A Worthy Cause

We pick up Yaakov’s dramatic dilemma at the beginning of the Parsha. How can he approach Eisav after all these years? Is there anything that can appease him, calm his temper, prevent any danger? In a strange tactic, part of the message he sends ahead to Eisav is “I lived with Lavan” (32:5). Rashi explains that what he meant by saying this was ‘I lived with Lavan and still kept all 613 mitzvot’. Really? Why would Eisav care about that? How would that appease/calm Eisav’s death-threat against Yaakov?

 

Some explain that this claim  was about Yaakov’s strength. Despite being in Lavan’s home, a place devoid of typical morality, Yaakov was still able to keep all of the mitzvot. He was expressing his will power to overcome difficult circumstances. Unlike what Eisav might think of Yaakov- the simple tent-dweller of their youth- he is now strong-willed, and capable of standing up to him, not running away from him. Yaakov hoped that this would deter Eisav from attacking him.

 

Although this answer satisfies our question, it also provides an even deeper insight into our own lives. In order for this equation of Yaakov’s to work, it must assume a pivotal hierarchy: that the strength of one’s spiritual commitment translates into a physical strength as well. If, after all, that were not the case, then who cares how many times Yaakov put on Tefillin or kept Shabbos in Lavan’s house- Eisav has 400 men ready to fight! Rather, what Yaakov implicitly teaches us is that the will-power necessary to maintain our spiritual standards connotes that we can surely maintain our physical standards as well.

 

Oftentimes we look at our weekly schedules and mistakenly assume that our physical survival requires from us a lot more effort than our spiritual endeavors. Clearly, working 9-5 (if you’re lucky) is more than praying 3 times a day for a total of an hour and a half! What Yaakov implies, however, is that our spiritual sustenance does require just as much attention, if not more, in order to maintain it properly, especially within a secular society. That doesn’t mean praying for longer, because it isn’t simply an issue of time. What it does mean, at the very least, is that the effort we put into our jobs, meals, and television shows, should be matched by the effort we invest into G-d, Torah, and a Jewish lifestyle.