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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayishlach

Parashat Vayishlach

The Missing Camels

Rabbi Yossef Carmel14 Kislev 5765
2963
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Yaakov amassed great wealth before leaving Lavan to return home, due to hard work, honesty, and Divine assistance. The Torah lists his "portfolio" as "a lot of flock, maid-servants and male servants, camels, and donkeys" (Bereishit 30:43). Even the numbers of animals he gave as presents to his brother, Eisav, show the extent of his wealth. The list includes she-goats and he-goats, ewes and rams, nursing camels and their colts, cows and bulls, she-donkeys and he-donkeys (ibid. 32:13-16). However, when Yaakov listed his property to the messengers he sent to Eisav (see ibid. 32:5-6) he omitted camels. How can we explain this omission?

R. Meir Simcha of D’vinsk, in Meshech Chuchma (Bereishit 30:6), says that Ya’akov omitted the camels to hint to Eisav that their paths were different. Eisav had an important distinction that he, like Ya’akov and unlike Yishmael, was the son of both a patriarch and a matriarch. Eisav also possessed special virtues, as, in Yaakov’s absence, he continued serving his parents, living in Eretz Yisrael, and giving tithes. On the other hand, these virtues were coupled with severe sins, such as murder and adultery (compare Rashi on Bereishit 25: 25,27, & 29). Thus, Eisav had elements of both good and bad, like the camel, which chews its cud but does not have split hooves, (or the pig, to which Eisav is often compared - see Bereishit Rabba 65-1). In contrast, Yaakov was whole in his spiritual status, like the other animals, which had two signs of purity.

Looking further, at the struggle between the descendants of Yaakov and Eisav, we see that those who ride on camels played a prominent role. When David fought the Amalekis, he smote all except 400 young men who escaped on camels (Shmuel I, 30:17). What is the significance of this description? Although Eisav came with 400 men and hostile intentions to meet Yaakov, his entourage is not mentioned when he left. The midrash (Bereishit Rabba 78:15) says that the 400 men did not want to get "burnt by the coal of Yaakov" and abandoned Eisav along the way. The midrash tells us that the 400 escapees can be attributed to the act of those 400 deserters.

The word, "gamal," (camel in Hebrew) can also mean to repay. One should repay a person for his kindness. Eisav and his descendants failed to treat Yaakov and his descendants properly, as the navi, Ovadya tells: "For the oppression of your brother, Yaakov, disgrace will cover you ... as you did, it will be done to you, your repayment (g’mulcha) will return to your head" (1:10-15). The fact that they used the negative elements of the camel, not the positive, is responsible for their ultimate downfall. As Rivka was told and as Ovadya prophesied, Yaakov and his descendants will gain the upper hand and, after Eisav is dealt with, will lead a world where Hashem will have complete dominion (ibid.:21). May it happen soon.

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