Balancing Hishtadlut and Emunah – Vayeitzei
וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר אִם יִהְיֶה אֱ-לֹקים עִמָּדִי וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ וְנָתַן לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ (בראשית כח, כ).
After Yaakov “steals” Yitzchak’s bracha of material wealth from Eisav, his vengeful brother vows to kill him when their father dies. Rashi (Breishit 27, 2) quoting the Midrash, says that someone who approaches the age at which their parents passed away (from 5 years before until 5 years after) should begin to fear death. This is why Yitzchak (aged 123), who was within the range of his mother’s lifespan (120), directs Eisav to go out, hunt and prepare a meal for him, in order to give him the blessing of material wealth. Why did Yitzchak wait until he was 123 and not do it eight years prior, when he was 115 (5 years younger than Sarah when she died, as Rashi says above)? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when Yitzchak was 123, Yishmael his brother died and Yitzchak may have feared that his time was also running out. Either way, as it ends up, Yitzchak continues to live another 57 years after giving the bracha to Yaakov, to the ripe old age of 180, way beyond his mother Sarah’s lifespan and even 5 years longer than his father Avraham.
Rivka, fearing for her son’s life, with Yitzchak’s approval, arranges for Yaakov to leave home and travel to Charan in search of a wife. If circumstances were different, in all likelihood the shidduch for Yaakov would have transpired in the same way it did with Yitzchak, a messenger (like Eliezer) being sent to bring the bride back to Yaakov. Here, however, Rivka wanted Yaakov far away from Eisav’s clutches.
When Eliezer went to Charan in search of a bride for Yitzchak, he was laden with lavish gifts to bestow on the intended bride and her family and with Yaakov it was no different. Yitzchak, who was extremely wealthy, sent Yaakov with a treasure trove of gifts and sufficient finances to sustain him in the interim.
Unlike Eliezer who immediately set off on his master Avraham’s mission, Chazal tell us that Yaakov, before departing for Charan, continued studying in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. In fact Yaakov had been studying there almost from birth and the question is why he felt it necessary to delay his departure for an additional 14 years and not immediately obey his parents' bidding? The Mefarshim give two answers. Firstly his intended bride(s) had not yet been born! Leah and Rachel, twins, were aged 5 when Yaakov first met Rachel at the well, so only after 9 years of Yaakov studying in Yeshiva were they born. Another reason given is that Yaakov was travelling to חוץ לארץ to live (for 20 years) in the town and home of Lavan the swindler. Here he would have to preserve his Yiddishkeit and raise 11 children in a hostile environment and this required the appropriate mental and spiritual preparation. Until then Yaakov’s studies in the Yeshiva had not been focused on how to survive in galut, this was a different curriculum.
After he completes his 14 year “crash course” in shlichut, Yaakov finally departs for Charan, but as he is about to leave the land of his birth he is set upon by Eisav’s son Eliphaz, who has been ordered by his father to murder Yaakov. Eliphaz, unlike his father, has great respect for Yaakov and is reluctant to fulfill his father’s command. Yaakov pleads with him to be set free, but Eliphaz replies that he cannot disobey his father. Yaakov then comes up with a creative solution and tells Eliphaz to take every material possession from him, including his clothes, thus making him poor. The Gemara (Nedarim 64b) says that a poor man is considered “dead”. In this way Yaakov would live to tell the tale and Eliphaz would have technically obeyed his father.
Thus it transpired that Yaakov was left without a penny to his name, all the gifts he had for his intended bride and his finances were gone, he was even without clothes. This is the background for the passuk above, where Yaakov pleads with HKB”H to provide him with bread to eat and clothes to wear.
The Yalkut Shimoni says that HKB”H arranged it that immediately after this episode, a rider happened by, went bathing in the river and drowned and Yaakov took his clothes. This was the only material possession he had, the clothes on his back.
