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Thought for the Day: Getting P'shat Is Not At All Pashut

Want to learn chumash?  Trying doing chumash homework with a 4th grader.  I recently had the opportunity to help my granddaughter with her chumash.  She is learning about Yaakov meeting Eisav after his 20 years with Lavan.  As we all know from the popular song, Eisav was coming with 400 men, so Yaakov prepared for war, sent gifts, and davened to HaShem.  I've got this one, you know?

The question she had was, "Which words in verse 9 of chapter 32 mean that Yaakov prepared for war?"  Which words?  How should I know?  That's not in the song!  Fortunately, I also remembered there is a Rashi on that verse and I figured he would probably tell me.  (I am not really that smart; it's 4th grade chumash and they were supposed to have learned that Rashi... where else would the required information be?)  As expected, Rashi notes that Yaakov was compelled to wage war with Eisav, so he readied himself in three areas: sending gifts to Eisav, prayer, and battle.  Rashi has a proof text (wait... I am supposed to read and understand that part of Rashi also?!) for each.  Here we find our words: והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה/the remaining camp will be able to escape.  (The previous verse She filled in her homework sheet, I signed it, and she put it into her backpack.  Shalom on all of the congregation of Yisrael.

Except one Yisrael; yours truly.  The proof texts for sending presents and davening are quite clear.  But "והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה/the remaining camp will be able to escape" doesn't sound like preparing for war.  If anything, it sounds like preparing for defeat.

Here, then, are my questions:

  1. Why is והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה the proof?
  2. What was Yaakov's intent?
  3. What was HaShem's Intent for all generations?
In answer to (1), look at the context: The previous verse reports that Yaakov was frightened and so split the group into to camps.  The beginning of verse 9 is Yaakov declaring, "If Eisav comes to one camp and strikes, then והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה/the remaining camp will be able to escape.  Ah; so the verse is clearly putting והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה/the remaining camp will be able to escape as Yaakov's response to Eisav striking.  That's the only reference to war, so Yaakov's declaration is indicating the purpose for which he first divided the camp; a clear (now) reference to preparing for war.

That explains the proof text; one down, two to go.  Why in the world would Yaakov do that, though? At first blush it seems to fit Knute Rockne's -- Show me a good and gracious loser and I'll show you a failure -- definition of failure to a T.  However, when you extend your gaze you see something quite different, not a gracious loser, but a tenacious fighter.  Yaakov is announcing to Eisav and his family, there is no compromise, this is a battle of ideologies and there is compromise.  You want a fight, Eisav?  Ok, but you will lose.  Even if you defeat me, says Yaakov, I've preserved the next generation; I've preserved my future in the world and the next.  When you have eternity, you can be patient.  Of course, Eisav folded.  The hallmark of liberalism is to stand for no principle except the principle that there is no principle worth dying for.  (Of course, that also means they have no principle worth living for, but they are good with that as they are only living in the moment anyway.)

Well, then... that answers (2) and (3) in one swell foop.  The Torah is eternal and those who adhere to it are also eternal.

Whew... and that's just 4th grade...


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