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S.A.L.T. - Thursday

Rav David Silverberg

          Parashat Vayishlach opens with Yaakov's dispatching of "malakhim," identified by Chazal as angels (see Rashi) to attempt to pacify his brother, Esav.  One subtle peculiarity in the verse caught the attention of the great Rebbe of Kotzk (in "Ohel Torah").  The Kotzker observes the seemingly superfluous term, "lefanav" - "ahead of him."  Why must the Torah add this word?  Where else would Yaakov send his messengers, if not ahead to Esav?

         The Kotzker uses this expression to arrive at a rather daring interpretation of this incident.  He associates the word "lefanav" with the term, "milefanav."  This second word generally refers to sending someone or something not for any specific purpose, but simply to dismiss the person or object, to send him or it away.  The recorded words of the rebbe appear in characteristic brevity, but he seems to imply that although Yaakov charges the angels with a mission, he intends primarily to discard them.  The Kotzker explains that Yaakov "had no use for their assistance, being that Hashem can assist without angels and without any reason."  Yaakov had no need for angels; he turned to the Almighty directly to save him from his brother.

         This approach relates to a common theme of the Kotzker Rebbe: don't look for shortcuts.  Yaakov Avinu understood that he cannot rely upon any force other than God Himself; even angels could not guarantee his protection from his enemies!  Instead, as Chazal emphasize, Yaakov did whatever he could - sending an appeasement gift to Esav and preparing for possible military confrontation - and turned to God in prayer.  There is no other way to deal with adverse or threatening situations.

         This perhaps brings to mind the common tendency to look for "segulot" - deeds or words with some mystical power - to solve all types of problems.  While many "segulot" may be well documented and valid, the Kotzker teaches us that ultimately, we may never rest our faith upon anything in the world besides the Almighty Himself.  People speak about all kinds of "segulot" to help find a suitable mate, bear children, success in learning, etc.  But, as we have seen, even angels weren't good enough for Yaakov Avinu, for there is no substitute for exerted effort and genuine prayer to help us through difficult times. 



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