You may ask, if Eliphaz had stolen all he had, why did Yaakov not send a telegram to Yitzchak his father, or Rivka his mother, asking them to “wire” him additional funds?
Yaakov meets Rachel for the first time at the well. He kisses her and bursts out crying. One explanation Rashi gives for this strange behavior on their “first date” is that Yaakov is mortified that he is penniless and has nothing to offer his future bride, unlike Eliezer who showered gifts on Rivka when they met at the well.
From the time Yaakov arrives until the time he leaves Charan, a miracle occurs and the water from the well overflows in abundant supply. Although Lavan discovers that Yaakov is truly penniless (not that he didn’t try to frisk him for dollars in his pockets and diamonds in his teeth when they first met), Lavan realizes that the miracle of the water is due to Yaakov, so even though Yaakov stays with him for an entire month, Lavan demands no recompense. Finally, however, he cannot resist his natural urge any longer and he insists Yaakov begin working and asks what salary Yaakov demands. Yaakov says that he will work 7 years in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Why did Yaakov specify 7 years? In all likelihood Lavan would have accepted a lesser offer, 3 years, 2 years! The Ramban says that Rachel was only 5 and Yaakov wanted to wait until she was of childbearing age before he married her (although his father Yitzchak married Rivka when she was only 3).
Seven years fly by, but at the wedding Lavan switches Rachel for Leah. An outraged Yaakov agrees to work an additional 7 years to now also marry Rachel. In fact Yaakov married Rachel one week after he married Leah, but he kept his bargain and worked a total of 14 years for the privilege.
After the 14 years, Yosef is born and Yaakov decides it is time to leave. Yaakov waited for Yosef (who is Eisav’s nemesis) to be born before returning home to confront Eisav. Lavan, however, is not in a hurry to part with a good thing. Since Yaakov arrived, his town has been blessed with free water and Lavan’s fortune has grown by leaps and bounds. He urges Yaakov to stay and asks what Yaakov would like in return. Yaakov replies that he will continue tending Lavan’s flocks and that each newborn sheep/goat that is born speckled or spotted or dark colored, should be his. Yaakov does some kind of “trick” with sticks and suddenly Lavan’s flocks unexpectedly and supernaturally begin giving birth mostly to speckled, spotted and dark colored sheep/goats. Yaakov, in the additional 6 years working for the sheep, becomes extremely wealthy, but when he notices the animosity of Lavan’s sons towards him, decides it is time to high tail it out of there.
20 years after first arriving in Charan (14 years working for Rachel and Leah, 6 years for the sheep), Yaakov sneaks away and heads for the land of his birth. Lavan pursues him but HKB”H threatens Lavan and the episode ends with Yaakov and Lavan mutually agreeing never to see each other again (actually Chazal say Yaakov’s descendants did encounter Lavan after they left Egypt - they say Bilam was Lavan, Sanhedrin 105a).
In next week’s parsha Vayishlach, Yaakov returns home exceedingly wealthy and prepares for his reunion with Eisav by sending messengers ahead to tell Eisav that he has returned very rich, with unimaginable numbers of livestock, oxen, sheep, donkeys, servants, maidservants. Yalkut Shimoni (Breishit 32,2) brings two opinions how many sheep dogs Yaakov had to tend his flocks, 600,000 or 1.2 million. If each sheep dog tends 100 sheep or more … do the math!
What kind of strategy is that? You “stole” the blessing of material wealth from your brother Eisav and now that you are back, you throw it in his face? “Hi Eisav, look how well the blessing worked for me!” Eisav’s response is (not surprisingly) to muster a force of 400 warriors and rush out to meet Yaakov head on. When Yaakov hears this he is afraid. Afraid? What did he think? That Eisav was going to be happy for him?
