diplomacy that is called for and perhaps the proffering of gifts in order to gain favor. Ultimately we have to be ready even to fight if that’s what the moment calls for, just as Yaakov accepted that possibility. (Ramban)

There is a point in the dialogue between Yaakov and Esav where Esav observing the large contingent of children and livestock and understanding the difficulty of traveling this entails, generously offers Yaakov, “Travel on and let us go — I will proceed alongside you.” 

Rashi explains that Esav fathomed the slow pace they would have to travel at and offered nevertheless to lengthen his commitment accordingly. This is evident in Esav’s emphasis on his staying ‘alongside’ them until they would reach their objective in returning to Yitzchok.

Yet, in the very next verse, Yaakov seeking to deter Esav seemingly reiterates the obvious when he states, “My lord knows that the children are tender, and the nursing flocks and cattle are upon me; if they will be driven hard for a single day, then all the flocks will die. Let my lord go ahead of his servant; I will make my way at my slow pace according to the gait of the drove before me and the gait of the children…” 

What new angle did Yaakov add that ultimately discouraged Esav from accompanying them?

Rav Dovid Yitzchok Mann suggests that Yaakov was presenting a worldview that was diametrically opposed to that of Esav’s.

By stating that the children, flocks and cattle were ‘upon him’ and that the slow pace was ‘according to the gait of the drove… and children’, Yaakov was revealing that despite his own personal notion of his destination and goal in life it would be altered and determined solely by the providence evident in the mission that would redirect him to define his goal by the needs of those entrusted to him. (

In the world of Esav it is man’s understanding and expectations alone that govern one’s direction and ambitions. To accept that one must be flexible in reorienting one’s compass to the strings being pulled by a higher providence that re-directs us in new and unexpected ways was anathema to the philosophy of Esav. 

It is not simply how to deal with the physical Esav that confronts us that we derive from this story, but more significantly how to avoid the ideology of Esav that infiltrates our attitudes and blinds us from going in the proper direction.

Esav quickly retreats as Yaakov plods forward.

His first stop is at a place in Transjordan called Sukkos. 

But Yaakov journeyed to Sukkos, ויבן לוand built himself, בית — a house, and for his livestock he made shelters; he therefore called the name of the place Sukkos. (יז)

Why would Yaakov name the location Sukkos after the shelters he built for the animals and not call it ‘home’ for the living quarters he devised for the humans?

The great chassidic leader Reb Menachem Mendel of Kosov interprets this verse, not to refer to Yaakov’s creating a material domicile, but rather his creating an ‘inner space’ of spirituality that contributed to the ultimate construction of the heavenly ‘house’ that would one day find its full expression in the building of the Temple, the abode for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. 

In every endeavor he constructed a ‘space’ of spirituality. בית, more literarily meaning ‘inside’ reflects on the divine environment, within the outer  walls of a house, that it creates. 

When dealing with the מקנהו — literally his physical acquisitions, he merely erected a סוכה — rooted in the word סוך, accenting the ‘separation’ that protects; an external material, that considers its superficial nature.

Yaakov always sought to preserve his ‘inner self’ and not allow the engagement in a physical world to be anything other than a superficial expedient for survival, but never a substitute for a true identity of who ‘I am’.

This aspiration is the natural progression from Yaakov’s first assertion. 

We must first perceive the physical involvements of our lives not as objects to be utilized in fulfilling our own personal ambitions, but rather as vehicles that guide us to mapping our lives according to the dictates of G-d’s providential direction.

We preserve that awareness by remaining ever mindful of our pristine pnimiyus, inner dimension, and being cognizant of the superficial nature of the corporeal world.

The verse previously cited is quoted as evidence to the connection between Yaakov Avinu specifically and the Yom Tov of Sukkos, which celebrates our cognizance of the flimsiness  of the external protection of our homes and the strength of G-d’s protection, leaving the sturdy physical walls of our houses to sit under the Divine protection of the Sukkah.

The masters of the secrets of Torah point out that the verse that retells how Yaakov fashioned his inner spirit, ויבן לו — he built himself, בית — a house, the numerical value of the word לו, is the exact number of lights we light during Chanuka, 36.

On Chanukah we translate what we have derived from the lesson of Sukkos, by downplaying the role of material success and restoring to our homes to that ‘inner’ light, the ‘hidden light’ from the Days of Creation, that we can each access and enlighten our lives with.

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