Vayishlach – Your Money or Your Life?

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov prepares to confront his estranged brother Esav.  On the eve of the great rendez-vous, Yaakov crosses his entirely family and possessions across the Yabbok River on the way towards their destination.  But before he can cross safely with the rest of the camp to the other side, he finds himself alone.  In that moment Yaakov is visited by a vengeful angel, and the famous wrestling match ensues.  What caused him to remain alone on the other side of the Yabbok River? The Talmud teaches us that Yaakov was collecting the remaining small vessels that had not made it over with the rest of his possessions. That Talmud (Chullin 91a) explains that from this event we see that the property of a righteous person is more beloved to him than his own physical safety.  As one is not meant to travel alone at night, it was an extremely dangerous decision to do so for the sake of a few Ikea glasses.

 

But it is unclear why Yaakov, or any righteous person, would consider their property as more valuable than their own physical well-being.  Aren’t the righteous supposed to be above attachment to physicality?

 

The commentary of the Ben Yehoiada (Chullin ibid) answers that a righteous person is incredibly careful with his own money, even someone as wealthy as Yaakov, to show his children that even a small amount of value is important, so that they should not justify even the smallest act of theft or mistreatment of other people’s property.  But it is still unclear from the Ben Yehoiada why a righteous person would be praised for putting himself in a life and death situation merely in order to teach a lesson about theft.

 

Rav Tzaddok (Pri Tzadik, Parshas Vayishlach, 10) answers that a righteous person understands that any physical gifts Hashem gives to him is  an indespensible part of his purpose in life.  He explains further that if the tzaddik doesn’t use it properly, it’s as if he has “stolen” from Hashem.  Therefore the Talmud teaches us that a righteous wants to use all of his divinely given property, even seemingly insignificant vessels, exactly in the way that Hashem expects him to, or else he has stolen.  But this only leads to a greater question: why should one’s property be more important than his own body – weren’t both of them given to humans to use in the most divine way possible?  How can Yaakov sacrifice the gift of health for the gift of property?

 

The Meshech Chochma (Devarim 6:5) turns our question into an answer.  How can a person put himself into mortal danger for the sake of small vessels?  Because a righteous person’s love for Hashem goes so far that his self sacrifice goes beyond being willing to die for big causes, but it even reaches to what other would consider negligible, mundane activities such as small acts of charity.  Thus Yaakov was willing to risk his life even for the chance to do a mitzvah with a penny’s worth of property.

 

Another satisfying interpretation is given by both the Michtav M’Eliyahu (Vol 4, p.296) and the Sichos Mussar (Sichah 50).  They explain that while both the body and property are gifts of Hashem, for the righteous their property is more beloved to them because they earned their property through their own effort, while their bodies were given to them for free.  While we may value gifts, we are meant to value the ability to earn our own gifts even more. 

 

It is not always so easy to use the stories of our patriarchs as literal examples for our own lives.  How many of us can say that we see each and every trinket in our possession as a divine gift, one that is indispensable for our mission in life?  Only when we can do so, would it be a permissible act to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect those possessions.  Nonetheless, the lesson serves to heighten our awareness of the value of all things, whether it’s a grand piano or a toy whistle.  All the more so if the grand piano was an inheritance, whereas the toy whistle was earned through hard work.

- December 2nd 2020

About the Author

image
Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo) Rabbi Moshe Friedman grew up in Manhattan, New York, and received his B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. He studied Jewish Thought and Talmudic Law for ten years in Israel, including several years at the Mir Yeshiva, and has passed rabbinic ordination examinations from the Israeli Rabbinate. Rabbi Friedman has been a regular lecturer at Machon Yaakov Yeshiva in Jerusalem and on numerous learning-based Israel trips. In 2017, he moved to London with his wife and children to take up the role of FJL UK Liaison, a role which includes regular campus visits and London based educational programmes. Moshe is currently the rabbi for Aish on Campus in Bristol University. Known also by his stage name "Rav Mo", Moshe is a rapper and spoken word artist and has produced music videos with international acclaim. 

More in this series

The Man Who WOULDN'T Bow...

"Light One More" - Rav Mo breaks down the lyrics #1

"Light One More" - Rav Mo breaks down the lyrics #2

Rav Mo - Light One More feat. Yoni Shine - Hanukkah

Vayishlach – Your Money or Your Life?

A Solar Revolution

Israel: Between Love and Hate

Jewish Rapper Responds to Wiley

Relax, Bro! With Rabbi Mo: Relationships

Relax, Bro! With Rabbi Mo - Zoom

Are You a Circle or a Line?

How to Deal with Frustration

When the World Goes Viral (Official Music Video)

How to Survive the Meaning Crisis

The Psychological Benefits of Religion

What's Our Fascination With Fire?

A Tree's Guide To Life

The Man Who WOULDN'T Bow...

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Vayishlach – Your Money or Your Life?

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

A Solar Revolution

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Israel: Between Love and Hate

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Jewish Rapper Responds to Wiley

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Relax, Bro! With Rabbi Mo: Relationships

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Relax, Bro! With Rabbi Mo - Zoom

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Are You a Circle or a Line?

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

How to Deal with Frustration

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

How to Survive the Meaning Crisis

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

The Psychological Benefits of Religion

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

What's Our Fascination With Fire?

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

A Tree's Guide To Life

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

Related resources

Responsibility - The Impossible Dream

By- Rabbi Eli Birnbaum

Veyachi: The Power of Positivity

By- Rabbi Dovid Lichtig

I Closed My Eyes….

By- Rabbi Eli Birnbaum

Do Not Disturb

By- Rebbetzin Shalvie Friedman

Vayishlach – Your Money or Your Life?

By- Rabbi Moshe Friedman (Rav Mo)

An Article on Gratitude

By- Rebbetzin Adina Strom

Vayera: Existence, Non-Existence and the Love of Justice

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

Four More Years! Make “US” Great Again

By- Rabbi Gideon Goldwater

Noach: Is Building an Ark Enough?

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

Are YOU relevant in a post-COVID world?

By- Steve Herz

Spirituality in the Postmodern World

By- Rabbi Dovid Lichtig

A Vision of Leadership

By- Shira Druion

The Fourteen Step Journey

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

Winners and Losers of the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement

By- Aish UK

Journey through Despair

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

An Exclusive Interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

By- Rabbi Ari Kayser

The Sound of Music

By- Rabbi Ari Kayser

Trial by Twitter

By- Rabbi Eli Birnbaum

Exploring Rosh Hashana

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

What Exactly Gets Weighed on Rosh Hashanah?

By- Rabbi Daniel Rowe

Copyright © Aish UK