Yaakov starts preparing for war, by splitting his camp using “triage”, by davening to HKB”H and by sending Eisav gifts. The psukkim go into intricate detail exactly what these gifts included, how many of each kind of animal, how Yaakov staggered them. This episode has much deeper symbolic meaning (for another shiur), but on a simple pshat level, the numbers of livestock that Yaakov sent to Eisav were a tiny drop in the ocean of Yaakov’s vast wealth. Did he think that when Eisav sent spies to asses Yaakov’s forces they would not see this and prefer to rather kill Yaakov and share the spoils?
The night before Yaakov crosses the river into ארץ כנען he goes back because he left behind פכים קטנים (Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachyei, Da’at Zkeinim, Or HaChayim - Breishit 32, 25), “insignificant” utensils that do not cost a lot of money. For a “cholent” pot Yaakov goes back? He can sell one of his 1.2 billion sheep and buy 50 new cholent pots! So obviously these pots have deeper symbolism (for another shiur), but on the level of the pshat, what is going on here? We are talking about (lehavdil) a “Bill Gates” times 1000 and Yaakov is worried over little trifles?
That night Yaakov battles with Eisav’s angel and triumphs over him but not before the angel injures him בְּכַף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה, in the upper part of his leg, his thigh. Yaakov is now limping.
The next morning Yaakov and Eisav meet up. “Miraculously” all the animosity Eisav has for Yaakov seems to evaporate, he hugs him, kisses him, cries on his shoulder, meets Yaakov’s family and then lets him go in peace. Huh? What suddenly happened here? Where is Eisav’s hatred for Yaakov, what about his vow to kill him?
Yaakov travels to Sukkot and why was it called “Sukkot”? because Yaakov, (the first human in history to ever do such a thing), builds roofed enclosures for his sheep. Normally sheep sleep out in the field, the sun shines on them, they get rained on and they are no worse for wear. But not Yaakov’s sheep! They have to sleep “under cover”.
Finally, 18 months after his reunion with Eisav, 36 years after leaving home, וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם, Yaakov is finally home and they all live "happily ever after".
There are two ways to understand the brief synopsis I have given above of this week’s parsha, including part of last week’s parsha (Toldot) and next week’s parsha (Vayishlach), much of which is illogical and seems to make no sense.
The first is on a deeper, symbolic level, a level that is focused on by many Mefarshim, especially those involved with תורת הסוד. According to this approach, everything above is in fact a prophetic vision of future history, the Batei Mikdash, the galuyot, the Mashiach (for another shiur).
The second is on the level of the pshat, which I would like to examine here. If examined on this level, one cannot but help noticing a dominant, central theme. A major portion of last week’s, this week’s and next week’s parsha revolves around MONEY!
It starts off with the epic battle over which brother is going to get the greenbacks, who is going to get Yitzchak’s blessing of material wealth, Eisav or Yaakov? It continues with Yaakov leaving ארץ ישראל to find a wife, a noble endeavor to be sure, but before it even begins, there are money issues. Eliphaz steals all Yaakov’s possessions. Despite all his studying in Yeshiva, nothing could prepare Yaakov adequately for a swindler of the caliber of Lavan. Every second of the 20 years in Lavan’s house Yaakov was cheated גְּנֻבְתִי יוֹם וּגְנֻבְתִי לָיְלָה. It is a good thing Yaakov stocked up on limud Torah for 14 years before, because in the 20 years with Lavan, he had precious little time to devote to it, he was a שכיר יום ולילה, every waking second he was on the clock and was totally devoted to his employer. How Yaakov managed to have any semblance of family life and raise 11 sons and one daughter with Torah values in such an environment, is nothing short of incredulous. Everything in the psukkim seems to center around work, more work, sheep, wealth, bribes to Eisav, tinkering around with petty cash, building shelters for sheep. If one were not paying attention, these three parshiyot could easily be mistaken for a “Fortune 500 user manual”, not an in depth analysis of perhaps the most spiritually elevated of the Avot, the one who is the fourth leg of the מרכבה.
The truth is that this IS a Fortune 500 user manual – for Jews! It is perhaps the most intense part of the entire Torah that teaches us how to relate to material wealth, the correct way to approach this subject. The way the Torah teaches us this fundamental principle is by contrasting two epic figures, Yaakov and Eisav.
Before they are even born, Yalkut Shimoni tells us Eisav and Yaakov had already divided up their inheritance. Eisav would get everything material and Yaakov everything spiritual. That is the way it began when they were born, Eisav was an extrovert hunter, a man of the field. Yaakov was the introvert, the yeshiva bochur, sitting studying Torah in the tent. There may not have been great respect between the brothers, both probably mutually despised each other, however there was no open animosity between them….. until Rivka forced Yaakov to “steal” Yitzchak’s blessing of material wealth from Eisav. That was the game changer.
Material wealth never interested Yaakov. He was content to sit and study Torah all day, every day. He obeyed his mother Rivka unwillingly, objecting every step of the way. As we will soon see, from beginning to end, Yaakov’s philosophy on material wealth did not change, from his chosen path in the womb to his death.
Eisav was only interested in material wealth, nothing else interested him. He greatly respected his father Yitzchak, not because it was the right thing to do, the moral thing, but because he perceived and understood that the key to his attaining material wealth was through Yitzchak. He understood that Yitzchak, an extremely wealthy man in his own right, wielded great power in this world regarding money. Losing Yitzchak’s blessing of material wealth to Yaakov was cataclysmic for Eisav.
Yitzchak hoped for a relationship between Yaakov and Eisav that would be something like the eventual relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun. Rivka, having grown up with a brother like Lavan, understood that if the material wealth were to be deposited with Eisav, he would “dry Yaakov up” and destroy him, אם אין קמח אין תורה. In this world there has to be both a material and a spiritual aspect and the two have to be symbiotic. With Eisav, the concept of symbiosis simply did not exist. Rivka immediately recognized this, Yitzchak did not.
Yaakov’s life was acutely focused on one thing and one thing only - giving birth to and preserving the integrity of the Twelve Tribes.
Following Eisav’s vow to kill him, Yaakov understood that Eisav would not attempt this while Yaakov was in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for another 14 years. If Yaakov was interested in “stealing” the material wealth from Eisav, why was he going back to Yeshiva? It was a return to the status quo between the brothers before Yitzchak’s blessing. However, as soon as Yaakov stepped out of the door of the Yeshiva, up pops Eliphaz. Yaakov is focused on his goal and that requires him remaining alive. All the gifts and money that his parents gave him to give to his future bride and sustain him in Charan are eagerly parted with to achieve his goal. It is in fact Yaakov that suggests this to Eliphaz.
When Yaakov departs ארץ ישראל, he has the vision of the סולם. In Meir Panim (chap. 13, pg. 131) I bring the principle that part of what Yaakov saw in this vision of שער השמיים was the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, the gateway for material wealth in this world. It was then that Yaakov understood the importance of the symbiotic relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun and the relationship between קמח and תורה. This was also a game changer for Yaakov, because it was from then on that material wealth even featured on his agenda. Until then it was a nonentity.
Continually focused on his goal of establishing the Twelve Tribes, Yaakov spends the next 14 years sleeping in the field with Lavan’s sheep, not making a brass farthing for himself. Where was Yaakov studying Torah in this time? He was not, he was LIVING Torah. Everything that he had studied until then was being applied practically in his every thought and action. Yaakov believed with complete Emunah that if he were to acquire wealth it would come from one source and one source alone – directly from HKB”H.
Yaakov could easily have sent word back to his parents that he was penniless and they would have gladly sent him replacement funds, however he did not for two reasons. By becoming poor he had temporarily placated Eliphaz/Eisav. If he were suddenly to reacquire wealth, Eisav may have resent Eliphaz to kill him. In addition and more importantly, Yaakov understood that he needed to be penniless and work for Lavan for 14 years. This was the plan HKB”H had for him and he was content with it.
After 14 years Yaakov wanted to leave Lavan, but Lavan would not let him go. Yaakov could have snuck off, like he did 6 years later, but instead he remained with Lavan for an additional 6 years.
It was this 6 year period that was the only “blip” in Yaakov’s life. It was the only period in his life that he was not totally שלם with. Yes, HKB”H told him how to do the thing with the sticks. Yaakov was following a Higher directive the entire time, it was not his own initiative, but the end result was that Yaakov became exceedingly wealthy beyond imagination. Material sustenance was something Yaakov recognized the importance of, but wealth of that magnitude, how does someone deal with that?
Yaakov valued every miniscule part of it equally, from the 1.2 billion sheep to the 10 shekel pot. Being a tzaddik, he had earned every penny honestly, with total Emunah that it all came from HKB”H, not from his own כוח and certainly not from Lavan. Now that Yosef had been born, Yaakov was now unafraid of Eisav. HKB”H has promised him that he would return safely and that He would look after him. So when Yaakov returned, he had no problem announcing his return and the new reality of the situation to Eisav. If HKB”H was going to look after him, then Eisav was powerless.
But instead of Eisav cowering before him, as Yaakov expected (like Lavan, after HKB”H threatened him when he pursued Yaakov), Eisav mustered a fighting force of 400 fierce warriors to wage battle with Yaakov. Where was the Divine promise of protection? For a fleeting second Yaakov’s Emuna wavered וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ. Why was Yaakov afraid? It was that 6 year “blip”. Yes, every sheep, every tiny pot that was given to him by HKB”H, was honestly earned. But Yaakov had a חשש that in the 6 years he remained with Lavan to accumulate material wealth, he had been negligent in the mitzva of כיבוד אב ואם (Meir Panim, chap. 15, pg. 160). The first 14 years with Lavan were doing his parents bidding of starting a family, but what about the last 6 years? During those 6 years Eisav was back home honoring his father, while Yaakov was overseas accumulating material wealth! Yaakov was afraid he had aroused the קטגור and in fact - he had.
The day before Eisav was due to attack him with 400 warriors, what was Yaakov doing? He was preparing for war, he was davening to HKB”H to save him, he was sending Eisav bribes. He was following the “book” and doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. That night however, as they crossed the river into ארץ כנען Yaakov remained behind to fetch some cheap pots he had left behind, פכים קטנים. You are about to be attacked by some of the fiercest warriors on the planet. Yes, you have made all the required preparations, but go the extra mile! Spend the entire night in tefila to HKB”H. What does Yaakov do that night, he goes back for some insignificant pots. Yes, a tzaddik values even a cheap pot the same way he values his Lamborghini - they were both earned honestly and given by HKB”H in equal measure. However is this what you should be doing specifically on this night?
Yaakov aroused the קטגור and spent the remainder of the night battling with him. Yaakov was almost perfect, but not entirely, there was one “blip” of uncertainty in his resume – his attitude to material wealth. The angel injured Yaakov in the כף הירך, in his leg in the גיד הנשה. The Mefarshim say that the leg symbolizes wealth. When someone loses all their wealth they are פושט רגל. The word נֹשֶׁה (Devarim 24, 11) means someone who has loaned money to another. There was the slightest of slight “faults” with Yaakov regarding material wealth. Yaakov emerged victorious from this battle with the angel, but limping. There was still a slight tikkun required.
The following day Eisav catches up with Yaakov. Yaakov recognizes the slight imperfection in himself and bows down to Eisav seven times. Eisav is resolute, he approaches Yaakov to attack him, bites him in the neck, but HKB”H turns Yaakov’s neck to stone (Yalkut Shimoni). Eisav is deterred but not beaten.
Eisav surveys Yaakov’s camp, family and vast wealth and then asks Yaakov the clinching question וַיֹּאמֶר מִי לְךָ כָּל הַמַּחֲנֶה הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר פָּגָשְׁתִּי. “What does all this material wealth mean to you Yaakov?” Eisav wants to know if their agreement in the womb still stands, does Eisav get the material wealth and Yaakov the spiritual wealth?
Yaakov responds וַיֹּאמֶר לִמְצֹא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי. “The only thing I am interested in is to find favor in HKB”H’s eyes. This wealth to me is fleeting and meaningless. Take it all, it is yours!”
Miraculously, all Eisav’s animosity to Yaakov evaporates because he now understands that Yaakov does not crave Eisav’s wealth - Eisav, craves Yaakov’s wealth! Eisav, in his own right is also a very wealthy man, probably on a par with Yaakov. He doesn’t need Yaakov’s wealth but he craves it even though he doesn’t need it. He says to Yaakov וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו יֶשׁ לִי רָב אָחִי יְהִי לְךָ אֲשֶׁר לָךְ, I have רָב, a “lot”. Someone who says “I have a lot”, means they always crave more, they are never content with their “lot”. Eisav understands now that he has nothing to fear from Yaakov. Yaakov is not after his wealth! And the two temporarily part ways. Eisav does not take Yaakov’s possessions now, even though they were offered freely, but he never stops craving them and in fact, in subsequent years tries repeatedly to battle Yaakov and capture them.
Yaakov has one more stop to make before returning home - Sukkot! In Sukkot Yaakov finally does the tikkun for what left him limping. Yaakov for once and for all prioritizes for himself where material wealth fits into his life. He places all his sheep in Sukkot, temporary dwellings, while he builds for himself a house. וְיַעֲקֹב נָסַע סֻכֹּתָה וַיִּבֶן לוֹ בָּיִת וּלְמִקְנֵהוּ עָשָׂה סֻכֹּת. Just like Sukkot today symbolize something temporary, fleeting (reminiscent of the Sukkot that Yaakov built for his sheep), to show that material wealth in this world is fleeting and temporary. Yes, it is an important aspect in this world, but it is not the עיקר. The עיקר is the בית, the house of Torah that Yaakov built for himself.
Once Yaakov had that in order, the tikkun was complete וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, he finally returned home, שָׁלֵם, complete and no longer limping. The “blip” on the resume was resolved and everything was in its rightful place.
Today we are faced with the same dilemma Yaakov faced all those thousands of years ago - how to achieve the correct balance between Hishtadlut and Emunah. There are two כללים regarding this –
The million dollar question is “How much Hishtadlut must I do? How many hours a day must I work to earn money? How far must I go to find a spouse? How much must I rely on medicine to solve my health/fertility issues?” The answer to these and other questions is - for everyone the degree of Hishtadlut required is different. Every person is an עולם ומלואו and what may be sufficient Hishtadlut for one may be insufficient for another.
The greater the person, the more HKB”H judges them על חוט השערה. When Yosef asked the שר המשקים to remember him, in HKB”H’s eyes that was a lack of Emunah and Yosef was punished with additional years in prison because of it. For a lesser person, such “networking” might in fact be the required Hishtadlut.
Each of us must strive to find that magic balance within ourselves. Only you can honestly gage that for yourself, the point when for you it stops becoming Emunah and starts becoming כוחי ועוצם ידי.
The general rule of thumb is to maximize our Emunah and not overdo our כוחי ועוצם ידי.
HKB”H wants us to spend the majority of our time serving Him. If we truly show HKB”H that we want to dedicate our lives to serving Him, He will facilitate that, give us the parnasa we need, when we need it, the health we need, the support we need (spouse and family), etc. as individuals and as a nation.
We have a lot of “work” to do to improve ourselves and (especially) our middot, but this should be our goal, to return home like Yaakov שלם, to ירושלם our holy city, rebuilt speedily in our days where everyone will sit under their grape vine and fig tree and serve HKB”H in joy, with all our needs taken care of from Above. בבי"א.